Sexperts Discuss State of Sex Education in the U.S.

Carrie Weisman

Most great things in life can be made better by a mentor, sex included.

These days, stigmas surrounding the subject are starting to wane, and that can probably help explain why in 2016, the sexperts are rushing in.

The advent of social media and the internet has really expanded the ability of people to challenge stigmas and taboo norms. -Hernando Chaves, Sex Therapist

“10 years ago when I first entered the field, there was a lot more discomfort from other therapists and classmates,” says Hernando Chaves, a Los Angeles-based sex therapist and professor in human sexuality.

“Sex is our second basic instinct after survival,” said Dr. Ava Cadell, founder of Loveology University and president of the American College of Sexologists International. “A healthy sexual relationship can improve the quality of your life.”

Now that sex has cemented a spot in professional circles, a few key demographics are coming forward to learn more about the subject, and women, as it so happens, appear to be leading the charge.

“They’re keen to learn, dig into the data and share anecdotes,” explains Toronto-based sexologist Jess O’Reilly, also known as “Dr. Jess.” According to O’Reilly, younger women, especially, have expressed a growing interest in issues around empowerment and individual choices. “It’s quite refreshing,” she says.

Margo founded the sex-positive blog Wetlandia earlier this year. She tells us women make up the majority of individuals frequenting the site. And with due reason. “A lot of women have trouble achieving vaginal orgasms,” says New York City sexologist Lisa Hochberger. “There’s so much shame around that.”

“I’m constantly getting questions about G-spot orgasms,” says Margo. Squirting seems to be another hot topic on her blog. The internet, she says, has helped trigger an explosion of individuals now taking an active interest in sex.

“The advent of social media and the internet has really expanded the ability of people to challenge stigmas and taboo norms,” adds Chaves. “I find there are a lot more teens and young adults that are using YouTube and similar platforms to explore sexuality.” According to Chaves, blending education and entertainment is becoming an increasingly popular way to deliver information on sex.

“Before when we were bored, and we needed entertainment, we used to rely on each other. Now people are using their screens,” says Hochberger.

Recently, Chaves teamed up with BaDoinkVR to create a series of “sex edutainment” videos starring adult’s “cutest newcomer” August Ames.

Back in September, the New York Times profiled the “sex-ed queens of YouTube.”

Mentioned were social media stars like Eileen Kelly, Laci Green and Shannon Boodram. While none have received formal training on the subject, they’re operating on a platform that just may surpass a PhD when it comes to opening the conversation about sex, and engaging with those interested in participating. “I find the younger generation is driving a lot of that discourse,” says Chaves. “There’s newer found comfort with diversity and fluidity. It’s become comfortable for them.”

“When I’m teaching, most students seem to gravitate toward what I call the psycho social sexual topics.” According to Chaves, three of the most in-demand subjects revolve around gender identity, sexual fluidity and sex work. “Students still appreciate things like anatomy, but they’re much more advanced when it comes to sexuality.” Dr. Ava Cadell would add issues surrounding sexual assault and consent to that list. Dr. Jess notes that open relationships and consensual non-monogamy are also hot topics. “If we could accept that there is no one-size-fits-all relationship arrangement, I think we’d all be much happier and fulfilled,” she says.

Of course, the curiosity surrounding sex does extend beyond the millennial audience. “A lot of people are interested in sex, but they’re interested in sex in different ways,” says Hochberger. “A lot of older people ask question about losing interest, they worry sex is over for them.” Dr. Jess has seen an influx of women in their 50s seeking out her services. “This is an exciting group to work with,” she says. “Many received intense negative messaging about sex growing up, so they’re learning to challenge this misinformation and their bodies and sex in new ways.”

According to Hochberger, older individuals might actually be in the best position to achieve an optimal sexual experience. “It seems like sex gets better as you get older because you’re becoming more sexually assertive. That means being able to communicate when you do and do not want sex, your sexual health history and what does and does not feel good.”

Those in long-term committed relationships also stand to learn something from the sexperts. “[Couples] realize that relationships take work and investment,” says Dr. Jess. “They come to my retreats to formally invest in theirs… They’re keen go-getters who are willing to push their comfort zones to make their marriages last.”

While the subject may be losing its taboo, there are some major roadblocks ahead. Stigmas surrounding sex, while in decline, haven’t been entirely eradicated. Conservatism continues to hinder sexual expression. Not unrelatedly, there are policy-makers out there holding tight to ineffective (and even harmful) approaches to sex, like abstinence-only education.

Those toeing the way to progress are routinely targeted for their efforts. “The greatest challenge for me is related to working in the public realm,” says Dr. Jess. “I receive criticism from all sides of the aisle and honestly, it’s exhausting.”

Even the more liberal arms of the internet present problems. “Facebook won’t allow you to advertise with them. Google ad words won’t approve your key words and they won’t run your ads,” says Margo. “You can’t post certain photos on social media because you can’t have nudity without it being sexual. Even on YouTube, sex educators are getting their instructional videos flagged and taken down. The battle is real.”

Fortunately, the sexperts are sticking with it. “Empowering people with positive and accurate information about human sexuality is so rewarding,” says Dr. Ava. “There is a certain gratifying experience you have when people are getting value from your efforts but are also making positive changes, says Chaves.

For Hochberger, the greatest reward comes from providing a path to self-acceptance. “It’s importance to get rid of shame and help people realize that they’re ‘normal;’ that their thoughts and desires are nothing to have shame around,” she says. “It releases people.”