Imagine sex-positive sexual education that preaches neither heteronormative relations nor abstinence — one that teaches not only basic anatomy and disease prevention, but also encourages the reclamation of sexual pleasure after trauma and the shameless expression of curiosities.
O.school, founded by 27-year-old Andrea Barrica, does just that, promising an inclusive experience. Barrica describes the 18-years-and-older digital platform that launched in November as a middle ground between Planned Parenthood and online porn — a community that’s neither too clinical nor too singularly focused on sexual satisfaction. It’s an intimate, virtual safe space to talk about sex and pleasure through empathy-guided learning with more than 65 authentic, professional instructors who are half people of color and more than 70 percent queer. Through live streams and moderated chat, participants can learn about sex and pleasure, overcome shame, heal from trauma and develop skills to communicate and set boundaries in the pursuit of their sexual pleasure among a diverse community.
Most of us learn about sex through trial and error, but that’s a terrible way to learn about something so vulnerable.
“My mission is to reach a billion people with the best sex and pleasure education in the world,” Barrica says. “I don’t think it’s okay that where you live, or where you grew up, or what culture you grew up in really dictates what access you have to sex and pleasure education. The internet, I think, should have solved this already. The second mission, which is related to a billion people, is creating a space on the internet where women and people of color and queer people can talk without as much of a risk of harassment and abuse. That’s just not what you see on major platforms.”
Part of the challenge, Barrica says, is not just filling in the gaps where traditional sexual education lacks, but also “unlearning” shame-based, sex-negative education often taught in abstinence-only programs.
“We need more sexual respect in the world, and we’re not going to get that by telling people to have less sex or no sex or no means no,” she explains. “Two million dollars have been spent on abstinence education; it doesn’t work.
Every study has shown that, with abstinence education, we see higher STI rates, higher teen pregnancy rates. There are people in the world who want to keep this education, but the next generation doesn’t want that. They’re starving for [something different].”
O.school’s daily live streams between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m., PST (and times are changing) run the gamut from “How to Get the Most Out of Your Hookup” to “Sex After Giving Birth” to a wealth of other topics including masturbation, body image, shame, trauma, spirituality and more.
“It includes pleasure anatomy, the sex ed you should have had, what does your body do, what are the different ways pleasure can feel, intro to kink beyond ‘Fifth Shades of Grey,’ intro to BDSM, how to have pleasure after giving birth, how to talk to your kids about pleasure, how to do what feels good, how do you masturbate, how do you achieve orgasm, things you might be to embarrassed to bring to a doctor or therapist but you wouldn’t be too embarrassed to bring to a sex toy seller,” Barrica goes on. “We’re very pleasure-first. And then we do a lot about living, loving and thriving after herpes. How you can have a pleasurable life after an STI diagnosis, which millions and millions of people will experience. We also have tons of stuff for college students like how do you have a healthy hookup? We’re not saying don’t be out there hooking up, but how do you get the most out of it? How do you negotiate what you like? How do you talk about sex? How do you ask for what you want? How do you decipher what to do in certain situations?”
Participants select streams that intrigue them from O.school’s extensive calendar, visit the site during the live stream and enter their emails and phone numbers to join the moderated chat. Moderators have been trained to recognized signs of abuse and harassment, such as aggressive self-promotion and excessive use of all caps and emojis — they’ll have the power to ban or mute viewers who violate O.school’s community guidelines, which delineate their intolerance for racism, sexism, transphobia and other biases and forms of bigotry. That said, if some viewers seem to lack awareness of inclusive language when discussing different identities — as in, they’re supportive but perhaps use outdated or offense terms unknowingly — the moderators will instead work with them to teach them how to better communicate.
“Eventually, the technology will help us do more and more,”she says in regards to moderation. “The key is starting with communities with a really clear sense of why they are there. We’re not coming to the world like, this is an open forum and you can talk about anything you want; just go! That hasn’t worked. The most vulnerable people don’t feel safe in that space. So this is a loving place where people are going to be talking about sex and healing themselves about their issues … It’s going to be a challenge, of course, as we grow but so far what we learned is that the community can help us. If you curate the right people in the beginning, it gets easier and easier.”
If you look at major platforms, like Twitter, you can’t solve the troll problem, Barrica says; it’s gotten too big.
“The fact that we are starting from scratch is because there’s a reason we couldn’t just use other platforms to deliver this,” she adds. “We couldn’t do this on Facebook Live or Periscope, not only because we’re not allowed to because the terms of service are discriminatory, but even if that weren’t the case, I wouldn’t want to do it on different platforms because you can’t curate the communities.”
The staff includes sexperts like Dalychia Saah of Afrosexology, pleasure educator and burlesque artist Luna Matatas and Kate Kenfield, who runs Tea & Empathy workshops centered on teaching people the skills to connect better. The idea is that these educators, who are typically relegated to college speaking tours and seminars in diverse and sex-positive cities, will be able to reach much larger audiences.
“I was drawn to O.school for two big reasons: One, the amplification of my workshops beyond where I can physically be to deliver them and, two, the incredibly inclusive focus on having diverse pleasure professionals cover the topics that matter most to communities that are typically marginalized in mainstream sex ed,” says Matatas. “I’m really excited about having access to some of the most dynamic, knowledgeable and rad pleasure educators around. I’ve been binge-watching streams of my fellow pleasure professionals and soaking up their wise ways of delivering pleasure education that is trauma-informed, rooted in equity and super engaging. I think access to this group will definitely be a pull for our intended audience — we help normalize fears, concerns and desires, and the live chat gives our audience a chance to be heard, ask specific questions and feel comfortable keeping their identities anonymous.”
Matatas loves teaching “weird topics,” she says, on kink, erotic roleplaying, exploring non-sexual erotic desires, group sex and more. She recently streamed on online dating etiquette and will be streaming on getting your groove back post divorce. She’ll also be teaching a workshop on subversion role-play based on her Peg the Patriarchy brand.
Kenfield, too, loved the vision of O.school, and will be covering topics about communication that lead to more connection and pleasure. With more than 10 years of sex and relationship education work, she now has a dirty talk steam planned.
“I was always ‘that friend’ that people would go to to ask their sex questions,” she explains. “I got great sex ed questions from my mom, so I was comfortable talking about it from an early age. When I got to college, I learned that I could turn that knowledge and communicative comfort into a job … Essentially, all of my work centers on teaching people the skills to connect better. Sometimes that looks like giving college students the sex ed they never got in their youth. Sometimes that looks like me going into an organization and training their staff on how to improve their empathy skills with their coworkers. I love teaching people how to communicate better in all their relationships. Most of us learn about sex through trial and error, but that’s a terrible way to learn about something so vulnerable.”
Participants have the option to tip Matatas, Kenfield and the other pleasure professionals on O.school. For now, the company is using a pay-what-you-can model for each livestream, but the platform may eventually introduce paid replay access and a premium membership option.
Barrica — who is equipped with startup entrepreneurial experience at InDinero, an accounting company she helped found, and 500 Startups, a global venture capital seed fund at which she was a venture partner — came up with the idea for O.school when she, herself, couldn’t find adequate sex and pleasure information in the depths of the internet. Raised by Filipino immigrant parents in a Catholic household, Barrica didn’t begin earnestly exploring her sexuality as a queer woman until just a few years ago. It wasn’t until she started attending in-person workshops with sex educators in safe spaces that she felt knowledgeable and empowered.
“I’m first-generation… In my home, I never got sex ed,” Barrica says. “We never talked about sex. All we talked about was: Don’t have it.”
Now, she hopes that O.school will be that safe space for anyone else who feels out of touch with any aspect of their sexuality, and she’s particularly hopeful that women, LGBTQ people and people of color will find refuge in the platform.
O.school recently raised $800,000, and current investors include Cyan Banister of Founders Fund, X Factor Ventures and The House Fund. The platform is also partnering with the Center for Sex and Culture executive director, Dr. Carol Queen, a well-respected sex educator, and Good Vibrations, a San Francisco Bay Area-based business that sells sex toys and other erotic products.
This year, as O.school takes off, Barrica and her team are also expanding their college tour. They’ve already visited more than 20 universities to speak on sex and pleasure and, next year, they’re looking to go to 50, on top of producing a series of events to test. Their first one is going to be an adult sex ed comedy event tentatively called “Third Period.”