Sexy Ed: Coughtry Gives Workshops on Pleasure and Healing

Roan Coughtry, a sex educator based out of Atlanta, visited campus and taught two sex ed workshops.

Courtesy Roan Coughtry

Roan Coughtry, a sex educator based out of Atlanta, visited campus and taught two sex ed workshops.

By COURTENAY ROCHE

Sitting in rows of desks in a Hillcrest classroom on Thursday Nov. 30, a group of students watched as sex educator Roan Coughtry demonstrated cutting a condom to make a DIY dental dam. On a table in the corner, stickers, coupons to sex toy stores, smart wallets, and pamphlets proudly displayed the logos of Planned Parenthood and O.School, which is an online pleasure-based sex ed company that was launched earlier this year by a group of sex ed advocates, including Middlebury alumna Kristina Dotter ’14.

Coughtry is a sex educator at O.School, a company that describes their mission as “building a shame-free space by offering pleasure education through live streaming and moderated chat.” Dotter and O.School founder Andrea Barrica visited campus last spring to explain the concept for their new company. This year, Cece Alter ’19.5, an O.School intern, thought many students at Middlebury could benefit from a basic sex-ed class that was more LGBTQ inclusive, consent-based, and pleasure-focused than what many students had received in high school.

To that end, Alter organized the event with the support of Chellis House, Queers & Allies, the SGA Sexual Relationship Respect Committee, Feminist Action at Middlebury, and the MCAB Speakers Committee. Coughtry’s two workshops were part of a college tour O.School recently debuted, where sex educators travel to colleges around the country to give sex and relationship workshops.

Coughtry’s visit to campus included a comprehensive sex education workshop on Nov. 30, followed by a more narrowly focused workshop on healing from trauma and sexual liberation on Dec. 1. The idea behind the two workshops was to provide a basis of education for students before diving into more complex topics surrounding sex and relationships.

“We asked ourselves, what is missing here? And it turns out sex ed is missing here,” Alter said. “We have very little sex education in this country, and this world that is available. Maybe some people get here having no sex ed, so you really have to start with safer sex, and the basics of sex education, before you move on to something else, especially because there is no regular sex education [at Middlebury].”

The organizers were attentive to the fact that students, whether coming from a fairly comprehensive sex education, or none at all, likely all had some gaps in their knowledge, and wanted to focus on addressing as many of those topics as possible.

“Some people don’t know what an STI is and how to prevent that,” Alter said, adding that Coughtry’s workshops covered a variety of subjects that most high school programs do not talk about, including consent, pleasure, communication, how to say no, and more queer and trans-inclusive language.

One gap that stood out in many student’s previous sex education was that lack of LGBTQ inclusivity. It was particularly important to Alter and the other event organizers as well as queer groups on campus that the workshop was inclusive of queer and trans experiences, especially considering the lack of queer representation in the speakers who usually come to campus. Part of Coughtry’s sex ed basics workshop was centered on queer-inclusive anatomical terms that avoid the gendered associations of words like “penis,” and “vagina.” Instead, Coughtry used “innie” and “outie,” because, they said, the gendered associations with biological terms make such words less inclusive.

Coughtry began the workshop by announcing that they were going to help students “unlearn all the crap we’ve been taught,” and acknowledged the difficulty of finding comprehensive, pleasure-based sex education in today’s world.

“We live in such a sex-shaming, body-shaming society,” they said. ”Even if we fit the most narrow definition of what is considered normal sexually, we are probably still shamed for something.”

Coughtry also wanted the workshop to focus on safe-sex practices, including preventing unwanted pregnancy and STIs, while avoiding rhetoric that can make STIs seem shameful. They provided as an example the common practice of saying “I’m clean” when you have no STIs, rather than saying that your tests came back negative

“The word clean implies that having STIs are dirty,” they said. “People can be in long, healthy relationships when they have STIs…it needs to be more normalized.”

The last half of the first workshop was dedicated to communication and consent. Coughtry brought up and then broke all the myths surrounding consent, including ideas such as, “consenting once means consenting every time,” or “a lack of a no can be considered a yes.” They wanted to address these myths, because many seem so ingrained in society that they are not always disproven or even talked about in regular high school sex ed classes. Coughtry also challenged prevalent myths about communication, most notably: “the biggest myth about communication is that it’s happening.”

Coughtry’s workshops were a major step towards de-stigmatizing sex ed at a college level, and Alter and other organizers hope to make sex ed more permanently prevalent on campus. The SGA Sexual Relationship and Respect Committee has been working with groups on campus to brainstorm ideas for bringing sex ed to Middlebury, perhaps as part of first year orientation, in the form of a possible new student organization, and more speakers and workshops.

“People can be very uncomfortable in sex ed classes, and talking about sex, and I think we need to normalize it more. There’s a certain group of people who goes, and only a certain number of times per semester, and we need it to become more part of the culture,” said Alter, who is also a member of the Sexual Relationship and Respect Committee.

In the meantime, students seeking more sex education can go to O.School’s website to look at thousands of videos on topics ranging from “How to get the most out of your hookup” to “Sex after giving birth.” Their website is https://www.o.school.

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Sexy Ed: Coughtry Gives Workshops on Pleasure and Healing