Welcome to TPC Community, a column in which we will share profiles, stories, and more about the people who share our TPC values. Get to know us better. Have a question about sex, wellness, identity, relationships, or more that you'd like us to answer? Send it in here.
The Porn Conversation curriculum and conversation guides were created by our TPC Sexologists Dr. Bianca I Laureano and Avril Louise Clarke. Find out more about them and what their experience was with sex education in our conversation below.
First of all - what's a sexologist?
Avril: A sexologist is a person who studies human sexuality and sexual behaviour. Basically, they can educate, give therapy, and some are researchers. Kind of like Otis’ mom in Netflix’s Sex Education.
Why did you become a sexologist?
Bianca: I grew up in a home where my parents had books around and available such as Our Bodies Ourselves and The Joy Of Sex for us to explore and read. However we never spoke about the contents of those books. I think this experience helped me in various ways and also confused me in others where I was curious and unclear where or how to find all the answers I needed. I then became a peer educator as a teenager and that followed me into my undergraduate work at a university health center doing HIV, consent, and sexuality education with the college athletes and student population. This is where I realized this is a job! I graduated undergrad as the Acting Director of Sexuality Programs before going to graduate school.
Avril: I first got interested in sexual education as a teen. My friends and I were on the board of the HIV/AIDS Awareness club, which brought sexologists and sex educators to our school to give great presentations and the opportunity to go on field trips to sex-positive spaces. I was super inspired by a sexologist who came into my school. I finally felt like I was able to ask all the questions about sex I was curious about but didn’t know who to ask. Fast forward 15 years and a couple of degrees later, and I am a clinical sexologist! I love the work I do and creating a space where people can feel free to talk about sex - which isn’t always easy to find.
What was your sex education at school like growing up?
Bianca: It was very much how it is in many states today: offered by the Physical Education teacher who was already very ableist, uncomfortable with larger bodied students (I was a very tall teen and today am 6 feet tall without shoes), and not trained to offer or discuss sexuality topics. It was uncomfortable and unhelpful. There was laughing and the teachers always wanted us to be serious and they didn't know how to trust our joy and discomfort as interest.
Avril: I had two days of human growth and development courses in 5th grade where the teachers separated the boys from the girls and taught us about our changing bodies and periods. I remember it being less educational and more about teachers sharing their personal experiences. I left the class feeling so scared about starting puberty and with a bag full of menstrual products and deodorant. I would say my experience made me feel more fearful than excited about growing up.
Did you receive “the talk” at home?
Bianca: No. I received a talk about what sanitary products to use when I began menstruating but I didn't realize why I was menstruating beyond this is what girls like me experience. I was also told what type of person my parents wanted me to date and they were usually light skin heterosexual men. There was never a discussion about the anti-Blackness or assumed sexual attraction and orientation. In many ways as I came into my work as a sexologist I taught my parents sex ed as they did not receive any as young people either.
Avril: No way! My family had a very conservative approach when it came to talking about sex. We just didn’t. I was taught by watching my sisters and mom to hide my menstrual products and not to ask too many questions about my growing and changing body. I was grateful for friends, reliable sources on the internet, and sexologists at my school for advice on sex and puberty. I am also grateful for organisations like Planned Parenthood. Once I got my drivers license at 16, my friend and I took a day trip to our local Planned Parenthood to receive more information on how we can best care for our sexual health. I will never forget how comfortable they made me feel. That really helped.
Why do you think having The Porn Conversation is important?
Bianca: For the world we have inherited and created that values knowledge in various ways, the way that online free porn has become a staple experience for those of us online, it is not only an important project and conversation, it is a required one. There is so much shame and negativity about pleasure and bodies already. Free online porn builds on those fears that parents bring with them in discussing these topics. The Porn Conversation is proactive and clear about the mission and goals to support families in identifying their values and ways to support their family members in understanding the media that targets them, especially when it is free online porn.
Avril: The Porn Conversation is important because without comprehensive sex education and open and honest conversations about sex at home, porn is where a lot of people get information about sex. And I’ll be honest - including myself when I was a teen! What I didn’t realise until I started studying sexology is that porn sends us messages, which gives us a very unrealistic expectation of what sex is like in real life. It creates a fantasy that a lot think is real. Which can sometimes be helpful, sometimes be harmful. So, we need to talk about that. Even if it feels weird at first, we need to normalise these conversations - both at home and in schools.
What is the top advice you would give to teens today about sex/sexual health/wellness?
Bianca: That whatever you may be experiencing it is common! So much of what we are told about bodies, pleasure, ourselves is very scripted and created from fear. We get to decide what happens to our body/minds everyday, that is what liberation and body autonomy mean for us. That kind of power may feel weird and that is ok! Power feels a lot of ways and as you explore and enter into the power you have in various situations, because power is always present and always around us, you will find the people, places, and experiences that will help you build the world you want to be a part of and find joy in the process. There is no wrong way to be you and there is no wrong way to have a bodymind!
Avril: There is no such thing as normal. We all experience our growing and changing bodies in so many different ways. Also, there is no rush to figure out your sexual orientation or gender identity. It's a feeling and knowing that no one but yourself can decide for you. Also, although sometimes it may feel like it due to what we are exposed to online - not everyone is having sex. So, take your time to get to know yourself and your body. There is so much to learn and love about yourself and your relationship with sex.
Have a question about sex, wellness, identity, relationships and more for us? Send it in here. It’s always anonymous!