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Sexologist Megan Andelloux with plush vulva puppet.
Voice Vixen here, reporting on the Female Orgasm Seminar which took place this past Friday night. Content warning, the following does acknowledge the existence of sex and is textually NSFW.
6:45 So this thing hasn’t started yet and already Science Center C is a writing mass of hot bodies, packed front to back with Harvard Students who apparently want to know the ins and outs of the female orgasm. There is a table up front arrayed with various sex toys ranging from purple to pink to… pinker. I’ve picked up a raffle ticket, wish me luck!
6:46: A group of guys sitting behind me can’t seem to say the word clitoris without whispering. One of them says he hopes to hear about some “serious technique.”I suppress judgement, it seems clear that boys of Harvard could really use the help.
6:55 It IS SO LOUD IN HERE. It’s almost like every person in the room is having a really intelligibly vocal orgasm. Rabble rabble rabble!
A capture of Lingford’s stop motion animation.
6:00 Ruth Lingford (VES Professor, Department Head) has started talking about her videos interviewing people to describe their orgasms. Her film is a minimalist stop motion animation with voiceover’s of said descriptions. It is notably replete with phrases like “chocolate mousse”, “volcanic”, “like icing”, “I thought of broccoli”. All this food talk really makes me want a cupcake. Everyone laughs at a software update popup, but the video is otherwise really interesting and captivatingly animated.
7:05 I begin to tally the number of times people say “orgasm.”
7:08 I don’t know whether to be encouraged by the number of people in the room or really, really saddened by the balls-to-the-wall, people-standing-in-the-aisles attendance.
7:16 To describe the scene, on the table in the front is a VAST array of sex toys, apparently $1000 worth of swag. Apparently the Voice’s good blogging sista, Lena Chen of Sex and The Ivy, graciously supplied the sex toys to be given away. We love you Lena!
Note: The men here are definitely, the loudest, brashest people in the audience. Voice Vixen does not like. The sex educator/sexologist however, is extremely cool and sexy. Just sayin’. High waisted skirt, white blouse, librarian glasses. A Harvard gal might steal this look.
7:21 Surprisingly, the “orgasm” iteration count is only at 8 – I think we can do better than this.
7:22 So cute/gross, everyone in the audience just said ‘Pap Smears’ altogether, like a three-year old says “Good Morning Mr. Rogers!”
FML Celebrity Sighting! Gov20 Italian guy.
7:23: Highlight of the event: women referred to as “vaginal owners”, because not everyone who has a vagina identifies as female. Thank you! This is a vast improvement upon the utterly heteronormative seminars of yesteryear.
The sexologist lays it down for us, figuratively. Some great quotes:
“Everyone has an asshole, everyone has a mouth. Those are the great equalizers.”
In reference to always using lube for anal sex: “My job is to make sure you don’t rip your butthole.”
“This is one of my vulva puppets.”
“For the love of god masturbation is good for you.”
“There are no absolutes in human sexuality.”
HOLY CRAP COOL FACT: Greatest number of orgasms had by a woman in a sexual study: 134 in one hour. Everyone feels inadequate.
7:30 There is way too much hooting and hollering from the men in here. You dogs you.
MORE TECHNIQUE/HELPFUL FACTS:
The average female orgasm takes: 10-20 min
Imbibing anything over an ounce of alcohol decreases the ability to orgasm, but less than an ounce makes one a little more receptive.
Working out helps you have better orgasms, as it improves the circulatory system.
Direct clitoral stimulation is needed for most vaginal owners to get off. “Trying to orgasm without clitoral stimulation is like a man trying to orgasm without touching his penis.”
Orgasm isn’t the goal, there’s other fun stuff (aka goal-focused sex, a no-no).
Super Helpful Relaxation Tip: try to make the jaw muscles slack.
Politics do not belong in the bedroom.
7:47 “Orgasm” count now way up to 49.
7:57 We’re about to watch a clip from “Viva La Vulva.” Oh, yes, you really should have come to this. So. many. vulvas. Everyone is rapt with attention though; half the guys in the room have their hands near their mouth or their chins. A woman with really, really strong PC muscles is displaying herself COMPLETELY. I can’t help but wonder how many Harvard boys have even seen this before, let alone projected 6 feet tall in a on a screen. Vaginal show and tell.
The sexologist mentioned genital shaving and every girl groaned.
8:12 We’ve moved onto the clitoris!
Tip: If you “split the clitoris into four quadrants” the upper left is the most sensitive. Who knew?
Fact: You cannot stretch out the vagina lips.
Facts: If someone is physically responding to sex their outer lips will open up. the The clitoris is actually 4-6 inches long, the exposed part being just a tiny tip of it. Is it sad that this comes as incredible information to everyone in the audience?
8:22 We’re onto vibrators and toys:
Fact: vibrators were created for the medical community, as a treatment for hysteria.
Fact: You can’t “break” your vagina by using your vibrator too much.
Butt lessons: make sure your anal toy has a flange (a wide part at the base of the toy that prevents it from being sucked up into your body). The image that accompanies this advice is horrifying.
8:41: final “orgasm” word count at 67.
Final Thoughts: While Voice Vixen did not snag a cupcake, she assumes they could only have been magnificent. In any case the talk was incredibly informative. It’s amazing how mis/uneducated individuals can be about their own bodies. Voice Vixen came away cringingly refreshed as did many of the others in attendance. If anything can be surmised from the incredibly participatory, enraptured, and VOCAL student responses, it’s that the event was an incredible success. Alas, we did not win a sex toy (there was a Hello Kitty vibrator… NOOOO!) but we definitely give kudos to The Radcliffe Union of Students for their work putting this together. Look forward to it next year, and get there EARLY because there wasn’t an empty seat in the house! Harvard kids might be sexually frustrated, but sh*t if they aren’t willing to educate themselves. The main advice of the night: Relax, be safe , learn more, read more, masturbate more, and remember to relax that jaw!
Megan Andelloux sits in row three of the Pawtucket City Council Chambers, awaiting a verdict. Beautifully poised in a navy blue, tailored vintage dress, her red hair lovely and tidy, her hands in her lap, her pumps set squarely on the floor, she looks like a young real estate professional requesting a zoning variance.
In my mind, she transforms into the heroine of her own comic book series. Her pumps become stacked spike-heeled boots, her demure fifties dress evaporates into a corset blazing with the colors of the American flag. Her red hair let loose and wild, she leaps from her chair, a rolled up copy of the Bill of Rights in one hand, a vibrator in the other.
This is about sex, she admonishes the cowering panel. You know it is! My center will open! People will come! Men and women will have, finally, a safe place to talk about orgasms and erectile dysfunction, safe lubricants and spanking. And it will be in downtown Pawtucket!
But tonight is not the night for super heroine triumphs. Tonight is just another night for battling the grinding bureaucratic machine that Andelloux, thirty-three, encountered last fall when she attempted to open her nonprofit Center for Sexual Pleasure & Health in Pawtucket’s Grant Building. It turns out that educational organizations may not do business in this building, and so the city’s zoning office shut her down. Her appeal of that decision, tonight, will be denied. This is not about sex, the panel will assert. This is about zoning.
She will not transform into an erotic, pen-and-ink protagonist. She’ll nod, knowingly, at the denial she suspected was coming her way. She’ll sit through the rest of the evening’s decisions, then powwow with her lawyer Michael Horan in the cold, clattery hallway outside the Chambers. They’ll plan her next attack, not with sex toys, but with paperwork. She’ll tell local press that she’ll continue to assert her right to do business in Pawtucket. She’ll assure friends that she’s not ready to give up. Not by a long shot. It’s not comic book behavior, but it’s a fight all right.
“Two things,” Andelloux says, tucked into the circa-1960s black vinyl sectional sofa in her CSPH offices, the 500-square-foot Ground Zero of her battle. The center is for counseling and classes, as well as distribution of literature ranging from safe sex to pleasure-related practices between (she constantly emphasizes) consenting adults. No sex takes place here and nothing is for sale. It’s Planned Parenthood with a little Lady Gaga thrown in; shame gets checked at the threshold while candor and humor make any question reasonable, any aspect of sex fair game. Andelloux says she loves the space because it’s an interior storefront. Patrons of any of the Grant Building’s tenants, from Flying Shuttles Studio and Blackstone Chess Academy to graphic design studios and Kafe Lila, enter through a central outer doorway to find individual businesses lining an interior gallery. From Andelloux’s point of view, this brightly lit, friendly vestibule provides privacy for anyone who might feel uncomfortable entering an organization dealing with sex, from the street. “Plus,” she says, “the building has its own cat. How homey is that?”
Andelloux embraces homey. She’s painted the center’s walls a cheery yellow and robin’s egg blue, colors more at home in a farmhouse kitchen than an office, and hung ephemera that reveal her collector’s mentality as well as her saucy take on sex. A vintage magazine ad for Lysol douches on one wall plays ironically against an oversized, pillow-like vulva puppet she uses for teaching, on a shelf below. On a nearby coffee table, four chunky pieces of stainless steel sit on a mirrored pedestal cake plate. They resemble oversize punctuation marks (they’re G-spot and prostate toys). She settles in to talk about the center with the warmth of a girlfriend dishing last night’s “Project Runway” over coffee.
She considers those “two things” — the two mistakes that brought her into the spotlight of the city of Pawtucket and onto the wrong side of narrowly interpreted zoning. She purses her lips, sighs. “I shouldn’t have testified about sex workers’ rights,” she says. “That got a lot of people angry. And I probably shouldn’t have put the word ‘pleasure’ in the title of the Center.”
She may be right. After signing a lease for her fledgling nonprofit in May, Andelloux, a proponent of sex workers’ rights, decided to testify at a June State Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on eliminating Rhode Island’s statewide law allowing indoor prostitution. “I was terrified to testify,” she says. “But I felt some advocates were confusing trafficking with sex work, so I went.” Andelloux signed up to speak, lost her nerve and scratched off her name. “Then this woman stood up and said, ‘We need to stop sex…no…we need to stop sex trafficking.’ I thought this is a complete fear of sexuality. So I put my name back on. I thought, even if my voice shakes, I can go up.”
So up she went, but was dumbfounded when Donna M. Hughes, a professor of women’s studies at the University of Rhode Island well known for her activism on sex trafficking issues (and a proponent of eliminating indoor prostitution), took her to task afterward in a series of public forums. First, on June 24, Hughes described (but did not name) Andelloux in a Providence Journal editorial as a “tattooed woman calling herself a ‘sexologist and sex educator.’” Hughes also wrote that Andelloux was “a reporter for a prostitutes’ magazine called $pread,” adding, “I couldn’t make this stuff up!”
The next day, Andelloux penned her own letter to the Journal. “Let me introduce myself,” she wrote. “I’m the nationally certified sex-educator and derogatorily labeled ‘tattooed lady’ mentioned by Donna Hughes in her June 24 opinion piece.
“Putting quotation marks around my profession was insulting,” Andelloux continued, “and yes, I am a contributor to the sex-workers magazine $pread. Is it so shocking that sex workers can read?”
The heroine, suddenly, had a nemesis. “As an alum of URI (’97),” Andelloux wrote, “I would have expected faculty to develop a reputation for science and truth. Instead, it seems that Ms. Hughes would rather resort to right-wing scare tactics. Perhaps if ‘the Professor’ really cared about women, she wouldn’t attack us for the way that we look.”
Things got nastier. In a September 23 issue of Citizens Against Trafficking, an online newsletter published by Hughes and Melanie Shapiro, a student at Roger Williams University School of Law, an unsigned article titled “Sex Radicals’ Vision for Rhode Island” said:
“But the advocates for prostitution are still active in Rhode Island. In fact, a new center to campaign for sexual rights is trying to open in Pawtucket. The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health calls itself the ‘Dormitory for Armatory.’ The proprietor, Megan Andelloux, is a member of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, which is a subsidiary of COYOTE, the group that originally sued for decriminalization of prostitution in the 1970s. It too advocates for the decriminalization of prostitution. To date, the city of Pawtucket has prevented the center from opening, saying it violates their zoning ordinances.
“The sex radicals are entitled to free speech, but citizens of Rhode Island are entitled to resist their advocacy of prostitution and violence. The proprietor of the proposed center is a prostitute (she calls herself a ‘foot fetish model’) and a dominatrix. She is also on the ‘faculty’ of the Kink Academy in Boston, which holds ‘classes’ to demonstrate sexual sadism, masochism and torture. The classes often include live models. (The images are too obscene to include here.) One of the students at the Academy claims she became a ‘sex slave’ to one of the instructors and was ordered to prepare to be a prostitute. Andelloux claims to be a speaker on college campuses where she demonstrates whipping and has the students try on sex gear.”
Is this a fair portrait of Andelloux, or someone else’s comic book rendering?
Andelloux went to Mitchell College, a two-year institution in New London, Connecticut, for kids needing a creative approach. She quickly realized that “sucking at math” was not part of a career in marine biology. Meanwhile, she happened to take a quiz on facts about sex, reading that 80 percent of Americans failed it. She got one question wrong. A human sexuality course she took fit her passions. She changed majors and planned a dinner out with her parents to give them the news.
“Right before my mother put the hamburger in her mouth,” Andelloux recalls, “I said, ‘I’m going to be a sex educator.’ ” She cracks up at the memory. “My mother said, ‘Megan, girls can’t do that.’ My father shook his head. But I told them that’s what I decided I was going to do.”
Andelloux got herself into URI from Mitchell, graduating in 1997 with a major in Human Development and Family Studies and a minor in Human Sexuality. She moved to northern New Jersey and worked for Planned Parenthood as a sex educator. Developing a reputation as a “spitfire,” in her words, Andelloux got herself in occasional trouble for a little too much candor. “I had a mouth on me,” she says. Once, after finishing a Planned Parenthood presentation at a high school, Andelloux was approached by a student. “She told me she’d been having sex with her partner with no birth control. She was freaked out. We had this long conversation and then I told her I’d send her some condoms. I told her I’d address the package as [though] for a school project.” But when the girl’s moth-er opened the package, freaked out herself, and called Planned Parenthood, Andelloux was in trouble. “Oh yeah. I got in trouble. I kept my job, but I was in trouble.”
Andelloux continued to butt heads with Planned Parenthood, so she leapt at the chance in 2001 to work at Miko, a well-known sex-toy shop in Providence, where she ran educational workshops full-time and worked the sales floor. When Miko closed in 2008, Andelloux reached her crossroads. “People kept telling me I should open a new store,” she says, “but I knew I didn’t have business sense. I know how to teach, how to make people feel comfortable, and I know how to talk about difficult concepts. [But] I knew my name, at this point, was too risque even for liberal organizations, so I started doing my own workshops.” One day last spring, as Andelloux was hanging posters for The Vagina Monologues, a passerby recognized her from Miko, and told her about a great place in Pawtucket that was looking for tenants.
On September 14, twelve days before the scheduled grand opening of the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, Donna Hughes sent an email from her Blackberry to the nine members of Pawtucket’s City Council:
A center for “sexual rights” and “sexual pleasure” is opening in Pawtucket.
Twenty-six hours later, Andelloux got a call from the Pawtucket Police Department. Her opening needed permits, Major Bruce Moreau told her, and there were concerns based on activities advertised on her website (including burlesque dancing and a raffle of sex toys) that required special permitting. He shared the contents of Hughes’ email with her. Andelloux picked up her husband, Derek, a family medicine resident at Brown, and the couple walked up the squat, broad steps of Pawtucket City Hall into a confusing gauntlet of special event permits that led, ultimately, to having to describe the Center’s primary purpose to secure overall zoning approval — something Andelloux had never been informed by her landlords that she needed to obtain. She rushed through meetings in hallways and offices; she called city councilors to explain her mission.
Mostly, though, Andelloux worried that the words “sexual” and “pleasure,” pitched by an adversary directly to a council representing a famously Catholic city, might ignite further opposition beyond the inertia her paperwork seemed to be generating. She settled on stating the Center’s primary purpose as “education.” What she didn’t realize is that within the minutiae of the Pawtucket zoning codes lies the fact that a special use permit obtained by the developers of the Grant Building does not support educational facilities like schools. Andelloux never said she ran a school.
But it was that sole word, education, that prompted zoning official Ronald Travers to rule against the Center, and gave the Zoning Board reason to uphold his verdict.
Andelloux was caught in a knot of nomenclature, as binding as a corset, but nowhere near as fun. She prepared a new motion with Horan, this one to request a special use permit for her space, much like a yoga studio in downtown Pawtucket had obtained. They returned to the council chambers in late January, filing their motion and hastening to point out that she will engage in education, but on a scale that is consistent with the overall mixed use espoused by the city’s downtown plan. No one argued. No one challenged. Only one member asked one thing:
“So, you won’t be selling any sexual paraphernalia?”
No. No. Andelloux said, shaking her head.
Meanwhile, she rejected ongoing counsel from well-wishers to leave Pawtucket for more liberal and accepting (not to mention properly zoned) locations. She paid rent on her unoccupied space. She paid heat. She paid legal fees. She turned away paying clients. And waited for one more fight. The next step was going to be court.
Then, finally, it’s decision time again. Andelloux perches in her chair, her bright pink dress shifting under her nervously clenched hands. Her husband pats her knee from time to time. The zoning board rolls through decision announcements like a boss spins a Rolodex; it’s easy to lose track. Then Andelloux’s name pops through the bureaucratic fog. And, in a series of comments as mild and conciliatory as her previous hearing had been spiky and adversarial, the men who control her zoning destiny say yes.
Yes, they say, to Megan Andelloux, and several lean forward to their microphones to say, for the record, that they regret that things got off to a bad start. They mouth words of support, absolving their municipality of anything other than administrative vigor. They regret the tangle. They grant her permit. It’s almost, if you imagine an erotic comic book, like a bit of sex play. Yes? Yes? No, No… Yes!
It was just that easy?
Megan Andelloux nods and smiles.
She looks unthreatening enough, perched on the edge of a table in a large classroom at Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Connecticut. Andelloux is indeed speaking on a college campus and receiving $500 for the two hours she’ll spend with 100 young men and women packing this room on a chilly fall evening. She has, indeed, allowed her feet to be looked at, photographed, and massaged by paying clients as a foot fetish model — although this never has involved genital exposure or contact, much less touching above her knee, she says. Yes, she has been paid to create educational videos for “Kink Academy,” a website that celebrates every aspect of consensual sex. And right now, yes, she’s tugging a strap-on harness up over her clothing to demonstrate for her audience what she describes as one of her favorite lube tricks.
“This one is great,” she says as she yanks the harness, complete with large synthetic phallus, into place around her hips. She grabs a plunger-bottle of lubricant; it looks like a hand soap dispenser that sits near a powder room sink. She tucks it into the harness — where a gun would sit in a holster.
“Okay!” she calls out, her rigging complete. Her voice reminds me of a home ec teacher’s — both perky and bossy. If it weren’t for the subject matter, she could just as easily be demonstrating how to sew a wrap-around skirt.
“So when you’re having sex with a strap-on, and your partner is getting really hot, here’s an amazing finish,” she says, and gives the bottle a couple of swift plunges that release spurts of viscous liquid. The audience knows exactly what this simulates and loves it. The kids cheer. Andelloux opens her eyes wide, nodding at their response. “See? See? Isn’t that cool?”
In these two hours, Andelloux’s workshop will range from this kind of taboo-busting demonstration to ardent discussion of safe ingredients in lubricants and sex toys (“If that dildo has a smell, it’s made overseas with dangerous synthetics. Don’t buy it.”) She’ll take dozens of questions penned on index cards, some of them endearingly naïve. She’ll give advice that is bumper-sticker outrageous, but gets to serious healthy practice. “Don’t put anything smaller than six inches up your butt,” she orders, reminding her audience that the anatomy of this part of the body is not equipped to expel items. “Once something gets lost up there,” she continues, “the only way you’re gonna get it out is at the emergency room.” As the kids hoot, she eyes them. “And trust me, you don’t want to be that patient.” Her mix of medical terminology and slang, sometimes folksy, sometimes colorfully current, makes her advice easy to embrace. It’s a remarkable marriage of tone and content. If Rachael Ray and the Marquis de Sade had a lovechild, it’d be Megan Andelloux.
After she finishes up by — yes — taking volunteers for a fully clothed spanking demonstration that raises the roof, students surround her and linger for nearly an hour, asking questions and inspecting the few vibrators and lubricants for sale. The fun and safety of sex takes her on the road like this nearly weekly, speaking to groups large and small, running sex toy parties for private clients, doing events at sex toy shops, attending and presenting at conferences. She creates “Tearin’ It Off,” a weekly podcast with WBRU at Brown University, and writes numerous columns for online sexual and feminist health and advocacy sites. She will appear, unpaid, in an annual production of The Vagina Monologues in Providence. For a sexologist, this cobbled-together assortment of education and entertainment keeps rent money coming in, and for Andelloux it is also, she admits, a bit of a calling.
“My parents were 1950s WASPs,” she says, describing her traditional upbringing in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts. “I was totally raised in that environment.” The youngest of three kids (but fourteen and eighteen years younger than her sister and brother, respectively), Andelloux watered her activist seed with an issue embraced by many girls: animal rights. She became a vegetarian at fifteen.
A year later, Andelloux developed a quirky obsession. “I had a thing for memorizing sex facts,” she says, “you know, statistics. When people masturbate, average breast sizes…I would spout these off to my friends during supper.” Still passionate about animals (and specifically about orcas), Andelloux planned to study marine biology at the University of Rhode Island. Then she was date-raped. “I had a series of sexual assaults take place in the summer before my senior year, including the very first date I ever went on,” she says. “I was seventeen. I’d gotten good grades up to that point. After that summer, my grades plummeted, I had nightmares, I reverted to wearing baggy clothes, and I hung out with the ‘bad girls.’ My grades were nowhere good enough to get into URI.”
On Tuesday, one of the first things I saw when I got online was an article about controversy surrounding an anti-smoking ad in France. I read the article’s description of the advertisement before I saw the visual of the ad itself. This description included the following:
. . . [P]hotographs of an older man, his torso seen from the side, pushing down on the head of a teenage girl with a cigarette in her mouth. Her eyes are at belt level, glancing upward fearfully.
The first thing I felt uneasy about reading said description was that it seemed to indicate that being on one’s knees giving someone a blow job, especially if the recipient’s hand is on the giver’s head, was being shown as something obviously ominous and undesirable. Possibly the model on her (or his, as there are also ads with boys in the kneeling position) knees is supposed to be under the age of 18, but to me this frankly doesn’t seem obvious.
Then I saw the visual of the ad. The slogan accompanying it translates into, “To smoke is to be a slave to tobacco.” First, no one appears to me to be “pushing down” on anyone’s head. And “fearfully”? To me, the expression on the kneeler’s face in both the male and female versions looks frankly rather neutral.
I thus returned even more pointedly to the unease I felt at what message was being postulated by the ad. It seems to me the ad is supposed to be indicating that being on one’s knees giving a blowjob is not an appropriate place to be, even an indicator somehow of “slavery”—and I find this abhorrent.
The controversy I read about it did not seem to be sharing the concern I had. Rather, the impression I had was that certain organizations were objecting to the ad because it “trivialized” sexual abuse. Okay. Again, perhaps the ad is supposed to be depicting someone underage, in which case the argument for abuse occurring could be made in our no-one-under-18-thinks-of-or-should-in-any-way-be-participating-in-sex culture. However, the age of the kneeler again does not seem obvious to me, so to see controversy that seems to be perceiving that being on one’s knees giving someone a blow job is equivalent to sexual abuse seems frankly alarming to me.
But really, that’s not what this blog post is about (or not entirely, anyway). Later that day, I was perusing Facebook and saw that Good Vibrations had posted a link to an article in its magazine. I clicked on the link and was faced with a page that said, “Sorry: The link you are trying to visit has been reported as abusive by Facebook users.” I went to Good Vibrations Magazine’s home page and found the article in question. Turns out it is an article by Dr. Charlie Glickman talking about the very advertisement I just mentioned. He mentions in his article the same thing that first occurred to me when I saw it as well as discussing sexuality and advertising in relation to it and another ad. As usual with what I have read from Dr. Glickman, I found it an interesting, insightful, thoughtful piece.
When I went back and checked, the link on Facebook worked. I rechecked throughout the day, and sometimes it went through while other times giving the disabled message. So perhaps it is/was a glitch with my computer.
If, however, the link was disabled by Facebook (which means, as I understand it, that someone reported it as inappropriate), I find that disheartening and seriously frustrating. This is not a salacious or X-rated article. It is an article written by a sex educator discussing implications of two particular ads and the use of sexuality in their messaging. How it could be found “abusive” pretty much escapes me.
Unless, of course, it was deemed so solely because it centered on the subject of sex.
Whether or not the link disabling was intentional on Facebook’s part, the possibility itself (and/or of the link being reported as such) reminded me once again of the way sex/sexuality seems to be treated differently from other subjects and areas of life. To much of society this seems to be expected or even appropriate. Since I personally find it arbitrary, that very perception seems to make the situation all the more frustrating to me. And in the case of the disabled link to the article in question, I not only lament the arbitrary bias toward the subject of sex, I find a lack not only of acceptance but of active appreciation seriously regretful.
I feel like we should be thanking Dr. Glickman up and down for offering the attention, insight, caring, and dedication he does to sexual matters and the sexual health of all individuals. To me Dr. Charlie Glickman and his numerous (though still a considerable minority) colleagues such as Dr. Carol Queen, Dr. Richard Wagner, Ms. Violet Blue, Dr. Annie Sprinkle, Dr. Elizabeth Wood, Ms. Megan Andelloux, and Dr. Marty Klein should be positively showered with appreciation, respect, commendation, and accolades. Why? Because they care about sexuality. They find it important. They care about and find sexuality important enough that they study, observe, examine, discuss, share information about, and devote their professional, academic, personal, and/or intellectual time, resources, and attention to the subject of sexuality.
Instead of appreciation, their links on Facebook, metaphorically speaking, are reported and censored. They do what they do in the face of a society that seems not only to entirely not get the incredible service they are offering but also continually seems to condemn, disregard, and disrespect their work and sometimes them themselves. They have been mocked, ignored, dismissed, and judged by the simple virtue of the subject matter to which they have chosen to devote their attention—which is for me exactly why I so revere and appreciate their offerings. I do so not only because of their subject choice of sexuality and the way they have approached it, but also because they have done this despite the as of yet societal lack of understanding of the immeasurable value of their service.
There are all sorts of positions in which this kind of respect for sexuality and education around it occurs. Sex workers of all kinds have the opportunity to contribute in this way, as do erotic artists and sex-focused journalists and media commentators. The particular mention I give here is to the sex educators, to those who have devoted their academic and/or intellectual resources and capabilities to our sexual health and wellness with utmost respect for the pleasure, beauty, and importance of sexuality. I find what seems to be the societal lack of appreciation for them truly astounding, and I personally feel profound gratitude for the work they do in this area that is so dear to my own sensibility as well.
To the sincere, earnest, caring, thoughtful, enthusiastic, hard-working sex educators of the world—thank you.
In an especially sweet victory for sex positivity in the U.S., the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health(CSPH), the first non-profit sexuality resource and information center on the East Coast, was granted a permit to open in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Despite months of controversy and opposition during a long, drawn out battle over “zoning permits” (read: sexuality and sex-related scare-tactics), the Center is finally open for business!
Megan Andelloux, a board certified Sexologist and Sexuality Educator is the founder and director of the non-profit Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, and she’s had to go through a lot to see this center come to fruition. Despite the seemingly obvious benefits of having a center like this to educate, inform, and empower, she’s actually been in a legal battle over the opening since September since- surprise, surprise, the idea of this center wasn’t immediately a popular one in the Rhode Island town where it now resides.
Carnal Nation, where Andelloux is a contributor, reports that the rumors surrounding the Center’s opening were as flagrant as they were false:
“Accusations ranged from claims that they would teach sadomasochistic practices to schoolchildren to essentially being nothing more than a brothel.The grand opening celebration, which included speakers such as Carol Queen, Gina Ogden, andElizabeth Wood and attracted over 200 people, had to be held off-premises in Providence because the zoning board refused to let the Center open on the grounds that their location wasn’t zoned for educational purposes. As Megan herself wrote a few months ago, ‘That’s correct, folks: the city of Pawtucket, RI took a firm stance against ‘education’ coming into their town.’”
Scare tactics and fear surrounding sexuality and sexual health are nothing new, which is why I’m so glad the verdict came down on the right side this time. The Center will provide tons of crucial community services, including one-on-one coaching services and group classes, as well as hold drop-in hours and offer access to resources on sex, sexuality, pleasure, and health. And it looks like even those who initially opposed it have had to come around to the importance of these services in their community- the press release issues by the Center notes that:
“While the introduction of The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health started off rocky, and false rumors swirled about what the CSPH would be providing, members of the conservative, liberal, and libertarian community eventually stated that The CSPH mission, to provide adults with a safe space to access information about sex, did indeed fit in with their community values.”
Love it. Big congrats to Megan- She deserves major kudos for her perseverance and courage in the face of all this unfounded opposition.
For more, check out a video on Waking Vixen of Andelloux telling the story of the controversy.
A bitter winter wind keeps whipping through DC, trundling brown fallen leaves through the city streets. One can hardly find defense outside from its icy wheezing. Luckily this weekend, however, someone well acquainted with cold December climate is coming to town with some tools to help us heat up the holiday season! AASECT certified Sexuality Educator and ACS certified Sexologist Megan Andelloux has been recruited by WholeDC to give two back-to-back workshops Saturday, “How to Please a Woman in Bed” and “How to Please a Man in Bed.” A resident of Pawtucket, Rhode Island (home of Hasbro; the people who brought you Jem, Mr. Potato Head, and My Little Ponies) and a self-proclaimed “sex nerd,” Megan is extending an invitation to all genders and orientations to come learn some new ways to get warm[wink]!
Megan is an author in the book “We Got Issues,” a feminist response to cultural attitudes on feminism, and a frequent expert contributor to sexualhealth.com. She is also the Founder and Director of the non-profit Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health in Pawtucket, RI. Charming, charismatic, and sincere, Megan has devoted herself to educating people about sexual health and pleasure. Through her sexual education workshops at numerous colleges and medical schools, and work with local medical providers, Megan has become renowned for her engaging teaching style, depth of knowledge, and activism. Come out to see a true Rhode Island treasure this Saturday, you won’t be disappointed! To learn more about Megan’s efforts in community outreach and her experiences as a sex educator, see the interview below. Also, take some time to peruse her amazing website providing sexual health information, reviews of popular sex toys, and sex-positive advice.
December 12, 2009 – WholeDC Presents Megan Andelloux
“How to Please a Woman in Bed” (4:00-5:30pm; Café Salsa, upstairs; $20)
“How to Please a Man in Bed” (6:30-8:00pm; Café Salsa, upstairs; $20)
The New Gay: Megan, you’re a certified sex educator and sexologist. What got you started on this rather unconventional path?
Megan Andelloux: There were a couple of things. First, in college, I had a knack for memorizing sex facts… [laughs] although I’m not really sure where that came from because I was studying marine biology (at the University of Rhode Island). When you’re in college you talk about sex all the time. In small groups of friends I realized that people kept hitting on the same questions, questions I had been hearing since high school. That started to pique my interest… you know, why the same questions were still unresolved years later. Then I ended up taking a human sexuality course, as a filler, and fell in LOVE with the topic. There my penchant for sex facts came in handy. And things sort of just came together.
The other part, which I didn’t really acknowledge in the beginning, but after four years in the field I realized, was that the field of sex education was a way for me to explore sexuality in a safe manner. I had been sexually assaulted, and it wasn’t allowed to be talked about at the time. And our culture seemed to reinforce a fear of talking about this thing that, although it was on everyone’s mind, no one seemed to be able to discuss openly.
TNG: Did you find it disheartening that this thing we have consistently done as a population since the beginning of our species (having sex), was so crippling to talk about in public?
MA: Of course! And you can see how it affects us, just look at the recent obsession with Tiger Woods. I think one of the reasons people get so wrapped up in celebrity sex scandals is because they finally give us permission to talk openly about sex. Focusing judgment and blame away from us, we readily engage in conversations about someone else’s sex life. And sometimes that can be a useful way to facilitate more probing discussion. But we need to be able to have these discussions about ourselves, and our own sexualities.
TNG: You do a lot of educational outreach within the medical community. Can you tell me a little about that work?
MA: Sure, there are two facets of my work in the medical community. One is teaching medical providers about sexuality issues, and how to be sex-positive providers. For a lot of people, their doctor is a primary source of adult sex education. So I give workshops at medical schools, of the ilk I run at any other university. We go over sex work issues, sex toys, BDSM play, etc, to make sure they are exposed to the information and to help create a language through which they can talk to their patients comfortably. Medical students are really focused, and they learn a lot about the diseases of the body… but issues of sexual health and behavior extend past mere physical abnormalities and disease. If you don’t train people to deal with these broader issues, they aren’t as well equipped to provide health information to the public. Or worse, when confronted with candid questions they get that “deer in headlights” look, which then affects the patient’s willingness to seek out similar health advice in the future.
The other role I play in the medical community is as a gynecological teaching assistant.
TNG: Um, yeah, with that last one… which side of the examining table are you on?
MA: [laughs] Oh, I’m on the table! Part of this work is helping medical students practice their first gynecological examinations. The other part is helping established providers conduct pelvic exams on women who have been sexually assaulted, and how to make it less traumatizing. In both cases, beyond practicing physical technique there is a focus on infusing the right type of language and discussion into the examination. A small example is getting doctors to use phrases like “that looks healthy” instead of “that looks normal” … because “normal” is ambiguous and less informative. These are simple adjustments to the exam, but you’d be surprised at how much of a difference they make in effectively communicating with a patient.
TNG: Another part of your work is sexuality education to the general public, at college campuses or workshops like the one this Saturday… is it hard to establish a common ground between a sexually diverse crowd?
MA: No, not at all. Again, language is powerful and I think people can get very caught up in the language of sexuality, and the labels. But during my workshops I try to give a disclaimer that we have all joined in a place of support and respect. And besides, we are all there to talk about genitalia. I tend to use very general terms that are relatable to a diverse group, but it is important for people to know they have the permission to be themselves and to ask any question, and as a group we can find a common language.
TNG: For readers interested in attending your workshop this weekend, what should they expect? A medical overview of sex, personal experience stories, or just Q&A?
MA: I usually start off with some type of game, to warm everyone up… because it can be very nerve-racking to be sitting amongst strangers and talking about sex. I have puppets and toys, or I’ll have the group all talk dirty, just something sassy to lighten the mood [laughs]. Next, we’ll spend about 45 minutes going over anatomy. I think it’s important to build upon the general sex education we were taught in high school, and rediscover the same anatomy from a pleasure perspective… like why your body feels this way when you get touched here or apply pressure there, that sort of thing. We’ll go over all the erogenous zones, and tricks to wake them up in fun new ways. Then we go into behaviors. Questions are usually infused throughout, whenever they pop up. But you can also write anonymous questions down in the beginning of the class, and I will answer them at the end. In total, each workshop lasts almost two hours. People don’t all learn in the same way, so I definitely try to use a variety of teaching strategies and make the group as interactive as possible. I rely heavily on the extensive training I received working in the education department of Planned Parenthood affiliates to try to create a sense of comfort, and to engage people to learn and participate.
TNG: Through your work, have you noticed contemporary sexuality issues becoming prominent that haven’t been so prevalent historically?
MA: We continually struggle with getting quality sex education out to the public, and facilitating open communication. But more recently, there is a rise in discussion of porn and sex work issues. For example, there has been a dramatic increase in the labeling of “sex addiction” in our country, and debate around whether we are over-sexed as a culture. Often, focal points of this debate center on the prevalence of cheating scandals in the news, increased awareness of open relationships, and widespread acceptance of masturbation. Often conservative rhetoric in these issues relies heavily on a stance of victimization. We especially see a growing debate on the victimization of women in porn and sex work. Discussions like these bring up important issues, like how do you decide if someone is being victimized… and who gets the power to make that decision; lawmakers, interest groups, or the individuals engaged in the behavior? Who gets to set the moral values through which these actions are discussed? Why aren’t we talking about queer porn… are women the only ones subject to victimization? Is there such a thing as consensual prostitution? I am excited that communication is being initiated in the public, but I still think the current debate isn’t yet addressing the heart of these issues.
I don’t know if you’ve heard of the XXX Church. It is an anti-pornography group that seems to campaign a great deal against people masturbating, particularly men. They have been going around to college campuses with Jon Jeremy to debate issues of the benefits and hazards of porn and masturbation. These discussions are really interesting, and in time they will hit on something even more substantive. In the process, though, we should raise our awareness of the sources of our sexual information, and start thinking about who then gets to make decisions about what forms of sexual behavior are appropriate.
TNG: What is one of the most shocking things you’ve heard in discussing sex with the public?
MA: Recently I had someone disclose to me that they had put anti-bacterial hand sanitizer on their vagina to prevent STDs. Equally shocking to me, however, is when I hear that one partner feels pain during sex, but never communicates that to the other partner. We desperately need to get better at talking about sex!
TNG: On your website, you promote “feminist sex shops.” Can you describe for me the modern feminist, and what issues are most important to her?
MA: The modern feminist group that I would belong to would probably be, very simply, described as pro-choice. We want access to CHOICES in sexual education, reproductive rights, and sexual identity. We want to define as individuals what we consent to, and be free to engage in consensual behavior with others. I highlight feminist sex shops because I think that women are really playing a prominent role in guiding the discussion and advancement of sexuality in today’s society.
TNG: What made you decide to choose Pawtucket, RI to open your Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health?
MA: Well, my partner is a physician at the local hospital. But it’s more than just that. I’ve always really liked Rhode Island’s quirkiness. We lived in the Boston area for a while, but I missed Rhode Island and wanted to come back.
TNG: You seem to be getting a lot of resistance toward opening your business, can you tell me a little bit about that?
MA: The only resistance I’ve encountered has stemmed from one woman and a city official. I think both were scared of the idea of the business, and acted before they really investigated it. Unfortunately, they have a lot of power so their resistance has been felt very strongly. However, the rest of the population of Rhode Island, and even the rest of the country, have been in huge support. I’ve not received a single letter, email, or phone call from anyone expressing opposition to my business.
TNG: What continues to drive you in your work as a sex educator?
MA: “I believe that people should be able to know about their bodies, and how to appreciate and enjoy their bodies. It’s a fundamental right that we should have. And I think that anytime you stand up for something you believe in, it causes change to happen.”
TNG: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me! It was such a pleasure to learn more about your work, and the upcoming WholeDC event!
A sexologist in Rhode Island is trying to open an adult-ed center focused in part on the female pleasure principle. Her battle has been complicated by the recent passage of a ban on indoor prostitution, which she opposed.
PAWTUCKET, R. I. (WOMENSENEWS)–Megan Andelloux’s clash with authorities in this heavily Catholic city of about 73,000 began two months ago.
After 12 years of teaching sex education at colleges, nonprofits, churches, schools and the Providence sex store Miko Exoticwear, Andelloux, a certified sexologist who frequently speaks at Brown University, wanted to create a “safe space for adults to be able to come in and access information about sexuality.”
Andelloux’s classes cover everything from female orgasms to fellatio and expound on an intimate connection between health and pleasure.
A few days before the planned Sept. 26 opening of the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health in downtown Pawtucket, a policeman called to say she couldn’t hold her event. He cited her lack of zoning approval and objected to plans for a sex toy raffle.
A zoning official then informed Andelloux that she couldn’t teach classes either because the area was zoned for residential and commercial use. Since Andelloux’s battle began, a chess center and a weaving workshop have also come under scrutiny by the city.
Andelloux moved the opening event to a club in Providence, while she geared up to fight for the right to provide education and other resources in the building.
“This is really a straightforward zoning issue,” said Ronald Travers, Pawtucket’s zoning director. Travers said the owners of a downtown karate studio faced a similar battle a few years ago and were eventually granted permission to open.
Andelloux appealed Travers’s decision, appearing before the zoning appeals board with 20 of her supporters on Nov. 30. The board will vote Dec. 7 on whether she can operate her center.
Andelloux’s efforts to open the center coincided with the run-up to the state legislature’s decision to ban indoor prostitution.
Before the ban was signed into law by Gov. Don Carcieri in early November, Rhode Island was the only state–besides parts of Nevada–where indoor prostitution was legal.
Andelloux voiced opposition to an indoor prostitution ban at a state legislative hearing in June, saying it would hurt victims of sexual trafficking by criminalizing their behavior, making it harder for them to get jobs and traumatizing them through interactions with police.
Her stance may have been what led local professor and renowned anti-trafficking activist Donna M. Hughes to denounce Andelloux on the radio, calling her a “prostitute” and a “sex radical.” Hughes admitted on the same radio program that she wrote an email tipping off city officials about Andelloux’s plans to open the center. Andelloux was told she could not hold her opening event days after the email was sent.
Harvey E. Goulet, Jr., director of administration for the city, said he and some other city officials take special exception to Andelloux’s plans. “I would prefer that it not be in Pawtucket. That’s my opinion and that’s the mayor’s opinion . . . I think some of these things would be better off in an office somewhere than a storefront,” he told Women’s eNews.
If the zoning appeals board votes against her, Andelloux will have 20 days to appeal her case in Rhode Island Superior Court.
“They’re trying to discredit me because I’m talking about pleasure,” said Andelloux. “I was very deliberate in putting the (word) pleasure in there and I think it’s very important that we talk about (health and pleasure) together, because they’re connected.”
“The title freaked everybody out,” said City Councilor-At-Large Albert J. Vitali, Jr., who supports Andelloux. “The ‘sexual pleasure’ end of the title flipped a few people on their heads. They didn’t know what she was talking about. They assumed it was a strip club or something.”
“It would be neat to have a Dr. Ruth in the city of Pawtucket,” said Vitali, who added that he would want his 20-year-old daughter to be able to access such resources if she needed them.
Andelloux cited a recent Indiana University study that showed women who feel positively about female genitalia not only find it easier to experience orgasm, but are more likely to seek gynecological exams and engage in other health-promoting behaviors.
Her opponents, however, are uneasy about the self-pleasuring aids–dildos, vibrators, and lubricants–that she keeps as learning tools.
Andelloux said a city official recently asked her if she would be “inserting” the teaching devices or using them on students during class.
“People don’t often frame sex education in terms of sexual pleasure,” said Lynn Comella, assistant professor of women’s studies at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “I really think that you end up with some confused people who don’t understand what that might really be about.”
Comella sees the center as a continuation of over three decades of “feminist work around creating cultural spaces where the issue of women’s sexual pleasure and empowerment could be taken seriously.”
Supporters Rally Behind Andelloux
Sex educators, activists and local supporters have rallied behind Andelloux by sending petitions to the City Council and speaking out about the connection between her work and the larger struggle for open discussion about female sexuality.
“If what she did was called the Center for Health and Education, no one would have blinked,” said Brian Flaherty, director of development for the Boston-based nonprofit sex education group Partners in Sex Education. He added that some people become upset over the issue of women taking control of their sexuality.
If the zoning board approves Andelloux’s right to operate, she will also need the City Council’s blessing.
The all-male, nine-member council is about evenly split over whether to issue a license to Andelloux’s center.
“It’s not a sex shop, it’s a place to go to talk about problems,” said City Councilor James F. Chadwick, Jr., who supports Andelloux. Chadwick said “untruths” were circulating about Andelloux’s intentions to open a sex shop instead of a teaching center that offers classes on female sexual pleasure, safety and achieving sexual satisfaction.
As Andelloux waits for the council’s decision, books with titles such as “Women’s Orgasm” and “America’s War on Sex” pack two bookshelves in the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health. A stand near the entrance has pamphlets called “Correct Use of the Male Condom” and “Love.”
A few couches circle a coffee table and colorful dildos and other teaching aids litter the shelves. In the corner is a glass cabinet covered with a heavy blue curtain. If you pull back the curtain, you find a display of sex toys.
Andelloux has covered the case to tamp down on the public controversy, which has focused on the toys themselves. One day, she hopes to remove it. But for now the curtain is drawn and the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health stays closed.
Amy Littlefield is a freelance reporter who lives in Providence, R.I.
1. I kept hearing people ask the same questions about sexuality but it always seemed like there was shame behind the questions. I couldn’t understand how a culture could create an entire population to be ignorant and feel bad about the same things. I wanted to change that.
2. It was a way for me to challenge the gender roles I was taught. “Good girls” were not supposed to talk openly about this subject.
3. I had a knack for memorizing sexual statistics. I don’t know where it came from, but it’s a gift.
How did you start giving sex advice?
When I was 16, I had a conversation with my high school girlfriends about masturbation and orgasms. I remember being shocked that they said they hadn’t ever fondled themselves. That was the first time I remember talking openly about sexuality.
I love being able to model that it’s ok to talk about sexuality openly. That is by far the thing I love most about the work I do. That’s it’s ok to talk about this subject, even if makes you a little uncomfortable.
What is your most common question?
“Is it normal…..” People want to find out if what they are experiencing is something that happens to other people a lot. There is comfort in knowing you aren’t alone.
What is your favorite sex toy and why?
Fingers! 10 free sex toys that are always accessible and clandestine yet remain exhibitionistic at the same time. How could you not love this perfect gift?
Where do you teach? If you travel, what is it like? Where was your favorite place to teach? Most unusual panel or experience?
I teach all over the country; at colleges, high schools, churches, conferences and medical organizations.
The thing I’ve learned most about traveling is that it doesn’t matter where you go, people still have the same questions about sexuality. Be it liberal San Francisco or in the deep woods of Maine, people just don’t know how/why there body works.
My favorite place to teach is at college campuses, the students have such amazing energy and they are there because they want to be. Mix thought provoking questions with enthusiasm and the desire to learn and you have one heck of a good time!
I think the most unusual experience that I have had is how to quickly adapt into the environment I am teaching for. In the morning I could be conducting a workshop in a very clinical setting with medical providers and later that afternoon I could be hearing the newest sexual slang terms fly out of a youth’s mouth. The different atmospheres in which I am employed by is challenging because it is always something new.
What was the most interesting thing you learned in your exploration of sex?
Sexuality is a journey, not a destination. When I was starting out I was much more clinical about it, very fact based, less emotion. As I’ve grown into the field, and myself, I realize that sexuality has so many different components to it and while that can be terrifying it can be quite exhilarating too.
How has what you’ve done or found at Good Vibrations helped you?
Good Vibrations offers adults a safe place to learn about sexuality. Through the books they carry, the materials for sell or the staff they hire to put people at ease, Good Vibrations works hard every single day to help people feel good.
What would be your number one piece of advice for someone interested in a career of sex education?
Get a mentor. Find someone in the field with whom you can shadow and work with. It’s a small field and once you know one person, you will quickly meet more and more people who believe in the work we are doing.
What’s the best thing you’ve learned or best advice you’ve received?
Know what your “trigger” points are and don’t provide workshops on topics you haven’t wrapped your brain around yet.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about sex?
That sex is something to be fearful of. Be it your sexual desires, your fantasies or behaviors, people tend to be very afraid of “what it all means”.
Which is your favorite project that you’ve worked on?
Learning how to advocate for Sex Workers Rights through Speak Up!
What is your best piece of sex advice for women?
Masturbate. For the love of God, masturbate. It gets you in touch with your body, your feelings, and your desires. It helps you have orgasms, better health in general and it’s a great stress relief. As George Carlin once said, “God wouldn’t want our hands to fall where they do if s(he) didn’t want us to touch ourselves.”
What projects are you working on now?
I’m fighting to open an adult sex education center in RI (The CSPH), speaking at colleges and creating a sexuality curriculum for medical students at Boston University’s Medical School.
A lot of her difficulties in opening the CSPH stem from Donna Hughes, the University of Rhode Island professor, who takes exception to Megan’s speaking out against criminalizing sexwork on the grounds that it makes the lives of sexworkers worse. Prof. Hughes, by the way, likes to use scare quotes when talking about people who identify as sex educators, presumably as a way to denigrate a perfectly valid career choice. Given that Megan is highly-trained and is certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors & Therapists, I don’t see why Hughes feels the need to put her down, but then, I’m also certified by AASECT and I’m a sex educator, so maybe I’m a bit touchy. Nah. In any case, it has started to look like Hughes got angry with Megan for speaking against her and has stirred up trouble for her.
Anyway, one of the things that I see over and over in the controversy over sexwork is that the anti-sexwork folks focus a lot on the trafficking and lack of choice that many women face around it. And I 100% get that. Being forced or tricked into having sex for money is an awful situation and there is no justification for it. I would love to live in a world where nobody ever had that happen to them.
And at the same time, I invite you to step back for a moment and think about all of the other people who are forced into labor that they don’t control. The migrant laborers who harvest our food, for example. Or the housekeepers who are brought to the US in order to work for below-living wages and without the resources to escape. Or the people who work in factories around the world who get paid a pittance in order to keep costs down so people in wealthy countries can have lots of disposable stuff. Or the women in the sweatshops who make clothing for minimal pay. These are also terrible things that are happening right now in this country and in other countries around the world.Take a look at the United Nations Office on Drugs and CrimeGlobal Report on Trafficking in Persons for an in-depth analysis of how trafficking takes place on a world-wide scale.
But when we look at non-sexwork trafficking situations (although we rarely do since the issue is often ignored by the general population), I’ve never heard anyone say “people who are trafficked to work in sweatshops should be locked up.” Nor have I ever heard anyone say that all garment manufacturing is evil and should be abolished. Instead, people focus on the unfair wages, the lack of agency, and the structures that make it possible for people to be treated as slaves, separately from the nature of the work that they’re doing. After all, there are some fortunate people who create garments or cook food or work in factories who love (or at least, like) what they do, who choose to do it out of a genuine desire to do the work, and who are paid well (or at least, sufficiently) for their labor. And there are people who engage in those kinds of labor because they need the money. The fact that they would quit if they suddenly won the lottery doesn’t make their decision to do the work less valid. Any reasonable person understands that and recognizes the difference between being forced into labor and choosing to do it for whatever reason.
Similarly, I’ve never heard anyone talk about sweatshop workers “selling their bodies.” After all, can you truly be said to sell your body if you still have it when you go home? Sexworkers don’t sell their bodies anymore than garment-makers, housekeepers or, for that matter, lawyers. To call it “selling their bodies” is a scare tactic designed to foment a moral panic but it’s ultimately disrespectful of the people under discussion.
What we need is an approach that addresses the real problems of people being forced to have sex for money through violence, drugs use, economic circumstances, etc. without criminalizing them. And we need an approach that makes room for the people who are making informed choices about what they want to do with their bodies. If we start with the premise that some people who work as housekeepers, garment makers, or sexworkers are choosing to do so, for whatever reason, then we can begin to look for ways to deal with the fact that other people are forced or tricked into those kinds of labor.
Similarly, if we start with the understanding that some people hire housekeepers, garment makers or sexworkers out of a desire to meet a valid and justifiable need, that they pay people fairly for their time and skill, and that they treat them with respect, then we can look at the changes that we could make to increase the frequency of those situations. And if you believe that no sexworkers ever have clients treat them that way, you probably need to learn more about sexwork by listening to the stories of the people who do it. Myfirstprofessionalsex.com is a good place to start.
Yes, I get that these more fortunate situations are not as common as I’d like. But they do happen and I think that the best way to move forward is to ask ourselves what we could do to make them more likely. Denying that they happen only makes it easier to come up with overly-broad laws that criminalize people who aren’t doing anything wrong.
Of course, if you believe that the act of selling sexual services for money is inherently wrong, you’re probably not convinced by any of this. If you consider sexual labor to be different from any other kind of labor, perhaps you can take a look at why that is. But that’s a topic for another post.
Megan Andelloux, 31, sits on a folding chair at the front of her classroom. In front of her sit 10 terrified people, smiling awkwardly. They play with toy spiders and other “fidget toys” that she has left on their chairs, as she crosses her legs, arranges her styled red hair, and tells them not to stare.
“If you just stare,” she says, “I’ll get nervous, and when I get nervous I get hives.”
Her class today is two middle-aged couples, five women of various ages, and a middle-aged man.
They have come here today, to the back room at Miko Exoticwear on Wickenden Street in Providence, because they have questions that they can’t ask anywhere else. They have come here to learn about sex.
“Laughing is good,” she tells them, and her students laugh uncomfortably. And then the lesson begins.
It is not a traditional lesson, and Megan, in her denim skirt and low-cut shirt, with her pierced nose and the crow tattoo on her left bicep, is not a traditional teacher.
Today’s class is called “oh, Oh, OH,” and it focuses on female sexual desire, pleasure, and orgasms. For two hours, Andelloux will show videotapes of people experiencing orgasm and of women fondly examining each other’s genitalia.
She will quote dozens of statistics and answer questions shouted out by her students. They warm to her witty, familiar teaching style shortly after she tells them that she is a certified sexologist — “That means I get to talk about sex all day, and I love it.” Andelloux notes she is a gynecological teaching assistant, providing hands-on modeling and feedback to medical students performing their first gynecological exams, and that about once a month she goes to parties where men pay to admire her feet.
Her partner, Derek Andelloux, explains clinically that she is the best small-group educator he has ever watched. As a third-year medical student at Boston University, he says, he’s seen a lot of them.
Know the body beautiful
But Andelloux has not only mastered the art of teaching people. She has become an expert at making people feel at ease with one of the most uncomfortable facets of everyday life. As the director of the Sexuality Learning and Resource Center at Miko Exoticwear, a sex store (disclosure: it’s a Phoenix advertiser) that seeks to educate customers, talking about sex is part of Andelloux’s job description, and she has undergone years of training to learn how to do so.
Andelloux not only talks about penises and vaginas without giggling, she talks about them in a way that makes other people want to talk about them. This is why, minutes into the workshop, her students put down their fidget toys and start talking.
When Andelloux explains that there are changes that take place during menstruation that cause a woman to become more sensitive to sexual pleasure, one of her students shouts out, “Oh!”
“Is that why!” the woman exclaims. Her face lights up and she jumps halfway out of her seat. “Me and my husband,” she explains, smiling, “well, we do it in the shower . . . ”
The class nods, knowingly. Andelloux is teaching them that this kind of talk is good. It is educational.
The tools that Andelloux uses for her brand of education include a confetti assortment of sex toys, a bookshelf full of binders and titles like The Guide to Getting It On, a giant Benchtop toolbox filled with birth control devices, and a vulva puppet made of purple and red satin that she has affectionately dubbed “Veronica.” Veronica’s counterpart, a more realistic model of the female vulva and internal reproductive organs, rests on a shelf in the orange room. Her name is Fanny.
Andelloux and Fanny have been everywhere together. Once, Andelloux brought Fanny to a restaurant with her niece, Becky, where she mortified the 13-year-old by snapping out the uterus and discussing menstruation the way someone else might discuss a recent victory by the Patriots. More recently, she used Fanny to point out to her 69-year-old mother the placement of her cervix and clitoris.
The making of a sexpert
Andelloux’s parents were not always willing to listen to these attempts at education. For a while her father referred to her as a psychologist, and scratched out the line on her business card that listed her real profession.
When Andelloux first decided to go into sex education, she chose to tell her parents over a meal at McDonald’s. Her mother was eating a hamburger. Right before she took a bite, Megan said, “I’m gonna be a sex educator.”
Her mother said, “Girls can’t do that. Girls can’t talk about those things.” Her father said nothing.
“I didn’t know about it,” her mother says. “It was not even a thought in my head. I just didn’t think that there was such a thing. I don’t think I’ve ever in my life heard someone say they were a sexual health educator. But I do now.”
What didn’t surprise Carol Anderson was the fact that her daughter found a job doing something she really believed in. “If she believed in it, she took a stand on it,” Anderson recalls. “It may not have been a stand that everyone went along with. But it usually came out okay.”
Growing up with her parents and her much older brother and sister in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, Andelloux remembers, “No one ever talked to me about sex. My mom didn’t even give me ‘The Talk.’ ”
Four months before Megan’s first period, someone put a box of menstrual products and books outside of her room. No one spoke to her about it.
This silence around sexuality was part of what made her want to talk to others about it when she grew up.
And when she got a little older, Andelloux did talk. She talked a lot. She protested for environmental justice and animal rights. She stood on the steps of the Massachusetts State House in Boston. She plastered her room with pictures of oil spills and baby seals being clubbed to death for their fur. When her high school didn’t have an environmental group, she started one.
“She was into things that were right, but that no one spoke up about, really,” her mother says.
She spoke up for those who couldn’t speak. And she knew, better than most teenagers, what it was like to feel like she didn’t have a voice.
The power of talk
At the age of 17, Megan was raped by a classmate in the woods near her home. She speaks now, in a voice that is even and distant, about how she didn’t feel clean afterwards, about how she showered in very, very hot water, and how she felt like there was something wrong with her skin.
For eight years, Megan did not speak about what had happened. When she was 25, she finally told her roommate. And then she told Derek, one night, when he wondered why she was crying after he had grabbed her neck during oral sex.
She talks about it now, and she has found, in her job, a way of “acting out,” of showing that she is managing it. For Megan, the crow tattoo on her arm symbolizes her ability to deal with the situations that have made her feel powerless.
She always wears shirts that reveal the tattoo when she teaches. It is a kind of communication. It doesn’t matter that her students don’t know exactly what it means. She knows that it means she is working hard, every day, to handle it.
“I think that going into this field was my way of acting out my stuff,” she says. “So I didn’t verbalize that I was assaulted, but I did talk about sex in a very open format. I talked about it so much that I contributed to other people talking about it. Even though I wasn’t talking about my stuff, I was opening a door for others to start talking about their stuff. It is almost like, you assaulted and silenced me and I don’t want that for other people.
“I think that if sexuality had been discussed in my family, I would’ve been more likely to say that I was hurt when I was. But it wasn’t, so that was the hand of cards I drew. I think this was probably the healthiest way I could have dealt with my stuff, you know? Instead of focusing in on me, I wanted to change the format so that things weren’t hidden, for the more that they are hidden and whispered upon, the less likely that problems will be noticed.”
Megan opened the door for others constantly. Tim Ashton, a close friend and ex-boyfriend who met Megan at Mitchell College in New London, Connecticut, says it was her openness that made their relationship special.
He remembers that the two of them would tell each other everything. Megan listened. She made others want to talk. One night she and Tim stole chairs from the TV room in her building so that Megan, who was a resident advisor, could set up a therapist’s office in her dorm room. Everyone used it.
A post-modern love story
In college at the University of Rhode Island, where she attended school after two years at Mitchell College, Andelloux continued to exude what her partner Derek fondly calls “some kind of moxie.”
Derek Andelloux remembers when he first knew that she was something special. One of their college friends threw a bash, and Megan convinced the friend to make it into a drag party. Most of the girls just wore baggy pants, but Megan went all-out. She duct-taped her breasts down flat and wore a flesh-colored bandage over them. She drew on fake nipples and fake chest hair. She wore a Budweiser bandana.
“She looked just like a biker,” her partner recalls. “It was amazing.”
Though they knew each other in college, the pair didn’t start dating until 2002, after Derek came back from the Peace Corps in Senegal. At the time, Megan was working for Planned Parenthood of Connecticut. He was and remains proud of her for educating people about sexual health. He is also supportive of her work as a gynecological teaching assistant, and of her role as a foot fetish model — a job that both Megan and Derek view as a form of education.
Megan says she is educating men that it’s okay to love feet; Derek says she is educating herself about different kinds of people.
Derek Andelloux is an ex-football player, and he is built like one. He is blonde and blue-eyed with high cheekbones, and, like all blondes, Megan says, he smells like candy. He is husky, and Dutch-looking, and enjoys chopping wood. And after a few years of dating, he wanted to propose to Megan.
But Megan refused.
She gave him a hundred different reasons why marriage was antiquated and sexist. She pointed out that her gay friends couldn’t get married. She didn’t want to lose her identity, to be introduced as Derek’s wife, to be seen as a ball and chain instead of a sexual being. But she did want to spend the rest of her life with Derek.
The couple agreed to have a commitment ceremony instead, and after exchanging rings in front of 135 friends and relatives in September 2004, they merged their last names — he went from being Derek Mailloux to Derek Andelloux, and she added the French suffix to the first two syllables of “Anderson.”
Megan’s parents, who have been married for 49 years, saw her refusal to get married as a personal blow. “They took it as a slap in the face to them,” she says. “They thought they had done something wrong.”
Her mother says, “I think she has more ideas that I find are different from my ideas. It’s okay. It’s not harmful. It’s just different. The world is different . . . It’s a different world today.”
All in the family
Though Andelloux does not plan on having children of her own, she loves the sassiness and angst of teenagers. She often picks her niece Becky up in a town outside of Worcester, Massachusetts, and takes her out to dinner or shopping for shoes. Although Becky’s parents, Andelloux’s sister Amy and her husband Michael Zakarian, don’t approve of her attempts to educate their children, Andelloux finds ways to spend time with her niece and her nephew, Tommy.
When Becky, who is now 15, got her first period, Andelloux made sure her first experience with menstruation would be different from her own. She told her niece that menstruation was nothing to be ashamed of.
“I used to be uptight about my period,” Becky Zakarian remembers. “She of course, wasn’t.”
Becky says her aunt wanted to show her that menstruation should be something that is “out in the open.” So Andelloux threw Becky a party. She rented out the auditorium at University of Rhode Island. She looked up 230 different euphemisms for menstruation, and plastered them all over the wall. She made a CD of music about periods. She found Lysol douche ads from the 19th and early 20th century, educational videos shown to sixth-graders in the 1930s, and old-fashioned menstrual products and vibrators.
She decorated. “When I do something, I do it hardcore,” she says. She invited friends. She told Becky to buy a dress.
Becky Zakarian says her aunt has “shaped her a lot.” Becky has gotten into environmental activism, women’s rights, gay rights, and vegetarianism, picking up on the causes her aunt began to speak up about at a young age. But the most important thing that Becky has learned from her aunt, she says, is to be open.
“Her main thing,” she says, “is that it’s okay to talk about things.”
The openness that Megan inspires has also extended to Becky’s brother, Tommy, and to Derek Andelloux, who now regularly strikes up conversations about things like prostate gland stimulation with his friends.
Tommy, who is a first-year at University of New Hampshire, says sometimes he and Megan just sit and talk for hours. He says he feels like he can tell his aunt anything. All sex questions go automatically to her. “She’s funky and spunky,” Tommy says. “I love her.”
He still remembers Megan’s campaigns to “brainwash” him as a small child about the need to protect the animals and save the whales. Tommy bought it. He is now majoring in environmental engineering.
Winning converts and influence
Andelloux has started to spread her openness and activism to the general public and, more recently, to her parents. An article she wrote about the menstruation party she threw for Becky was published in a feminist anthology, We Got Issues. She was surprised when Carol and Fred Anderson showed up to a reading.
“My mom walked out of there so happy,” she says. “My dad just said, ‘You talked really well.’ ”
Her parents have begun to understand that talking and helping people talk is an important part of Andelloux’s job. And even though people sometimes have trouble understanding what she means when she tells them her daughter is a sexual health educator, Carol Anderson knows that conversation can help clear these things up.
“It’s good to have the talk there,” she says.
Two summers ago, Carol and Fred Anderson saw Miko Exoticwear for the first time. Her father, who believes that pornography is sick, carefully avoided the shelves full of adult-themed DVDs. He called the rest of the store “classy.”
Epilogue: Class is dismissed
Megan Andelloux ends her workshop by offering take-home packets full of diagrams and tips. She presses her hands together and says, “Yay! Thank you for coming to female sexual pleasure!” Her students get up and clamor for packets. Many of them ask to take home two. A few women gather around to ask questions. They tell stories.
“I’m on this medication . . .” one woman begins.
Andelloux listens. She directs her to the bookshelf.
“I heard about these things called Smartballs,” says another student. “For exercising your Kegel muscles?”
Andelloux nods. She points to the shelf where Smartballs hang like pieces of colorful candy. The students mill about in the store, looking at the carnival of sex toys, lubricants and lotions, books and brassieres. They smile at each other. They reach out to touch things they have never seen before. They talk.