Only 13 US states require school sex education to be medically accurate. And no, that is not a joke. That is some seriously backward momentum happening and it needs to change. This statistic should terrify everyone in America, and comedian and filmmaker Dani Faith Leonard is doing her best to make sure everyone who comes to her storytelling show ‘Adult Sex Ed’ knows this and can leave armed with better knowledge of how to start conversations about sex education.
It should also be worrying that billions of tax payer dollars have been poured into abstinence only programs, which as the data shows, have proven to actually increase the rate of teen pregnancies and STDs. It’s not as if America is averse to sex and sexuality, as we see it in media, entertainment, music and culture in numerous ways, but not always in the healthiest manner. Rampant sexual harassment in the workplace, rape culture and the continuing objectification of women are perhaps a glimpse into how it all goes wrong when we don’t give youth the most accurate and healthy information about sexuality from a young age.
In Dani’s show, she shares her own stories and perspectives while inviting other guest performers to do the same on stage. Having recently performed ‘Adult Sex Ed’ in New York, we knew we had to chat with the comedian and get her take on how we can bring America up to speed with more medically accurate sex education.
How did you first come up with the idea for ‘Adult Sex Ed’?
I grew up in a very open home – my mother even taught sex ed for a while as a part of a science curriculum. On the flip side, my high school was in a conservative town and for sex ed in high school, we watched ‘Philadelphia’ to learn that if you have sex, you’ll get AIDS (and if you get skinny in Hollywood, you’ll win prizes). Only 24 states require sex education and only 13 require sex ed to be medically accurate, so we’re all left to fend for ourselves, which leads to many misconceptions.
There’s so much comedy in our personal struggles to learn about sex and sexuality and on each show, I present hilarious deep dives into these sexual topics that we might not have learned about. Since sex ed is typically only taught from one perspective – heterosexual, cisgender – I feature a lineup of storytellers from different backgrounds on each show who talk about their sex educations.
America likes to talk a big game about freedom & power, but a quick look at our abysmal sex ed across the states shows a shocking lack of progress. Why do you think this is?
There’s definitely a correlation between the desire to limit the rights of women and LGBTQ folks a lack of sex education. I think the lack of progress in sex ed is based on the underlying fear of empowering girls and anyone who is not a heterosexual male. The abstinence-only sex ed that is being funded by the Trump administration generally teaches that sex is shameful and puts the onus on girls to maintain their virginity. It’s about power and control and has very little to do with providing a healthy education.
Your comedy show is essentially filling in the gaps and making people aware of the lack of sex ed in schools across the country. How have you channelled your brand of humor into this serious topic?
I always start the show by explaining the lack of comprehensive sex ed in the US, but even the audience members who had fantastic sex ed in school wouldn’t have learned everything. Misconceptions can be hilarious and the truth is, we all still have learning to do. Each show features hilarious deep dives into sexual topics, like ‘The History of the Merkin’ or ‘History’s Canceled Perverts’ that are a good blend of educational and funny.
Can you tell us some of the most shocking responses you have gotten from audience members?
I always find it surprising that the audience doesn’t want to leave after the show ends! People love to share their stories with me and I’ve found out a lot about my friends that I’m not sure I needed to know. There’s only been one heckler who shouted something about titty-fucking, but he was very lovingly made fun of by one of my favorite guest performers, Ayana Dookie.
It seems the lack of proper sex ed in schools flows damagingly into many other areas of society, as in the case of the sex toy company whose ads were banned in NYC which you tweeted about. What do you think it will take for America to make drastic change and not be so afraid of sex?
I’m not sure that America is afraid of sex in general – we love watching it in movies and on TV, which of course, extends to advertising. But if the film rating system is a gauge of America’s sexual values, then it’s clear that we are adverse to female pleasure and anything other than heterosexual sex. I think it will take more people pointing out the inconsistencies, like Dame Products has been doing since the MTA banned their ads from the subway, while they have no issue featuring explicit erectile dysfunction ads. It’s important to make people aware of the imbalance that we all experience in our daily lives because it’s hard to do better until we know better.
Can you share some story highlights from your most recent shows, as performed by some of your guests?
Earlier this year, I focused two shows on sex and film/tv. Because sex ed is so abysmal, many of us learn about sex from the media. Some of the highlights were Shalewa Sharpe (2 Dope Queens) talking about working in a porn video store and learning that there is a body type for everyone’s tastes and Mike Doyle (The Romanoffs) talking about performing sex scenes and specifically, how they faked a butt rape scene from Oz and how one movie sex scene was shot multiple ways and edited so that it could be released in anti-LGBTQ countries. The audience also really responded well to Michael Stahl-David’s (Narcos) heartfelt story about learning how to treat women from movies and how he had to unlearn that behavior once he became an adult.
As a comedian and filmmaker, how do you think your creative talents can impact people in ways that perhaps politics or changes in law cannot right now?
Movies have the capability of affecting a lot of people, but what I love about comedy, especially live comedy, is that it’s a shared experience. The fact that it’s comedy might attract people that would otherwise be closed off to learning about sex or sex education. I genuinely think that if Ted Cruz came to the show, he would have a great time and learn something about our education system. Mike Pence would burst into flames, so unfortunately, he can’t attend.
What would you say to parents who push back against comprehensive sex ed, and the long-lasting consequences of keeping youth in the dark about sexual health?
There are short term affects and long term affects to inaccurate sex ed, like exposure to STIs and unwanted pregnancies. But the shame that is instilled in people from a young age can take a lifetime to undo. Even if someone won’t budge on providing comprehensive sex ed, I would hope that they would be mortified that only 13 states require that sex ed is medically accurate. It’s hard to justify lying to children to push an agenda.
In your Reddit AMA from last year, what were some of the standout questions sent your way about the show and sex ed in general?
I really liked this one guy that admitted to having a hard time with standing sex because he was over a foot taller than his partner. It reminded me of one of my favorite movie sex scenes, which features Tom Cruise and Kelly Preston in ‘Jerry Maguire’ having an explosion of Scientology against a bookcase. I personally received much of my sex education through movies and I would love to have standing sex against a bookcase, but it wouldn’t necessarily be pleasurable and/or safe (because, you know, Ikea). I also enjoyed a conversation about whether porn is creating unrealistic expectations, which as a whole, I think is true.
What do you want audiences to take away from your show most of all?
I want people to walk away feeling more open and free to explore as a result of the deep dives and different perspectives offered. But the show is as funny as it is a learning experience, so I hope that everyone has a great laugh too. There’s nothing that makes people feel sexier than a great shared experience.
You can learn more about Dani Faith Leonard and her show ‘Adult Sex Ed’ by clicking HERE.