When we think of the cultural landscape around sex in the US today, we see increasing amounts of polarization. Whether it is an unhealthy pornification on one end of the spectrum (watch Netflix documentary ‘Hot Girls Wanted’ for more on this) or the ultra conservative messages on the other end. Extremes are never healthy and can have negative consequences in the long run.
Looking at the general scope of sex education across the country, there is little to no consistency. As reported by the Guttmacher Institute, 37 states mandate abstinence-only messages be taught as part of sex education, and only 24 states mandate sex education be taught at all. Studies also show that abstinence-only messages actually lead to higher rates of teen pregnancies and STIs. Elsewhere in society messages about sexuality are often clouded in shame or oppression. For women especially, the idea of sexual autonomy and control is still a scandalous thought. For the LGBTQ community, there is almost complete erasure of sexuality, often in heinous ways through legislation. And when it comes to minorities women, we have seen an oppressive history concerning the sexuality and bodies of black and Latina women.
Needless to say, change is required. And the tech world is making it more possible, as one former Silicon Valley Venture Partner is showing. Andrea Barrica is the founder of a startup called O School which launched in early November. It is a virtual classroom that streams moderated, shame-free chats about sex and pleasure. Along with the aim to dismantle stigma around sex, there are also discussions about healing from trauma, as well as messages geared toward a variety of genders.
In an interview with Forbes, Andrea talks about how conversations around sex and pleasure are very timely, especially given the unearthing of numerous cases about sexism, sexual harassment and assault coming out of the tech world.
“I believe that starting with personal and bodily agency, is really important. As one of our educators, Afrosexology, always says ‘How can you have political agency, social agency or professional agency, if you don’t have agency over your own body?'” she said.
With a range of sex educators fostering an inclusive, safe environment for users, Andrea says O School is also wanting to empower those who seek its resources, away from other unsafe and abusive spaces online.
“We’re really excited to create space on the internet that doesn’t look like other spaces where abuse and harassment are almost something that’s normalized,” she said.
To keep the platform troll-free, they rely on users self-moderating and helping to keep the discussions inclusive and safe, and they have a set of guidelines to prevent conversations that discriminate against people.
“I put together a technology team that really understands how to build secure products because, as a woman, online harassment is a really big problem…[We have] direct community guidelines that trans-phobia, racism and sexism are just not welcome on our platform. If you defy that, we will ban you. A lot of other platforms haven’t done that and if they have, they’ve done it too late,” she said.
To show that they are serious about inclusive, out of the 60 educators on the platform, half are people of color, over 70% are queer and over 15% are trans or non-gender conforming. The mission to bring a whole new meaning to sexual wellness cannot come at a better time in our society. A quick look at some of the regressive legislation coming from the Trump administration in regard to reproductive healthcare shows their underlying disdain for women having agency and autonomy of their bodies and sexuality. Thank the heavens we have so many resources we can turn to in order to reclaim our power, such as O School.
“The core mission that we have is for people to unlearn shame, own their desires and just be comfortable in their bodies,” said Andrea.
O School joins a growing number of platforms and resources dedicated to empowering especially women around their sexuality, with shame-free, nuanced discussions and spaces. Subscription service OMG Yes gained widespread attention in 2016 when actress Emma Watson divulged that she was a paid subscriber. OMG Yes is described as an educational and instructional website aiming to “demystify” female pleasure, as reported by the Guardian.
These platforms are filling an important gap at a time when we really can’t afford to subject another whole generation ti harmful messages that come from abstinence-only teaching. With so many destructive and unrealistic messages about sex and bodies that are available through online pornography, that unfortunately becomes the default if we are too scared as a society to talk openly about subjects like pleasure.
Legislation enforcing comprehensive, fact-based and medically-accurate sex education may be an uphill battle, but with classes available to stream on O School, we recommend checking out the platform and being part of a new sexual revolution. Sex doesn’t have to be scary, taboo or shameful. It can and should be normalized, safe, and even sexy.