Kate McCombs is presenting Sex Down Under: Lessons From Studying and Teaching in Australia. Check out Kate’s bio here.
How do you see yourself as a catalyst for change?
One of the things I’ve written about, and that we talk about in Sex Geekdom, is the idea of being a “beacon of permission” for discussing sexuality. By that, I mean I want to inspire in others the confidence to talk about things they might otherwise not. Most sex geeks I know have had some kind of experience of being a beacon of permission, sometimes in surprising ways. For example, when people find out that I’m a sex educator, I tend to be met with curiosity and sometimes confusion – but more often than not, the same people end up asking questions that seem to have been brewing for years. By implicitly saying that it’s okay to talk about sex and learn about sex, it gives others permission to ask questions and receive answers.
In the more formal teaching that I do, part of my intention is to encourage participants (even the less sex-geekily inclined) to become beacons of permission in their own lives, to their own groups of influence. There’s a lot of informal peer education that happens naturally, and I love to give people the tools that will allow that organic process to create more widespread access to accurate information.
Who or what was a catalyst for you?
During my first semester of college, I signed up for my first English class – which was daunting since I hadn’t yet felt competent in either my academic or professional skills at that point. I had always been a “sex geek” (although I lacked the language to describe myself as such) but had never found a community around it or been encouraged to explore it academically. For one of our first English assignments, we had to do a research report and we could choose the topic, as long as we cleared it with the professor.
I really wanted to write it about a sexuality topic. I’d recently learned about the G-Spot, which was particularly powerful education for me, and I wanted to research it more. However, I wasn’t sure if my conservatively dressed, few-years-shy-of-retirement professor would find that an acceptable topic. But I really wanted to do it! I figured there was no harm in asking. So I said to her, “I wanted to ask you about a topic, but I’m not sure if it would be okay with you. Would it be all right if I did my research paper on the G-Spot?” To my surprise, she gave me an immediate and enthusiastic, “Of course!” Not only did this solidify a delightful relationship with a professor, but it gave me a catalyst to study sexuality in a more formal, academic capacity (and I got an A on the paper!).
What do you feel are some of the biggest challenges or concerns facing us in the field of sexuality right now?
Right now, the public demand for quality, comprehensive sex education lags disproportionately behind the need. Clearly, there is a huge need for accurate sex education which includes content about healthy relationships, communication, and other things we know are crucial life skills – but the spaces for getting people that information are not as abundant as they need to be. Compounding this fact is the abundance of poor “sex education” in pop culture and mass media, which creates a sort of fatigue for messages around sex. My hope is that, in my career, I can create more opportunities for good sex ed to happen – particularly for adults who may be expected to “know everything” and are not part of an institution like a school or university, where they can take a class or workshop more easily.
What do you feel are some of the most important/valuable positive changes that have been made in the world of sexuality in the past year?
I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) was incredibly powerful. I still squee a little every time I think about the New Yorker cover with Ernie and Bert cuddled in front of the TV.
Why do you feel it is important to bring the topic of your session, Sex Down Under: Lessons From Studying and Teaching in Australia, to CatalystCon West?
I think it’s important to give an account of what sexual health looks like when you have a culture that considers healthcare a right, regardless of one’s attitudes or orientation. Although Australian leadership is currently conservative, religion has significantly less influence on policy than it does in the US. As a result, even Australia’s more conservative politicians typically wouldn’t take the stances that some high-profile US politicians have on contraceptive access and other issues. That’s not to say Australia is perfect – it has some strangely incongruent policies around same-sex marriage, for example – but given the similarities between our two countries, I think Australia serves as a useful example of where our own policy could be headed given a bit more open-mindedness.
Also, being the sex geek that I am, some of the things I’ve learned about Australian wildlife reproduction have been fascinating and LOL-worthy. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard the dulcet (read: terrifying) tones of koala mating.
Share one unknown (or little known) fact about yourself.
I make a mean Crème Brûlée.