Still confused about the birds and the bees? These people want to invite you to a party.
By Jennifer Miller
Dominick Quartuccio was concerned about his libido, which he’d noticed was slowing down as he reached 40. “The prevailing social narrative is that you’re getting old, so go get a pill,” Mr. Quartuccio said. An executive coach, he helps clients speak candidly about their anxieties — romantic and sexual, sometimes, as well as professional — and preferred to do the same.
Last March, Mr. Quartuccio posted on the Kaleidoscope, an invitation-only Facebook group where nearly 3,000 participants post questions and answers about sex and sexuality.
Within hours, he had more than 15 suggestions: “embracing, supporting, offering ideas — ‘hey go check out this person for reiki or tantra,’” Mr. Quartuccio said. “But most useful was the acknowledgment of my courage to talk about it. To take these shadowy conversations out into the open and demystify them.”
According to a recent fact sheet from the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit devoted to reproductive health, in 2014 fewer than half of American high schools and only 20 percent of middle schools taught students all 16 topics that the CDC considers “essential” to sexual health education. Between 2011 and 2013, the vast majority of teenagers 15-19 reported discussing at least one sex education topic with a parent. But those conversations vary notoriously in quality.
The Kaleidoscope is one of several social communities and companies that have emerged to help adults talk openly about sex and sexuality, with the explicit goal of teaching them everything they didn’t learn in health class or from their parents.
“There’s been a general awakening with the election,” said Ashley Spivak, a founder of a sex and reproductive health education company for millennials called Cycles & Sex. “People are realizing that institutions cannot provide always everything we need.”
Last summer, Bryony Cole, who produces a podcast and event series called the Future of Sex, held a “sextech” hackathon, the first of a quarterly series. The winning idea was an app that uses an interactive “spin the bottle” feature to make the sex talk less embarrassing for families.
For Goodness Sake, a video production company, is developing a series for teenagers. The content will be non-explicit but will feature teenagers sharing their personal experiences about sex and, yes, sexual pleasure.
“People relate to hearing others be honest and vulnerable,” said Rob Perkins, 40, a founder of the company, which has previously produced crowdsourced educational videos on female sexual pleasure. “It’s more credible than hearing an expert.”
Those videos, which appear in the 12-part series OMGYES, include graphic demonstrations of common masturbation techniques, a tech version of Betty Dodson, the sex educator popular in the 1970s. “Sometimes this can take people decades to figure out,” said Lydia Daniller, 40, another founder. “We’re hoping that we can speed up the journey for people.”
Cycles & Sex focuses on Instagram. Ms. Spivak, 30, and another founder, Lauren Bille, 35, frequently post questions to their nearly 32,000 followers, such as “What do you visualize to help you orgasm?” and “What are your tips for getting an IUD inserted or removed?”
Ms. Bille said she was raised by a nurse in a progressive environment. Even so, she felt that conversations about sex were implicitly taboo. And this persisted into adulthood. “Anytime I thought of going into a sex shop or to a sex class, it was a fringe experience,” she said.
In 2017, 900 attended the company’s New York City conference, where panels and workshops covered topics including the basics of childbirth, oral sex techniques and bondage 101. At a conference in Los Angeles last November, four cervical exam sessions (participants were given mirrors) were packed.
Touchpoint, a monthly gathering founded by Jared Matthew Weiss, where strangers share deeply personal stories about relationships and sex, is intended for a similarly mainstream audience.
The event started out as a small group discussion in a friend’s New York apartment. At the time Mr. Weiss was getting over a breakup, and thought that hearing other people’s experiences in sex and love might help him.
Today, over 3,000 people have attended Touchpoint, which is now held at the Assemblage Nomad in Manhattan. Mr. Weiss calls the meetings “town halls”: a place for the community to ask questions, air grievances and solve problems. The difference, he said, is that instead of “discussing potholes in the street, it’s ‘should I take ghosting personally?’,” as well as more intimate questions.
The Touchpoint vibe is part Quaker meeting, part new-age retreat. At one meeting not long ago, 112 people lounged on floor cushions, around a table of flickering candles, sipping coconut water.
About 15 attendees spoke during the nearly three-hour session. The evening’s topic was ostensibly about “defining relationships,” and their stories included a middle-aged woman’s sexual awakening, dating with an S.T.I., and revealing your polyamorous lifestyle to family and friends.
Ingram Drye, 30, an art director at Ralph Lauren, said he was struck by the diversity and relatability of the stories. “L.G.B.T.Q. people go through the same relationship struggles as straight communities,” he said. “We’re all in this together, learning from each other.”
Another frequent Touchpoint attendee, Hana Ayoub, 37, was raised in a conservative Christian Arab-American home. Only through the organization, she said, has she begun to step out of her comfort zone.
“I’ve learned it’s O.K. to ask questions,” she said.
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