Superdrug’s Naked Academy is the UK high street’s first sexual and intimate health and pleasure academy for all sexualities and ethnicities. The online Naked Academy hub, on Superdrug.com, provides helpful information and education on all things sexual and intimate health, along with sexual pleasure and health product recommendations and services.
In this blog post from the series, our Naked Academy ambassador Ruby Rare shares her thoughts on sex education and how it can be improved.
My life is full to the brim with sex ed. A big chunk of this is professional: I spent years delivering relationships and sex ed (RSE) in secondary schools across the country, and providing more inclusive and positive RSE for young people is something I’m deeply passionate about. But it’s also interwoven in my personal life, because the way I learn about and experience sex has changed so much in the 15 years since I started doing it. Even if I’d received adequate sex ed at school (which I absolutely didn’t), this information would be outdated and not particularly relevant to me as a I am now. Sex education is a lifelong subject, and yet it’s one we rarely prioritise.
There’s a massive leap between the messages of fear and repression many of us received when we were younger, to the pressures to be sexually confident and carefree as adults. In 2020, Peggy J. Kleinplatz and A. Dana Ménard set out to study what makes sex great, which turned into the book Magnificent Sex. Early on in their research one thing was clear: “those we spoke with reported that the first step towards magnificent sex was unlearning everything they had learned growing up about sex and sexuality”: from addressing shame and guilt from their adolescence, to dismantling normative expectations of what sex and pleasure ‘should’ look like. And once we begin to unlearn these messages from our past, it’s time to start learning about sex in a way that’s kind, encouraging, and relevant to our lives.
I asked some of my nearest and dearest what they wish they’d learnt about before experiencing it in their own lives:
- “The bonkers stuff that happens to your body after pregnancy. Having to essentially rebuild my pelvic floor, navigating the world with gigantic leaking tits, hair loss – these were all things I should have known about beforehand!” (aged 41)
- “How my sex drive would change during my medical transition. I’ve never got any sex ed that centred trans bodies and experiences” (age 26)
- “The vulnerability of returning to sex and intimacy after having kids” (aged 33)
- “How to feel confident dating as someone with a physical disability. I was never taught that disabled people can be sexy, I’ve had to learn that on my own” (aged 29)
- “Anything about the menopause! I wish I’d had a heads up about how difficult it was. I suffered in silence for years before discovering there was support and HRT available to make things more manageable.” (aged 56)
The ‘nuts and bolts’ of basic sex education taught in schools doesn’t cover any of these topics. Not only do we need a broader range of subjects covered throughout our lives, I’d also like to see spaces where we can discuss conversations around pursuing pleasure and connection with nuance and vulnerability. Sex as a space for personal development and interpersonal growth is something that fascinates me, and I wish we spoke about more.
Learning about sex and relationships throughout our lives is also essential because it constantly changes! This happens within our own lives (just think about how your body, priorities, and desires have changed over the past 10 years), as well as being influenced by our wider environment. As new scientific research comes to light, it has the potential to transform our understandings of sex. Take the clitoris: it was only comprehensively studied in 1998 (yep, you read that right) by Helen O’Connell, who discovered the clitoris is much more than what’s visible on the outside: extending into the body and wrapping around the vaginal canal. This research has been available for 20+ years, and yet the majority of people are still unfamiliar with the full anatomy of the clitoris, or the fact that like penises, the clitoris becomes erect during arousal. I’m determined to shout about this and more from the rooftops, because whether you’re 25 or 85, we all have the right to learn about our bodies!
I’m also committed to not feeling ‘stuck in my ways’, and I hope lifelong learning will help this. As a sex positive, queer, non-monogamous person, I’m aware that my sex life can seem baffling to some, particularly those of older generations. Part of my job now is talking about my identities in ways that help others have a more empathetic understanding of them, even if the way I live my life is unfamiliar to them. And as I age, I look forward to learning about the ways language and attitudes change and new sexual frontiers form by those younger than me. Intergenerational education is a vital aspect of my lifetime of sex ed.
Curiosity is another essential component for sex ed, as well as for great sex! Kleinplatz and Ménard’s research suggests “an important factor in bringing about magnificent sex might be an individual’s willingness to experiment, to take risks and to question conventional thinking.” And these qualities don’t just happen overnight.
For those of us who are sexual beings (let’s not forget the asexual folks), sex is not an add-on activity to our lives. It reflects who we are and how we see ourselves in the world, and it has the potential to impact our lives in huge ways – for better or worse. My hope is that by staying curious and talking about the triumphs and the challenges of sex more openly, our individual and collective sex education will evolve with us. And from that, we’ll be able to celebrate the ways our relationship to sex changes throughout our lives.
For more information, check out Ruby’s book Sex Ed: A Guide for Adults
About the Author
Ruby Rare (she/they) is a writer and broadcaster on a mission to get people talking more confidently and inclusively about sex. They’re a proud ambassador for Brook, the UK’s leading sexual health charity, author of Sex Ed: A Guide for Adults, co-founder of body positive life drawing class Body Love Sketch Club, and host of the podcast docu-series In Touch, which explores the ways we connect to sex, relationships, and our bodies with nuance and curiosity.
She’s been featured in the Guardian, Metro, Pink News, and Huffington Post, and has spoken at TedXLondon, Women of the World Festival, and on BBC Woman’s Hour. She’s listed as one of 24 figures making a positive change to social media in Cosmopolitan’s Positivity Index, and is on The DIVA Power List, which celebrates queer trailblazers changing the game for LGBTQ+ representation.