BY KATE MCCOMBS | KateMcCombs.com
Even before I got my first formal sex ed job, I was teaching friends about how to use safer sex methods.
Like most Americans, I didn’t get much in the way of sex ed in school, so it was up to my budding sex geeky research skills to get information I needed on my own. With this knowledge, I became an unofficial peer educator, sharing what I knew with friends (and even their friends) at after-school hangouts and parties.
In college, I became an official peer educator and continued teaching about safer sex and birth control, this time in one-on-one counseling sessions and workshops. It was a great training ground for the sex ed career I have now where I specialize in educating adults about the intersections of health and pleasure.
Through the research I did during my masters of public health, workshops and lectures I’ve taught on two continents, and through years of causal conversations with folks about their sex lives, I’ve learned five key things from teaching people about safer sex
1. Health and pleasure are not mutually exclusive.
The single most common reason people give for not using condoms is that it “doesn’t feel as good.” There is some reality to barriers diminishing sensation for some people, but the research doesn’t back up the claim that it ruins sex. In a study carried out by Indiana University, they found that on the whole, people’s sexual pleasure and satisfaction were not diminished by condom use.
There are many things people can do to increase their pleasure and satisfaction during sex, regardless of whether barriers are used. For some people, using barriers allows them to relax more fully, which increases their enjoyment of the overall experience.
2. Finding the right lube is paramount.
I am a lube evangelist and I still marvel at how many people aren’t aware of the benefits of using lube with condoms. Lube helps transmit more sensation, reduce uncomfortable friction, and keep condoms form drying out. It’s also handy to have around for other types of pleasure, like mutual and solo masturbation.
Not all lubes are created equal. Finding a formulation that feels best to you and your partner’s body is essential and experimenting with lubes can be a fun thing to sex lab too.
3. One size does not fit all.
I remember one of the first times I saw someone teach how to put on a condom. The educator stretched a condom over his whole arm and said, “No one is this big!” and that men who complained that condoms were too tight are just making it up. This is neither helpful nor true.
Condom fit is hugely important in pleasure and safety. A condom that’s too tight can break more easily and a condom that’s too loose can slip off. A bad fit can make using barriers less pleasurable too. Get a sampler pack from Lucky Bloke and find one that fits you like a glove.
4. Communication is key.
For many people, talking about sex at all can be really challenging – especially with the people they’re having it with. Learning to talk, listen, and learn about sexuality is a key adult skill, but there are few opportunities for people to learn the things about sex that help build an amazing, healthy sex life.
Having meaningful conversations about sex with our peers can be great practice for having challenging conversations within our romantic relationships. By fostering curiosity, learning compassion, and creating safe spaces within our relationships, we can more easily negotiate the kind of pleasure and health we desire.
5. It’s important to meet people where they’re at.
Early in my sex ed career, I was very absolutist in my opinions about condoms. People should just wear them! As I’ve listened, learned, and taught more, it’s become clear to me that this message doesn’t land with some people. It’s not empathetic and it doesn’t reflect understanding of the complexity of people’s feelings and desires.
All humans make calculated risks and meeting people where they’re at to help them reduce their risk is a more fruitful strategy then telling them what they “should” do. What I can do is give people information and support them in making choices that align with their health goals.
KATE MCCOMBS is a NYC-based sex educator, writer, and maker of puns.
Ultimately, all of Kate’s work is about helping people feel more comfortable talking about sex. She believes that meaningful conversations + accurate information can help us create a healthier and more pleasure-filled world. Kate writes articles and teaches workshops about sexual health, pleasure, and communication. Follow Kate on Twitter @katecom