What Is a “Beacon of Permission”?

Photo credit: Carol Jones

Photo credit: Carol Jones

When you’re hanging out, do you and your friends, peers, sex partners, etc., talk about sex? Not just about who is a good or bad kisser, or what certain people are like in bed. Rather, do you have heartfelt conversations, do you ask personal questions that lead to more healthy, informed choices in your’s and other people’s lives?

Not many people have this opportunity with others. It is more common, instead, to avoid sex conversations altogether. When sex educator, Kate McCombs was asked during a panel discussion, “What can we do to make the world a more sex-positive place?” McCombs response was, “To become a beacon of permission.”

What she means by this is to become a sound board with whom others feel safe to talk about sex and ask questions they might not otherwise feel comfortable discussing.

It is about intentionally creating a safe, non-judgmental, shame-free space to talk about sex in a health-promoting way. As McCombs wrote elsewhere, “It’s someone who acts as a beacon to shine light on the shame shadows that traditionally surround conversations about sex.”

This does not mean to talk about sex in some radical, edging or pop-cultural fashion. Key to Kate McCombs’ concept is that the dialogue must be honest, educational and healing. When people are more informed about themselves and their bodies they are better equipped to take care of themselves and the people they care about. If we approached personal sex conversations with less shame and sensationalism, and more honesty and open-mindedness, we can explore concepts of sexuality in more healthy, positive ways. It makes the world a better place for us all.

This article was originally published here.

BY KATE MCCOMBS | KateMcCombs.com

As is glaringly obvious, I love talking about sex.

For me, being a sex educator isn’t just about teaching about sex in a vacuum – it’s also about talking about it with others in order to normalize discussions about sexuality.

Far too often, people feel uneasy talking about sex. And I don’t mean sensationalized, pop-culture sex. There’s a lot of that talk happening. I’m referring to genuine, sincere discussions about sex that lead to healthful, mindful choices and meaningful connection in people’s lives.

Some people might avoid sex conversations altogether, while others might make jokes to mask their discomfort. I’m all for finding the playful, humorous sides of sex, but I recognize that laughter can sometimes be an indicator of embarrassment or shame.

Many of us – not just professional sex educators and therapists – have the unique desire, knowledge, and skills to become what I call “beacons of permission” in the world. By “permission” I mean permission to have honest, educational, and even healing conversations about sex. Many people who describe themselves as “sex positive” or “sex geeky” fall under this category.

Does the following sound familiar? Many of the sex-positive folks I know describe themselves as always being “that friend” to whom others could turn when they had sexual questions. That sort of unofficial peer education is a manifestation of that permission-giving.

When I tell new acquaintances what I do for a living, I often become the sounding board for sex and relationship questions and (occasionally) whispered confessions. Nearly all of the sex educators I know describe having similar experiences.

This is what being a beacon of permission looks like: by communicating that you are a safe person with whom to talk about sex, you create spaces wherein people can explore ideas that have been marinating for days or decades.

Not all conversations about sex are equal. Most people notice that sex occupies a significant percentage of the airwaves. From “sexting” moral panic, to the recent sexual exploits of a B-list reality TV star, the media is full of sex, but it’s very rarely explored in a way that leads to better understanding of sexuality.

I suspect that some people may become so over-saturated with the sex alarmism and titillation that permeates the media that they may find it more difficult to hear messages that are actually educational, useful, or health-promoting.

Not all conversations have to be serious. I think it can be deeply cathartic to laugh about sex (see “Burritos and Ball Jokes”). But I think that bringing greater intention to the conversation – intentions like “shedding light on a taboo topic” or “reducing sex-negativity” – can go a long way in shaping our understanding of what it means to talk about sex.

So when an audience member at a panel I was on asked, “What can we as sex geeks do to make the world a more sex-positive place?” I lit up. I responded by describing this concept of being a beacon of permission and intentionally fostering meaningful dialogue.

I suspect that people are hungry for this kind of meaning, so when a safe-space creating, sex-positive person enters their lives, they’ll usually take the opportunity to engage. Whether you would consider yourself a “sex geek” or not, I encourage you to become a beacon of permission to others.

I argue that in order to reduce sex-negativity, the world needs to start by having more of these safe spaces. I’m grateful that it’s my job to help facilitate them.

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kate_mccombsKATE 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