Dear Em & Lo: How Do I Deal with People Who Confuse Sex Educators with "Sluts"?

condoms_freephoto by soundfromwayout

Dear Em & Lo,

I’m a student activist/organizer at my university, and I’m involved with a student peer-education group (Sexual Health Awareness Peer Educators), as well as Students for Choice.  While I enjoy talking about sex, and many aspects of it, especially on a political basis (e.g. how can we support HR 398 and get our congresswoman to sign onto it?), many people seem to get the wrong idea about what I do — especially my roommate’s boyfriend, who makes loud, inappropriate comments constantly, especially in public.  People seem to equate being knowledgeable about sex and related issues to having sex more often and with fewer standard than a porn star.  I don’t appreciate people making idiotic jokes (“So, how are you using those 1000 condoms you got in the mail last week this weekend?”).  It’s one thing for people to go “Oh, I know you, you’re always handing out condoms!” (said at a party a few weeks ago, and pretty true). But “you talk about sex thus you must always be having big orgies and hooking up with random guys” is not appropriate and not at all true (some people seem to ignore the responsible part of responsible sexuality messages). Have you faced this issue, and how would you deal with it?

The Messenger

Dear T.M.,

Having embarked on this career as adults, i.e. post-college, in an open-minded city like New York, we haven’t been faced with too many people who are really stupid about sex. And by stupid, we don’t mean uniformed about anatomy or technique or STDs (that’s expected and it’s what keeps us in a job); by stupid, we mean mired in retro, sexist assumptions about female sexuality because of personal insecurities and small-mindedness.

Sure, we’ve occasionally been confronted by the uncouth asshole who thinks it’s appropriate to start talking about “big tits” because he assumes that’s what we do all day. Or the guy who thinks whipping his dick out and asking how it compares size-wise because “you’re a professional” is a good pick-up technique. Or the entire barroom-full of people in a suburb of Glasgow who, after being subjected to an impromptu performance of our anal sex lecture, start threatening bodily harm and boo us off stage. (Okay, that last one was deserved.)

But college audiences can be even tougher crowds, especially if they’re filled with meatheads (whether male or female) who didn’t get enough (or any) comprehensive sex education in high school. For many of them, their knowledge of sexuality and sexual health is based entirely on what they’ve seen in porn, which is heavy on fantasy and very, very light on reality. That’s only made worse if their family instilled traditional family values along the lines of “good girls wait until they’re married, don’t like sex, and should be seen but not heard.” Armed with raging hormones and drunk with their newfound freedom, these kids enter college with a level of cockiness about the way the world works that’s reserved only for the truly ignorant.

So how do you combat that? Well, you just keep doing what you’re doing: offering responsible sexuality information to your peers. Obviously, they need it. For those who choose to poke immature fun, your best (or at least most entertaining) line of defense is probably jovial undercuts. You obviously can’t get on your high horse and start giving them a serious, impassioned lecture on STD stats — in one ear, out the other. Instead, try to lightheartedly shame them into shutting up and reflecting:

  • Wow, your level of ignorance must make you really bad in bed.
  • I bet you think women and blacks shouldn’t be allowed to vote and that feudalism was a good idea, too.
  • I feel sorry for your girlfriend.
  • You must watch A LOT of bad porn. Alone. In a sad, dark room. I’m surprised you don’t have rickets.
  • You know, studies have shown that guys who make immature jokes about female sexuality are overcompensating for a small penis.

Follow this up will a heartfelt, “Seriously, dude, it’s really lame when you make these jokes and it just makes you look ignorant, so I’d really appreciate it if you’d give it a rest.” If that doesn’t work, see if you can reach the women these guys date (like your roommate) and get them to withhold sex until the idiots grow up.

Finally, console yourself with the fact that such proclamations make it easy for you to weed out at least some of the assholes from your college dating pool.

Your Comrades,
Em & Lo


  1. I was never a sex educator per se, but I will say that I went to a VERY conservative school and many students were homophobic. One male student in particular was very vocal in his anti-gay attitudes in class until one day I said, well you know what they say about homophobes don’t you? They’re secretly in the closet!

    He never said a word around me again.

  2. Ps. I was a painting student who knew little about sex when I went to college, people like you helped expose me to good information and birth control.

  3. My newest hobbie is all things sex education. I just graduated and after 2 months out on my own bought my own toys and good condoms, all from babeland. Thats when I became the most interested in sex and education, especially in schools. I grew up in a small NY State town where cows out number people with a high school diploma, no GED does not count. We did not learn about condoms or how to use them, we were taught sex was between to married adults. My parents were quite liberal though and knew that was BS. especially when there were girls graduating proudly bearing their second child. I’m so proud of people especially women who put themselves out there and try to educate and protect the idiots out there who think the “pull-out” method works, or a woman can’t get pregnant if she’s on top..etc.. You may not be getting thought to many people, but the one’s you help and save from STD’s and pregnancy are worth every minute of your hard work. I hope you figure out a way to deal with it. People need to be educated and men especially college men need to be educated their soe of their ideas are not only naive but sexist and dangerous to their health and others.

  4. I know how you feel, I’m a peer educator at my school and I have to deal with that a lot too

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