Research Findings: Autostraddle Sex Ed. Is Comprehensive, Keeps You Safe

Throughout the research period, I will post research findings in an academic format to show off my fancy knowledge. This Research Findings report details more of the amazing stuff I discovered about online sex education for queer women using my own brain to analyze the content.

Through a content analysis of Autostraddle articles, Scarleteen articles, and other assorted pieces from the Internet’s favorite tag, “lesbian sex,” I was able to derive some critical commonalities among them. I shared some with you already, but now I have even more about the educational content! Are you interested? Good.

Firstly, when analyzing the articles on Autostraddle, I found that safe sex and consent were emphasized or included, which is both different from traditional sex education in schools and reflects the more sex-positive tone found on those online sources in my last analysis.

Autostraddle took big strides to include safe sex for queer women in their work, and often mixed it in with other pieces. It has taken on the endeavor in various ways, but most directly through a safe sex mega-post and a post on consent, authored by myself.  In “Lesbian Safe Sex 101: The Doctor Is In (Also, the Cartoonist),” information about various STDs was included and then personal anecdotes, remedies and advice was included for each:

“Some friends tell me their [Yeast Infection]s go away on their own. Lucky bastards. There was one proposed DIY remedy that sounded particularly bogus to me, and trust me it shocked my socks off when it turned out to be the only thing that works: BORIC ACID.

“You get ‘0’ empty vegetable capsules at your local health food store, pick up a tub of boric acid (in powder form) just about anywhere, and try not to freak out that it’s often advertised as a roach-killer. Fill a capsule or two with the powder and pop those babies inside you every night ’til the infection goes away. It can also be used preventatively if you feel a YI coming on, that’s the best part!

You should definitely check out this website, it’s a great resource because as the author points out, “to my mind, the conventional treatment of vaginal yeast infections is a nutshell of what’s wrong with the way our society deals with wimmin’s health issues” (The Team).

Similarly, safe sex methods were not only explored and explained, but reviewed, with personal stories backing up how to effectively use each. This kind of approach makes the education valuable and personal, versus sterile and clinical or out of reach (The Team).

As a Contributing Editor at Autostraddle, I’ve written a bit on consent and sex because of my involvement in the sex-positive movement to eradicate sexual assault. The consent article I published to Autostraddle also stood out from formal education tactics because it was entirely written in the format of a personal essay. No news items were mentioned or linked, and no discussion of legal ramifications and requirements of consent were discussed at great length (Rios). The post instead explored how to practice consent and how I came to terms with consent as a queer woman after being so active in the movement as a straight one; it went over the philosophy of consent and urged readers to apply it to their own sexual lives as a form of sexual enhancement, which is a strategy that encompasses queer women more than the traditional “men should ask women for consent to avoid raping them” approach:

“Talking made me feel more comfortable with what was going on, and allowed me to explore my sexuality more wholly. I started to ask, and suddenly it wasn’t that overwhelming. In fact, I really liked it. I really, really, really liked it. And I liked what consent added to the experience, too:

I started small, with basic consent questions.

“Is this okay?”

But sometimes life is a lot more complex than whether or not you’re having sex. Sometimes I had questions about feelings.

“Are you okay?”

Sometimes I had questions about the process.

“What do you want?”

Sometimes I was hoping to relieve my anxiety that I wasn’t doing too well.

“Did you like that?”

And I learned how to say yes, I did, or no, could you do this instead. But also: yes. I did.

“I really like this.”

“Applying what I knew about consent helped me unpack my first sexual experiences. I felt present. Like I was finally living in my own body. I was finally enjoying sex, after a lifetime of waiting for that feeling. And I was finally learning to be comfortable with that” (Rios).

However, Autostraddle’s “How to Have Lesbian Sex For the First Time” piece also included consent and safe sex, intermixing it with all of the other elements of sexual activity and behavior to make it commonplace and common sense:

“If you’re dealing with non-gender-conforming folks then it’s best to ask before hooking up what’s okay and what isn’t.

You have a right to feel safe and comfortable, which means that consent is key and so is safe sex — please get a check-up and talk to your partner about any STIs you or she may have before jumping into bed” (The Team).

It is also possible now for me to claim something very hard to claim: that sex education on the Internet is more comprehensive than sex education in schools.

My reasoning is thus: sex education online does not end, and does not follow a static curriculum. Autostraddle covers sex information exclusively in the weekly “NSFW Sunday” feature, in which an article covering multiple topics that differ each week allow for additional education in a small way for readers (Tag: NSFW Sunday). Although these posts may not be as comprehensive as the mega-posts listed and referenced above, they add to a different kind of comprehension: the kind that is expansive and can support all kinds of information in its format. By writing regularly about sex as a complement to the longer, more time-consuming articles, Autostraddle makes it possible for readers to continue to learn through time and therefore grow and adapt to new cultural values and ideals.

Similarly, articles were plentiful and, because of content demands on the Internet, covered topics left untouched by formal educational resources.

For queer women curious about how lesbian sex happens in the first place, AKA for me about one year ago today, there is nothing more valuable and rewarding than going to your favorite online magazine and seeing the headline “We Are Going Down.” So when I saw that edition of NSFW Sunday, I was pretty much one hundred percent certain that the editors knew my own life and what I had been struggling with then, which was, well, how to do that (Chloe). Although pleasure is not the focus of sex education programs in public schools, and thus oral sex is often glossed over or only mentioned for health and safety reasons, Autostraddle devoted an entire post to the topic and gave its readers advice and further reading on the topic (Chloe).

Similarly, Autostraddle has posted original content or republished content related to “the politics of lesbian sex” (H.) and why every lesbian needs clean fingernails (Effing Dykes). All of this information goes above and beyond the traditional discussions of sex people are engaging young people in through formal education, and offer firsthand experience as a mechanism for making that information valid and trusted by an Internet audience (H., Effing Dykes). For young queers, this kind of stuff is invaluable.

Images always found innocently via Tumblr. Please let me know if it’s yours!

WORKS CITED

Chloe. “NSFW Lesbosexy Sunday: We Are Going Down.” 3 April 2011. Autostraddle.com.

Effing Dykes. “Effing Dykes Presents: What Lies Beneath (Her Fingernails).” Autostraddle. 30 November 2010. Autostraddle.com.

H., Sarah. “The Politics of Lesbian Sex: Before, During, After.” Autostraddle. 18 June 2011. Autostraddle.com.

Rios, Carmen. “How I Learned to Talk (In Bed): Why This Queer Woman Cares About Consent.” Autostraddle. 26 August 2011. Autostraddle.com.

Tag: NSFW Sunday.Autostraddle. Autostraddle.com.

The Team. “How to Have Lesbian Sex for the First Time: A NSFW Sunday Special.” Autostraddle. 13 November 2011. Autostraddle.com.

The Team. “Lesbian Safe Sex 101: The Doctor Is In (Also, the Cartoonist).” Autostraddle. 20 May 2010. Autostraddle.com.

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