This week’s column was supposed to be about the alarming increase in rates of certain sexually transmitted infections recently reported both nationally and in Maine. I wanted to write about how transmission happens, what prevention looks like, how treatment works, and how this is a crisis of our policymakers’ own making — the inevitable result of slashing public health spending while wasting billions of taxpayer dollars on abstinence-only education programs that have been repeatedly shown not to work.
I really wanted to write that article. I tried several times. But I can’t.
The Supreme Court nomination shitshow currently playing out before us is too overwhelming to ignore. As a sex educator I know all too well the suffering that this debacle is causing for survivors of sexual violence, and the suffering yet to come if Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed.
We need to talk about it.
I became a sex educator because I wanted to talk about pleasure, and communication, and the joy and satisfaction and empowerment and self-knowledge that can come from a healthy sex life. I wanted to break through taboos and help people feel less weird and alone.
I expected tough questions as people grappled with the fear, shame, guilt, and anxiety so many of us have about sex. Maybe some creepy emails and unwanted advances. Giggling. Curiosity. The occasional silicone-based lube stain on a favorite outfit.
Here is what I wish I had known to expect: Trauma.
When I teach in person, I always leave extra time at the end of presentations for participants to ask me questions privately. When I was first starting out, I assumed that these queries would be about topics like relationship troubles or a secret interest in kink — things that perhaps felt too personal to ask in front of a group.
I do get those questions. But far more often what people want to talk to me about is their trauma.
Countless times after teaching workshops or while socializing at parties — or, on one noteworthy occasion, while getting my eyebrows waxed — perfect strangers have opened up to me about their histories with sexual abuse and violence. I mention what I do for work, and in that they hear that I am someone willing to talk about experiences that others shy away from or prefer to ignore. They want to talk. They want to be seen.
What I have learned is that we can’t get to pleasure without also addressing pain. And there is so very much of it.
During the September 27 hearing, the Senate Judiciary Committee was presented with an opportunity to address some of that pain. In Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s courageous testimony I heard the voices of so many others who have shared their stories with me over the years. Each experience is unique, of course, but as with any systemic issue — and sexual violence absolutely is a systemic issue in this country — the more stories you hear, the more the patterns and commonalities become apparent.
Should Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination go through — and it may well have by the time you read this — it will mean that to the GOP, the pleasure of a stacked Supreme Court is worth Dr. Ford’s pain, and the collective pain of every survivor who has ever watched the person who harmed them go on to suffer no or minimal consequences.
If you’d prefer that I stick to hot sex tips instead of hot takes, you’re out of luck. Because the reality is that you can’t have one without the other. The regressive view of sexuality that led Kavanaugh to plead virginity on Fox News as though it would confer a moral superiority incompatible with sexual aggression is the same bullshit that feeds abstinence-only education narratives. His documented opposition to abortion rights, bolstered by the enthusiastic endorsement of people and organizations who have been working to gut Roe for decades, is not only a threat to reproductive autonomy for people who can get pregnant, but to sexual freedom for all of us.
Sex is political. Our rights to pleasure and health and safety are worth fighting for. Don’t take them for granted.