Interviewing the pleasure experts

banner young sexual body

Last year the Economic and Social Research Council funded a seminar series called  understanding the young sexual body. Over a 12 month period there were 4 events that brought together researchers, students and practitioners to look at ‘cutting edge’ research on young people’s sexual relationships and sexual health.

Seminar one was called Competing knowledges of the young sexual body, number two was the errant body, three was the invaded/invading body and last was the desiring body –  which, importantly for the good sex project, was all about sexual pleasure!

This final event, which took place last November ’13, had a stellar line up of practitioners and researchers who ran workshops on pleasure and consent and presented research on  ‘slut talk’, anal sex, fellatio, pornography, pleasure and sexual agency. For the ‘good sex’ project, this seemed like an opportunity too good to be missed so after some last minute  running around, film-maker Susi and I arrived equipped to interview any of the pleasure experts who could spare us their time.

Whilst the action went on upstairs Susi waited with her camera in an empty classroom on the floor below. In came a sex therapist, two researchers, an outreach worker, and a former social worker. The result was five fascinating interviews with people who have worked on the topic of sexual pleasure in very different ways. Each of them shared thoughts with Susi and the camera on why its important and how to talk to young people about sexual pleasure as a therapist, outreach worker or researcher.

We are not 100% sure yet how to use the material we collected. The idea is that they will form part of film that explains the rationale for talking about pleasure and that gives examples of how this might be possible. I imagined that the film could form part of the training package we are creating for practitioners – a film to convince them why and how to ‘be sex positive’ and what it actually means to have conversations with young people about ‘pleasure.’

When I showed some of the clips to a group of education workers at Brook however there was a feeling that whilst the interviews were interesting – they know this stuff already. They know that talking about sexual pleasure is important and are already doing this as part of their day-to-day work. What they need is creative and interesting resources to support their work and for commissioners and schools to get on board so that they have time to move beyond condom demonstrations and get stuck into the kinds of in-depth conversations that this work requires.

Perhaps we need to think then about who our audience for such a film might be. Is the film we imagined a film for the unconverted? For those that are suspicious of the whole idea of talking to young people about pleasure? The angry parents and concerned school governors that the practitioners I surveyed as part of my PhD research told me they were worried about? Or is it for the practitioners who don’t already talk about pleasure and who don’t see this as part of their job?

When I ask, education staff at Brook tell me that even though they already do work with young people on pleasure, they would still like some training on this subject. When I query why (they seem to know more than me half the time!) they say that they want to feel more confident in talking about pleasure and to feel like they are not making-it-up-as-they-go-along but are drawing on research and established best practice.

This was the rationale for the ‘good sex’ project in the first place – not to introduce sexual health practitioners to a ‘new’ topic but to provide evidence, training and materials to support existing practice and to help practitioners to feel more skilled and confident in the ‘sex-positive’ work that they do. Perhaps this is where these kinds of clips fit in? Not to convert the sex-positive-already-converted but to provide a sometimes much needed back up and sense of a supportive community of practice.

I’m not sure yet. Have a look and let me know what you think:

Alyssa Cowell at 7north on her training course  – Yes means yes! Exploring enthusiastic consent and pleasure.

Researcher and academic Claire Maxwell from the Institute of Education on the importance of talking about sexual pleasure with young women.

Steve Slack from The Sheffield Centre for HIV and Sexual Health addressing the ‘million dollar question’ of how to talk to young people about sexual pleasure.

Sex therapist, researcher and author of the fantastic blog and book Rewriting the rules Meg Barker on why and how to talk to young people about pleasure.

Bear with me whilst I learn to edit – the last film is coming soon!

Researcher, academic and co-founder of the amazing international girls movement against sexualisation SPARKDeb Tolman reflecting on a key study she conducted 30 years ago on young women’s sexual desire.

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