WholeDC Presents Megan Andelloux: The New Gay Interview
A bitter winter wind keeps whipping through DC, trundling brown fallen leaves through the city streets. One can hardly find defense outside from its icy wheezing. Luckily this weekend, however, someone well acquainted with cold December climate is coming to town with some tools to help us heat up the holiday season! AASECT certified Sexuality Educator and ACS certified Sexologist Megan Andelloux has been recruited by WholeDC to give two back-to-back workshops Saturday, â€śHow to Please a Woman in Bedâ€ť and â€śHow to Please a Man in Bed.â€ť A resident of Pawtucket, Rhode Island (home of Hasbro; the people who brought you Jem, Mr. Potato Head, and My Little Ponies) and a self-proclaimed â€śsex nerd,â€ť Megan is extending an invitation to all genders and orientations to come learn some new ways to get warm[wink]!
Megan is an author in the book â€śWe Got Issues,â€ť a feminist response to cultural attitudes on feminism, and a frequent expert contributor to sexualhealth.com. She is also the Founder and Director of the non-profit Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health in Pawtucket, RI. Charming, charismatic, and sincere, Megan has devoted herself to educating people about sexual health and pleasure. Through her sexual education workshops at numerous colleges and medical schools, and work with local medical providers, Megan has become renowned for her engaging teaching style, depth of knowledge, and activism. Come out to see a true Rhode Island treasure this Saturday, you wonâ€™t be disappointed! To learn more about Meganâ€™s efforts in community outreach and her experiences as a sex educator, see the interview below. Also, take some time to peruse her amazing website providing sexual health information, reviews of popular sex toys, and sex-positive advice.
December 12, 2009 â€“ WholeDC Presents Megan Andelloux
â€śHow to Please a Woman in Bedâ€ť (4:00-5:30pm; CafĂ© Salsa, upstairs; $20)
â€śHow to Please a Man in Bedâ€ť (6:30-8:00pm; CafĂ© Salsa, upstairs; $20)
(Come for both classes, $30)
**see http://wholedc.com for more details**
The New Gay: Megan, youâ€™re a certified sex educator and sexologist. What got you started on this rather unconventional path?
Megan Andelloux: There were a couple of things. First, in college, I had a knack for memorizing sex factsâ€¦ [laughs] although Iâ€™m not really sure where that came from because I was studying marine biology (at the University of Rhode Island). When youâ€™re in college you talk about sex all the time. In small groups of friends I realized that people kept hitting on the same questions, questions I had been hearing since high school. That started to pique my interestâ€¦ you know, why the same questions were still unresolved years later. Then I ended up taking a human sexuality course, as a filler, and fell in LOVE with the topic. There my penchant for sex facts came in handy. And things sort of just came together.
The other part, which I didnâ€™t really acknowledge in the beginning, but after four years in the field I realized, was that the field of sex education was a way for me to explore sexuality in a safe manner. I had been sexually assaulted, and it wasnâ€™t allowed to be talked about at the time. And our culture seemed to reinforce a fear of talking about this thing that, although it was on everyoneâ€™s mind, no one seemed to be able to discuss openly.
TNG:Â Did you find it disheartening that this thing we have consistently done as a population since the beginning of our species (having sex), was so crippling to talk about in public?
MA: Of course! And you can see how it affects us, just look at the recent obsession with Tiger Woods. I think one of the reasons people get so wrapped up in celebrity sex scandals is because they finally give us permission to talk openly about sex. Focusing judgment and blame away from us, we readily engage in conversations about someone elseâ€™s sex life. And sometimes that can be a useful way to facilitate more probing discussion. But we need to be able to have these discussions about ourselves, and our own sexualities.
TNG: You do a lot of educational outreach within the medical community. Can you tell me a little about that work?
MA: Sure, there are two facets of my work in the medical community. One is teaching medical providers about sexuality issues, and how to be sex-positive providers. For a lot of people, their doctor is a primary source of adult sex education. So I give workshops at medical schools, of the ilk I run at any other university.Â We go over sex work issues, sex toys, BDSM play, etc, to make sure they are exposed to the information and to help create a language through which they can talk to their patients comfortably. Medical students are really focused, and they learn a lot about the diseases of the bodyâ€¦ but issues of sexual health and behavior extend past mere physical abnormalities and disease. If you donâ€™t train people to deal with these broader issues, they arenâ€™t as well equipped to provide health information to the public. Or worse, when confronted with candid questions they get that â€śdeer in headlightsâ€ť look, which then affects the patientâ€™s willingness to seek out similar health advice in the future.
The other role I play in the medical community is as a gynecological teaching assistant.
TNG: Um, yeah, with that last oneâ€¦ which side of the examining table are you on?
MA: [laughs] Oh, Iâ€™m on the table! Part of this work is helping medical students practice their first gynecological examinations. The other part is helping established providers conduct pelvic exams on women who have been sexually assaulted, and how to make it less traumatizing. In both cases, beyond practicing physical technique there is a focus on infusing the right type of language and discussion into the examination. A small example is getting doctors to use phrases like â€śthat looks healthyâ€ť instead of â€śthat looks normalâ€ť â€¦ because â€śnormalâ€ť is ambiguous and less informative. These are simple adjustments to the exam, but youâ€™d be surprised at how much of a difference they make in effectively communicating with a patient.
TNG: Another part of your work is sexuality education to the general public, at college campuses or workshops like the one this Saturdayâ€¦ is it hard to establish a common ground between a sexually diverse crowd?
MA: No, not at all. Again, language is powerful and I think people can get very caught up in the language of sexuality, and the labels. But during my workshops I try to give a disclaimer that we have all joined in a place of support and respect. And besides, we are all there to talk about genitalia. I tend to use very general terms that are relatable to a diverse group, but it is important for people to know they have the permission to be themselves and to ask any question, and as a group we can find a common language.
TNG: For readers interested in attending your workshop this weekend, what should they expect? A medical overview of sex, personal experience stories, or just Q&A?
MA: I usually start off with some type of game, to warm everyone upâ€¦ because it can be very nerve-racking to be sitting amongst strangers and talking about sex. I have puppets and toys, or Iâ€™ll have the group all talk dirty, just something sassy to lighten the mood [laughs]. Next, weâ€™ll spend about 45 minutes going over anatomy. I think itâ€™s important to build upon the general sex education we were taught in high school, and rediscover the same anatomy from a pleasure perspectiveâ€¦ like why your body feels this way when you get touched here or apply pressure there, that sort of thing. Weâ€™ll go over all the erogenous zones, and tricks to wake them up in fun new ways. Then we go into behaviors. Questions are usually infused throughout, whenever they pop up. But you can also write anonymous questions down in the beginning of the class, and I will answer them at the end. In total, each workshop lasts almost two hours. People donâ€™t all learn in the same way, so I definitely try to use a variety of teaching strategies and make the group as interactive as possible. I rely heavily on the extensive training I received working in the education department of Planned Parenthood affiliates to try to create a sense of comfort, and to engage people to learn and participate.
TNG: Through your work, have you noticed contemporary sexuality issues becoming prominent that havenâ€™t been so prevalent historically?
MA: We continually struggle with getting quality sex education out to the public, and facilitating open communication. But more recently, there is a rise in discussion of porn and sex work issues. For example, there has been a dramatic increase in the labeling of â€śsex addictionâ€ť in our country, and debate around whether we are over-sexed as a culture. Often, focal points of this debate center on the prevalence of cheating scandals in the news, increased awareness of open relationships, and widespread acceptance of masturbation. Often conservative rhetoric in these issues relies heavily on a stance of victimization. We especially see a growing debate on the victimization of women in porn and sex work. Discussions like these bring up important issues, like how do you decide if someone is being victimizedâ€¦ and who gets the power to make that decision; lawmakers, interest groups, or the individuals engaged in the behavior? Who gets to set the moral values through which these actions are discussed? Why arenâ€™t we talking about queer pornâ€¦ are women the only ones subject to victimization? Is there such a thing as consensual prostitution? I am excited that communication is being initiated in the public, but I still think the current debate isnâ€™t yet addressing the heart of these issues.
I donâ€™t know if youâ€™ve heard of the XXX Church. It is an anti-pornography group that seems to campaign a great deal against people masturbating, particularly men. They have been going around to college campuses with Jon Jeremy to debate issues of the benefits and hazards of porn and masturbation. These discussions are really interesting, and in time they will hit on something even more substantive. In the process, though, we should raise our awareness of the sources of our sexual information, and start thinking about who then gets to make decisions about what forms of sexual behavior are appropriate.
TNG: What is one of the most shocking things youâ€™ve heard in discussing sex with the public?
MA: Recently I had someone disclose to me that they had put anti-bacterial hand sanitizer on their vagina to prevent STDs. Equally shocking to me, however, is when I hear that one partner feels pain during sex, but never communicates that to the other partner. We desperately need to get better at talking about sex!
TNG: On your website, you promote â€śfeminist sex shops.â€ť Can you describe for me the modern feminist, and what issues are most important to her?
MA: The modern feminist group that I would belong to would probably be, very simply, described as pro-choice. We want access to CHOICES in sexual education, reproductive rights, and sexual identity. We want to define as individuals what we consent to, and be free to engage in consensual behavior with others. I highlight feminist sex shops because I think that women are really playing a prominent role in guiding the discussion and advancement of sexuality in todayâ€™s society.
TNG: What made you decide to choose Pawtucket, RI to open your Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health?
MA: Well, my partner is a physician at the local hospital. But itâ€™s more than just that. Iâ€™ve always really liked Rhode Islandâ€™s quirkiness. We lived in the Boston area for a while, but I missed Rhode Island and wanted to come back.
TNG: You seem to be getting a lot of resistance toward opening your business, can you tell me a little bit about that?
MA: The only resistance Iâ€™ve encountered has stemmed from one woman and a city official. I think both were scared of the idea of the business, and acted before they really investigated it. Unfortunately, they have a lot of power so their resistance has been felt very strongly. However, the rest of the population of Rhode Island, and even the rest of the country, have been in huge support. Iâ€™ve not received a single letter, email, or phone call from anyone expressing opposition to my business.
TNG: What continues to drive you in your work as a sex educator?
MA: â€śI believe that people should be able to know about their bodies, and how to appreciate and enjoy their bodies. Itâ€™s a fundamental right that we should have. And I think that anytime you stand up for something you believe in, it causes change to happen.â€ť
TNG: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me! It was such a pleasure to learn more about your work, and the upcoming WholeDC event!
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