Tuesday, June 18, 2019
Insight from a Sexologist
Shannon Boodram, better known as Shan Boody is an open book – especially when it comes to talking about sex. As she neared the end of her high school years in 2010, Boodram and her now-ex-best friend formed “those girls are wild” – a blog / YouTube channel that gave Boodram the know-how and wherewithal to use the social fabric of the internet to launch her career as a sexologist, therapist and all around badass sex educator.
In 2011, “those girls are wild” featured an interview with Chantelle Brown-Young. At 17, Brown-Young now better known in mainstream media as Canadian supermodel Winnie Harlow shared her experience and wisdom surrounding her skin condition Vitiligo. Harlow would later be discovered via Instagram by none other than Tyra Banks catapulting her career via the twenty-first cycle of America’s Next Top Model.
“those girls are wild” ultimately retired with the demise of Boodram and Andrea Lewis’ friendship, but Boodram’s penchant for being first on the scene and appetite for giving the middle finger to the status quo have since led to her success as a published writer, YouTube sensation, host, producer, ambassador, advisor and sex therapist.
As it’s our Social Issue, what better time than now to have a frank discussion with Boody on sex’s place in social media. What follows is a play-by-play on our discussion designed with Boomers, Millenials and Gen Z in mind.
The day that we speak, Boody is running errands … oh and it’s her birthday to boot. “My book was like, due today,” Boody laughs, “The word due is such a loose term because it’s been due 18 times … but today was the last day I had to make changes.” Boody is leaving the UPS store after dropping off her changes and is on her way to the bank to get money for rent. She’s a normal chick, with normal errands, leading a quite abnormal albeit avant-garde professional life.
The Internet responds to YOU! On Its Own, It’s Neutral.
Boody has been talking about sex for over a decade and in that time has witnessed the myriad of ways that social media has played a role in the differing cohorts; from Boomers to Gen Z. “What’s fascinating is that we’re having this conversation in general. [Social media] is catered towards what you look up, what your interests are.” Boody confirms. Depending on what you’re searching for and search terms, in general, can lead to gripping information and sources or as Boody puts it, “misogynistic, abusive, negative and incorrect information.” What results is the internet’s response to the user (you) and what you’re looking at, Boody reiterates.
“The goal, obviously, is that people are using [the internet] for what it’s supposed to be … a source of infinite information. It is a barrier-free place where you can finally ask the questions that you wouldn’t have had answers to [pre-internet].”
“The goal, obviously, is that people are using [the internet] for what it’s supposed to be … a source of infinite information. It is a barrier-free place where you can finally ask the questions that you wouldn’t have had answers to [pre-internet],” Boody asserts. Boody points to the notion that the internet is a truth-seeking space where many inquisitive minds will land if the education they are offered, through their parents or a K-12 curriculum, isn’t satisfying their thirst for knowledge. This may be especially true when it comes to questions about sex. Many curious minds may also turn to online pornography to understand sex. Are social media and porn as teacher problematic?
Having been educated in Ontario, Canada Boody went through the province’s HPE Curriculum or “sex ed.” program. In Ontario, sexual health education is broken down by grade. The program was approved under a liberal-leaning government and according to Boody, “By grade seven, you were taught about masturbation, oral sex … and how to do those things safely.” Since then the more conservative-leaning government has replaced that curriculum. You will see similar movements away from “liberal” sex education curriculums in the U.S. as well. With a “two steps forward, one step back” approach to sex ed. curriculum, more tweens and teens may be turning to the internet, and by default social media, to fill in the gaps. Boody believes that the internet is making up for these gaps, “…but you have to hope that people are on the right sites that actually provide factual information.”
Boody believes that a curriculum geared toward “educating yourself on the internet” is crucial and that it should be instilled in youth by caregivers and parents as well. “As a parent or a caregiver for any youth, you can’t assume they’re getting the answers, A) from school or B) from the internet. You have to provide them with a base of information and discernment,” Boody posits. “Obama said at the end of his last speech that ‘we can disagree on opinions, but we shouldn’t be arguing facts,’” Boody paraphrases. “We are in a time and place where we do argue facts and you see that in the sex education community, so it is scary from that standpoint. You still have to trust major journalistic publications … you still do have to go back to the people who are legally accountable to provide the truth.”
The takeaway here is that while the internet is neutral insofar as the information available will tell the story you seek, we must continue to educate all generations on the importance of research methodologies and an ability to discern a reliable versus unreliable source, fact from fiction, integrity from deceit. Diversification and discernment in selecting your sources of education will leave more people in a place to better understand the truth about safe sex, our bodies and our relationships as a whole.
“I’m 34 years old and so my experience in it [the internet] is so drastically different from somebody who’s 13 or 14, who doesn’t have discernment, a circle of support, a base of self-confidence and a general idea of who they are,” Boody notes. This also parlays into the internet’s vast and often nasty call-out culture. “For an older person … you do have a base understanding that call-out culture can be an opportunity to start important conversations,” Boody states optimistically.
Social Media and Porn. Expectation vs. Reality.
Social media acts as a supremely effective catalyst for rekindling old friendships and staying in touch with those that you may have otherwise drifted apart from. That said, social media is responsible for creating unrealistic expectations when we talk about the quality and quantity of our relationships, intimate and otherwise. At what point do these expectations become unhealthy? In 2016 a survey of over 2,000 Americans highlighted our tendency to feel lonely. The poll conducted by the American Osteopathic Association reveals that 72 percent of Americans experience loneliness, and regularly. One-third of those polled stated that they feel lonely at least once per week.
How can that be? A quick perusal on your Instagram seems to convey the opposite message: an infinite scrolling reel of social gatherings, bedecked happy hour cocktails, kittens and flaw-erasing filters are testimonials to our never-ending pits of joy and elation … right? According to Dr. Jennifer Caudle, assistant professor of family medicine at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, “Loneliness is ‘an invisible epidemic’ masked by people’s online personas, which rarely reflect real emotions.”
“I think social media tends to give off the impression that everybody is super connected, has tons of friends, feels very included and doesn’t feel lonely,” Boody intonates, reducing her voice to a whisper. She goes on to say that a lot of people simply don’t feel included or connected. Having 3,000 or 300 friends can mirror intimacy and connectivity when in reality many social media users don’t have those close interconnected relationships. Boody quickly and naturally turns this conversation into one about sex.
“When I was growing up all my [sexually active] friends were claiming that they were orgasming so many times [during sex]. Ultimately repeating what they heard in porn,” Boody states. “Then something switched. People were like, ‘I’ve never come during sex.’” The response from people was like “Oh my god, me neither.” Boody says, “That was the starting point when things could start getting better. When we started to get more cliteracy … you know literacy with the clitoris.”
Honest conversations can help us decipher between what is feasible and what is unrealistic especially when it comes to relationships and sex. Boody’s YouTube channel is streamlining this process. It’s a place where people of all generations can go to hear honest discourse and feedback on intimacy, friendships, pleasure, safe sex, the list goes on. “We’re all pretending that everything is great. ‘I’m like, so awesome. I’m so connected. I have so many friends.’ Then we start being honest. ‘I’m actually feeling really lonely.’”
“Society’s attitude towards sex is really narrow in terms of what they have as visual representations of sex. For example, our porn is so cartoonish, with really big dicks and really big boobs…”
Again, this is where diversifying your educational resources comes into play. “Society’s attitude towards sex is really narrow in terms of what they have as visual representations of sex. For example, our porn is so cartoonish, with really big dicks and really big boobs,” Boody notes. She goes on to say that the persistence of this imagery and the abundance of this imagery makes us uncomfortable with visuals that don’t match what we see in porn. It makes us feel shameful too – especially about our own bodies. Opting to search for visuals and imagery that more closely mirror a plethora of different body types and genitals will lead to a sex-positive journey. “The only opportunity [that most people have to see a vulva] is in porn and the diversity there is just so ridiculously small, and I say small as pun intended because it is the small lips, the small vulvas, the small clitorises.”
“If you don’t like what you’re seeing and it’s not reflective of who you are and how you want to be celebrated, you have to start making an effort to change the pages you interact with and to unfollow the ones that are perpetuating a standard that doesn’t make you feel good.”
This again reiterates Boody’s notion that the internet is neutral. What you search for and what you seek is what you get. You have the ability to change the channel. “If you don’t like what you’re seeing and it’s not reflective of who you are and how you want to be celebrated, you have to start making an effort to change the pages you interact with and to unfollow the ones that are perpetuating a standard that doesn’t make you feel good,” Boody reiterates. “That’s the beauty of the culture that we’re in. There’s so much out there. It’s not like before when you had 20 channels on TV, and you had to pick one that was kind of close to you. There are billions of options out there … billions of people you can connect with, mediums that you can find community on. So why not seek out the ones that make you feel good about yourself?” Does this mean that you should eradicate the channels that challenge you and make you uncomfortable? I can’t help but wonder if this advice could lead to a narrowing of the mind.
Boody extrapolates further mentioning acclaimed emcee Killer Mike’s Netflix series, “Trigger Warning with Killer Mike.” In the program, Killer Mike talked about an incubation period, of sorts. “Killer Mike believes that black kids should go to all black schools up until a certain age. [His reasoning is for kids to] gain confidence, to gain a sense of kinmanship, [to realize that they are] powerful, important, valuable … to get that sense of self before they start interacting and integrating [with other races and cultures].” Boody makes mention that race is not her area of expertise but notes, “I do think everybody in life should be trying to form a base, a central idea of what their morals are, what their values are, what their self-opinion is, and once you have that you should be like, ‘Okay, now I wanna challenge [those ideas] in healthy ways that feel good for me and be open to the world.”
“The goal shouldn’t be, I’ve found my comfort zone, let me stay here forever. The goal should be, I found my comfort zone, now I know where my home is, but I still have to leave my house once in a while if I expect to get anywhere in this world,” Boody states signing off.
Shan’s Recommended Reading on Sex, Intimacy and Relationships
TITLE: The Game of Desire
AUTHOR: Shannon Boodram
Boodram’s second book is available for pre-order now. Dating is complicated. Her book aims to help you get what you want out of dating. For all you women out there – here is a guide to becoming a master dater in 60, yes count ‘em, 60 days!
TITLE: Judge This Cover
AUTHOR: Brittany Renner
This behind-the-scenes look at the author’s life is both raw and witty. A tale of 7 men and 7 lessons … the beginning of Renner’s liberation.
TITLE: The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity
AUTHOR: Esther Perel
Why do people cheat? Why does an affair hurt so much? Can an affair ever help a marriage? The author weaves together real life with psychological and cultural analysis. Fasten your seat belts readers.
TITLE: Bad Boyfriends
AUTHOR: Jeb Kinnison
Fairy tales of love, those most often kept alive in the Western world, keep us choosing the wrong types of people to begin relationships with. Learn to read red flags and discover something about yourself in this practical guide filled with study materials and plans of action.
TITLE: The Ethical Slut
AUTHOR: Janet W. Hardy | Dossie Easton
After two decades, and three editions, this book’s dive into polyamorous lifestyles is still relevant. Poly pioneers and poly millennials alike will find this a useful guide to love, sex and intimacy beyond the limits of conventional monogamy.