Without a federal standard for comprehensive sex-ed, people are turning to podcasts for frank discussions about sex.
Guys We Fucked hosts Corinne Fisher (L) and Krystyna Hutchinson. Photo by Dee Guerreros.
In the US, medically-accurate sex ed is only required in 13 states, and the concept of sexual pleasure is seldom taught in schools in a positive light, according to a 2013 study from the journal Sex Education. So, it’s unsurprising that many people in the US are hungry for more information about sex.
To satisfy this hunger, some are turning to sex-related podcasts such as Sex With Emily, Why Are People Into That?, Unscrewed, Sex Nerd Sandra, Guys We Fucked, and Savage Love, which run the gamut from advice to reporting to accounts of personal experiences. Listeners may tune in for the juicy stories, but hosts hope they come away actually knowing more about sex, and maybe even feeling inspired to start their own discussions.
“There is no place to learn unless [people] feel comfortable talking to each other,” says Emily Morse, host of the sex advice podcast Sex With Emily. Morse argues that people often learn about sex from porn or Hollywood, which can create unrealistic standards and favor straight, male perspectives. For instance, 78 percent of the men in Pornhub’s 50 most popular videos are shown orgasming on camera, compared to just 18.3 percent of the women, according to a study in the Journal of Sex Research.
“You can have a healthy relationship with [porn],” says Morse. “[But] it’s not sex education. What you’re seeing on camera is created to turn men on. … Men have expectations [like], ‘Women should have multiple orgasms. Maybe she’ll show up with three friends!’ The women who are watching think there’s a script: ‘I need to moan, I need to scream, I need to call him daddy.’”
Unlike porn and many sex ed classes, podcasts serve up conversation, often in the form of a literal dialogue, prompting some listeners to feel more comfortable talking openly about sex.
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Jaclyn Friedman, host of Unscrewed—a self-described “podcast about all the ways our sexual culture is screwed up”—categorizes sex podcasts into three types. First are the ones she calls the “doin’ it” shows, which she believes are most popular because they provide information about pleasure and other topics people didn’t learn about in sex ed. The second genre is the “relational level” shows, which deal with being a good partner and having sex ethically. The third category, the “cultural level” shows, carry the most political context, addressing “the situations in the world, all the institutions that shape the way we think about our sex lives,” says Friedman, who has written a book on such topics.
Friedman started Unscrewed to fill a lack of this third kind of podcast. “There’s so much talk about the individual, ” she says. “I think there’s a lot of feeling, If there’s something wrong with my sex life, there’s something wrong with me. What I really want people to know [is that] the likelihood it’s the result of some broken institution is great, and we need to be able to see those systems clearly, so all of us feel more whole.”
From a logistical standpoint, podcasts offer an easy way to garner information: You can listen to them at your leisure, and an hour-long episode can cover more ground than, say, an article one might spend five minutes reading. Guys We Fucked, which features Sorry About Last Night, a comedy duo made up of Corinne Fisher and Krystyna Hutchinson, interviewing guests about their sex lives and speaking candidly about their own, includes an hour-and-a-half-long episode exploring how celibacy fits into sex positivity.
Many of these podcasts can be conversation-starters for people who might not actively search for information about sexuality, simply because they trust—or are entertained by—charismatic hosts. Fisher hopes that by doing this, she can help normalize talking about sex. “We don’t talk about sexuality unless it’s in a very erotic way, and it should be a normal thing, where we can talk about it and be comfortable both at times when it’s erotic or at times when it’s educational,” she says.
The humor in podcasts such as Guys We Fucked can get people comfortable with topics that may have embarrassed them in the past. “A lot of the sex talk I heard [was] either clinical, dry, or stale… and we wanted to add a sense of humor to both of those things to make them more digestible for people,” Hutchinson added.
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As the GOP continues to advocate for abstinence-only education despite the U.N. considering sex education a human right, some podcast creators see a larger purpose in their work. “There are powerful people in powerful organizations in our contemporary world who have a vested interest in keeping all of us from comprehensive information and resources related to our sexuality,” says Tina Horn, host of Why Are People Into That?, a podcast that explores kinks, fetishes, and sexual subcultures. “History has shown us that sex is a way to control people, and I do believe that forces in American culture, such as the religious right, want to combine their interpretation of religion with their interpretation of our government to keep people alienated from their bodies and information and pleasure so that they can be more easily controlled.”
ACast, a podcast platform that hosts Why Are People Into That?, Unscrewed, and other podcasts that discuss sex, such as Bedtime Stories and My Dad Wrote a Porno, stands behind its mission to propel dialogue about sex and include alienated groups in the greater conversation. “I feel like I have an extra responsibility, especially as a queer woman, to think about representation and what kind of stories we’re enabling—LGBTQ or sex positive or POC or people who don’t get a shot at the microphone,” says Caitlin Thompson, ACast’s head of content.
Horn gets messages of thanks from people who felt alone for being queer, were hiding their kinks, or were scared to explore non-monogamy before listening to her podcast. “Being able to hear those conversations that are so nonjudgmental has given them the courage to be themselves and to do the things they’re curious about—going to sex parties, getting involved in cultures and communities,” she says. “The show is not prescriptive [like], ‘Do these five SEO-Google-searchable-sex-advice’ but is more about telling true stories that people can relate to, whatever their lives are, whatever their fantasies or identities or desires happen to be.”
Hutchinson and Fisher say they received an email from a listener who did something she’d been taught was wrong—specifically, she hooked up with a bisexual man—but said she heard their voices in the back of her head asking what the big deal was. With the help of their hilarious stories, she had broadened her sexual boundaries.