What would it be like to collect the wisdom of some of the best-known sex and relationship educators in one volume? That’s what Carl Frankel set out to do with Secrets of the Sex Masters.
The book takes a different approach than many other guides. Each chapter was either written by someone known for their expertise in that area, or was co-written with Carl. By asking each contributor to focus on a topic they have a lot of experience around, he was able to get a depth of knowledge and insight that few other books approach. And while there are plenty of other how-to anthologies out there, many of them center around practices such as BDSM or open relationships. Secrets of the Sex Masters is impressively wide-reaching, including topics like oral sex, anal sex, BDSM, role play, fantasy, safer sex, tantra, and multiple orgasm. My chapter, which Carl co-wrote with me, is about sex and shame.
There’s so much amazing stuff in this guide. Just to see what would happen, I’ve opened the book up to a random page five or six times and every time, I landed on a page that had something valuable to offer. Whether it was tips for making oral sex amazing, suggestions for exploring fantasies in new ways, or info about sexual anatomy, each page I landed on had something interesting to offer. I’ve read a lot of sex books, but few manage to be so useful. Even if you already know a lot about sex, there’s plenty for you here. That’s only to be expected when you get folks like Charles Muir, Megan Andelloux, Reid Mihalko, Joseph Kramer, Sheri Winston, and Nina Hartley together.
At the same time, while I think that Secrets of the Sex Masters is full of great stuff, it also falls into a dynamic that many books like this do. Take a look at the back cover above, and you’ll see what I mean. Everyone who contributed to it is white, as far as I know.
This is a pattern in the field of sex education, for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons are the same as why many other fields are dominated by white folks. For example, systems of racism and privilege make it less difficult for white people to get recognition for our work. Sex ed is hardly immune to that. And some of those reasons are specific to sex education. The intersections of sex-negativity and racism mean that my work would be judged very differently if I were Black, not just because of how that happens in computer science or other fields, but also because of the ways in which people of color are judged for their sexuality in ways that white people aren’t. So not only are sex educators of color judged differently than I am because of their race, they’re judged differently because of the intersection of sexuality and race. There are lots of additional reasons for the fact that most of the well-known sex educators are white, of course. But the relevant point here is that this is the context that we’re talking about.
Last week, I was tagged in a tweet from Aida Manduley asking about the lack of race diversity among the authors. I also read Carl’s blog post in response to their questions, and I’ve been in a few conversations with some colleagues and friends who saw that I was a contributor to the book.
At this point, I don’t recall whether Carl & I talked about who he might approach to be part of this project, or whether I made any suggestions. I’m also pretty sure that being a white person in a field dominated by white folks, I could easily have suggested other white people without thinking about it. That’s part of the nature of privilege- I don’t always think about race dynamics because I don’t have to in the way a person of color does. It’s important for me to acknowledge that I might have reinforced the pattern of only thinking of white people as possible contributors. That’s part of what makes racism invisible to white people. Much of the time, we actively have to work to see it, and even then, we won’t see all of it.
So I’m not surprised that when Carl asked for suggestions, almost everyone he found was also white. People tend to recommend people they know personally and most folks who are well-known in the field are white. Though according to his post, he did approach a couple of folks of color, both of whom were interested at first, and then changed their minds.
This is one reason why I’m really happy to see groups like the Women of Color Sexual Health Network. In addition to the Facebook page, they also have an online directory, which will make it easier for women of color in the sexual health and education fields to connect. It will also help book editors, conference organizers, and other folks running sexuality events find presenters, writers, and educators who they might not already know.
I’m committing to ask book editors or event organizers what steps they’re taking to make sure their projects reflect the diversity of the field. The fact that the first people they might think of are white doesn’t remove their responsibility to take it a step further and look for people of color. Most of my colleagues are pretty good about diversity when it comes to sexual orientation and gender (though not always), and it’s long past time to do the same with race. I admit that I didn’t think to ask Carl who else was participating in the book, and I’m not going to make that mistake with future projects. I’m also going to help boost the signal when events or projects come my way and do what I can to make sure that my colleagues of color know what opportunities are out there.
Lastly, I’m committing to engaging in conversations about these issues with my white colleagues. It’s important for white people to show other white people that racism is our issue, too. We need to demonstrate that we are affected by it, and that we want to change it. Unlike people of color, I can choose to engage with these issues or not. I choose to, and I hope it will help others do the same.
I still think that Secrets of the Sex Masters is full of amazing info about lots of different ways to explore and enjoy sex. I’m still proud of the chapter that Carl and I wrote. I respect and admire the work of every single person listed in the table of contents. Whatever your background or experience level, there’s lots of good stuff there for you. If you’re a sex geek or sexuality professional, you’ll get a lot out of this book.
Update: I also know that Carl is in conversation with sex educator Aida Manduley, who has shared the concerns and feedback from the Women of Color Sexual Health Network. Both of them will be sharing updates as they happen.