How to Give Sex Advice

how to give sex advice

We were asked by friend of ours and friend of the show Girl On The Net to come to Eroticon to have a discussion about how to give sex advice. So we did and we managed (just about) to record it. 

Here’s the podcast (please please please like, subscribe and review us on itunes)

And here’s a summary of what we said

What are the core things we should remember when answering reader’s questions?

Think beyond what you generally see as ‘the answer’ as there isn’t going to be one answer that works for everyone. A lot of people’s sex advice is based on sex advice they’ve read from somewhere else which is usually not very good. Unpacking the questions and the cultural messages is our approach.

Good sex advice is like good sex education, it’s about making it about them and making it person centred. So look for clues in the question. Also think about why it is they are asking you in particular a question, do they want you to say what you would do or would they want great advice.

What is the interplay between erotica and sex advice? Should we be bringing them together?

MJ has been thinking about this a lot lately as they have been writing an erotic novel and thinking about (for example) how to bring consent into storylines and how to make that hot. So there is a huge opportunity to incorporate sex advice into erotica.

However we also brought in bits of erotica into sex advice in our book ‘Enjoy Sex (How, When and IF You Want To)’. We would write brief fictionalised ‘multiple experiences’ to help us make our points. We found this super useful because it really helped us to bring some things up and also gives the reader ‘permission’ to try other things by giving them a flavour of what is out there.

Of course this is a thing we can do with adult audiences and is much more difficult to do with younger audiences.

What are the most harmful enduring myths about sex?

The idea that sex is just a series of techniques that one person should do to another are a huge problem, we think. Just treating another person as some kind of machine that you try to ‘work’ with a technical manual dehumanises the sexy human in front of you. Treating people as objects in this way can run a major risk of treating them non-consensually. But also as everybody’s body is different – and as everybody’s body is different every time they have sex – just having a stock series of techniques to do to another person isn’t going to work every time.

Another one is the sexual script of ‘kissing, foreplay, and penetrative sexual intercourse’ which we talk a lot about in our book and in our work generally. Whilst some people enjoy following the script of how you are supposed to do sex, many people don’t. Also the script excludes so many people. Also just following the script can lead to non-consensual sex if people are paying more attention to (what they think is) the script rather than each other.

What strategies do you have for the emotional labour of giving advice?

We’ve embedded self-care in our practice, which means that we chat to each other about what is going on in our lives and support each other when we are working together. We also chat to other advice givers like Petra Boynton or other folk working in the field like Girl On The Net.

We’re both also very practised at giving advice professionally, which means that we are used to drawing boundaries and treating advice work as work. This means giving the emotional labour to answer someone’s question as well as we can, but then to draw a line. We also both get support from each other but also from other people that we trust develop mutually supportive working relationships.

This is also difficult in the culture we are in which doesn’t value the emotional labour of people. We both reflected on the fact that the advice giving part of our work is that which is least valued financially. So we particularly love it when people read our stuff and give us shout outs and love on the social medias.

It’s also important to model consent and boundaries with people writing to us and to be clear about what questions we welcome, which we don’t, what we can answer and what we can’t.

What should people avoid when giving advice to readers?

Try to avoid individualising the answer. Most of the problems that we get are actually more to do with wider culture, experiences of oppression and the narrow sexual scripts that we have. So our starting point is to examine those and to say to the reader that, for example, if they are struggling to get erections they could think about the messages that they get about the importance of erections and the effect that can be having on them. Try to avoid reinforcing what is normal and telling people what to do to be normal.

The other thing is to make sure that the tone of your advice is gentle, respectful and affirming rather than ridiculing and hurtful.

Has #MeToo changed the kinds of questions we get asked?

We don’t think that #MeToo has necessarily changed the questions we get (as we already were talking about consent and power anyway). When we wrote ‘Enjoy Sex’ we started off with thinking about consent and wrote the book from that point. We have always been up for going beyond just ‘yes means yes, no means no’ and there are plenty of resources on the website to help individuals.

In addition to that we also like to unpack the non-consensual culture we live in. One small example of that is the advice that you get in most sex advice books, which MJ found in their research, which barely features consent at all. You can read more about this in Mediated Intimacy by Meg-John, Roz Gill and Laura Harvey.

Should we be clear about our credentials or lack of credentials when we give advice?

We talk about what  ‘credentials’ are and what training and courses give you credentials for giving advice. MJ talks about their experience of having a PhD but they find that doesn’t really make them more equipped to give advice. They are also a therapist and although that might be more helpful they find that there are many problematic attitudes and ideas in the therapy world around sex, sexuality, relationships etc. [Also, therapy is different to advice work] So while the book learning and the therapy skills are helpful to a point, they certainly aren’t everything.

Many of the people giving really great advice are people on the fringes of sex work, or in sex positive or kink communities, or people drawing on their own experiences. However there is a tension between these kinds of folks and then self-professed experts who aren’t really but use their image of expertise to exploit and sometimes abuse people.

How to give advice to people who have behaved unethically?

MJ and GotN were reminding Justin of this post at Bish (which he had forgotten about, please note the content note). Justin reckons it’s key to remain gentle and affirming and on their side but also to give them a bollocking. It’s about getting a good balance of gentle and firm. One way to do that is to welcome the person but also to absolutely challenge them and make it clear that their behaviour is not on.

How do we deal with the fact that thoughts and ideas and knowledge are changing all the time and so this may make advice we gave in the past look quite dated?

MJ reflected on their edits and rewrites of Rewriting The Rules (second edition out this week). For their second edition the book is much more intersectional with the examples they use. Part of being ‘good’ at advice is to be transparent and to say that we are always learning and not always getting it right. Self-reflection is such an important part of giving advice to other people and so we try to do that quite a lot (which can involve quite a lot of difficult work).

However this is difficult when we are in a world that fixes people by their words and doesn’t allow them to be in a process of becoming (which we all are). Having said that it is also important to be aware of what you don’t know (which also requires bravery and self-reflection). We also say that the stuff we are dealing with as practitioners we also sometimes struggle with in our personal life.

© Meg-John Barker & Justin Hancock, 2018