By Elizabeth Limbach
Jane Bogart wants you to have sex – and truly enjoy it, too. Last week, the nationally recognized "sexpert" spoke to UC Santa Cruz with bundles of knowledge to share, piles of assumptions to deconstruct, and a message to reassure that "you’re normal."
Bogart was a fashion design student turned professional dancer who inadvertently followed a path to becoming a sex educator and expert. She has been the resident sexpert on two MTV shows, at NYU and at UCSC for the past year and a half where she works in the Student Health and Outreach Program (SHOP). Her first book, Sexploration: a Guide to Feeling Truly Great in Bed, was published in March of this year.
With the muted clamor of the Regent-protestors as a backdrop, Bogart held a Sexploration talk at the Baytree Bookstore on Wednesday, Oct. 18th. From "blue balls" to the "mercedez benz" of vibrators, nothing was out of bounds or off-topic. Bogart’s overall message was slightly more serious, however. Bogart proposes that sex be reclaimed as the positive and healthy experience it can be. She explained that sex education makes youth associate it with disease, the media portrays sex unrealistically, and our culture enforces contradictory messages.
"She makes you feel like sex isn’t a bad thing," said Dabeiba Dietrich, UCSC third-year and attendee of the talk. "You can talk about it, and sex and pleasure are good things."
Bogart attributes the frequent inability of students to openly talk about sex to the two-faced messages that dominate our cultural ideology.
"You get mixed messages," Bogart said, "Sex sells, and it’s okay to have this sexualized culture, but it’s not okay to actually have sex or talk about it."
Along with insufficient sex communication, Bogart holds mass media largely responsible for the distorted sense of sexual normalcy.
"On TV they are never sweating, makeup is never out of place, they are never fumbling with clothing or having awkward moments," Bogart said. "It’s always so perfect that if that is not your experience people can feel inadequate." By breaking down these cultural "sex scripts" in her book, Bogart hopes to inspire and guide people on their own sexual journey on which they can expand their definitions and enjoyment of whatever "sex" may entail. Her approach could be called sex positivity.
While she considers cultural and religious influences a factor in a student’s ability to talk about sex, Bogart cites our nation’s restrictive sex education as the reason incoming college students are arriving with less sexual knowledge than ever before. President Bush advocates abstinence-only education, which teaches abstinence as the single way to deal with sex, and allocated over $170 million in 2006 to fund such programs.
"Because of the shift away from comprehensive sexuality education, people get very limited information," Bogart said. "So what I’ve noticed over time with college students is that they are coming in with less knowledge."
Beth Rees, program director for the UCSC Women’s Center, says that Bogart’s information is especially critical for college students coming from this type of limited sex education.
"With our campus having such a large undergraduate population, and so many students coming straight from high school, I think it is a needed tool for them to be able to talk about intimate relationships and sex, which Jane can help them do," Rees said.
Bogart sees sex as particularly vital for college students because of their gaps in sexual knowledge, but also because college is often a time of sexual initiation, she says. With college as a sexual start for many students, Bogart claims to deal with a lot of "first time" issues, but says the most common inquiries are the same from any given age group and include performance, size and orgasm. And the biggest sexual worry of all? "Normalcy," says Bogart. Since working in sex education she claims to have heard variations of "am I normal? Is what I’m thinking, feeling, or doing normal?" the most.
"The realm of ‘normal’ is huge," Bogart said. "So long as it’s consensual, you’re normal." If there were not so many assumptions surrounding sex, says Bogart, and people were able to talk about sex comfortably, the normalcy complex would be less of an issue.
"What I gather from her is that we are all sexual beings that have a wide range of capacities for being able to express ourselves and express our sexuality in ways that are very individual," said Rees. "And depending on where you’re at, you’re fine. You are where you are at and that is where you need to be."
Sexploration is not a blueprint for amazing sex, and Bogart is not claiming to know the secrets for a perfect sex life. She is, however, hoping to educate UCSC and the rest of the nation on how to demystify our culture’s portrayal of sex in order to reclaim it for oneself.
"Sexuality is really a positive thing," Rees said, "Jane wants us to know that talking about it with yourself and others can really open it up and become a great trend."