Good Vibrations Interview Crosspost!

Originally Posted on July 31st, 2012 at

The Sex-Positive Parent: A New Resource from Airial Clark by Dr. Charlie Glickman


At Good Vibrations, we know how important sex education is. And we also know how hard parents work to juggle protecting kids from information that they aren’t ready for while also giving them what they need to grow into sexually healthy people. Many of our Sexy Mama writers have talked about how they’ve walked that very fine line, often without role models or support.

When I heard that the wonderful Airial Clark was launching The Sex-Positive Parent, I knew that it was going to be a really important resource. I had a few questions for Airial about the project. Check out what she said- it’s amazing.

1) What gave you the idea for this project? What’s the story behind it?

Two primary motivations: First, I wanted to make the sexuality education resource for parents that I wish my parents had had. Second, I know how important it is for parent’s to get information from other parents. I am clearly a mother who is in the midst of raising children and navigating the social expectations of sexuality. So that’s what I did by creating The Sex-Positive Parent and the Guide. It’s most about supporting parents in their role of sex educator. I want to provide strategies for parents to be real with their children in much the same way as my mother was real with me. She didn’t have the luxury to sugar coat sex, and she broke a lot of silence at great personal cost to be honest with me about her experiences.  I often share about my family’s communication dynamics by positioning myself in the center as both a parent and a child. The intergenerational context for how we teach children about sexuality and gender needs to be focussed on.

2) There are lots of different ideas about what sex-positive means. What does it mean for you? 

To me, being a sex-positive parent means we are open to educating our kids about sexuality rather than avoiding the topic. I chose to use the term ‘sex-positive’ because, for me, it conveys that parents and children come in all genders and sexualities. It also means respecting lived experiences of sexuality. If a person has had mostly traumatic experiences around sex or gender roles, which is very easy to have happen in our society, then that needs to be acknowledged and respected. I fully support the skepticism of any blanket term seeking to describe something as personal as sex. What I really like about sex-positivity is the unshakable tenet of consent as the requirement for all sexual behavior. And it’s more than just enthusiastic consent, it is also informed consent, which protects children in a profound way.

3) What are some of the skills or information that you think more parents need? What’s the biggest barrier you see parents deal with when it comes to sex?

We need a structure, a scaffolding of practical ways of communicating our beliefs and values about sexuality. Parents are afraid and unsure of what to say and how to say it because we don’t have enough examples. Think of how much structure sex-negative narratives have; we don’t have that for people who want to teach their kids that their sexual health is important. The fear of saying too much about sex too soon, or violating a boundary is very real for parents, so we often choose silence because it feels safest.

Above everything, parents want their kids to be secure, and my perspective is that comprehensively educating them about both the physical and social realities of sexuality is most protective thing we can do. Parents need to feel empowered to speak up. A lot of liberal, progressive parents don’t want to be viewed as dogmatic, as if they are pushing their beliefs unto their children. I feel that way as well. I want to raise critical thinkers. So I end up asking my kids a lot of questions, trying to expose them to the constructions underlying social norms around sexuality and gender roles. It’s a negotiation between not wanting to raise bigots and wanting them to come to those decisions on their own.

4) How have other parents you know responded? What about the parents of your kid’s friends and classmates?

This whole project is a response to a demand made by parents that I’ve interacted with over years and years. I have a toe in many different communities and consistently I hear, “We need a resource. We need some guidance. We need someone who is doing it and writing about parenting and sexuality.” I’ve been the parent that other parents reach out to for advice for a long time. I’m very matter of fact, and other parents appreciate it.

There’ve been many times when my kids’ friends’ parents have said, “Uh, can I ask you if this is normal…” and most times it is totally normal! Having an advanced degree in Sexuality Studies means I can cite a study or refer them to a professional with confidence. I’ve received nothing but support and for that I am so grateful. I respect other parents’ values and beliefs about sex and gender and I strive to be informative without pushing an agenda even in casual conversation on the soccer field. Especially when it’s on the soccer field! I am balancing my kids’ social connections. I don’t want to alienate them from their peers. I wish we didn’t have to be so guarded, but when it comes to our children, we have to be. I don’t wonder about proselytizing the benefits of any one kind of sexuality.

5) What do your children say about what you do? How do you talk about your work with them?

When I decided to do graduate level work in Sexuality Studies, my kids could not conceptualize of what that meant. They had no frame of reference for what studying human sexuality means. When I brought home my Advanced Bio text during my first semester, they had some evidence that I was studying science. It was’t until a sex educator came to their school for their introductory courses in Sex Ed that it finally clicked for them that, “Oh, this is what Mom is doing.” Their instructor had graduated from the same Master’s degree program that I was completing. They just needed to see another person in that role.

When I was in grad school they told their friends that I was learning to be a Sex Ed Teacher and left it at that. Now that I’m finished with school, they refer to me as a writer. My older son reads some of my work, the posts where I refer to conversations he and I have had especially. There is much casual debate in my household. We’re really very talkative and highly opinionated. We’ve talked a lot about the power of sharing stories, about how important it is for people to be able to be honest about their sexuality. They’re both very proud of me since they’ve been with me every step of this journey, from community college to graduate school. Which also means they’ve witnessed my struggle to keep all the balls in the air and now get to see other parents view me as an expert.

The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.

The woman I was 10 years ago can finally exhale. She can close her eyes and trust the woman I am now to take over. I have a new set of tools. I am armed with a new set of experiences. I have new goals to lock my sight on.

I have accomplished everything I asked of myself. I have new expectations; they’ve been percolating a while, just under the surface while I wrestled with myself to get shit done. I’m going to need a lot of help in meeting them. I’ve been on my own for 10 years. Skirting around the edges of groups and communities, dabbling in relationships, bobbing and weaving around commitments. But I had to. I needed the freedom to come and go.

I thoroughly appreciate the support I’ve had. The phone calls and Skype dates. The extensive text sessions and the random week night dinners I’ve cooked for friends at my place. Each person who took the hour to listen to me panic or vent or question my own abilities- my mosaic of loved ones. The people who believe in me are spread around the world connected by an intricate web of communication networks.

I felt so selfish going to graduate school. I did this for me. I jumped through their hoops and played the role of student all so I can claim my status as Master of something. I told my family- I need to do this and I need you to believe how important this is to me. Me. As a person who’s been raised to be a caretaker, asking other people to make sacrifices on my behalf is foreign to me.

Being a parent while being a student isn’t as difficult as you might assume it to be. One thing about parenting that you have to accept early and often is that you’re never going to know if you’re doing the ‘right’ thing. You can be 98% sure, but that 2% of uncertainty will keep you from sleeping at night. Like a bread crumb in your freshly laundered bedsheets. Being a student is the same. No matter how prepared I felt there was always a 2% chance I was going about it the entirely wrong way.

The hardest part of my thesis was finishing it. I did not know how to end it. I had to trust that my advisors knew better than me. Which. Is. Hard. If they said it was done, then it was, in fact, done. Even if I was unsatisfied, the seal of their signatures meant I had completed the task. This is not normal for me. I am aware of my strained relationship with authority and conformity. Normally, I’m not done until I’ve worn myself out. But this time, I made the decision to meet their standards instead of my own. And I was rewarded with a degree.

I went to the capstone event alone. I didn’t ask anyone to come to the little send off ceremony our department put together to acknowledge our graduation. I did this for myself, I walked away from it by myself. We didn’t have a proper commencement. No caps and gowns or hoods placed over our heads by distinguished faculty. Instead, a few words were spoken by each of our advisors as they handed us a certificate of achievement bound in purple leather.

When I was called up to the podium by the Chair of my thesis committee, she looked at me and said, “You were a challenge. You came to every meeting ready to challenge yourself, ready to challenge me. You had so much energy behind what you were pursuing, it was inspiring. Your direct nature and high expectations are refreshing.” When she said the challenging bit, I immediately cast my eyes downward, not out of shame, but to hide the grin on my face. You bet I’m challenging. And I’m really proud to have it recognized and announced.

When I walked out of the campus copy center where we had to submit out thesis for binding… the final stop after signatures and formatting approval… instead of breathing out a sigh of relief or release, I blurted out a very loud “Fuck You!” with a wide sweeping gesture towards the systems of oppression that keep so many bright and intelligent people out of school.

The entire time I was in school I was aware of all the people who should be there but aren’t. I was also aware of how many people who were there and didn’t deserve it. Every step in the process acted as a barrier for some and a leg up for others. And that’s never going to not bother me. It wasn’t a thank you that burst from me, but a fuck you. Fuck the people who vote to divest in public education. Fuck the people who only feel accomplished based on other people’s disenfranchisement. Fuck an institution who encourages people to view themselves as exempt from accountability based on academic interest.

Am I a challenge to authority? You better believe it. I’ve got privileges and this is how I use them.

So what’s next?

A lot.


The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.

Almost done

I’ve been wearing the same jeans and hoodie for about 2 weeks now. I’ve washed them more times than is good for the fabric but I remember to always put them in the machine inside out. I’m spending way too much time online. Seems like I can’t go more than a few hours without needing a distraction, or maybe it’s more like a craving for interaction.

This process has been lonely. My grad school experience did not include a close knit group of peers sequestered from the rest of the world, coming together for serious bouts of researching or writing. The lack of companionship has been profound. So it makes sense that since I can’t be socially available due to the amount of work required per day that I would look to online interactions as a way to feel connected. I’m grateful for it. I’m also aware of the artificiality. It gets me through my day, but doesn’t help me sleep at night. It’s like using sweet n low instead of brown sugar in my coffee. I’m just gonna let that metaphor stand on it’s own.

I turn in my completed thesis draft to my advisors in about 48 hours. Then the job search begins. I will be the only person in my family to ever have an advanced degree. I don’t even know what that means. I know right now, my children hate grad school because to them it has robbed them of a spring break. I’ve told them that if being bored for two weeks means your future will have more security and stability- suck it up and deal with the boredom. But they’re 10 and 12, and eye rolling is pretty much the only logical response they’ve got.

One of the thought processes that’s been concurrently running through my mind when I take my social media breaks is the difference between curating, critiquing, commenting, and creating. Not sure why they’re all c words, but it rolls of the tongue well. Social media provides a platform for people to engage at so many levels. What is your relationship to the content? And how does that relationship differ between platforms? Are you a content creator, a content commentator? Do you critique the content and generate more conversation? Or do you curate without comment? Why? What does that do for you?

I’m not sure why these questions of categorization based on online behavior are  on my mind. Other than my asking myself who I want to be: a generator of my own content or a curator of others’s? That tension is what cause me to close the browser window. This thesis has the potential to be content not yet seen. A large body of my own work unlike I’ve ever done before. So while there is much more instant gratification to be found in the clicking of likes and reblogging of posts, I am only postponing my own actual contribution of meaningful content.

The hours I go without interacting or engaging aren’t necessarily the hours when I get the most done. Sometimes all those avatars messaging me from twitter, tumblr, facebook and others make my laptop into a digital cocktail party and I get to mingle and sashay my way around. And just like any good party, I want to have something interesting to share. So far my thesis research is a crowd pleaser. Which means I’m talking about my topic candidly on a pretty regular basis. People ask questions or share their experiences.

Last night I had a conversation on tumblr with a man who identified as polygamous, and when I asked him if he meant polyamorous, he got pissed. While he lives in the US, his polygamous marriage came from his familial traditions in Africa. He didn’t tell me what country or African culture he was connected to. So I apologized and explained why I half assumed/half asked if he was polyamorous. As I described polyamory, he found it immoral and not something he would allow his wife, or wives, to participate in.

Right. Just reinforced that my thesis is not a cross-cultural analysis. I’m not qualified to pull that off yet.

Ok, my social media break is up. I don’t smoke, so this is as close to a smoke break as I’m gonna get. Almost done only a few days left. I really love my hoodie.

Cookin in the kitchen with Shilo

You know you know the song, just hum along.

Spent the day in Shilo’s kitchen, I baked and she made port wine jelly. We strategized and mission statemented and bounced ideas back and forth all while sipping coffee spiked with Bailey’s. If you’ve never had the experience of discussing the erotic documentation of under-represented sexuality with a woman in an apron testing the temperature of jam jars… I, uh, suggest it.

All the important conversations happen either in the bedroom or the kitchen. At least in my life, that’s been the case.

I’m changing the focus of my thesis.

Yes we’ve got big plans for the SPPP of the Bay Area, a few domain names have been purchased and networking has commenced, so stay tuned for a whole new batch of sexy. Shilo and I make a great team. It’s because we’re so honest with each other. I respect the Hell out of her. And ya know we’re both really nice. I love when I can just be kind and joyful with a collaborator. It’s the best type of productivity there is. So when we got to a place in the strategy session where it felt right to change topics, I brought up my thesis.

I have to make this project personal or else I’m not going to be able to make something worth the effort. Does that make sense? I’ve got this data and yes while there is a lot of sex and sexuality contained within it, what I want to write about is how people make family. 3 of the 5 people are parents, and the 2 that don’t have children are married. So I’m looking at the intersection of an alternative sexuality, race, class and family.

Which is what I need right now. It’s kind of a common (and snide) remark to say all graduate students in the social sciences and liberal arts are just studying themselves. That we’re working through our own issues via research projects. When I mentioned this to Shilo, she said that in art school, that is a given. It’s a default that whatever medium you’ve chosen to master is a means toward self expression. It’s all personal, because you know, you’re a person.


I’m not that comfortable thinking of myself as an artist. I’m just barely comfortable identifying myself as a writer. But here I am.

So the medium I have is stories. What I need to express is my hope that we all have the ability to embody an authentic sexuality while creating and sustaining healthy family formations resulting in an enduring resiliency to discrimination and social stigma. Sounds like a good thesis, no?

Yep, hang out in the kitchen with Shi for a few hours, have a few cups of spiked coffee and watch your whole world shift.

Cluck You and uh Cluck her too.

If you haven’t seen the Muppet Movie, you’ll miss the reference. But if you loved the Cee-Lo Green song as much as I did, you’ll get it without having had to see the movie.

I like being distracted just as much as I like being a distraction… and yeah, right now, there’s not much of that happening.

Have I mentioned how hard it is for me to focus on one project at a time? It is. Multi-tasking is my natural state. In fact, I think the word we used before the word multi-tasking was Gemini. But whatevs. I’m a mom, so really there’s never a time where I can only do one thing.

I’m going through some kind of change right now. Like a deep seat of your soul type shift. Feels like it’s gonna take through the winter to complete. The process of thesis writing, the having to focus on one thing, is a part of it. Is grad school supposed to facilitate this type of personal growth?

It’s funny, because whenever these emotional growth spurts occur, I always try to hold on to what I need to let go of, all the while welcoming the change. It’s confusing and silly and actually a lot of effort to do both things at once.

It feels different to be so focussed. I usually spread myself out. Like a light through a prism. Now, I’m feeling the reverse of that, more like a laser. My mind is set on laser mode. Ha! I’ve always been proud of being a Jill of all trades. But right now I’m in the process of actually mastering one thing. It’s weird. And I have to give myself permission to focus every fucking day. Seriously. Every. Fucking. Day.

I want to be everywhere and do everything and talk to everyone. I’ve done it. I’ve been that person for a while now. Not just a desire or fantasy. But I can’t. I’m not. And that for me is totally new. And it’s not exactly comfy. Still, growing isn’t supposed to be, right?

Filling out my FAFSA was like filing for divorce.

I got my confirmation of graduation in the mail today.

Instant flashback:

Ten years ago my boyfriend came home from work and found me teaching our two sons how to read, and was seriously upset with me. At the time, C was 9 moths old and E was just over 2. They are 15 months apart in age; I had our first baby at 21. When we had number two there was no way I could back to working, so I became the stay at home parent while my boyfriend went to work. We were broke as a joke, he was in construction, neither of us had a college education, we shared a rental with my mother and teenage brother.

I would spend all day, for days and days, teaching my babies how to read, how to count, how to say big words, how to hold pencils and paint brushes, how to mix colors, how to sing, how to clap to the beat. It was the only way for me to stay sane.

I had ironed on the letters of the alphabet to a big blanket, then I would spread the blanket out on the floor and, while I held the squirmy baby in my lap, call out the letters for my toddler to jump to. His favorite letter was E. It only took a few months for me to call out words like “Cat” and E would jump from the C to the A to the T. The baby started to figure it out too; he would roll from one letter to the other making cute gurgling baby sounds. I would roar with approval, it literally made my day.

So when their dad came home from work and the house wasn’t tidy and there wasn’t a delicious meal waiting for him on the table; he got irritated with my acting like I was their preschool teacher.

“I go into people’s houses all the time and it’s not like this. Today I was at a house where there was a stay at home mom with two young kids like ours and she had laundry going and was making dinner and the kids toys were put away. Why can’t you do that?”

I looked at him for a moment, and because I still loved him, I genuinely sought to answer his question. I replied, “Maybe she’s happy.”

And there it was. I had finally said out loud what had been gnawing at me for months.

He walked away from me before I could say more of what I was thinking:

Maybe she had had time in her life to want to be at home with children. Maybe she wasn’t 23 and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Maybe she had been places and done things that allowed the desire to be a stay at home mom well up inside of her. Maybe the snippet he saw was the result of conscious, mature, rational decision-making. Maybe doing the laundry and making dinner every night and keeping her home tidy felt like a choice or an accomplishment. Maybe she had experienced enough of life without the day to day responsibility of child rearing and home making to appreciate what she was doing now.

I hadn’t. Sometimes I would wake up in the morning and rack my brain as to how this had happened. How was I in this situation again? Why wasn’t I in school? Where were the people who were supposed to guide me away from this path?

After that fateful conversation, I stopped asking those questions and started moving forward. What needs to change for me to be happy? Continue reading

Why you so serious, sexy?

I’ve inherited one helluva of a scowl. I get it from my father, who got it from his father, who got it from his mother. And I’ve passed it down to my younger son. My older son takes after my mom’s side. When he’s serious his barely there blonde eyebrows lift higher, like they’re going to jump off his forehead and grab you by the cheeks to get your undivided attention. Me, us, we get scowly. Just hella scowl. Our eyebrows look like they could crack walnuts. When I was about 13 my dad put his thumb between my eyes and said, “You don’t have to be so serious… but you’re probably going to be really good at it.”

Studying sexuality is serious. I know this from how much I scowl at my reading material, or field notes, or the transcribed audio accounts of my participants. My jaw aches and I press the pads of my fingers against my face, trying to smooth out the furrows. I am so proud of the folks who I interviewed. Is that academic of me?

I’ve recorded the stories of people who refuse to be marginalized. My surging pride is to the point where I’m scowling over it. How in the hell do I keep their triumphs intact throughout this sociological process? I’m grateful I have their words to work with because I’m pretty sure my own would be deficient. I get too angry.

The ways that alternative sexualities have been constructed are inherently harmful. The founding premises of sexual deviance are flawed. The language available to me is insufficient. Scowl scowl scowl. I have to write my participants out of those boxes.

I was sitting at a coffee shop Friday afternoon, a man asked me to plug his laptop for him. I didn’t hear him right away because I was doing that thing where I’m read from more than one text at a time. I’ve got the book, Don’t Bring A White Boy Home on one side of my computer, Betty Dodson’s “We Are All Quite Queer” on my screen and The Ethical Slut open on the other side of me.

He waved his hand above my screen, I looked up at him without changing the expression on my face, which startled him: “Whoa… sorry to interrupt, just need my cord plugged in beside you.”

I relax my face and take his plug from him, “No worries, there you go.” I smile.

He pauses, “You’ve got a great smile, and beautiful eyes, almost didn’t get to see them,” he has his own little sideways smile peeking at me.

Now, all dude has to do is look a little closer at my reading material and he’s gonna start talking about his own sexual curiosities. Soooo scowl or smile? Sorry bro, but I have a lot of work to get done and I have to pick up my kids from school in 45 minutes.




The Power of Showing Up

“Mom, do me a favor and don’t ever just give up, ok?”

“Ok, giving up isn’t really my thing…”

“Yeah, I know. I know it’s hard right now with school and things.”

“Thanks, E. Are you worried I’m going to give up?”

“No, maybe, I dunno. It’s good that you’re asking for support, I like that you know when you need it and that you ask for it.”

“That’s part of being human, we all need to care for each other. Asking for help is in no way giving up, sometimes it’s the only way to make it through.”


“You know why asking for help is a really good way to prevent giving up?”

“No, why?”

“Because once you ask for the support, you have to show up to receive it.”


The power of showing up over and over, consistently, consciously, continuously is known to the folks who do it and keep doing it. The fantasy of laying low and the busting on the scene for the dramatic climax is a powerful trope in our society, but it’s a belief that keeps us from investing in the imperfect moment of now.

This is not a post about the grand entrance. This is not a post glorifying the moment the seal is broken. This is not a post about thunderous revelation or lightening bolt epiphany. This is a post celebrating the persistence of being. The middle span between high and low where foundations are created.

On this night ten years ago there was a Blue Moon. I went into my backyard and meditated under that moonlight. It was that night that I began my process of showing up. First I had to learn how to show up for myself, then for my children and now my community. It’s taken me 10 years to learn how to do this.

And there is no grand entrance on the horizon. Just more showing up. Just more making sure shit gets done. Just more responsibility and more incremental rewards. Happy self, happy kids, happy folks. The swings between high and low are minimal in my life. I keep as even a keel as possible.

It’s witches’ New Year’s Eve, for this witch, it’s the eve of a new decade. Tonight I’m celebrating a decade of getting shit done. Wearing the cloak and hood as the goddess of thankless tasks. Asking for the continuing strength to end what needs to end and begin what needs to begin.

Things Unsaid

I am having a moment. Fuck.

I’m transcribing the interviews from my thesis fieldwork, and while there is a lot of words to capture, there are also a lot of silences. It’s interesting to me, that when the person is speaking and their thoughts are flowing, I can hear myself in the audio making little sounds of affirmation, indicating that I’m with them and that their making sense and yes this is all very interesting and important. Because it is.

Some of what I’ve recorded is brand new to my field. I spent a year reading everything I could on the intersection of race and alternative sexuality; specifically consensual non-monogamy in US urban cities. The silence around racial privilege in polyamory is bright and shiny. Which is why I chose this topic… because of what was missing. The things left unsaid are startling.

We can not talk about sexuality in the US (or anywhere else Colonialism has ruled) without addressing racism and racial privilege. Can NOT. If you don’t want to talk about race and privilege, then kindly see yourself out of the social sciences. Go to psych, or maybe O-chem. Or how bout geology… yes, go over there. Rocks, that’s an awesome place to talk about colorblindedness and all that good good bullshit that makes eyes roll the world over.

So given that context, it’s not surprising, that there are silences in my interviews as well. Places where I didn’t think to push, or want intrude on the speaker, silences where my outsider status to what that person is relating is very, very apparent. Which is how it should be, right? I came to them as an outsider, as an academic, representing an institution and a discipline with a racist history and currently operating within the context of racist ideologies.

However, unlike the lack of information in the field of sexuality studies as a whole, the silences captured in my audio recordings feel like respect. Like it shows the awareness of my privilege within this dynamic.  I am grateful that, despite my formal training and intrinsically extrovert personality type, I was able to keep my mouth shut. The dilemma I am foreseeing though, is how to keep that form of respect intact through the process of analysis. I am worrying about my advisors, who may not be as concerned about acknowledging systemic and structuralized racial privilege as I am, asking for more, expecting deeper probes, wishing I had taken better advantage of the participant’s time.

I can see it from their standpoint… and that’s when I see academia as a place of higher ignorance.

All this really means is that I am going to have to defend my methodology. I am going to have to say some things often left unsaid to academia by academics. I will put the weight of authority on the words of the people, and not try to fill in the blanks left by my, and therefore academia’s, ignorance with some all encompassing sociological theories. Knowing something about a subject is not that same as knowing everything about a subject.

Hopefully, another person interested in the intersection of racism and mononormativity will read my work and see the bright and shiny silences. Maybe then they will craft another study. Maybe they will even take the time to critique my work. Maybe their framework for analysis will have better insight because of the things I’ve left unsaid. This is how the field will grow. How resistance to harmful ideology is built brick by brick, written paper by paper.

Until then, I’ll  be here typing. A lot. For a while.

Remembering where I came from…

I saw this today on

One Spring night in 2008 I lay in bed, eyes shut tight against the persistent voice in my mind growling at me. The chatter grew from a whisper to a roar when I finally gave up on sleep, opened my eyes and turned on the light. This is what I scribbled onto a piece a paper:

My mission: To use my backbone and articulation abilities to gain knowledge of the hierarchical systems of my culture in order to bring them down. To use my survival of poverty, neglect and social alienation as a means of seeing in others what they may not see in themselves. To be a useful agent of change. To resist the expectation that success means subordinating another person based upon their class, size, race or gender.

Then I fell right back to sleep.  Continue reading