“The problem I was obsessed with years ago is: Why is it that the internet is Planned Parenthood on one side and Pornhub on the other and there’s very little in the middle?” Barrica told me. While she was able to learn from sites like the women’s pleasure platform OMGYES and the teen sex ed guide Scarleteen, the resources she found most valuable were offline workshops from sex toy companies like Good Vibrations. But those could only reach a few dozen people at a time, while online courses could reach thousands.
Though Silicon Valley investors may not typically seek out women teaching people about orgasms and porn, Barrica made the case that O.School was arriving at the perfect time. “In 2009, single women outnumbered married women in the U.S. for the first time,” she points out. “The latest census shows millennials are twice as likely to identify as LGBTQ, which means there’s a ton of people who never got [the kind of] sex ed that’s right for them. Also, sex toys—which is a $15 billion industry—will grow to $50 billion by 2020. So it’s going to be a very interesting space to be in as attitudes change. I don’t think Fifty Shades of Grey would’ve happened 10 years ago.”
O.School aims to pick up where sex ed left off and tackle the issues most schools don’t cover—everything from how to safely use sex toys to how to practice ethical non-monogamy. Still, when Barric has taken questions from college students and beta testers, what’s struck her most is how basic they are. One woman at an Ivy League school told her in tears that she didn’t even know women could feel sexual pleasure. Several others have asked her how to masturbate. “I thought I was going to get all these interesting questions,” she said. “But it’s basic anatomy.”
A lot of the questions were also very “shame-based,” she said, like “how do I tell my partner I like this thing?” or “how do I feel better about watching porn?” One woman asked, “Am I allowed to have pubic hair?”
So, in the spirit of good sex ed, Barrica rounded up some of the other questions she gets asked the most—in case you also have them—and answered them:
“How do I say ‘no’ to something I’ve already consented to?”
People are often unsure of how to revoke consent if they decide they’re actually not as into something as they expected. Barrica tells people with this question that, “‘No’ is a complete sentence.” But if they don’t feel comfortable with that, she gives them a script like, “Would you mind if we slow down?” or “Would you mind if we go outside?” No matter what happens or how far into something you are, she says, you can always take back your consent.
“Is my vulva normal?”
“There’s a lot of pussy shame,” Barrica says, pointing out that labiaplasty is the fastest-growing form of cosmetic surgery. Barrica’s found that many people with this insecurity have gotten it from someone else without even seeing their own vulvas. That’s why she often encourages women to get a hand mirror and take a look. She also directs people to the Instagram page Club Clitoris, which shows vulvas in all their varied and beautiful forms. Once people see a greater variety of genitalia than those depicted in porn, they tend to have an easier time realizing their body is perfectly normal.
“Is it anti-feminist for me to be a sub?”
A lot of women are concerned that being submissive in bed encourages gender stereotypes, especially if their partners are men. But Barrica thinks being a sub and being a feminist are not mutually exclusive. “Often times, the person who is in a submissive role has a lot of power,” she explains. “Just assuming that someone who is receiving pain as a submissive doesn’t have any power is not understanding kink and BDSM and all the ways it can be empowering to women in whatever role, whether they’re dominant or submissive or a masochist or a sadist. These questions come from people who see it from the outside—and Fifty Shades of Grey didn’t do a great job of showing healthy BDSM relationships.” She also recommends that women concerned about feeling degraded in their BDSM relationships talk to their partners to ensure their views on gender line up and the experience is empowering.
“How can I find porn that doesn’t make me feel gross?”
If someone feels bad watching porn because they’re scared of what it says about them, Barrica will remind them how common it is. But sometimes, even if you’re all about the concept of porn, it’s hard to find videos that aren’t degrading—especially if you’re a woman. In that case, she’ll recommend some feminist and queer-friendly porn sites and production companies, like Crashpad, Smartass Productions, LustCinema, Pink Label, and Lady Cheeky.
Many of the questions Barrica gets can really be answered with the same message, she says: “Don’t judge your desires. You like what you like. All bodies are bodies that deserve pleasure. You’re totally fine. Have a conversation. Get consent. Talk it through.”
And for even more answers, you can sign up to be notified when O.School opens its digital doors in October.«