Sex Advice

Growing Up With Lackluster Sex Education Made Me Want To Champion Intimacy as a Feminist Act

Graphic: W+G Creative
“Feminism” and “womanhood” mean different things to different folks. With The F-Word, our essay series running throughout Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting different perspectives—the good, the bad, and the complicated—of what those concepts mean to people.

I still remember my mom handing me a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves, the classic feminist tome on women's reproductive health. I was young, and having a forward-thinking parent who normalized sex freed me of the stigma so many other young people faced then and still face now. But, what played out in school was an entirely different story: What started as negligible sex education in middle school turned into an abstinence-only approach in my Catholic high school. This conflicting dichotomy between how sex was viewed in my home life and in my school life never sat well with me. It would eventually prompt me to question the way we talk about sex and how that affects people of all identities, and, ultimately, to disrupt the industry and change the discussion.

Feminism is personalized in that it can mean different things to different people, but one definition that particularly resonates with me calls for the "social, economic, and political equality of the sexes." That need for equality is one of the reasons I founded Maude in 2018, becoming one of only 10 Latinas in consumer goods to have raised $10 million in venture funding. Maude is a modern intimacy company that's rooted in the reality of sex being human, inclusive sex education being necessary, and—in a world that constantly tries to muddle our relationship with our own bodies—intimacy being a feminist act.

Without robust foundational sex education, many people become emotionally ill-equipped for intimate relationships with others and also lack crucial information about their own bodies. This can not only lead to fear and the perpetuation of various stigmas surrounding sex, but also the squirreled-away compartmentalization of sex in one's life rather than a celebrated component that's part of a full life.

Maude is an intimacy company rooted in the reality of sex being human, inclusive sex education being necessary, and intimacy being a feminist act.

In America, only 28 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education, and only 18 states require these programs to be medically accurate. Twenty-eight states require that abstinence be stressed—which is problematic given the research that has shown this type of sex education to reinforce harmful gender stereotypes (such as "female passivity" and "male aggressiveness"), pass over people who have experienced sexual abuse, and stigmatize queer people and queer relationships. This, in turn, supports all sorts of health crises, like violence, suicide, and increased risk of HIV.

Alternatively, robust sex ed has a net-positive influence. Research shows that programs that take an inclusive, positive approach to human sexuality help prevent child abuse, reduce the stigma faced by LGBTQ+ youth, and mitigate relationship violence (not to mention lower the rates of unwanted teen pregnancies).

I saw the results of both approaches to sex education while working at the at the California Medical Association in my early career. I also saw the negative implications that amounting medical bills can have on a person's livelihood, which cemented my staunch stance in the importance of access to evidence-based education for all people of all identifications and sexualities.

All of this feeds into Maude's intention to prioritize combine sex-education reform with the ritualization of intimacy through intimate wellness products as a means to guarantee access to safe, pleasurable sex for people of all identifications.

On the product side, we always say that sex is about before, during, and after. It's about setting the mood and enjoying the sensory experiences around you without having to battle through lifelong stigma. It's really important for us to holistically provide our community members everything they need to have a complete sex life, no matter who they are or whom they love. Almost everything we sell can be used regardless of gender and sexual identity. For example, our external massagers aren't for anyone in particular; rather, they're for everyone. And we just launched a daily arousal gummy in partnership with supplement brand Asystem called Libido—because arousal is, at least partially, an inside job. The two proprietary formulations are different for folks with a penis versus for folks with a vagina to ensure all biologies can get aroused (but, do confirm with your doctor that the supplement is safe for you to use before taking it).

On the social justice side, we partner with organizations fighting for sex-ed reform specifically—like Advocates for Youth and the Sexual Information and Education Counsel the United States (SIECUS), two organizations aimed at sex-education policy reform. These two pillars of our business—inclusive products and the pursuit of comprehensive sex ed for all—lean on one another in an effort to support our priority to promote equality of the sexes in everyday intimacy.

I still sometimes imagine what my own relationship with sex would have looked like if my mother hadn't addressed the topic matter-of-factly in my formative years. Education really does start in the home and continues in the classroom, which is a big reason why Maude aims to change culture by becoming a multi-generational company championing conversations about sex and offering products for people with bodies to use in with autonomy.

Again, sex is human the same way food is human. With that in mind, I believe that we should be making a brand that's for people—not women, or men, or any one specific identity group. It's the pursuit of equality through intimacy.

As told to Kells McPhillips.

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