“It’s really hard to get anything sex-related to pass on Facebook,” says Andrea Barrica, the CEO of O.School.
She’s speaking not merely of exposed nipples or even of ads for sex toys, but of educational events. In some ways, this is a major step back from the sex-positive 1990s, when information about the body was more widely disseminated (albeit through other channels). It’s frustrating, and it’s rather silly.
Or, as sexologist Carol Queen puts it, “There’s this notion that sex is still not mainstream-able. TV notwithstanding, people are like, ‘If we have a sex ad for a vibrator on Facebook, children will see it!’ But there are technologies available so that your children will not see what you don’t want them to see. … And if you try to act like vibrators and sex questions in general are shameful and worth hiding, they will try and figure this stuff out — and guess what they’ll look at?”
Consequently, the internet is “an embarrassment of riches,” Queen says — but the people it serves best have lots of experience under their belt already. Newcomers can be steered in too many wrong directions. But even if you had good sex ed — and I went to all-boys Catholic high school during the dial-up internet era, so I did not — what you probably did not have was pleasure-oriented sex ed. In all likelihood, the focus was on disease prevention, and even if there was an attempt to maintain a morally neutral posture, shame usually found its way in the door.
Correcting this puritanical legacy is the rationale behind O.School, a venture capital-backed streaming platform that distributes pre-existing sex ed material to a wider audience without fear of trolls and the other online scourges that make it hard for women, people of color, and LGBTQ populations to learn more about their bodies. Having gone through lots of talks about virginity flowers and experienced how difficult it is for people to communicate their own desires to a partner, Barrica seeks simply to make the information that’s already out there even more widely available — and with candor. She saw her own genitals until she was 23, she says. And she doesn’t wish that on anyone.
O.School’s pre-launch took place as a 30-minute live chat among Barrica, Queen, and sex educator Andy Duran. From Good Vibrations’ Antique Vibrator Museum, behind the chain’s Polk Street location, they fielded questions and discussed the relative non-availability of frank discussions of the importance of arousal, which is as fundamental to good sex as consent is.
“I’d love to live in a world where people could talk about sex on the internet,” Barrica tells me after the launch concludes. “But you can’t talk about anything on the internet — let alone if you’re queer or a woman.”
So O.School will debut this Friday, Nov. 3 at 4 p.m., with five livestreams every day on a wide array of topics. The eventual goal is to have something online at all times. Having spoken with educators — and having visited college campuses, usually going straight to the sexual assault advocates — O.School crafted community guidelines that Barrica hopes will neutralize trolls.
She’s forthright that it’s not an anything-goes, free-speech zone. It’s not going to be Twitter, in other words. Through this mix of entertainment and information, one of her main goals is to help people post-trauma.
“One in three women has been sexually assaulted,” she says. “We don’t talk about how you have your first pleasurable experience after that. You don’t get that in a therapist’s office.”
Further, with the young people who comprise Generation Z identifying as non-heterosexual and/or non-monogamous at far higher rates than older cohorts of the population, the need for concomitant sex ed has only risen. It’s not just for those people, either, Barrica notes. It’s for anyone who has sex with them, irrespective of their own identity. A recent New York magazine cover story sliced and diced the data behind contemporary porn consumption and found that, in huge numbers, people like forms of erotica that were all over the map. This brave new world is utopia and dystopia all at once, an almost frighteningly blank canvas to which we’re raising an unpracticed brush. And O.School’s premise is that the instruments to paint the loveliest pictures are already here.
“What if we unleash Carol into the world?” Barrica asks. “That’s what I wake up every day thinking: ‘What if people in Pakistan could just see Carol Queen?’ We could change the world. We would end violence.”