Conscious Conversations 1: A Series on Sexual Wellness

By: Harmony Taggart

Dear Jane,
 
Welcome to the first post in a series about finding sexual wellness after a traumatic experience. Many who have experienced trauma, whether it be sexual or otherwise, find it difficult to be and feel sexually well.
 
We will be interviewing professionals working in sex education, cannabis, and other therapeutic industries to learn more about how everyone can achieve sexual wellness.
 
Our first conversation is with Reba Corinne Thomas.
 
Sex Toys to Sex Education
 
Reba Thomas is a sex educator, pleasure positive advocate, podcast host (dropping February 2021), and CEO and founder of Sexpert Consultance LLC. She started her journey in sex education selling sex toys as a side hustle while also working in the nonprofit sector. The company she sold these toys for strongly believed in getting proper on the job education which is how Thomas ended up getting her certificate in sexual health promotion from Indiana University at Bloomington.
While selling the toys, Thomas would give people tips about oral sex and answer questions potential buyers had. One of her customers told Thomas that she gave great advice and suggested she create a class on oral sex. After a bit of hesitation, Thomas listed a class on EventBrite and it sold out instantly. She remembers putting “up another date and it sold out. And I put up another date and it sold out…I was like wait a minute what is happening here?!” A few years later, she left the nonprofit job and has been a sex educator ever since.
 
Words Matter
 
As we find out through these interviews, people’s definitions of sexual wellness and trauma aren’t all the same. We want to include each person’s definitions in case you, like us, decide to add something to your own. Here are Thomas’s.
 
Sexual Wellness: Sexual wellness is “a state of being and owning and living in and feeling empowered by yourself and your sexuality.”
 
Sexual Trauma: “Oftentimes we think about sexual trauma as ‘okay we had an episode of violence or assault that we experienced’…But sexual trauma also looks like ‘every time I have sex it hurts.’ Or ‘every time I try to orgasm, I don’t. I feel shame.’ Sexual trauma is violence, or aggression, or coercion. But it also is consistent pain or feeling shame and guilt about your body. ”
 
Thomas is a self-described pleasure positive sex educator. We asked her what pleasure positivity means for her. Pleasure positivity means “focusing on and prioritizing pleasure when you talk about sexual wellness.”
 
Many people when they hear that Thomas is a sex educator, think she’s going to teach them how to put a condom on or how to avoid STIs and STDs. But what she actually does is teach people how to get pleasure and achieve orgasms. She says, “it’s so important to understand that the way we typically receive sex education if we receive it at all, is from a very sex-negative, pleasure negative lens.”
 
It isn’t a coincidence that a country with varying degrees of (most often inadequate) sex education has high rates of sexual trauma and unwellness. Thomas explains that “we’re not taught about agency over our bodies or consent. We’re taught what the penis and the vagina are and how they function.” This pleasure negative education and societal idea that we shouldn’t talk about sex or sexual pleasure “set up this perfect, and by perfect I mean absolutely abhorrent culture, rape culture.”
 
Cookies, Ho-Hoos, Ya-Yas, and Cucumbers
 
Thomas has a five-year-old daughter who she has been raising to understand how her body actually works. At two Thomas taught her the difference between her vulva and vagina. Now that she’s older, she is learning about her clitoris. While some may balk at a person learning these things so young, Thomas knows the alternative is much scarier.
 
“What would you rather her say? My cookie, my ho-hoo, my ya-ya? Because when she comes around here and says ‘Johnny from down the street touched my cookie or took my cookie and it made me sad,’ you’re gonna be like oh baby get over it.”
 
Without accurate knowledge of our bodies, we cannot understand our traumas, our pleasure, or find our sexual wellness.
 
But what happens when parents are just learning these terms and ideas for themselves? Thomas has many clients who are coming to her as adults because they didn’t learn about their bodies or how to get pleasure when they were younger. Luckily for them, Thomas can teach them how to have pleasurable sex and how to speak to their children about sex in an appropriate and well-rounded way.
 
“I’m not telling our kids to have sex with each other. But we should be talking about masturbation and what those feelings are. Kids should know this so that when they’re grownups and it’s time for them to go find orgasms for themselves they’re not on Google trying to use a cucumber and some syrup to figure out what goes on down there.”
 
Sexual Wellness and Cannabis
 
Sexual traumas, whether they be assault, cohesion, or the sex-negative messages we internalize through our education, impact our ability to find sexual wellness. While Thomas said that any unresolved trauma a person experiences can impact their sexual wellness, “the greater a person’s unresolved sexual trauma, the higher level of sexual unwellness and sexual dysfunction I see.”
 
So how can cannabis fit into this pleasure positive, sexual wellness space? For Thomas, it’s more a question of how can it not?
 
“The two things that deter us from having a positive sexual experience are pain and anxiety. Both of which cannabis helps to treat. So why wouldn’t we be using it?..
To recognize the medicinal qualities of this plant and not use it for sexual wellness seems irresponsible to me.”
 
Thomas has a friend who was diagnosed with Post-Cystic Ovary Syndrome (PTOS), a disorder that can cause extremely painful periods. She hated the medication she was on and turned to Thomas for advice. Thomas suggested a CBD suppository which all but eliminated her friend’s pain and didn’t have negative side effects like the other medication did. Pain and discomfort were replaced by a higher level of sexual wellness, all due to cannabis.
 
CBD, THC, and Anxiety
 
So what part or parts of the cannabis plant are helping us heal? Is it hemp, the material some of our clothes are made out of? CBD, the non-intoxicating compound of the plant? Or THC, the compound that can get you high? Some people believe that CBD is the only part of the plant that can help with healing. However many, like Thomas and past interviewee, Livvie Vasquez, disagree.
 
Vasquez, who has dedicated much of her adult life to finding ways to heal trauma with cannabis, believes both CBD and THC need to be included in the healing process. She says, “CBD helps lower blood pressure and blood sugar. Those things can get ramped up when you’re feeling a panic attack starting. But THC distracts you from focusing on the thing that’s giving you a panic attack.”
 
Thomas agrees. She says we need to remove “this idea that if for some reason you enjoy the THC part of the plant you are a criminal but if you’re just working with the hemp or the CBD then you are a perfectly good upstanding citizen.” Thomas held a lot of shame around her own cannabis use which stemmed from the disinformation about the plant. When she realized that she had unknowingly been managing her anxiety with it for much of her life, she felt relieved and like she had been “gaslit” about the impacts of cannabis. Even though she’s a cannabis advocate, it took her a long time to understand the true benefits of the plant on a personal level. Thomas wonders how anyone outside of the cannabis industry would know about these benefits if she hadn’t even known while doing advocacy work.
 
“I think about my friends, my colleagues, my peers who are not in cannabis advocacy and I’m like how do they know these things? Who will tell them?”
 
Thomas believes the best way to break the connection in people’s minds between cannabis and harmful drugs is through legalization and destigmatization. She says, “when you think of it medically…if I take an Advil if my head is hurting, I’m not going to take the whole bottle of Advil because I recognize that this is medicine and too much of it is going to hurt me.” When people are not able to get accurate information because it’s illegal in their state or their dispensaries don’t have it, it’s difficult to find out what or how much they should be taking.
 
“Let’s remove all of the B.S., all of the stigma, all of the criminality so that we can actually talk about [cannabis] and explore the healing modalities that the plant does actually offer so that maybe the people who are indulging so much, can stop.”
Intersecting Identities
 
Sexual trauma isn’t the only trauma that can impact a person’s sexual wellness. Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) have been subject to violence and discrimination as long as white people have been stealing land. Regardless of what type it is, trauma affects every part of our lives, including our sexual wellness. Thomas quoted Dr. Ian Sprankle to explain this in the context of racial oppression.
 
“He [Dr. Ian Sprankle] had tweeted…‘Sexual oppression and racial oppression are inextricably linked.’ So if you are fighting for reproductive justice and reproductive rights and sexual wellness and sexual justice, and not also being anti-racist and standing up for racial oppression and the racial injustices of this country, then you are just perpetuating the same systems that you claim that you want to dismantle.”
 
Thomas works with BIPOC to heal some of this trauma as part of the leadership team for a self-care collective called The Beautiful Life Collective. The Beautiful Life Collective was started by one of Thomas’s friends, Gracy Obuchowicz, and meets once a month to check in with members and unwind in a safe space. They have other meetings where BIPOC members and white members congregate separately to work through what’s coming up for them through a racial lens.
 
“All of what we’re talking about, sexuality, sensuality, mental health, emotional health, this is all self-care.”
 
Connect with Reba on Instagram
Connect with Reba on Twitter
 
Thomas has an 8 episode podcast called On The Difference of Sex coming out in February. In it, she is interviewing 21 sexuality professionals for the same 12 questions. You can find more information about that release as well as her other projects by following her on all social media platforms @RebaTheDiva. Thomas also books classes and private sessions on her website, linked below. Look for the next post in this series where we interview Chelsea Cerbara.
 
If you would like us to cover an aspect of sexual wellness, or know of someone who would be a good resource for this series, feel free to reach out at thisisjaneproject@gmail.com.

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