Relearning ‘pleasure’ and improving Sex Ed: an interview with Ruby Rare

“Pleasure is not something to be consumed. Pleasure is something to enfold into different aspects of our lives as much as possible.” – Ruby Rare 

There is possibly no better way to welcome in the month of pleasure at Clitbait than an interview with Ruby Rare. For those of you who may not know who she is: Ruby is a sex-educator, Brook charity ambassador, co-creator of the Body Love Sketch Club, author of the book SexEd A Guide for Adults, and pink-haired self-proclaimed jelly enthusiast. And while juggling all of these aforementioned commitments, Ruby was kind enough to talk to us about how she ended up getting into sex education, the inspiration behind her book, and what pleasure means to her. 

In SexEd A Guide for Adults, Ruby recounts her experience of sex education at school as one that was entirely heterosexual and reproductive based. This is sadly something many of us will be able to relate to, and it’s hard to see that as wrong when that is all you’ve been taught to know.

“It was through volunteering with Brook and seeing what good relationships and sex education looked like that I then realised quite how damaging my own had been. Ten years ago, when I was at university, I didn’t know this was a job that you could have! It just wasn’t a conversation we were having. That’s why I love talking to people who are university age because I can see how much this conversation has shifted which is amazing to me.”

image via Ruby Rare

This realy is an exciting change considering that Ruby, at 27 years old, is not much older than current university students, and to think that that much change can happen in a few years inspires a lot of hope for the next to come. 

So what kind of changes can we expect to see? In September 2020 a new SexEd curriculum came out which involved the input of many sex education organisations which shows how on a policy level attention is being given to sex education and the necessity for it to improve.

“But now it’s about trying to put that into the practice. There’s so much nuance and balance to be discussed but really, I think it’s less about people to have a willingness to have these conversations and much more about the funding and the time we can give to people who will be teaching this. It’s all very well to have a great school curriculum that people high up have created but presenting that to an incredibly underfunded school who are overstretched and demanding so much of their staff as it is, that’s when things stop adding up. That’s not about enthusiasm, that’s about government commitment and money. Basically, it all goes back to the Tories, doesn’t it? 11 years of austerity is sure to have an impact on a community.”

It’s sad that good sex education so often has to depend on money, but it does not have to. Granted, it is harder to learn about when you don’t have money to throw at someone who will give you a concise run down of everything you need to know about sex, but when it comes to a topic that it factual, emotional, and varies from person to person, no one person will ever be able to provide you with everything you need to know.

“Do your research, (have conversations with friends, communicate) but don’t try not to put pressure on yourself to rush this.”

Equally a common misconception is that pleasure must also come at the cost of capital, and seeing as this is the theme of the month Ruby was all too happy to debunk this myth.

“I think that pleasure that is not solely reliant on buying things or consuming things is inherently anti-capitalist and that’s nice, isn’t it? It’s fun! I get very frustrated by the way that pleasure has been co-opted by capitalism disguised as empowerment. The idea that ‘just buy a sex toy, have a wank and all your problems will be solved!’ is silly and problematic. At the same time, I’m not totally separate from this! I’m just very aware of the way we talk about things like sex toys because pleasure is not something to be consumed. Pleasure is something to enfold into different aspects of our lives as much as possible.

” Your relationship with your pleasure is a very personal and individual relationship and something that looks different for everyone. We’re just not taught that it’s something we should be investing our time and love into. So much of what I do is about trying to get back to that childlike state where we are doing things for the pure joy of it. In the context of Body Love Sketch Club, a body positive empowerment life drawing workshop that I run with Rosy Pendlebaby, we’re not drawing this perfect piece of artwork that we can sell or receive validation from. We’re doing it because the act of doing it is giving us joy. And when we talk about sensual or sexual pleasure it’s not about proving anything to anyone else it’s just about having a moment with yourself or with other people. It’s about connection.”

image via Sofie Birkin

The idea of building a connection with someone else or even yourself is something that Ruby’s book really builds on to make sure that the pleasure you experience in sexual and non-sexual settings brings you the greatest joy. SexEd A Guide for Adults allows you to dissect your own history of sex education, while making sure that you’re not isolated in that process by having Ruby also share her own experiences. And as much as it is emotion based, it is also equally factual and technical as it gives you both diagrams of our sexual organs and tips for how to best provide them with pleasure! Likewise, the beautiful illustrations provided by Sofie Birkin that enhance how we consume Ruby’s words also guarantee that it is a visually exciting experience for the reader. It’s the right mix of being informative while also being light-hearted, something a few university textbooks could learn from.

“One of the first things that shifted the way I was thinking about the book was when we decided we wanted it to be square, fully illustrated, and colourful. I wanted something really inviting, like it was going to be a treat to read rather than doing your homework. So often sex education can feel quite earnest and high-stakes and a little bit serious, and I feel quite allergic to serious. Or it can feel hyper-sexualised and can go into a very historically porny way of talking about sex and pleasure. I’m really pro porn so it’s not that I’m against either of those two ways of seeing but I kind of wanted to find something in the middle where it was fun, silly, playful, and inquisitive before it got serious or super sexualised.”

With that in mind, you can really see how this book has tried to open itself to all readers of varying genders and sexualities, because pleasure is and should be for everyone. That’s not to say, however, that pleasure is necessarily equal for all.

“The way we gender sexual pleasure is a massive issue. This all plays a huge part in the orgasm gap we experience later in life where for lots of different reasons where female and femme pleasure is deprioritised, seen as more elusive, more difficult to achieve, so therefore less important. Again, this links to Capitalism in that ‘if you need to work harder for it, why bother’ because supposedly pleasure derived from penises is really simple and straightforward (also a myth!). There’s so much value in inviting people to open up and think about these divides because we carry around these assumptions for our whole lives that come with a load of shame and guilt and complexity and so rarely are we in environments that allow us to look at these assumptions and have a think about whether or not these align with what we want to do personally.”

image via Sofie Birkin

It’s no surprise that this also coincides with the small number of men who engage in this industry. In SexEd A Guide for Adults, Ruby gives a specific shout out to men, encouraging them to join the conversation rather than shy away from it.

“My industry is almost exclusively women, queer men, non-binary and trans people. There are some men in sexual health and sex education but they’re a real minority. I’d like to see that change because we need all voices and all identities in these conversations. Because sex positivity and body positivity exist a lot on social media and Instagram which is a fairly female and femme space, if I were a man I could totally empathise with the feeling that this was not a conversation for me; that I shouldn’t be a part of. I’m totally for spaces being designed for specific identities but I’m also really passionate about creating environments that feel genuinely welcoming to anyone. Obviously, I’m a massive advocate for solo sex (I think it’s the most banging form of sex) but we can’t expect these conversations and these movements to change if it’s only one half of people having sex who are clued up! Men need to be given opportunities to come into this and understand how it can be so exciting and beneficial for them as well as for their partners or other people in their life.”

Inclusivity is really at the heart of what Ruby is doing, which makes her not only prominent in today’s sex education conversation but ensures that she will continue to be a part of the movement when conversations shift in the future. It was a true pleasure interviewing Ruby and we can’t thank her enough for the kindness and insightful thoughts she brought with her to the Clitbait table.  

SexEd A Guide for Adults is now available to buy from all major bookshops. 

Interview by Elsa Pearl and Manvir Dobb 

images via Sofie Birkin and Ruby Rare