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Tuesday, 20 June 2017

This Groundbreaking Online School Is About To Revolutionize Sex Ed


Sex Heroes is an ongoing HuffPost Q&A series by Voices Editorial Director Noah Michelson that explores the lives and experiences of individuals who are challenging, and thereby changing, mainstream culture’s understanding of sex and sexuality. 


Try googling “sexual education in America” and then sit back and wait for the depression to wash over you as you read headlines like “Sex-Ed In America Is Even Worse Than You Thought” and “These Maps Show Where Kids In America Get Terrifying Sex Ed.” From woefully inadequate abstinence-only curriculums to programs that neglect to discuss consent or queer sex ― much less pleasure ― it’s no small feat to locate informative, accessible classes in this country that realistically prepare individuals for sexual encounters.  


Andrea Barrica wants to change all of that.


The 27-year-old queer Filipina-American technology entrepreneur is preparing to launch O.school, a groundbreaking shame-free online platform for pleasure education, this fall.


The school will offer courses, led by instructors from communities around the country, to help participants “un-learn” elements of problematic sex ed they may have previously encountered. The classes will also be dedicated to investigating and championing sexual issues specifically facing queer people and people of color, addressing sexual trauma, and celebrating female sexuality and pleasure.


I recently spoke with Barrica to learn more about her plan to bring her pleasure-based sex ed to the masses, how she intends to reach victims of toxic masculinity, and more. 


HuffPost: Where did the idea for O.school come from?
Andrea Barrica: I knew that I wanted to build something that affected people around something that was highly stigmatized. It was very clear to me that people are getting their sexual perspectives and beliefs and ideas from porn ― and I’m very pro-porn, I know it can be a good thing ― and I thought, “There must be other places on the internet where people learn about [sex].” It was really shocking to me that there really aren’t any safe spaces on the internet to learn about it — especially if you’re queer, especially if you’re a person of color, especially if you’re a woman. So I thought, what if there was a place online that you could go to unlearn shame and learn about sex and pleasure ― and not just how to put a condom on a banana. I’m talking about [teaching things like] “how can I get more pleasure?” and “how do I learn about all of these really amazing ways to connect with people sexually?”


And then I started to learn about all of the barriers to doing that and I found there are three main barriers. One is that there are no safe spaces on the internet ― period. The second is sexual trauma — there’s so much shame in trauma. And lastly, there’s so much stigma around anything that is vulva-based. I was going into spaces and I was told “that’s too much.” So trying to teach people about their vulvas or about the structure of their clitoris — that’s been hidden for a long time. 



Why do you think sex ed is so awful in America?
$2 billion is spent on abstinence-only sex ed and where you’re born dictates what sex ed you get. That’s just wrong. That’s fucked up. It’s not fair that if you grow up in Oklahoma versus San Francisco versus somewhere in Florida, you’re going to have drastically different sex ed experiences. Secondly, you can’t learn about sex on the internet because if you search for these terms, you’re just going to get porn. There’s nothing wrong with porn but learning about sex from porn is like learning how to drive from “The Fast and the Furious” movies. [Porn] is entertainment and because we don’t talk about [sex] at home, because we don’t talk about it at school, the most accessible source of education is coming from the entertainment industry. That’s what this is about — there’s a big gap. It’s like [your sex ed choice is either] science books or porn and there’s nothing in the middle. So we wanted to create a place where anyone could go to learn about sex. It seems really simple and it seems like it should exist but because of trolling, abuse and harassment on the internet, it really doesn’t.


Do you think that sex ed should be mandatory? 
I think basic sex ed about bodies should be mandatory. I think everyone should learn about what their bodies can do. I mean, we don’t even get consent training in the abstinence-only classes. I think the reason why O.school is so needed is because of that sex ed. The way I look at it is that half of O.school is like “unlearning content.” There are a lot of people in this country who would have been better off getting no sex ed. I count myself as one of them. I learned about the purity of virginity in Catholic school. I literally would have been better off without learning any of the things I learned about sex from [Catholic school]. So much of what we do and the services that we provide and the content that we put in the live streaming context are around people unlearning and processing all of the emotions that they got from state-mandated and paid-for sex ed.


Talk to me about the actual nuts and bolts of O.school. How does it work?We are a shame-free, live-streaming platform for pleasure education and we’re centering women and gender-diverse people. It’s a place to help people unlearn shame and own their desire and the mission is to help millions of people work through their struggles with body and religious shame and to help them heal from sexual trauma, develop skill sets to help them communicate what they want or don’t want, discover a new interest in an LGBTQ-friendly, kink-friendly intersectional space. The nuts and bolts is that it’s closed — if we just made it a public platform, we would have to have the same platform as others in the tech space: Twitter, YouTube, you name it ― and you’re going to get abused, harassed and trolled. That’s why we’re an invite-only platform right now. You have to get an invite code. It’s not because we want to be exclusive — it’s quite the opposite. I think what people are learning is that the internet is a place. It’s just like another place. And if you had an offline place, you’d have to keep that safe. We are a unique tech company in that we prioritize safety and security and privacy over just super fast growth at any other cost. Everyone’s like, “Why aren’t you getting to a million views?” Not like we have any problems with that — we have an immense demand ― but for us, creating a space that feels safe, we are creating most of our technology to support that. 



There’s nothing wrong with porn but learning about sex from porn is like learning how to drive from “The Fast and the Furious” movies.



Once you’ve been admitted, how is the curriculum distributed?
We’re still in beta but most of the live streams are offered and you can watch them but we’re going to roll out a membership model but there will always be a portion of the streams that are free to the public. And then for advanced streams or if you want to keep going and watch more, there will be a membership model. It will be paid — we’re not selling data, we’re not going to be ad-supported. That’s not the future of what I believe the internet is going to be like because I believe that people are wising up to the fact that when you don’t pay for a product, you are the product. I think people are starting to care about that and so that’s never going to match our mission and values. However, we are going to help empower the educated. That’s another that’s really important about our product: we are partnering with existing educators. We are not inventing anything new in pleasure-focused, intersectional sex ed. I think that’s why we have so many women of color, so many trans people, so many queer people. People who come from these marginalized communities are sick and tired, so we’re disrupting [the old method of approaching sex education]. That’s really key to our mission — when you’re seeing live streams, you’re seeing them from these communities. We have “Afrosexology” in St. Louis — it’s all these [instructors and educators] who have already been doing the work, they just have zero online presence and zero tools to do it online [until now].


I’m queer and understand the importance of having sex ed that centers around queer people, women, people of color, etc. At the same time, I think part of what we need to do is also address the cis, white, straight men who have learned all of these toxic things and need to unlearn them as well. What do we do about these men? How do we get them to be part of this movement as well? Because, at least to me, it seems like without them being de-educated and then properly re-educated, we can only make so much progress, right?
Absolutely. We are open to straight, cis men. We have content on the platform for straight, cis men to address toxic masculinity. The key here is that we’re centering around gender diverse people to bring those people in but if we just left it open to the public, it would challenge our safety. We’re for anyone who didn’t get the pleasure education they deserved and that includes trauma education, which, again, cis men being the victims of sexual assault is something we care about. We’re really focused on this segment of people because these products don’t get sold to them but we agree that toxic masculinity is a massive, massive problem. My team is mostly led by queer women of color and in that vein, we also believe that we’ve got to start where we know the problem the best. I’m a queer woman of color, I’m partnered with another queer woman of color and we have a team that knows this specific problem. We think that one of the problems is also that cis white men are the main purchasers of porn — they’re the market. All the money that basically has been made in porn is from this group of people. In that way, you’re totally right, but we’re just trying to fill a need that’s really immediate but we have plans and already have content for [cis straight men].



Our country has a really long and terrible history when it comes to (not) championing sex and sexuality and pleasure but it seems like right now, especially in this political climate, things are even more dire. Talk to me about O.school emerging right now — in 2017 — with the current administration and everything that comes with it in terms of women’s rights and queer rights and women’s and queer health.


Right — reproductive rights are under attack. I see a lot of people on the defensive and I see O.school as being on the offensive. There are so many amazing organizations that are fighting for basic reproductive rights but they’re fighting because there are active forces coming at them and this is my stance: It doesn’t matter what your political or cultural or religious backgrounds are — shame and trauma are universal. Everybody has something they’re ashamed about. Everyone has something about their body that they have a hang up about. For me personally, I think this is the perfect time to go on the offense against shame because I want O.school to be a place for everyone - including people who haven’t gotten the education to be trans inclusive or whatever else. The only way we’re going to reach them is if we build a product that can really help people wherever they are.  


Activism is hard — fascism is designed to exhaust us and if we can fuel the resistance with orgasms, that’s the best way I can help the resistance. I want to heal people from shame, heal people from trauma and give them the energy they need to fight for whatever cause they want to fight for in their lives. That’s my thought on “why now?” It’s 2017 and I still meet people who don’t realize that consent should be the rule. There are still people being shamed for asking to use condoms. There are still people who are so paralyzed from body shame that labiaplasty — the procedure to alter or remove labia — is the fastest growing procedure in some places. We’re still living in a place where a lot of women tell me that they didn’t know that they could masturbate — they didn’t know that they could have pleasure! They’re having sex and they don’t have any expectation for pleasure. It’s 2017 and some of my friends who are 70 year old women are like, “We feel like we already did this.” That’s one of the biggest misconceptions that I find — people think this generation is so sexually liberated but we’re not at all. 


10 years from now, what do you want O.school to have accomplished?
In 10 years, if we have a world where people feel less shame about their bodies, about their sexuality, and feel like there are places where they can talk about sex on the internet, that will be enough of a success for me to feel great.


O.school will launch in Fall 2017. To join the waitlist, please head here.



This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


Is there a sex hero you think deserves to be covered on The Huffington Post? Send an email to Noah Michelson.


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