I was under the impression that I'd had a lot of participant diversity in my workshops in Australia - until I found myself teaching sex in Thailand.
I was there for a six-day training in large-group conflict-resolution, and had made a plan with two of the other participants to have dinner, because one of them was interested in polyamory and wanted to chat. Due to the language barrier, I thought it was just going to be the three of us, but word spread quickly, and about ~15 people were eagerly awaiting my 'workshop', which was a bit of a surprise!
They were enthusiastic, almost desperately so, for the glimpse into sex-positivity that I was able to represent. I think of Australia as being grossly under-serviced for sex education, but Australia feels like an oasis in comparison to the little slice of Thailand I found myself in.
To my right, was a monk, who had earlier explained that "If there is a conflict - and we don't like to call it a 'conflict' - we move away from the conversation as soon as we can, and meditate. We find peace, internally. Only when there is no internal conflict, do we come back together." The concept of sitting down with a partner and talking in great detail about sexual interests and differences was almost unimaginable to the monk, and my 'Joy of Accusations' approach to relationship conversations would have apparently been very counter to their spiritual training.
To my left, was a woman from Myanmar. She was missing one and a half digits from both hands, and a foot; although I didn't know the details of how that came to be, it seemed like it was too much of a deliberate pattern to just be an accident. I was also aware that rape and violence are very real and current methods of war in Myanmar; it made me want to cry, as I explained the subtleties of using the scale of 0-10 to control the level of touch you're receiving, or using safe-words to stop something you don't like. How do you explain those concepts to someone who you can tell is trying to hide their hands from your view, presumably due to their shame and trauma around whatever happened to cause the loss of their fingers?
In Australia, when I give out my Consent Cards, people generally respond as if they're a good idea - a handy thing, and probably something that should be shared more widely... Or something like that.
The people I shared them with in Thailand responded as if they were an artifact from another planet - like proof of alien life. At first, they looked at the cards like they were some kind of a joke, but then, as they took turns translating the questions for each other, their responses ranged from bewildered to ecstatic to confused to giddy.
One person said, "I just can't imagine that anyone would want to go through this card". I replied, "I can't imagine entering into a touch experience with someone that isn't willing to go through this card". Although I later qualified that I'm not representative of all of Australian culture, nevertheless, the difference in realities was pretty blunt.
At the end, they thanked me profusely. They said they'd never seen anyone who was able to be so free with their sexuality, and so happy to speak about it so openly - or even imagined such a person existed. They asked me if I had always been like this. I explained that no, for a long time, I was shamed by myself and others for my sexuality, and that some people still view me as a bad or dangerous person, because of my interests. But I was quick to point out that what I've experienced is nothing compared to what they're up against.
There were other similarly compelling experiences. I wound up doing two 'workshop dinners', like the one described above. I got chatting with a brothel owner, desperate for information about consent and bdsm for her and her staff - of which nothing is currently available, in her experience. And the operator of a sort of a sex museum wants me to run talks and events in their space - ironically, to help Thailand get back to what used to be some apparently rather sex-positive roots, before various waves of foreign invaders left sex-negativity and shame in their wake.
I love what I do, in Australia. I love those moments where it feels like I'm doing something good for someone, and perhaps the world.
But this experience in Thailand took my breath away. I feel like a beginner, again, in terms of making sex-positive material accessible. But I've also been made aware of what a wildly abundant, well-informed, and positive bubble we live in, at this time in Australia - at least, relatively speaking. I am grateful.
Rog is the driving force behind Curious Creatures, and the main author of this sexuality blog in Melbourne. They were brought up white, middle-class, mostly heterosexual, and male. They now identify as kinky, tantric, polyamorous, queer, and very, very curious. Are you curious? Read more about Rog and Curious Creatures.