“A new poll by NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government finds that only 7 percent of Americans say sex education should not be taught in schools.”-NPR
“Remi Newman has spent over fifteen years empowering people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures to feel more comfortable as sexual beings. She received her Master of Arts degree in sexuality education from New York University.
Remi is a member of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS) and the American Association of Sexuality Educators Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) and has presented at both SSSS and AASECT conferences on the subject of infant and child sexuality.
She has helped new parents/caregivers feel more confident as the primary sexuality educators for their kids and has educated social workers, therapists, teachers and medical professionals including doctors on how to talk to youth and adults about sexuality.”
Tell us a bit about your background; where did you grow up?
I grew up in Philadelphia; I’ve lived in New York City, Jersey City, San Fransisco, Mexico, and now, Santa Rosa for about 12 years.
Who was one of your influences?
Audre Lorde was one of the first people I was introduced to. I was really inspired by her biography, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. I think it’s an incredible book, one of my favorites, she’s an amazing writer too.
Just sharing in her experiences as a lesbian woman of color; which was not my experience. I just thought she had incredible wisdom to share that we could all learn from.
What drew you to sex education?
I was naturally a very sexual person—not that I was having sex as a child; but, I was precocious in that way; I was certainly thinking about sexuality and felt like a sensual being, as long as I can remember. Being a young woman, I wanted to enjoy and explore those feelings; the world doesn’t necessarily look kindly on that. So just kind of stepping into this Women’s Study class gave me a framework and words to explain what I had been experiencing.
When I took my first women’s study class, as an undergraduate, it really spoke to me. And, it sort of put words to an experience that I’d been having—especially when it came to issues of sexuality. I kind of just thought, “Well that’s just me.” suddenly I realized, “No, it’s not just me.” These are universal experiences that lots of girls and women have all over the world.
Whether it’s being pressured into sex, people not wanting to use protection, not wanting to use condoms—wanting to argue with you about that. If you have sex, then you’re a slut; if you don’t, then you’re a tease.
Now—you have a website, Healthy Sex For Life, where it says “Sex education and counseling is a way to come closer to realizing your full sexual potential.” Would you expand more on its meaning?
People are walking around pretty confused. It’s as if we’re supposed to magically know how to do it, when we are in, what society would deem, a committed relationship. For the most part, that’s defined through a heteronormative point of view as well.
Not only do we not do a good job of educating people in our society, even on just basic sexual health; like knowing our bodies, our anatomy, how do they function? Basically taking care of our health; what sort of issues will we face as we age? I think we do a very poor job for young people and adults.
Yet, sex is exploited in lots of ways, so we’re bombarded with so many sexual images; but, never as a true celebration—more in the name of commerce. And then we have this repression on top of that. Then it’s like something that you’re not supposed to talk about. There are still huge taboos.
There’s so much that we could learn. Just to know about our bodies and our feelings. The teaching of sex-ed is not—it’s really just teaching how to be a person. And that’s not something that we do a really good job of.
It’s about teaching about love, relationships, and trust; taking care of our bodies, knowing our boundaries, just so many basic life skills that could be really helpful; but, because we have this taboo about talking about it—we avoid it.
What services can people find on your website?
I do workshops; like speaking with groups of young people about basic sex education—whatever would be appropriate for that age range. I’ve also done a lot of work with parents or primary caregivers, on how to speak to their kids or people that work with children.
For adults, there’s also individual counseling; such as issues of libido, changes that happen in the body, or any kind of sexual health concerns that they’re having. Whether they’re single or in a relationship, I’d be happy to talk about those issues.
I’m not a therapist; so we’re not going to explore your past. Instead, sex education is more about where you are now, what you can do—specific goals. And what can you do to reach those goals?
I’ve done workshops on LGBT issues, looking specifically about sexuality for transgender youth.
Why do you believe LGBTQ sex education is so important?
LGBT youth, adults as well, are at higher risk fo depression, for chemical dependency issues, and suicide risk. And we know, from research, that having just a little bit of support can make a huge difference in reducing those disparities. If that young person has some support from home—even showing some acceptance as opposed to total rejection—can make a huge difference in the life of that child.
LGBT 101: How to be sensitive to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. Kind of teaching groups of people who might not be familiar with these issues.
Talking about how issues of transgender care and sexual orientation, and how those are separate issues.
This is one of my missions out there. It’s critical that sexual orientation and gender identity be part of that, overall, education that all of us receive.
You also offer a workshop for new parents, “Having the Talk Before They Can Talk.”; could you tell us more about the course?
I have a ten-year-old; when he was born, I got really interested in child sexuality. And realized that lot’s of parents had questions about how and when to talk to their own children about sex. And, didn’t really have anywhere to turn for that. If you have a three-year-old who’s touching their vulva or playing with their penis—parents have questions like, “ Is that okay—not okay?” and how do I talk to them abut that? Really basic things like, “Is it okay for me to use the word penis, or vulva, or clitoris?”
Parents—I found—wanted to do the right thing, or what they felt was the right thing for their child; but, they just didn’t know what to do. I saw this need out there, and I started doing some research into infant/child sexuality. It’s really hard to find anything on it, because, it is so taboo. If anything, when people think about kids and sex, they just think about abuse and sexual molestation. And it doesn’t even occur to them that there could be something, such as a healthy sexuality in a child.
It’s part of who that little being is, they might have some healthy feelings; it’s perfectly normal for a child to want to touch their genitals. And it just makes sense to normalize talking about our bodies and teaching kids about our bodies. Of all the fears that parents often have, around potential abuse or sexual molestation, one of the best ways to protect a child, is to educate them.
Potential abusers are ging to look for someone who’s not going to tell. And, often kids who have any shame, already, around sexuality are more likely not to tell; because that shame is ging to keep them quiet and not wanting to be shamed even more.
The more kids know about their bodies and their sexuality and know who to trust—the adults that they can talk to—they’re less likely to have any sort of sexual abuse.
My focus is not just on abuse—it’s on raising happy and healthy sexual beings, normalizing it, and showing that it’s not going to do any damage to teach children about their bodies. In any other area, we want our children to be smart, to be prepared; but, when it comes to this, we want then to remain ignorant. Yet, it’s not helping our children to grow up into fully formed human beings.
Do you see positive changes in the families and individuals your work with?
Yeah, certainly; most of what I’ve seen are parents feeling more at ease with the subject. But, just seeing them go from having anxiety around it to being more relaxed about it. I’m not ging to give them right or wrong answers; they have to, ultimately, decide what feels right for them and their family.
You’ll be a special guest speaker at the Sonoma Pride rally this June; do you already have a topic prepared for a—mostly—LGBTQ audience?
I do, actually, that I’ve been thinking about.
The first line that I came up with is that “Masturbation is an act of self-love.”
I think that’s, kinda, going to be my theme. Given the sea of hatred that we’re facing in the political climate today—in particular—the lives of LGBT people; you know, sometimes we can feel powerless. What can we do to address this?
There is just so much going on, so much fear, people being riled up in anger against LGBT people; it’s fueling homophobia and transphobia. And I think something that we can all do is to make a commitment to love ourselves as much as possible. Love ourselves the way the world should be loving us. It makes us just that much more prepared to deal with anything that comes our way.
It comes down to two really basic questions: Who are you? And who do you love? It’s hard for me, personally, for me to understand how someone could feel that they get to judge anyone on the answers to those two questions. To me, it seems more like an invitation to get to know something so integral, so important, so beautiful about this person.
But, the reality is, people see lots of reasons why they should judge someone based on the answers to those questions.
What advice would you like to give to those out there who may be questioning themselves, their sexual orientation, or their gender identity?
Questioning can be a good place to be. It’s not an answer that has to be figured out now. And sometimes going through a process of questioning can be in important part of someone’s journey. That journey—can be just as important as where the person ends up. Try to learn and appreciate what’s going on at that time, and know that you don’t need to come to a conclusion, necessarily, when you get there, you’ll know, and it will feel right. But if you’re still getting there, I’d say, just enjoy that journey.
I know this is not always an appropriate question to ask; however, this is a Pride event—after all—do you identify as LGBTQ?
I did come out as bisexual in college, and I had a girlfriend, had a few relationships; kind of experimenting with that. Now I think of myself as more Hetero-flexible. I identify less with the label bisexual, with more of my sexual orientation leaning towards men. But, I certainly could be intimate with women.
Do you have any final words for our readers?
“Masturbation is an act of self-love.”
I feel like the Gay Rights movement has been a movement that has embraced sexuality, to celebrate it—the right to be sexy. To be out about desire; you just don’t see that elsewhere. And I feel like that’s a gift from the Gay Rights movement. Some people might not feel that way; but, I—as a sex educator—I am very appreciative to the Gay Rights movement giving that kind of voice and space, and the opportunity to celebrate our sexuality.