Pink vibrant hair, big smile and a pile of soft blankets and pillows. Do not get fooled by the setting of this Zoom interview. Ruby Rare means business, and she’s on a mission to engage people of all ages in positive conversations about their pleasure. Plus, the ‘soft’ setting worked incredibly well against the snowy backdrop for an early February afternoon.
Ruby Rare is a sex educator, artist, and body-positive champion. Her work is influenced by her experiences as a queer, non-monogamous, dual-heritage woman. Among some of Ruby’s passions and interests, a few highlights include powerpuff girls (you can test her on that) and all types of history: “I’m a history nerd, especially if it comes to things in my field, like the history of sex and relationships”.
As we discuss the different attitudes around sex and the relationships that people were having at different times in history, she points out how the Victorians have a lot to answer for: “the underbelly of that society was absolutely filthy; it was when visual, photographic porn was first a thing”.
She continues by demystifying the long-standing idea that people were super prudish in ancient times: “That’s inaccurate because people have always been having sex. For as long as society has existed, we have been having sex in wonderful, weird, creative ways. I like to mention that because we’re not the first society who have invented this.”
This truly goes back to the idea of being able to openly talk about pleasure and sexuality, including solo sex (or masturbation, but I definitely prefer her choice of words). This is at the forefront of her work, and truly what her new book, Sex Ed is all about. It’s an inclusive, curious, and empowering approach to sex education – where everyone is invited to the party.
Sex Education at school
“So much of our sex education at a young age comes from the things that are not said more than the things that are said; the information that’s missed, the conversations that you shouldn’t be overhearing or that you’re shut away from as a younger person.” She remarks how all of this creates a lot of shame that we have to carry around for the rest of our lives, and that it’s really hard if we’re not encouraged to do something about that. The book opens this up and actually sees if we can get rid of some of that shame: “I want people to feel empowered, I want people to like having the agency to make choices that feel right for them, but at the same time, I didn’t want to shy away from the difficult things that happen when we have sex.”
This is the pleasure-focussed sex ed that you deserved to get at school, but probably didn’t, in all it’s challenging, messy, awkward, hilarious, enjoyable glory:
“our relationship with how we talk about pleasure, and how we teach pleasure, is completely messed up. There are still biology textbooks that have diagrams of genitals that don’t mention the clitoris!.”
Ruby is also a body positive champion. In 2018 she co-founded Body Love Sketch Club with Rosy Pendlebaby, a body positive life drawing class where everyone is invited to pose (nude or clothed) as well as draw, as a way of exploring our relationships with our bodies and celebrating nudity in a non-sexual setting.
“Like most things in my life, which I’m very grateful for, it happened organically. We have been friends for many, many moons, we both come from a life-modeling and life drawing background” she recalls “both of us had really transformational experiences with nudity, and with our relationships with our bodies through life drawing spaces.”
As her best friend Rosy said, when we talk about self love and body positivity, it’s not something that happens overnight. And it’s also not something that you just do once.
“It’s an evolving process, it’s something you have to keep doing, it’s a muscle that you have to keep exercising. So there are no cheats here, there are no quick ways to feel comfortable with yourself and comfortable with pleasure. It’s about like making a commitment to really look at yourself as you would a friend who you care about, and not someone who you are inclined to criticize or judge or put a large amount of pressure on.”
More than just a trend
We can safely say sex in all of its forms, as well as pleasure, have now made it into the headlines, yet how is the mainstream going to be make sexuality and pleasure more than just yet another trend?
“I’m always wary when I see these conversations in magazines. There’s so much to be gained from them, don’t get me wrong, but there’s also something in the back of my mind thinking…Okay, what are you also telling me to buy?”
‘’I’m interested to see what happens when solo sex and pleasure and sexual wellness become slightly less trendy. They’re still going to be here, there’s still going to be me and loads of other educators who continue talking about this stuff and feel very passionate about it. I wonder what happens when we shift and the next big thing becomes the trendy thing that we’re talking about. This is not just a trend, this is something that impacts all of us throughout our lives, whether you are sexual or not. Asexual people still benefit from these conversations about pleasure and agency and navigating consent, and figuring out what you do and don’t want to experience in your body. It impacts all of us.”
Until recently, Ruby Rare worked at Brook, the UK’s leading sexual health charity for young people, where she managed a National period equality project.
She feels strongly about the conversations we need to be having with young people:
“the societal thing that we can all do is provide these messages at an earlier age, and ensure that it’s age appropriate education“.
Parents have a key role in this, and have a big responsibility towards younger generations: “I would love to see people getting comfortable with using correct medical terminology with their children and with their colleagues. I want people to use the word vulva and clitoris and frenulum in conversations, I want people to feel able to mention to a colleague at work, that they’ve just started their period, I want people to be able to talk about thrush, and cystitis and infertility”
This is the information you should have been taught at school: a no-holds-barred roadmap that covers everything from how the brain is the most important sex organ and how to communicate what you want to yourself and a partner, all the way down to the messy stuff – solo sex, orgasms, touching, kissing, blow jobs, cunnilingus, anal play, lube, toys and kegels.
“It’s not about normalising it, because I don’t want sex to be normal. Sex is wonderful, and fun and juicy, and sometimes really challenging. Normal is a boring word, I’m not interested in that. I also don’t want it to be sensationalised, it’s not. It’s not there to be salacious, it’s not there for the enjoyment of others.There’s a very kind of practical, pragmatic side to it, and I think we could all do with getting more comfortable with that” Ruby Rare finishes with.