Not Knowing is Half the Battle
One of the best moments of my sex geek career happened a couple of weeks back on a Friday night. Now, a lot happened that night. I taught at the New York Academy of Sex Education, I appeared on Tristan Taormino’s Sex Out Loud, I saw the new Pleasure Chest in NYC’s Upper East Side (and forgot to take an exterior picture for the Superhero Sex Shops page!) I got to hang out with Kate McCombs, Ducky Doolittle and most of the crew from SheVibe – it was a big night! So, what am I terming the “best” moment? When Ducky introduced me she said this: “JoEllen is my favorite kind of blogger; She has a question, she goes in search of the answer and then she shares that answer” If you’ve been with me from the beginning you know that my bio was very different when I launched. I’ll spare you the whole thing but this is what seemed relevant:
“I won’t bullshit you, I’m no expert (or, so help me god, “sexpert”) I’m just a girl on a mission to learn everything I can about sex, gender relations and women’s health and I think we can all have a damn good time while I do it! My goal is -ultimately- to save the world from mediocre sex. (totally doable!)
On this site you will find links to sexual health and education resources, some great reading recommendations and my blog where I’ll share stuff I’ve learned…”
I started this site in July 2012 with the mission of finding answers to my own questions and sharing them with you and to hear Ducky- one of my sex ed idols- affirm that that is what others see when they look at me was HUGE. I went forth without knowing and found the knowledge (I’m still looking and finding every day) and it not only worked but defined who I am as a writer and an educator. Big, huge score.
Recently Kate McCombs, the founder of Sex Geekdom* wrote about why she chooses to call herself a “Sex Geek” rather than “sexpert” and it took me right back to my original bio. I realized that I still agree with a lot of what that bio says but for way different reasons. Back when I wrote that bio I was so afraid that people would think I was pretending to know so I wanted to make it clear that I knew that I didn’t know (you know?). Now I sometimes know and I sometimes don’t and either way, it’s all good.
So, what does that mean practically? It means that I have no fear of not knowing.
People are so afraid of not knowing. Rather, they are afraid of being caught not knowing, of being the one who didn’t know. There’s this idea that the worst thing that can happen is to have people find out that they didn’t know, that the worst thing they can be is uneducated on a topic. This fear sometimes leads people, especially online, to be something much more detrimental to themselves and those around them – someone who pretends to know, or someone who kinds of knows and uses that to formulate an answer or someone who presents opinion as fact. When ego gets in the way, sometimes mouths (or keyboard fingers) work faster than minds and then folks get in trouble.
It’s all so unnecessary. Accept that you don’t know. Don’t try to speak about things you don’t know without learning first- find out who does know and learn from them, link to them and thank them.What does that look like in action? Here are some examples:
- When I first started writing I got really excited about the concept of Sex Positive Parenting. As a brand-new blogger (and even now as a not-new blogger) I was certainly no authority on the topic so I created a post called Teach Your Children Well (I didn’t know about search-engine friendly titles yet). The post showcased Airial Clark (The Sex Positive Parent) and Lanae St. John (The Mamasutra)and served to help me learn more about the topic, let me share some awesome resources with readers AND put me in touch with two fabulous sex educators who I have learned so much from- everybody wins!
- Epiphora is one of the most respected sex toy reviewers in the business today. She was recently telling me about how she was getting a lot of questions about double-ended dildos- a topic she is, by her own admission, not super-knowledgeable about. Last week Piph publicly put out a call for “Links? Comparison reviews? Thoughts?” which brought a bunch of information her way and allowed her to create this to pass that information along- awesome!
- I did a post about lube this time last year and was called out by the awesome Lorax of Sex on my ignorance on the topic of oil-based lube. At first I panicked (because I have the ego/fear thing too) and weighed all of the options one has when they want to save face after being called out. Do I quietly edit the post adding the information I had learned from their comments making it look like I had known it all along or do I debate the topic (remember, I knew very little about oil-based lube) or do I just ignore it? In the end I realized that if my mission was to learn and pass the information along as I got it, the most logical course of action was to add updates to piece citing Lorax’s comments and actually let us all learn something. And you know what? By the end of 2013 one of the products on my Favorite Things list was an oil-based lube! #TheMoreYouKnow
- After taking many classes with many awesome educators like Charlie Glickman, Megan Andelloux, Tristan Taormino, Ducky Doolittle, Lady Cheeky and Nina Hartley and hearing all of them offer students some variation on “Good question. I don’t have that information, let me take your information and get back to you with it” I know that not knowing is not just for beginners like me- everyone doesn’t know sometimes and people who are of great service to our community continue that service by being honest in those moments.
There are a couple of examples of situations that have made me so sure that this community not only accepts and understands when folks don’t know stuff yet but, if you are actively looking to learn it will foster that and support you without judgement or reproach.This is what has made me not be afraid to not know and has made it so that I have nothing but respect for a new blogger who comes to me with questions -I would hope their feelings are the same when I say “That question is a bit out of my depth, let me email someone and get back to you”
Kate McCombs refers to the “beacon of permission”. Someone who makes it okay to ask questions, to be curious, to not know. I love that idea and strive to be that for others. I got here because other beacons answered my questions and without judgement took me in when I didn’t know. This is why it’s so important that with each new generation of bloggers, educators and people who talk about sex a lot that comes up we reinforce this message – it’s awesome to ask, it’s amazing to be curious, it’s okay to not know. In fact, it’s kind of awesome to admit that you don’t know. Why? Because the moment when you acknowledge what you don’t know opens up the door to let the information in. Pretending that you know keeps the lock on the door – no information can get in because you’re saying that you don’t want it. You can only learn what you don’t know! So be bold in not knowing and know that that’s the path to finding out.
Know that you don’t always know and not knowing is half the battle.
¹I am one of the organizers of Sex Geekdom Portland if you’re interested…