Purity Culture and Sexual Health with Erica Smith | #5

The Conjuring Up Courage logo, a photo of Erica, and the words, "Purity Culture and Sexual Health with Erica Smith Episode #5"

Click here to access a written transcript of this episode.

Even in the year 2019, sex is still considered a taboo topic. That’s one of the reasons I recently welcomed sex educator Erica Smith on the show to speak with me about pervasive myths about sex, purity culture, the construct of virginity, what good sexual health entails, and a whole lot more. Speaking about sex so openly with Erica was a liberating experience.

Erica started her career as a sex educator back in college and has been active in the field ever since. She spent many years working with teenagers in the juvenile justice system, and she has recently started running her own sexuality education consulting business. Erica is passionate about helping people heal from purity culture and remove shame from their experience of sexuality.

We discussed:

  • How Erica got her start in the sex education and health field, from working at an abortion clinic to supporting teenagers in the juvenile justice system.
  • Sexuality myths Erica has heard throughout her time in the field, including vaginas with “no walls”, being able to feel that your partner cheated on you, and the manageability of HIV.
  • How purity culture can take many forms and boils down to the idea that sex is shameful, bad, and dirty.
  • The prevalence of and ineffectiveness of abstinence-only education.
  • The ways in which purity culture affects people in adulthood, from shame around sexual desire and masturbation to an inability to communicate about sex.
  • How Erica defines sex (and how people can define it differently for themselves).
  • Purity culture’s erasure of queer people.
  • Virginity as a made-up, patriarchal construct that doesn’t actually mean anything, and my own experience of “losing my virginity.”
  • Steps that a person affected by purity culture can take to begin to heal, which for many people includes therapy.
  • Some of the keys to having good sexual health, and how they’re much more expansive than most people have probably thought of.
  • How Erica defines health and wellness for herself at this moment in her life, and in particular, how she no longer defines her health and wellness by the size of her body.

Mentioned in This Episode

  • Shameless book by Nadia Bolz-Weber
  • Come As You Are book by Emily Nagoski
  • The World Health Organization’s definition of sexual health

Featured in This Episode

Erica smiling for the camera wearing pink lipstick

Erica Smith (she/her) is a sexuality educator with almost 20 years of experience. For most of her career, she has worked with young women and queer and trans youth in the juvenile justice system. Her current focus is on helping parents understand their LGBTQ+ children and helping folks unlearn the harmful lessons of purity culture. Erica believes that access to compassionate, evidence-based, comprehensive sexuality education is a key component of social justice. Erica offers private sex education sessions, training, and consultation. She also runs a program called Purity Culture Dropout, which helps folx raised in purity culture work through the harmful messaging they received and learn all of the sexuality education they missed in an honest, inclusive, and shame-free way. You can find Erica on Instagram.

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