10 questions with sex educator Yana Tallon-Hicks
Yana-Tallon Hicks is a sex educator, writer and therapist who focuses on the pleasure-positive aspects of sex and sexuality. She travels across the country teaching workshops to high school students, college students and adults on topics ranging from consent to female ejaculation. Tallon-Hicks taught a workshop on communication skills for healthy sex and relationships on campus on Mar. 28 and sat down with the Catalyst after the event to chat more about the importance of adult sex-education and open communication.
1. How long have you worked as a sex educator?
“I want to say 10 years.”
2. How did you first become interested in sex education?
“It became interesting to me kind of organically, like through school being so shitty in terms of sex-ed. I went to school before Google, so we didn’t really have a lot of information available to us. Then, when I went to college—I went to Hampshire College—I took a class called “Sexuality and Education,” and I just found it to be really interesting. At Hampshire we get to create our own majors, so I decided to design my major around sex-ed.”
3. Why is adult sex-education important?
“It’s important because most people get severely undercut by traditional sex-ed. We’re not getting a lot of the information that we need and we want. It can be difficult to find resources that actually feel relevant to us, and even though we could get a lot of this stuff online—and we do and that’s good— I think there’s something to be said about having actual people talking about this stuff together in the same room. It’s nice to have—and this happens with my clients a lot too, like one-on-one—an example of someone who is comfortable talking about sex in front of a lot of people.”
4. What are some of the most popular workshops that you teach?
“By far the most popular is the ‘Consent and Cookies’ workshop, which I do for high schoolers and also college students. Basically, it breaks down all these components of consent and then builds up a metaphor of how we practice consent by frosting and decorating cookies together. That one’s really popular because it’s really interactive and accessible to a bunch of age groups. Then the second most popular one is probably ‘Hitting the Spot,’ which is about sex toys and pleasurable anatomy.”
5. Does your experience teaching workshops change when you’re working with college students?
“I think that high schoolers are more just relieved that an adult is talking to them about sex in a way that isn’t super veiled and really vague. The ‘Consent and Cookies’ workshop was actually designed because I was invited to teach a workshop about sex, but I wasn’t allowed to talk about sex directly. We really just dumb-down high schoolers’ access to this stuff. They know—they can Google whatever they want—so we might as well be talking to them about it. A lot of the high schoolers I work with are super fucking self-aware and know what’s going on. I think with college students, they tend to be a more informed crowd and more critical thinkers and can handle more discussion-based stuff and don’t need to be as entertained.”
6. What are some of the most common concerns or questions that college students have?
“It kind of depends on the workshop, but a lot of the questions I get are about people feeling uncomfortable bringing something up with their partner. They want to know how to get more comfortable doing that. I also get a lot of questions about sex-toy stuff in general. They are curious about sex-toys and pleasure stuff. I also think that people tend to ask how I got involved in this.”
7. Are there are any resources that you would recommend for students interested in learning more about sex-ed and maintaining healthy relationships?
“Scarleteen is a website for teenagers about sex, but I actually love it as a resource. When I’m writing my column and I have a technical question, I’ll look it up on their website. My website also has resources, obviously. I’m such a book-based person, so I really like the books Girl Sex 101 and Come as You Are. I think Stan Tatkin’s work is really great. I think Esther Perel’s work is really good—she also has a wonderful podcast.”
8. You focus a lot on attachment styles in your workshop, why do you feel that is a valuable way to approach relationships and healthy communication?
“Attachment styles have a lot to do with how we’re able to engage with people. Oftentimes, we think that the stuff we do (that we don’t like that we do) is our fault or bad or means that we’re broken and can’t be adjusted. I think that approaching relationships via attachment styles helps people feel less like it’s a broken component about them and more about the ways that they’ve been raised to handle conflict. I also think it lets people off-the-hook a little bit and teaches them to have a little more self-understanding and self-awareness.”
9. Are there any other psychological frameworks that you find useful for dealing with relationships and sex?
“I use a lot of attachment theory, I use a lot of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—which is how we think about things and how it influences our feelings and behavior. I am trained in the developmental model of couples therapy, which is sort of a hodge-podge of concrete communication strategies, attachment theory and relational work.”
10. Is there one piece of advice you wish you could share with students?
“I think a lot of this stuff just breaks down to being a little easier on yourself and a little easier on your partners. We’re all doing the best we can with what we’ve got. You’ve got to just give yourself permission to explore stuff that feels good to you.”
For more information about Tallon-Hicks, visit her website: yanatallonhicks.com.