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Poor sex advice piece in The Conversation

Poor sex advice piece in The Conversation

The Conversation just published a piece by me about poor sex advice messages. It’s based on the analysis that Rosalind Gill, Laura Harvey and I did for our new book Mediated Intimacyand it also includes some of the resources that Justin Hancock and I created for our ongoing sex advice project: megjohnandjustin.com.

I can’t recommend reading over 60 sex advice manuals. I spent several months doing this and it results in a particular combination of sadness, anger and frustration that I’d rather never repeat.

The reason for my painful few months was my new book, Mediated Intimacy: Sex Advice in Media Culture with Rosalind Gill and Laura Harvey. The book explores the changing forms of “sexpertise” and how they influence ideas and practises around sex. In addition to sex manuals, we studied blogs, magazines, reality TV shows such as Sex Box (which actually gets people to have sex in a box), newspaper problem pages, websites, apps, and more.

We emphasise throughout our book that it’s rarely a matter of any sex advice being all good or all bad. Rather, sexpertise often opens up some things – in terms of ways of understanding or experiencing sex – at the same time that it closes down others. And the same text has the potential to be read in different ways by different readers. For example, somebody might read sex advice to get ideas, to enjoy sexual images, to find humour in it – or a combination of these.

But it’s also important to acknowledge just how deeply problematic the vast majority of mainstream sex advice is. Especially in this moment of #MeToo, and greater awareness of intersecting systems of privilege and oppression, it’s most concerning how few texts even mention consent, and how many assume that sex equates to penis-in-vagina intercourse, often depicted by endless images of young, white, slim, non-disabled, normative male/female couples.

When the panic around the messages young people receive about sex so often focuses on sexually explicit material, it’s about time we turned our attention to the insidious and disturbing messages that people are receiving from materials which are supposedly designed to educate, inform, and advise about sex.

So – in true sex advice “top tips” form – here are the top five problematic messages that we’ve found are perpetuated by the majority of sex advice. Read more…


Meg-John Barker is the author of a number of popular books on sex, gender, and relationships, including Queer: A Graphic History, How To Understand Your Gender, Enjoy Sex (How, When, and IF You Want To), Rewriting the Rules, The Psychology of Sex, and The Secrets of Enduring Love. They have also written a number of books for scholars and counsellors on these topics, drawing on their own research and therapeutic practice.

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  1. Dan

    2 September

    You are right, there is as much bad advice as good these days, probably more bad. Pretty important topic that you can’t take lightly either.

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