“The best way to succeed in life is to act on the advice we give to others.” - author unknown.
I’ve often wondered how famous advice columnists ever became advice columnists. Who decided that they offered better counsel than anyone else? Columnists wield far too much influence over an individual’s predicament, especially given their potential to be totally wrong, narrow-minded, or ideological. Not only that, their answers are often filtered through their own lens of experience. Why have we given a handful of advice columnists (even the ones I follow and respect) total reign in answering our excessively fraught, overly complex, near life-or-death, sex and relationship questions?
I suppose it could stem from the fact that some advice columnists — Ann Landers, Carolyn Hax, and Dan Savage, to name a few — boldly go where few others like to, fearlessly confronting uneasy topics around sexuality, such as: How do I confront my boyfriend about catching him masturbating to the Oprah Winfrey show? Why does my girlfriend only prefer being fucked from behind? The persistent popularity of such columns suggests that we want to talk about sex and the sex lives of others. Discussing our sex lives and personal relationships with a stranger — especially with a stranger — allows for an off-the-bat connection, as well as inherent sense of anonymity, fostering impromptu discussions that ultimately lead to a more nuanced understanding of the human experience that is sex and relationships.
Most of us simply ask our friends for their opinions about, say, our current tumultuous relationship, and their answers — good or bad; helpful or not — usually come from an honest and vested interest in our happiness. We know that, regardless of whether we take their suggestions, our friends’ interpretations stem from their unique awareness of who we are and where we’re coming from.
Imagine getting a piece of advice from someone you didn’t know but who has a new perspective that’s helpful to you. If you hadn’t asked them, you would never know it. What would happen if that advice came from an entire community, whose collective interest is in maintaining peaceful, happy, loving neighbors, and whose opinions are informed by a variety of diverse experiences? What if we expanded our friend-group to include all the citizens of Portland?
The idea to write this advice column (I’ll get to the details soon) came to me through my work as a certified sex educator, teaching young people and adults about healthy relationships and safe sex. While facilitating such groups, I am often asked for my opinion on topics regarding sex and sexuality—everything from how to please a woman in bed to how to please a woman in a long-term relationship. When appropriate, I open up the discussion for the group, because so often we glean the best advice from multiple opinions; I certainly make no claim to know everything. Through Sex of Self, a workshop series for women and women-identified people that I created with fellow sex educator Kellie Ryan, I’ve continued crowdsourcing perspectives on sexuality, with the goal of opening community conversation around sexuality. It’s through the process of sharing our personal lives — normalizing our life and love experiences — that we are able to negotiate what’s best for both ourselves and for our neighbors. Thus, “In Layman’s Terms” emerged.