The excellent Kate McCombs, sex educator and founder of Sex Geekdom International coined the phrase “Beacon of Permission“. In a blog post (featuring an anecdote from yours truly) she writes:
Essentially, a Beacon of Permission is someone with whom others feel safe talking about sex. It’s someone who acts as a beacon to shine light on the shame shadows that traditionally surround conversations about sex.
I love this definition, and it gives words to something I’ve recognized and felt for a long time. Shining my light on shame shadows since 2002 (ish!).
I remember lunchtimes at my small town high school in New Zealand, my girlfriends and I poring over Cosmo magazines sneaked from one of my friend’s mums. Age 14 we were curious, giggly and endlessly interested in sex. At this point in our life the sex education we wanted – sex ed about pleasure, orgasms, foreplay, dirty talk: the ‘fun’ of sex- wasn’t coming from our school, and it wasn’t coming from our parents, so we decided to find it where we could get it.
This meant a jumble of Cosmos, media, porn, erotic fiction, stories, gossip. What I appreciate now is that we didn’t absorb this information quietly. We talked. We critiqued. We deconstructed, to a certain extent. We asked questions about how realistic it was (really Cosmo, really? Humming with a man’s balls in your mouth will create a “sensual vibrating sensation?” (What would one hum, is the real question?!)). We shared stories of initial sexual encounters. We talked about turn-ons, and turn-offs. Radical stuff! Essentially, we made these taboo conversations part of our everyday talk.
Sometimes, other girls would come by with questions, and at lunchtimes we would hold court, at “our seat”, giving advice, listening and making ordinary what was usually only whispered. In reflection we were all beacons of permission, and I have carried this far into my adult life.
Now, my beacon gives light to disclosures of adult or childhood sexual assault. Working as a crisis line counsellor, doing advocacy and political work for survivors of sexual assault makes me feel like I’m a walking safe space for people to talk to. And it happens, I’ll mention what I do and maybe immediately, maybe an hour, a week later, someone will mention to me that they’ve survived sexual violence. The conversation might end there, or it might continue, but each time it happens I feel so incredibly grateful, that this person is talking about what can be so taboo, and cloaked in shame.
My “beacon-ship” is for you to talk to me about everything sex. And I will hold that information with the utmost honour and regard. I don’t take this role lightly, and each time someone shares, I feel like the beacon shines a bit brighter.
Here’s to all the beacons in the world! I see you, and I love what you’re doing.