How My Radical Sex Ed Startup Ended Up at the United Nations

Every year, the United Nations hosts a two-week session for the Commission on the Status of Women. The theme of the conference on this 61st year will be women’s economic empowerment.

And I’ll be there, talking about orgasms*.

To get more specific, my teammate Latishia and I will be speaking on sexuality and economic empowerment with representatives from the United Nations Population Fund (taking on the global perspective), the Center for Reproductive Justice (national), and Planned Parenthood New York (local). As the founder of O.school, I will be tackling change on the level of the individual.

The past few decades have focused on “systemic” sexuality issues — mostly, what governments and NGOs are doing to expand access to safe birth control. As progress is made on that front, we can bring the individual experience of sex back into the conversation.

It’s time to speak up loudly for the right to sex education that not only keeps us safe, but that also prioritizes and destigmatizes the pursuit of pleasure.

When it comes to economic empowerment, access to contraception is a big deal. Melinda Gates calls contraceptives “one of the greatest anti-poverty innovations in history.” With the help of birth control, women get more education, higher incomes, and healthier children.

Pleasure is also important and intertwined with economics. Some development researchers found that when sex education for women focuses on images of fear and violence — assuming that women have no control over their sex lives because of economic dependence on male partners — they are given no room to even hope for pleasure.

More is being studied in that direction, but to me, the connections between pleasure and profession are intuitive:

If you can ask your partner for what you want in bed, you are more likely to summon the courage to ask for a promotion.
If you learn about sex without shame or stigma, you will be more open to working with people who come from different gender and sexual identities.
If you are used to asking for and giving clear consent, you will have healthier boundaries in the workplace.

And so on. Anecdotally, I have experienced more clarity in my professional life when I have found my own sexual liberation. If you pick up any business magazine, CEOs attribute their success to self-care rituals from meditation to to exercise to green juice all the time (not everyone wants to write about their sex life in Forbes, I guess). I plan to share more about how most of my business skills have actually been transplanted from my relationship skills. But the most important bedroom-to-boardroom skill I have learned is this:

Having a pulse on your sexual desires builds your intuition. When you explore what turns you on, you are practicing the same skills that will help you “find your passion” at work.

That’s what I’m excited to talk about when Latishia and I represent the O.school team at the UN conference on women’s economic empowerment.

A few O.school teammates at Lesbians Who Tech: Nicole, Jon, Andrea, Latishia

O.school is an online sex and pleasure education platform. We are building it to help billions around the world, especially women and LGBTQ+ people, learn new skills and communicate their desires in a judgement-free environment. We want to help people unlearn body shame and religious shame, as well as heal from sexual trauma. We are zooming in to each person’s own unique experience of sex and pleasure, in the context of systemic challenges such as race, gender, ability, religion, and culture.

We are often fed only one image of who deserves to enjoy sex and how they can enjoy it. By being inclusive and focusing on pleasure, our approach to sex education is inherently a form of political rebellion.

In our daily work, we draw inspiration from a long line of activists who teach us that pleasure is powerful and rebellious, from Audre Lorde to ACT-UP.

Honestly, when I got the email inviting me to speak alongside groups like the United Nations Population Fund, I was stunned. I mean, O.school hasn’t even officially launched! But the lovely person who invited us read a piece that came out of my own personal trauma about the 2016 election. She specifically said she was inspired by our company values of radical self-love and pleasure as resistance.

An email like that brings home for me that there really is no one else doing what O.school is doing. And that sure as hell fires me up to keep growing the pleasure education revolution.

Because a woman with the ability to make her own reproductive choices is free…
But a woman with the ability to own and articulate her desires — in and out of the bedroom — is unstoppable.

To learn more and get notified about our launch, visit www.o.school.

If you are a sex educator, activist, performer, or coach, please email us at hello@o.school or apply to be an instructor here.

Interested in bringing O.school to your college or university? We do workshops and speaking events on topics from pleasure to consent. Get in touch with colleges@o.school for more information.

Andrea Barrica is the founder of O.school, an entrepreneur, former venture partner at a global venture capital fund, and fierce believer that pleasure is a mighty tool of the resistance.

*Orgasm, the state and all its forms, not just climax.