Pleasure to Meet You, Kate Kenfield!
Introducing the O.school Pleasure Professionals
Opportunities for safe, nonjudgmental sex and pleasure education are far and few between, even in 2017. O.school wants to fix that. We have a team of more than 30 experienced Pleasure Professionals for whom we seek to be an amplification platform. Our Pleasure to Meet You column introduces the brilliant folks you can engage with and learn from at O.school.
On a Monday evening in San Francisco, I and others tuned into Kate Kenfields’ O.school beta live stream, entitled “Sexy Safer Sex”. It was not yet lunchtime on a Tuesday, in Melbourne, Australia, where Kate was smiling broadly at her students through her webcam. She pulled out a latex glove and a pair of scissors and proceeded to transform the glove into a tricked out dental dam by leaving the pinky and thumb intact for easy finger hooks. Kate’s magic caused a flurry of excited comments from students to pour through the chat. “AMAZING!” wrote in one student; “Mind-blown,” said another.
Kate is a veteran sex and pleasure educator from Monterey, California; in 2011 she received her Masters of Public Health from the University of Melbourne and has since traveled the world teaching about sex and relationships. In 2011, she founded a community called “Sex Geekdom” in an effort to give folks, who, as she put it, “like having geeky conversations about sex” a non-sexual space to gather and “geek out” about sex. Today, Sex Geekdom is international, with 25 hubs across the world. These days, Kate focuses on teaching empathic communication skills through her signature workshop, “Tea & Empathy.” With the help of Tea & Empathy feelings cards that she developed herself, Kate facilitates conversations to explore participants’ mental and emotional states and to have participants practice giving and receiving empathy.
As a self-identified “migraineur”, Kate frequently experiences debilitating migraines. Even while experiencing pain, Kate offered immense joy, generosity of time and energy, sass, wit and general good humor throughout our multiple Skype sessions.
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.
Maya: You just livestreamed for O.school Beta! Congrats!!
Kate: I have been having a migraine-adjacent day all day today, and I had a migraine yesterday. The fact that I could teach a workshop from my home with my lighting and reach people all of the world was fantastic.
Maya: I thought it was pretty excellent, myself. O.school is a brand new project — both for you, and in general, as a start-up! How are you feeling about it?
Kate: I’m excited to be a part of a team and to be led by Andrea [the CEO of O.school] because it really feels like she knows what she’s doing. I have felt so held in the process by O.school’s team, both technologically and emotionally!
I’m also very into the community that O.school is developing. During my livestream, the comment space was super interactive which was extremely energizing as an instructor.
Maya: What classes will you be teaching for O.school?
Kate: One of the classes that I really want to teach at O.school is a class about long-distance sex. How to do video chat. How to do a sexy video call. How to set that up with your partner, what kind of communication to do beforehand, and in general, tools to maintain an erotic connection with your partner over long distances. There are little hacks that I’ve learned can make a big difference.
For [O.School’s Beta Test] “30 Days of Streaming” I just did a class on eroticizing safer sex — a lot of that is around getting comfortable with safer sex methods and what you can do to increase pleasure while using them. Explaining lube and how that works, explaining how internal condoms work, gloves. How those can be made to be sexier.
Maya: You’ve had an extremely robust career as a sex and relationship educator! Right now, I understand that most of your time is spent teaching Tea & Empathy workshops. What draws you to that particular workshop more than other work?
Kate: I have a devotion to Tea & Empathy. It has seemed to resonate with the people I’m working with more than anything else.
Maya: How did you develop the Tea & Empathy set and workshop?
Kate: My whole adult life I’ve had migraines. In 2014 they went from twice a month to every day — a full-on disability. It got to the point that I couldn’t leave my apartment . . . Part of getting an adult-onset disability is that your relationships change. I had a number of people who were fantastic at empathy, and other people who I could tell really cared about me and wanted to connect with me but who just had not had the education around how to communicate empathically. So I wanted to give people an experience of something different.
I designed Tea & Empathy in my living room for my friends and friends of friends. The workshop gives people an experience of what it is like to receive empathy — to actually feel what it feels like to have people empathically communicate with them . . . and it was great! I ran them for about a year and a half in my apartment before my migraines finally got to a place where I could offer one publicly.
Maya: You’ve written a lot about being at the intersection of being a sex educator and managing an invisible disability — chronic migraines. As you’ve mentioned, being able to do Tea & Empathy from the comfort of your own home allows you to work even while experiencing pain. O.school will hopefully offer a similar advantage since you can produce your classes anywhere, including from your home!
Kate: Yes, that flexibility is many layered — when I can do a workshop at home it allows me to control the environment in the room. It may seem like a small thing but it requires effort. Sometimes when I visit a new space I need to explain my environmental needs. Like if I am exposed to aerosolized perfume or air-freshener, my migraines will be triggered. Bright lighting, particularly fluorescent lighting, also triggers my migraines.
Maya: In a previous conversation we’ve had, I used the phrase “suffering from migraines” to describe your disability, but you explained that this is an inaccurate phrasing for your particular experience. Can you talk a little bit about why that is?
Kate: Many people who experience migraines do experience it as suffering—and that’s completely valid. I experience them as pain, but for me, pain and suffering are two distinct things. This linguistic precision is really important to me. Giving people the tools to precisely communicate about what they need and what they feel is a core part of my work, a core part of my whole professional reason for being.
Maya: What does it mean to experience migraines as pain, but not as suffering?
Kate: When I say I don’t feel suffering, it’s not like I’m experiencing it as blissful — but I can just experience it as pain and be calm in it. Feeling non-adversarial towards my migraines is absolutely pivotal to me existing in the world with feelings of pain and a feeling of wholeness…
Migraines happen to me all the time — if every time I got a migraine I felt suffering, I would feel so much less joy. Instead I approach them by noticing that this migraine is happening to me, and I will take my medicine for it, and I will sit with it, and I will usually make myself a cup of tea. And then I will pay attention to my body and see what else it needs.
These days, Kate is able to manage her migraines and is once more teaching and spreading tea & empathy all over the world — including as a part of O.school’s college tour! Want to bring O.school and Kate to your campus? Get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
O.school is a shame-free platform for pleasure education. Our mission is to help people around the world unlearn shame, heal from sexual trauma, develop skill sets to communicate what they want and don’t want, discover new sexual desires in a LGBTQ-friendly and judgment-free space, and most of all — own their desires.
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 email@example.com for more information.
If you are a sex educator, activist, performer, or coach, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or apply to be an instructor here.
Maya Peers Nitzberg is a content writer at O.school.