What happens in the world if we accept that all of us are a little bit different?
Karen interviews Shauna Farabaugh, a somatic sex educator working with people who have temporary and permanent disabilities, and with organizations that serve people with disabilities.
Wild & Sublime Podcast Transcript
#S3E12 | Making sex accessible for all with Shauna Farabaugh
[Wild & Sublime theme music]
Shauna Farabaugh: Let's expand our definition of sex. It is not just intercourse. Like, how many different ways can we have sex with ourselves or other people? And you know, if you say that to someone who's lost access to intercourse and really liked intercourse — you know, I always want to be careful to say, like, I'm not blowing smoke up your ass. This is where I start with everyone, right? Because to me, that's foundational sex education.
Karen Yates: Welcome to Wild & Sublime, a sexy spin on infotainment®, no matter your preferences, orientation, or relationship style, based on the popular live Chicago show. I chat about sex and relationships with citizens from the world of sex positivity. You'll hear meaningful conversations, dialogues that go deeper, and information that can help you become more free in your sexual expression. I'm sex educator and intimacy coach Karen Yates.
This week I talk to sex educator, Shauna Farabaugh about life changes and disability, and how to make sex accessible to all. Keep listening. Are you interested in getting more Wild & Sublime? Our members on Patreon can partake in Q&As with experts and receive my audio notes every month, in addition to getting discounts to merchandise and live shows. Plus, members received the latest news about Wild & Sublime first, like show dates and more. When you join, you'll also get my heartfelt gratitude that you are helping spread the message of sex positivity around the globe and helping us meet our monthly expenses. The link is in the show notes, or go to patreon.com/wildandsublime.
Hey, folks. A few years back, I did a live show with disability and sex as the main topic. While I was prepping for that show, I mentioned it to a major event planner here in Chicago. Her response was, "Hmm, I never thought of those two things together." Exactly. The sexual needs of folks with disabilities is rarely discussed, yet a big subject, and one that affects everyone, as you will learn today. In our last episode, we talked to JoJo Bear, a somatic sex practitioner who works mostly with the male-identified population. This episode, we're spotlighting another somatic sex educator, Shauna Farabaugh, who is committed to making sex education more successful by working with people with temporary and permanent disabilities, as well as with organizations that serve populations with disabilities. We cast a wide net in our chat, and I think you're going to find it pretty fascinating, especially if you consider yourself non-disabled. There is a lot to consider in this interview. Enjoy.
Shauna Farabaugh, welcome.
Shauna Farabaugh: Thanks, Karen. I'm really excited to be here with you.
Karen Yates: Me too. I'm really looking forward to our conversation. I just wanted to start with a land acknowledgement. I'm currently recording from the unceded territories of the council of the three fires — the Potawatomi, Ojibwe and Odawa, in addition to many other nations that were part of what is colonially known as Chicago. Where are you coming from?
Shauna Farabaugh: Yeah, I'm coming at you today from the unceded territory of the Ramaytush Ohlone people, colonially known as San Francisco, California.
Karen Yates: Awesome. Last week, I interviewed JoJo Bear, who is also coming from your zone or the world. So this is a somatic sex educator festival we're having right now.
Shauna Farabaugh: Yes. Which makes me just imagine — I wish we were all together, in person, in this moment. Yeah, that would be delicious.
Karen Yates: It would be so delicious. Shauna, you have so many gifts to offer folks around accessibility. The name of your website is Sexuality in Transition. And it's not just about, say, folks when they're transitioning gender, but it's really about the big picture of the transitions of life. Before we really dive into that, tell me how you came to be here in this moment, specialising in sexuality for people who are going through major life transitions, or who have not found the accessibility tools they need to get themselves to have the sex lives they really want. How did it all come to pass?
Shauna Farabaugh: Yeah, such a good question. And so many stories that could be told. But I think, you know, where the frame Sexuality in tTransition actually came from — in 2017, I was actually coming out of a year of illness as well, just something that is relevant to the story and we can certainly talk about. So in 2017 is when I started building my practice the way it currently exists. You know, I've been a professional sex educator since 2007, a somatic sex educator since 2013, but like, the current focus of my practice, and my current website, right, this was all being launched in 2017. And so as I'm, like, engaged in this process, which I know you're familiar with, right, trying to figure out, like, Who the fuck am I in this work, right? And like, what's important to me? And how do I convey that to people? Putting all of that together and getting some really great support, you know, and some resources to do that. But in that process, like one day, it kind of just came to me that all of these things that seemed disparate that I was interested in, you know, I'm really passionate about supporting folks around gender transition, because as a queer person, I'm a cisgender woman, gender nonconforming and trans folks have been part of my community for a really long time. So that work is important to me. My work in sex and disability, I'm sure we'll talk about that a little bit more. That's really important. I've specialized in pelvic pain, done some additional training to be able to serve that community. Any of these things that look disparate. And then I realized that what it was actually about is like, life happens, and it impacts our sexuality, and things have changed. And we are in transition. And what do we do there? And I also think it's really relevant that I figured this out while I was in the midst of my own year of illness and healing, my own huge health transition. I also was coming out of a really significant period of grief that kind of intersects with that year of illness. And so you know, a broken heart, right? That's like this huge thing that happens to all of us at some point. And it impacts our sexuality, or it impacts our sex lives. So what really struck me is all of these things are connected in that way. But I think more importantly, to me, I feel like this happens to all of us. But we don't talk about it, right? And so we feel isolated, we feel like we're the only one, rather than seeing this as like, universal to the human experience. And also just like, a natural part of being a sexual being. And so I've been reflecting on it, you know, all these years later, as I've been doing the work. And I started thinking it's like, I don't know, how would life be different if we like, just knew that at some point, all of us are gonna have a weird stretch in our sex lives? Whether that's related to our sexual identity, or the kind of sex we like to have isn't accessible to us anymore, or our libido changes or disappears completely. Like, what would it be like, if that was normal, like that we just knew that it's normal, and we're all going to go through it? How would that change? You know, how we, how we get support and how we navigate it. So does that make sense?
Karen Yates: It did totally make sense. And, you know, this whole idea of not talking about it, I'm reflecting that there are a couple of levels here. Number one, no one talks about sex, for the most part. I mean, we're in this minority of people who do talk about it, because this is our job. But no one talks about it when everything's working properly. Right? So then when things aren't going well, wow, people really aren't talking about it. And if you have a disability of some sort, it becomes layer upon layer. So if you're saying if you have mental illness, that's its own stigma, people imprint so much on people with disability around like, it's your identity, sum total. This is your identity. So there's just so much crapola that gets in the way of let's just talk about the fact that life [laughs]... we're changing organisms.
Shauna Farabaugh: Let's talk about it. Yeah, let's just talk about sex. Let's just talk about grief. Let's just talk about the fact that life is changing. Let's just talk about the fact that some of us are in pain every day, right? All of these things that we don't talk about. And it's interesting, too, to see how it's such a self perpetuating cycle. I see it in lots of different ways, but I'm thinking of it now, specifically, with a number of the young cisgender women with pelvic pain that I've supported. I can't tell you how often part of what comes out in session is they're like, I'm the only one, like, this doesn't happen to other people. I'm having a memory of a really dear client, and this phrase that would come out of her mouth. She's like, this is a stupid problem. That was her way of expressing — it's just like, she felt alone. You know, this doesn't happen to other people. And I would say that, I was like, this is a super-common problem. Right? But like, because she felt isolated, she chose not to talk about it. Right. She didn't feel safe talking about it, but then it just perpetuates. Right. So it's really interesting to watch.
Karen Yates: I want to just zip over into that zone for a moment, because you co-authored with Caffyn Jesse the "Pelvic Pain Clinic" book. Talk about that process, because it is a treasure trove of information for people — of all genders. I think we have to say real quickly that it's not just cisgender women, people with vulvas, that have pelvic pain.
Shauna Farabaugh: Absolutely. All genders and all anatomy. Yeah.
Karen Yates: Yeah. Can you talk for a little bit about people with penises, and their pelvic pain? Because this is not a conversation that is had often. Can you talk a little bit about the causes of that?
Shauna Farabaugh: Yeah, I mean, I think — maybe it sounds ridiculous, but I think it's so important it bears repeating, just to say, people with penises experience pelvic pain. Like, Yes, it happens, it is a thing. And there is support and treatment. And for some folks, that might mean there's pain with erection, it can mean there's pain with or immediately after ejaculation, pain with orgasm, which we don't — orgasm and ejaculation are not the same thing. So those can be different, where the pain shows up. And also just general pelvic floor dysfunction, right? We all have pelvic floor muscles. And if pelvic floor muscles are too tight, or holding trauma, or holding tension for any reason, you know, that can cause pain, and we can get support for that and get the tissue released.
Karen Yates: So how was the writing of the book with Caffyn Jesse, who has been on the show?
Shauna Farabaugh: Ummm... Amazing. I won't make it long, because I can be a long storyteller. But my two favorite things to say about writing the book with Caffyn is, the first thing is, when Caffyn Jesse says, do you want to write a book with me? You say yes. Are you kidding? So yeah, so incredible. And you know, we did it long distance, right? Because Caffyn is in Canada, and I'm in the US. And so we did it through Zoom meetings, and shared Google Docs, which is pretty amazing. I treated myself to a little two-day writing retreat to get most of the content that I contributed to that book done. But my favorite part of the story is, so like, near the end of the process, and I say near the end, because that's how I perceived it — you know, Caffyn and I, in our meeting, we were like, okay, so this is, we're good here. And Caffyn was like, Okay, so I'm going to get this to some of our colleagues to give it a review. And I was like, great. And then I should clarify, because my understanding was then that Caffyn would have our colleagues take a look at it, Caffyn would share the feedback with me, and then we'd make any final changes, and then we'd be done. And instead, a short time later, the doorbell rings. And it's a package from Amazon. And I was like, I didn't order anything from Amazon. And so I carry it to the dining room table, and I open this box, and it's 10 copies of Caffyn's and my book. Published. A I literally said out loud — no one's in the room — I said out loud, "Oh, I can't handle this right now." And I did not walk back to that box of books for three days, Karen. I'm not exaggerating. Three days later, I went back to the box and I picked up the book and I looked through it, and I was like, Okay, I feel okay about this. I didn't know we were done. I was gonna give it one more pass. But I think that's a reflection, right? A little bit of perfectionism. So, always great to get to challenge that one.
Karen Yates: So, in talking about pelvic pain, which affects so many people, I mean, like you said, it's a very common issue. And it's a chronic, invisible disability. And there are many people with chronic invisible disabilities, be it pain, physical pain, mental illness. And the burden always tends to be on the person who has it to communicate right to partners, right? Do you have advice to give to people who suffer from chronic, invisible disabilities?
Shauna Farabaugh: What I want to say is, when I talk about and think about and teach about sex and disability, I'm looking at that in a very inclusive way. So looking at what people traditionally think of as disability, including physical or mobility disabilities, sensory disabilities, intellectual disabilities, invisible, visible, temporary and permanent. So this is where it starts to get a little more inclusive, right. I also include folks with chronic conditions, folks with mental illness, whatever that means. That's a very broad category as well. Folks during cancer treatment, or right after cancer treatment. Right. And so from that perspective, where it starts to get really broad, then, at a certain point, what I want to propose is, it's about all of us, right? And so what happens if we start to just look at — and this is where I think somatic sex education, you know, we're both somatic sex educators, is so brilliant, because if we just start to look at sex from the perspective of what feels good to you, what's possible for you? What do you want in this moment? If we could just shift and actually all of us looked at sex in that way, I think we'd all have strategies, much more pleasurable sex, if that makes sense.
Karen Yates: I'm really glad you just said that. Because I feel like with that question, I was sort of stumbling blindly into something that you're opening up now, which is the place that we all perhaps aspire to get to. Where speaking to each other about sex is not only welcome, and part of conventional society, right? That it becomes just no big deal. But like, the deeper idea for me is sex as a basic human right, which is something that is a huge idea that underpins a lot of my thinking — which, actually, your course that I took from you when I was studying really is where I first started coming to this idea, that we're just going to zoom all over the place right now, because we go, here we go. Is that you know, if you have a disability that requires an aid, a personal aid, a human being, another human being to help you get into position to have sex with someone else, and there are laws in place that don't allow that — you know what I mean? Then it starts getting into legal ramifications that keep people from having sex, because you can't have a helper person help you, you know what I mean? Or just say, decriminalizing sex work, so that folks can call a sex worker to come in and play with them. And so all of this is about the way the society is structured right now. And it is very anti-folks with disability.
Shauna Farabaugh: And it's anti-sex. Right?
Karen Yates: Yeah, yes. Thank you for saying that very basic thing. It's anti-sex.
Shauna Farabaugh: Right? Well, because you know, with the example that you just named, I mean, I think an important thing to name is, you know, I don't know of anywhere in the states where there's a law on the books that it's illegal for a caregiver to put someone in a position, to support someone with positioning for sex. Like, I don't think that's factually accurate. But what you're revealing is that we don't know. People are scared, Because we're scared of sex, and we're scared of disability. And then it's a double whammy, for sure. So there's the fear piece. Fear and the unknown.
I mean, and I think too, Karen, one thing that you're bringing up for me is, quite early on, when I started, like, really — you know, it was like, 2016, when I had to go through quite a process to get through my own fear, to just be like, This is fucking important. And I'm going to study and I'm going to talk about it. And I'm going to teach. It involved hours of sobbing with mentors and support folks, to be brave enough to do that, because it's scary as fuck, for all the things that we're talking about. But I think pretty early on in my studies, I was like, wow, this is systemic. And that has only, the more work that I've done, the more studying goes on, the more people I've talked to, the more folks I've supported, you know, it only gets clearer and clearer to me that, you know, when we look at what are we going to do to make sex better for everyone? It's what I say. I mean, really, we need cultural change. And on the one hand, that's so exciting. And on the other days, that is so overwhelming that I just want to give up and crawl under the covers, because I can't do it by myself. Right. So we build community and do it a little at a time. But I mean, it's interesting too to come back, when you were asking that question a little while ago about, is there advice for folks with invisible disability? And I think, you know, what I'm saying now comes back to that. Where I'm at, in my process with this, is that I don't want to just say to folks like, Oh, you have an individual disability, let me help you advocate for yourself, support you to advocate for yourself. And like, fuck that, right? Like, let's change the cultural conversation around disability and around sex. It's not just the responsibility of a person with any disability or access need to advocate for themselves. You know, and I also think from that perspective, of, we all have access needs. Some of us have more access needs than others. But you know, this big curiosity that I'm holding in all aspects of my work right now is like, what happens if we just start having honest conversations that all of us need accommodation of some kind, whether or not you identify as a person with a disability? And I think so much of it, you know, it's really exciting to be a somatic sex educator, and/or maybe it's the other way around. It's because I'm a somatic sex educator I have the tools and the lens to be able to see, you know, really what so much of this is about, it's like agency and choice and embodiment, right? Can we be connected to our own bodies to actually feel what we want in any given moment? Do we have agency and the choice of voice to say it? And it's interesting — I am so passionate about this. And I feel like I can hear it in my own voice. But it's interesting to navigate all the voices in my head, because even right now they're like, Shauna, this isn't on topic, people want to talk about sex... And I'm like, Oh, my God, if you want to fuck better,? We need to do this. We need to overthrow the system! I don't know. I'm very excited, but I also get very overwhelmed.
Karen Yates: Well, I mean, the interesting thing, like when I go to your website, you offer so many resources for all different types of disability needs, from mental illness to IDD — intellectual and developmental disabilities — to spinal cord injuries, to so many things. And I think there is a particular genius in taking it at this really maxed out, like, big-picture view, rather than like siloing down into, well, this is just about my specialty is just mental illness and sex, or being a quadriplegic and having sex. It's a bigger issue. Much bigger issue. And I mean, I think it's really important that, say, in disability rights, you know, crip liberation, it's about queer folks of color with disabilities, if that population is liberated, we are all fucking liberated. It is like that simple. Like, boom, the game ends. It like, explodes, we go to the next level.
Shauna Farabaugh: Can we do that today? I'm so tired.
Karen Yates: Right? Yeah. So yeah, I don't feel like any of this is getting off topic. It's really just looking at it from the big picture.
Shauna Farabaugh: I mean, I appreciate you saying that, Karen, because I do think, I mean, I hope it's true, maybe that's the gift that I get to bring to the sex and disability conversation. Because you know, I want to name, it's also so important for those folks that specialize, right? And that's why I'm all about like, referring folks out and putting folks on my resource list. And it's interesting, because, you know, you took my class that I teach once a year for sex educators, sex and disability—
Karen Yates: WHich is awesome. No, really, folks, if you are a sex educator, and you really want to learn more about this, take the class from Shauna. Okay, keep going.
Shauna Farabaugh: Thank you, thank you. I mean, yeah, it's, you know, it's one of the things I say on day one, right? I mean, it's when we say we're going to talk about sex and disability. I mean, that's such a broad concept that it's almost ridiculous to say that as a phrase and assume that it has meaning, from the perspective of like we're talking about so much. That's a piece that I've been really passionate about, is that it's not — I can't know everything. I don't, I can't know everything. But I think that we can bring some really paradigm-shifting lenses to how we approach sex education, right? That's what I'm teaching when I'm doing that class, because I'm very committed to shifting how we teach sex education. But also like, some paradigms that shift how we think about sex for our own sex lives. That's inclusive of all of that. So I don't know, maybe that is the gift, a little bit of a big picture approach. But that's the one that I've been called to.
Karen Yates: Within the sex positive spaces, say on social media, I'm seeing a lot of crip liberation. I'm seeing a lot of queer activism in these various zones. And it feels like there's a groundswell, really important groundswell, happening right now. What is your take? What is your take on that?
Shauna Farabaugh: Yeah, I mean, I agree with you. I agree with you. I'm super grateful. You know, I'm in the bay area here in California, which is the birth of the disability rights movement, pre-ADA, and also the birth of the disability justice movement. You know, Patty Byrne and others, just across the bridge over in the East Bay. That's literally where disability justice was born. So I'm super grateful to be in this location, because there's so many resources and so many amazing projects to be connected to, and people to learn from. And I do think, yeah, things are changing. I've been teaching, I teach with a colleague on Ligia Andrade Zúñiga, who is a badass disability rights advocate who's passionate about sex and disability. And so we partner together, with me being the sexuality professional who's passionate about disability. When we teach together, we do it under the umbrella of the Bay Area Sexuality and Disability Network, which is an organization we started with some other colleagues initially, and at this point, it's just Ligia and I doing some teaching together. And we just did, for the past few years, we've had the opportunity to teach Physical therapy class, training program, for like the past three years. And just this year, during our presentation, Ligia actually pointed out, she was saying, there's a lot more resources on sex and disability than there used to be. And I've seen that, you know, I said, I started really stepping into this piece of the work in 2016. And certainly since 2016, that's true. And absolutely since before that. So there is something happening. I mean, Disability Justice is phenomenally important. And there's a lot happening with that movement in general, because disability justice is, you know, about all the things. But specifically around sex and disability, you know, the conversation is opening up, which is exciting, and there are more resources. And that being said, I am almost never on social media. I don't know if you know that about me. It's very unusual as a person, and even more unusual as a professional. I don't use social media. So I'm not necessarily tracking what's happening on social media, but just from my professional connections, there is, yeah, it's changing. Thank God. Because we still have a long way to go.
Karen Yates: I'll return to my conversation with Shauna in a moment. Do you want to get Wild & Sublime news twice a month, like episode releases, show dates and more? Go to wildandsublime.com and sign up.
Do you have trouble expressing your desires in the moment with your partner? I work with couples in Chicago, helping them increase pleasure, learn the basics of erotic communication, and become more connected to one another. All through dynamic, body-centered coaching sessions. Go to the show notes or karen-yates.com to schedule your free consultation with me. Daylong immersions are available as well for out-of-town visitors. Now, let's return to my interview with Shanna Farabaugh.
In this half, we talk about disability justice, and the complexities of working with organizations that serve people within intellectual and developmental disabilities.
I remember from the class I took with you, I think one of the very first things you had us do was consider the very strong potential, that we would not be able to have sex the way we used to have sex, or the way that we have sex now. Because I think everyone was able-bodied in the class at the time. And then we had to write about the feelings that came up when you said that. I think this is what happened. And I remember really not liking that question. And it—
Shauna Farabaugh: I love to hear you say that!
Karen Yates: What it brought up was this, like, la la la assumption, like, everything's gonna go on just fine, I'm gonna continue to have great sex the rest of my life, I'm never gonna get injured, I'm never gonna do this, I'm never going to do this, I'm never going to have some sort of something in my life happen that's going to affect me bodily, mentally, whatever. And that was the start of some wedge getting stuck into my brain about my privileged assumption, my ableist privilege, mind — naive. Not just ableist, just kind of naive. And I really liked that we started this conversation with the beginning point of your work is really around how sexuality changes through life. And that can mean anything. So what happens to you — do clients come to you after being able bodied? Do you have a certain amount of clients that come to you after having been through some, say, traumatic injury, or some sort of situation where they are no longer having sex in a way that they wanted to? Do you work with people one on one? And what does that look like?
Shauna Farabaugh: Yeah, great question. Well, I'm also going to throw out, you know, I prefer when I talk about folks who don't identify as disabled as nondisabled, just because what does able-bodied actually mean? You know, I think all of our bodies have various ableness on any given day or moment. So just to throw that out there.
Yeah, I think quite a few of my clients, because it's what I've focused on in my practice, you know, are coming because something's changed. And again, with that, like really inclusive lens about how that might not be disability or illness. So it's fun to answer this question with a fellow somatic sex educator, right? Because I don't know if you have this experience, Karen, but when people are like, well, what does a session look like? And I'm always like, what the fuck am I gonna say? I mean, every session looks different. I mean, I've been doing somatic sex education since 2013. I still hate the question. I do not — I never know how to answer it. What does a session look like? I just keep repeating, I guess what's really important to me on this conversation today, is that I use the tools of somatic sex education that I use with with all of my clients, right? Because what we're really doing in somatic sex education is we're educators. And we're offering these tools to deepen your embodiment, to deepen your connection to your body, to build that relationship, to connect to your desire, what is it that actually feels good to you to orient towards pleasure, and to build the capacity to be able to express and navigate and communicate and negotiate that with other people. And those are my primary tools. And I use those tools with all my clients, honestly, regardless of what it is that they're coming in for. Because I guess, and that's where it comes down to this like universal piece of it. You know, and when you were remembering that exercise we did on the first day of class all those years ago, last year 2000 — yeah, it was 2021, SIECUS, which is a sex education organization here in the United States, SIECUS released this report, I think it's like a comprehensive report on sex ed for youth with disabilities. It's a great report, you can find it online in general. But one of my favorite quotes in that report, at one point they named that, you know, one in five folks in the US will have a disability at some point in their lifetime. And then they go on to say, but like, if we take into account chronic pain, aging, and illness — this is the cool part, it's my favorite part — this makes sex with disability a near universal experience. Right? And it's just like, that's what we're talking about.
Karen Yates: Thank you for that. Exactly. Because that was just — that was kind of seeping into my brain. I'm like, this is a foregone conclusion.
Shauna Farabaugh: And the thing that I guess I would say, for the clients that I work with who are coming in because their sexuality has been impacted, typically around illness or injury or disability — I mean, a frame that I often bring in is like, I believe that it's possible that on the other side of like, this transition that has happened. Right, something's happened to your body, something's happened to your eroticism. So what if this is an opportunity, especially if they're coming right for some sex education? Because let's be honest, most of us got zero or shitty sex ed from the beginning. So like, maybe what brought you to this moment is not something you would have chosen. It might be really painful, and there might be a lot of grief involved. But on the other side, you could have a better sex life than you ever had before. It's gonna be different, right? I mean, it can be really interesting. Oftentimes, one thing I do know that comes up in my body that's different when I'm working with folks with illness or disability is that I share these general principles, that to me are basic sex ed. And I often feel like I have to add, I am not just saying this because we're navigating illness or disability. You know, when I think of like, sex ed 101, it's like, let's expand our definition of sex. It is not just intercourse! Like, how many different ways can we have sex with ourselves or other people? And you know, if you say that to someone who's lost access to intercourse, and really liked intercourse, you know, I always want to be careful to say, like, I'm not blowing smoke up your ass. This is where I start with everyone, right? Because to me, that's foundational sex education.
Karen Yates: Oh, my God — well, I mean, you're preaching to the choir here, but I will, of course — but I'm gonna say, I just literally talked to JoJo Bear about this a couple of days ago. Because this is it. I mean, honestly, this is it, which is, get the fucking focus off the genitals! Like, sex is a whole-body experience. And it can be about the top of your skull. It can be about your ears. It can be about your fingers or your toes, or whatever, your left butt cheek. It's not just about that triangle between your legs, you know? And I hear you. Yes, it's like, can we build a more expansive view of sexuality? And of course, this goes hand in hand with the disability conversation we're having. And I hear you. Yeah, like, yes, you may have a better sex life. So, I want to talk to you about this. Because it's something that I think about. How difficult do you see it taking clients to move from the triangle between the legs to the expansive? Moving their brain, because of course this is — even though we're talking somatically, and we work somatically, it is a shift in perception. For you, working with folks, what is that process of like, aha.
That's a really good question, Karen. It's a really good question. I mean... [laughs] Yeah, I wish I had like, The Answer. Yeah. I mean, you know, what I'm noticing when you ask the question is that it's so individual. And I mean, that feels like, and I want to name like, that's not a copout. I mean, I feel embarrassed to give that as the answer. Like, I wish I had something else to say. But I actually think naming that is actually like, essential to what — I think it's what I'm learning about sex. It's what I'm learning about accessibility. I think it's really connected to just like, accepting how our bodies are and what they do in any given moment. It's like, everybody's process is different. And everybody takes a different amount of time. And there, there's a different way to get it to click. I know, for myself that I have to hold, I have to be really careful with not, like, overwhelming myself with responsibility as the educator. I mean, it is my responsibility to try to support them in different ways until something clicks. It's funny, I'm just noticing, as I'm giving this answer, because I think partially, like, I think there's some things shifting for me, like into what I'm philosophically grounding into. And I think what I'm seeing right now is like, really where I'm landing, and I think I'm just not 100% comfortable there, which is like, I mean, what happens in the world if we just accept that all of us are a little bit different? There isn't a formula for anybody. There isn't one right answer for anybody. And so then, if that's true, can we just get curious about each other? Can we get curious about ourselves? And can we learn skills as educators, as lovers, as friends, as coworkers? I mean, how do we navigate a world where everybody needs something a little bit different? And you know, there are ways that I think about that when I'm so overwhelmed and think that's impossible. And I think that what's happening for me is, I think that's just becoming really clear to me that that's what's true. And a lot of that is coming through a lot of my disability work. My work is all in sexuality, but I'm like, Just learning so much about disability justice and disability rights. And so much of sexuality is also relational. And so in particular, you know, I do a lot of work with folks in the intellectual and developmental disability community.
Yeah, I'd love to hear a little bit more about this. Yeah.
Shauna Farabaugh: Yeah. I mean, what I am seeing over and over, you know, I mean, I came to that work in terms of sexuality, which then very quickly became clear — I mean, really, sexuality is about relationship. Folks with disabilities — like, pan-disability, we still culturally have a real problem with isolation and separation and othering. And I think folks with IDD, or intellectual and developmental disabilities, you know, I think that community in really significant ways is really segregated, kept apart, and that causes a lot of harm relationally. You know, people don't have social connection, and we need relationships, you know, neurobiologically as humans, we need friends. And we, many or most, somatic sex educator tool, right — some, many, most — most of us also want romantic or sexual or partnership-type connection. And then you know, the more time I get to spend working with the community also, it's just there's, there's so much compliance. Like, folks are taught how to behave, and how to just make life easier on their caregivers or their service providers. And I mean this with no disrespect. I mean, so many, I'm so grateful, incredible service providers, amazing family. But like, there's a cultural shift that needs to happen, right, where again, it comes down to like, agency, and choice and voice. And for me, like from the beginning, as a sexuality professional, I always joked, everything I learned about sex, I was like, yes, in sex, but more importantly for me, and all the other aspects of my life. You know, like, whether it's pleasure or consent, you know, the place where I see the juice, and I've always enjoyed practicing it, is outside of the bedroom, or whatever room you choose to fuck in. Yeah. And so, you know, I'm just seeing more and more, it's like, what does it really mean to support people? And what it's really about is like, what do individual people need? And while I see that, and I think I'm learning a lot in my work — again, this overlap of disability and how it's actually about all of us, you know, I'm learning in some really intense ways in this community where things that are a little bit more stark. But the reality is, all of us have individual needs, you know? And what would happen if that was actually how we got to engage with each other? What do you need in the workplace? What makes work pleasurable for you? How many hours a day can you actually work? Right? I mean, these are like, very cultural shifting things, but they feel really important to me. [laughs] I'm enjoying a little shoulder squiggle.
Karen Yates: I know, — folks, you should see me on the video, because I feel like I'm a meme. I'm a meme right now. Like, yeah, I mean, I want to swing back to the IDD conversation, because you hit on something that's really important here, which is, if you're teaching a population to be compliant, how do you then teach consent? And saying no? And how do — I don't want to do that. And, wow. And so I assume that's part of the culture shift that has to happen. How do you see that happening for people with IDD? How is consent taught? Is it taught?
Shauna Farabaugh: Yeah, yeah. It's a great question. I mean, I would say, broadly speaking, to kind of the dominant approaches, things that are happening within the community, I mean, they're not consent-focused, right? And like, what you just named is that, you know, unfortunately, there is so much of this kind of compliance training, and it's exactly what you just named. And that's what like, I'm super grateful, like, I have the amazing opportunity to get to go into disability service organizations, or offer courses for parents. And where I get to say, it's impossible. It's completely unfair — like, if someone has not been given the opportunity to make choices, or to express preference, or they've been taught compliance for their entire lives, it's completely unfair, we can't say that this person, they're not able to consent, right? And so then we're like, oh — and oftentimes, you know, and this comes to like, you know, we both approach the work somatically, because we know if you have all this lived experience, you can't just say to someone, well, this is how to say no, and this is how to say yes, and go. It doesn't work that way. It doesn't work that way. So something I'm really passionate about, and really grateful for every opportunity I've had. I've actually created some curriculum for service providers and family members of folks with IDD. Based on Betty Martin's work. I know you've had her on the show. Because again, that's where and that's where it comes back to like, what's been for me, like, everything I learned about sex. I was like, How about outside of sex? I mean, the wWheel of Consent for me is paradigm shifting, more outside of my sexual life than even inside. And so to just really give folks that frame to understand, like, when we're having these conversations with people, like, just to learn to recognize where are the opportunities to practice consent? So that's been really awesome, for sure.
Karen Yates: So is there anything else you want to say about working with organizations, or with people around intellectual and developmental disabilities?
Shauna Farabaugh: Yeah, the one piece I want to add — when we're talking about consent, like, the ability to consent, like for folks with IDD, I want to name, when folks don't have access to that ability, that is because of systemic and cultural oppression. So and that's why I named — you know, I get very excited about getting to do trainings for service providers and family members. It's really important to me in IDD that we want to focus on the individual, right? And like, what's their choice? What's their agency like? What is it that they want and need? But as an educator, as a person who wants to change the way things have been historically, you know, if I am only offering education or classes or coaching to folks with IDD, and I basically help them unlearn compliance that is not their fault, that it's what they learned anyway — if all the folks around them are still refusing to see them as folks who can consent or have agency, then we're not getting anywhere. So I like to name that I've chosen to focus that piece of the work in offering trainings to service providers and parents. You know, I'm doing that acknowledging that it's because we're in a system of oppression. And so if I don't shift where that lens is coming from, then we would be putting an unfair burden on folks with disabilities themselves to me to be like, go self-advocate! If no one in their life is going to support that.
Karen Yates: That's great. Thank you for saying that. Really critical that the whole system has to move along. It's reminiscent, I think, to me of everything that's happening now in the world, say around Black Lives Matter, say, with white people having to look at their own racism and white supremacy and dismantle that. We all have to be in these systemic changes together. It can't be about just the people, the populations that are being oppressed. It's like, the oppressors have to get on board with everything for things to move.
Shauna Farabaugh: Yeah. For myself, as a person who does not identify as intellectually or developmentally disabled, I get to do the work with other folks who do not have IDD to shift the conversation, or take on that responsibility. Those of us with privilege shifting the views of other folks with privilege.
Karen Yates: Yeah, yeah. So as we wrap up, what are some resources? We will have the link to your website, which has a lot of resources. But what are some good sites for people to take a look at, awesome books?
Shauna Farabaugh: Oh, my gosh,
Karen Yates: I'm thinking of Tuppy Owens's book
Shauna Farabaugh: Yeah, for sure. For any kind of service provider really, but certainly sexuality professionals who want to do some work around making their work more inclusive and understanding disability, I certainly recommend Tuppy Owens. What is that book called?
Karen Yates: Making Sex Accessible for Everybody? Is it that simple?
Shauna Farabaugh: No, it's definitely not that. It's a really boring title. [laughs] We'll look it up.
Karen Yates: Yeah, I just got it. Tuppy Owens, "Supporting Disabled People with Their Sexual Lives: A Clear Guide for Health and Social Care pProfessionals."
Shauna Farabaugh: Awesome. See, I told you — I was like, it's a long boring title.
Karen Yates: But it is an excellent — it's a game-changer book, folks. Tuppy Owens is an English writer. I think she's probably in her 80s now.
Shauna Farabaugh: Oh, I'm glad to hear that you appreciate it. I really, I mean, there's other great books, you know, inclusive kind of sex and disability books. Tuppy's book is just like concise and clear. So I love that one. Yeah, I love to refer people to a book called "Supporting Transgender Autistic Youth and Adults" by Finn Gratton. Finn is a psychotherapist here in the Bay Area. I highly recommend that book. I love, from the perspective of like sex educators with disabilities, I love to refer people to Eva Sweeney. Eva is a queer sex educator who does not use speech to communicate. Love Eva's work, want people to know about that. So Eva's website is crippingupsexwitheva.com.
I have found in my work some good sex ed resources for folks with intellectual and developmental disabilities that I've really appreciated referring to folks. Because I think many folks just feel like they don't know where to go. So I would recommend that folks go to my website, because I have a number of resources there. And you know, I think really important just shout out to learning about disability justice is way beyond the sex and disability conversation, but refer people to Sins Invalid and the many folks connected to Sins Invalid, the books that have been written, the resources created. Follow Sins Invalid. All hail Sins Invalid. Pretty amazing. And I just, you know, just to share the book that I read most recently, I actually just read it last week. It's called "Unmasking Autism" by Devin Price. It's really exciting. It talks a lot about — "Discovering the New Faces of Neurodiversity" is the subtitle. Yeah, some really great stuff in there.
Karen Yates: Shauna, this has been a delicious conversation. Thank you so much for this conversation.
Shauna Farabaugh: Oh, you're welcome, Karen. Thanks for having me.
Karen Yates: For more information on Shauna Farabaugh and the many books and organizations we named in this episode, go to our show notes. Shauna will soon be launching a program with Kathy Ruiz Carter on reclaiming one's sexuality after being diagnosed with lichen sclerosus. Wild & Sublime is supported in part by our Sublime Supporter, Full Color Life Therapy, therapy for all of you at fullcolorlifetherapy.com.
Well, that's it folks. Have a very pleasurable week. Thank you for listening. If you know someone who might be interested in this episode, send it to them. Do you like what you heard? Then give us a nice review on your podcast app. You can follow us on social media @wildandsublime and sign up for newsletters at wildandsublime.com. I'd like to thank associate producer Julia Williams and design guru Jean-Francois Gervais. Theme Music by David Ben-Porat. This episode was edited by The Creative Imposter studios. Our media sponsor is Rebellious Magazine, feminist media, at rebelliousmagazine.com.
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- Shauna Farabaugh – Sexuality in Transition
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- Crippingupsexwitheva.com – Eva Sweeney, queer sex educator
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