In the anthology Live Through This, a collection of stories about the connection between creativity and self-destruction, bisexual sex educator Carol Queen recounts the unsatisfying experience of losing her virginity to one of her school’s “most popular guys.”
It was the early 1970s, and afterward, in a panic that she might be pregnant, the 15-year-old Queen considered her options: abortion, which was illegal; adoption, but then “that baby lived in the world with you to haunt you forever”; have her parents raise the child, which made her want to “perish the thought”; or suicide.
With that last option in mind, Queen sat down to write a suicide note, “but for once no words came.” The struggle to articulate herself in that desperate moment, Queen writes, ultimately inspired her to become a writer, feminist sex educator and advocate.
At the end of the essay, Queen thanks the boy for inadvertently showing her the importance of understanding one’s sexuality, and then her adolescent self for choosing writing over death: “The Carol who turned herself into a whole person through the little scratches of pen on paper, finally found a way to escape and make her long thoughts count for something.”
(…) Queen did not pursue sexology as an academic specialty until she was in her late 20s, during the AIDS epidemic. It was the mid-1980s, and as a graduate student she started getting involved with a local HIV advocacy and education program.
“All of the sudden a sexual focus was not dilettantish,” she wrote, “it was life or death, and actually dovetailed better with my interest in sociology.” She soon moved to San Francisco for the sexology program at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality.
“All of it, not just the academic work, influenced the kind of sexologist I became: what I call a ‘cultural sexologist’ to differentiate myself and my sociology-inflected focus. The entire city was my classroom.”
The city ended up serving as a classroom for Queen both as a student and as a teacher. As the Staff Sexologist at Good Vibrations, San Francisco’s largest and longest-running sex toy retailer “from a woman’s perspective,” Queen runs the education program and has trained other sex educators, including Violet Blue, Charlie Glickman and Staci Haines.
Queen’s involvement in Good Vibrations led her to start San Francisco’s Center for Sex & Culture with her partner, Dr. Robert Morgan Lawrence. Though the workshops and classes at the Center are similar to those she runs at Good Vibrations, they also offer academic lectures and couple-based “live action” workshops.
“Robert and I started the Center partly because of these limitations at Good Vibrations and most other places,” she explained. “We wanted someplace where all modes of sex education would be respected and have their place.” (…read more!)