As we said last week, Jo and Ross are saying goodbye to Doin’ It Well this week. This has been an incredible six years for all the authors of Doin’ It Well, and we have been blessed with the opportunity to deliver weekly sex education through the Buzz and the217.com. After almost seven years, we are tired, and we are excited about the budding sex educators and columnists who might write the next great sex column. In our final column, we wanted to take a moment to reflect and offer some unsolicited advice for aspiring sex columnists.
Filling a Hole
When Doin’ It Well first set out, the authors made a few decisions. First, we would not use the column as a way to sensationalize sex. Sex sells just fine on its own; we wanted to open up a dialogue on sex and the even stickier topic sexuality. Second, we would provide medically accurate sex information in a sex positive way. Kim Rice and Jo Sanger both felt strongly that because there is so little “good” sexual health information out there and because people very often get mixed messages about sex, our column should be easy to understand. Third, we would provide a space to think about the many different ways to think about and enjoy sex in our society. This was our niche.
When you’re writing your own sex column, it’s up to you to figure out the voice that is absent – that can become your column’s voice! This could mean voicing your own personal experiences around sexuality explicitly, or using your own experiences to help shape the discussion generally. Doin’ It Well decided we weren’t going to use our own sex lives as examples; however we also know that many authors are able to incorporate frank conversations about their own sexual experiences in a very educational and supportive way.
Medically Accurate Sex Education
You don’t have to be a professional in the field of sexuality or violence prevention to write a good advice column or blog. But, make sure your information is accurate, which can be difficult in the ever changing world of medical and social science. This can require quite a bit of research and staying current in the field. Double check your facts to be sure you don’t unintentionally contribute to the wealth of misinformation that is out there about sex. (Like the time when Doin’ It Well misprinted the name of former Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders twice.) If you use something off another person’s blog or website, be sure to give them a shout out and credit knowing you went to the experts to provide your readers with accurate information.
Writing a sex column also means a responsibility with your readers. We received serious questions from readers dealing with everything from size-discrimination to STD-diagnosis. However you write, know that your readers will be looking for themselves and their sexuality in your writing. If you’re hoping to reach lots of people, it means using language that’s inclusive and tolerant of many different sexualities, genders, and sexual behaviors.
Often, people think being sex positive means “anything goes as long as there’s consenting adults.” But sometimes, the “anything goes” mentality only sexually liberates some, while putting down others. We decided to take a strong feminist stance with our column, frequently examining issues of fairness and access; that doesn’t have to be your angle. Just keep it happy and healthy for everyone, not just some.
At the same time, take care when writing columns about populations or behaviors you are either not familiar with or not a member of. For example, people really liked our column on furries or when Ross visited a bath house in Chicago, but we spent a lot of time making sure that we weren’t sensationalizing sexual behaviors for entertainment purposes. In sex columns, there is a fine line between exposing readers to new things and presenting individuals or behaviors as a “freak show.”
The Answer is Always Communication
Some people may shy away from writing a sex column because they don’t like to write. We’ve learned that: 1) outlines help and 2) simple is better. Whenever we got stuck we’d reframe our approach by relaxing and asking ourselves, “What do we want people to know about this topic?” Then we’d write down three to four key points to cover and bam! If you are passionate about sexuality and feel you have something to share, the writing will unfold on its own. As we found, writing with a partner can expand your column’s perspectives and also help balance the writing load.
Commonly, we would be asked, “How do you decide what to write about?” It can be as easy as asking friends or family what questions they have or have heard. Or frequently, just telling people you write a sex column can create a great conversation starter! Keep a record of questions you keep hearing or topics you hear people talking about. When you get a good personal question, ask if you could write a column about it. Nothing is worse than feeling like you’ve unintentionally breached someone’s confidence by writing about their intimate question.
We found that we sometimes would balance our “mechanical” columns with our “philosophical” columns. So we’d balance our column on sex-shaming language with a column on hand jobs later. This gives your readers and your writing a nice break from struggling with the hard stuff, so you can get back to basics.
Jo uses a pseudonym, but Ross doesn’t. What we each found is that when our professional networks knew about our authorship of the column, we were viewed as a liability to those around us. In fact, this pressure was what drove Kim Rice to discontinue co-authoring the column. When you’re thinking about writing, consider what the implications might be in your personal and professional settings.
This is simple, right? Writing about sex is innately fun, right? Most of the time, definitely. But sometimes writing about sex is only as fun as you make it. Writing can be thankless; it can be difficult to know how or if people are reading. As you’re writing your column, have fun. Explore issues and areas that you’re curious about. Delve with wit and intelligence into the void. Most of all, enjoy yourself.
Doin’ It Well owes our success to all of you. Thank you to our editors and staff at the Buzz and the217.com who took a risk on hiring non-students to write a weekly sex column in a campus community magazine. Thank you to all of our illustrators who rose to the challenge of illustrating our writing. Thank you to Kate Ruin and Kim Rice, the original authors of Doin’ It Well, who gave this column the shape and spirit that it has today. Thank you to all of our readers, including those who gave us questions, topics, or suggestions. We were constantly inspired by the individuals who let us know that they were faithful readers! Doin’ It Well would have been just “doing it okay” without all of your support, reading, and feedback. You stay sexy, Champaign-Urbana.
Sex 411: Sex Resources We Love
Jo and Ross can be reached at email@example.com. Become our fan on Facebook (Doin’ It Well), and look for us to post our favorite columns of the past seven years!