Sex ed is having a moment on TV, thanks to the runaway success of Netflix's Sex Education. Reality, however, doesn't usually match up to its onscreen counterpart. Enter Ruby Rare – a UK-based sex educator who quit pulling pints in bars and pubs to become an advocate for sex positivity.
VICE: Hi Ruby! What did you do previously?
Before I started in sex education, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I studied English Lit and loved reading but wasn’t really academic – so none of the traditional routes out of that degree appealed to me. I am very artistic and ended up doing some painting, and working in bars and catering to pay the bills.
Why did it suck?
I’m a Londoner and ended up working in pubs near where I grew up. I loved being able to hang out with the locals, many of whom became mates. But southeast London has changed a lot since my childhood, and as the area gentrified, I found the customer base did too. Instead of the lovely locals I delighted in serving, there were increasing numbers of rich punters who didn’t know how to be nice, but felt like being “edgy” by moving to the area. I got sick of it, to be honest.
What did you switch to instead?
I’m a sex educator and sex positivity advocate. I work both for Brook, a sexual health charity, and as a solo facilitator of events and workshops on anything from non-monogamy to masturbation. I also do some illustrations, and co-run the Body Positive Sketch Club with my pal Rosy Pendlebaby, which is exactly what it sounds like – body positive life drawing classes!
Was there a lightbulb moment?
There were two clear moments that made me change course. First, I put on my first talk – about porn – and the response was so overwhelmingly positive. I’ve always been the person in any conversation who just wants the conversation to go on forever while discussing sex… As a queer, non-monogamous person, I was so used to talking openly about desire and the wide variation of sexual preferences – we tend to speak quite openly about those things in the LGBTQIA community – and I realised I could really help people to understand themselves and their bodies better. Around the same time, a friend told me Brook were hiring, and I just had to apply!
What do you love most about your job?
My job is the world’s best conversation starter! It doesn’t matter where I am – at a dinner party or among a group of total strangers – when I talk about what I do, it never fails to open up conversations. I’ll be chatting about prostate massaging and then someone will tap me on the shoulder as I leave and say, “please tell me more!” It’s so great on a personal level to hear all about people’s desires, and help them to understand and realise them. I did a workshop in Scotland last year with 15 over-60 women about masturbation and pleasure, and it was so great to create a space where they could open up about their own desires. For some of them, it was the first time they’d ever done that.
My job also allows me to embrace and celebrate exactly who I am – I don’t need to perform for anyone. I don’t have a uniform, I don’t have to look or act a certain way. As a queer, dual heritage, hairy, tattooed woman with bright pink hair, that’s rare – although I wish it wasn’t.
Are there any downsides?
Increasingly people are recognising the importance of sexual and relationship education, which is very cool, but getting financial commitment is still hard. I also have less of a distinction between “work” and “life” than I used to, given that so much of what I do is through social media. I have to be careful with boundaries and strict with myself about taking breaks.
What about reply guys and men on the Internet?
I feel really lucky – everyone who reaches out is always really nice and respectful. I feel grateful, because I know it’s not the norm for many women on social media. I mean, I’ve had the occasional unsolicited dick pic, which isn’t nice, but otherwise, I’ve had a positive experience.
That is great! Have there been any weird moments?
I once got fangirled at a sex party. The person recognised me from my Instagram and came over, and it was just one of those really weird out-of-context experiences – quite surreal.
Would you have any tips for anyone looking to explore their desire or sexuality?
On a very simple level, I would say curate your social media so you’re seeing more content that represents the diverse spectrum of sexuality and preferences. Oh and if you want to find same-sex people on dating apps, it’s better to switch your settings to just look for one gender at a time rather than mixed – just because men always seem to dominate, and you won’t get an even selection. Or come along to one of my events!
What’s the biggest misconception about sexual health do you think?
That teaching kids about sex will encourage them to be sexual at a younger age.
And your biggest wish for sex education over the next decade?
For there to be more male sex educators of all sexual proclivities. It must be one of the only industries where heterosexual men don’t dominate! And to see an increase in trans and NB visibilty when it comes to sex education. We need a diverse bunch of role models and educators to help to promote healthier views around sex for young people.
Rate your life out of 10 before, and now:
Before, I reckon I was a steady six. These days I’m a very stressed and overworked nine!
What advice would you give other people who hate their jobs?
Do something about it! Even if that “something” is just finding a hobby outside work that feeds your soul. No one should spend the majority of their time miserable, and if you’re in a position to change things, I’d say be brave! Helping yourself might ultimately help other people that could benefit from your skills – so go for it!
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.