In keeping with Beltane’s sexy vibes, I’m so excited to share today’s Tending the Hedge feature! For new readers, I began the series in 2020 as a way to highlight inspiring individuals I know who engage in a practice of “magical stewardship,” living and working with intention, exploring themes of mutual aid and rejecting a mindset of competition and scarcity culture. I was so inspired by the myriad ways in which folks are tending the hedges of their own communities, so to speak— we talked about things like sustainability and stewardship, body positivity and social activism, spirituality and disability awareness, and staying true to oneself in a world that is full of “should’s.”
Today’s featured magic maker is Erica Smith, an award-winning sex educator with over 20 years of experience. With a BA in Women’s Studies from Penn State University and a Master of Education from Widener University’s Center for Human Sexuality Studies, Erica approaches her education and consulting services through the lens of social justice. In addition to her “Purity Culture Dropout” program, Erica’s “areas of expertise are LGBTQ+ issues, adolescent sexuality, adolescent sexual health, LGBTQ+ youth, the sexual health needs of justice-involved youth, and comprehensive sexuality education for folks raised in purity culture.”
With currently only 13 states in America requiring that sex education be medically accurate [source], providers like Erica offer critically important services. Here she shares thoughts on the radical act of prioritizing ones own pleasure, and how she just might be a witch after all…
What are your pronouns and what is your sign?
My pronouns are she/her. I’m a Virgo sun, Libra rising, and Sag moon.
Are you a witch? If so, what does that word mean to you?
I truly love the word “witch.” However, this question gives me a bit of anxiety, I admit! I feel like I’d be a poser if I called myself a witch because I don’t really intentionally engage with many spiritual practices- which I guess in my mind is what a witch is. However, a wise witchy friend once pointed out that I am, indeed, a witch because I’m a woman who creates healing and makes magic in people’s lives, especially in such a taboo area. I’ve been called a witch by others who thought they were insulting me (nice try)! My aesthetic has also always been deeply witchy, especially now as I embrace aging and gray hair. So yeah, if “witch” can include a not-always-deeply-spiritual queer femme who facilitates sexual healing in others, I’m happy to call myself a witch!
What drew you to your work? Why is it important?
Even from a young age, I could see that sexuality was a huge part of our lives and a topic that society seemed to be obsessed with, yet people were so weird when it came to actually talking about it. And even as a child, I had a social justice orientation to the world around me. When I was an undergraduate women’s studies major, I loved the classes that were about sexuality and reproductive health. My first job was in abortion care. That was the first time I truly saw how access to honest, shame free, accurate information about sex could be life changing and was an important tenet of true equality.
Since then, my sexuality education work has focused on people who need it the most: young women and queer and trans youth in the juvenile justice system, and now, people who grew up in purity culture. Anytime someone has been denied information about their own sexuality, bodies, and how that all fits in the context of the world around them, providing them with that information is healing, transformative, empowering, and honestly, magical.
How can others engage with this work and tend the hedge in their own communities?
I love this question! You don’t have to be a sex educator to do this work. Start with working on the shame you may carry around sex and sexuality. Think about where you got critical messages about sex and where they came from. Do you agree with them? Have they influenced how you experience your own sexuality? If you have children in your life, intentionally raise them with a sex positive ethic. This means not hiding valuable information from them, letting them know that sexuality is a normal part of life, and that people are free to make their own choices when it comes to sex as long as they have everyone’s consent and aren’t hurting anyone. Speak up when you hear misinformation shared: whether that’s about queer identities, STI stigma, slut shaming, or anything else. Read sex books. Follow sex educators online- there are so many of us doing great, free work on social media! Also don’t be afraid of your own pleasure- prioritizing your own pleasure can be a radical act.
Did you enjoy this feature? Check out other magic-makers in the Tending the Hedge series!