Amy Jo Goddard is a one-woman tour de force, bent on destroying old sexual ideas and educating people on sex positivity and empowerment. As a feminist educator, she travels across the country teaching colleges, classes, and workshops, training and coaching those who are looking to harness their own sexuality and enhance their lives. She is especially drawn to helping people examine age-old stereotypes about gender, race, and disability and unlearn the harmful myths that our society often carries around and attaches to sexuality. She is a firm believer in aiming for everyone to achieve a healthy sexuality in non-violent, intimate relationships as a means of changing the world, one happy, orgasmic person at a time. Without further adieu, please welcome to Persephone, the fabulous, the kick-ass, Amy Jo Goddard.
Persephone Magazine: You’re a self-described sexuality educator and coach, committed to helping people evolve and nurture their sexuality. Can you talk more about this work, what your goals are for everyone you connect with, and why it’s important to have these connections to our sexual selves?
Amy Jo Goddard: My goal is to help people live more fulfilling, sexually empowered, pleasurable lives in relationships that serve their highest good. I believe that a person who is connected and powerful sexually and in their relationships is powerful in the world. The more we learn to connect to our sexual selves, create the sexual lives and relationships we want, and have more pleasure, the more we are pursuing our right to happiness, our dreams, and our creative expression in the world. If all of us had this, I really truly believe war would not exist. Why would it need to? We are so out of balance sexually, and it spreads into other aspects of our lives and how we wield our power. Power in and power with, not power over – that’s what I’d like to see. I think our sexuality is fundamental to our happiness and wellbeing. I also do not see sexuality as sex. Sex is a part of it, but sexuality is our own well of energy and power! I love to teach people about that.
PM: What are the teaching situations like as far as your typical audience goes? How does it change from one setting to the next?
AJG: I spent years working with youths, and now my focus is college students and adults. I have presented to nearly every type of audience under the sun, but I can say a few things about who finds me. I think people who identify as queer and as feminist will resonate with my message, although I work with people of all sexual orientations. I am very out as a queer person, and so by nature, people who are in touch with their own queerness, or those who want to GET in touch with it, will be drawn to me. My work is very feminist, and so I work with a lot of women and men who are either feminists themselves or who want to learn more about how feminism and sexism affect them. The people who come to my workshops are going to be people who are open to learning about sex and talking about it, or who want to learn to talk about it better! They value it as an important part of their lives.
PM: Okay, but we all want to know here is, how did you get such an awesome gig?
AJG: I worked for it. I had a vision, and I set out to gain the skills and knowledge required to meet that vision. I did my own deep sexual work on myself, which is really key to being able to work with other people about their sexuality and relationships. I decided to go to graduate school for a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality Education. I wanted to dive into it and study it with other people who really care about and are passionate about sexuality. I did my stints in the non-profit world, and I did a lot of work for youth organizations and in schools. I met every goal I had for my work, and I continue to expand that vision of how to best serve the world with my experience, skills, and knowledge. I also have been totally blessed to have incredible mentors. They have helped mold me, and each one has profoundly affected how I approach my work in some way. I am co-creating my life. We all do. I like to work with people to help them learn how to do that. It starts with a clear vision.
PM: What are the building blocks you are giving your students? What are the most common things they are learning from your classes? What are the most common setbacks you witness with your students?
AJG: I work to help people see how sexuality benefits their lives and their growth, the areas they need to work on, and then, to build the skills to meet their vision. I help people gain the knowledge they need to have fulfilling sexual lives, and how to develop their intimacy muscles, their sex muscles, and the way they express their power.
When people are changing – and in sexuality and intimacy, these can be very BIG changes – there are always setbacks. Any change is hard. I support my clients and students in their action towards change and creating more of the life they want. I encourage people to create a sexual practice. They might fall off in their sexual practice or in the way they show up in their relationships. They might engage in defense mechanisms that don’t serve them. It’s hard work! But it is very fulfilling. I love helping people with these aspects of themselves. I love to help them feel more powerful in their bodies and to have more pleasure. Sometimes they feel guilty though, and they think they don’t deserve it. Lots of things get in the way for people.
It’s just such a blessing to be a part of people’s lives in such an intimate way, to help them have break-throughs and big “Ah-ha” moments, as well as the development of the baby steps. We all have those, where something clicks and we lock it in and come into ourselves in a more powerful way. I love that.
PM: What do you think the biggest misconception is that people might have about sex or their own sexual skills?
AJG: I think the biggest misconception is the idea that our sexuality should come naturally and that we should all just KNOW what to do! That’s total bullshit. None of us know what to do. If we lacked comprehensive sex education, as most of us do, then we might spend years feeling around in the dark, trying to figure out how to have orgasms, how to please our partners, how to communicate, how to protect ourselves, how to get our needs met, and so on. Many people don’t seek out education on their own, so they end up spending huge chunks of their lives feeling unfulfilled or like something is missing in their sexuality and relationships.
Sex is a skill, and just like anything else, people have to work to get good at it! There are so many skills required for our sexual lives and our relationships. You have to want to learn and to practice to get good at those skills. I just wrote a blog post about this called “Sex is a Skill.” Check it out at www.amyjogoddard.com.
PM: This year has not been the most fabulous for sex-positivity, whether it’s slut-shaming rape victims in the New York Times or the constant assault on reproductive rights. What are some things that you do or encourage people to do to stay sane in these chaotic times? How do we get this country to start talking about sex positivity instead of repeating the same old witch-hunts?
AJG: Have more orgasms. Work on communicating better. Refuse to engage in tearing each other down because of one another’s sexuality or sexual expression. In our culture, it’s very typical for people to shame one another for their sexuality. We see it on television, and we do it in our lives.
I was working with some teens last Friday who said “slut” and “ho” weren’t great slang terms to call each other – unless you “deserve it.” You better believe it’s always about females when those shaming words are used. I asked them, “How do you know if someone deserves it?” Basically, we set our bar about the sexual behavior of others and what is appropriate based on what WE personally would do. There is no golden standard of behavior, but we like to act like there is. Some of the girls really understood by the end of the workshop that you never know where someone is coming from and why their behavior is what it is. But they are seeing that on the news and in the media. We love a good sex scandal. It gives people cultural currency when they can take someone down with sexual mores. We aren’t going to change that. Sex always sells.
What we can do is to talk about sexuality in a healthy way and work on our own values and judgments about it. I work with people on identifying these things all the time. When we need to put someone else down sexually to feel good about ourselves, we are not sexually empowered. That’s just not empowerment.
As far as reproductive justice, we need to continue to speak out and show up. They have been working to dismantle our rights for my whole adult life. I was in college during Bush Sr.’s presidency, and it was going on then. We have to keep it front and center. It’s essential. But keep having pleasure without apology. That’s good energy to be putting into the world. Dedicate your orgasms.
PM: In your time as an educator and coach, how has the fluid changing of gender been incorporated into your teaching? Is it still taught in a binary fashion, or do you incorporate sexual teaching for people who identify as gender queer or trans?
AJG: I have always educated about trans issues and challenged the gender binary in my work. There are hundreds of genders and many sexes. For many years, I went into public schools in NYC as an educator and trainer and came out as queer. We trained on LGBT stuff with students, teachers, and administrators. These issues are not new, but the identities are changing all the time, and we are learning new things. Gender is fascinating that way.
I work with everyone as a coach. I love to help queer people with issues surrounding their identities, and most of my workshops are open to anyone. I do offer a women’s program. Anyone who identifies as a woman can be a part of it. It’s not my job to identify someone’s gender, it’s their’s. I have a long history of being a part of women’s communities, and I believe they are incredibly valuable. There is a place for them still, and there are important reasons for women to have a space in which to explore their sexuality with other women. That in no way means I see gender as a binary. Gender is complex! I love it for that complexity.
PM: How do you factor the issue of sexual violence into your teaching?
AJG: Addressing sexual violence is important, but it’s not the whole of what I do. It will come up if I work with any group for any real period of time, and sometimes it comes up right away. It’s critical to address violence, and it’s also extremely important that conversations about violence do not eclipse conversations about pleasure and all of the good stuff about sex. We need to address both. Carole Vance wrote an amazing piece about this in the early ’80s, the opening essay to “Pleasure and Danger.” I think that piece is still relevant today.
We also have to expand our ideas of violence prevention. Talking about creating a more sex-positive, feminist culture is violence prevention. I lecture on that topic. Empowering people in their sexual selves, helping them identify their desires, and teaching them how to communicate those desires is violence prevention, too. Many things contribute to sexual violence. Ignorance is a big one. Knowledge and skills can be protective factors for violence, because they are the antidote to ignorance.
PM: You have a class coming up on May 17, 24 & 31 in New York City called “Erotic Authenticity: How to Connect With Your Sexual Self and Be More Powerful.” What are lessons you will be focusing on for participants?
AJG: We will do a lot! Many of the things I’ve talked about here will be addressed. On the first night I will be talking about my own model of sexuality for the first time publicly! I’ve been working on it for a while, and it is seriously needed. To my knowledge, there is not a model of sexuality that I believe really encapsulates what sexuality is and how we can use it to create more powerful lives. We’ll lay a lot of groundwork and how people can use this framework to develop their sexual selves. The second night is about creating a vision of our own sexual agency, energy, and power, and we’ll work on some tools for making that happen. We’ll do some work on strengthening and releasing the sexual chakra as well. And on the third night, we’ll dive into working on our Wild Woman and how we want to express her. I do a lot of work on sexual archetypes, and many women are very drawn to her. We all have a Wild Woman, and she will be invited to play that night. We’ll also do work to develop a sexual practice and to bring more ritual and intention to our sexuality.
This is the first time I am offering a class on Erotic Authenticity, and I am super excited about it. As in all of my work, I’ll use many teaching modalities, and the work is very interactive and experiential when possible. There is a whole description of each night at http://eroticauthenticity.eventbrite.com. I wish I would have had somewhere to take classes like this when I was really looking to do deeper work on my sexual self. I hope women will take advantage of it, because it’s pretty unique work.
PM: To swerve away from your teaching for a second (but not too far), you are also the director of the documentary At Your Cervix, a film that explores the way that medical students are taught to give pelvic exams, often on unconsenting, anaesthetized women, and how deeply it connects to the reality of being on the other end. What inspired you to make this documentary, and why is it so important for this to be full-on public knowledge?
AJG: I have worked as a Gynecological Teaching Associate for the last 10 years at some of the top medical schools in the world here in NYC. We teach with our own bodies, and our model is very feminist, which I think is astonishing, given how conservative medical schools are. But they love us. They love what we do, and they know it’s really important. It became evident to me and some of my colleagues that this story needed to be told. People need to know the story of the GTAs and the impact we’ve had on medicine.
The alternatives to what we do are extremely unethical, so the film will be a call to action to end the egregious practices that use non-consenting women for the benefit of education. We want to end the use of anesthetized women, and we also really question that students are in any way expected to be a part of the medical education of their peers when it comes to breast and pelvic exams. There are so many issues about privacy, power, and consent that need to be examined. We want to help patients know how to better advocate for themselves and help medical and nursing students not to feel that they have to engage in unethical practices because there is no dialogue about it and no support for making another choice.
PM: What do you have coming up in the future that we can so excitedly look forward to?
AJG: Besides my three-week Erotic Authenticity class, I’ll be doing my next Women’s Sexuality Empowerment Apprenticeship this fall. If people are interested, they should contact me right away, because I keep the class small and intimate.
In June, I am offering a three-day training called “The Finesse of Facilitation.” I taught facilitation skills for years to professionals, and I’m offering this class for the first time to the community, so anyone who wants to develop their presentation and facilitation skills is welcome. I’m good at what I do, and I really enjoy working with people on their leadership skills. This class will apply to any topic people want to teach workshops about. People can get information and register at http://finesseoffacilitation.eventbrite.com.
I’m working on some writing projects and have a number of projects in development. Look for more videos on my website soon and a podcast I just recorded with one of my mentors and favorite educators, Betty Dodson. I’ll be doing more media and making more of my work accessible via teleclasses, webinairs, and downloads. I am also developing some couples work that I hope to launch sometime next year.
If individuals or couples want to work with me as a coach, or if people want me to come to their communities or their college or university, they should contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am booking for the summer and fall now. I travel a good deal, so get in touch! The best way to stay connected is to join my EZine for free articles, sexuality assignments, and updates on where I’ll be/ I teach lots of classes locally in NYC, so people can often catch me here. This weekend I am in Providence and Cape Cod. I hope to see some of your readers very soon!
To check out more on Amy Jo’s awesome coaching , check her out at amyjogoddard.com