- Words Louis Rabinowitz
- Photo Credit Sophie Cunningham
Sex and body positivity advocate and author Ruby Rare chats about her new podcast, her changing thoughts on sex positivity and her journey to bodily acceptance.
Ruby Rare has been working tirelessly as an advocate for sex education, sex positivity and bodily acceptance for years now. She has spent time working on a project for period equality at leading sexual health charity Brook, and has more recently branched out into several different strands of her own activism, influenced by her identity as a queer non-monogamous woman of dual heritage.
In 2020, she wrote the acclaimed book Sex Ed: A Guide for Adults, condensing years of her study of sex and body positivity into an accessible guide that sought to rectify what she sees as the woefully insufficient provision of sex education and awareness in UK schools.
She has also established the Body Love Sketch Club, an artistic collective focused on life drawing and other sex-positive activities, alongside friend and performer Rosy Pendlebaby. Now, she’s teamed up with Broccoli Productions to launch a new eight-part documentary podcast series, In Touch With Ruby Rare, where she explores topics from nudity to non-monogamy to gender non-conformity through a tender and compassionate lens, alongside experts in their field.
To celebrate the podcast’s launch, Notion sat down with Ruby to discuss the new podcast, her evolving thinking on gender and sex positivity and her advice to those finding their way towards bodily self-acceptance.
Why did you choose this new podcast “In Touch With Ruby Rare” to be the next step in your advocacy?
I really enjoy the intimacy that you can create in a podcast space, the fact that you’re just inside someone’s ears gives a lot of space for vulnerability and nuance. So I wanted to create a podcast series that explores a lot of topics that I get asked lots of questions about, topics that are still taboo and maybe a bit daunting to some people, and to address them in a way that was looking from within communities rather than from the outside in and felt welcoming, inquisitive, and exploratory. I also wanted to do it because I love chatting to people, and over the last two years when we’ve been stuck inside, making a podcast is a really good way of doing that!
What do you hope listeners will learn and take away from the podcast?
I hope anyone that listens gains a slightly different perspective than before they listened. This isn’t a series about telling people to change their mind in big dramatic ways, but it’s an invitation to open the door and peek inside these different worlds, and it’s is an opportunity to reflect on your own beliefs and values – where they come from, and if they still serve you. And I hope it feels really nourishing to listen to as well! There’s joy and comfort at the heart of all the episodes, and I hope listeners feel less alone in what they’re going through, because we’re all in this together.
Why did you feel now was the right time to launch your own pod?
To be honest I’ve wanted to make a podcast series for years, honestly like a decade, but I didn’t really know where to start because making a podcast on your own can feel quite daunting and intimidating! I met Bea, my wonderful producer, a few years ago and we hit it off straight away, we started working on this project at the start of 2021 when we were both craving some connection and wanted to get stuck into these juicy topics. I’ve loved the shows Broccoli Productions make for a few years now, I really admire the work that they put out and so I feel very honoured to be part of the broccoli family and tell stories that are unexpected.
I was really interested in your talk about the term “bodily neutrality” in the podcast’s first episode. What does that mean to you?
I was first familiar with body positivity, and I do still really like it because I am a big fan of celebrating bodies I think that all of our bodies are deserve to be championed and adored. But over the years the term has started to feel oversaturated because it’s used so much on social media and that’s spilled out into lots of ad campaigns, and it kind of feels co-opted by capitalism at this point. Body neutrality is a more compassionate approach compared to how we may see body positivity now. It’s not implying that you need to feel positive about your body all the time (or at all), and instead emphasises the fact that feeling neutral about your body is ok! It’s encouraging the idea of just existing in your body and feeling appreciative for what it is in that moment rather than objectifying it and looking at it in more extreme positive or critical ways.
You chat about some of your journey with regards to how you view your gender in the podcast. How has that journey been, and what have you found in it?
My understanding of my own gender is something that’s only really happened in the last year or so, I actually found that spending more time on my own during lockdown was kind of a catalyst for me looking at who I am in greater depth, and a lot of what came up was questioned about my gender. And I wanted to make an episode of the series about gender nonconformity from that perspective, from the perspective of someone like me who is trying to figure things out and is in the middle of that process rather than having reached some kind of conclusion.
Our relationship to our gender changes and evolves throughout our lives, and it’s goes way beyond the binaries of man/woman masculine/feminine, and I really wanted to reflect that. I’m really enjoying seeing myself in a more and genderful way: I don’t disconnect from the fact that I was raised as a girl, but I’m also starting to see myself as more than that, and introducing more gender neutral pronouns into the way I see and identify myself is feeling good (though it’s still quite nerve-wracking!). I’m excited to see how this continues to evolve, but I’m still not great at articulating it, so if you want to find out more about it I recommend listening to the gender nonconformity episode of the podcast!
Have your thoughts on sex positivity shifted since you first started working in the sex education space?
Massively. When I first started working in sexual health, sex positivity wasn’t a commonly used term, so I feel like over the 7 years that I’ve been in the world of sex ed the understanding of sex positivity has shifted so much. One thing that has remained throughout is my commitment to bringing joy and celebration to the sexual topics – addressing the positive before talking about be more complicated or challenging aspects of sex. That’s not to deny the existence of the difficult stuff, but historically we’re we used to hearing about the worst case scenario aspects of sex first, and we’re lucky if we get any of the positive stuff afterwards, and that builds up a layer of sexual shame and fear in all of our lives. So a big part of sex positivity for me is doing just that, actually starting with the positives because there is so much joy and excitement and connection that can be experienced through sex.
That being said, sex positivity isn’t a competition: it’s not about how adventurous you can be, how many partners you have, how many times you have sex in a week, and that has been a really important thing for me to realise and emphasise over the years. Initially I think I was so excited by the concept of sex positivity that I threw myself into it head first without looking at the nuanced aspects as much, whereas now I’m feeling more curious to talk about topics like de-prioritising sex when it feels right for you, and how that can be just as empowering as having hedonistic sexual experiences.
Pleasure is really at the centre at a lot of your advocacy. Why has that been such a consistent theme in your work?
Well partly because it’s fun! Talking about pleasure, whether it’s sexual or otherwise, is something that I really enjoy – it’s a pleasurable acting in itself. But on a more serious note, pleasure is so often left out of the conversation when it comes to sex education, and it’s also often misrepresented in the films, TV shows, and porn we consume, so culturally I think we have a very warped idea of what pleasure looks and feels like. So I think it’s really important to invite pleasure into all of these conversations, because it is a fundamental part of life and of sex, and we all have a right to pleasure. We live in a world which celebrates overworking ourselves and can often view pleasurable acts as being lazy or not driven enough (thanks capitalism). I’m a firm believer that experiencing pleasure is one of the most fundamental parts of our lives.
You also co-run a life drawing collective. What drew you to that art form?
I’ve always been an artistic person, I’ve been making things since I was tiny and it’s a real source of joy in my life. One of my best mates Rosy Pendlebaby and I started our life drawing class Body Love Sketch Club in 2018, after having conversations about how transformative life modelling and life drawing spaces were for our relationships with our bodies. We’re big believers in the power of arts to transform our confidence and understanding of ourselves. Our classes are a space where participants are invited to draw as well as pose, if they so choose. I think the act of seeing and being seen in one space really helps to shift the deluge of criticism that we are surrounded by when it comes to our relationships with our bodies.
How was the experience of publishing your book on sex education? Did you find yourself reaching a different audience from social media?
Writing a book is really hard! I actually enjoyed the writing process itself but there was something incredibly vulnerable about bringing out a book which I wasn’t expecting. It certainly meant that I reached a wider audience, and I think it’s really important to share education in different ways to suit different people. Social media is great, but everything on there is fairly condensed and bite sized, and there’s not much room for more in-depth nuanced conversations. Over the last two years I’ve really enjoyed working on my first book and this podcast series because they allow me to flesh out a lot of the topics that I speak about many, as well as some topics I’ve never felt comfortable discussing on social media.
You’ve described yourself as a big history nerd elsewhere – what do you think is the importance of understanding and researching how we used to conceptualise sex and sexuality?
I love history because any era that you look back at teaches us something about our modern lives. And actually as much as things feel very different compared to a few hundred years ago, not a huge amount has changed. We are still very influenced by societal norms, laws, and religious beliefs and practices from the past, and I think it’s so important to include in current viewpoints. I am so fascinated by the fact that my sex education, the way it was delivered as well as the content itself, was shaped by the adults who were teaching me, my parents and teachers. And in turn, the sex ed those adults received was shaped by the generation before them, and so on and so on. So each generation passes on information, but also shame and misinformation, to the next-generation, and unless we look at that head on it’s impossible to break the cycle of really damaging assumptions and stigmas that surround sex relationships and our bodies.
What does the idea of bodily acceptance – really feeling at home in your body – mean to you? How long did that journey take for you?
It’s a journey that started around 8 years ago for me, and to be honest I don’t think it will ever stop because my body and my relationship to it is going to change throughout my life. A big shift for me was noticing just how bloody powerful my body is: it keeps me alive and helps me move around and do all of the things that I love doing in my life, and noticing that and feeling really grateful for it was so important. I also recognised that throughout my life my surroundings have taught me to feel critical of my body and almost see it as separate entity from myself that needed to be punished and changed and improved in order to be valuable and worthy of love, and by recognising how absurd that is as a notion, I was able to start seeing my body as something to appreciate.
What’s the number one thing you would want to tell to someone on that same journey towards bodily acceptance?
To be really kind to yourself. This stuff is not easy, but if you make a commitment to see yourself with kindness first, and not jump to criticism straight away, it can have a massive impact on how you see yourself in the long run. This isn’t something that happens overnight, but if you lead with kindness when it comes to looking at and appreciating your body, overtime that really sinks in and I believe that can have an incredibly transformative impact. And I know it’s hard because I still do it all the time, but comparing your body to other people’s bodies is futile because no one has the same body as you, we’re all different and that should be something that’s beautiful in itself rather than us all striving to look the same.
What’s inspiring you at the moment in your work?
Intergenerational conversations. I’ve had some amazing chats recently with people who are younger and older than I am, and there’s nothing that helps shake up my perspectives and makes me feel inspired more than that. Obviously I love speaking to peers my own age and learning from them too, but learning from different perspectives is incredible, and I’m especially interested in age at the minute. These broader conversations remind me that we are all so different, and yet there are fundamental parts of our lives that link to sex, relationships, and bodies that can be really uniting, where we do have very similar experiences.
What are you manifesting for 2022?
Connection, joy, and silliness. I can’t wait for the sun to come out again and to be able to folic around in the nude with my loved ones – it’s when I feel most alive.