Learn about masturbation and pleasure on this virtual Lube River.
e know that sex education is lacking in classrooms across the country. Young people are receiving less sex education today than they did 10 years ago, some states don't require sex ed to be medically accurate, and when sex education is taught, it's often not inclusive of LGBTQ people. To fill in the gaps, young people often turn to porn (which we know is not sex ed), and one teen even asked Reddit for some sex tips. While there are definitely resources online that can help young people learn what they need to know about sex, sometimes you need a little hands-on experience to guide your way. We're obviously talking about virtual reality.
People of all ages can get exactly that kind of experience on Lube River, the first installation of Pillow Talk, a three-chapter virtual reality (VR) experience that explores the vast spectrum of sexuality and gender, consent and communication in and out of the bedroom, and sex-positivity through toys and self-pleasure. The experience was created by Motherlode, a creative-tech startup for interactive 3D, augmented reality, and virtual reality design that was founded by three female artists, Carol Civre, Isa Ghaffari, and Leah Roh. As artists and developers who are women of color and queer, they wanted out of their previous gigs that they said proved to be male-dominated, and instead opted to create space for themselves to develop the stories that are important to them and their peers.
"We wanted to create a virtual reality experience that all three of us could get passionate about. This brought us to the topic of sex and more importantly what is missing from sex-education curriculum — hence, the birth of Pillow Talk," the Motherlode creators told Teen Vogue.
Through Pillow Talk, Motherlode, which is based at NEW INC, the New Museum’s incubator for art and technology, will explore the topics and people most often left out of sex education — queer people, disabled people, people of color, and more. Teen Vogue caught up with Carol, Isa, and Leah to see what exactly it means to use VR for sex education.
Teen Vogue: What lessons will Lube River focus on, and why is that important?
Motherlode: Lube River is the first chapter of Pillow Talk, which will premiere on June 3rd at Babeland (the Soho location). This chapter will focus on masturbationand pleasure. In Lube River, you are a sex-plorer on a journey down Lube River. The goal is to collect and learn about different sex toys that we sourced from companies whose values and visions align with our own. All the companies we are working with are female-run, and the toys we feature are designed for people of all sexual and gender identities.
Masturbation is still a taboo topic, especially concerning people without a penis. While cisgender male pleasure is not only represented but also celebrated in mainstream culture, all other individuals are portrayed as props to enhance male sexuality. This mentality has developed a culture of people who have been taught to feel ashamed about their sexuality and about exploring their own bodies. We want to create something that makes the whole thing a lot less serious, which is why Lube River allows the user to explore a candy-colored virtual forest aboard a va-gondola on a river made of lube.
The toys featured are interactive, informative, and full of personality. We are using these toys as a vehicle to get people thinking about pleasure in ways they may not have before. The point is to redirect conversations on masturbation and pleasure so that they’re more fun and more inclusive — we believe that understanding pleasure can create a better and healthier overall sexual experience for one’s self and their relationship with partner(s).
TV: What value does VR bring to sex ed that other methods, like videos or books, don't?
ML: VR is great because it makes you an active participant, which is important when learning about sex. It is a really personal subject so approaching the topic from a first person perspective makes the experience more intimate. Because virtual reality as a medium provides unlimited interactions that will vary from person to person, each user will have their own unique journey down Lube River.
Learning through games and interactive environments is a really powerful tool. Computer-generated virtual reality allows for infinite possibilities when it comes to customizing environments, characters, and actions. Not only is this type of education more engaging, but it offers a more playful approach to topics like sex education. This playful approach can be a useful teaching platform that celebrates sex instead of villainizing it.
TV: What do you mean when you say you're focusing on topics traditionally excluded from sex ed, and why?
ML: There are a lot of aspects of sex and sexuality that sex education curriculums take for granted, or brush off as something people just figure out on their own. This attitude leaves important topics in the dark and the lack of inclusive and direct information drives [young people] to either seek out alternative information from unreliable sources or turns them off of the subject entirely.
For Pillow Talk, we isolated three topics which we felt fit this description — pleasure, consent, and the distinction between sexual orientation and gender identity. These are crucial topics that play key roles in the formation of people’s sexuality. They are often considered either too crude or too inessential to be discussed in a classroom setting. There is a dire need for people to develop an intimate, complex, and autonomous relationship with their own sexuality, especially before involving another person's. Sex ed needs to be less clinical, less heteronormative, and less binary. The road to creating an inclusive, comprehensive and universal sex education curriculum is long, which is why it is time to start thinking outside the box.
TV: Why does it matter that this project was created by queer women and women of color?
ML: I (Leah) am Asian-American — I grew up in Los Angeles and am very aware of the privileges that can come from growing up in a progressive environment. Though I was raised in a traditional Korean household with conservative parents who believe in abstinence, I was able to explore my sexuality having been associated and surrounded by open-minded, sex-positive people. Sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity are rarely talked about in asian cultures, especially from women. Sex education is almost non-existent in their curriculum and when sex is discussed, the narrative is almost always heteronormative. Therefore, I strive to bring attention to voices and ideas that are typically underrepresented in my culture and use my own privilege and resources to create the necessary platforms.
As a queer teen, I (Isa) was faced with the difficult task of trying to make sense of my sexuality in the midst of a strictly heteronormative, binary sex education curriculum. The lack of non-cis/het representation in lessons on intimacy, sexual health/safety, and relationships leaves young people feeling like their experiences are unimportant, their feelings invalid, and their voices silenced. Fortunately, I received support and information outside of the classroom from friends, family and my community. I can’t stress enough how important it is that young people, especially in a learning environment, are taught that their experiences are just as valid and worth as much classroom time as their peers.
TV: Who are you hoping to reach with Pillow Talk?
ML: Our target audiences are young adults in high school and college whose experiences and knowledge are shaped immensely by peers, media and what is being taught in the classroom. We believe that Pillow Talk has the potential to help mold a more open-minded, positive and inclusive approach to learning about one’s own sexuality.
Lube River is just a small taste of what we hope to eventually produce for Pillow Talk once we find the adequate budget, space, and time. For now, New York City has been Pillow Talk’s breeding ground because of NEW INC and the city’s propensity to embrace ideas like ours. Though we are creating and experimenting with Pillow Talk in such a progressive bubble, we realize that our audience transcend the city we live in. Our ultimate goal is to find the means to share this new kind of learning and thinking with people who lack access to comprehensive sex education curriculum.
TV: Will users be able to practice consent within the experience? If so, how could that be valuable in everyday life?
ML: One of the three chapters of Pillow Talk will be entirely focused on the topic of consent. Much like using the metaphor of an explorer in Lube River to talk about pleasure and sex toys, we are going to the act of making a sandwich as a metaphor for exercising clear communication and consent. In this chapter, the user’s goal will be to create the sandwich of their dreams by asking exactly which ingredients they do or do not want.
In this scenario, the sandwich maker represents the user’s intimate partner(s) and the sandwich represents the terms they set for sexual or intimate encounters. This exercise is a two-fold approach to exploring the topic of consent. First of all, it attempts to simplify the experience by comparing it to something very simple that most everyone can relate to: making a sandwich. The idea is that people should be asking for what they want in their intimate relationships just as confidently as they might tell a sandwich-maker that they prefer wheat over rye.
Secondly, we want the exercise to help people feel confident with the language of asking and asserting. There is a specific vocabulary when it comes to asking for what you want that is not ingrained in how people are conditioned to communicate. We want to offer an experience through which you can get acquainted with this kind of language and, subsequently, apply it to real life.
TV: If users learn one thing from Pillow Talk, what do you hope it is?
Sexuality and pleasure have infinite room for growth and evolution. We want users to challenge and question what has been embedded in their understanding of sex, to celebrate what they love about their own sexualities, and to explore pleasure in ways that they might not have otherwise.
Tickets to Lube River, which starts on June 3, can be purchased here.