Ruby Rare is a sex educator and author with an impressive creative output, including a book, a podcast, and a body positive figure drawing class she runs with her best friend. The key is being unafraid to bare it all. Click to listen to this episode via Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, or Amazon Music.
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Aria Vega [00:00:00] [Voiceover] This podcast contains explicit content. Listener's discretion is advised. POV by Lustery explores culture, politics and creativity in the sex industry, one point of view at a time. I'm your host, Aria Vega.
Aria Vega [00:00:17] Ruby Rare is a sex educator, author and body positivity advocate. She's based in Margate, UK, a seaside town not too far outside London, where she was raised.
Ruby Rare [00:00:28] [Interview] I was in a fairly kind of arty, liberal family. We were a bit of a naked family, I guess. I think, from an early age, I was taught to appreciate my body and to think that it was cool. But then sadly, teenage years kicked in. And I don't know anyone who didn't have a fucked up relationship with their body and with themselves and their sexuality as a teenager, because it's a really challenging and weird time in our lives. There's so much body shaming and so much aggressive sex-negative messaging that came my way, and I did not escape that. So I went to an all-girls school. Our sex education was terrible. Again, I was luckier than most because I had some sex education. But as I would go on to believe in my career, sometimes bad sex education is just as damaging as no sex ed at all. I didn't hear the word "consent" until I was in my late, late teens. I didn't realize that I was able to enjoy partnered sex, and that I was allowed to do that until I was 20. I was having sex for a long time before that, and I just had no roadmap that involved pleasure or joy or curiosity. It was all really, really shameful. And also, sex was just in that teenage way, seen as like a thing that you did so that to try and be cool
Aria Vega [00:01:56] [Voicepver] Ruby's work ties together sex positivity with body positivity in a way that's informed by her life experiences. There are multiple aspects of her identity that exist between binaries, which has made her adept at observing dualities.
Ruby Rare [00:02:10] [Voiceover] My body is nothing special and also incredibly special, because all bodies are great! But consistently growing up, when I was in my later teens and at university, I was in friendship groups where everyone was really slim, and then I was the person who didn't quite.... I think a lot of people with a kind of mid-sized body have that weird experience of feeling like not in either camp, like not big, not small. I think something that I find myself consistently drawn to in my work, are those moments where the lines are blurred, and you're not quite sure where you are. That's because it all comes back to my identity. I'm a queer, bisexual person. So bisexuality is not somewhere in between gay and straight, but that's the way it's perceived so oftenm and not feeling like not feeling straight enough for the straights, not feeling queer enough for the queers... And I'm dual heritage, so that thing of being like a largely white passing, but like British and South Asian person is weird. I'm non-monogamous, so again, like blurring those lines and expectations of what relationships are meant to look like. And more recently, the way that I'm thinking about gender and my own gender... I have been raised as a feminine person and a woman, and I embrace that. But I also acknowledge that there is more beyond that for me. So all, it's all of those moments where we're not quite sure where we are, and there's not as much of a roadmap. I feel endlessly curious about what that means for me in my life and the more I talk about it, the more I realize that we all have those moments in our lives when we don't know quite where we're sitting, and quite where we belong. And it's just really important to remind everyone that we're all experiencing that, even though those challenges may be unique to us. We're not alone in the fact that we're facing them.
Aria Vega [00:04:03] Yeah, thank you for naming those those aspects of your identity that have helped you understand the world beyond the binaries that we inherit. Because I think your life experiences beautifully illustrates why boxes and binaries are not aren't really a sustainable way of understanding the human experience.
Ruby Rare [00:04:25] We don't have fun in them! It's not fun as well. I think that just being able to center pleasure in all of these conversations is so important, because we're all allowed to have a nice time in our lives. We are entitled— entitled is a weird word, isn't it?— but pleasure is valid in all of our lives, and we should be embracing it and prioritizing it. I think those really binary views limit our experiences of joy more often than they bring joy to us.
Aria Vega [00:04:59] [Voiceover] Ruby's career as a sex educator began with the highly formative experience as a volunteer.
Ruby Rare [00:05:04] [Interview] I started work in sexual health through working for an amazing charity in the UK called Brook, which is a sexual health charity for young people. So I worked there for five years, and that was when I was going into public schools, so teaching... Actually teaching students from like 11 to 25, university and older aged young people about a whole range of different types of relationship and sex education topics. We've recently in the UK had some change in legislation. So in 2020, 2019, the mandatory relationship and sex education curriculum was updated, and it was the first time it was updated since 2003. So just think about how much has changed and happened since that time. Like, Pornhub didn't exist in 2003, Tinder didn't exist in 2003. It's it's kind of wild, and there's still a lot missing in that curriculum, but it is a massive step forward in like prioritizing this in primary and secondary school education. So that's like basically all from like 4 to 18, all of the education, there's got to be some mandatory relationship or relationship and sex education involved. So it was really amazing to be working there as a lot of that was changing and shifting. And then in 2018, it was the first time that I was asked to do a workshop for adults, and it was about porn and about reshaping our view of porn and our relationship to it. I am not anti-porn at all, but I'm very anti-not having conversations about porn and it just keeping on being this like shameful thing that we all have a personal but quite conflicted relationship with. And I realized that during that workshop, I'd say like nine out of 10 times that I was getting asked a question by an adult, it was a question that a young person had asked me in a classroom. And if all of us, if we are a generation of people who did not get any sex ed, or the sex ed that we got was incredibly lacking, we're all catching up. Yeah, we're grown ups and we have far more sexual autonomy and agency in our lives, but that doesn't mean that we we have this knowledge, and it doesn't mean that we have been invited to have, nuanced curious conversations about sex and ourselves. So that's why I really enjoy the fact that all of the sex ed that I have done over the years comes from a place primarily of working with young people, but realizing that all of us need to learn this stuff, and actually that we are never going to stop learning about sex and relationships and our bodies. So whenever you start, there should be a whole host of different inclusive, accessible education that you can pick up as you go along through your life.
Aria Vega [00:08:01] [Voiceover] Adapting her message to the needs of different audiences is one of Ruby's greatest strengths. If someone who's 7 years old asks her the same sex question as someone who's 27 years old, she wants to give them both an honest, age appropriate answer. One of the places that she collected those answers is her new book called Sex Ed: A Guide for Adults. It was published in 2020, and part of her still can't believe she made that happen.
Ruby Rare [00:08:29] [Interview] It still feels so surreal to have written a book, because it's a weird... It's a very vulnerable, weird thing to do. But this was a lockdown baby book. I started writing it in like March of 2020. So while everyone was like baking banana bread and panicking about the world, I was furiously writing all the time and kind of just suppressed all of my pandemic feelings and was like, I'm just going to focus on this thing. So in a way, I really valued that process because it gave me something to really focus on, and I was so determined to fill it with joy, because I think it was something I was so lacking. I barely had sex when I was writing the whole book, which was really ironic. I did not have partnered sex once through the whole writing process, because we were in lockdown here and I wasn't living with my partner. And because the world got really weird and scary, I didn't feel like having sex on myself that much. So there was a kind of strange irony in like feeling disconnected from sex myself, but being able to feel connected to it in the way that I was writing. And it's kind of a space where I got to pull all of the knowledge that I had gained over the last five or six years of working in sexual health. And in many ways, it's kind of a love letter to everything I learned at Brook, the charity that I spent a long time at, and I'm very proud to be an ambassador for now. And I guess this isn't a favorite part of the writing process, because it was actually the most challenging, but it was the first time that I wrote something about being a survivor of sexual assault, like putting that down on a page, which felt very... And I wasn't doing it from a particularly personal perspective, but I needed to include it in the book and so I wanted to mention that I am a survivor. I'm thinking about that a lot now because one of the episodes of my podcast series that's coming out in a few weeks from while we're talking now is specifically about survivors, and I feel very proud of myself. It's a topic that I have to be super, super careful about how and when I speak about it, because obviously it's incredibly vulnerable and raw. And also, you know, I have spent years and I'm still, I keep waiting to be out of a time of not being just fucking furious that this happened to me. Yeah, I'm not sure what what healing will look like for me, because I don't know if I can get beyond this moment of, How fucking dare these people hurt me like that? And there's so much around like what a "good survivor" looks like. I'm doing air quotes with that, because obviously that doesn't exist. So and I am so fascinated by this, but also I have to be really careful about how and when I talk about it. So it's I'm really enjoying talking about it now. But this I very rarely talk about this in interviews, because I have to be in a space that I feels very safe and that I have some kind of control over, which again, is, I think, why I've mentioned it with the book and why I'm really nervous, but really excited for people to listen to that podcast episode, because I don't think I could do that in another format. Me and my producer had so much control over what that looked like, and were able to work really closely with all of the people involved in that episode. And yeah, I wish I had the strength to talk about this stuff all the time, but I can't because it's too painful and too messy. But I am very grateful for the moments when I am able to, because I need to have these conversations, and I need to be able to hear more of these kinds of conversations.
Aria Vega [00:12:15] I definitely agree that being really selective about the format, the setting, the environment can make all the difference. And just as a consumer of your work, I find you to be really adept at figuring out what topic or what idea is going to be best communicated in which way. You have the ability to hold these weighty topics, like sexual assault and body image issues and things like that, against the backdrop of like a really joyful and upbeat sort of world. Particularly your Instagram, your Instagram just feels like a hug. Like it's just such a...
Ruby Rare [00:12:52] That's the nicest thing to say ever!
Aria Vega [00:12:55] It's true, it's so true! You just go there and it's smiles and it's pink and it's dancing and it's colors. And it's just joy. I think in one of your Instagram Stories, you are asked to describe the book in three words, and the three words you chose were joyful, sexy and informative. And I felt like that perfectly encapsulates your entire brand. I want to ask you, like what is the function of all of that playfulness in conveying your messages about sex and love across your output?
Ruby Rare [00:13:28] Yeah, thank you for noticing that as well, because I feel like in all of my life, I feel like silliness and joy are so important to focus on, because they kind of get like squished out of us as teenagers. I think I say this in one of my podcast episodes: I was a really happy, joyful, silly kid, and then my teenage years made me feel obsessed about being cool, so self-aware about how the world saw me, so critical and damning of myself. And I've spent the most part of my 20s desperately trying to get back to me as an enthusiastic silly kid, because that's who I want to be. That's how I want to live my life. And I think that I really like addressing these large, complicated, weighty topics with a sense of joy and silliness and playfulness because it helps me think about these things more. And it's really lovely when other people pick up on that as well. I'm not particularly academic. I can't do like a a deep dIve into a book that's got like tiny, tiny text to talking about sexuality and identity. I can do a little bit of that, but I need it to be a bit more human, I guess, and a bit more emotive. So much of our sex education, I think, is either really patronizing because it's aimed at young people and it's talking down to young people and instructing them on what they shouldn't be doing and how they should be living, or it's completely sexed up and there can be a real like porny feel to a lot of conversations that we have about sex as adults. Don't get me wrong, I am totally here for the porny vibes! That's great, but I also really crave something in the middle, that's not sexualizing topics around sex, but is also not... It's just looking at them as one of many parts of our lives, because sex is not the most important part of my life. It's very important one, but it operates alongside all of these other different parts of me, and I'm kind of bored of seeing sex as like existing in a vacuum in our lives because it's just one thing of many that we deal with and experience.
Aria Vega [00:15:59] [Voiceover] This perspective is apparent on Ruby's new sho,w In Touch with Ruby Rare. It really stands out among other sex podcasts, for the way it turns its focus to the topics that are peripheral to the sex itself, yet still closely tied to it, like porn and loneliness. One of those topics is nudity, which is a state that makes Ruby feel the most like herself.
Ruby Rare [00:16:22] [Interview] I'm sadly living in the wrong country to be nude as much as possible because....
Aria Vega [00:16:26] Me too, girl!
Ruby Rare [00:16:27] ...seven months of the year? Whew, it is rough getting naked around here! But I'm really I'm really big into swimming. I live by the sea, and I jump in the sea a lot of the time, and that's year round. There is something kind of... There's something incredibly embodying about jumping into a freezing cold ocean, which I enjoy. But yeah, I guess there's a little bit of a transgressive thing there around, still, we see nudity as something bad and something that we shouldn't be doing, and so to be able to be nude in an environment that is accepting of that feels a little bit cheeky, and I enjoy that. I like kind of pushing up against the boundaries a little bit. But it's also like, don't get me wrong, clothes can be fun, and I like dressing up in silly bright colors. But there is nothing that makes me feel more connected to myself than when I am spending time with my body, when I can take off my jumper and my pants and just be— I'm using the British "pants" as in like knickers, so actually, both the trousers and your pants or all the things.
Aria Vega [00:17:35] Thank you for clarifying!
[00:17:37] Just taking it all off! I think I should do this soon because actually, I've not done this in a couple of days, and I'm due this. Like when was the last time that you were just on your own and you did something, you did an activity nude? Or like just sat down being naked and looked down at you and looked at like the weird crease in your knee that you think is cool or like, I dunno, a dimple that's on your thigh. Or I can look down and see one of the like weird, wonky tattoos that I've got over the years. It's kind of it's a real reminder of who I am, and it feels incredibly grounding. And I don't know if there's anything else that that gets me there quite like that. I think swimming and like dancing and moving my body really helps. But I just love being naked, and not everyone loves being naked. That's OK. I'm not trying to be evangelical about this, do what works for you. But I think there are probably a lot more happy, naked people out there who just haven't, haven't given themselves the opportunity to feel into it.
Aria Vega [00:18:45] [Voiceover] In addition to being a happy naked person on the internet, Ruby and her best friend hosted a recurring life drawing event called the Body Love Sketch Club, where everyone is invited to model.
Ruby Rare [00:18:56] [Interview] We invite everyone in the class to pose, and that can be nude or fully clothed, or whatever they're feeling on that day. But a big thing that we say at the beginning of the class is, if we're doing a virtual class and we're talking about like privacy and internet safety and nudity, or if we're doing one in real life... Rosy's and my naked ships have sailed a long time ago. I've been naked on the internet, or fairly naked on the internet, for a very long time. And I think quite early on, I just accepted that that had happened. I had made that choice. 50 year old Ruby is not going to be able to turn around and take that back. It's it's out there now, and I'm OK with that because thus far, everything that I've put on there, I don't take too seriously, because it is just a body. I think in the early days when it felt a little bit more daunting to post a picture of me in a way that was like traditionally unflattering where I'm just sat on my body as being what it's being, and my kind of chubby bits are on show and my little belly is just doing its own thing. It was daunting at the beginning, but I think I have received like an overwhelming amount of love and support for those images, because for lots of people, they can act a bit like a mirror to themselves. And I felt this as well of like, I think this is one of the few but important positives of social media, that I've been scrolling through my feeds before and then seeing someone's body and going, Hey, that's what I look like! And they're really beautiful and they look cool and they look happy— oh shit, I guess I can be cool and beautiful and happy! All right, nice. I'm just going to carry on with my day, but with that little nugget of wisdom in my mind. So to know that I've been able to do that for some people is incredible.
Aria Vega [00:20:50] [Voiceover] It's exchanges like this that remind Ruby why she still likes the term "body positivity," even as its meaning and popularity have seemed to be in constant flux.
Ruby Rare [00:21:00] [Interview] I can kind of root this in the life drawing class, because we started that coming up to four years ago, which was kind of like peak Instagram body positivity era. And so we just spoke about these classes as a body positive space, and then the creative empowerment came along with it, because there's a lot of vulnerabilities of our bodies, but there's also a lot of vulnerabilities about like drawing and showing other people your drawings, so both of those kind of work together. And over the years, we've had lots of really interesting chats about body positivity. So I think in general, like many people, I feel quite tired of the overuse and the kind of sanitization of the ideas of body positivity, especially when it's so far away from its origins of being about fat liberation primarily, and it centering Black women's bodies. So I'm very aware of that, and I mean, it's hardly a surprise that some language has been co-opted by, like the white community (shock! horror!) But I think it's really important to be aware of that at the same time. I think that body neutrality is a really important term, and it's something that I really identify with, the notion that you don't need to be feeling positive about a body for a body to be valid. And especially thinking about that in terms of like health and moving away from the aesthetics of our bodies. I'm totally here for that, and I've actually learned a lot from those spaces over the last couple of years. But you've seen my Instagram. I'm a silly little bitch! And I enjoy like being joyful and being overly enthusiastic about stuff. And for me personally, as much as I love body neutrality, I don't think that's where I find myself at home because I don't like neutral, like I'm excessive. I want to feel things a lot!
Aria Vega [00:23:06] I love that!
Ruby Rare [00:23:06] So there are parts of— and I don't know if that's been a shift in language for me because I think at the heart of it, it's like celebrating and relishing in people's bodies. And so in our life drawing classes, I still use the phrase "body positive" because in that context, it is about being positive about bodies. And maybe that will shift in the years to come, partly as that becomes, that phrasing is like slightly less fashionable, but also as people acknowledge the roots of that phrasing more and more. But I think I really crave celebrating bodies and we do not need to like— you cannot celebrate something 24-7 that would be exhausting, but I'm here to bring the party whenever I can of being like, How cool is it that we have bodies? This is amazing! Let's nerd out on this a little bit and. I wouldn't want to lose that.
Aria Vega [00:24:04] [Voiceover] This is a big part of what draws Ruby to her signature color pink.
Ruby Rare [00:24:10] [Interview] I think pink is a great color. I'm also like, I'm a slut for all colors! I just really enjoy there being an abundance of color in my life, and I think I'm in a kind of pink decade right now. I don't know how long this one will last for, but I just keep coming back to it. But I think the main the main reason I love pink is that the world around me dissuaded me from liking pink when I was little because pink was a girly girl color and I wanted to be tough and cool and girly, but in a mysterious way. So I went for purple, because it was like not quite pink, it was edgier than that. And you know, no, no shame on purple, it's a beautiful color. But I when I was in my early 20s, the first time that I— actually the second time I bleached my hair, I went pink. And it just it really changed the way I looked at myself, and it changed the way I think lots of people saw me because it's so joyful. It's so bold. I kind of forget that it's that bold sometimes. And often I wear like head to toe pink and will catch myself in like the mirror, or the window of a shop front and be like, Oh God, that person's wearing a lot of pink, then I'll be like, It's me! That's me, that's what I look like! I'm just like a kind of weird queer granny in a twenty-eight-year-old's body wandering up and down the sea from head to toe in pink. I just I think I'm kind of reclaiming this for like eight-year-old Ruby, who really wanted to be in pink but wanted that to be perceived as powerful, and it wasn't at that time. I'm really glad that now...You know, there is a lot that needs to be sorted out and changed and transformed in this world, but I'm really glad that we are in an era where we're embracing pink as like a powerful and badass color. And, you know, we got to take the silver linings so we can.
Aria Vega [00:26:14] That's Ruby Rare sex educator and body positive advocate. She's on Twitter @_rubyrare, and her abundantly joyful Instagram is @rubyrare. If you'd like to grab a copy of her book, I've dropped a link in the show notes for you. Are there any other fans of non-sexual nudity out there? Has anyone spent lots of time and nudist spaces? Hit me up at Askaria@lustery.com with an email or a voice memo. Or you can find me on Twitter @vegadreamcast. You can always remain anonymous. If you're into the show, please leave us a five-star rating and a review. POV is brought to you by Lustery, and this episode was hosted by me, Aria Vega. It was edited and produced by Kathryn Fischer and Adrienne Teicher and our showrunner is Paulita Pappel. Lustery is the home of real-life partners filming their sex lives behind closed doors. If you're 18 or older, you can find us at lustery.com, and we're on Twitter and Instagram @lusterypov. Bye now lovers!