“There is a dearth of successful sex education in America,” says comedian and producer Dani Faith Leonard, and in the wake of eight states’ recent bills to severely curtail women’s access to abortion procedures – including an outright ban in Alabama – the need for such frank discussion about our bodies, sex, and sexuality has never been so crucial.
Leonard, the cofounder of film and TV production company Big Vision Creative and its inclusion-focused incubator Big Vision Empty Wallet, is fearless when it comes to tackling hard conversations. She believes approaching such vital topics with humor creates lasting impact, and that’s why she began hosting Adult Sex Ed, a monthly series performed live in New York City, to address our country’s educational lacks through comedic storytelling. Each show features a different theme, from “Sex and the Movies” to “Purity,” and a diverse ensemble of writers, actors and other creatives (many recognizable from the big and small screens) who share their own personal, formative sexual experiences with a curious audience.
Adult Sex Ed provides a riotous and eye-opening forum that clears up confusion with a surprising amount of historical trivia to boot. Such as “Did Cleopatra keep her pubes brushed and oiled?” Yes, she did. “Were 19th-century pastors really going on national anti-masturbation tours?” Sadly, yes, they did. “Is the motion-picture rating system inherently sexist?” Again, sadly, yes. But the sometimes-shocking information – like the fact that in 2019 only 24 states require Sex Ed programs in public schools – is delivered with such engaging wit amid side-splitting sketches that it’s almost a Schoolhouse Rock / Sex and the City mash-up. For the adventurous intellectual, this combination proves endlessly titillating.
The theme for May’s show, “As Seen on TV,” brought out the sexy beast in everyone. Audiences were ushered into Caveat on the Lower East Side, the series’ home venue, a versatile and stimulating space containing a stage, shared tables, and a bustling bar. Excitement hung in the air, heightened by the club’s speakeasy-style décor, the atmosphere and crew so welcoming that all attendees felt instantly relaxed and ready for anything.
Kicking things off with an intro of fast facts about the sorry state of education, Leonard put one in mind of a millennial Ava Gardner – glamorous yet saucy remarks served up with Old Hollywood class and an enthusiastic passion for speaking truth. She quickly segued into the high hilarity of the latest Game of Thrones-inspired sex toys. (Q: Do your fantasies involve penetration by dragons, the Night King, or Jon Snow’s sword?)
As the guest speakers presented their tales, the night continued that enthralling mix of lighthearted fun and poignant lessons. Comedian and video producer Anita Flores, host of the Frasier fan podcast I’m Listening, recalled an embarrassing high school party where she unknowingly fell asleep in the communal hookup room. “Watch where you nap,” she cautioned, “or you could be interrupting somebody’s first blow job.”
Comic Mat Levy brought everybody back to the mid-2000s when he revisited his stint on the dating reality show I Love New York 2. Vying for the affections of outrageous TV personality Tiffany “New York” Pollard, he earned the nickname “Cheezy” and was eliminated after being teased with a whip in an S-and-M challenge. Levy explained that, like other reality show contestants, he was then invited to do paid appearances at nightclubs and became a regular who “barely went home with any of the girls.” At least one brief makeout session on the dance floor led to some drama though – because would you believe that getting mononucleosis makes you fail an STD test?
The admirably brassy actress/writer Ayanna Dookie, host of the podcast Who Does the Baby’s Hair? (about growing up in multiracial families), took the 1987 classic Dirty Dancing to task for romanticizing a teenager losing her virginity to a much older man. Dookie then related the memory of her own first time at age 17, requiring a traumatic visit to a gynecologist who insisted she couldn’t be a virgin because “no girl with breasts that large could be.” Shocked murmurs echoed through the room at this part of the story, but Dookie’s tart no-nonsense recounting of the events kept the laughter flowing. Disappointed by the dead energy between her and her then 19-year-old beau, she revealed she didn’t try having sex again for two years… only to realize long after the fact that the boy had never actually entered her after all.
Law & Order: SVU fans got a treat when actor Mike Doyle, known for his role as forensics technician Ryan O’Halloran, stepped up for some behind-the-scenes secrets. Apparently on film and TV sets, there’s a right and a wrong way to kiss. In the aptly-named 1996 movie A Loss of Innocence, Doyle learned what he was doing wrong from his co-star Jennie Garth, who sharply reprimanded him, “No tongue!”
Before the audience could recover from their reactions to this little gem, Doyle transitioned to the next part of his segment, remembering the story arc on Oz that saw his character brutally gang-raped in prison. The graphic scene, he cheerily informed the assembled crowd, was accomplished with the help of a very skilled makeup artist who used “lots of corn syrup stage blood and some chocolate cake… [when] I had to [bleed] profusely from my anus.”
From the real-seeming horror of TV to the bittersweetness of real life: The night’s final chapter belonged to actor Michael Stahl-David (Narcos, The Deuce), who remembered his first relationship at age 15 and how he and his girlfriend had ended up going very innocently to third base together. At the time, Stahl-David said, he was obsessed with the movie Kids, about a group of hedonistic punk teenagers running wild. Wanting to emulate the film’s lead characters, who objectify and humiliate women, the young Stahl-David told all his schoolmates that he’d “gotten some” from his girlfriend, who was heartbroken by the betrayal. While the two eventually patched things up and continued seeing each other throughout high school, our narrator concluded that it was a tough lesson in how close he came to losing a rare and genuine bond with someone who loved him. (And a rare sight for New Yorkers indeed – a man who can admit to such depths of emotion!)
In Adult Sex Ed, Leonard has truly crafted the ultimate teaching platform. Her shows are immersive, smart, entertaining, beautifully curated, and they absolutely stay with you after the lights go down. Between the rapid-fire jokes lie those bigger, ponderous questions of what makes humanity tick, and while each person’s answers may be different, the greater response to take away from it all is that we’re in this crazy reality together.
So if you’re ready for a monthly dose of group therapy in the guise of sexy fun and an awesome night out, make sure to sign up for Adult Sex Ed. The only Caveat is you’ll need to bring an open mind.
ADULT SEX ED returns to Caveat on June 5, 2019 at 9PM. The theme will be “New Adventures” and will feature stories from Sharron Paul (CHEAP DATE), Molly Gaebe (Upright Citizens Brigade), comedians Jaye McBride and Veronica Garza, and voiceover artist Mark Garkusha. Book your tickets now. https://www.caveat.nyc/event/adult-sex-ed-6-5-2019
Jaime Lubin is the Managing Editor of Honeysuckle Magazine. Her profiles on art and culture have appeared regularly in The Huffington Post and Observer, as well as Billboard and Irish America magazines among other publications. Also an actress, producer, and singer, Jaime is working on a solo show about Tarot. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram (both @jaimelubin).