Oct 1010 min

"Sex is funny": a conversation with Danielle Bezalel

Updated: Oct 11

We sat down a chat about all things sex, humor, media and the gaps in between with one of our favorite podcasters, Danielle Bezalel, the voice behind Sex Ed With DB.

This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

Tell us about yourself!

I’m Danielle. I go by DB — the name started in middle school and just kind of stuck. I grew up on Long Island with an ob/gyn for a mom, so that very much right from the get-go formed what I found to be important and my experiences with sexual health as a kid.

When I was 15, I moved to Napa, California and did my last two years of highschool there. Then I went to UC Berkeley and studied film and media and minored in education. I always loved telling stories through documentary or film. I’m also a musician and a singer, so I love performing and writing music. I've always been a very expressive person, so I think the podcast medium has been such an awesome space for me to explore.

How did you get started with sex ed?

I went to Israel after graduating college and taught English there. There was a super intense experience I had with a religious rabbi at community in Jerusalem, called the Community of the Bells.

My teaching cohort was there learning about his traditions and walking around the vicinity of the area. He was talking about how he had five daughters, and when they all turned 17 or 18, they would be married off by the matchmaker. They wouldn’t learn about sex until their wedding night — hopefully they would get pregnant. They were praying that they would all get pregnant.

I was one of the few and first to raise my hand and challenge that notion — obviously it was problematic to me for so many reasons. He brushed me off and said, “This is how it goes.”

The Israel experience, coupled with the 2016 election, made me say: this shit is enough. I need to do something to combat this horror, sadness and pain that is coming along with these experiences.

I need to do something to combat this horror, sadness and pain that is coming along with these experiences.

A little over two years ago, in 2017, I decided to create the Sex Ed with DB podcast. Going into the third season, our mission is to be a feminist podcast bringing you all the sex ed you never got through intersectional storytelling. I serve as the creator producer and host of the podcast.

Growing up with an OB/GYN mom, did you imagine you would be doing this when you were a kid?

I had a couple ideas about what I wanted to do. The very practical part of me — both of my parents have secondary degrees — I always knew higher education was going to be part of my path. I was raised that way and was privileged enough to have my parents mostly pay for my college education. Part of me was like “Oooh, I want to be a teacher and help kids or be a pediatrician;” the other part of me — a kid growing up on Long Island, coming into the city to see a Broadway show — was like, “I want to be on Broadway.”

Part of me was like “Oooh, I want to be a teacher and help kids or be a pediatrician;” the other part of me — a kid growing up on Long Island, coming into the city to see a show — was like, “I want to be on Broadway.”

I would practice performing in the mirror for American Idol over and over and over again. So I had two minds about it, but I definitely loved exploring all of those topics when I was a kid.

I think I was an early bloomer — I masturbated young and wasn’t embarrassed about sex or anything like that. It was never something that was embarrassing for me.

Were your parents open to talking about sex?

I would say mostly yes. The times are very different now, in terms of access to tools — on the internet and books and social media — that were not [available] growing up in the 90’s. I will say there were some gaps [in my sexual education], and I actually had my mom on the first season of the podcast and addressed that with her — being like, “Hey, I know you did the best you could, but this was kind of shitty.”

For example, when I would be masturbating — I masturbated literally like all the time, once a day at one point — because obviously it felt fucking awesome. I didn’t have a lock on my door, so my mom would come in, and I would be caught. She would give me this look as if I was doing something wrong, not really talking to me about it. I think she did the best she could, given that her parents certainly did not talk about that kind of stuff. Her being a doctor and have the tools were so helpful — but hindsight is 20/20.

“Hey, I know you did the best you could, but this was kind of shitty.”

I’m planning on becoming a parent, and when I do [have those conversations] I'm sure it will be harder than I anticipated.

How is Sex Ed with DB challenging the sex ed model of the past (i.e. slides of venereal diseases and abstinence only)?

We are intentionally being as inclusive as possible, making sure we think about various kinds of identities and bodies and experiences. People who are different ethnicities and races and genders and sexual orientations. Every single kind of person — we want them to see themselves in the narratives of the podcast. It’s important that is our overarching lens of the podcast: to make sure that people have a voice in what we are talking about.

Every single kind of person — we want them to see themselves in the narratives of the podcast.

The other thing we talk a lot about is pleasure and different types of relationships that folks don’t typically hear, in even progressive sex ed some times. We also repeat topics if they are really relevant to the time. In regular sex ed, you oftentimes have to stick to a curriculum, and you’re not really able to experience what is important in the moment — so we really listen to what’s happening on the ground and make sure we are responding to it.

For example, this season we did two sex ed and politics episodes, because we know that’s something thats happening to people and in the news. We also did an episode on abortion because that’s been in the news.

We approach sex ed in a funny, sort of goofy way, which I don't think is encouraged when folks are learning about sex ed. We’re not afraid to dig into really challenging topics. We did a sex ed and mental health episode, and folks may be uncomfortable thinking about therapy or other ways of healing. We talk about taboo topics — like our sex workers’ experiences episode, which folks were worried about us releasing, because of the whole SESTA/FOSTA stuff that was going on — but we wanted to make sure we were being respectful and getting information out there at the same time.

Why is important to you be inclusive when we talk about sex ed?

Because for so long, and still today, in so many places, so many people and identities have been silenced and erased — in the media and in the public, in television shows and in movies, in podcasts and in books. Representation matters: for folks to feel like they are important, their voice has a place in the conversation, and they belong.

Representation matters: for folks to feel like they are important, their voice has a place in the conversation, and they belong.

How does storytelling make for effective sex education?

I am a firm believer that statistics and numbers are helpful in public health...to understand that one in four women identifying people in her lifetime will get an abortion… that means something. That does play an important role.

But storytelling has a way of making people listen, and making people connect. When you see political debates, that’s what their advisors and speech writers are telling them to do. That’s all manipulative, political bullshit, but there’s a reason why they do it — because people are listening and putting themselves into those shoes. It allows people to take a step outside of themselves and into another person's identity and experiences.

That’s all manipulative, political bullshit, but there’s a reason why they do it — because people are listening and putting themselves into those shoes.

That’s exactly what happens when we’re watching movies and tv; we’re immersing ourselves in other peoples experiences. The more interesting and compelling that story is, the more likely people are going to finish listening or finish watching and really gain something from that point of view.

Why do you think it’s important to incorporate humor when talking about taboo topics like sex?

First of all, sex is funny. You have a lot of body parts, it’s awkward, it’s silly, no one really knows what they are doing at first, everyone has to learn on the go. Even adults don’t know what they are doing… sometimes ...most of the time, probably. It’s okay to laugh, and we should encourage kids to laugh when they think something is funny (to a certain extent). I think it’s important to get giggles until people feel more comfortable.

First of all, sex is funny. You have a lot of body parts, it’s awkward, it’s silly, no one really knows what they are doing at first, everyone has to learn on the go.

I also think laughing is the best way to connect with another person. It helps people ease the tension they may be feeling about challenging topics — and sex is just inherently funny.

What do you think about how sex is portrayed in the media?

Have you seen the show Sex Education? It’s SO good. One of their writers is on an episode this season. I absolutely love that show (it has its faults), but it’s all encompassing, it shows different kinds of sex — queer sex — and what its like to give and get consent, what it’s like to put up boundaries, what it’s like to experience trauma.

There are so many different facets and identities and experiences that people that should be portrayed in the media. For one of my classes we were watching the Senorita video, by Shawn Mendez and Camilla Cabello, and obviously it’s the most classic, “Oooh sexy, oooh we’re dancing, oooh we’re literally not even speaking to each other.” In this fake three-minute video, no words are spoken between them, and he just leaves her at the end of the video with no explanation — and this video has half a billion views!

I think shit like that absolutely does a disservice to young people, because they’re watching for certain cues –– “if a boy runs off, it’s okay and maybe I should take him back,” or “it’s okay to not talk about sex before I have it; throwing someone against the wall is the way to be sexy.”

Obviously, yes, it’s a music video. You could argue “It’s art, it's not a big deal,” but at the same time, it’s just as easy to put in a little conversation between the two of them, to have a blank spot in the song where he says “Can I touch you here?” and she says “yes” — how easy would that be? What kind of message would that be sending to young people who are watching and listening to this music?

How easy would that be? What kind of message would that be sending to young people who are watching and listening to this music?

In some ways, we have really hit the mark in ways to express sex and identity, and in other, we still have a really long way to go.

Ideally, where do you hope sex ed will be in the next 5-10 years?

Ideally, all 50 states would require inclusive, comprehensive, medically accurate sex education K through 12 — that would be the dream. We need to do that in order for people to get the proper information that’s not stigmatizing and belittling to young people, but gives them the tools to make decisions for themselves.

I would love for it to include media that’s relevant so young people would be interested and engaged. Obviously, that means we need to train sex educators and get them the latest curriculum and all the latest data, so that they are supported.

Realistically, I think it’s a slow battle. The good thing is that in ten years Donald Trump will not be in office, so I’m hoping for a candidate who can push the sex ed agenda forward. Right now, only 24 states require public schools to teach sex ed, with a smaller percentage requiring that sex ed to be medically accurate. Hopefully in ten years, each of those categories will have five more states in it. It’s insane, because New York is not one of those states that is mandated — I don’t understand.

But I do hope, in ten years, the media catches up to what we were talking about and has more inclusive conversations. If schools aren’t catching up, then I think the media will. It’s already starting to change, and we’re already starting to see different bodies, opinions and different stories.

What resources or tools would you recommend for people that didn’t get that foundational sex education in primary school?

I think that the Planned Parenthood website is extremely comprehensive and really awesome. They have so many different video tools and other tools that are excellent. I also recently worked with a free sex education app, okaySo. They are an awesome free app that has a team of experts that respond to young people who ask any sort of questions about sex ed, identity and dating. It’s really great, because you have a team of people behind you to get at the details of what you need and give you accurate information.

O.school is really awesome. There are so many different types of ways of telling stories now; this is a very specific topic we’re going to talk about and here are the data and stats and research to back it up.

I also love all of the sex educators on Instagram, who promote their materials and talk all things sex ed. If you search the hashtag #sexeducator — you’ll have to weed through the bullshit — there are some really awesome folks out there.

What’s your advice for sorting through the bullshit?

When in doubt, really trusted places like Planned Parenthood are always a great place to start. They have doctors, they have scientists, they have over 100 years to back their information up.

I also recommend young people to be advocates for themselves, make doctors appointments with a gynecologist or a urologist or a general practitioner, just to get their questions answered. There is a lot of power in young people being able to advocate for themselves through the medical system and learning more in that way.

Listen to the Sex Ed with DB podcast here.

Sex Ed with DB is a feminist podcast bringing you all the sex ed you never got through unique and intersectional storytelling. If you have any suggestions for content or topics to cover next, please send to sexedwithdb@gmail.com


Wanna learn more?

Read our piece on Sex Ed in the South for more information on regional sex education across America


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