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Sex educator Jenny Keane on smashing stereotypes, removing shame and teaching people how to harness their sexual power


By Sarah Finnan
10th Mar 2022
Sex educator Jenny Keane on smashing stereotypes, removing shame and teaching people how to harness their sexual power

Talking openly about sex can still seem like one of the last taboos. Holistic sex educator Jenny Keane is here to change that.

Explaining what exactly it is that her work entails, Jenny says that the phrase “holistic sex educator” stems from her background as a somatic sex educator and trauma therapist. “It can be a bit of a mouthful,” she laughs. “The word somatic comes from the word ‘soma’ meaning body. In somatic systems of therapy and education, we treat the body not just as an object that has a particular shape, size, job to do, etc, but as a place of experience too.

“So, yes, I teach anatomy and physiology, but I also work in a slightly different way where-in I try to give people an embodied experience of their sexuality. Ultimately, I teach women how to prioritise pleasure in a way that nurtures self-awareness, connection and self-love. And I try to do it in a way that makes sex education simple, fun and unashamedly normal.”

Open conversation

Intent on disrupting the system and changing not only how we talk about sex, but how we think about it too, Jenny agrees that it can be a hard topic to broach. 

“Approaching the topic of sex at any age can seem initially very daunting, or even weird, but when we talk about sex education we are not just talking about penetrative sex, we are talking about sexuality – which includes topics like self-confidence, self-worth and self-expression, to name a few. 

“Our sexuality is an inherent part of who we are, how we exist, and how show up in the world. When we open conversations about sex and sexuality, we normalise something that is SO NORMAL and this has incredible effects that ripple into all areas of our life including our overall well-being. It is a conversation everyone should be involved in.”

Clearly very passionate about breaking stereotypes and ensuring that everyone is included in the conversation, Jenny was ultimately led to her chosen career path from her own personal experiences. 

Feeling broken 

“This is a bit of a long story that has many different paths converging all at once. In short, I had multiple experiences in my 20s where I found myself trying to live through intense menstrual issues. I disconnected from myself and was asking questions no one had the answers to (like, is that pee or did I squirt!?). I was unsure how to fully express my wants and was sexually experiencing numbness. 

“The western medical route left me with even more questions and a feeling that I was broken and there was no hope for me, so I tried to find the answers elsewhere. I should add that I am in full support of western medicine, but I wanted to know if there were more options than the ones I was given. So, I started down this particular path because I was curious. 

“I had questions and in following them, I found myself on an incredible journey of self-discovery. I never really set out to be a sex educator but the more I was learning the more I couldn’t not share what I was discovering for myself. What I realised is that we all have the same questions, concerns, worries. There is not one experience we are ever alone in and even when you think you do not have options, education gives what you are going through context, which then empowers you with knowledge about where and how to take the next steps.”

Finding your power

On a mission to “ignite a large-scale sexual revolution in Ireland”, Jenny says that it’s about more than just pleasure. “What really drives me personally in doing this work has much more to do with power. I have seen powerful people who may never have had the opportunity to experience themselves as powerful, who didn’t even know being powerful was an option. I have seen women who have given their power away, and women who have had their power taken from them. I don’t know if there is one woman that escapes experiencing at least one of these, myself included. 

“What I know to be true is when you learn to take an active role in your sexuality, you learn to harness your own source of power that then has the ability to spread like wildfire, sparking the next woman and the next woman, and the next woman to follow suit. This is what my mission is, to teach women who feel or have felt powerless, how to experience themselves as powerful – to teach them how to harness that power with love, and to teach them how to generously share it with others.”

Online community

Connection is a huge part of the job too – it’s actually one of the things Jenny most loves about her work. “Connecting with the large community of women that engage with the conversations we have on Instagram is my favourite part of the job – and anyone who has ever been to a workshop will know the chat box is where it all happens! 

“As I’m teaching, I’m always encouraging the conversation to continue on alongside what I’m saying and something that I really love about teaching sex ed in Ireland is that Irish people are super curious. So, they come to learn but my goodness do we know how to have a laugh! 

“The women that attend the workshops – especially the women that attend regularly – just make them what they are. They are instrumental in creating a really non-judgemental, supportive and absolutely hilarious environment for everyone to be in. I always leave the workshops having had such a laugh with everyone.”

Public reception

Anyone familiar with Jenny’s work online will know that her workshops always get a huge reaction, but it can be difficult to get people to engage with content around sex. “I have always felt this education was so important but getting Irish people to engage with it has been another story,” she admits.

Surprisingly, lockdown actually helped in this department. “I started running the Orgasm workshop in-person in 2016 and 12 women attended. By 2019 we had 23 women attending, but lockdown pushing everyone online allowed for the work I was doing to spread at such a rapid rate, growing from 100 women in one workshop to 800 in another, to 3000, to 8000 women… in one workshop! And this was all word of mouth. Women talking to other women.”

According to a new brief on women-led business from Meta’s ongoing State of Small Business study, 64% of Facebook Groups in Ireland related to entrepreneurship have been created by women since 2021. There has also been an increase of 34% in Irish women-owned businesses on Instagram since the start of the pandemic and 20% of female-led businesses on Facebook in Ireland were set up since the start of the pandemic.

In other words, women have shown – and continue showing – incredible resilience over the past two years, and female entrepreneurs such as Jenny Keane prove it’s possible to effectively shift businesses completely online. 

“Beyond this, the feedback I hear on a consistent basis is just how refreshing it is to hear an Irish woman speaking so openly and unashamedly about sex. How vital and necessary this education is for everyone, at all ages, and how supportive and empowering it is for people to realise they are not alone in what they are going through. I believe when we learn how to remove shame and become comfortable having open conversations about sex we give other people permission to do the same and I have seen the conversation and curiosity around sex in Ireland change at a rapid rate in just two years. 

“It’s exciting to think about what the future holds for us, because Ireland, with our history, is most certainly a country that needs to change its relationship to sex and sexuality.”

The last taboo?

Despite huge progress being made on the topic of sexual wellness in recent years, it’s still considered somewhat of a taboo by people. How does Jenny encourage open conversation? Social media has helped greatly. “I absolutely could not do this work without Instagram,” she tells me. “The work I am doing, what I teach and how I teach it comes as a result of the conversations I am having with the people who are participating and engaging with me on Instagram. I am really intentional about the space I create on Instagram and our community on Instagram know they are integral to creating that space too, making sure it is shame-free, supportive and non-judgmental.”

“I am delighted to have a really engaged community on Instagram where I facilitate large scale conversations about different subjects ranging from sex toys to sex drive, one night stands to self-pleasure, anal sex to pegging and so much more. The best part is everyone gets involved because Instagram offers a chance for people to share anonymously – and I think in a country as small as Ireland, this is so important. It is so powerful to see hundreds of other women and men sharing their experiences, their struggles, their triumphs. It helps to break taboos, remove shame and powerfully teaches people that their questions are not silly, their experiences are not weird, and again… they are not alone.

“People see themselves, their stories, their lived experiences in the answers shared and it helps to inspire new ways of thinking about subjects, broadens views and shifts perspectives. Instagram has been a very useful tool for me and pivotal in
the way it is possible to make connections with people I would not be able to speak to and with otherwise. It honestly really helped me grow the community and take my
business to places I could not have imagined.”

Workshops

Already having mentioned some of the workshops she runs, Jenny says that there is one idea she really wants to drive home: our sexual well-being is as important to our overall well-being as our mental, emotional and physical health. “I really want to show people that good quality sex education can absolutely change your overall life for the better. Sex education gives you a language around engaging with your sexuality and sexual well-being, and realistically, everything great in life – business, family, and love – is born out of great communication. Sex is no different. A great sex life with others starts with being in conversation with yourself first.” 

Irish people tend to lean towards a passive approach when it comes to how we engage with our sexuality, Jenny notes, pointing out that this is largely due to a lack of proper sex education in the country. Education is the key to empowerment though. 

As for the women she looks to for inspiration and empowerment? That’s an easy question to answer for Jenny, who replies, “All I am going to say to this is… what woman isn’t inspiring!?”

Only three months in and busier than ever, 2022 is shaping up to be one hell of a year for Jenny Keane. She’s taking it all in her stride though. “Right now I’m taking time to focus on putting structure around my business in a way that is sustainable and getting in the right support to help me so we can continue to grow. Watch this space! My ladies are a wonderfully creative bunch,” she assures me. 

On International Women’s Day and throughout Women’s History Month, Meta recognises what women have faced and celebrates those who go beyond, time and again. Shining a light on female-founded SMBs who use Meta apps to connect with their customers every day, it’s all part of their Deserve To Be Found campaign that promotes change, elevates women-owned businesses, and works toward economic opportunities for all.