Tara Jones: sex educator and advocate
College of Arts & Science senior is calling for comprehensive sex education centering around black and queer voices.
Dec 10, 2021
When I first sat down with Tara Jones in Jurow Lecture Hall, my mind was racing with all the questions I wanted to ask. She was “the Sex Educator,” according to her Instagram. I could not stomach coming off as unprepared because she really knows her shit! But the warmth that radiated from her the moment we began talking ceased my racing thoughts, and a conversation began to flow.
Jones first realized her place in the world of sexual education when people started to engage with the stories she shared on social media.
“I’ve always been kind of an open-book sort of person,” Jones said. “And through having a private account — my finsta when I was in high school — and just talking about my sex life really openly, I realized that it seemed to be resonating with a lot of people.”
Jones now runs a public Instagram page, @tara.michaela, which currently has over 5,000 followers. Her social media platform centers itself around the voices of the unheard, whether through stories about Black women and their relationship to sexual trauma or by exploring what queer sex is. She aims to bring light to the harm caused by racism, heteronormativity and fetishization, while also empowering people to be more vocal and confident in their own sexualities.
Though her voice has fostered a safe space for people to explore and discuss topics they might not otherwise feel comfortable sharing, Jones remains humble.
“I’m still on this learning journey,” Jones said. “What’s really cool about sex education … is once you start, there’s no end point … I feel like I’m like maybe three percent into the giant, general knowledge of what sex is because everyone defines it so differently with things like BDSM, queer identities and queer histories. There’s so much to know and understand. So I’ll never pretend to be all-knowing, because I’m not.”
For Nicole Poiré Alger, a fellow sex educator and NYU student, connecting with Tara has empowered her and informed her own education as well.
“Tara’s account has become an inspiration and a ray of hope for me,” Alger said. “Even though I feel passionate about [sex] education … it can be extremely scary. Not only are sex educators systematically silenced, judged and rejected, there is also a lot of vulnerability and authenticity you have to put out there when doing the job. When I found Tara’s account I sighed in relief — I had found a brave woman from my school paving the way for … people that cared about useful and honest sex education.”
Jones’ journey with sex ed became more empowering through understanding her own queerness. She recounts her time growing up in a white neighborhood, where people would often use queerness as a way to deflect from confronting their own prejudices.
“I saw white people sort of cling to their queerness as a defense mechanism whenever conversations about race would come up and they would get uncomfortable,” Jones said. “They were like, ‘you know, I’m queer,’ which sort of became what queerness was to me, unfortunately. And I think stepping out of that bubble and … into this realm of sex ed and getting so much more exposure to so many queer people of color, I can actually be able to define queerness for myself.”
Her role is not limited to just understanding her own queerness, though. She draws on the importance of the relationship between ourselves and our sexualities — especially in bed.
“There are other sex educators who are like, ‘I always stand up for what I want, I always communicate my needs in bed, I always do this and that,’” Jones said. “ I have social anxiety. I’ve struggled with communicating my needs, and I’ve struggled with my sense of deservingness. I’ve struggled with how comfortable I feel communicating.”
To Jones, recognizing our self-worth enough to communicate our needs is a journey. But the beauty of sexuality lies not only in loving ourselves but also in being socially aware and understanding how social factors play a role in our sex lives. Even in intimate moments, racism, sexism and other bigoted ideas can seep in.
“It can be to the point that you could physically be in the middle of something, and you’re getting microaggressed,” Jones said. “And it’s stuff that Black people, Asian people, all of these marginalized groups have to deal with that white people don’t even have to think about.”
These microaggressions translate into her academic life as well. Jones’ transition from sociology and the pre-law track to gender and sexuality studies in the College of Arts & Sciences was a natural progression as she became more engaged with sex ed. But respectability politics, in which conformity serves as protection, come into play even in such a field because of the assumptions that are created against her as a Black queer woman.
“It would be nice to say that [respectability politics] don’t affect me,” Jones said. “I think what ultimately keeps me going is the fact that it’s such a stupid white invention, the fact that I would have to do anything or be anything in order to be respectable. Being a human being, I should be respectable. I don’t always have to prove myself.”
Ultimately, Jones hopes to impact both younger and older audiences so families can facilitate conversations about sexuality without shame and stigma.
“I’m really excited about [sharing] resources around how to be a sex-positive parent,” Jones said. “How to teach your child about their anatomy in a way that’s honest and not stigmatizing, how to encourage self-stimulation instead of denying your child pleasure and knowledge about their own body.”
For now though, Jones’ work is already having an impact on her peers.
“Tara is honest, passionate and one of my favorite critical thinkers — I promise you, read her monthly newsletter and you will laugh, cry and learn so much about yourself and how to view the human sexual experience,” Alger said. “She gives permission to everyone around her to do the same. Tara’s work gives us information on how to best live our our sex lives.”
Tara Jones is a person to watch. The passion she has for her work and the compassion she has for people have made her a trailblazer. By bringing in her own experiences and amplifying others’, she has made a place for herself and her audience to be open and honest about their sex lives.
“If this even helps one person feel less alone or more comfortable to speak out or be honest about what happened to them, that’s good for me,” Jones said. “That’s enough. I’ve had my impact.”
Contact Rachel Mashambanhaka at [email protected].