Everything You Ever Wanted to Learn About Sex from Webcomics (But Were Afraid to Ask)
At first glance, Danielle Corsetto's webcomic Girls with Slingshots seems like an unlikely place to find a little sex ed. Although it's always been a bit more on the adult side, with its tequila-induced hallucinatory houseplants and near-apocalypse caused by shortage of vibrator-powering AA batteries, GWS is one of webcomics' closest successors to the syndicated newspaper comic. And I'm routinely surprised by the range of my friends who read it; lawyers, software engineers and teachers, male and female alike, can't get enough of the drunken adventures of Hazel, Jaime and their friends.
But I appreciate the frank, sometimes didactic that appear in GWS and other corners of the comics universe. And I've been pleasantly surprised to find that, when you read certain comics about sex and relationships, you might even learn something.Since I kicked things off with Girls with Slingshots, let's start there. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that Corsetto has so often taken her readers by the hand and reminded them of the joys of safe, consenting sex. After all, Hazel has a job at Pussy Whipped Magazine, various characters worked as porn store clerks and dominatrices, and the strip's ladies teamed up to form the "Confident Pussy Club." In fact, if the Confident Pussy Club is GWS's sole legacy in the world, Corsetto should give herself a nice pat on the backside. It's just lovely to see a group of women meeting up just to instill self-confidence in one another. And I also appreciate that she did her male characters the same courtesy, even if they're still trying to figure out what they have in common besides anatomy.
The truth is, Corsetto goes to great pains to make her comics sex-positive, woman-positive and man-positive. But because the focus is on just the normal everyday lives of her still-wandering twentysomethings, there's a light-hearted gentleness to her sex talks. For all their imperfections, Hazel and Jaime feel like people I could be friends with, and I get the impression that a lot of my fellow GWS fans feel the same way. So when Jaime drags Hazel to the gynecologist or Thea and Angel have the safe lesbian sex talk, there's a lot of warmth beneath Corsetto's lessons. She even keeps the mood light when one of her number contracts an STD; instead of genital warts, the unfortunate Thea contracts restless leg syndrome:
That kind of humor works well for Corsetto's purposes -- in this case, everyone more or less behaves like Thea dodged a potentially more dangerous (if less humiliating) bullet. It serves as a healthy reminder to go to the doctor, get tested and have that safe sex talk with your partner.
Earlier, I mentioned my great love for Erika Moen's sex comics. When Moen gets directly instructive in her comics, there's a distinctly sororal tone to her advice. Moen puts her metaphorical arm over the reader and leads him or her through the wonderful world of sex with girls. With Girls with Slingshots, it's more of a nudge from a friend, a "Hey, lady. Are you using dental dams down there?"
But Corsetto has also used that humor to tackle weightier topics. In one story arc, the abrasive Candy goes on a date with nice guy Chris, and tries to literally strong-arm him into having sex with her. Despite the initial high-fiving response from one of the male cast members, Corsetto uses the moment as an opportunity to discuss the reality of female-on-male rape as other characters condemned Candy's actions -- although it has made some readers uncomfortable that Candy remained part of the cast.
Even as Corsetto leads us through the more conventional sexual education topics -- protection, STD testing, consent -- she also reminds her readers that sexuality comes in a number of flavors, not all of them particularly active. Jaime, the comic's bubbly, kittens-in-the-cleavage better half, actually isn't much for intercourse, and she's portrayed as no worse -- and no better -- than anyone else for it.
Perhaps Corsetto is standing half a foot high on her soapbox, but it feels more like she's handing her readers a toolbox. Here are the people out in the world, she says. Aren't they nice? Here are the straight people, the gay people, the asexual romantics who swing both ways. And here are the ways different they stay safe -- and don't forget: consent works both ways. That is soapbox detergent I will happily buy while making my pap smear appointment.
And even in more explicitly titillating comics, there's that same instructive impulse. Gisèle Lagacé's Ménage à 3 (previously on ComicsAlliance) could easily be subtitled "How to Lose Your Straight-Guy Virginity Without Completely Embarrassing Yourself." The protagonist Gary is a sexual late bloomer, a virgin in his late twenties who's gained most of his erroneous sexual knowledge from porn. Even amidst the panty shots and guy-on-guy makeouts, Lagacé takes time out to school her hero on the bad ideas he's gotten from porn.
So Gary makes it his mission to learn how to please the ladies before he cashes in his V-card. While Lagacé may not offer the dance steps on the cunnilingus swirly that makes the gals go wild, her message is clear. When Gary ultimately (and unexpectedly) loses his virginity, he succeeds because he wants to plant his tongue between the lady's legs and give her the same pleasure she just granted him. It's sweet, it's sexy and it's not half-bad-advice for someone in a similar situation.
And then there's the way that some comics let us peer into other people's sexual lives. This is a medium that has attracted people from all across the sexual and gender spectrum, and that offers us an unusual insight into sexual intimacy that I, at least, don't see much in other media. For example, the first transgendered character I remember encountering is Judi, a minor character from Christopher Baldwin's long-running webcomic Bruno. Most of the characters, including Bruno herself, aren't aware that Judi is transgendered, but every now and then Baldwin offers brief flashes inside Judi's private sexual life, like this one:
I love pornographic comics, raunchy comics, comics that are designed to titillate. But it's especially lovely when comics can be sexy and also offer some insight into the human sexual experience. There's also at least one comic that actually solicits sex advice. Brad Guigar's weekly webcomic Courting Disaster features a letter from a troubled reader -- and a companion comic -- and asks other readers to offer their advice on the sexual matter at hand. The hope is that the comic encourages readers to learn a little bit about sex and relationships from one another. And some of these people really need help.