Kate McCombs’ plush vulva puppet is well-travelled.
“I love the vulva puppet!” she said. “I’ve taken my vulva puppet around the world and taken pictures of it in front of famous monuments.”
A sex educator based in New York City, McCombs oversees “an international squad of sex geeks” as the founder of Sex Geekdom, a collective for people like her who are unabashedly enthusiastic about sharing accurate sexual health information and having meaningful conversations about sexuality.
Self-proclaimed sex geeks meet in groups organised by city called “hubs,” each with an emissary in charge of coordinating events like informational sessions about foreplay and orgasms, as well as more casual outings like sex-themed museum scavenger hunts.
The puppet is just one of many quirky, creative tools that McCombs uses to run educational sex workshops in cities around the world.
McCombs has been passionate about sex education since she was younger, but decided to build a community around it while earning her Master’s in Public Health.
McCombs credits her mother with her ability to talk openly about sex from a young age. Because she had access to lots of information, she quickly became the go-to friend when anyone had questions about their changing bodies.
“As I got older, I started figuring out that I was a sex geek,” she said. “I didn’t have that term then, but I would read everything I could get my hands on about sexuality. I remember ravenously reading pamphlets about STIs before I’d even had sex just because it really interested me.”
As an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, she connected with professional sex educators and discovered that answering people’s questions was an actual job — one that she wanted. She went on to get her Master’s in Public Health from the University of Melbourne in Australia.
It was there that Sex Geekdom was born.
“I had personally gotten connected to a lot of people doing interesting sexuality-related work in a lot of different sectors,” she said, “but they didn’t all know each other. I was very much immersed in this whole world of public health, where all the sexual health people would hang out and talk about gonorrhea all day. And while I love that — that’s totally my idea of a good time —
it’s nice to talk about sexuality more holistically.”
A sex educator named Reid Mihalko, creator of “cuddle parties,” had coined the term “sex geek” to describe people who can’t get enough of learning, applying, and spreading accurate sexual health information, inspiring the name for McCombs’ initiative.
“I remember the first time I heard that term, I was like ‘Oh my god that’s me,'” she said.
She reached out to people already in her network — healthcare workers, employees of sex toy shops, youth and adult sex educators, kink educators, erotica writers — and held the first meetup with a dozen people at a bar in Melbourne.
When word got around on social media and the blogosphere, sex geeks in other cities began asking how to establish hubs of their own.
“I was out in California visiting some family in L.A. and someone I knew contacted me and said, ‘Hey, I’d love to start a Sex Geekdom hub in LA, would you help get this started?'” she recalled. “And I was like, ‘Sure, this sounds amazing!”
A guest appearance on Sexplanations, a YouTube channel with over 236,000 subscribers hosted by sexologist Dr. Lindsey Doe (“such a darling, wonderful human being,” McCombs gushed), gave the project another boost. McCombs estimates that there are now about twenty-five hubs in cities across the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and Singapore, with more launching all the time.
“There are some recent hubs that have started in the last month or so that we haven’t put up on the website yet,” she said.
McComb’s workshops focus on fostering effective sexual communication by practicing empathy.
Sex Geekdom’s educational programming focuses specifically on adult sex education. McCombs believes that learning should be a lifelong pursuit, especially in regards to sexuality, and often encounters adults who still don’t know much about their own bodies.
“Sexuality changes throughout our lifetime,” she said, “and even if you got fantastic comprehensive sex ed as a young person, it’s really unlikely that that’s going to prepare you for every stage of your adult life.”
Related to this gap is another common issue McCombs encounters in her work: problems with partners rooted in poor sexual communication.
“It’s always kind of fascinating to me — and it’s not surprising because I encounter this all the time — how incredibly high-functioning adults with fantastic careers and college degrees, that otherwise go through life so competently, have such rudimentary knowledge of how to talk about what they want in bed,” she said.
The cornerstone of good communication, McCombs teaches, is empathy. In a workshop entitled “Become a Sexual Communication Superhero,” she explains the vital role of empathy in sexual relationships. In “Tea and Empathy” workshops, she creates a space to hone this superpower where participants give and receive empathy over steaming mugs of tea. In “Aim for Awesome: A Practical Guide to Enthusiastic Consent,” she offers practical tips for communicating boundaries.
The relationship between empathy and healthy sexuality is, in her words, “a very overlapping Venn diagram.”
“You can know every sexual technique in existence,” she said, “but if you don’t have the communication skills to actually find out what it is that will co-create a sexual experience, that knowledge of technique is not really useful.”
McCombs hopes that Sex Geekdom will continue to grow, bringing more people together to learn from each other, gain the skills they need to have the sex they want, and, of course, have geeky conversations about sex.
“I endlessly feel so grateful for Sex Geekdom, the joy that it’s brought to my life, and the people it’s brought into my world,” she said.
For a schedule of upcoming workshops, check out KateMcCombs.com.
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