To omit Zoe’s contributions to the media industry simply because she has written about sex toys perpetuates the age-old trope that women should not talk about – or enjoy – sex (Picture: David M. Benett / Getty Images)
Last weekend, I was shocked to discover that Zoe Sugg, better known as Zoella, had been taken out of a GCSE media syllabus.
Why? Because her site features ‘adult content’, which many believe refers to her sex toy reviews.
Though I’m not a particularly big fan of Zoe’s, her success is indisputable; she began her career as a YouTube star back in 2009 and has since built an empire –which would make her the perfect example for media students to learn from.
But the AQA exam board, which made the decision to remove her YouTube channel from the curriculum, clearly felt differently.
This is problematic for many reasons.
For starters, it’s misogynistic. To omit Zoe’s contributions to the media industry simply because she has written about sex toys and masturbation sends a dangerous message.
It perpetuates the age-old trope that women should not talk about – or enjoy – sex, and that we will be punished if we do. Make no mistake, this is no different to telling a woman she shouldn’t wear a certain outfit or use provocative language, lest she be judged for it and branded a slut.
Apparently, the decision came after parents complained that Zoe’s website features adult content including phrases such as ‘wish-granting baton’ and ‘majestic finger puppet’ to describe vibrators.
Sorry, but how exactly should someone describe a sex toy?
To the parents who complained, I ask: do you really think that your children are oblivious to sexual pleasure?
I myself first discovered my clitoris aged 12.
Our bodies are there to be explored and whether you teach your kids about masturbation or not, their hands will eventually find their way.
And I highly doubt it will be because Zoella was included in their syllabus.
By shaming Zoe, the exam board is further contributing to the orgasm and masturbation gap and teaching children that boys and girls answer to a different set of rules (Picture: Zoe Sugg / Instagram)
Sex education in the UK is already severely lacking; the RSE module was only made compulsory as of September 2020, when it was expanded to include conversations around relationships, consent and pleasure.
And in lieu of school sources, children and teenagers will turn to the internet for answers – which is a double-edged sword, as they are exposed to porn that doesn’t focus on female pleasure (negative) versus sex toy reviews that could be useful for women who struggle to orgasm (positive).
According to LELO, a sexual wellness company, 70% of men are comfortable including their partner in masturbation, compared to just 40% of women.
By shaming Zoe, the exam board is further contributing to the orgasm and masturbation gap and teaching children that boys and girls answer to a different set of rules.
I have written about everything from anal sex to orgies, even reporting direct from a sex club, as well as attending a naked speed-dating event. I have shared tidbits from my own sexual exploits, and I have no regrets in doing so.
But I do wonder if my choices – like Zoe’s – will one day come back to haunt me, especially since I have already suffered discrimination as a result.
A few years ago, I lost a contract because a client had spotted an article I had written about vibrators. The brand felt it wasn’t ‘appropriate’ that I remain working with them, even though I hadn’t broken any rules in our agreement.
At the time, I was young and didn’t want to make a fuss, but I should have – and that’s why I’m thrilled that Zoe hasn’t taken the news lying down.
Hilariously, the YouTuber wasn’t even aware that her channel had been chosen to be part of the curriculum. She said that her website discusses not just sex toys but ‘periods, masturbation, sex, fertility’ and as such, could be a valuable resource for young women.
‘I actually disagree that teens shouldn’t be learning about this stuff. Maybe not in their [exam curriculum] but how else are teenage girls going to find out more about being a woman? I wish I had a website like Zoella when I was growing up,’ Zoe wrote in a statement.
I couldn’t agree more.
Let’s arm children and teenagers with the knowledge they need, not teach them that successful women who like sex will be punished.
I can promise that the latter will do far more harm than reading about the pleasures of a ‘wish-granting baton’.