The principles of queer theory have escaped from the college campus and made their way into a summer camp for children in rural Kentucky. Last year, a nonprofit coalition called Sexy Sex Ed organized a series of “Sexy Summer Camp” events targeted toward minors that included lessons on “sex liberation,” “gender exploration,” “BDSM,” “being a sex worker,” “self-managed abortions,” and “sexual activity while using licit and illicit drugs.”
The program is the brainchild of Tanya Turner, who calls herself a “femme, fat, queer, magical pleasure worker” who was raised by “a host of witchy women” in a “coven-like mountain matriarchy” and uses “crystals,” “sex toys,” and “tarot” in her teaching. She founded Sexy Sex Ed in 2012 and has run dozens of events across the Appalachian region, recruiting LGBTQ youth and working with a number of regional philanthropies, including the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, Southern Power Fund, Chorus Foundation, and Rise Healthy for Life, which is affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist church. According to the organization’s promotions materials, the purpose of Sexy Summer Camp is to teach “teenagers and people of all ages to openly discuss personal and political consent, sexual safety, and anatomy.”
These euphemisms, however, obscure the true mission of the camp’s programming. The agenda for last year’s events, which I have obtained from the organization’s publicly available calendar, reads like the syllabus from a radical queer theory seminar. The sessions included “Sex With Me Self-Pleasure Workshop,” “Gender Diversity,” “Let’s Talk About Sex,” “Sexy Trans Sex Ed,” “The 3 P’s: Pee, Poop, and Pleasure,” “Sex on Drugs,” and “Eugenics in Appalachia.” The biographical details of the instructors reveal even more about the camp’s political orientation: one describes herself as a “radical queer mountain woman” who loves “social justice”; another calls herself a “young, nonbinary queer” who “spends time co-facilitating sex education workshops for fellow Appalachian youth”; a third identifies as a “young, fat, differently-abled, queer community organizer” who is “fighting for inclusivity for people like her.”
Such a program would hardly cause a stir on the campuses of Oberlin or Barnard, but Sexy Sex Ed is hosting its programs in a deep-red state and recruiting children as young as 13 to discuss graphic sexual practices with the instructors and adult co-participants in their thirties and forties. The camp organizers have admitted that they target vulnerable youth, including foster children, who are at high risk of sexual abuse. In one video, founder Tanya Turner says, “Masturbation is really healthy, and I recommend it to people of all ages. All ages. As soon as my nephews could talk, they were doing that.”
In a saner world, these statements and materials would all be red flags. Yet Sexy Summer Camp has received lavish praise in the media. Yes! magazine told readers that the program “helps rural young people feel more comfortable discussing their bodies, sex, and reproductive health to empower them to advocate for themselves.” CNN reported that Sexy Sex Ed is “what women in Appalachian Kentucky really want,” framing the summer camp as a way to “bring honest conversations to young people to fill the void left behind by homes and schools.”
Programs like Sexy Summer Camp are unfortunately becoming more common in the United States. Another organization in Indiana was recently exposed for hosting a camp for children as young as eight that featured an instructor who encourages children to explore “gender identity,” “kink,” and “condom demonstration[s].” Activists have tried to launder this type of material into schools and nonprofit programs through the guise of “comprehensive sex education,” another euphemism that might lull the public into complacency. Parents should proceed with caution: summer camps, which once taught archery, fishing, and hiking, might now be teaching kink, polyamory, and BDSM. Before making summer plans for their children, families should take a close look at the curriculum and make sure it does not look like that of the Sexy Summer Camp in Kentucky.