tree trunk with growth resembling an anus

Dam Tree Frottage!

Artsy fartsy sex ed class is going outside today.

“What are we doing?” my personal pod of teens asked.

I replied with the seriousness of a surgeon: “we’re going to do frottage”.

“What’s frottage?” they said in unison.

“Dry humping” I answered. 

I watch as they process that information. The look on their faces…priceless.

“What?! Ewww! Please tell me we’re not doing that!!”

I love getting these kinds of reactions. I have their attention, and that means they’re ripe for learning. 

Card about frottage from Barefaced game

Today’s project is inspired by a card from Barefaced game about the different definitions of frottage .

Now that you know the slang version of “frottage”, let me fill you in on the original definition of the word. 

Frottage is a french word for rubbing. It’s an ancient art technique that surrealist artist, Max Ernst, brought back into popularity in the 1920’s. 

Since the surrealists were not ones to shy away from sexual themes, I’ll bet Mr. Ernst loved the double meaning of this word. I sure do.

Class begins with a quick introduction to surrealism, Max Ernst, and the art technique called frottage. I found an overview of his work online, and noticed something interesting.

There’s a little disclaimer beneath the review, which says:

“There is a modern slang definition for frottage, but this is not the place for such things.”

The surrealists would have had fun imagining this reality: sexual repression, in the arts, in the 21st century.

They were calling attention to this shaming attitude 100 years ago, and here we are still dealing with it today. This is a great example of a teachable moment. 

When it comes to sexuality, the pendulum has been swinging back and forth throughout history.

In order to understand why there’s so much sex-negativity, it’s important to know this about our culture.

There’s no reason to avoid talking about all the meanings of frottage. Dry humping is not “dirty”…judging it is!

This here’s a good example of ertotophobia (the fear of sexuality) in action. 

To illustrate the tug-of-war we’re living in today, I found an article about frottage (as a sexual activity) on a health website that represents a more sex-positive explanation of frottage.

I used these two examples to show the kids how confusing modern culture is when it comes to sex and sexuality.

On the one hand, we have honest information dished up with a sense of humor. On the other hand, shaming and avoidance. 

condoms for artsy fartsy sex ed

Societies are constantly changing, and so do sexual norms.

For this reason, it can be difficult to know what’s considered acceptable sexual behavior. It’s depends, and changes over time.

Language is one area we can see this ever-changing landscape clearly. Take the definition of “sex”, for example.

In the not so distant past, modern culture had a bad habit of assuming sex is defined as penis in vagina intercourse. These days, we’re in the middle of that changing.

This limiting definition leaves out anyone who doesn’t engage in that one sexual activity, such as those who identify as LGBTQIA. It can also be troublesome for people who do.

There are plenty of heterosexual people who could benefit from a broader definition of sex.

Over 70% of people with vaginas don’t reach orgasm through sexual intercourse alone. They need clitoral stimulation to get there. There are a lot of heterosexual people who will benefit from a more broad definition of the word “sex”. 

Fortunately, our definition is expanding. defines “sex” as “engaging in sexual relations, especially sexual intercourse.” I wish it said “including sexual intercourse” rather than “especially sexual intercourse”, but it’s a start. 

My old, 20 pound dictionary from the 1960’s defines sex as “sexual intercourse and copulation”…end of story. 

Think of how this small shift could positively effect our society.

For one thing, it could help slow the spread of sexually transmitted infections. 

Outercourse is some of the safest sex we can have. Instead of just teaching young people how to have safer sex by using condoms, a broader definition of sex could help normalize activities like frottage and mutual masturbation too. 

As a result, fear based sexuality education could begin to transform into pleasure based sex ed. Not only is that more effective, it’s more realistic too. 

Seems easy enough, right?

Unfortunately, social changes move at a snail’s pace. First, we have to be able to say sexual words out loud without collapsing in shame.

dental dam for artsy fartsy sex ed

That’s what the Dam Tree Frottage project is going to do…normalize conversations about sex and sexuality.

It’s time for the hands-on portion of our lesson, so I bring out the flavored barrier protection.

None of the kids have seen a dental dam before, so I give a demonstration on a banana one. Sex ed classes in schools rarely demo condoms, let alone dental dams, so this is important stuff to do at home.

My daughter is especially mortified seeing my tongue poke around the dam, so I make it as dramatic as possible. 

Next, we turn flavored condoms into dental dams. This ends up being a gooey mess because they’re lubricated, but it’s good for them to have the experience. I explain that plastic wrap can be used as a dam too.  

Now that we have that out of the way, I grab the art supplies and we head out to do some frottage…the artistic kind.

We drive to a row of trees I like to admire. They have odd growths on their trunks that resemble an anus. These provide us with some good texture for our frottage, and are helpful in visualizing the proper use of dental dams. 

 It’s a rainy day, so the plastic wrap “dam” over the “anus” on the tree trunk comes in handy. It prevents the paper from getting wet and soggy…barrier protection in action!

Everyone does a quick rubbing, using a colored chalk pastel, on their chosen tree. I’m not sure if the people passing by notice we’re doing rubbings of a tree anus, but I wish I could hear their thoughts.

plastic wrap "dental dam" on a tree trunk for artsy sex ed

On our way home, I stop at a local drug store to show the kids a common dilemma they’ll soon run into: no dental dams for sale. 

This big box retailer doesn’t offer dental dams, but they do have vibrators. Go figure…I  guess supporting self-pleasure counts as a step in the right direction.

As we’re looking at the sexual health aisle, questions about emergency contraception, lube, and vibrators arise.

At this point, these kids are pretty comfortable talking about sexuality-related topics. Unlike many people, they don’t lower their voice to a whisper either.

There’s a person in line for the pharmacy that’s visibly uncomfortable with this. It’s okay…we just ignore them.

Frottage art on a tree trunk for sex ed class

Artsy fartsy sex ed is about the journey more than the outcome.

The creative portion of todays class only took 10 minutes, and the art we created was not very exciting. But, the point of these classes is to create a safe space for open conversations.

Of course, there are important facts that are essential to teach in sex ed. But, one class per subject isn’t going to cut it.

It takes lots of little conversations, integrated throughout the day.

In the long run, having fun and connecting makes it more tolerable for everyone.

If these hands-on experiences don’t help with making the information stick, the utter ridiculousness of it all should do the trick.

Now, go do some dam tree frottage!

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