[Guest Post] “Everything I Know About Sex, I Learned from Dan Savage” by Ari Potter

Today’s post is a continuation of my sharing awesome pieces by new voices to sex writing! When I put out my call for pitches I was overwhelmed with the response and the extraordinary quality of so many of the ideas. What I loved about this piece was Ari’s honesty around the trials and tribulations of getting past the problematic ideas around sex that come from a conservative upbringing, and the way she’s told it with a straightforward and humorous tone. Definitely a writer we need to see more of! 

Heads up: this post uses the p-word that is sometimes used to refer to sex workers. It is used in the context of quoting something that was said many years ago, and not in a derogatory way by either the author or myself.

Now, over to Ari…

Amy x

“Everything I Know About Sex, I Learned from Dan Savage”

I am in bed with a recent partner. We are taking a pause to hydrate and I’m supposed to be
thinking about how I want to be fucked: this DJ takes requests. Our conversation turns to sex and childhood and, with a delicious situational irony, it transpires that we have both shaken off prudish attitudes conferred by quasi-religious upbringings. My own were inherited from relatively liberal Bengali parents. It’s not that sex was wrong, per se, but the constraints under which it could be enjoyed were strictly limited: within marriage, to one person, of the opposite sex to you, for life.

Of course, they never sat me down to convey this diktat. Indeed, the sex talk that I got from
my parents was clinical and secondhand. When watching a subtitled Les Miserables aged eight or nine, I asked my parents what a ‘prostitute’ was. They told me to look it up, which led me to asking what this ‘sex’ thing was that you could be paid for. Again, they delegated their responsibility to a book, and a Dorling Kindersley encyclopaedia with an illustrated cross section of two torsos missionarily-connected provided me with a scientifically functional but practically useless understanding.

Over the years, no more is said about the matter, but it becomes understood from their general reticence about me hanging out with boys that All Boys Want Is Sex and Sex Outside Of Marriage Is Very Bad. There’s more than a pinch of It’s Especially Bad For Girls! too, but they reassure me that’s not because they think that, but more because everyone else will.

Predictably, they learn through my adolescence that ‘you can read anything but you can’t do anything’ is a recipe for parental disaster. I have decided to ignore much of their advice on anything, considering everything from ‘don’t drink’ to ‘get home by 4pm’ under the same broad category of “too strict and reasonable to ignore”. So when the first peers start copping off with each other, I join them. Yet, unlike with the other rules that I have wholesale dismissed, the one about sex has some sticking power in my mind. Aged 15, it’s not that I think my parents are wrong, it’s that I think they don’t understand that it’s OK for me to sleep with my first boyfriend, because we’re in love and will one day marry. Obviously. (Editor’s note – I laughed so hard at this because I had EXACTLY the same train of thought at nearly the same age. Spoiler: reader, I did not marry him.)

The gradual dismantling of these archaic views on sex were a demonstration of hypocritical insistence on conservatism – constantly making exceptions to exempt your own behaviour while trying to maintain an increasingly unsustainable dogma. When I sleep with my next boyfriend (I’m 17 or thereabouts now), it’s okay… as long as you’re in love. After that it becomes fine if you’re in a relationship. Which is amended to add the exception of ‘and on holiday’ (?!) and then finally disappears entirely by the time I’m 21 and in theory, a fully fledged adult. Oh, with the now hilarious exception of ‘I don’t let people go down on me because I’m holding something back for The One’. (Ingenious spin for ‘I don’t have the patience to let inexperienced partners practise on me!’)

My parents don’t realise how far they have own-goaled. By my mid twenties, armed with the view that safe, consensual sex that doesn’t harm anyone is to be celebrated and recently out of a long term relationship, I am keen to make up for lost time. What becomes clear to me is that my introspection doesn’t match my enthusiasm. While I want to explore my desires, the conservative hang ups from my past leave me too ashamed or bewildered to interrogate what I want. The result is a peculiar mix of willingness to try things that means I go along with others’ kinks without knowing my own.

It leads me to question how much I enjoy sexual experiences on a purely physical level. A
public, group encounter with a masked man at a party was certainly anecdote-worthy, but
was it hot? Being decorated in various constellations of latex and rope makes me smile to
recall, but out of context feels faintly ridiculous. Pegging makes me feel as though I am able to confidently take a lead, but does it turn me on? More importantly: does it matter?

Dan Savage’s sex podcast describes a good lover as someone who’s GGG: good, giving
and game. And, rightly, the model assumes reciprocity. Yet, I find that my conditioning
around sex and shame leaves me unable to be frank with willing partners. I don’t want to
only be a participant in someone else’s fantasies without indulging my own, but they are
buried and when one surfaces I second-guess how much it is mine.

‘So what do you want me to do?’ asks my bedfellow, again. Good question.

Ari Potter is a Bengali-British writer who’s particulary interested in gender, mental health and cultural identity. She’s previously appeared in gal-dem, Orlando and Litro. By day, she works for a health and social care charity, and, separately, has recently launched her own campaign on consent and sex education. 

[Guest Post] “Liberating Myself from the Confines of Sex and Love Addiction” by Taylor Morley

This post is the second installment in my “new voices in sex writing” project. This was actually the first pitched piece that I read, and it went straight into the YES pile, on the grounds that it made me cry.

Taylor’s story is extremely powerful and I think will resonate with lots of us who have had our perfectly normal and healthy sexuality and/or romantic life pathologised. I have long been in the “sex addiction is not a thing” camp, and if you want to learn more about this from an expert’s point of view, I suggest you check out Dr David Ley’s fantastic book, “The Myth of Sex Addiction.”

Now over to Taylor… 

A spilled glass of red wine with the word "love" spelled out in the spill. For a post on sex and love addiction

“Liberating Myself from the Confines of Sex and Love Addiction”

“Maybe she abuses sex as a means to cope like her dad abused alcohol,” my psychology
classmate said, as she tapped her leg against the barstool, waiting impatiently for her
second beer.

“No,” the next one said, as she hung up with her boyfriend for the third time in 15
minutes. “It sounds like she has borderline tendencies. Like, she’s not actually borderline,
she just has the borderline-like tendency to act out sexually and lose herself in each and
every partner.”

My friend inhaled as if she was about to speak. Finally, an ally coming to my defense, I
thought naively. “I think Taylor just picks the wrong men and she lets sex negatively
impact her life. She’s definitely an addict.” Then, she changed the subject to talk about
her last failed casual hookup.

I had been the subject of many armchair psychology sessions such as this one. In these
scenarios, my body served as the blank screen onto which people projected their greatest
sexual anxieties, judgments, and fears. I would often sit quietly, as I did that night,
listening to people talk around me as they attempted to diagnose and explain me away. I
suspect that it was easier for them to categorize me and squeeze me into neat little
pathological boxes than to listen to my lived experience. If I were the only broken toy in
need of repair, then no one else would have to engage in any self-examination.

At that point, I had been in recovery for over 3 years, after my therapist and psychiatrist had agreed on a diagnosis of sex and love addiction at age 21.

But I had been a part of this process, as well. The tricky thing about sex and love addiction is that you have the opportunity to diagnose yourself. You can even do it online with a vague questionnaire. In reality, this ludicrous practice opens up far too much space for people who have been shamed sexually to convince themselves that they are, in fact, damaged. When you are raised in a society that defines ‘healthy sex’ in such a narrow fashion – heterosexual, procreative, monogamous sex with cis bodies and few partners – there is far too much room for everyone else to fall into the cracks. Down I fell.

It hadn’t always been this way.

With no basis for self-love, body positivity, or confidence
in my youth, I had somehow managed to build and sustain it on my own for a few
beautiful years. As I look back on it now in adulthood, I realize how magical and unique
that was. When I was 18, I wrote in my diary that sex was “exhilarating and life
affirming.” I basked in my own glow. I noted the way my freckles curved around the
right side of my back, and named my legs as my favorite body part. I wrote with
excitement about my last sexual encounter, reveling in the limitless feeling of orgasm.

While my friends pined for monogamous relationships, I preferred casual dynamics that
spoke to my need for exploration and freedom. But that kind of authenticity and self-
assuredness had no place in a world that refused to see me as a sexually autonomous
being, especially as a young woman. My wings would have to be clipped before I
reached the sun.

In those same years before the diagnosis, I was harassed and stalked both on and offline,
slut-shamed relentlessly by friends and classmates, sexually assaulted, and victimized by
image-based abuse (also known as revenge porn) on more than one occasion. The last
encounter with image-based abuse destroyed my budding career and all of my future
ambitions when the photos were sent to current and former employers and coworkers.
These events sent me tumbling down the rabbit hole of self-loathing, which had been the
goal all along. Once I had convinced myself that sex was negatively impacting my career
and relationships, I surrendered to the label of sex and love addict.

I went through the 12 steps, making amends to friends and loved ones, apologizing for “acting out” and allowing my quest for sex to overrule my life.

I examined past traumas, attended women-only meetings as often as possible, and took the program seriously. But as the years drudged on, questions and doubts loomed in the back of my mind. Why were straight and bisexual women overrepresented in all of these recovery meetings? Why were men defined as sex addicts, while women were always identified as sex and love addicts? If the scientific community had never legitimized this addiction, why were we so convinced that these diagnoses were correct? How could doctors even diagnose someone with a condition that did not exist in the DSM? These questions were left unanswered in meeting rooms, and they were always met with pushback and anger, as if I had pulled the rug out from underneath us all.

The underlying, bare bones message from clinicians and fellow addicts were the same:
“We see that you enjoy sex, but you don’t seem to feel an adequate level of remorse or
self-disgust about it.” The brazenness and the confidence, the casual nature of my
relationships – these were the attitudes and behaviors that needed to be fixed, or
eliminated entirely. While other people in the program insisted that recovery would bring
freedom from shame, I could not taste the independence. Instead, this so-called
‘recovery’ was a pillow held firmly over my face, suffocating me with shame. Every
subsequent sexual experience was an exercise in self-flagellation. Whenever I looked at a
man and felt a mere twinge of lust, or yearned for a casual encounter, I berated myself
internally for falling back into toxic behaviors and ran off to a meeting with my head
hung low.

When society grows tired of policing women’s sexual activity, they teach us to
police ourselves, and I was monitoring my own behavior so closely, no one else had to
weigh in. It was a dull, colorless existence, and it only served to exacerbate the
depression that was already simmering underneath.

If authenticity was my goal – and it was – I would have to liberate myself.

The first step was to exit the program and leave the sex and love addict identity behind. I sought out a sex therapist that had worked with other defectors from the program, and over the past few years, he has helped me re-learn how to have pleasurable, exhilarating, life-affirming sex without the existence of shame. It is a process that has yet to reach its
conclusion, but for the first time in over a decade, I have no interest in contorting myself
to fit into a tiny box in order to be more palatable or acceptable to society. My healthy
relationship with sex will not be explained away, or pathologized. You will just have to
sit there quietly, and listen to my lived experience.

Taylor Morley is an activist, writer, and advocate who writes and speaks on topics ranging from sexual liberation, to anti-imperialism and human rights issues. She does marketing and development for non-profit organizations in Los Angeles, where she resides with her Dorothy Parker books and her vinyl collection.

Sex Not Stigma: Using My Sexuality to Manage My Mental Health

Content note: this post discusses mental health struggles in detail and includes slurs and a brief reference to suicide.

Today is #WorldMentalHealthDay. Thousands of brave people have spoken out about their struggles with various mental health conditions. I shared a little bit of my story on Twitter too, if you’re interested. Short version: I live with depression and anxiety.

I use a whole litany of tools to manage my mental health. I take medication, I’m working with The Best Therapist Ever, and I’ve learned to effectively regulate my physical and mental energy levels. I’ve also consistently found sex, masturbation and kink to be really useful and positive items in this toolbox.

A black and white picture of a heterosexual-read couple, sitting together with the woman's head resting on the man's shoulder in an affectionate fashion. They both have dark hair and the man has a beard and tattoos. Pixture by Hot Octopuss and given for a sponsored post about Mental Health Week.

#SexNotStigma

It is ridiculous to me that today, in twenty-freaking-seventeen, that there is STILL such stigma around both mental illness and sex. They are two of the great taboos that plague our society.

As a woman, admitting that you like to have sex can be a radical – and dangerous – act.  Speaking up about a mental health struggles is risky and brave for anybody to do. Words like “crazy” and “psycho” are thrown around with abandon. People with mental health issues are routinely portrayed as dangerous. Services that actually help us are thin on the ground and getting cut left, right and centre. Being a woman who talks about sex and is also open about her mental health. Ohhh, boy…

I’ve had my promiscuity chalked up to my mental health conditions more times than I can count. (“Poor girl, she’s acting out sexually because she’s depressed” at best, or “crazy whore!” at worst.) Interestingly, the same has also been true in reverse (“you wouldn’t be so depressed if you’d stop sleeping around!”) But that’s not how this works! I’m a proud slut[1] AND I have a mental health condition. One did not cause the other and ceasing one[2] will not “cure” the other.

The #SexNotStigma campaign aims to break taboos when it comes to talking about sex, including that surrounding sex and mental health. This post is my attempt to add my voice to that vital conversation.

I wrote recently about how I don’t think “don’t play when you’re depressed” is useful or realistic advice, and today I want to expand on that and talk about why, far from being off-limits when I’m low, sexuality has probably helped save my life more than once.

Sex: intimacy, connection, love.

Some people want to be left alone and can’t bear to be touched when they’re depressed. My experience is usually the opposite. I want to be around the people I love and trust, to connect with them in deep and profound ways. Sex is one of the ways in which I connect with some of the important people in my life. Therefore, honestly, fucking my brains out (or at least fucking my sadness out for a while) is one of the best ways a partner can help me when I’m struggling.

Sex reminds me, viscerally and in the moment, that I am loved. For me, mental health wise, a really good fuck with someone I love is basically a cuddle on speed. Throw in a few dozen orgasms (yes, your girl over here is SUPER multi orgasmic) and you will see a marked improvement in the happiness of your Amy.

Sex helps me to focus on all the joyful things – pleasure, love, connection, vulnerability, sensation – in a world that’s fucked.

Sex literally reminds me that there’s so much to live for.

Masturbation: the ultimate self-love.

Self-loathing is a feature of my depression and an unwelcome visitor that likes to pop in from time to time. I’ve learned that the best way to combat it is to be excessively kind to myself – the way you’d be kind to a partner, friend or child who was in pain. Sometimes I take myself out for coffee and cake. Sometimes I give myself permission to stay in bed, read and nap – take a “mental health day,” if you will. And sometimes, I masturbate!

Aside from the obvious benefits of all the happy chemicals that are released at the point of orgasm, masturbation is a means of reminding myself that I am worthy and deserving of pleasure. And on the occasions when romantic rejection or the ending of a relationship triggers my depression, masturbation reminds me that my sexual (and loving!) relationship with myself is the first, last and most important one of my life.

Who needs that git who dumped me when you have cutting edge sex toys, am I right?

Kink: freedom in bondage.

Submitting to a safe partner can be really positive for me when I’m feeling low.

Kink, especially pain play, pulls me out of my head and into my body. It’s hard to be sad when all I can think about is the hand spanking my ass! It’s grounding. It makes all the noise in my head go quiet.

Submission makes me feel useful. When I feel worthless, a well-timed “good girl” can do wonders. To know that I am pleasing somebody else, that I am serving them, gives me a purpose. It reminds me that I have value.

Kink gives me permission to be vulnerable. Play gives me chance to cry if I need to, to scream if I want to, to get pent-up emotions out. It releases me from the responsibility of decision making, of caring for myself or anyone else, even if only for a short time. It gives me permission to just be.

Discovering new paths to pleasure

Mental illness can impact sexuality in many ways. In particular, feeling very low can make it difficult to get in the right headspace to enjoy sex or orgasm. Certain types of common antidepressants including Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) can also cause erectile dysfunction and anorgasmia. When I first started taking citalopram – a common SSRI – I lost my ability to orgasm for a month.

Was it hell? Yes. Did it also teach me something valuable, namely that I kinda have an orgasm denial kink? Also yes. While this is something I prefer to be voluntary and not drug-induced, going through this experience taught me something really valuable about my fetishes. So there’s value in that.

Problems such as ED and anorgasmia suck (if you’ll pardon the pun) but they also force you to get creative. I finally broke through my month-long dry spell with a high powered vibrator. That’s how I learned that I love really intense vibration! If your cock isn’t getting hard in the way you want it to, you might discover other routes to sexual bliss that you’d never have previously considered or bothered to try.

Integrating the two

I’ve come to terms, over ten years of having a formally diagnosed mental health condition, that it’s not going away. It’s with me for life and I am better off learning how to manage it than hoping it will disappear. Just like a diabetic would take insulin every day, I take my antidepressants to keep me healthy. (Conceptualising my illness as being exactly comparable to a physical health issue – BECAUSE IT IS – has been surprisingly empowering.)

I’ve also grown into my sexuality in the last ten years. From a girl who was terrified to admit, even in a whisper, that she liked girls and might want to be spanked, I’ve grown into a woman who owns her desires and explores them unapologetically.

And, crucially, I’ve learned to integrate these two things. When my bisexual, kinky and non-monogamous identities ceased to be sources of shame, my mental health directly improved as a result. When my condition started to be properly managed, my sex life improved instantly. And when I learned to use my sexuality to enhance my mental health, I gained a tool that has saved my life.

[1] Yay, reclaiming slurs!
[2] Because you can totally choose to stop being mentally ill, right?

This post was kindly sponsored by the lovely folks at Hot Octopuss, a fantastic and innovative sex toy company who are committed to tackling taboos around sex. Check out their brilliant range of products, including the new Queen Bee, and their blog, where they talk sex, health and stigma. They’ve even offered a discount code for Coffee & Kink readers – use CK10 to get 10% off (and send a little bit of support my way.) All opinions are, and will always be, my own.

A banner ad for sex toy company Hot Octopuss, who sponsored a post on sex and mental health

Sex Educator Interview #3: Dawn Serra

The latest interview in this series comes from Dawn Serra, sex educator extraordinaire and host of the amazing Sex Gets Real podcast. I’ve reached out to Dawn for advice before, as have many other people, and I’ve always found her to be one of the most open-minded, affirming and compassionate educators around. I’m absolutely thrilled she agreed to take part and give us a little peek into her world.

The header image of the Sex Gets Real podcast by Dawn Serra

Tell us a little bit about you and the work you do?

Officially, I’m a sex educator, sex podcaster, and a sex & relationship coach. But what those titles actually mean is I’ve dedicated myself to shame reduction, resilience building, emotional & sexual intelligence development, and helping people find words for things that feel scary or awkward. I’ve learned that what people really need is permission – permission to ask questions, permission to explore, permission to let go of stories that hurt them, and I try to do that every day by connecting the dots between the cultural stories and systems of oppression that keep us all trapped in pain and disconnection, and then giving people new tools and skills for moving in the direction they’d like to move.

What first made you want to be a sex educator and run a sex podcast?

I’ve always been the person my friends came to with sex questions and confessions, even in middle school and high school. Then, in my early 20’s, I started selling sex toys with one of those in-home party companies. While the company & products were problematic, it gave me a chance to talk with hundreds of women, one-on-one, about their deepest fears and shame.

It cracked me open in ways that surprised me, and I knew it was work I wanted to keep doing. It was fascinating to watch groups of women socially interacting with each other around sex. Many of them were loud and laughing, telling these wild stories about their sex life, very Sex and the City, but then behind closed doors with me would admit they’d never had an orgasm or didn’t know they were allowed to use a sex toy with a partner. Others would be quiet and shy during the group portion of the party, and then break down crying in private with me over their deep sense of shame, of being a disappointment to their partners. I started realizing just how many of us are performing what we think sex is supposed to be and look like without actually experiencing it in a way that made sense for us.
That was the beginning.

My podcast, Sex Gets Real, got started was because my friend, Dylan, and I heard some terrible advice about strap-on sex from a shock-jock Playboy type of podcast. We just could not let it go. We were angry at how wrong it was, and that people were actually listening. So, on a whim, we decided our voices were needed. A few days later, we recorded our first episode and now I’m nearing 200 episodes and 3 million downloads. Whoa.

How did you break into the industry and how does one ‘make it’ as a sex educator?

That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? I still don’t have it all figured out.

But for me, it’s always been about relationship building in the industry and finding ways to promote and lift up other voices. I knew that if I helped everyone around me, they’d in turn want to help me win and celebrate. I started attending conferences like Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit, promoting all the speakers, and stepping outside my comfort zone a bit by introducing myself to folks I’d long been a fan of.
The podcast also was a huge help. Even in the very very beginning of the show, I found that if I asked nicely, told someone why I thought they were super awesome, that they’d almost always say yes to an interview. Having them share the show helped me grow organically, which built some buzz, too.
Now I coach sex educators and therapists around building an online presence, creating online summits and courses, and my number one piece of advice for getting noticed is always be yourself. It’s SO tempting to want to emulate, copy, parrot, and follow in the footsteps of other educators. But then people don’t really know who you are. Be bold around stating your vision for a new world, your beliefs of what’s holding us back, your story and why it matters. Learn about social justice and oppression and then find ways to be unapologetic around your values and ethics in those spheres. Apologize when you’re wrong or hurt someone (because you will), and always always always take feedback graciously.

That more than anything has helped me to show up and be known for the sex educator I am today. The money stuff I’m still trying to figure out because the bottom line is people don’t want to pay for sex education unless it’s built on shiny promises and magic bullet solutions. To offer something more real and honest means a lot of swimming against the current. It’s possible, but it takes some grit and determination. And never, ever feel bad if sex education is your side hustle while you have a day job that pays the bills. Some of the biggest names in the industry do the same thing.

What does “a day in the life of a sex educator” look like for you?

For me, a typical day is a whole lot of admin work around the podcast, projects I’m working on, managing client updates and emails. One a good day, I’ll have a chance to do one or two podcast interviews with ridiculously amazing people. I may have a client session or two for personal or business coaching. Loads of social media writing and planning. Nurturing my Explore More group on Facebook. And then making big plans for future workshops, summits, webinars, etc.

What’s the best thing about being a sex educator, in your opinion? The worst?

The best thing is seeing people have massive shifts – seeing their relief, seeing their eyes light up at the possibilities they never knew could be theirs, hearing their vulnerable stories and knowing they trust me enough to hold them so gently and tenderly. That feeds my heart and soul.

The worst is how sex education is treated in the world. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – they all ban ads and promoted posts from sex educators because they consider sex education the same as pornography. Google Ads won’t allow you to buy ad space for the same reason. Getting the word out can be so tough because so many people are so filled with shame and embarrassment they aren’t willing to share your posts, even if they love them, for fear of people seeing them consume the content and thinking something is wrong.

Also, people don’t realize just how badly they need support around sex, love, relationships, and their bodies, so they aren’t willing to pay for webinars and workshops unless they’ve reached a total place of crisis. I wish more people understood that the sooner we all start practicing and learning together, the less we ever have to be in crisis or deep shame. But the world isn’t quite ready for that shift. Until then, we hustle and we persist, even in the shadows.

What’s your favourite episode of the podcast and why?

You have no idea how much I agonized over this question. I decided to go with one of my more recent episodes, simply because I’m incredibly proud of it.

For episode 162, I interviewed law professor and author Carol Sanger. It was the first time I dedicated an entire episode (or more than a few moments) to the topic of abortion. Carol’s book is truly spectacular, and to honor the seven years she spent writing it, I asked listeners to send in their abortion stories. I received about a dozen submissions. Each and every one was raw, real, and deeply personal. I felt like I was holding some of the most precious stories on earth – stories many of these people had never told another living soul. I read some of them on that episode, and Carol and I held them together. It wasn’t a super popular episode because I think too many people are scared of or biased around abortion discussions, but I am so so proud of that work.

Tell us about a book that changed your life/perspective completely?

Bessel van der Kolk’s “The Body Keeps the Score.” As a trauma survivor with PTSD, it was the first time my body, my reactions to situations, my trauma actually made sense. I started understanding what was happening inside of my body, inside of my brain, and it felt like pure relief.

Until I read that book, I considered myself broken in a lot of ways, incapable of healing or moving beyond certain things. I carried tremendous shame around my triggers, especially as a sex educator since my PTSD tends to come up in sexualized situations with strangers.
The research, the techniques to move towards integrating and recovery gave me hope. That book also gave me new language that allowed me to not only create permission and space in my own trauma, but around the trauma of the people I work with.
It led me to Peter Levine’s work and Somatic Experiencing. It took me down a path of learning more about being trauma-informed. It made sense of so many of the things that seem to not make sense in the world.

I am forever grateful for that book and the shift it caused in me.

Who inspires you, professionally and personally?

Professionally, Meg John Barker. Their work is powerful. They turn a lot of cultural stories and myths upside down, and in a way that doesn’t feel super threatening. I’ve found that so much of what I thought to be true is actually not true at all thanks to them, so I keep a close eye on their work. It’s always radical and permission-granting. Kate McCombs, Karen BK Chan, and Megan Devine in their work on empathy and emotional intelligence. That has done wonders for my professional work, how I work with clients, and my personal relationships, as well.

Personally, I’m inspired by folks who are brave and fighting endlessly for justice. The more I learn about my own racism, transphobia, fatphobia, ableism, classism, the more I grow and can lift others up. People like Ijeomo Oluo, Kelly Diels, Monica Raye Simpson, Jes Baker, Feminista Jones, Audre Lorde, Conner Habib… I feel rich with the people who offer me tough questions and who challenge me. It’s my favorite place to be, even when it feels terrible.

Also, as sappy as it sounds, my husband. He is so ridiculously smart. He reads endlessly, he listens to brain-growing podcasts all the time, and he knows more about all the things than anyone I know.

If you were stuck on a desert island (sorry, sorry, I HAD to do a ‘desert island’ question) and could take one sexy book, one sex toy and one kink item, which would you pick and why?

For my sex toy, I’d bring a rechargeable Magic wand. We’ll just pretend the island has a source of power for charging it. It’s deliciously diverse: I use on myself, I use it on my husband, and we use it together for sex in all sorts of configurations and positions.

For my kink item, it would have to be rope. I was tempted to say a flogger, but we could fashion a flogger from rope because it’s versatile like that. Then I’d have rope for both the kinky stuff (I’m imagining being tied to a palm tree and fanned with palm leaves) and practical island living stuff. Ha!

One sexy book… I have to go with Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy (it’s a box set, so I’m counting it as one). The first time I read those books I was probably 19 or 20 years old, had never heard of kink or BDSM, and they terrified me. Absolutely terrified me. I couldn’t understand why I kept feeling aroused by these very very unusual (to me) activities. In fact, I couldn’t finish the 3rd book because it was too much. A decade later, I picked them up and had to laugh. By then, I’d dabbled in all sorts of kink, had a chance to exploring shifting identities, and met people into all the things in the book. Now, they’re a fun escape that’s sexy and hot and full of delicious ideas.

What’s something you used to believe about sex/relationships but don’t believe any more, and what changed your mind?

I used to believe men wanted sex more than women. I used to believe there were only two genders. I used to believe monogamy was the only way to do relationship. I used to believe fat bodies were rarely, if ever, desirable. I used to believe that love was enough. I used to be in soul mates and true love and fairy tales. I used to believe if you loved someone enough that sex would be automatic and natural, with no need for words or explaining myself or awkward moments. I used to believe you couldn’t come back from betrayal.

I’m sure there are hundreds of other things I used to believe, having grown up on Cosmo magazine and Sex and the City. What really changed my mind was listening to peoples stories and realizing that it’s not that every single person is broken or inadequate in some way – it’s that the system, the stories, the culture are fundamentally flawed.

Reading powerful books on racial justice, reproductive justice, and sexual autonomy helped give me words and new questions which led me on a journey to overturn and question nearly everything we’re taught. I have a talk called Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong. It’s not because any individual is wrong, it’s that everything we’ve all been taught is wrong.

What’s the one thing that you wish everyone in the world could understand about sex/relationships?

I wish more people realized that we’d all be a lot better off if we normalized a lifetime of learning and professional support BEFORE crisis struck in both sex and love.

I wish people knew just how much pain, shame, uncertainty, hesitation, anger, resentment, confusion, and regret they could shed if they worked with folks like sex educators, sex coaches, sex therapists, relationship coaches, relationship therapists, trauma counselors, sex workers, body workers, etc.

So many people spend months, years, or decades silently suffering, worrying, not sure what’s changing or why things are so tough, and if they only knew how much permission and relief they could find with the help of folks trained to do this. No one should have to wait until they’re in deep pain or betrayal to begin to do the work that could genuinely move things forward for them.

There are a lot of amazing people (and even more pretty terrible ones, so be particular, folks) doing incredible, affirming work in all of these rich areas. Even professionals need a safe space to process, to learn and grow, to grieve and mourn the things they’ve fucked up or gotten wrong, to gain a little perspective. So if professionals needs it (goodness knows I do), then everyone does.

If we could all celebrate asking for help and having places to turn to constantly ask new questions together, I suspect we’d have a world with a lot less shame and fear and so much more connection and pleasure.

What do you think is the most toxic myth that our society perpetuates about sex/relationships?

In my humble opinion, all myths that we have are built upon one myth that feeds them all. It’s the myth that tells us the answers we need are outside of ourselves.

We are a culture that teaches children to turn to others to tell them who they are. We are trained from the youngest of ages to accept labels from people who do not know us, from people who are not us, and we are a culture that thrives on conformity (while claiming to admire independence).
Because of that, we get trapped in stories that tell us to compare ourselves to others, to let outside forces dictate our identities and our worth, to tell us what a normal life or romance or happiness look like. It is a myth that says you are not the one with the answers. We don’t know how to trust our bodies, how to speak up for ourselves, how to advocate for our pleasure because we, our bodies, our lives, are foreign to us.
And yet…we are the only ones who live in our bodies, who think our thoughts, who feel these sensations, who experience these feelings. If we can begin learning how to listen to our bodies, how to trust those sensations and the wisdom we have about what’s best for us, how to sit in our feelings and ask ourselves questions about what we really want and feel, we’d find that we have tremendous power and sovereignty over our own lives.
Sex wouldn’t be about performing what we think sex should look like. It would be about intimately knowing our bodies and what brings us the most pleasure on our own terms without worrying if it looked like everyone else.
Love wouldn’t be about achieving a relationship status or adhering to external, superficial factors, but instead about connection and curiosity and knowing based on a deep trust of ourselves.

Entire industries would collapse, but wow what a world that would be.

What’s one question that you wish people would stop asking you?

I love that you asked this, and at the same time, it’s difficult to answer because my goal is always to create space to reduce shame so folks can ask the hard questions. By answering, do I, in turn, create an atmosphere where it’s no longer safe to ask this question? Possibly, yes.

To answer the question, though, I wish people would stop asking how to “make” their partner orgasm because they’ve decided, on their partner’s behalf, that their partner having an orgasm is somehow vital or a huge puzzle piece is missing from their partner’s pleasure experience.
Our cultural focus on orgasm is bananas, and it’s created tremendous pressure on everyone to be orgasming all the time in all the ways, and to feel terrible if they aren’t.
I love people getting curious about their own pleasure and their own bodies, finding new words and tools to advocate for their explorations, and demanding recognition of their pleasure especially if they’re in a marginalized body, so what I think causes a lot more harm than good is people who make their partner’s experiences a personal mission.
Too many people feel like their sexual success, or being good in bed, is tied up in “giving” their partners an orgasm. It’s not really about the partner (though many say that it is). It’s actually about their own stories and needing to feel successful in some way because their partner’s orgasm is tied to their own identity.
That’s not to vilify folks who ask this question, but to point out that the sexual stories we’re given tell us this is normal. That orgasm is the end-all-be-all, and so of course we should want to do whatever it takes to make someone we care about get there. But at what expense? Making them feel more broken or abnormal?
The bottom line is expectations suck when it comes to sex – whether the expectation is a hard penis or certain feelings or an orgasm. It’s the fastest way to turn off pleasure and create distance, because even if an expectation goes unspoken, it still gets communicated – loudly and clearly – to the person who isn’t orgasming that something about them isn’t good enough. And they are good enough.

Instead of worrying about orgasm as a goal, I always invite people to simply focus on maximizing pleasure and being present for each other. Curiosity, space, time, and fun are much more likely to give everyone the peak pleasure experience they’re hoping for, anyways. And yet… no matter how many times I offer this answer, people still ask this question. So I’ll continue repeating myself until we have a cultural shift that takes this pressure off us all.

And just for fun, because it is “Coffee and Kink”: do you like coffee and how do you take it?

I love coffee. The floofy, fancy kind. A latte with caramel or an iced coffee with cream and lavender syrup. It’s a decadence that I treat myself to from time to time rather than a daily kick start.

Thanks again to Dawn for her time and amazing insights – and for being the amazing, fabulous educator she is. Coming up soon, we have educators including Cooper S Beckett, Dedeker Winston and Dirty Lola. Watch this space…
The image featured in this post is the header for Sex Gets Real the podcast. It is owned by Dawn and must not be copied or reproduced without her permission.