[Video Series Review] CLIMAX

Something a little different for today’s review! When the team at CLIMAX, a new video series dedicated to sex education, approached me I knew I had to talk about it.

Sex education, such as it is, is chronically inadequate for the vast majority of people. If we get any at all, it’s likely to be either abstinance-based or focus on simply the biological facts of sex. But discussions of consent, communication, intimacy, pleasure? Where are they?

One of the reasons I started Coffee & Kink was because I wanted to make a small contribution towards rectifying this enormous problem. And it seems the folks at CLIMAX had a similar idea.

Let’s go!

What is CLIMAX?

CLIMAX is a sex education video series. It was advertised to me as “Netflix-style” but actually, it’s not subscription-based at all. Simply purchase a package once, and you’ll have access to all the content within that tier (plus future updates) for life.

Screenshot of ad for CLIMAX sex ed video

CLIMAX is dedicated to enhancing pleasure for people with vulvas. It comprises a series of videos exploring different masturbatory techniques, focusing on external stimulation of the clitoris and vulva. Each of the videos is between 2 and 9 minutes long, and features the technique demonstrated on a real vulva as well as voice commentary and accompanying notes.

A note for trans and non-binary folks (and anyone who cares about inclusivity): CLIMAX does, unfortunately, sometimes use gendered language, referring to “female anatomy” and “female pleasure.” CLIMAX have acknowledged in the FAQs that this is a shortcoming and that they have attempted to be as inclusive as possible, but there’s real room for improvement. I hope they will continue to address this problem going forward.

What makes CLIMAX different?

The cool thing about CLIMAX is that it’s based on robust scientific data (there’s even a list of reference materials!)

Since 98.5% of people with vulvas masturbate using clitoral stimulation (New Hite Report, 2000), CLIMAX focuses on clitoral pleasure. This was perhaps the most refreshing thing for me as I watched the series. It’s wonderful to see the focus completely removed from the goal of orgasming from penetration alone (which is impossible for a majority of vulva owners) and the clit given the attention it deserves.

My experience

I think of myself as pretty clued up about my body. You kind of have to be when you review sex toys for a living! But even so, there are always new things to learn.

To be honest, I use sex toys so much that I don’t masturbate using just my hands very often. So when I received CLIMAX to review, I took the opportunity to get back in touch with self-touch.

Using the CLIMAX series gave me an opportunity to explore touching my body in different ways. I enjoyed that the focus is on pleasure and exploration. There’s plenty of options offered, and lots of “if this works for you.” CLIMAX acknowledges that all bodies are different, and prioritises providing permission and choice over being prescriptive.

At the moment, CLIMAX features just one vulva in its videos, but the team have said they intend to feature a wider variety of bodies in the future. They also acknowledge that the model featured in the videos is fully shaved as that was her preference, but that they do not advocate for pubic hair removal. Yay for body-hair positivity!

How much does it cost?

The full prices are as follows:

  • Education package (19 episodes): £45
  • Classic package (22 episodes): £63
  • Premium package (32 episodes): £89

There’s currently a 30% off sale for new customers across the entire site, bringing the package prices down to £29, £44, and £63, respectively. If you purchase using my affiliate link, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

If you want to try it out, you can get one of the cheaper packages and then upgrade later by just paying the difference.

Remember: these are one-off prices, not monthly subscriptions.

Verdict

There’s a lot to recommend about CLIMAX. If you have a vulva and are new to exploring self-pleasure or just looking for different ways to touch yourself, it’s a great investment.

It’s clearly a work in progress and I admire that the team have openly acknowledged the areas they’re looking to expand and improve. I’m excited to see where they go with this next.

Thanks to the team at CLIMAX, who provided me with access to the Premium package to review. All views, as always, are mine.

Anal Doesn’t Hurt at All… On The “Cool Girl” and Sexual Expectations

I’ve been rewatching all four seasons of Crazy Ex Girlfriend over the last couple of months.

Fair warning, this post contains spoilers for all four seasons of the show, so if you haven’t seen it yet then you might want to skip this one.

Early in season 1, main character Rebecca attends a yoga class taught by Valencia, her love interest Josh’s long-term girlfriend. Naturally, the class turns into a musical theatre style song-and-dance routine which exists entirely in Rebecca’s mind. In this case, the song is I’m So Good at Yoga, a Bollywood parody in which Valencia boasts about all the ways in which she’s better than Rebecca. (“I kiss my own pussy, can you do that?”)

It’s a pretty funny scene that will speak to anyone who has ever had an overactive imagination about all the ways in which other people are judging them. But since this is a sex blog, I want to talk about this one throwaway line I wasn’t able to get out of my head after my rewatch:

“Anal doesn’t hurt at all /
Most times I prefer it.”

Given this show’s razor-sharp, on-point social commentary on everything from mental illness to dysfunctional workplaces to parenting, there is simply no way that creator Rachel Bloom didn’t know exactly what she was doing with this line. And that’s what I love about it – it’s another example of this show’s ability to pack SO MUCH into just a few words.

For me, this is a statement on the idea of the “cool girl”. Remember that expression, we’ll come back to it in a minute.

Sexuality policing and the male gaze

In this scene, we see the extent to which Rebecca’s insecurities are focused on what people – especially men, and most especially Josh Chan – think of her. One of the main ways in which she conceptualises Valencia as “better” than her is Valencia’s seeming willingness to behave like a male sexual fantasy. (Which makes it all the more pleasing when – big spoiler incoming – Valencia both becomes a much nicer person and comes out as queer, settling down with a girlfriend, in later seasons).

Unfortunately, we live in a world where women are judged on how well they service the heterosexual male gaze. We’re taught to judge ourselves and each other on our looks from early childhood. It’s no accident that 78% of girls dislike their body by the age of 17 (including 40-60% of elementary school girls). (Source.)

As we get older, our sexuality is policed, too. Be available, but don’t be a slut. Service male desires, but don’t have your own. Be simultaneously a virgin and a whore. The expectations put on women and those perceived to be women are immense, contradictory, and devastating from a mental health perspective.

The “cool girl”

If you’re a women or perceived to be a woman, you might have been described as a “cool girl” (or wished to be one) at some point.

So what is the cool girl (CG)?

Simply put, she’s a cis heterosexual male fantasy who doesn’t actually exist. The CG is down for whatever most pleases the men around her. She eats burgers without worrying about her figure (but is still a size four, of course.) She’s “one of the boys”, but still wears high heels and a full face of makeup. She’s “sexually liberated”, but only in so far as it pleases men. Her sexuality is about their desires, not her own.

The thing is, going back to Crazy Ex Girlfriend for a second, is that when we get to know Valencia, it becomes apparent that she is so much more than just a CG. She’s pretty one dimensional and dislikeable in season 1, but we come to realise that that’s more due to Rebecca’s projection than her actual character. (Let’s be real, I’d probably also come across as a mega bitch if my partner’s ex reappeared in town after ten years with the express intention of breaking us up.)

But Rebecca is so insecure that she conteptualises Valencia as the CG – hot as hell, sexually adventurous, every man’s dream. But the viewer, and Rebecca, later get to see that Valencia is actually just as insecure and just as much a victim of the patriarchy. She has desires, needs, and vulnerabilities just like anyone else.

So about “preferring” anal…

For me, this particular line was entirely about Rebecca positioning Valencia as a cool girl who, naturally, would enjoy the same things cishetero men are supposed to enjoy. Naturally, the perfect CG would not only do anal, she’d prefer it.

Anal sex was a particular point of contention in my first sexual relationship. I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that my boyfriend was pretty obsessed with the idea (bearing in mind I was fifteen years old the first time it was brought up.) Much later, I reluctantly did it because I thought I was supposed to do it. Because the women he watched in porn did it, the women he read about in magazines did it, the other women he’d been sneakily flirting with said they would do it.

Authentic desire vs. mainstream pornification

I’m pro-porn, as long as it’s consensually produced and the performers remain in control and are compensated fairly for their labour. However, I also recognise that the mainstream porn industry has a lot to answer for, and one of those things is the fact that many teenage boys now think that pressuring their girlfriends for anal is normal.

Anal sex should be approached like any other consensual kink. If you’re into it, awesome – have fun. If you’re not, that’s totally cool too! I actually did come to enjoy it after those negative early experiences (much later and with a different partner). But that was only able to happen in a space of safety, care, and zero expectations.

I wish we could think of sex as a vast menu of potential options to choose from, rather than a space where certain acts are accepted. I have a lot of respect for Dan Savage and his work, but every time he says “oral comes as standard” it makes me cringe. There shouldn’t be any standards, beyond informed consent and mutual pleasure!

If we’re into anal sex, we should be able to express that and enjoy it free of shame or stigma. But it should be considered equally fine to say hey, anal actually does hurt and I actually don’t like it. When mainstream, male gazey porn is the first introduction many young people have to sexuality, especially when it’s not accompanied by comprehensive sex education, we end up in a place where young men come to expect a certain kind of “performance” from their sexual partners.

If you absolutely need a certain sex act in your life to be fulfilled, you’re within your rights to (and probably should) seek out partners who are also into that thing. (See: why I won’t date entirely vanilla people. There’s nothing wrong with vanilla sex and I enjoy it sometimes, but I need regular kink in my life to be happy and satisfied). But I really want to do away with the idea that any sex acts – penetration, oral, hand stuff, anal, kink – are expected or standard.

Sexual compatibility matters. But what that means will vary for every couple and every individual. Authentic expression of desire is what we should strive for, not matching some impossible male gaze standard.

Cool Girls don’t actually exist, and I love the way Valencia’s character arc slowly dismantles the idea one piece at a time.

I wasn’t expecting this piece about a throwaway one-liner in a TV show to run over 1300 words, but here we are! If you enjoyed this, you can always buy me a coffee to show your appreciation. Oh, and don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter!

There is No Time Limit

I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning.
– J.B. Priestley

I often receive questions from readers who are wondering if it is “too late” for them to have a particular experience or learn a particular thing. Whether they haven’t yet had sex in their 20s, or are thinking about branching out into consensual non-monogamy or exploring kink in their 40s, 50s or beyond, the implication is “is this just a thing for young people?”

Today I want to tell you that there is no time limit. You can have amazing sex at any age or stage of life, including if you’re a “late bloomer”. You can find love after the age of 35. Polyamory, swinging, kink, and all those other yummy things aren’t just for youngsters.

Honestly, sometimes it can be really good to have a bit of life experience behind you.

In many ways, I’m grateful that I discovered polyamory and kink at the ages of 18/19. The timing meant I had literally my entire adult life to explore and play in these spaces. However, what people often don’t understand is there were downsides, too.

Being a young woman and a newcomer to the scene when you’re still very young means you might as well walk around with a sign on your head saying “FRESH MEAT”. This is especially true if you are a submissive. I spent my first few years on the scene fending off unwanted aggressive advances from men old enough to be my father (or occasionally, grandfather).

I don’t regret those years for a second. They taught me a lot. Amidst a lot of crap, I had some incredible adventures and met some wonderful people. But would I trade it for where I am now? Not a chance. Being the hyper-desired young thing is kinda fun until it isn’t. Being a little older, a lot wiser, and having dispensed with enough of your fucks that you can tell creepers where to go? THAT’S where the really good stuff is.

So when people come to these spaces later and wonder if it’s too late for them, I want to tell them this: there is no too late.

We all have a finite amount of time on this planet. But as long as we’re still here, there’s no time limit on learning, exploring, adventuring, experiencing.

Tomorrow is always a new day. You can always wake up and decide that you want to do something differently, try something new, chase some new dream.

Sex, relationships, love, kink – they’re for everyone who wants them. You don’t have to have had your first sexual experience by 18, met your life partner by 25, married by 30, or discovered kink while you’re still young enough to attend the “under 35” munch.

Life doesn’t always follow a neat trajectory. We all come to things at different stages and for different reasons. Wherever you are in your journey and whatever your reasons, it’s valid and wonderful.

So come on in. There is no time limit. We’re waiting to welcome you.

The Quote Quest badge, for a post about how there is no time limit on sex, kink, etc.

This piece was inspired by this week’s Quote Quest, a new blogging meme from Little Switch Bitch. It’s also part of my #SexEdSeptember series.

Is my work valuable to you? You can say thanks by buying me a coffee. You can also get more exclusive content every two weeks by signing up for Coffee Date, my free e-newsletter.

How to Actively Unlearn Toxic Beliefs About Sex

“So many things to unlearn…”
– The Other Me

Our beliefs and ideas about sex, relationships, love, and life don’t happen in a vacuum. We are, all of us, steeped in a culture that is sex-negative, sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, and body-negative. Unless you grew up with parents who had unusually radical ideas, most of us reach adulthood with at least some baggage to unpack, some toxic beliefs to unlearn.

But how do you do it?

I believe unlearning is an active process. None of us can grow, change, and learn to do better without, well, doing. Sitting back and waiting for enlightenment never helped anyone, and it certainly never made any progress towards dismantling the broken system.

So you want to actively unlearn some of the toxic beliefs that are holding you back? Great! Buckle in and let’s go.

Be prepared to be uncomfortable

Unlearning is hard sometimes. If you expect it to be simple and comfortable, you’re not going to be able to engage fully with the process.

Accept it’s going to be uncomfortable. Acknowledge that, and welcome it if you can. Just like a little bit of muscular soreness after hitting the gym means you’re getting stronger, a little bit of mental discomfort means you’re expanding your worldview and opening yourself up to new ideas.

Interrogate why you think something

Why do you believe what you believe? Okay, interrogate that. Drill deeper. “I just do” isn’t a good enough reason. “It’s just a feeling” doesn’t count.

If you hold beliefs that you think might be toxic or not serving you any longer, ask yourself why you hold them. You might find that they’re what you were taught at home or in church or at school, but that they don’t represent your beliefs any more.

You’re allowed to change your views. In fact, as you unlearn the toxic thing you were taught, you probably will.

Confession time: when I was in my late teens and very early 20s, I was anti sex work. Not really in an active way, I just kinda passively believed it was by definition harmful to women. As I got older and started consuming more sex-positive media, I started to question this belief. I realised that I held it because I’d been told that sex work was inherently unfeminist, and as a baby proto-feminist I hadn’t thought to interrogate that any further.

When I held those beliefs up to the light and really looked at them, the logic fell apart. When I started listening to sex workers’ voices and reading more about the subject, I realised those views were actually out of sync with my feminism and my politics. So I changed them.

Don’t be (too) ashamed of what you thought before

As you learn and grow, you’ll inevitably at some point find yourself feeling ashamed. Perhaps you used to have a toxic or bigoted view that you don’t hold any more. Perhaps you are just suddenly very aware of how much you didn’t know.

Here’s the thing, though: none of us come into this world knowing this stuff. Our opinions, views, and politics develop over our lifetimes. That’s a good thing!

So if you’re a little bit ashamed of what you used to think or believe, that can be a useful tool for growth. But don’t let yourself swim in it. That isn’t good for you or for anyone else.

Remember: when you know better, you can do better. Growth and moving forward is the goal.

Have nuanced discussions with friends who have different experiences

I am not, of course, suggesting you put yourself in the path of people who wish you harm. Queer folks don’t owe it to homophobes to patiently educate them. Trans people don’t have to debate cis bigots to earn their humanity. And so on. But if you’re trying to interrogate your views about sex (or anything else), spending time with people whose experiences differ from yours can be surprisingly eye-opening.

One of the things I treasure about my friendship with Christine of Light in Grey Places is that we come from very different backgrounds and had/have wildly different experiences of sex and relationships. Yet we’ve always been able to have respectful discussions that have, I think, led both of us to learn some things from the other.

We also found we had way more in common than not – yes, we come at it from different angles, but ultimately we both value consent, agency, and equality.

Take the time to have nuanced discussions with friends you feel safe discussing these issues with. It’s one of the many reasons why sex-positive friends are such a gift.

Expand the media you consume

Expanding the things you read, watch, listen to, and consume is one of the best ways to expose yourself to more views and experiences. Start listening to sex-positive podcasts, add queer stories to your Netflix queue and to-be-read pile. Flood your social media feeds with the kinds of educators you want to learn from. Soak up their words and read the resources they share.

Expanding the media you consume can include porn and erotica if you’re into those things, too. Do you always watch porn with thin, white bodies? If so, try searching out a greater diversity of performers. Do you exclusively consume erotica featuring young, cis, able-bodied characters? If so, why not challenge yourself to check out content written by and for queer folks, trans folks, older folks, disabled folks? Simply expanding your horizons of what you consider “sexy” is a great step to take.

As you unlearn your toxic beliefs about sex, relationships, bodies, and more, you’ll probably find that you naturally start gravitating to a more diverse range of media.

Step away from environments that reinforce the problematic narratives

This isn’t always possible or easy, of course, and I don’t want to diminish the very real struggles – and dangers – that can come with separating yourself from toxic environments.

But if it’s safe and possible to do so, can you step away from spaces that reinforce the toxic beliefs you’re trying to shed? Can you see your bigoted family members less often, find a more open-minded church to attend, stop hanging out with that one friend who makes “edgy” jokes that are actually just offensive?

It’s hard to unlearn beliefs that are being reinforced every step of the way by people desperate to hold you back from learning and doing better.

But with a little effort and intention, we can all start to unlearn the toxic things we were taught.

The Quote Quest badge for a post on how to unlearn toxic beliefs about sex.

Today’s post is my submission for this week’s Quote Quest, a weekly meme by Little Switch Bitch. Click the logo to see what everyone else is writing about this week. This post is ALSO part of my #SexEdSeptember series! Want to support my work? You can do that by sharing this post, signing up for my newsletter, or buying me a coffee!

What is Consent? 10 Fundamentals Everyone Needs to Understand

Most of us think we know what consent is. But when you start to look at it more closely, the “what is consent?” question becomes murkier and far more complex.

Today I want to share ten basic but essential fundamentals that I wish everybody understood.

Content note: this one contains discussion of sexual violence and a reference to murder.

It’s not just about sex

Consent is vital when it comes to sex, of course. But if we only apply consent to sex, we’re missing out a whole bunch of really vital steps.

Instead, I’d like us to conceptualise consent as something we apply in all areas of our lives. If your child doesn’t want to hug or kiss a relative, don’t make them. When your partner tells you they HATE being tickled, don’t take it as a challenge. If your friend has decided to quit alcohol, don’t push them to drink. And so on and so on.

If we normalise respecting people’s choices and autonomy in all areas of life, it becomes easier to normalise informed consent as a minimum standard for sex.

It’s contextual

Consent to something in one context doesn’t imply consent to it in another. I might love my partner casually grabbing my ass in the kitchen while we’re cooking dinner. It doesn’t mean I want them to do it when I’m on a work call!

Never assume that consent in Context A implies consent in Context B. Always ask if you’re not sure.

It’s not transferable

Consent is inherently person-specific. In other words, consenting to something with one person doesn’t mean you’ll agree to it with someone else. This one should really be self-evident. Unfortunately, in a world where prior consensual sexual activity with someone else is still widely used to discredit survivors of sexual violence, it still needs reiterating.

It’s reversible

Consent is not meaningful if it cannot be revoked. In other words, all parties must be able to stop the activity at any point. That might mean ending an interaction, changing up the activity, or even walking away from a relationship entirely.

I don’t care if you’re the most Twue Real D/s Couple that ever existed. Consent is never, ever, ever irreversible. If it can’t be revoked, you don’t have a relationship, you have a hostage situation.

It must be informed

Consent without all pertinent information isn’t really consent.

Years ago, a friend of mine agreed to engage in a knife play scene with a Dominant who said they had years of experience. My friend found out later that the person had lied – they had hardly any experience at all. This rendered the consent she’d given meaningless, because it was given under false pretences.

In other words, lying or deliberately omitting information in order to obtain someone’s consent makes it meaningless.

It’s specific

Consent to Activity A doesn’t imply consent to Activity B. If I’ve consented to kiss you, that doesn’t mean you can stick your hand down my pants without asking. If I say you can tie me up, that doesn’t mean you also get to spank me unless I say you can. And so on.

Never assume that someone is up for something based on their having consented to something different. If there’s any doubt, ask or check in.

It’s about much more than just “not saying no”

Sadly, I still hear “but she/he/they didn’t say no” as a defence when consent has been violated. Here’s the thing: consent is about much more than just the absence of a “no”.

Is the other person actively engaged in what you’re doing together? Are they responding positively? If not, pause and check in. If they shrug, say something non-committal, or otherwise seem uncomfortable, stop.

It’s everyone’s responsibility

As I wrote about in this week’s Coffee Date, sex education is too often based on a “boys push, girls say no” model. But this is a gross over-simplification of what consent is and how it works.

Bottom line? It’s everyone’s responsibility. Never make assumptions about what someone might be “up for” based on their gender or any other characteristic.

It has limits

As a general rule, I’m a proponent of allowing informed, consenting adults to make the best decisions for themselves. However, this principle has its limits. Following the murder of Grace Millane, the UK outlawed use of the so-called “rough sex defence” in murder trials.

Here’s a great article from my friend Franki Cookney on why the rough sex defence is an antithesis to what consensual kink is all about. The bottom line? Fun, consensual kink play doesn’t cause serious harm. People cannot consent to GBH or death.

You’ll mess it up sometimes

This is the hardest one to swallow, and yet the most essential. We are, all of us, human and imperfect. I’ve made consent mistakes in the past, and I’m sure you have too.

Here’s the thing: making a mistake or fucking up in good faith doesn’t make you a garbage person. It makes you human. Apologise, change your behaviour, and learn from the incident so you don’t cause the same harm again.

What we can do is to do our best in all circumstances. This way, when we make a mistake it’s likely to be relatively minor, rather than an enormous violation that will cause someone else untold damage.

Consent is complicated!

What do you wish someone had taught you about consent?

The Sex Ed September banner, featuring colourful condoms

This post is part of my Sex Ed September series, where I’ll be sharing educational content all month long. If you find my work valuable, buying me a coffee help keeps the lights on at C&K HQ.

6 Important Things to Consider When You Choose Your First Sex Toy

If there’s one question I wish people would stop asking me, it’s “what’s the best sex toy?” I understand the reasoning behind this question, of course. When someone’s trying to choose their first sex toy, the options can be overwhelming.

Problem is, it’s the wrong question. Because the best sex toy for me won’t be the best toy for you!

To that end, here’s a quick guide to some of the important factors you should consider when you go toy shopping.

Choosing Your First Sex Toy

Buying a sex toy for the first time can be thrilling and nervewracking in equal measure. If you’ve never bought one before, how do you know if you’ll like something or not?

Unfortunately, there are no foolproof ways. But asking yourself these questions will help.

What kind of stimulation do you like?

Even if you’ve never used a toy before, you might have some idea of what kinds of stimulation you enjoy during partnered or solo sex.

Do you like intense clitoral stimulation? If so, a wand might do it for you. Do you like your sensations very pinpoint, very broad, or somewhere in between? Do you like deep penetration or shallow? Are you into length, girth, or both? And so on.

Use what you already know about your body to guide your choice.

What body part(s) do you want to use it on?

Most toys are designed with specific body parts in mind, but many can also be repurposed and used in different ways. Still, knowing which part(s) you’d like to stimulate will help you make a good choice.

Are you looking for internal (vaginal) stimulation, clitoral, or both? At the same time or separately? Do you want something to use on your penis? How do you feel about anal play? And so on.

If you’re not sure, choose a versatile toy. Many vibrators can be used both internally and externally. Dildos with a flared base are anal-safe as well as vaginal-safe.

What kind of play will it be used for?

I think you all know by now how I feel about the concept of “sex toys for couples”. (There’s no such thing! Anything is a couples’ toy if you use it with your partner!)

However, the kind of play you’ll use your toys for will have some bearing on what you choose. I absolutely love my wands. But I rarely use them during penetrative sex, because they’re just so hefty and it’s hard to fit them between bodies. If I want clitoral stimulation during vaginal or anal sex, I’m more likely to reach for my favourite bullet.

You might choose something different if you’re after a toy for solo play versus something to use with your partner. Again, you might not – but bear this in mind.

A selection of drawings of sex toys, for a post on choosing your first sex toy
Original artwork for Coffee & Kink by Charlotte Willcox

Where and when will you be using it?

Do you have children or roommates at home who you’re worried about disturbing? Does your house have thin walls? Discretion matters a great deal to some people, and not at all to others. Consider your living situation and privacy needs when you select a toy.

Do you like to masturbate in the bath or shower? If so, choose a waterproof toy. Will you be wanting to take your toy with you when you travel? In that case, something smaller or portable is a good bet. Do you regularly play in places like sex clubs where there might not be easy access to a power outlet? If so, rechargeable or battery powered is probably better than mains-powered.

What’s your budget?

This is the first question I ask people when they ask me for a sex toy recommendation, because toys vary wildly in price.

Fortunately, you can get good quality toys on a budget. So don’t let anyone tell you that you have to settle for unsafe crap if you can’t afford to drop three figures on a sex toy! This is simply not true and there are loads of manufacturers making awesome products that won’t break the bank.

Have a maximum budget, or at least a range, in mind before you go shopping.

Do aesthetics matter to you?

Some people have strong aesthetic preferences for their toys. For example, some are super turned on by a hyper-realistic dildo, while others find it offputting. Some like their toys in bright, vibrant colours. Some hate pink. Cuteness is appealing to some and cringy to others. And so on.

Do you have strong feelings on how you’d like your toy to look? You might not, and that’s okay! But if you do, pay attention to what you feel drawn to.

What next?

It’s literally impossible to recommend someone a sex toy without knowing quite a lot about their needs and preferences. The best advice I can give you is to do your research, read reviews, and get to know your body.

Then experiment and have fun!

Badge for Sex Ed September

This post is part of my Sex Ed September series, where I’ll be sharing educational content all month long. Post contains affiliate links. All views, as always, are my own. If you find my work valuable, buying me a coffee help keeps the lights on at C&K HQ.

Yes, I Have a Problem with Fifty Shades… But It’s Not What You Think

It’s actually more accurate to say I have several problems with Fifty Shades of Grey, the infamous erotic trilogy (plus rewrites-with-the-pronouns-flipped) about the kinky-ish love between naive college student Anastasia Steele and young handsome billionaire  Christian Grey.

Yes, I’ve read the first book, and enough of the second and third to get the gist. I’ve also read Cliff Pervocracy and Jenny Trout’s recaps (which are hilarious, by the way). Make no mistake: these books are horribly written and I did not find them erotic in the slightest. The sex depicted in them is either boringly vanilla, dubiously consensual (or straight up rapey), or both. The main characters are both awful people and the dialogue is about as sexy as a root canal. As a kinkster, I hate that people think this is what we’re about. As a writer, I think it’s a travesty that Ms James has made more money than anyone ever needs in a lifetime, while genuinely talented artists are underpaid and undervalued every day.

So yes. I have issues with this book. But they’re not that it’s an unrealistic kinky romance between a virginal college student and a vampire billionaire.

“But it’s fantasy!” fans cry.

And yes. It is. Look, I’ll be the last person to tell you that you can’t have your fantasies, even your problematic ones. Fantasy is not reality and fantasy exists to enable us to escape from the real world for a while. And nowhere is that more true than in sexual fantasy.

A huge part of the reason that erotica and porn should only be accessed by adults is that adults, typically, understand the difference between fantasy and reality. Jaime Mortimer wrote a really good post on this recently.

I’m not going to infantilise everyone who reads Fifty Shades or any other problematic book and tell you that it’s going to turn you into a rapist or make you leave your husband for an emotionally stunted billionare (or a vampire in a Volvo). I read plenty of erotic fiction and plenty of it has themes that would be super problematic if they were real – doctor/patient scenarios, professor/student scenarios, consensual-non-consent roleplay, voyeurism and exhibitionism, public sex and more are just some of the themes I’ve enjoyed in my sexy fiction.

Guess what? Fantasy. And again: adults, overall, have the capability to understand the difference between fantasy and reality.

So enjoy Fifty Shades, if it’s your thing, as a fantasy about a naive young woman being seduced by an dude with more money than God and pants that hang from his hips (yes, this is an actual line in the book). Enjoy the light BDSM, the sexy  helicopter rides, the grumpy, brooding, damaged male lead if you want to. I’ll be the last person to judge you for enjoying some silly escapism or some improbable erotica if that’s what gets you off.

My problem with Fifty Shades is actually in the social and cultural narrative surrounding Fifty Shades.

Because this is not a great love story. This is not something to which young women should aspire! And the problem is that it’s being sold that way.

There is tonnes of erotica (and straight romantic fiction) out there that relies on problematic tropes and scenarios that are hot in fiction but would be a terrible idea in reality. That’s fine. Again: fantasy is cool, y’all!

But none of that has the marketing power behind it that Fifty Shades does. Ms James and her publishing team have made their collective fortunes not on selling Fifty Shades as fluffy erotic fantasy, but on selling Fifty Shades as a style of relationship to which we should all aspire.

And that is what is dangerous about this book. Not the fantasy it depicts, but the marketing power that sells that fantasy as genuinely aspirational. Because make no mistake, the relationship between Christian and Ana is very often abusive.

How many young women do you think have watched this movie, and decided that if this is romance, my boyfriend obviously only super jealous and controlling because he loves me? Or, Ana loves Christian out of abusing her, so if only I behaved better my husband would stop hitting me? Maybe not in quite so literal terms, but make no mistake – these messages are out there, and victims of abuse are listening and absorbing.

You might think this is hyperbole, but it’s not. This is the kind of power that massive marketing budgets, ingrained cultural narratives about love, and a total lack of sensible sex-and-relationships education has.

I don’t blame Fifty Shades for my own experience in an abusive D/s relationship, of course. But I do partly blame growing up surrounded by the idea that if a man hurt me, my job was to heal him so he could love me properly in the end.

Fifty Shades is far from the only story to suffer from this phenomenon

We have always built collective cultural narratives around these deeply problematic stories. I am reasonably confident in saying I doubt that Shakespeare intended Romeo & Juliet to be considered the greatest love story of all time. If you read it as a love story and analyse it for more than three seconds, it’s a ridiculous play. If you reread it as a satire about “love at first sight” and teenage stupidity, though, it becomes utterly brilliant. (While we’re at it, Wuthering Heights isn’t a great love story either. And Christian Grey bears a passing resemblence to Heathcliff in a variety of ways.)

Despite being for children, even Disney movies sell us some pretty horrible messages about relationships. Think about it: marriage is the ultimate goal for any girl. Once a man chooses you, you’ll live happily ever after.  Cinderella tells us to be good and subservient and pretty until a man rescues us; The Little Mermaid tells us that what we have to say is the least valuable thing about us; Sleeping Beauty suggests that kissing a sleeping stranger is totes a sensible and romantic thing to do… and so it goes on. We’re drip-fed these messages from earliest childhood, so is it really any wonder that so many of us grow up with totally screwed up ideas about what relationships are actually supposed to look like?

Don’t ban – educate

In closing: I don’t support the banning of Fifty Shades or other problematic stories. Fantasy is important and something we should all be able to have access to. Instead, we need a greater cultural understanding and greater education around separating fantasy from reality, and understanding what healthy relationships actually are.

I’d be much happier with the thousands and thousands of twenty-something women enjoying Fifty Shades as sexy, escapist fantasy if they weren’t already surrounded by a culture that teaches them if he hits you, it’s your job to be better so he can heal from his fucked up past.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider buying me a coffee or joining my band of sexy patrons on Patreon!

Six Things I Wish My Parents Had Told Me About Sex

Today’s 30 Days of D/s is all about being parents while being kinky. I’m stumped here, to be honest. I am lifelong childfree by choice. I made this decision at twenty and I’ve never wavered for even a moment.

For this one, I nearly wrote a post on why I choose not to be a parent. “My writing career is more important to me and I like freedom to go where I want, sleep until noon and fuck whenever I feel like it” would be a pretty short post, though. (But, um, there you go. That’s my answer.) So instead I thought I’d share with you a few things I wish my parents had told me about sex, in the hopes that it maybe helps some of the kinky parents among my readers.

To be abundantly clear: I have AMAZING parents. I love them to death and they’ve always loved and supported me unconditionally, even when they didn’t agree with my choices. We didn’t really talk much about sex in our house. When I was about fifteen and started going out with boys, I got the “don’t do it until you’re ready and not until you’re 16” talk. Which, to be fair, is solid advice. It’s also tremendously limited.

Here’s some knowledge I wish had been imparted to me when I was growing up. I wish this stuff got taught in sex ed, but that’s not going to happen any time soon. As it is, I think parents really need to be the ones to give their kids accurate information.

Girls desire sex just as much as boys

Seriously, why did NO-ONE tell me this? It wasn’t mentioned at home, and all I got at school was “boys want sex, girls should say no”. Not even a second of airtime for “sex is great and it’s totally normal for ANYONE to want it!”

Everyone masturbates

I knew boys masturbated by the time I was 11 or 12. But I had no idea it was a thing girls did too until I read about it in a magazine. (Though, for some reason, it was framed as “a thing girls sometimes do it the shower.”) I have literally never wanked in the shower in my life. I thought I was weird for doing it, then I thought I was weird for doing it in bed.

Most people watch porn, regardless of gender

I found some porn on my boyfriend’s computer when I was 15. I confided in my mum because I was so freaked out. Much respect to her, she basically said “did it involve children or animals? No? Then you’re good, it’s normal, all men do it”. While this is basically true (#notALLmen, obviously) I wish someone had told me that loads of women watch porn and read erotica and that’s normal too. When I discovered internet smut (FictionPress was my gateway drug, check it out, there’s some damn good porn on there if you look for it,) I felt like a freak.

It’s important to feel comfortable, but it doesn’t matter if the first person you have sex with isn’t the love of your life

I justified having sex when I was a teenager by telling myself, well, we’re not married yet but I’m obviously going to marry him! (I have no idea where I got the “wait until marriage” value from, as my parents certainly didn’t preach this and we didn’t go to church). What I was told, though, was to make sure I loved the first person I had sex with. Which is fine advice in so far as it goes, (uh, kind of – doing it casually is fine too as long as it’s freely chosen)! But I took this to mean I had to be absolutely sure he was the one and only person I would ever fuck.

If you’re doing hand-sex and oral sex, you ARE having sex

Can everyone please start teaching teenagers that “sex” is not synonymous with “P in V”? Seriously? I got so hung up on we’re not having SEX until I’m legal (we did it on my 16th birthday, FYI) that I didn’t realise I’d already been having actual, real, honest-to-Goddess sex for over a year.

If you’re having sex, you should expect and demand pleasure

I didn’t realise for ages that sex was a thing people did for mutual pleasure. All the toxic messaging from school had me convinced it was a thing girls put up with in order to make boys stay in relationships with them. I wish I’d been told that sex was as much for my pleasure as his. I wish I’d been told that my pleasure mattered -and that I should expect my lover to care about it as much as he did his own.

What do YOU wish you’d been taught about sex?

Kinky item of the day: feather ticklers! I’m all about sensation play. These can also be used for tickle-torture play if you’re into that.

Heads up: this post contains affiliate links.

My First Sex Toys

This was supposed to be a quick one, written on Sunday while waiting for Mr CK to get ready for our favourite twice-yearly kink event. But it ended up getting long, then I ended up getting busy, so here it is several days late.

Thought it would be fun to share with you the first five sex toys I ever owned, what I think of them with the knowledge I have now… and what I might recommend instead.

Toy #1: Tracey Cox Supersex Bullet Vibrator

The Supersex Bullet vibe, for a post about my first five sex toysAt 18 and having just moved into my own place with a boyfriend, I rushed to buy my first Actual Sex Toy, to replace the trusty electric toothbruth I’d been using until that point. Having very little money and no clue what to buy, I went for a cheap and cheerful bullet vibe. At the time, it was fine. I wasn’t quite the power queen I am today, and the toy was small enough that it didn’t threaten my boyfriend’s fragile masculinity.

Would I recommend it? Meh. I wouldn’t say “don’t go anywhere near”. It’s cheap, was pretty reliable (lasted damn near five years before it finally died as I recall,) and being made of hard plastic it’s body safe and easy to clean. But it’s also single-speed and the vibes were kinda buzzy and weak. But as a first toy, to establish that vibrating sensations were something I enjoyed, well… meet my gateway drug.

Buy this instead: We-Vibe Tango (reviewed by me here) or Lovehoney Desire Luxury Bullet are both highly recommended, very popular and body-safe bullet vibes. The Tango is slightly stronger and rumblier. The Desire is softer if hard plastic feels too harsh for your sensitive areas. Choose according to your preferences.

Toy #2: Some vile jelly monstrosity from Ann Summers

Emboldened by my new-found sexual bravery, or so I thought (LOL, 19 year old Amy was adorable) I dragged my boyfriend into Ann Summers on my 19th birthday trip to London to buy myself a new toy. Too intimidated to ask for help, I ended up with a purple jelly-rubber toy with pathetically weak vibrations. I don’t think I used it more than 3 times. I can’t find the exact model on their site any more, but this isn’t a million miles away.

Would I recommend it? FUCK NO. Please don’t buy anything made of jelly rubber, it’s toxic and porous and really, really bad for your body. Also, Ann Summers are trash – they normalise toxic products, they cater to a cishet male-gaze version of sexuality, and they operate a deeply predatory MLM arm. Try Lovehoney, SheVibe or your local women-owned sex shop instead.

Buy this instead: If you’re after an affordable, simple G-spot stimulator, try the Luxe Purity by Blush or the Annabelle Knight G-spot vibrator.

Toy #3: Icicles No.5 Sapphire Spiral Glass Dildo

Icicles Number 5 dildo, for a post on my first five sex toysThis was an impulse buy at the BBB – they were just so pretty I couldn’t resist, and I’d never tried a glass toy before. On first use I wasn’t sure I liked it. Glass is colder and more rigid than anything I’d previously used. Once I’d got used to the sensation, though, I found that using it very gently (think “insert and just barely wiggle it,” no hard thrusting here) gave me the most glorious G-spot orgasms. Alas this particular toy met its end when a clumsy photographer dropped it but I’ve been in love with glass toys ever since.

Would I recommend it? I recommend glass dildos heartily. HOWEVER…

…Note, added on 22/10/2017: Icicles are owned by Pipedream, who I have come to learn are kinda fucking terrible. If you don’t want to support them (and I urge you to think seriously before you do,) Lovehoney’s own brand glass toys are at least equal in quality and value.

Toy #4: Doc Johnson Junior Veined Double Ended Dildo

I won this one in a raffle at a Simply Pleasure open evening event. It amused me more than anything, and at 22 I was still bashful enough to shove it in my bag with a blush and hope I didn’t have an accident on my cycle home. I tried it exactly once with my girlfriend, before it went to languish, forgotten, at the bottom of a box until I threw it out some three years later.

Would I recommend it? No. It smelled weird (think “new car” meets “latex” only more chemically). The texture was sticky and gross, sure signs of a questionable and potentially toxic material. It’s described on the website as “body safe” but Doc Johnson products have been found in lab tests to contain phthalates, and their “sil-a-gel” additive seems to be a mystery material of their own invention. In other words, this toy – and many of Doc Johnson’s other products – are mainly PVC and therefore porous as fuck and toxic.

Buy this instead: For a body-safe double-ended dildo, try the Dorcel Real Double Do.  If you’re looking for a “strapless strap on” experience, the Feeldoe is a classic for a reason.

Toy #5: Off-Brand “Magic Wand” Knockoff

I bought a cheap (ish) poor knock-off of the Original Magic Wand before I realised they’re not sold in the UK. Unfortunately, fakes abound and many of them are egregiously labelled as the real thing. It gave me some good orgasms for a few months but ultimately, got less and less powerful with each use until it completely gave up and died after perhaps 6-9 months.

Would I recommend it? Absolutely not. Buying knock-offs means it is almost impossible to get accurate information available on the toy’s material. They’re almost certainly not body-safe (and may not even be properly safe electrically, come to that.) The quality of most fakes is shocking and they tend to break quickly.

Buy this instead: The Magic Wand Rechargeable, or my all-time favourite, the Doxy Massager.

This post contains affiliate links and if you buy from one of them, I may make a small commission. This will never affect my views on the products, which are and will always be my own.

Sex Educator Interview #6: Dr Liz Powell

Today’s interview is with Dr Liz Powell, who co-hosts Life on the Swingset the podcast as well as doing tonnes of other awesome work. Let’s dive in to what she had to say…

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

I’m Dr. Liz from sexpositivepsych.com. I’m a sex educator, speaker, co-host of the Life on the Swingset podcast, and regular guest on several other podcasts as part of my mission to help people have more meaningful, pleasurable relationships in life and work, as well as the bedroom. I’m also a coach and licensed psychologist (CA 27871)  that works with thruples, couples, and singles to help folks be more of who they really are and communicate more effectively with their partners. Because being confident in who you are is the gateway to great relationships and great sex – and great sex can change the world.

Can you tell us (in brief) your “sex educator origin story?”

I’ve been out as queer since I was 17, had my first non-monogamous relationship at 17 (dating quad), and have been involved in kink since I was in college. I was always the person my friends came to for questions about sex or to take them shopping at the adult store. Once I was getting ready to leave the Army in 2015, I decided to transition to full time work with my favorite populations – sexual and gender minorities (SGM) – and issues – sexual problems, relationship issues, trauma. I then started presenting at different conferences and from there went into teaching at venues like sex shops and the Armory here in San Francisco. I love the work I do and I feel really lucky that I get to devote my time to topics I’m passionate about!
 

What came first: sex education or psychotherapy? How do they inform each other?

I’ve wanted to be a therapist since middle school because I loved figuring out how people work and helping people grow and heal and thrive, so I guess in some ways the therapy part came first. However, I did my first informal sex education work in college when I was president of my school Gay Straight Alliance, long before I ever saw any therapy clients, so maybe it’s that therapy was first in my heart, but education was first in practice. Regardless, I love them both and I think they go hand in hand really nicely.

Why do you think it’s so important for psychs and other medical professionals to be sex positive, and how would you like to see the medical community change in this regard?

In graduate school, the entirety of my training in sexuality was a one weekend class. 10 hours. That’s it. When I worked in multidisciplinary teams in the Army as a psychologist, I saw first hand how little education in sexuality and non-mainstream relationship/sexual practices most medical professionals have. In the field of therapy, most therapists never ask their clients about sex, even though most psychiatric conditions impact a person’s sex life. Medical professionals have often balked at the STI testing I request from them, and some of them haven’t had current information about STIs at all. When we, as those holding a position of power in a provider-client relationship, don’t address sex, we reinforce that sex is shameful and not welcome in our room. We prevent our clients and patients from sharing important information with us that is impacting their lives in deep ways.

I think most professionals shy away from sex because they’re worried that a client will view questions about sex as a come on or something inappropriate, but research shows again and again that our clients follow our lead when determining what they can and cannot talk about. If you bring your own shame or judgments about sexuality into your practice, you are harming your clients and patients.

For instance, I recently saw a Facebook post by a psychologist I knew in the Army outright stating that they would never approve someone’s request for gender confirmation surgery because they think trans people are mentally ill. The American Psychological Association has clearly stated that the research indicates that gender dysphoria is a medical concern, not a mental illness, and that the harm is in denying treatment, but this person, because of his own judgments, is comfortable publicly stating his intention to shame and harm any trans clients he works with.

Without sex positivity in our practices, we violate the first principle of almost every code of ethics in our fields – that we do no harm, and maximize benefit. We as providers must unpack our own issues so that we can serve those who entrust us with their well being.

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

I’ll start with the worst because I like to end on high notes. The worst part of being a sex educator, for me, has been how hard you have to hustle to just start getting paid. I did a panel last year with Dirty Lola of sexedagogo.com and Rebecca Hiles, The Frisky Fairy, of friskyfairy.com, called Sex Positive and Poor where we all talked about how broke most sex educators are. Most of my friends who do sex education for their main income are constantly worried about paying their bills. Being a therapist helps with this some, as I can make a decent income from individual client sessions, but building up a private practice is slow and I went into a lot of credit card debt to get my business going. It looks way more glamorous on the outside than it feels on the inside.

The best part of being a sex educator, at least in my experience, is the amazing community of people I get to be a part of. I’ve got people in my life who I can send a message to about the crazy sex I had and they’re there to cheer me on. Or I can message them to talk about the grief I’ve been working through about my lover who died. The folks I’m lucky to call friends are some of the most kind, loving, smart, perverted, funny people I’ve ever met and I am thankful every day to have them in my life.
 

What’s your favourite project that you’ve done/been involved with?

My favorite is one I’m currently working on! Cooper Beckett, one of my Life on the Swingset co-hosts, and I are writing a book called Building Open Relationships. It’s a practical, hands on, nuts and bolts guide for how to actually DO non-monogamy. There are so many great theory-based resources out there (More Than Two by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert, Opening Up by Tristan Taormino, The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy), but both he and I felt like some of the nitty gritty was missing. We’re creating worksheets, conversation starters, checklists, all kinds of nerdy goodness to help people learn from our mistakes and success.

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

I think this would have to be something by Brené Brown, probably Daring Greatly. Something most folks don’t know about therapists in general, and me in particular, is that we can seem super open and vulnerable, but most of us (or especially me) often suck at being really vulnerable. It’s like I’ve got this great facade of openness that keeps folks outside of the REAL walls. In the last couple of years, I’ve been working really hard on moving past perfectionism and self-judgment and developing my skills at vulnerability and honesty. It’s been a really really REALLY hard journey, but I feel like a much better human, leader, therapist, educator, friend, and partner because of it.

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 that you could use rules in a relationship in a way that could be healthy. Before I go further, I want to clarify that I’ll be using the terms Boundaries, Agreements, and Rules the way they are defined in More Than Two – boundaries are about myself, agreements are renegotiable by any involved party, rules affect parties that do not have renegotiation power.

Back when I first did some non-monogamy, I almost always had rules with my partners about what I would “allow” them to do with others or what I was “allowed” to do. Many of these rules involved sex acts, time spent together, or levels of emotional involvement. I think that most of the time these rules came from a place of feeling afraid or insecure and wanting to create an external structure to prevent those feelings from happening. What changed this for me was lots of failing in relationships to live up to rules I had agreed to or failing of partners to live up to rules they had agreed to. I also think that reading More Than Two and their clear ethically rooted explanations about rules made it really clear why using rules wasn’t within my values.

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

There is no “right” way to do anything in the sex or relationship realm, only ways that work better or worse for you and those you’re doing it with. Trying to do things by someone else’s rules or standards will only make you miserable. You have to do things the way that fits for you.

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

There are so many! I think the most toxic myth is that there’s one right way to do things, and you know you’ve found it when your relationship lasts until death. By that standard, I recently had the perfect relationship – we never fought, we were smitten with each other, and after dating for 10 days he died. We lived out ’til death do us part thanks to his sudden, unexpected heart attack. We need to find the success and lessons in relationships that don’t end in death (and those that do) and stop saying a relationship “failed” because it ended or because it was different.

What’s the best sex advice anyone ever gave you?

Never fake it, tell them what to do to help you actually cum.

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

“Are you analyzing me right now?” As soon as folks find out I’m a therapist, I get this one or its companion “Oh, well I’m not going to talk anymore.” People think they’re being funny, but really, this is just silly. 1) Analyzing folks takes work and you’re not paying me. If you want to shell out some money then I’ll be happy to tell you about yourself, but otherwise, unless it’s flagrant, I’m just trying to be a regular human in the world. 2) Your discomfort around a therapist says WAY MORE than anything else that would’ve come out of your mouth. 3) These are probably the least original things you could say to a therapist. They tell me you’re paranoid, boring, and prone to subtle attempts at manipulation. So if you don’t want me to know things about you, don’t say these things.

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

I’m generally more into tea, but I do like coffee on occasion, generally either sweet and light or a nice blended butter coffee (I know, I know, super hipster).

 
Thanks so much to Dr Liz for her time and expertise. Don’t forget to check out Life on the Swingset podcast and her business, Sex Positive Psych.

Words and image copyright Dr Liz Powell, 2017