4 Ways to Maintain Intimacy in a Long-Distance Relationship

Here, have a big mushy collage of me and my partner! (And yes, we are kissing a baby goat. I know, it’s almost too cute to handle.)

Picture this: it’s mid-January in Philadelphia. Four thousand queer activists are taking over the city for a national LGBTQ+ conference. By some stroke of luck (and some help from Tinder), two tender femmes meet and there’s an incredible, immediate spark between them. Okay, scratch that. It wasn’t a spark. It was more like the most magnificent fireworks show in the world.

The only problem? They lived 700 miles apart.

I haven’t talked about my relationship on my blog yet, but today is the day: if you haven’t guessed by now, those two tender femmes are me and my partner! We went into our first date expecting to keep things NSA sexually, but as soon as we met, we couldn’t deny our deep, magnetic connection. After spending most of the weekend together at the conference, we had to head home, with 700 miles and a handful of states between us, but not before agreeing that we would love to continue to get to know one another.

Over the next few weeks, we fell in love over FaceTime, during late night phone calls, and through tender, mushy texts about how neither of us had ever felt this way before. We had both been in serious relationships and loved other people before, but our blossoming love for each other was something new entirely; almost indescribable.

My partner and I live on the same coast and in the same time zone, and I’m lucky to be able to see them for at least one long weekend every month. I’m also lucky that we’re working on closing the gap between us, but for now, we’re still long-distance, and those 700 miles can feel very, very long at times. However, just because the miles are long doesn’t mean they’re impossible to conquer: it is completely possible to have a healthy, supportive, loving long-distance relationship!

Even when the distance is almost unbearable, my partner and I try our hardest to do things that will make us feel as close as possible from far away, and we’ve learned a lot about how to make that happen. Here are some of my favorite tips for maintaining intimacy in a long-distance relationship:

1. Do normal, everyday things together.

This sounds almost too simple, but it really helps! There are so many ways to do everyday activities together from afar: you can watch TV shows or movies together on Rabbit, have a dinner date via Skype, play virtual Scrabble or other phone or computer games, walk to your respective favorite coffee shops and enjoy a latte while chatting on the phone, or even do your dishes or laundry on FaceTime.

Being able to share these routine parts of your day with your long-distance partner as you would if you were together in person can do wonders for feeling close when you’re far away, and it’s extra helpful during difficult times. Being able to virtually “come home” to your partner through a FaceTime date or watching your favorite Shondaland show together can help things feel a bit more normal.

My partner and I have found a routine that works really well for us. We do things that integrate each other into our daily home life, and we usually watch an episode (or sometimes three) of Grey’s Anatomy on Rabbit together before we go to bed. Being able to finish my day by watching TV and seeing my partner’s face on the screen next to mine feels comforting and cozy, and is incredibly helpful when texts or Snapchats throughout the day don’t feel like enough.

2. Exchange care packages and small gifts with your partner.

Care packages don’t need to be ultra-elaborate, flashy, or expensive! There’s no pressure for this to be the biggest gift your partner has ever received – it just needs to be from your heart. (Love has brought out my mushy, corny side. Let’s just go with it.) Whether you send your partner your college sweatshirt for them to sleep in, a box of their favorite candy, a handwritten letter, or something new you bought just for them, it’s the thought that counts. If for any reason care packages aren’t an option, online gifts are great too – try sending your partner an e-card or virtual flowers to let them know you’re thinking of them.

My partner and I sent each other care packages earlier this year and they very obviously reflected our individual styles. Our packages were super different, but that’s what I loved about them! I sent a plain box full of comforting items like some of my favorite shirts, books, a vibrator, and some locally roasted coffee, and my partner sent a colorful, artsy box full of pictures of us, local honey and jam, and drawings and romantic notes. I love giving gifts even more than receiving them, and especially love finding small, sweet things that make me think of my partner. It’s always nice to have a little surprise for them during our long weekends together in addition to any care packages we may send between visits.

3. Use technology for good… AKA orgasms!

Not being able to be physically intimate with your partner can be a particularly frustrating part of long-distance relationships, but thankfully, as Apple says, there’s an app for that! A number of vibrators, such as We-Vibe’s toys like the Sync or the Nova, are app-controlled, meaning that your partner can control the vibrations of your toy from anywhere in the world. If you’re not into apps or can’t find any app-compatible toys that work for you, good ol’ sexting while you masturbate is always an option! Even without an app, asking your partner to take charge of your toy from afar (what vibration speed would you use on me? how would you move the toy against my body? how much pressure would you use? am I allowed to come?) can be really hot.

Sex is deeply important for me and my partner, and maintaining that closeness when we’re apart is a big part of our relationship. Not surprisingly, this is one area of my life where being a sex toy reviewer really has its perks! During a visit, my partner and I went through my entire sex toy collection and picked out ones we would like to use together, and I ended up sending my partner home with one of my favorite wands.

Some of the toys my partner and I use while we’re apart have apps and some don’t. For the ones that don’t, we stick to sexting and asking questions (like the ones above!). Either way, our long-distance sex is incredibly hot and always leaves me counting down the days until our next visit.

4. Keep something to look forward to on your calendar.

It always helps to have a “next thing” to count down to with your partner! This doesn’t have to be a visit if that’s not financially or geographically accessible. Maybe you and your partner plan a movie marathon date day on Rabbit once or twice a month, or pick up the same food from your favorite restaurant and enjoy a meal over Skype. Treat these hangouts like actual dates (because they are!) in additional to any daily talking you may do, even if it involves similar things. Being able to count down to something special with your partner feels great!

At the end of one visit, my partner and I always try to have our next visit planned. Even if we don’t have flights or other travel arrangements specifically hammered out, we have the dates set and a commitment to make it work. I’m not usually a “bigger picture” person, but it helps to try to get into that mindset when my partner and I are apart for longer than we’d like. No matter how hard the distance may get at times, our mushy, wonderful partnership makes it all worth it.

This post was sponsored. All writing and thoughts are my own.

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When a Sex Blogger Goes Silent: Practicing Vulnerability in the Post-Inauguration Slump

I’ve been fairly quiet for a few weeks. Since Donald Trump’s inauguration weekend, to be exact. I haven’t written a proper essay or review in a month and a half, my Twitter engagements are down, and my Instagram feed is silent. I’ve felt completely unable to write anything: not even a witty tweet, much less a sharp, searing blog post. And that feeling is deeply painful.

The last time I had an unintentional hiatus like this was a year and a half ago, when I uprooted my entire life to move to a new state for a new job. It wasn’t an easy move at first, and for about six months, I barely kept my head above water. I didn’t have any motivation to write (and it also didn’t help that I hadn’t found my sex blogging niche yet). But this time is different. It’s not that I’m unmotivated. I just can’t write anything. I try, and try, and try again. I stare at the blank page, or rewrite the same sentence a dozen times, or brainstorm posts in my notebook until depression takes the pen from my hand.

I feel as if I’m trying to throw words one by one over some impenetrable barrier, hoping they’ll fall into place on the other side. It seems impossible. But I’m going to try again.

● ● ●

I wrote a political essay I’m proud of just one week before Trump’s inauguration. I thought it would open doors to write more about sexual politics, as well as my usual feminist critiques of companies and product reviews. And then… nothing. The inauguration affected me in ways I didn’t anticipate, especially because I had no shortage of creative energy post-election. Trump’s rise to power was horrifying, but not a complete shock (given that we live in a white supremacist country). Still, there was something about the inauguration versus the actual election that was more tangible, signaling the beginning of his campaign promises carried out.

Soon after the inauguration, I shared how I was feeling with close blogsquad friends. I told them I couldn’t write and felt like my work was meaningless in the grand scheme of things. They assured me that while my feelings were valid, this is exactly what Trump and his team of extremists want: to silence people and make us feel like our voices hold no weight. I knew they were right, but I just continued to stare at that blank page.

I’ve been searching for something to pull me out of this pit. A ladder, an outstretched hand, footholds on the walls – anything. I started to get scared. I am scared. But then, last week, I flew to the UK for Eroticon, a conference specifically designed for sex writers and bloggers… and I left actually wanting to write this post. I started writing down some thoughts in my iPhone notes, and they just kept coming.

● ● ●

Writing about not being able to write is challenging, to say the least. It feels incredibly vulnerable, and for a long time it was too uncomfortable to try. I’m a fiercely opinionated and outspoken feminist, activist, and writer. I’m supposed to be able to write, no matter what. But now, I’m trying to practice being vulnerable by telling myself – and all of you – it’s okay if I can’t always do that.

At Eroticon, I was reminded that it’s okay to say these things out loud. I feel inspired by speakers whose talks were rooted in vulnerability and encouraged by new friends who urged me to write this post after brainstorming together. I spent hours talking to UK residents about the future of sexual freedom and rights under a Trump administration and felt a renewed sense of urgency for this work after giving a talk on sex blogging as feminism and social justice. But most of all, I felt affirmed: both in the power of vulnerability and in the strength of our community.

Now, I’m back to brainstorming blog posts, article pitches, and potential blog travel and events. I do believe being outspoken about sexual freedom and rights is more important now than ever, and I’ll continue to do so boldly and unapologetically, but I’ll also be gentle with myself if that starts to feel difficult again.

If you’re emotionally struggling under the Trump administration, you are not alone. Please know you are loved and supported. If you need help, there are resources available to you: here are the websites for Trans Lifeline and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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An American Sex Blogger in London: I’m Heading to Eroticon!

The Time Has Come: I’M GOING TO LONDON!

I’ve been impatiently anticipating this trip ever since Girl on the Net told the bloggers at Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit how bloody brilliant Eroticon would be in 2017. (Um… did I use bloody correctly? I’m trying, people.) For the past few months, I’ve made travel arrangements, brainstormed ideas for my Eroticon talk and the panel I’m sitting on, made plans with other bloggers, and learned some British lingo. (Pants are UNDERWEAR. Okay. I’ve got it now. Really.)

In just a few short hours, I’m turning on my vacation message at work and ignoring anything that isn’t related to my trip. I’m so pleased to not only be in London for the duration of Eroticon, but for an entire week! I’m staying with my sweet friend Sarah Jane of marvelous darling for the conference, and we have plans to visit local sex toy shops and manufacturers, get our #TouristFemme on, and eat all the bread London has to offer. We even have a trip hashtag: #SarahsAbroad. I’m also beyond excited to spend time with Girl on the Net and Emmeline Peaches this week!

Come Listen to Me Talk About Sex Blogging & Feminism!

I’m thrilled to not only attend Eroticon, but to have the opportunity to give a talk on my favorite thing: sex blogging as a feminist act! If you’re attending Eroticon and interested in learning about why blogging and writing about sex is an integral part of feminist activist work, catch my talk, Sex Blogging as Feminism and Social Justice, on Saturday at 10:20 AM. You can read the full description of my talk on the Eroticon schedule!

I’m also honored to sit on a panel on How to Use Your Blog to Educate with Emmeline Peaches and Hot Octopuss on Sunday at 2:20 PM. We’ll be discussing how bloggers can spread the word about sex and sexual health, and give you some ideas on how to incorporate education into your own blogging and writing work.

Eroticon 2017 Meet & Greet Questions

To kick things off and drum up excitement before the conference, Eroticon attendees usually do a virtual meet and greet in the days and weeks leading up the actual conference. So, without further ado, here are my answers! I cannot wait to meet all of you so soon!

Name (and Twitter if you have one)

Sarah Brynn Holliday, but you can call me Sarah! Some bloggers call me Formidable Femme or Spooky Femme, so that works too. You can also just yell “hey, spooky” and I’ll respond. Whatever. And my Twitter is @FemmeReviews!

What are you hoping to get out of Eroticon 2017?’

So many things! Of course, I’m looking forward to spreading the gospel of feminist sex blogging, but I’m most excited to make connections with UK bloggers and writers. Sadly, we North American bloggers don’t get to see too much of the European blogging crew, so I’m delighted for the chance to reconnect with dear friends and make some new ones!

This year’s schedule at Eroticon is pretty full on but which 4 sessions do you already have marked down as ones you want to attend?

Okay, in 2018, can Eroticon just be an entire week long so I can attend all of these amazing sessions?! (Just kidding, conference organizers. Kind of.)

It’s so hard to choose, but I’m most looking forward to Conflict Resolution in the “Call-Out” Era with Ruby Goodnight, Pitching 101 with Girl on the Net, Hands on Rope Workshop with Djfet (and Sarah Jane as my rope partner!), and Hashtag Sex Work with Kate Lister.

Tell us one thing about yourself that not many people know?

Everyone in my personal life knows this, and my close blogging circle does, but I don’t think all of the UK writers and bloggers do: I work in the abortion rights and access movement full-time. I live and work in a red state in the U.S., and the work is deeply frustrating at times, but it’s one of my deepest passions. (If you had told 16-year-old me that I would become the abortion-and-sex-toys-girl, I wouldn’t have believed you.)

If you’re attending Eroticon and are also interested in/already doing abortion rights and access work, I would LOVE to take you for a cup of coffee or a drink while I’m in town and pick your brain about abortion rights, restrictions, and legislation in the UK. Just email me!

If you made the papers, what would the headline be?

I’m notoriously awful at these kinds of questions, so in true Sarah fashion, I asked Twitter and the blogsquad. I couldn’t pick between these two, from Kate and Lilly, respectively: “Local Spookyfemme Shreds the Patriarchy With Vampy Nails and Impact Implements” and “Local Sex Educator Creates Penis-Shaped Baguettes for Trauma Training”. Those headlines tell you all you need to know about me, to be honest.

If you could have one skill for free (I.e. without time/practice/effort) what would it be?

I would LOVE to be a great dancer. An adequate dancer, even. Anything. Anything is better than my current dancing. (Eroticon folks, you’ve been warned.)

Complete the sentence: I love it when…

…I get the entire bread basket to myself.

See y’all in London!

None of this would be possible without my incredibly generous Eroticon sponsor, O.school. Be sure to follow them on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for updates on their upcoming launch!

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Social Media for Adult Businesses: Taking the Sexy out of Sex Toy Marketing

Today, I’ve partnered with Dangerous Lilly, marvelous darling, and Red Hot Suz to create a multi-post guide to sex toy industry social media. Hopefully through these guides, new and old companies can be educated on how to maneuver through marketing sexuality in a professional way.

I know what you’re thinking. Taking sexy out of sex toy marketing? Isn’t that the whole point of this industry? Well… not exactly. Sex toys can be sexy, but when we’re talking about marketing and behavior by sex toy companies, we need more professional and less sexy.

Non-consensual Marketing: Get That Dick Off My Timeline

Almost every time I open Twitter, without fail, there’s a dick on my timeline. (Sometimes they’re in my mentions too, but that’s a whole different conversation.) It’s not uncommon to scroll through my timeline and see photo after photo of naked people, or close-ups of genitalia. A staggering amount of these photos are posted or retweeted by sex toy companies, and usually either depict people using their toys, or marketing images that include photos of naked people.

I’ve since unfollowed or muted many of these companies, but it just takes a quick look through some adult businesses’ social media accounts to find evidence of this. (And that’s just the social media side of things – on some companies’ websites, you’ll find the same images.)

So, what’s the problem with companies sharing images of people’s genitalia on social media? It’s non-consensual. It’s incredibly jarring to scroll through my Twitter timeline, catching up on new posts from fellow bloggers, and suddenly see an image of someone’s naked body, people having sex, or people using sex toys. And, for people with sexual trauma like myself, seeing those images can be harmful and triggering.

Consent doesn’t fly out the window just because a Twitter user happens to be following a sex toy company: people shouldn’t have to assume that your account is NSFW with regard to explicit images just because you sell sex toys. Believe it or not, sharing images of naked people using your company’s sex toy is not a prerequisite to selling said sex toy. Shocker!

Fixing these consent violations is easy: don’t share images of naked people, their genitalia, or people having sex on your social media accounts. If you feel it’s absolutely necessary to include such photos on your website, make sure customers don’t see those images by default. It’s not difficult to add a content warning to let folks know that the next image they’ll see is explicit. When in doubt about whether something is okay to share or not, always err on the side of consent and keep it off of social media.

You’re Here to Sell Sex Toys, Not Flirt with Bloggers and Customers

This should be obvious, but unfortunately it’s something some sex toy companies (read: shitty men who work at sex toy companies) do. As a company, you should never, ever be personally sexual with bloggers and customers. Bloggers have seen it all: from companies being sexually suggestive over Twitter direct messages, to offering a dildo in exchange for explicit video, and general flirty, unprofessional interactions, we have a lot of problems in our community.

For me, this also includes crossing personal social media boundaries. I’m very close with some folks in the #blogsquad, and many of us are friends on Facebook and follow each other on Instagram. Because of the mutual friends we have on social media channels, sometimes my personal accounts pop up in companies’ “who to follow” suggestions… and their staff requests to follow me or add me as a friend. Please, companies, don’t do this. It’s incredibly unprofessional.

These are easy problems to fix. Remain professional at all times. Recognize that bloggers are professionals. Get out of our direct messages. Respect customers. This really isn’t difficult, and I almost can’t believe I had to write this section.

Sex Toys Aren’t Naughty, They’re Normal

I talked about this in my post on 7 commitments sex toy companies can make in the new year, but it’s worth rehashing here, too. “Naughty” language is around every corner in the sex toy industry: you can find it wherever you look, from company names to product descriptions to marketing materials.

While some companies might claim this language is lighthearted or harmless, it’s actually stigmatizing and silencing. Using sex toys is completely normal, but attaching “naughtiness” to them adds a layer of shame that is absolutely unnecessary. There’s nothing naughty about pleasure, but companies often make it seem that way in their social media posts and interactions.

There are a few layers to tackling this marketing issue as a sex toy company, and it depends on if you use naughtiness as a selling point, or if you’ve branded your entire company on naughtiness. (Or both. Look at you, you go-getter!) If you use naughtiness as a selling point, especially on social media, move away from that. It’s just as easy to write a promotional tweet that refers to sex toys as being naughty as it is to write one that affirms sex toys as normal. Have a discussion with your social media manager about how to craft tweets that advance sexual freedom instead of unintentionally shaming people.

If you’ve branded yourself as a “naughty” store (if you have the word “naughty” or “secret”, etc. in your name), the way I see it, you have a couple of options. First, you can rebrand entirely. This is the more difficult route, but an incredibly important one: rebranding (and explaining the reason behind it) can show your customers and the larger sex blogger and educator community that you mean business and you’re committed to being better. Second, if rebranding seems too daunting or complicated, you can add a section in your “About” page on why “naughty” is part of your brand, and how your company values have changed over time. It’s really all about accountability and holding yourself to a higher standard.

If you are a company and you see yourself reflected in this post, please take it as both education and constructive criticism. Bloggers, educators, and customers should not have to be subject to consent violations, unprofessional behavior, flirting, and shaming. If there are changes you need to make, make them. In doing so, you’ll demonstrate that you’re committed to learning, listening, and creating a safer community for all of us.

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Advocating for Sex Toys in the Age of Trump

There are many things I care about as an activist, among which are abortion rights, racial and economic justice, sex workers’ rights, prison abolition, queer and trans liberation, disability justice, and sexual freedom. These issues didn’t just come to fruition: we fought for them before Trump’s candidacy and we’ll continue to fight for them throughout and after his presidency.

After the election, however, something else came to mind: sex toys. More specifically, advocating for sex toys, which in turn means fighting for sexual rights, sexual freedom, and for everyone to be able to express themselves sexually however they desire.

Advocating for various ethical and equitable issues around sex toys isn’t a novel concept. Every day, sex educators and bloggers fight for safe sex toy materials, financial accessibility of sex toys, geographic availability of ethical sex shops, and more diversity in sex toy advertising, among a host of other things. Further, sex toys are a part of sexual freedom, so they are already included in some of the movements mentioned above. However, sex toys themselves, both as their own entities and as existing within the sexual freedom framework, are now on the top of my priority list.

What’s in Store for Sex Toys Under a Trump/Pence Administration?

Talking openly and radically about sex toys, sexual pleasure, and desire has never been easy or welcomed with open arms, but in my experience, it’s gotten at least a little bit easier in the past few years. Sex toys are popping up in TV shows left and right and being written about in large, mainstream news outlets. When I tell a new acquaintance I’m a sex blogger, the first thing they usually want to talk about is sex toys. It’s not unusual to overhear a conversation about sex toys in your favorite coffee shop or on the metro. Cultural attitudes about sex toys seem to be shifting.

But I’m worried the sex toy tides are going to turn again under Donald Trump and Mike Pence’s administration.

We know what happens when sexual and reproductive rights take a backseat to ultra-conservative fear-mongering: abortion rights erode, comprehensive sex education dissolves, and sex is suddenly the root of all evil. Under Trump’s presidency, people may be afraid to continue to voice their desires and seek education about sex, sex toys, and sexual exploration.

Sex Toys Are Too Important to Be Left Behind

Sex toys are tools for sexual expression, pleasure, survival, and exploration. Because sex toys are a part of sexual freedom and sexual rights, they play an inherent role in advocating for human rights more broadly. We cannot afford to backpedal on the progress the sexual freedom movement has made to make sex toys more acceptable in the mainstream.

If you need evidence of sex toys’ critical role in many people’s lives, the stories are easy to find. For me, sex toys are central to my healing process as an abuse survivor. For Kate, sex toys are valid and transformative whether being used alone or with a partner. For Lilly, orgasm can be a necessary boost of good hormones, and vibrators are vital. For Ruby, sex toys have helped to reduce sexual trauma triggers and reconnect with touch in a positive way. And for Insert Trans Here, wands help her enjoy her sexuality.

It’s clear that sex toys are not only symbols of the sexual freedom movement, but are a crucial, intimate part of our everyday lives. We must not let them be relegated to the shadows again.

What Can We Do Now?

I’m not going to solely advise that you support sex bloggers and writers throughout the next few years. We’ll be here. I want you to support yourself, believe in your power, and join others in countering attacks on sexual freedom. Here are a few ideas.

  • Link up with local, state, and national organizations doing sexual freedom work. Woodhull Freedom FoundationSex Workers Outreach Project, and the National Network of Abortion Funds are great places to start. If you’re not sure of the organizations in your area but want to get involved, email me. I’ve worked in the progressive movement for six years and can point you in the right direction.
  • Write. Have sex toys made an impact on your life? Write about it. You don’t need to have a blog to make a difference: it’s easy to write a story on Medium, pitch a feminist publication, or share your experiences through a series of tweets.
  • Support ethical, equitable, feminist sex shops. Whether online or brick-or-mortar, feminist shops are on the front lines of the battle against pleasure, and they deserve your business. If you’re looking to shop online, check out SheVibe and Vibrant. If you’re looking for a local store, check out JoEllen Notte’s list of Superhero Sex Shops.
  • Fight for inclusive, comprehensive sex education where you live. Advocating for policy on the federal level is important, but so is advocacy on the local and state level. That’s where we build power. Research what sex education is like in your local school district, and see if you can join any existing groups that advocate for sex ed where you live. If no group exists, create one yourself! You could even run for school board!
  • Get loud and organize. If you feel safe to do so, speak up, and encourage others to raise their voices too. Gather your neighbors for a community workshop on safe sex toy materials. Start a blog. Create a DIY zine about sex toys and distribute it at your college or university. Attend a rally about sexual rights, or organize your own. Do what you can to advance sexual freedom in your community.

Together, we will resist and defend.

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