Supporting Feminist Sex Shops Under the Trump Administration

The checkout desk at Sugar, a fab feminist sex shop in Baltimore, MD. (Photo credit: Jacq Jones, owner of Sugar!)

It’s been over a year since the 2016 presidential election. I imagine that night will be forever burned into my memory: hosting a a victory party, watching the food I’d made grow cold as results started to roll in, seeing my friends walk out the door as the night took a darker turn, lying on the floor screaming into my empty apartment in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.

In January, we’ll reach the one-year anniversary of his inauguration. Since then, Trump has capitalized on having an official place in government to amplify white supremacy in the next chapter of our country’s violent history. He targets marginalized people and egregiously violates human rights at every possible opportunity through executive orders and collaborations with Republicans in Congress.

But the impact of Trump’s administration goes beyond sweeping policy changes, more than proclamations and pen strokes. The reality of his administration’s influence on the country (and the world) is much more insidious: whether Trump has legislated on an issue or not, he’s made his political views exceedingly clear. He’s a rapist and perpetrator of sexual violence. He’s queerphobic, transphobic, and misogynistic. He endlessly terrorizes Black, Brown, and Indigenous people. And he certainly has no regard for human rights and freedoms, sexual freedom included.

Even issues Trump hasn’t specifically, directly addressed are still in jeopardy thanks to the culture of shame and stigma he’s helped to strengthen — and one such issue is independent feminist sex shops. Trump has never issued an executive order about sex toys and he didn’t have anything in his campaign platform about decrying and regulating feminist sex shops, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t impacted by his administration.

It’s pretty easy to infer Trump’s views on feminist sex shops seeing how he wants nothing to do with advancing sexual freedom. Trump is vehemently anti-abortion, a proponent of abstinence-only sex education, and a rapist. He works to roll back (the very sparse) protections for queer and trans people in the United States. He views women as objects for his taking. Feminist sex shops are the antithesis of everything Trump stands for: places where autonomy, agency, consent, and comprehensive, trauma-informed, pleasure-focused sex education reign and marginalized people are affirmed, celebrated, and centered.

With this in mind, in August I issued a call for independent feminist sex shop owners and toy makers to let me know how the Trump administration has impacted their business — and their answers weren’t surprising. Across the board, both feminist sex shops (brick-and-mortar and online stores) and small manufacturers I talked to have seen an overall downturn in sales since the election.

Even if this isn’t true for every single shop and maker out there, it’s a concerning trend nonetheless. There has never been a more important time to support feminist sex shops — and here’s why.

Buying From Feminist Sex Shops Puts Our Ethics Where Our Wallets Are

By giving your business to feminist sex shops, you are almost always directly funding labor of marginalized and oppressed people. Independent, ethical shops are most often staffed and owned by people of marginalized genders, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, disabled people, and sex workers. Many pay their staff a fair and living wage and prioritize workers’ rights.

If you want to financially support people most severely impacted by the Trump administration, spend your cash at a feminist sex shop. (The same goes for any small business owned by marginalized people!) For those of us in an economic position to do so, we can put our ethics where our wallets are and shop local, shop independent, and shop feminist.

Shopping at feminist sex toy stores also helps fund the sexual freedom movement. Too often, sex and pleasure are left out of mainstream calls for “resistance” — and many feminist shops are putting in the work to ensure sexual freedom has a place at the table. When we advocate for equity and social justice, we can’t forget sexual rights, too.

Supporting Feminist Sex Shops Keeps the Door to Sex Education Open

Whether brick-and-mortar or online, feminist sex shops are places of resistance and resilience, education and empowerment. Brick-and-mortar shops are sometimes the only place in a city to receive truly comprehensive, pleasure-focused sex education — sex education that supports sex workers, centers queer and trans communities, is kink-affirming, highly values sex toy and lube safety, celebrates all body types, and is informed by trauma. Even online shops often have blogs and share affirming, pleasure-focused content on social media, making sex education accessible to people no matter where they live.

Further, feminist sex shops endlessly support the sex blogging and education communities and the sex industry at large. I would not be the educator and writer I am without the independent feminist shops and companies that sustain and affirm me. My relationships with them are treasured and beautiful. By supporting these shops, you’re not only aiding their in-house education — you’re helping lift up a community of sex educators, writers, bloggers, and speakers across the world.

Feminist Sex Shops Give Us Space To Celebrate Our Pleasure

Feminist sex shops affirm that we deserve to focus on and celebrate our pleasure. They remind us that self-care isn’t selfish, orgasms aren’t frivolous, and sex and masturbation don’t have to be afterthoughts, even in dark political times. Trump and his administration are trying to violently rip our rights and our joy away from us at every chance, but we deserve to seek and feel pleasure.

It is our birthright, after all.

It’s not difficult to translate the “why” into “how”: there are numerous ways to support feminist sex shops, and they don’t all involve spending money. Feminist sex shops (and ethical indie toy makers and small companies) always deserve your business, but that’s not an option for everyone. In addition to spending your cash, you can write good reviews of feminist sex shops and apply for jobs with them. Tell your friends about the fabulous sex toy or lube or book or lingerie you just bought and encourage them to check out the shop, too.

If you’re an educator, consider reaching out to teach a class at your local shop — it’ll bring in revenue and a new customer base for the store and you get a cut of the profits, too. Show up for charity events your local shop may partner on. Boost their profile by including them in movements like Small Business Saturday and help bust the stigma that feminist sex shops are unlike any other small, independent business in your town.

Feminist sex shops do so much good for communities all across the country and for the sexual freedom movement in general. We can put in the work to support them, too.

For online shopping, check out my two favorite ethical, independent retailers: Vibrant and SheVibe. To find a brick-and-mortar feminist sex shop near you, take a look at JoEllen Notte’s Superhero Sex Shop List.

My Abuser Is Dead and I Still Don’t Forgive Him

Photo: me, on a deserted road in Nevada.

Content warning: trauma, abuse, death

I’m exhausted.

I wake up and feel exhausted. I read the news and feel exhausted. I go to work and feel exhausted. I try to write a blog post, or an email, or simply a tweet, and feel exhausted. I’m exhausted all over, from the tips of my painted fingernails to my skin that hurts to touch. I’m exhausted in my bones, deep and aching.

I’ve been reliving my trauma more days than not. Words come tumbling out of my mouth, jumbled, uncontrollable, mashed and bent, and the only cogent thing I can come up with sometimes is “I’m exhausted.” It’s true, and I am, and it still doesn’t feel like enough. This exhaustion is miles wide, unrelenting, unforgiving.

I’m exhausted from many things: being constantly reminded of the trauma I carry in my body, my social media feeds filled with survivors’ stories without any content warnings, not being able to escape this barrage of abusive men wherever I turn.

But right now, I’m most exhausted from the expectation that survivors should be thankful that abusers are starting to “apologize.” That we should be endlessly grateful. That we should see all of this as a step in the right direction. And to me, the worst one: that we should forgive them.

I’m exhausted. But I am not thankful or forgiving.

I have a complicated relationship with forgiveness. I do not forgive my abuser. I do not particularly care that he died after our relationship ended. But it wasn’t always this way, staunch and unforgiving. It was excruciating and confusing and frustrating for a very long time.

I was with my abuser for four years. When it ended, I knew something bad had happened to me, but I didn’t yet have the language to name it as abuse. Sex education had failed me: I only knew abuse as physical, not emotional, sexual, or financial, and only knew sexual assault as rape, not coercion. How could I know myself as an abuse survivor if my story didn’t fit the narrow narrative I’d been taught?

Fast forward a year and a half. I was in college, thriving in feminist and queer circles, beginning a deeper dive into social justice, autonomy, and consent. I was in a museum in Washington, D.C. when I got the call: frantic breaths through the phone. Car accident. I needed to call you first. Where are you? He’s dead. Are you coming home?

The hours, days, and weeks following that phone call are blurry. I only have disjointed, underdeveloped snapshots left now. Images of my body, tactile sensations: what my hands touched, who I gripped tightly, how it felt. My body, crumpled on the museum floor. My hands, glued to the steering wheel. My arms, wrapped around my mother as we cried. My fingertips, touching the casket. My feet, stepping lightly on the grass in the graveyard in the cool November air.

Only one thing from that time is still exceedingly clear: all the progress I made in that year and a half vanished. The small steps I had taken to heal were buried with his body. I’ll never know for sure, but I think I may have been close to saying “That was abuse.”

I felt exposed and vulnerable and scared.

Two years later, I actually said “That was abuse” for the first time. I was sitting in my therapist’s office, talking about how a new relationship I was in was drastically different from my old one.

In the few weeks I had been dating this new partner, repressed memories began flying to the surface: things my abuser did, things he said, what he would and wouldn’t let me do, how he manipulated me, the ways he used my queerness against me. Both with my therapist and on my own, I started to explore the trauma my body remembered, the collection of painful memories sitting on my chest like an invisible, menacing lump, frozen in time since my abuser’s death.

I began to realize that the healing progress I lost after my abuser’s death wasn’t simply because I was mourning. I was devastated and suffering because I was having a trauma reaction. I was immediately thrown back into what felt like our relationship, just without him. I saw his family and his friends, all of whom shared he “never stopped asking about me” even after we broke up, which to them was an indication that he still cared about me until he died. Everyone expected me to go the funeral, to the family gatherings, to go into his house and retrieve gifts I had once given him, to bring flowers to his grave, the list goes on and on. And I did. I did all of those things.

One repressed memory snowballed into a dozen repressed memories, and that massive snowball turned into an avalanche. Suddenly, I was dealing with this giant trauma monster, trying to figure out what was what: is this trauma from the abuse, or trauma from his death? Both? Neither? Something else entirely? How do I heal? Where do I even begin?

Very quickly, I grew cold toward any memory of my abuser. I decided that I do not forgive him, and while it’s not his fault he’s dead, I don’t care too much about that either. I don’t believe he deserves my forgiveness and I am simply unwilling to invest any emotional energy into getting a single bone in my body to think otherwise.

Survivors never need to forgive our abusers. We don’t need to accept any apology, no matter what others think about its strength or veracity. We don’t need to be thankful or grateful or appreciative. We can be as angry and disgusted and unforgiving as we want to be.

Not forgiving my abuser is simply not forgiving my abuser. There’s no hidden meaning here. I’m not stuck, I don’t “need help,” I’m not holding onto a mountain-sized amount of resentment—all things people have said to me when I told them I didn’t forgive my abuser. (If you’re stuck, needing help, or holding onto resentment, that’s okay too. Everyone’s path is different.) I’ve done nothing wrong. My abuser is the one who did something wrong.

Healing from trauma and abuse is not one-size-fits-all. Forgiveness can absolutely be an important part of some people’s healing journey. It’s simply not part of mine, and it’s certainly not required.

I am exhausted. I am unforgiving. I am a survivor. My journey is valid.

If you are a survivor, you are not alone. Please know that you are loved and supported. You matter because you are here in this world, and you matter to me.

How Social Media is Silencing the Sex Industry

Four of the culprits: Patreon, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Every morning, I expect to wake up to news that yet another social media platform is demanding that content creators in the sex industry censor ourselves and our work to their liking.

Whether it’s the creation of a new policy, like the still-murky Patreon guidelines that affect “adult” accounts, especially porn performers and producers, or the enforcement of an existing one, like Facebook ads denying any kind of paid promotion for posts that have to do with sex (even educational events), at this point I expect social media corporations to fight me and my community at every turn.

This isn’t an exaggeration. The truth is that content creators in the sex industry — writers, educators, performers, producers, bloggers, podcasters, photographers, etc. — have no supportive social media platforms to turn to any longer. And the platforms we do utilize, like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Patreon, are becoming more hostile every day.

Chip by Chip, Block by Block…

Comparatively speaking, this social media silencing is happening slowly. It’s not like these platforms decided on some all-at-once, coordinated effort: “Okay, on Tuesday, September 19, 2017, at 1:30 PM Eastern time, we’re rolling out new guidelines and regulations on adult content. Everyone who talks about sex will be banned forever. Go team!”

What’s actually happening is much, much more insidious than that.

This is about the seemingly small things, the things that really aren’t small at all, that add up over time. A Patreon policies change here. A minor adjustment to Twitter Terms of Service there. Yet another sex educator unable to promote their event on Facebook in that corner. Instagram deleting user accounts because of pictures of dildos and strap-ons in another corner. Twitter shadowbans here, there, and everywhere. Facebook’s “real name” sweep that weeded out, and in some cases even outed, sex educators and bloggers doing work under a non-legal name. The list goes on.

Looking at these examples individually, it could be easy to explain them away: “Ah, one new guideline isn’t too bad.” “That website sucked anyway!” “Hey, at least you’ve still got (insert other social media platform here), right?”

Wrong. We don’t have that other social media platform anymore — there’s some kind of stigmatizing, anti-sex policy in all of them. And the combined effect of all of those policies is staggering.

We Shouldn’t Need to Start from Scratch

Sometimes I daydream about creating a new adult content utopia where we’re free to share our work without restriction — but we shouldn’t be forced to start over. We shouldn’t be pushed out.

I am all for tearing down oppressive, capitalistic, sex-shaming structures and systems in favor of creating a better world. However, the heart of the matter here is that we shouldn’t have to create something new. We need our current social media platforms to work for and with us, to drop the stigma, to recognize that working in the sex industry is just as valid as any other career, to allow us to promote beyond our networks to reach new people.

Many of us have spent years crafting our brands and amassing online followings. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Patreon are where our followers, listeners, and readers are. To start from scratch and rebuild our audiences would be an exhausting, massive expenditure of time and skilled labor that most of us need to put towards making money and surviving.

What’s more, our work deserves to be seen on popular, mainstream platforms. We should be front and center, affirmed and celebrated for the life-changing work our community does every day.

This Is How Censorship Works, Plain and Simple

The truth of what social media corporations are doing to people in the sex industry is terrifying.  Platforms are effectively pushing adult content creators out, and that should worry everyone, no matter what field you’re in.

We’re literally being punished for talking about our work. Punished for choosing a career in sex education, sex blogging, sex work. Punished for trying to promote our work like anyone else in any other career field is allowed to do. Punished for showing our bodies. Punished for existing.

This doesn’t just affect us as content creators — it also renders our work invisible to new people. Sex-related work, be it education, blogging, vlogging, podcasts, porn, photography, you name it, benefits everyone. When we’re shuttered out from being able to share and promote our work, we can’t reach people who may need it.

This is not a small thing. This shouldn’t be business as usual. This is silencing, this is censorship, and it calls for intense pushback. We deserve much better than this.

It’s more important than ever to support your favorite sex-related content creators. If you’re able, considering supporting us financially. You can also participate in Share Our Shit Saturday to get the word out about posts you loved, appreciated, or resonated with each week.

You can support me financially here.

A Room of One’s Bone: Paddles, Dildos, and a Wine Rack

Last month, my long-distance sweetie and I finally closed the gap! After months of traveling back and forth between North Carolina and Massachusetts, we were both thrilled to start planning what our home would look like. Gone were the days of solo apartments, chatting folks up on dating sites like Tinder or, and cooking for one: we were going all-in and committing to each other, a new city (for me), and creating a home together… and what sex blogger’s new home would be complete without a freshly designed sex toy nook?

When we officially decided to move in together, one of the first things my partner and I discussed was what to do with all of our sex toys. I housed the bulk of our collection, but my partner had some too — so we revisited our sex toy inventory and came up with ideas for what to leave in North Carolina, what to get and how to design our new space, and how we wanted to build our collection out in the future.

What We Trashed

I’m not exactly known among my friends and family for being the most organized person in the universe, so I knew diving into my toybox (more like my walk-in closet, where my toys were housed haphazardly in plastic bins with even more strewn across the shelves and on the floor) would be a daunting dask.

In my three moves since becoming a sex blogger, I hadn’t tossed anything out except the sweaty jelly rabbit vibrator I bought when I was a sophomore in college and the LELO toys I destroyed when their company descended into Hell. I still had all of the strange, shitty toys I received when I first started sex toy reviewing, the weak wand vibrators I tested for my #WandQueen series, and a pile of dildos I only touched once and never looked at again.

So… what did we say goodbye to? My goddess, so many things. SO. MANY. THINGS. Every time I thought I was done combing through my closet, I’d find a bullet vibrator buried in a pile of clothes, an old bottle of lube hiding on my top shelf, or a rock-hard dildo under my foot. (Of course the dildos I tripped over were glass or single-density silicone. Squishy dildos, why couldn’t you have saved me in my time of need? I thought we were friends.)

All in all, I got rid of over half of my sex toys — enough to fill a double-bagged garbage bag. Do I miss any of ‘em? Not a one!

What We Treasure

With my sex toy closet cleaned up and the rest of my belongings packed into my car, I began the trek from North Carolina to Massachusetts. I ended up keeping enough toys to fill a small hard-shell suitcase, with vibrators and dildos on one side and strap-on harnesses, restraints, impact toys, and lube on the other. I kept my essential favorites, as well as a collection of sex toys I don’t always use, but keep around for their aesthetics, uniqueness, or sentimental value.

Of course, I brought all the toys and kinky implements I could never bear to part with: the JimmyJane Iconic Wand, PalmPower Wand, Vixen VixSkin Mustang, New York Toy Collective Shilo, Twisted Monk rope, a couple of generic riding crops, and our SpareParts Joque Harness, to name a few. Even though I’ve amassed quite the collection over the years, these toys have been classic favorites since the beginning!

And what’s the point of cleaning out your toybox if you don’t make room for more? One of the most exciting parts of paring down our collection is the room that left for new toys. In the past two months, we’ve accumulated quite a few new bondage and impact toys: namely, our purchases from indie impact implement maker LVXSupply, which are proudly displayed on our wall. We’re also trying our hand at vegan bondage and hogties, bulldog chest harnesses, and spreader bars! Alllll the kinky things.

What We Display

One of my favorite parts about our new home is our sex toy nook. We knew we wanted a fun, creative, artistic place to house and display our sex toys, and we made it happen! There are two main components of our nook: the wall and a set of drawers. It’s adjacent to our bed, which makes it easy to grab a paddle off the wall, a wand off the wine rack, or a dildo, harness, and lube from the drawers during sex. 

On the wall, we display some of our favorite wands in a wine rack (inspired by fellow wand queen JoEllen Notte) and hang the impact toys we use most often, with paddles on one side and riding crops and canes on the other. On top of our drawers, we have a turntable with a variety of handcuffs, rope, and other restraints. Inside the drawers, we keep our top toys — the vibrators, dildos, lube, and harnesses we use often and want quick access to. Under the bed, we have a large plastic bin filled with the rest of our toys.

In the future, we plan on adding kinky art, strings of lights, and decorative flowers to the space. I imagine it’ll be dynamic and ever-evolving… just like sexuality!

What’s to Come

When we first started dating, my partner and I made a sex toy wish list. As you can see, we’ve started checking things off that list, but there are still so many toys we’d love to try! So what’s next for us and our sex toy nook?

New York Toy Collective’s Carter has been on the top of our wishlist for months — I know that’ll be the next dildo we buy. I’m also really into Wild Wolf Leatherwork’s beautiful, body-positive, inclusive designs, and would love to place an order with them for a body harness in the near future. I’m excited to keep discovering new artists and sex toy makers and support small, ethical, independent businesses in the sex industry. And hey, if our sex toy nook gets too crowded…  we’ll just need a whole room!

This post was written in conjunction with other bloggers who moved at the same time I did! For more, read Kate Sloan’s post on the sex toys she brought with her when she moved. (Also, many thanks to Kate for inspiring this post title!)

This post was sponsored. As always, all writing and opinions are my own.

Pleasure as Resistance

Image of Magic Wand and Doxy that reads "These machines kill fascists"

Almost three years ago, I sat in a conference room and heard the words “pleasure is your birthright” for the first time. I was in a daylong sexuality institute at an LGBTQ+ conference, surrounded by advocates, activists, and educators who were seamlessly weaving sexual freedom into social justice.

Those words stuck with me, both as someone who had had a lot of sex but little pleasure, and as a budding sex blogger (even though I didn’t know it at the time). I can’t find my notes from that talk anymore, but the overarching principles remain: we have a human right to feel pleasure. Our pleasure is radical. Our pleasure is revolutionary.

Since that conference three years ago, I learned something else: pleasure is not only radical and revolutionary. Pleasure is a tool of resistance.

For much of this calendar year, it’s been hard for me to access pleasure as readily as I had before. I don’t masturbate as much as I used to, and when I do, it’s often to relieve pressure building in my body, be it emotional or physical. It’s more out of obligation, habit, or routine than desire to feel pleasure; always quick and with the same vibrator. Underwear off, lift dress up, grab some lube, turn on the wand, come, grab some more lube, come again, wand off, clean up, underwear on, dress smoothed back down. Repeat only when needed, not wanted. It’s like my orgasms come straight from the directions on the back of a goddamn medicine bottle.

I’ve found all forms of pleasure harder to access recently, not just sexual pleasure. Blogging brings me pleasure, too, just like reading and exploring new places and sitting outside on a sunny day do. But any scroll through my archives comparing my blogging activity pre-January and post-January will tell you something’s up (and I’m not the only one).

In this era of Trump and his white supremacist, misogynist, queer-and-transphobic companions, pleasure feels far away, even inaccessible at times — and not just because my mental health is suffering. There’s an incredible amount of pressure in activist culture to keep going, going, going until you inevitably burn out (or worse). And going, going, going means there’s rarely any time for desperately needed relaxation or leisure or pleasure.

I firmly, wholeheartedly believe we must do all we can to resist and persist in this political moment. What we are dealing with isn’t new—the United States was founded on white supremacy. Systemic oppression of marginalized people is written into our history at every single turn. To think the Trump administration’s human rights violations are “out of the ordinary” given the violent, genocidal history of this country would be a mistake. This is a long-haul fight, and if we’re going to not only survive, but thrive, we must allow ourselves to practice self-care and see pleasure as resistance.

Since Trump’s inauguration, “resist” and “resistance” have become wildly common when talking about political dissent, and with them, the expectation that “to resist” means doing something actionable that takes a concrete step towards liberation — calling your representatives, attending and organizing protests, taking down fascists in the street. Whether or not you prioritize working within government channels as a path to liberation (I don’t), people’s methods of resistance come in many forms.

What I do see missing from the a large part of the resistance “movement” is an affirmation of sex and pleasure as a path to liberation. For marginalized people, pleasure is actionable. Pleasure is resistance. Pleasure is a concrete step towards liberation: our liberation.

Claiming our bodies as our own and allowing ourselves to seek and feel pleasure in the face of violence and oppression is radical. Pleasure flies in the face of our oppressors — it is a direct “fuck you” to the people who want us to stay silent, to stay (politically) submissive, to be broken down slowly day after day by the hatred and violence they direct our way.

As a queer femme, pleasure as resistance is especially poignant for me. Queer intimacy is revolutionary. Joyfully reveling in ourselves, each other, and our pleasure is revolutionary. We’re not “supposed to” talk about our pleasure, much less show it or take pride in its beauty. By claiming our pleasure as our own, we’re subverting norms and resisting with the very things we were taught to hate about ourselves.

For marginalized people, our pleasure shouts “I see your violence, but you do not get to take THIS from me. My pleasure is mine, and mine alone. I will revel in it, defying your crusade to strip me of any joy. I am in charge now.”

No matter the political landscape, we all deserve to feel joy, experience pleasure, and take time for ourselves — something I would obviously do well to remember, too. We are allowed to take comfort in our bodies, in each other, in our communities. Pleasure is our birthright.

For more on sex and sexuality under the Trump administration, check out “Advocating for Sex Toys in the Age of Trump”. For more on self-care, check out “Surviving the Election: Self-Care Methods that Don’t Require Access to Money”.

When A Company Fucks Up Beyond Belief: Screaming (N)O

Pictured: Me, annoyed at companies that keep fucking up. Seriously, aren’t y’all tired?

Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit is a safe haven for people working in the sex industry. No matter our level of anonymity – fully out, semi-open, or completely anonymous – we know we’re among friends. In private hotel rooms and conference session rooms alike, we feel empowered and safe to share details about ourselves with the understanding that that information will remain confidential. Many of us don’t use our full legal names on our name badges. Some of us wear lanyards that signal we can’t have our pictures taken. We all assume that confidentiality will extend to all areas of our presence and likeness at the conference.

This year, Screaming O broke that confidentiality.

Earlier today, Screaming O posted two videos of the “body safe” session at this year’s Sexual Freedom Summit to their YouTube, as well as sent press releases to various industry magazines and websites with links to the videos. The first video was a short, 2-minute promotional video featuring the session’s panelists. The second was an hour and a half long recording of the entire session – including the question and answer period at the end, which featured many attendees’ voices.

There are a lot of problems to dissect here. First, the panel was a garbage fire. Plain and simple. Ruby Goodnight wrote an excellent summary of it here.  Second, Screaming O used footage from the panel as PR content. Some attendees were aware that panelists had worked with Screaming O, but they were never listed as a “sponsor” of the session.

What’s more, it appears that the panelists had no knowledge of Screaming O’s press release, claims of sponsorship, or their intentions to release the full, unedited footage from the panel.

It’s obvious there are myriad concerns about the content of the panel itself, as well as how the panel is being used as official company PR, but the most disturbing thing about all of this is the gross ethical violation Screaming O committed when they recorded, uploaded, and shared content of the full session.

We were never alerted to the fact that Screaming O was recording the panel with the intent to publish it online later. All of this was done without our knowledge or consent. While this isn’t illegal in Virginia, it is wrong, and further, it violates Woodhull’s policy on filming workshops.

Screaming O’s decision to post a recording of the body safe panel is a MASSIVE consent and safety violation. Anonymity extends to people’s voices. People’s voices in the video are identifiable – some who spoke up, like myself, shared their names or their places of work, all under the guise of confidentiality. This was supposed to be a safer space among colleagues in the sexual freedom movement, specifically among people who care about sex toy safety, and Screaming O destroyed that.

Posting recordings without consent can endanger people’s personal safety, jobs and economic security, and families and children. Screaming O jeopardized these things for people all along the anonymity scale. Even for people who wore a lanyard signaling it was okay to be depicted in photos, that doesn’t mean it was okay for our voices to be recorded and shared without our consent. As mentioned in Woodhull’s statement on this issue, in order for Screaming O to ethically film and share recording of the panel, ALL panel attendees would have to be notified of the recording, sign a release form, and be willing to be captured on film and audio. None of this happened.

What Screaming O did is egregious. Their actions could have seriously endangered the people who spoke during the panel’s question and answer session, and they violated the consent of every single person in attendance. This behavior has no place in the sex toy industry and no place in a conference geared towards people invested in social justice and liberation.

An important note: Screaming O’s actions are in no way the fault of Woodhull or their Sexual Freedom Summit. They are tireless supporters of bloggers and other Summit attendees, and immediately released a statement condemning Screaming O’s behavior as soon as the recording was released. I still fully support Woodhull and look forward to attending the conference in the future.

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.

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.

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, Be sure to follow them on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for updates on their upcoming launch!