7 Commitments Sex Toy Companies Can Make in 2017

In 2016, I found my sex blogging niche by challenging companies and pushing for ethical, equitable, feminist business practice, so it seems only fitting to close out the year with a list of how sex toy companies can do better in 2017. Enjoy!

  1. Center ethics, equity, and justice in business practice. This is a big one, and it encompasses everything else on this list. My main point of this specific bullet, however, is to acknowledge that sex toys and the sex toy industry are part of the fight for sexual freedom and sexual rights more broadly. I firmly believe that this work is inherently political. (If your company doesn’t like that, it may be time to reevaluate your reasons for being in this industry.) Now more than ever, especially with Tr*mp’s inauguration looming closer each day, sex toy companies must not only boldly and bravely stand against injustice, but actively work to defend and expand human rights.
  1. Urge other companies to be better, and call them out if necessary. One of the most heartening things I saw this year was when L’amourose called out LELO for their HEX condom campaign. In the tweet, L’amourose writes, “Not in our families, not in our industry, not in our society.” Not in our industry. It’s a short message, but a strong one. If companies want to demonstrate their commitment to sexual freedom, they should speak out when they see something that harms those values, even if it’s coming from a peer in the industry.
  1. Diversify advertising. Sex toy consumers are not just white, cis, straight, thin, and able-bodied, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at many companies’ websites. Exclusionary advertising runs rampant in this industry. From toys categorized by sexual orientation and gender, companies’ focus on whiteness, and fat-shaming used as a marketing device, we’ve got it all. Thankfully, it’s not difficult to make changes that have a big impact. As a first step, companies can remove sexual orientation and gender-based sex toy categories from their websites. For a lengthier but crucial second step, companies can create advertising and marketing campaigns that feature fat people, people of color, disabled people, and queer and trans people. (Note: while centering marginalized folks in advertising is necessary, don’t tokenize us. Before reaching out to hire us, please understand why you should include us. And please, please pay us equitably.)
  1. Include fat and disabled people in any new toy testing process. Because every person’s body is different, there is a huge range of accessibility needs and concerns to take into account when crafting sex toys. Some toys won’t work the same way for fat and/or disabled people as they will for thin and/or able-bodied people. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s just a fact. However, fat and disabled people are often shut out from any sex toy prototype testing process. (Why? Let’s review #3: this industry prioritizes thin, able-bodied people.) From now on, I want to see companies reach out to fat and disabled bloggers and educators to test their toys. Not sure who to reach out to? Email me and I can point you in the right direction.
  1. Stop asking for unpaid labor from sex bloggers and educators. This is not a goal to work towards. This is something to stop immediately. It is really that simple. Read this if you’re confused.
  1. Don’t hire abusers or create condoms that compromise people’s health and safety. Okay, yes, this is obviously about LELO, but how could I not highlight the company that has received my “You Royally Fucked Up And Continue To Do So, Now Please Leave Forever” award? It’s an honor I don’t want to bestow on any company ever again. Take this opportunity to learn from LELO’s countless mistakes. When in doubt, don’t do as LELO did: a mantra to conduct business by!
  1. Promote sexual freedom, not shame. When shopping around for sex toys, words and phrases like “naughty” and “it can be your little secret!” will likely pop up on companies’ websites. Companies also often prescribe certain ways for the consumer to use the toy – for example, “use this with your man!” is a common one that irks me to no end. While comments like this may seem offhand or harmless, they’re actually insidious and stigmatizing. People should be encouraged to use sex toys however they’d like without implications of who they should use it with, or be shamed about how open they are about owning sex toys in the first place. Sex toys are a normal, everyday part of life for many, many people. It’s time for companies to market toys using a model of freedom and positivity rather than shame and stigma.

If your company would like to discuss any of these points further, please email me to discuss my consulting fee.

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Pay Me or Get Out of My Inbox

This post started, as so many do, with a tweet. For once, it wasn’t a tweet from a company behaving badly. It was one of mine, ruminating on a topic bloggers bring up so often but receive so little justice on: getting paid for our work.

I feel like I’m always talking about this. I feel like bloggers and writers in general are always talking about this. I even went back through my blog archive to make sure I hadn’t written this post before.

Just so we’re clear, I’m exhausted of talking about this. I don’t want to be writing this blog post. I shouldn’t have to be writing this blog post, but the onslaught of companies who reach out asking for bloggers’ unpaid labor only seems to be getting worse, so here we are.

To demonstrate the sheer volume of these requests, I asked my sex blogging buddies to send me the number of unpaid work solicitations they received last month. In just November 2016, a small sample of 6 sex bloggers (both new bloggers and sex blogging veterans) received 66 emails asking for unpaid work.

This is unacceptable. These 66 requests were for product reviews from companies that don’t have affiliate programs, other types of blog posts such as personal essays and articles, advertisements to be placed on our blogs, and social media promotion of sales and new products. Basically, if a company asks a blogger to do something and they’re not paying us for it, guess what? That’s unpaid work.

(To clarify a point that’s received backlash in the past: yes, companies should either 1) pay bloggers to review their products, or 2) have a robust affiliate program that gives bloggers a chance to earn decent money. Sex toys do not pay the bills. It took me almost a year to fully grasp this concept, and I used to accept products for review left and right without compensation or an affiliate program. Now I don’t.)

Sex bloggers’ work is not frivolous, easy, or “just for fun”. For some, blogging is their full-time job. (And yes, asking us what we “really do” is insulting.) For others, it’s a part-time job, or a beloved side project in addition to a career in a different field. No matter where a sex blogger lands on the working spectrum, our blogs are serious business endeavors that we pour much of our time, energy, and passion into.

On average, it takes me between 3 and 12 hours to complete a blog post from inception to completion. This includes communicating with companies, researching, writing and editing the post, taking and editing photos, and social media promotion. Outside of writing blog posts, I spend a great deal of time curating my Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts. For many bloggers, social media is the way we connect with our audience, and it’s an important part of the job that can’t be overlooked.

Blogging is legitimate work. To stop companies from exploiting bloggers, I think it’s worth exploring why they ask for free content. While some companies are just greedy and want to steamroll bloggers, I think there’s another major factor at play here, too.

Compared to other industries and blogging niches, the sex toy industry and sex blogging community are relatively small and tight-knit. The most common explanation I get when I ask companies why they’re soliciting unpaid labor is “We’re new, small, and don’t yet have an advertising budget, but we need the exposure.”

It’s fine to be a new company – we all start somewhere. What isn’t fine is thinking that because we’re in the same community, bloggers owe companies some type of favor. If you are not financially secure enough to pay bloggers, don’t reach out to us. Seriously, don’t.

Paying people for their labor shouldn’t have to be a revolutionary thing. If you think bloggers’ work is good enough for you to want to partner with us, pay us. It’s truly that simple. There’s nothing secretive about this and there’s no hidden detour to get around it. This is serious. This is about equity, ethics, and economic justice.

I’m tired of debating my worth email after email after email. I’m tired of companies trying to cut my sponsored post and advertising rates in half. I’m tired of hearing about the latest work solicitation email from fellow sex bloggers, knowing full well I’ll see the same email when I open my inbox. I’m tired of writing about this.

From now on, my reply to these companies is simple: pay me or get out of my inbox. Bloggers are mighty. If you haven’t noticed that, you might not be paying attention. We deserve to be paid for our work. We are worth it.

Are you a sex blogger? Want to join an unpaid work request tracking project in 2017? DM me or email me.

Are you a company? Want to talk about my rates? Email me. Want me to write for you without pay? Go away.

Want to hire a blogger, but think I may not be the best fit for your brand? Great, I’ve made this easy for you. Please refer to the blogroll to your right. Each blogger on my list is brilliant, talented, and worth your time and money.

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The Power of Spooky Femme

Content warning: abuse.

One week ago, I cut my hair for the first time in two and a half years. I also dyed it jet black.

For my friends and family, the shoulder-length chop and color change may seem like a massive departure from my signature waist-length dark brown hair. But for me, my new hair feels like coming home.

• • •

If you follow me on Twitter or read my blog regularly, you’ve undoubtedly seen me talk about #SpookyFemme. I created #SpookyFemme to describe my aesthetic: all black clothing; deep red lipstick, and dark hair. My friend Kate calls this look “severe”, which I really love.

Being seen as severe, spooky, dark, and even unapproachable makes me feel good and powerful. Spooky femme is so much more than what you visually see from the outside: my femme identity comes from an internal power that is inherently tied to my queerness.

I love my spooky femme look, but I had a nagging feeling that it was incomplete. I wear all black every day. My nails are long and painted black with a matte overcoat. My dark lipstick is my trademark. So what was missing?

I had been considering a big hair chop for a while. On a whim, I thought “what if I also dyed it black?” Immediately, an image of me wearing all black with dark lipstick and black hair popped into my mind, and it clicked: spooky femme means so much to me and makes me feel so powerful because it’s a reclamation of my younger self, the self that I halted for almost ten years because my abuser forced me to.

• • •

When I was thirteen, I dyed my hair black and I adored it. I was your typical young goth teenager –  I loved wearing all black, and Tripp pants and heavy metal band tees peppered my closet – but the very beginnings of my budding spooky femmeness went deeper than that, as they continue to do now. What everyone assumed was just a phase wasn’t a phase for me. Somewhere inside of me, a small voice said “this is right”.

Until it wasn’t.

I also started dating my abuser when I was thirteen. A couple of months into our relationship, he started telling me what I was and was not allowed to wear (which later evolved into what I was and was not allowed to eat, and who I was and was not allowed to spend my time with… the list goes on). He demanded that I stop wearing the clothes I loved to wear, and promised he would never talk to me or even acknowledge my presence at school if I didn’t change my look.

I was crushed and confused. I loved my goth aesthetic, but I was just emerging out of years of being bullied horribly, and I knew what was going to happen at school if my abuser and his friends ever saw me wearing my beloved dark clothes again. I was already in the throes of an abusive relationship, and I had no idea.

I traded my Tripp pants for floral sundresses, let my band tees collect dust in the back of my closet, put light brown highlights in my hair, and packed my goth dreams away with a bruised heart.

• • •

Last fall, five years after my relationship with my abuser ended, #SpookyFemme was born. In an off-hand comment, I used the term to describe my look in the first picture in the collage above.

After a few years of bouncing between style phases, I had begun to wear a lot of black again. I knew “goth” didn’t feel like a perfect fit anymore, but “spooky” did – it combines severe glamour with my unyielding take-no-shit attitude. The small voice inside of me that said “this is right” when I was thirteen came roaring back.

• • •

One week ago, I looked in the mirror and felt more powerful than I have in ten years. My clothes are mine. My body is mine. My hair is mine.

My life is mine, and I will continue to reclaim it.

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.

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Surviving the Election: Self-Care Methods that Don’t Require Access to Money

This writing originally appeared as a series of tweets, then as a Medium post. Now I’m reposting it here, on my personal blog. The tweets and Medium post received an incredible amount of feedback – it’s clear that folks are seeking community, healing, and survival methods at this time, and I wanted to make sure this list of self-care tips was accessible to everyone visiting my blog itself for years to come.

I love the emphasis on self-care floating around the internet right now in the wake of the election. I also want to elevate self-care methods that don’t require access to money.

If you are able to treat yourself, great, but not everyone can do that. (I suggest donating to progressive organizations if you do have money.)

Here are some self-care ideas that don’t revolve around money and capitalism:
  • First and foremost, drink a glass of water! Your body needs it.
  • If you are able, and you feel safe to, take a walk. Whether it’s around your town or your apartment complex, it may feel good to move your body.
  • If you are not able to go for a walk or go outside, open a few windows in your home or sit on your deck. The fresh air will feel good.
  • Visit your local animal shelter or sanctuary. The animals will thank you, and you can take comfort in spending time with new fuzzy friends.
  • Pick up your most favorite book and begin it again. Returning to something you love could help to ground you.
  • If you have candles in your home, burn a few. Close your eyes, let the scents mingle together, and take some deep, calming breaths.
  • Right before going to sleep, wash your sheets, take them out of the dryer still hot, and make your bed. Let the warmth envelop your body.
  • If you have the ingredients, bake your favorite dessert. Keeping your hands busy might soothe the anguish of “what can I do now?”
  • If you are unable to get out of bed, try doing something that doesn’t require much bodily movement: reading, writing, watching a movie.
  • If you are able to and want to, masturbate. It might help relieve stress. You are allowed to focus on your pleasure. You deserve pleasure.
  • Take a hot shower. If washing your body or hair feels like too much, that’s okay. Just let the water wash over you.
  • Create something, even if just for yourself. We need your creative energies in this world. Resistance through creativity is radical.
Please, please take care of yourself in this traumatic time. The world needs you in it. You are important, and I care about you.

Do you have any self-care methods you love that don’t revolve around money and capitalism? Please do share them in the comments.

For more on self-care in the wake of the election, check out posts from fellow sex bloggers Girly Juice and The Deaf Queer.

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Calling Out, Creating Change: What I Do When Businesses Behave Badly

My typical workspace: vanilla chai and dreaming about the future
My ideal workspace: vanilla chai and dreaming about liberation

If you know me at all, you’ll know that ethical, equitable, feminist business practice within the sex toy industry is kinda my thing. Pushing for companies to adopt feminist ethics encompasses the scope of my activist work: promoting body-safe sex toy materials, encouraging trauma-informed sex education, centering marginalized people in marketing and hiring, paying living wages and resisting worker exploitation, and so much more are all included in the fight for ethical and equitable business practice.

Ideally, every company involved in sexual freedom work should have a vested interest in aggressively challenging queerphobia, transphobia, racism, white supremacy, ableism, sexism, fatphobia, capitalism, and stigmatization of sex workers. But not all of them do, and they often make their oppressive opinions known in very public forums.

So I call them out. And here’s why.

Sex toy companies don’t get a free pass just because they exist.

In a society where sex is ubiquitous, yet often met with criticism and shame, it can be exciting to see sex toy companies boldly and unapologetically exist in the world. However, just because companies exist doesn’t mean they’re participating in sexual freedom work – work which requires an active commitment to challenging oppression every single day.

It may seem easy to give sex toy companies a free pass. They’re in this industry, so isn’t that enough? Do they have to be vocal activists? Even if they’re not “politically correct” on everything, they’re still here, right?

“Just being here” is simply not enough for me. Sex toy companies must be held accountable just like any other business. If AT&T released a fatphobic commercial promoting their products, we would call them out on it and demand they do better. If a sex toy company used fatphobia to market their products (which many have done), we should call them out on it and demand they do better (which we did).

Sex toy companies must be held to the same standard as every other company, keeping in mind that challenging oppression and centering marginalized people is rare in any industry – and we should push everyone to do better.

Calling out sex toy companies is also about advocating for consumer safety.

In addition to working in the sexual freedom movement and making a commitment to dismantling interlocking oppressions, sex toy companies also accept a lot of responsibility because they sell things that go inside of people’s bodies.

Toxic sex toys and lubes can make people sick. If a company’s products are mislabeled or if a company sells toys made out of toxic materials, consumers deserve to know. Unfortunately, because the sex toy industry is unregulated, consumers don’t always have advocates within sex toy companies themselves – so we must be those advocates.

This is why bloggers burn questionable toys, write blog posts exposing mislabeled lube ingredients, and exclusively promote retailers that solely stock body-safe sex toy and lube options. We publicly discuss this on social media forums like Twitter and Facebook because these conversations don’t do consumers any good if they’re only held behind closed doors.

We must raise our voices to promote health and safety. They are much too important to dismiss.

Marginalized and oppressed people are not required to play nice when others hurt us.

Companies cannot stab marginalized people in the back and then expect us to pull the knife out and hand it back with a smile. (Side note: this entire section applies to individual people and companies alike.) If your company harms me, I am under no obligation to pat you on the head and say “it’s okay, I know you’ll do better next time” – because it’s not okay, and I would be harming myself and my community if I didn’t speak up.

Part of “playing nice” has long been seen as educating our oppressors and doing their work for them. Let me be clear: it is not our job to educate others on how and why they are hurting us, and what they can do to make the pain go away. If we tell you that you made a mistake, the onus is on you to educate yourself privately. This should be a relatively simple concept to understand, but historically, privileged people have always fed off the backs of the oppressed. (Asking us for free labor IS oppressive behavior, by the way. Pay us. Respect us. Don’t expect us to give you handouts just because you fucked up and you’re too uncomfortable to do the damn work yourself.)

Marginalized and oppressed people are also expected to “play nice” in private contexts. I reject that. When your company actively harms people in public forums, primarily on social media, you deserve to be addressed via the same forum. I refuse to quiet myself to make myself seem palatable to others.

When we call you out, we’re not here to educate you. (At least I’m not.) We are here to hold you accountable and to advocate for ourselves, our communities, and YOUR consumers. When we take you to task, please listen with intention and take action accordingly. This is not difficult. We are not asking you to move mountains. We are simply asking you to do the right thing.

I push sex toy companies to be better because I care about this industry. We deserve better than companies who hire abusers, make rape jokes, shame fat people, and underpay or refuse to pay bloggers and educators. We deserve to be heard. We deserve a seat at the table.

For more on sex and social justice, check out “Fat People Aren’t Your Goddamn Punchline”, “Advocating for Body-Safe Sex Toys is Health Justice”, “The Myth of the Lesbian Sex Toy”, “What Makes a Sex Toy Company Feminist?”, and “I’m a Survivor, and I Will Never Support LELO Again”.

If you’re in the market for sex toys, consider shopping at feminist companies SheVibe and Tantus.

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