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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I’m a Queer Femme and I Adore My Long Nails

My spooky glamour femme winter aesthetic

Two days before Christmas, something awful happened: one of my nails broke.

You may be laughing, but this was no joke. I had a dilemma on my hands. After weeks of careful care, my nails were the longest they’d ever been. They were painted a beautiful black matte to match my #SpookyFemme aesthetic, and they were glorious. And the worst part? I was headed to New York City two days later, and now I’d have to galavant around as a glamorous femme with… a broken nail. Nice.

One broken nail was easy enough to hide. But then, on Christmas day, a second nail broke, because of course it did. (And a third the next day.) Dejected and disappointed, I resolved to cut all of my nails when I returned from vacation.

• • •

If you had told me even six months ago that I’d be mourning the loss of three nails, I wouldn’t have believed you.

When I was just beginning to understand my queerness and learn about queer culture, one of the most popular things I heard time and time again was that queer women don’t have long nails. That sounds ridiculous to me now, but it really stuck when I was a young, impressionable 18-year-old baby queer surrounded by femmephobia.

Femmephobia is heartbreakingly rampant in the queer community, and so much of it manifests in policing femmes’ choices of clothing, makeup, and overall presentation. (It’s worth mentioning here that femme is a great many wondrous things! Just because someone is femme doesn’t automatically mean they wear makeup, for example. One of the beautiful things about being femme is the many radical forms it takes.)

The assumption that long-nailed femmes can’t have sex with people with vulvas is absurd, but it’s what we learn from queer popular culture, especially in iconic women and femme-centric shows like The L Word. These stereotypes trickled down into my everyday interactions: I can’t count the number of times someone from my college friend group judged a femme-presenting person’s potential queerness on their nail length, or how often I heard “If you want to find out if a woman is queer, look at her nails!” come out of someone’s mouth.

It pains me to say I bought into all of this too: without knowing it, I had internalized femmephobia and projected it onto people I didn’t know, and then turned it on myself.

• • •

It wasn’t until a year or so ago that I began to befriend queer femmes who wear their nails long and painted, like Artemisia and Caitlin. Slowly but surely, I drew femme energy and strength from them and started to experiment with my nails, too – and I’m never going back.

I adore my long, natural nails. I adore how powerful I feel when I flaunt them. I adore the compliments I receive when people see them. I adore the looks on men’s faces when they notice them, as though my nails alone are intimidating. I adore the tapping sound they make whenever I type. I adore the intricate care that goes into maintaining them; the precise brush strokes I use to create the perfect coat of color. I adore that they have become an integral part of my femmeness.

What I find so magical about my nail revolution is that my femme is ever-evolving. My femme opens doors for me and allows me to break down social constructs. It’s dynamic, subversive, formidable, radical, and so much more than what you can see from the outside. My femme is always teaching me new ways to be myself.

• • •

Right now, my nails are the shortest they’ve been in months (and that’s still longer than they were a year ago). They’re painted a mauve matte color, and I’m enjoying my search for the perfect lipstick to match them.

In just a month or so, my nails will be as long as they were at Christmas. When they are, I’ll paint them black matte again and revel in my glamorous spooky aesthetic, defying femmephobia as I do.

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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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