me gazing at you lovingly between two lit candles

Ah, Toronto. My birthplace, my favorite city, my home. I may have dalliances with New York or Portland or Montreal, but Toronto will always be my first-and-foremost geographical crush. So I’ve decided to write a little blog series about my favorite spots in T.O., in a few different categories, incase you decide to visit and have no idea where to go.

I have an ulterior motive here. The Toronto International Porn Festival is two months away, and I want you to come to it if you feasibly can. Book your flights (or bus rides, or rideshares), buy your tickets, and come see some fabulous porn and a fabulous city. (And ME!)

To kick off this series, today I’m going to tell you about some of my favorite Toronto spots for DATES! Here are some guaranteed-great places to take your adorable beau, your bestie-with-benefits, an OkCutie from OkCupid, or maybe-just-maybe a foxy babe you connect with at a porn festival event…!

The drinks date: Pour Boy on Manning. The Pour Boy is an intimate, dim little bar tucked away in Koreatown, and one of my all-time fave first-date spots. I like that it’s relatively quiet (earlyish on weeknights, anyway), and that the menu is well-stocked with cheap eats and good craft beers. The first floor and patio are coziest for romantic dates, while the second floor is packed with long tables and has ample room for bigger group hangouts (I had my last birthday get-together there!). If you’ve never been to Canada or Toronto before, I recommend trying a beer by our local Mill Street Brewery – the Organic Lager and Tankhouse Ale are my faves. If you want dessert after hanging out here for a while, walk a few blocks east to the Future Bistro and get some kind of fancy cheesecake or a nanaimo bar.

a slice of dulce de leche cheesecake and a plate of hummus and veggies

The first time I met my longest-term FWB in person, we shared a hummus plate and a slice of cheesecake at 7 West.

The late-night date: 7 West Café. 7 West is my absolute favorite restaurant in Toronto. Centrally located at Yonge and Bloor, it’s easy for anyone to navigate to, even folks who haven’t been to T.O. before. Its menu is widely varied, delicious, and not too expensive. And here’s what’s really special about 7 West: it’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. This makes it one of my favorite spots for sating those post-sex hunger rumbles. I’ve capped off two threesomes with celebratory 7 West trips, but it’s low-key enough for friend-hangz and even work lunches. The staff are also chill as hell and don’t seem to mind if you hang out for hours – say, munching an arugula salad while scrawling in your journal, or laughing with your buds over brewskies. My favorite dishes here are the pesto pollo pasta, the “all-the-time breakfast,” and the mac and cheese (which Bex insists on ordering at least once every time they visit Toronto) – and if you’re at all a fan of cheesecake, please get a slice of their dulce de leche cheesecake for dessert. Just trust me on this one.

The sushi date: Japango. I was introduced to this place by an ex-boyfriend and it’s still my favorite spot for romantic sushi excursions. Japango is super tiny – probably ten tables or fewer – so make a reservation! Despite the cramped space and sometimes-slow service, this spot still shines because their sushi is so damn good, and the ambiance is charming, in an urban hole-in-the-wall kind of way. My favorite maki rolls here are the spicy salmon and the yam tempura.

my adorable friend Bex smiling and drinking a milkshake

With Bex at the Detroit Eatery some sunny September morning.

The morning-after date: Detroit Eatery. There are few pleasures in life so sweet as waking up beside someone you adore, maybe getting in a little morning canoodlin’, and then trekking out to a greasy-spoon diner together for some hard-earned nourishment. The Detroit is my absolute fave spot for that particular type of adventure. The walls are covered in mystifying sports memorabilia and Kiss collectibles, the staff is a motley crew of well-meaning grumpy bros, and there’s always a game on the big TV – but the food is great and reasonably priced, and you can get a hearty breakfast any time of the day. If you can handle all the lactose, get a milkshake – they’re excellent.

The comedy date: Bad Dog Theatre or Comedy Bar. These two improv/sketch/stand-up venues are mere blocks from each other, so if you want, you can catch a show at one of them and then run down the street to catch a show at the other one. Toronto has a thriving comedy scene full of talented cuties; let ’em make you laugh, it’s good for ya. Y’all might particularly be interested in the Crimson Wave, a feminist stand-up show that happens at Comedy Bar every Sunday night and has a “no rape jokes” rule. If you and your date are hungry before or after a show, my favorite nearby restaurant is the Mexitaco Taqueria, a chill and unassuming spot that makes delicious Mexican food.

my handsome friend Brent looking very serious in big nerdy glasses

Friend-date with Brent at the Mill Street Brew Pub. He is wearing my glasses.

The pub date: House on Parliament or the Mill Street Brew Pub. I love both of these places so much. Both have an assortment of weird beers (try the citrusy Hacker-Pschorr Weisse at the HOP or the Vanilla Porter at Mill Street), great menus of traditional pub fare, and a raucously cozy ambiance. The HOP is usually more subdued while Mill Street is pretty much always loud as hell, but both have their charms. Mill Street’s also smack-dab in the middle of the beautiful Distillery District, so you and your date can shop for fancy chocolate at Soma or gawk at strange public art installations on the Distillery’s cobbled streets. Some of my happiest, giggliest dates have taken place at these pubs, knocking back locally-made pints and munching messy chicken club sandwiches.

The coffee date: Manic or the Rooster Coffee House. Toronto is chock full of fabulous coffee places, but these are two of my faves. Manic is as busy and bustling as its name implies, sells A+ coffee and yummy croissants, and is blissfully WiFi-free (great for dates; less great for getting work done, obviously). The Broadview location of the Rooster Coffee House, meanwhile, is perched at the top of sprawling Riverdale Park, giving it one of the best views in the city (sit on the patio, for god’s sake!!). Did you know that a scene in a Daniel Radcliffe movie was shot there?

The tea date: Tsaa. Fun fact: this is where I went on my first date with my first serious boyfriend! It’s still one of my favorite low-key date spots. They stock a zillion different varieties of tea, and also make stellar brunch and sandwiches. I like ordering a big pot of organic ginger tea with honey and some kind of avocado-heavy sandwich, and sitting in the sunny window seat with either a cute person or my journal to keep me company. Ah, bliss.

two lattes in mugs

Two lattes – but no snakes – at Snakes & Lattes.

The board games date: Snakes & Lattes. It’s a café that also has several hundred different board games on hand for you to play. Awesome, right?! The staff are well-versed in games and can recommend some selections based on your preferences, or you can just choose your own. The food’s pretty decent, there’s a variety of drinks available (including boozy ones, if you are so inclined), and the $6 cover charge lets you sit and play for as long as you want. Pro tip: I prefer the College Street location, as it’s much roomier so you’re more likely to get a table – without needing to worry about whether the next table’s Jenga game is gonna collapse into your beer glass.

The movie date: Carlton Cinema. I love this weird-ass theatre. There’s a piano in the lobby, and sometimes it is being played remarkably well by someone I’m unsure if the theatre has hired or not. In addition to all the regular movie snacks, they serve boozy drinks which you can take into the theatre with you. They also show smaller movies that most other theatres don’t play, and they do a monthly screening of The Room which Tommy Wiseau apparently sometimes attends. Amazing.

Toronto babes: what are your favorite date spots in our fair city?

a chair, a table, and a latte

Me: “Why did I start doing link round-up posts again?! I don’t even read that much!”

Also me: *reads a ZILLION articles, wants to share and talk about ALL OF THEM*

The Establishment posts so much good stuff – although I will say, I am extremely biased, because they’ve published my writing on multiple occasions! I just discovered this old piece on there called Online Dating in 7 Vignettes which gave me so much poignant food for thought. It’s one of the more thoroughly philosophical pieces I’ve ever read about dating.

• Soon, sex robots will have personalities. Hilariously, one of the 12 personality traits you can choose from is “sexual,” which makes me wonder about the kind of person who would buy a sex robot and not want her to be sexual. The always-whipsmart Tracy Moore writes: “I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure ‘sexual’ counted as a personality type in a woman, so I asked the man standing nearest to me in the MEL offices if men think it is, and he said ‘Sexual?’ and thought about it for a second. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘Horny.'”

• Social psychology is fascinating. Here are some science-tested tips on making friends faster. The “misattribution of arousal” is one of my favorite social-psych phenomena; one day I’ll write a post about it…

Don’t say “but” when you apologize to someone. It undermines the sincerity of what you’re trying to say. Cari Romm reports, “According to one 2014 study on the subject, a well-executed apology requires the offender to make it clear that they understand what they did wrong, take full responsibility, offer a plan to fix things, and promise to improve in the future.” So simple and yet sometimes so difficult!

• Some sex-magic practitioners weighed in on how to cast spells with your orgasms. (Years ago, I wrote a piece about this for the Numinous, if you’re interested. It is some truly crunchy/hippie/witchy stuff; you have been warned!)

• An old friend of mine started a sex blog recently and she’s been writing some fabulous, smart pieces. Her and her boyfriend tried a bunch of wacky sex positions; the ensuing post makes me want to work on my sexual acrobatics!

• The evolution of porn tropes is so interesting to me. Here’s an oral history of the moneyshot. Personally, I’m not really a fan; it turns me on most in porn when a dude’s orgasm happens inside his partner’s mouth or other various orifices, not on their face. The palette of human sexual desire is so wide and diverse!

• Ever wondered why “shrinkage” happens?

• Here’s a piece on people whose kink is giving and/or getting tattoos. I thought about this a lot while getting my kinky thigh tattoos last year. I don’t think I could ever get a tattoo that was mentally tied to a specific partner; I’ve never liked anyone enough to want to be with them for-literally-ever! But maybe someday I will…

• S. Bear Bergman has been one of my favorite writers for many years, and after the 2016 U.S. election, he wrote an advice column answering the question, “What do we do now?” He touches on political action, self-care, and countering social isolation in tough times, and he calls Trump “Pumpkin Spice Mussolini.” It’s a much-needed half-laughing pep talk for this weird and worrisome era we’re in.

• The ever-articulate Andrew Gurza wrote about his recent experiences with disability and masturbation. I admire Drew’s candidness and thoughtfulness so much!

• This article is old but I only just discovered it: a Playboy reporter interviewed the founder of the Orgasmic Meditation movement about how she gives blowjobs for her own pleasure. I am always wary of narratives which frame blowjobs as an endeavor of empowered women (including when I myself write that kind of narrative!) because they feel dangerously close to patriarchal tropes repackaged as female empowerment. But if Joanna Van Vleck genuinely gets direct pleasure from giving head (a feeling I know well), I say, more power to her.

• Here’s two of my favorite women writers in conversation: Tina Horn interviewed Alana Massey about the latter’s new book, as well as sex work, internalized misogyny, and gold glitter.

• C. Brian Smith – one of my fave writers over at MEL – hired a masturbation coach for an afternoon and wrote about his experience.

• More excellent pieces from MEL this month: why “performing partnership” on social media complicates relationships, the potential queerness of Bart Simpson, how men feel about hookup culture, saving exes’ nudes after a break-up, and saving exes’ Clone-a-Willy dicks after a break-up.

• Queer tarot wiz Carly wrote a column about how to date/flirt/socialize if you’re shy. So much useful and affirming stuff in here!

What did you love reading on the internet this month?

You can tell a lot about a person by looking at their bedside table. It’s where their everyday nighttime necessities are kept. It gives you a glimpse into their private life – or what they want visitors to think about their private life.

Mine right now is pretty indicative of me and my priorities. The table itself isn’t a table at all – it’s a set of drawers in which I store some of my sex toy collection. The top drawer contains my favorite toys, for easy access: the Tango, Double Trouble, S-Curve, Seduction, Mustang, Eroscillator, and a few more.

On top of the drawers, I’ve got my two external hard drives, both primarily full of years’ worth of old photos and videos. I need to have these in an easily-accessible spot, but they’re kind of ugly, so I like hiding them under the other stuff I keep on my nightstand.

Right now I’ve got a copy of Lolita by my bed, because I’m (slowly) re-reading it. I wrote my final high school English paper on it, way back in 2010, and I still love it as much now as I did then. Plus it makes a pretty good – and thematically relevant – impromptu spanking implement!

On top of that, I’ve got my iPad – which, these days, I mostly use for watching porn while masturbating, because I am a modern heathen. And on top of that is a small bottle of BabeLube Natural – a recommendation from Bex when I last visited them in New York and needed to pick up a lube that’d work well for hand stuff and butt stuff with my FWB. I always keep at least one bottle of good-quality water-based lube by my bed. Silicone-based and oil-based lubes are great, too, but water-based can be used with everything, including sex toys and latex barriers, so it’s my evergreen go-to.

Next to that is a Bath and Body Works “Flannel” candle. Admittedly, while I swooned over this scent when I first discovered it in-store, I’m less enamored with it when it’s filling my room. A quick sniff of this candle smells like the deodorant and musk of the handsomest man you’ve ever met; a roomful of it, however, is more like a gaggle of Axe-happy teenage boys in a locker room. I’m looking forward to finishing up this candle and moving on to a gourmand old faithful, like “Twisted Peppermint” or “Salted Vanilla.”

I have another candle on my nightstand, of an entirely different type: it’s a spell candle from Enchantments, the witchy haven in New York’s East Village. Bex bought me this one as a gift the last time I visited them, because they are a gem. I asked the shop’s resident witches to make me a candle that would bring me good luck and greater opportunities in my career, so they whipped this one up for me. It’s very orange and very glittery!

Around the base of the spell candle, I’ve placed a few heart-shaped crystals, because mystical talismans make me happy. There’s rose quartz, carnelian, and tiger’s eye. Rose quartz is the “love crystal,” carnelian is associated with sex and sensuality, and tiger’s eye is said to reduce anxiety – so these are all lovely crystals for me to keep by my bed, as a person who suffers from anxiety and (obviously) loves sex!

Propped up behind all this stuff, I have a framed collage that my friend Cadence made for me. A couple summers ago, we spent a whole day cleaning and organizing my room, and found an old framed photo of me and my ex-boyfriend that he had given me while we were together. I didn’t want to keep the photo but saw no reason to ditch the perfectly-fine frame, so I asked the artistically-minded Cadence to make a collage out of various photos and mementos we’d found around my room. Some of my favorite parts of the collage: a romantic photo of Jeremy and Elsie Larson (they are so #RelationshipGoals; he wrote a whole album of adorable songs about her!), a hand-scrawled note from my friend Eric that says “I LOVE YOU,” and my number tag from the first Crush party I ever went to.

At the moment, I’ve slotted a large print of “The Boss Fight of Nudes” in front of this collage. It makes me laugh every time I look at it. I also have a “Make America Gay Again” postcard from American Apparel displayed there.

Of course, no sexually active person’s bedside table would be complete without safer-sex provisions! I have a cute pink basket covered in roses which I keep well-stocked with condoms. Right now it’s a mix of Kimono Microthins, Crown Skinless Skins, Lifestyles Tuxedos, and One condoms. I love being able to offer partners a wide selection of condoms to choose from – like a good Girl Scout or a sex-positive Martha Stewart!

What’s on your bedside table?

It’s taken me a long time to get here, but I think, at this point in my life, I actually find Valentine’s Day more fun when I’m single than when I’m dating someone.

See, when you’re in a relationship, the dreaded V-Day can feel like an obligation. But when you’re single, it’s an invitation. An invitation to step up your self-love and look for the potential fun in the day. Here are 50 suggestions for how to do that…

Take yourself out for dinner at your favorite restaurant. Make a reservation if you want; you’ll probably need one. Solo dinners out are a scary thing to do on any ol’ day, let alone one of the busiest days of the year for restaurants, but this is exactly the kind of self-love challenge Valentine’s is perfect for. Bring a book to read or your journal to write in, order your favorite dish, and revel in your own company!

Alternatively, order your favorite takeout and eat it someplace cozy. Your best friend’s living room. A blanket fort constructed in your own bed. A secret hideout you happen to know about on your local university’s campus. All of these are excellent places to eat delicious food, alone or with a friend.

Re-read your favorite book from when you were a teenager. The twists and turns of a familiar plot are so comforting in their predictability. And you may get a visceral glimpse at that idealistic kid you used to be, and how you can be more like them now.

Go out with your single friends. A bar, a movie, a party, an impromptu scavenger hunt… It doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as you’re with people who make you laugh and feel like you belong.

Do a witchy love ceremony, whatever that happens to mean to you. For me, it’d probably involve meditating in a pink bubble bath while clutching pieces of rose quartz, slithering into a pink negligée, slicking on some red lipstick, and yawping some loving affirmations at my beautiful reflection in the mirror. What kind of romantic magic feels most needed and nourishing to you now?

Soak in warm water, whether that means your bathtub or a local heated pool or a friend’s hot tub. Pondersome soaks relax the body and allow the mind to wander. Bonus points if you pull an Oprah and accessorize your bath with scented candles, a glass of wine, a bath pillow, or whatever other little luxuries bliss you out.

Masturbate elaborately. Use as many toys as you want. Make as much noise as you reasonably and pleasurably can. Do all the things you can to yourself that you wish partners would do to you.

Choose a quality you miss about one of your exes and figure out how to embody that quality yourself. I often wish I was as funny as some of my exes; I could work on that by upping my comedy podcast intake and learning a few good jokes to tell! If you admired well-read exes, check a few new books out of the library. If you miss an ex’s kind, supportive heart, look for ways to support and help a friend today. You get the picture.

Write a love letter to a future partner. I love any mental exercise that helps me focus on what I want without making me feel bad about not having it yet, and this is one such exercise. Tell your future lover all the places you want to take them, the stories you can’t wait to tell them, the things they should know if they plan to love you. Let yourself get excited by the knowledge that there are so many hot, interesting people out there with tons of love to give, and some of them will give it to you.

Try something drastically different with your look. Sometimes a new makeup technique, clothing silhouette, hair color, or tattoo can be just the thing to remind you of what a babe you are.

Take a nap while cuddling something – a pet, a stuffed animal, a friend who consents to cuddles. Hell, I’ve even cuddled my Magic Wand before. A mid-day nap is such a lovely gift to give yourself.

Do an at-home spa routine. Yes, even if you are not normally the type of person who does stuff like this. You can give yourself a manicure (with clear nail polish, if you insist), slather on a face mask, soak and pumice your poor neglected feet, or just moisturize your entire body. Anything that makes you feel nourished and cute.

Journal about your feelings. Valentine’s Day is a perfect day to check in with yourself about your attitudes, beliefs, and hopes around relationships and sex. Sit somewhere cozy with your journal and pen (or a writing-centric web app, if you prefer), and ask yourself: how are you feeling about being single? What would you like your next relationship to be like? What do you need to work on or do differently to make that possible? What have you learned from your past relationships? How important is sex to you? What kind of sex do you wish you were having? Dig deep and follow the feelings that come up. Afterward, you’ll feel better and clearer.

Watch your favorite rom-coms. My recommendations: Hysteria (vibrators! science! a flustered Hugh Dancy!), Just My Luck (so stupid, and yet, Chris Pine is charming in it), High Fidelity (John Cusack’s snobbish mopeyness is counterbalanced by Jack Black’s silliness and it’s wonderful). Bonus points if you yell at the TV every time something sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, etc. happens, or if you devise an (alcohol-optional) drinking game to go along with the movie.

Watch dramatic romantic tragedies. Okay, comedies are great, but sometimes you just need to have a cathartic cry. Try The NotebookTitanicThe Great Gatsby, or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Settle in with a box of tissues and some comforting snacks and get ready to weep.

Invite some friends over and take turns dramatically reading dating-themed articles aloud. Cosmo and Glamour are excellent source material for this activity. Sometimes mocking the silliness of dating can make you feel better about your singlehood.

Do a Tinder experiment. Look, I’m not saying the people browsing Tinder on Valentine’s Day will be the cream of the crop, but that’s not the point. Change your profile or your approach, for science, and see what happens. Some examples: Change your first photo to a picture of you winking and see if it affects the messages you get. Instantly delete any messages that don’t specifically reference your profile, and only respond to the ones that do. Put a line in your bio that asks matches to tell you the funniest joke they’ve recently heard.

Write or read fanfiction about your favorite pairing. Yes, even if you’ve never delved into fanfic before. It’s fun! It’s also a way to get into a romantic headspace without stressing yourself out about your own romantic situation. If you’re not sure where to start, look up some of your favorite movies, books, or TV shows on Archive of Our Own and see what’s out there.

Finally get rid of your ex’s stuff. You know, those old T-shirts they left behind, stuffed animals they gave you, framed pictures of the two of you together, and so on. Only keep these things if they actually “spark joy“; otherwise, donate ’em or toss ’em. You’ll feel better without that psychic clutter clouding up your space and your brain.

Get extremely high. If intoxicants are your jam, that is. Choose something that’ll perk you up rather than drag you down (so, if weed is your substance of choice, probably a sativa strain). Then do whatever High-You wants to do: eat delicious snacks, lie in bed watching that show you love and have seen six times already, masturbate furiously, or just ponder the universe.

Visit a sex shop and pick something out, even if it’s just a small thing like a bottle of good lube, an erotic novel, or a pair of nipple clamps. Be pleasant to the salespeople; they are probably overwhelmed by desperate, haggard customers making last-minute purchases, and you being sweet and reasonable could brighten their busy day!

Listen to your favorite music. Really get into it. Maybe wail along to Elliott Smith by candlelight, or have a dance party with your dog to the dulcet tones of Walk the Moon. Listening to music is a visceral, often joyful experience, and is actually good for your brain, so this is a good thing to do any day of the year but especially on a day when you need a lift!

Try on clothes that make you feel babely as hell. You can go to the mall to do this, or shop your own closet, or peruse a friend’s wardrobe (with their permission, obviously!). It’s amazing how much good lingerie/shapely dresses/sharp-lookin’ blazers can tune up your self-image sometimes.

Engage in a platonic sexual activity, if you have a friend you’d like to do this with who would enthusiastically consent to such things. I have been known to spank and be spanked by my friends, cuddle and kiss ’em, and sometimes even masturbate side-by-side. It’s a way to find some intimacy and sensual pleasure even when the societally sanctioned avenues for those things (i.e. romantic relationships) are not immediately available to you.

Go to a local cultural event, like a gallery show, a theatrical production, or a stand-up comedy night. Bring a friend, if you like.

Hire a sex worker, if you can afford to. This could be a really lovely treat to give yourself today.

Contact someone who might be lonely today – your widowed aunt, your recently-dumped friend, or anyone else you know who’s going through a tough time. Chat with them and try to inject a little cheer into their day.

Dress up and take selfies. I am particularly partial to pink-and-red outfits on Valentine’s Day. They make me feel romantic and adorable. Bonus points for plentiful heart-shaped accessories!

Make yourself an elaborate, nutritious, comforting meal. It feels good to put effort into taking care of yourself and then feel that effort reflected back at you in the form of increased energy and overall well-being. Some of my favorite meals to cook for myself include risotto, steamed broccoli, and pasta salad.

Work toward one of your goals you’ve been putting off. Write some of that book proposal you’ve been meaning to get to, set up that Etsy store you’ve been hoping to start, research that city you’ve been wanting to move to… When you put time into what you want to achieve, you feel so good and accomplished, and that feeling is a great gift to give yourself on this day.

Re-read your old journals/blog entries/emails, etc. This can be a charming way to spend some time with your younger self. And when you reflect on how you used to be, it can make you feel grateful for how far you’ve come.

Tidy and reorganize your space – your whole house, or just the room you spend the most time in, depending on how much ambition and freedom you have! – so it contains fewer things that stress you out and more things that make you smile.

Go to the movies. If being alone in public at a certified “date activity” makes you anxious, a movie theatre is one of the better options you could choose, because you’ll be swathed in darkness so few people (if any) will even notice you’re by yourself. Ideally, pick a movie that appeals to your inner quirkiness so deeply that you probably couldn’t even drag a date along if you tried. Revel in the weirdness of your own tastes!

Write love letters to your friends, whether publicly on social media, or privately via email, or even in the form of a literal (snail-mail) letter. Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a celebration of love, right? So celebrate the love in your life.

Tell someone you admire that you admire them. Email that indie musician who fills your earbuds with glee on the regs, leave a comment on a blog that lights you up, compliment that bookstore employee who knows everything about everything whenever you ask them for help. Spread some love and happiness around!

Clean your selfie mirror. (Idea via Durga Polashi.) Selfies are an expression of, and sometimes a boon for, our self-love and self-acceptance. You owe it to yourself to have a squeaky-clean mirror that helps you capture yourself in all your glory!

Imagine what your heroes would do if they were single on Valentine’s Day, and then carry a little of their flair and panache into your day as well. I suspect Jane Lane would order a pizza and watch bad TV with her bestie, Alex Franzen would hole up with a mug of tea and write sexy fiction all day, Rosa Diaz would drink whiskey at a biker bar and make out with a scruffy leather-clad stranger, and Sara Quin would obsessively write and re-write a quirky new song until it was both catchy and devastating. What would your heroes do?

Donate money to a cause you believe in, like you’re giving a Valentine’s Day gift but your “valentine” is good nonprofits doing good work. Some recommendations that are especially important in our current political climate: the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. (More options here and here.)

Declutter your digital systems, as a favor to yourself. Go through your hard drive, Google Drive, or Dropbox, and delete some shit you don’t need. Run a virus scan and/or a defrag. Organize files into folders. Ahhh. Doesn’t that feel better?

Give yourself a long, slow genital massage without the expectation of orgasm. Think of it as an experiment in pleasure and mindfulness. (Coconut oil and natural oil-based lubes are great for this!)

Teach yourself a new skill with the help of the internet. Few things make me feel more accomplished than learning to do something new! Think of some things you’ve always wished you knew how to do – leather boot care, page layouts in InDesign, spelling in sign language? – and get thee to Google, stat.

Get clear about your “hard yeses and hard nos” for future partners. It’s good to have a list like this to refer to when you’re in the throes of infatuation with someone new, to make sure your beau is actually aligned with what you want and need. My hard-yes list says, “Feminist, makes me laugh, thinks I’m funny, at least as smart as me, libido and kinks roughly equivalent to mine, vocally enthusiastic and optimistic, creative in some way(s), socially competent, loves and supports my blog/writing.” My hard-no list says, “Doesn’t believe in oppression/privilege/racism, etc., noticeably not as smart as me, humorless, low or no libido, negative/jugmental/pessimistic, anger issues, wants only monogamy now/ever, toxically masculine, staunchly religious.” What would yours look like?

Go on a mini creative retreat. This can be as simple as turning off your phone, closing your social media tabs, and choosing to focus on one beloved creative project for an entire afternoon – or it can be as elaborate as booking an Airbnb in another town for a few days to work on your passion in an unfamiliar environment. What a blissful gift to give yourself!

Spend an hour or two in a bookstore or library. Preferably one with ample seating, and which lets you bring in your hot beverage of choice to sip while you peruse and read. I can imagine few things cozier than an afternoon at Indigo or Glad Day, flipping through glorious tomes over coffee.

Cull your social media lists. Unfollow the people whose tweets add no value to your life, and unfriend the people who make you feel stressed out or indifferent. Life is too short and too precious to fill it (even just digitally) with people who add no brightness to your days, or actively sap your emotional reserves.

Put together a file of the best compliments you’ve ever received. I’ve done this for years, in various forms: I have a “flattery” folder in my Gmail account, a list of meticulously copied-down compliments in a notebook, and sometimes I document my best compliments in tweets or Tumblr posts. It’s a fantastic favor to do for yourself, because on days when your mood and self-worth are frighteningly low, you can refer to your compliment file and remind yourself (even just theoretically) of your value. If you need help building up your collection o’ compliments, ask your ten closest friends and family members what they think your three best qualities are (and then tell them theirs!).

Bedazzle or jazz up something you use regularly. Plaster your journal in sparkly stickers, put some cute pictures on your fridge, give your desk a new paint job, etc. You deserve beauty and comfort in your life!

Stay offline. Unhappiness often stems from comparing your insides to other people’s outsides (to paraphrase Anne Lamott), and social media facilitates this bad habit all the damn time. Valentine’s Day is a day when we’re particularly susceptible to envying other people’s situations, so maybe avoid the internet (or just social media) today, to the extent that you can. While I don’t begrudge anyone who finds comfort and joy in their online life (I certainly do!), sometimes taking an internet break can be affirming and recalibrating.

Use your body in ways you normally don’t. Yoga, stretching, sports, swimming, walking, running, hula-hooping, dancing, having an orgasm in a ridiculous athletic position… Challenge your body and see what it can do.

Give yourself permission to do nothing, if you want to. You are inherently valuable and loveable, regardless of what you do or don’t do on Valentine’s Day or any other day. Don’t forget that, babe.

 

How are you spending Valentine’s? Tell me all about it in the comments!

A Lelo candle and a Lelo vibrator, both purple

Lelo wants you to feel ashamed of your junk. There’s no other possible explanation for this abomination. You don’t create a scented vibrator unless you believe genitals are inherently smelly and gross. You just don’t. So that is what Lelo must believe. Or, at least, it is what they must want you to believe, so you’ll buy their products.

People were understandably upset when Lelo released their revamped Lily vibe with “aphrodisiac” scents in 2015. “Just what every girl wants: a vibrator that smells,” Twitter users deadpanned. “There’s still no credible scientific evidence that aphrodisiacs, y’know, work,” Diane Kelly pointed out. “JUST MAKE A FUCKING VIBRATOR, LELO,” Lilly begged.

Some concerns were reasonably aired about whether the toy’s fragrance is actually “body-safe” as Lelo claims. They posted a “how it’s made” blog post which explained the aroma comes from “scented pellets” mixed in with the regular plastic pellets that are melted down to make the Lily. They say the vibrator is “sealed and sterilized” in the final step of production, so theoretically the scent should be locked inside, rather than leaching out to fuck with your vulva’s pH. But I’d still hesitate to recommend this toy to anyone with infection-prone parts. (After all, Lelo is the same company that somehow claimed it’s a safety feature that you can’t tell when their condoms are punctured.)

Lelo sent me the Lily 2 as part of one of their special Valentine’s Day offerings, the Heaven Scent Pleasure Set. In addition to the vibrator, the set contains a scented candle – to continue the theme of “Let’s cover up your icky body smells with perfumey fragrances!!” – and a bottle of Lelo’s own lube. I’ll talk about each in turn.

a purple scented candleFirst, the candle – which is, admittedly, the main reason I requested this set over any of the other Valentine’s sets Lelo recently came out with. I am a bit of a scented-candle fiend; Bath & Body Works is a staple of my mall trips, and I’ve been known to stand around in shops inhaling deeply from candles long past when my friends would’ve liked to leave. My thought process was, “Well, it’s a Lelo set, so I probably won’t like most of what’s in it, but at least I’ll have a scented candle to enjoy.”

They kinda fucked up the candle too, though, because of course they did. It’s supposed to smell like “bordeaux and chocolat” (yes, chocolat, spelled the French way, as only über-pretentious Lelo would). To my nose, it smells more like artificial raspberry candy – which, fine, but I wouldn’t exactly describe that scent as an aphrodisiac. The wick on mine was also placed weirdly off-center, so that only about half of the wax actually got used, halving the burn-time of the candle. Boooo.

a bottle of Lelo lubeAs for the lube – Lelo makes a big bragadocious deal out of telling you their lube is paraben- and glycerine-free (great!), but it still contains propylene glycol, a known irritant that can cause vaginal infections. I will concede that the futuristic-lookin’ pump-top bottle thrills my inner fancyperson, and the lube sticks around pretty well and has a good consistency. But though the packaging claims this lube is fragrance-free, it smells like rubbing alcohol and tastes like bitter chemicals. And in this, 2017, the Year of Our Lord Sliquid, I should not have to use any lube that carries any risk of vaginal infection. Better options exist, and they don’t even taste gross.

Now onto the vibe itself. The Lily 2, I will admit, is a pretty awesome vibe. The motor is noticeably stronger than that in the previous iterations of this toy. It’s rumblier than your typical external vibe – not quite so rumbly as the Tango, say, but certainly closer to that end of the spectrum than many other clit vibes. My clitoris is a certified snob and I still find the Lily 2 plenty powerful and rumbly enough to get me off when combined with a great dildo.

The shape isn’t my favorite. When the tip of the toy is nestled on my clit the way I like it, the buttons are planted in my mons, so I have to lift up part of the vibe to change the speed (which I do a lot). However, that’s because I prefer to place vibrators on the shaft and hood of my clit, rather than the head; I’m sure there are plenty of people who will find the Lily’s shape more intuitive and comfortable. It certainly curves nicely against my body and gives me placement options both pinpointed and broad.

the purple Lelo Lily 2 vibrator on a turquoise background

I also like the Lily’s silky, matte plastic coating, its well-crafted and prettily-lit buttons, and the fact that it’s waterproof. It’s quiet, sturdy, locks for travel, and comes with a cute storage bag. There’s a lot to like about this vibrator, actually. Which is why it’s so disappointing and so typical that Lelo loused it up by adding a scent for no goddamn reason. (A scent which, by the way, I can barely smell when the toy is pressed against my nose, let alone when it’s pressed against my clit.)

There was a time when Lelo made consistently good, standard vibrators that everyone loved. But in recent years, they’ve gotten into a bad habit of adding offensive gimmicks to everything. They made a cock ring for bankers, a We-Vibe ripoff, a lacklustre cunnilingus simulator, a tuxedo for your dick. They made shitty, probably-unsafe condoms and hired known abuser Charlie Sheen as their spokesperson. In short, they’re a mess. Most of my blogger friends refuse to support them anymore, and I have to agree that I won’t feel right recommending Lelo to anyone unless and until they apologize for the Hex condoms and their various sexist missteps. On top of all this, it somehow makes me even angrier that Lelo had a perfectly fabulous clit vibe which they chose to taint by adding a gimmicky scent no one asked for.

If you want a great rechargeable clitoral vibrator, get a Tango, Lust L2, or Form 2. If you want some lube to use with it, pick up some Sliquid. If you want a scented candle, grab one by Jimmyjane. If you want to spend $129 (!) on a better Valentine’s Day gift than the Heaven Scent Pleasure Set, consider a night’s staycation at a local Airbnb, a big gift card to your sweetie’s favorite bookstore/makeup company/repertory theatre, or – hell – a Magic Wand Rechargeable. (Everyone needs one of those.)

But don’t give your money to Lelo, especially not for Valentine’s Day. There’s nothing less romantic than abusive spokespeople, bitter lube, and genital-shaming.

 

Disclosure notice: Lelo provided this product to me in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.