One of the reasons I love the sex-positive community so much is that it’s chock full of excellent mentors and role models. At 24, I am but a baby in the grand scheme of things, and there are so many people who know more than me, and have more experience than me, and have learned things the hard way so that people like me can learn them the easy way. I find that reliably comforting.
Here are five people who’ve particularly influenced my sexual evolution this year, all for the better…
Tina Horn. It’s surprising Tina wasn’t on my list last year, actually; she’s been one of my favorite voices in the sex-positive sphere for a long time. But this year she did so much excellent work and introduced me to so many useful new ideas and fascinating new people. In fact, two of the other folks on this list, I discovered primarily because they guested on Tina’s podcast!
Tina’s book Sexting helped me get better at that titular act, while giving me a more nuanced understanding of the theory and ethics behind it. Her writing on sexual morality, porn, and sex work is always captivating and well-crafted. And her podcast often introduces me to kinks I’ve never heard of or haven’t thought about very deeply before – like latex, fire, bootblacking, and puppy play – in discussions that are as nuanced and nerdy as the kinks themselves. Tina is certainly one of the cleverest brains in my community and I always look forward to seeing what she’ll come up with next!
Jillian Keenan. I first heard of Jillian on the spanking episode of Why Are People Into That? and was immediately taken with her: the frank way she discusses her lifelong fetish, how nerdy she gets about kink, and her brave stance that spanking your kids is sexual assault. As someone who has a spanking kink and was also nonconsensually spanked a lot as a kid, her work instantly resonated with me.
Jillian’s debut book, Sex With Shakespeare, is equal parts memoir, kink missive, and Shakespeare analysis. It tells the story of her enduring obsession with spanking through the lens of the Shakespeare geek she’s always been. Not only did this book help me dive more fearlessly and fervently into my own spanking kink; it also made me want to write more fearlessly and fervently about the stuff in my psyche that embarrasses me. If Jillian could confess her spanking fetish to her husband and the whole internet in one New York Times-sized fell swoop, surely I can write about roleplay and mental illness without cringing and blushing, right?!
Alana Massey. I truly believe Alana‘s cultural writing is some of the most important of this decade. Though she went to divinity school, she now writes about a broad range of topics: sex, love, labor, femininity, and technology, to name but a few.
Though you may or may not be familiar with her name, two of her most well-known pieces went so thoroughly viral that you’ve probably read them or at least seen them on your social media timelines. “The Dickonomics of Tinder” spelled out the central problem with men on Tinder – that hardly any of them seem willing to put in the effort to seem charming and bangable – and also popularized what has become a dating mantra among many millennial women I know: “Dick is abundant and low-value.” I reread this piece periodically when I’m bone-tired of Tinder and need a cathartic rage-laugh and some hope that good men do still exist, somewhere.
Alana also penned “Against Chill,” an impassioned defense of enthusiasm and decisiveness in a culture that seems to want us laid-back and laissez-faire. As I’ve told you before, I have no chill, so this piece resonates deeply with me each time I read it again. Some of my other favorite Alana essays are “The Unlikely Appeal of the Dick Video,” “A Woman’s Right to Say ‘Meh,’” “Feeling Lonely When You’re Single Doesn’t Mean You’re Weak,” “The Monetized Man,” and “Stop Wasting Your Time on Bad First Dates.” I wanted to limit myself to only three links in that last sentence, but I could not; Alana’s writing is too good, too thought-provoking, too perspective-shifting. She’s one of the great writers of the 21st century thus far, and I think far more people will realize that when her book comes out in 2017.
Sarah Brynn Holliday. I met and befriended Sarah at Woodhull this year and I’m so glad our paths crossed. She’s incredibly brave and strong, a badass social justice advocate whose activism takes many forms. This year alone, she’s written about Lelo’s baffling decision to hire abuser Charlie Sheen as a condom spokesperson, sex toy safety as health justice, fatphobia in sex toy marketing, women’s right to privacy, and self-care methods that don’t require money, among other things. She’s always calling out companies when they do terrible shit, highlighting ethical companies, and centering politics in her sex blogging because the personal is political. I admire Sarah enormously.
Though there’s been a lot of debate this year about the term “BlogSquad” and who it comprises, to me, it has always simply signified sex bloggers who are dedicated to intersectional feminism, social justice, sex toy safety for consumers, and so on. Sarah’s a new-ish blogger, having started her site in mid-2015, but to me she completely embodies the goals and values that sex bloggers can exemplify when we’re at our best. I love her and her work and I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Lilly. I’ve been reading Lilly’s blog since before I even started mine; she’s a stalwart of the sex blogging world. I was mildly starstruck when I met her last year at the Sexual Health Expo in New York, and I continue to be mildly starstruck every time I remember she’s my friend now.
An incomplete list of the brave, badass things Lilly has done in 2016: When she won the #1 spot in Kinkly’s annual list of top sex bloggers, she wrote about the flaws in the ranking system and why these rankings can be hurtful. She has allocated her Kinkly prize money for scholarships to help other bloggers get to Woodhull, instead of just pocketing it (which she would have been well within her rights to do, given how hard she works on her blog). She has worked to build bridges between communities of sex bloggers and values our community enormously. She’s actively using her platform to help less privileged bloggers get to sex conferences so we can all hang out and learn together.
Also, on a personal note: at Woodhull this year, there was one particular afternoon when I hung out with Lilly and Epiphora in Piph’s hotel room, and told them semi-tearfully about a romantic interest who was treating me badly at the time. They both confirmed for me that his behavior was unacceptable and that I should call him out, set some boundaries, and expect better from him in the future. It was surreal and deeply appreciated to receive romantic advice from the two sharp-tongued bloggers who made me want to start my site in the first place. I can always, always use more people in my life to remind me that I’m awesome and worthy of respect, so I’m super grateful to Lilly and Piph for the support they gave me that day.
Who were your sex-positive heroes, idols, and role models in 2016?