Strange Self-Care in a Time of Terror

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The day after the election, like many of you, I couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t wash the previous night’s tear-streaked eyeliner off my face, or brush my teeth, or get dressed.

What I could do, and what I did do, was as follows: I put on some lipstick, watched YouTube videos and blowjob porn, and cried.

Self-care – or coping, because sometimes they are one and the same – is so unique from person to person. What’s comforting to you might be scary or weird to me, and vice versa. But with that caveat, here are some things I’ve been doing to take care of myself during what feels like a global depressive spell. I hope some of these suggestions help you, or at least inspire you to do what you can do for yourself.

img_5056Lipstick. If you ever see me wearing just lipstick and no other makeup, you’ll know I’m either feeling minimalistic in a French-starlet kind of way, or I’m depressed. It’s the easiest cosmetic to slick on when I barely have the emotional energy to look in a mirror. It doesn’t require the patience of liquid eyeliner, the precision of eyebrow pencil, the fastidiousness of foundation. It’s a simple, quick burst of color. It signals to my body and my brain that I am beginning my day, even if my pajamas and unbrushed hair say otherwise.

Mundane activities. If I can manage to get out of bed when depressed, I may be able to (slowly) work up to cleaning, doing laundry, or other boring day-to-day tasks. They are small and not terribly significant in the grand scheme of things, but they are something I can do, and it feels good to be able to do something when you’re depressed. My friend Sarah likes to bake, for similar reasons; she says doing something with her hands feels useful when depression makes it hard for her to move her body a lot. The other day I went to the mall with a friend because he needed to return a shirt he’d bought, and it was the sweetest banal respite. Sometimes going grocery shopping or stepping out for a coffee feels oddly affirming when I’m depressed. It’s okay to do small things when you can’t manage the big ones.

lBlowjob porn. I’m aware that this is unconventional, but that’s the point of this post, after all. While watching Heather Harmon porn in a weed-induced stupor the other day, I became aware that it was calming me down and comforting me. Part of that is simply that her porn is familiar to me; I know the rhythms and features of it, the noises I can expect from her husband Jim, the predictable cumshot at the end. And blowjobs are, historically, a calming activity for me. The love between Heather and Jim really comes through (no pun intended!) in their videos, and that helps, too. There is something so sweet and simple about a loving blowjob. When Heather does it, it is a gift without expectations of reciprocation. It is a pure expression of affection. In a world that feels cold and heartless, it can be nice to remember that there are still people who love each other that selflessly, somewhere; that there are still people who want to see their loved ones experience pleasure for pleasure’s sake.

Funny podcasts. I sing the praises of the McElroy brothers at any given opportunity. Their humor is goofy, fresh, and relentlessly kind. Whether I’m puzzling through advice questions with the brothers on MBMBaM, immersing myself in the fantasy world they’ve built in The Adventure Zone, or laughing til I cry at the weird creations of Monster Factory, I’m hardly thinking about my problems or worries when I’m mired in a McElroy show. It’s not hyperbole to say that these boys may have saved my life on many occasions.

3647718646_7d503c3a99_oMaking music. My songs are predominantly about romantic rejections and unrequited love – phenomena that feel huge when they’re happening to you, but pale in comparison to, say, the impending threat of a global economic collapse and the xenophobic mass ejection of immigrants. When the big things feel too scary to contemplate, it can help to whine about the small things for a while. And if perfectionism doesn’t make your anxiety worse, it can give you a concrete task to work on when the world’s issues feel unsolvable. I showed my friend Brent a song I wrote recently, and he – a seasoned songwriting teacher – gave me detailed notes about structure, syllables, melody and arrangement. Working toward perfection, even within the small world of a single song, felt fuelling when I would’ve otherwise been crushed by the weight of the global problems I cannot solve.

Scary media. Stephen King novels, American Horror Story, bad slasher films on Netflix – whatever works. There is some evidence that horror movies alleviate anxiety for some of us, and I’ve definitely experienced that. It’s comforting to feel that there is an actual, concrete reason for your fear, instead of just letting your nonspecific dread run rampant. And when the story resolves, some of your terror might, too. For similar reasons, my friend Sarah says reading erotica helps her anxiety. Don’t judge yourself for the seemingly strange self-care strategies you employ. If it works, it’s worth doing.

Marijuana. Some would say it’s not healthy to rely on substances to get you through tough times. I say that sometimes substances are the only things that can get you through and that may not be ideal but it’s still okay. Weed blurs my brain a little, forcing me to think one thought at a time instead of losing myself in worry. And it also reawakens my libido even at the unsexiest of times (more on that in a post coming out on Monday), enabling me to masturbate when I otherwise would’ve been too depressed to do so. Masturbation can be, for me, an important medicine, flooding my body with uplifting neurotransmitters and re-affirming my love for myself, so any impetus to do it more often is a good thing.

What are your unconventional self-care methods?

 

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Interview: Tina Horn of “Best Sex Writing”

The two things I love most in the world are sex and writing. So, obviously, Best Sex Writing is the kind of book title that gets my attention.

This year’s edition is edited by Jon Pressick, self-described sexuality media mogul (who has actually interviewed me before, you might recall!), and it’s fabulous. The essays range from academic analyses of racial politics in porn, to journalistic examinations of sex education, to deeply personal stories about sexual adventures. It’s a total treat to read, entertaining and compelling all the way through, and I’m confident that anyone who digs my blog would also dig this book!

I was invited to be part of the book’s blog tour, and when I saw that interviewing an author was an option, and one of the authors was Tina Horn, I knew she was the one I wanted to talk to.

You might remember Tina Horn as one of my favorite porn performers, or as a presenter at the first Feminist Porn Conference. Or you might know her from her podcast, writing, or teaching. In addition to Best Sex Writing, Tina’s also got a new book out called Love Not Given Lightly, which features profiles of various people working in sexuality.

Her piece in Best Sex Writing is called “The Gates” and it’s about her time working at a women-owned BDSM house in the Bay Area. It’s simultaneously a journalistic profile of the women there and the place itself, and a personal look into Tina’s own time as a switch there. I loved reading it and was excited to chat with her about it!

Girly Juice: What was your goal when researching and writing this piece?

Tina Horn: I wanted to write about the period of my life when I was working at The Gates as a professional switch. But I didn’t think the world needed another memoir of a middle class white girl with some literature degrees finding empowerment through professional BDSM. I made it my project to look outward. What was the story of the woman who started her own underground business? What were the social dynamics between the women who worked there? What objects were in the rooms, and how were they designed? How were things organized and regulated? I wanted my consciousness, my experience, to come through the concrete details, and I wanted to get some closure since moving on from that work by honoring it in journalism form.

GJ: As both a journalist and a sex worker, you have plenty of experience with interviewing as well as being interviewed. Do you have any tips or strategies for making a source feel comfortable and able to open up when interviewing them about a sensitive topic like sex?

TH: There is always an ethical question for a journalist or nonfiction writer: at what point are you exploiting your subject? Exploitation comes from false pretense.You work to make someone comfortable and trust you so you can get your story out of them: that’s the job, the craft of reporting. I do my best to negotiate with my subjects when I’m reporting on them just as I would for a kink scene. I ask them what’s off-limits, what THEY want to talk about, how much time they have to talk.

For example, I interviewed Sage Travigne, the owner of The Gates, for my piece. I told her the interview was for my thesis, which it was. Before the final version was published for my Masters I sent it to her for review: not only fact-checking but to give her the chance to take out anything that made her uncomfortable. Before it was going to be in Best Sex Writing, I sent it to her again to get her permission. So, transparency in process is key, especially when you’re dealing with a part of someone’s life that is highly misunderstood and stigmatized such as sex work and kink.

As for getting people comfortable talking about sex: frankly, I’ve made it my work to interview people who are already comfortable and have trustworthy boundaries with subjects of sex, kink, gender, and relationships. Because then we can skip the awkwardness and go deep.

GJ: One thing that struck me about your story on the Gates is the camaraderie and companionship between the employees there. Is that a common experience when doing sex work in shared spaces, or is the Gates exceptional in that way?

TH: Well, I can only speak from my experience, or anecdotally from the many sex workers I know. If you read an article by a service industry person who worked at an amazing woman-run restaurant that transformed her life, you would never assume that all restaurants were like that.

I do think the Gates was an exceptional place for community, humor, creativity, ethics, and female camaraderie. But it’s important to point out that not everyone who has worked there over the course of twenty years has found it to their liking. I happened to find that place when it fit really well into my life. That’s what I love about nonfiction writing: the specificity of a story helps people to realize NOT that all places are like that, but that places like that are POSSIBLE.

GJ: A lot of your work (including your podcast, which I love!) focuses on unusual kinks. Do you have any advice for someone who is uncomfortable or apprehensive about their kink(s)? How about for someone who thinks they don’t have any kinks but wants to explore and find out?

TH: Thanks, I’m glad you love “Why Are People Into That?!” If you have a desire and you’ve internalized some shame about it, remember not to police your own imagination. What goes on between your ears when you’re masturbating is your business. And if you want to live out your fantasy, you just need to focus on communication, compatibility, negotiation, and consent.

Research online, read books, watch porn, find media about your kink. There’s no one way to do any kink: figure out your style. Ask yourself the central question of my podcast: why am I into this? And finally, to quote the great Funkadelic: Free your mind and your ass will follow.

GJ: Lastly, since sex toys are an area of personal interest for me, I have to ask: what are your favorite toys and other sex products to use, either with clients or in your personal life?

TH: NJoy toys are simply the best. Greg, the owner and designer, is so supportive of sex positive community that I feel great about endorsing his products all the damn time. The weight of stainless steel toys creates the most delicious pressure in my cunt and my butt, one of my favorite sexual feelings. They’re non-porous and easy to disinfect and sturdy which is great for brutes like me.

The Aslan Jaguar is like a second skin to me. I have a brown one and a black one with brass hardware.

I love Hathor Lube, which is fancy organic water-based lube with the supposed aphrodisiac “horny goat weed” in it. Funny story. I once sold this lube, among other things, to Beyoncé and Jay-Z. First of all – they said they didn’t have lube at home. Can you imagine how good Bey’s next record is gonna be now that she has lube?! Anyway when I told Jay-Z that this lube contained horny goat weed, he asked me if he could smoke it. I told him if he did, he should definitely write an online review.

Thank you so, so much to Tina Horn and the folks at Best Sex Writing! Make sure to buy the book; I bet you’ll love it as much as I did!

My Favorite Sex Podcasts

I’ve been listening to podcasts for 10 years. GOOD LORD, I’M OLD.

Back during the infancy of the medium, I was 12 years old, and even then I was a sex geek. I remember walking between classes at middle school and listening to Kidder Kaper talking about anal sex, fisting, female ejaculation, and all sorts of other things (conveniently ignoring the warning at the top of every show that you had to be 18+ to listen to it). I felt like a spy; on the outside I looked like an innocent little girl, but my ears and brain were sharing a delicious repartee about wonderfully nasty things.

Contrary to what some folks would posit, consuming sex information at such a young age didn’t mess me up; in fact, I think it made me safer and more conscious about sexuality. And I still listen to sex podcasts to this day. Here are some of my favorites…

Sex is Fun is the first sex podcast I remember ever listening to. It’s not being made anymore, but it had a good run and I think I listened to every single episode. (You can still listen to the whole archive on the show’s website.)

Each episode focuses on a specific topic related to sexuality. In the earlier shows, they were often fairly basic topics, like masturbation, oral sex, and anal sex; later on, they progressed to more complex issues, and also did occasional interviews with sexpert superstars like Susie Bright and Deborah Sundahl.

Different hosts rotated in and out of the show at different times in its progression, but what they all had in common was that they were articulate, smart, knew a lot about sex, and held a completely non-judgmental attitude about everything sex-related (provided it was all safe, sane and consensual, of course). I may not remember the details of individual episodes anymore, but what I vividly remember is that all-accepting, sex-positive attitude. I sincerely think it shaped all the sexual attitudes and beliefs I formed as I grew up – for the better.

Try these episodes: The team talks to Deborah Sundahl about G-spots and female ejaculation. A controversial discussion on ecstatic/orgasmic birth. HIV 101 with HIV/AIDS educator Gay Rick.

Open Source Sex is/was (I’m not sure if she’s still making it?) a podcast created and hosted by Violet Blue, who, if you don’t know, is an amazingly prolific writer, editor, and media-maker in the realms of sex and digital security. In other words, she’s a sex geek and a tech geek. And she has an incredibly gorgeous, sexy voice that’s ultra-soothing to listen to.

She does all sorts of different things on her podcast: discusses sexual issues, interviews sex-world celebrities, and reads erotic and instructional excerpts from her own books and other people’s. It’s a smorgasbord of information and titillation that could bring value to the life of any sex nerd.

Try these episodes: An interview with Shine Louise Houston, creator of the Crash Pad Series. Genital flavors: why you taste the way you do, and how to make changes if you want to. Excerpts from The Castle, a BDSM novel.

Sex Out Loud is Tristan Taormino’s podcast. Tristan needs no introduction because everyone in the sex world knows about her, but incase you don’t: she directs hot-as-fuck porn, writes and edits books about sex and non-monogamy, gives lectures and workshops, co-founded the Feminist Porn Conference, and now hosts this podcast.

Each episode of Sex Out Loud is an in-depth interview with someone who is doing interesting things within their little pocket of sexuality subculture. I started by listening to interviews with people I already knew, and then delved into those with folks I’d never heard of – and I learned new and interesting things from each and every episode.

Try these episodes: A fascinating discussion with Christopher Ryan, co-author of Sex At Dawn. Tristan chats with S. Bear Bergman, author of Butch is a Noun and various other books that I love. Betty Dodson and Carlin Ross on the politics of female masturbation.

The Savage Lovecast is Dan Savage’s podcast. I recognize that lots of people in the sex-positive world take issue with Dan Savage for various reasons, and I agree with them on many of those points. But I can’t deny that I find Dan very entertaining and I think his contributions to LGBT rights advocacy have been overall positive.

Each episode of the Lovecast starts with a “rant” from Dan on some sexual or political (or both) topic that’s in the news. Then he plays calls from listeners and gives them advice. The questions can range from commonplace and vanilla (“How do I come out to my parents?” or “Why doesn’t my girlfriend get off during intercourse?”) to complex and unusual (“Should I have been nicer when I rejected that guy with an adult baby fetish?” or “I found my dad’s stash of ladies’ panties and he had a pair of mine in there; what should I do?”). Dan almost always takes a strong stance one way or the other, and even when I don’t agree with him, I find his responses amusing and thought-provoking.

Try these episodes: Uh, seriously, any of them. They’re all great. Pick one and press play.

Why Are People Into That? is the newest podcast out of all of these. I saw a flier for it when I was at the Feminist Porn Conference and literally gasped as I grabbed one, because the title of this show is the question that fascinates me most about sexuality. Why are people into that?

The show is hosted by Tina Horn, porn performer, sex worker, and writer. She’s smart as a whip, relentlessly thoughtful, and endlessly curious about sex. Each episode has a different guest with whom she discusses a particular fetish or kink, usually one that the person themselves is into.

The discussions are pretty free-form and meandering, like real-life conversations, only they’re a hell of a lot smarter and more interesting than many of the conversations I have in real life!

Try these episodes: Sinclair Sexsmith on power. James Darling on high heels. Siouxsie Q on age play.

Other sex podcasts I’ve heard are good, but haven’t personally gotten the chance to listen to yet:

The Whorecast

Sex With Emily

Sex Nerd Sandra

What are your favorite podcasts about sex?