Oct 122017

A decade of sex blogging. Cupcake butt plug and Shilo.

Cupcake butt plug and Shilo.

The cliché is true — it feels like just yesterday and like forever ago. This week marks 10 years since I first published a review of a sex toy on the internet.

It was fall 2007, my junior year of college. That summer, I’d moved out of the dorms and into my first apartment. I was 20 years old, almost 21. If you’d asked me what my career was going to be, I would’ve hesitated and posited, “…writer? I hope?” A cautious optimism underneath which lied a practical fear. A fear that I could never make a living with writing, that I’d end up in an office job, probably, and that the only skill I’d spent my life cultivating would eventually be relegated to a hobby. It was just a matter of when.

But life doesn’t always go the way you think it will, even if you have little perception of how it will.

When you go to college, “sex blogger” isn’t exactly presented as a potential career option. I majored in English, having scant other abilities aside from writing. Bless my liberal arts education, though, which forced me to take Gender Studies classes. I came alive in those classes. I became a different person — a better, more aware person. I wrote a paper about sex toy usage. I shot a low-budget sex ed video for a feminist theory course.1 For a big research project, I remember driving all around town asking sex shops if they stocked various porn DVDs. I was looking for films that had won Feminist Porn Awards, which I then meticulously analyzed for markers of degradation and intimacy.

It was with this budding interest in sexuality that I stumbled upon a call for toy reviewers on a retailer’s website. A total fluke, but the timing was right. It sounded like a fun diversion from the tedium of academia, a good way to experience sex toys without having to pay for them, and a more relaxed form of writing than the stuffy papers I was churning out. I signed up.

My vagina wasn’t as all-knowing then as it is now. In fact, it knew very little. Growing up, I got my orgasms from the bathtub faucet, then a few questionable sex toys. I remember the sense of scandal I felt as I went to my college mailroom to pick up my first real vibrator. I hadn’t had penetrative sex yet, and wouldn’t for several months more. Although I’d been dating my boyfriend for over two years, I had been brainwashed by abstinence-only sex ed. I was unnecessarily obsessed over getting pregnant, concerned it was going to hurt.

Like anyone new to sex toys, I bought into myths that quickly proved false. That wooden toys would give me splinters, that everything needed to vibrate in order to be worthwhile. I made excuses for arguably shitty products. I thought toxic toys weren’t a big deal. Once, embarrassingly, I complained that a glass dildo felt uncomfortable when I used it UNDERWATER. I referred to my genitals as my “pussy” because I felt like that was expected of me.

Basically, I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.

But do any of us, really, at the beginning of anything? I’ve waffled on whether to count that year of reviews pre-blog, never sure whether I’ve been doing this for 9 years now or 10, but you know what? That year mattered. As bad as those reviews are, they were necessary. They were inevitable, unavoidable. I cringe at them now, but there’s a certain adorable cluelessness within them.

As I reviewed more and more, I began pondering the idea of starting my own blog. I’d always figured sex blogging wasn’t for me — I didn’t have hot sex stories to share with the world; my writing does not aim to titillate. But maybe I could do it my way? Focus on straightforward reviews of sex toys?

I’ll try it, I thought. See how it goes.

Just a hobby: the early years

I started my blog in fall 2008. I connected with a few companies who were willing to send me toys for review and procrastinated from my homework by masturbating. I filled my purple toybox with vibrators. I made online friends and watched porn with them. All the while I wrote into the abyss, about futuristic cock ringspornstars and politics, sex toy shamingmansplainers.

Me at a coffee shop, just a couple months after I started reviewing. Working in bed, surrounded by cats.

Blogging wasn’t paying the bills, but I never thought it would. I made a grand total of $3.99 in my first year, from affiliate links in my reviews. About a penny per day.

While blogging gave me an outlet for my writing and my opinions, sex toys were teaching me what my body was capable of. After many months of painful penetration, my steadfast dedication to reviewing insertable toys was paying off. The G-spot, that fabled thing, actually existed. One night, as I was testing a dildo with a unique flat tip, a new sensation began to develop in my body. I felt like I needed to pee.

Without the internet and my immersion in the sex toy world, I would not have known what to do with that feeling. I would’ve ignored it, probably, or attempted to stave it off. Instead, I knew it was a precursor to squirting. I thrust harder with the dildo, and sure enough: I gushed all over the towel under me.

It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship with my G-spot.

Sex toy reviewing pushed me, challenged me, encouraged me to venture outside my comfort zone. I tried anal play, kegel exercise, cock rings, all kinds of sex toy materials. I tested no-name toys and toys with cult followings. At that time, USB rechargeability was a new phenomenon, big sex toy manufacturers were just discovering silicone, and the Hitachi Magic Wand didn’t make sense to me. I watched porn that I wasn’t into and found other stuff that was hot as fuck.

Most notably, I conquered my largest dildo yet. My vagina had made great progress.

Sex toys taking over my desk, as I attempted to organize them. 2010.

Around this time, my few industry connections led me to meet with two local women who were opening a sex shop in my city. I pretended my minuscule blog was evidence of my qualifications, and they… believed me. I was hired part-time, despite having zero retail experience. I was their first employee.

It still seemed odd that anyone knew about my blog, let alone cared. But somehow they did. Sex educator Tristan Taormino came to town to teach and asked to have breakfast with me, wanting to hire me to handle her social media. I’ll never forget standing outside the restaurant at the end of our meeting. “You’re so much nicer in person!” she exclaimed.

I felt immeasurably complimented. Online, I could be myself. Just as honest and snarky as I truly am. I’m an introvert, and as a kid I was often described as “shy” — a word that masked my feisty, opinionated nature. Unlike in life, where I’d fumble over my words, online I could take my time and hone my phrasing. It was validating. It felt like home.

My blog was evolving, too, even if I couldn’t see it. In January of 2012, I looked back at my income spreadsheet from the previous year and realized something remarkable: I was making money with this gig. Not an astronomical amount, but enough to cover living expenses and food each month.

Could I do this… as a career?

The coming out era

My parents still didn’t know I was a sex blogger. I swear, it made sense at the time. Back when blogging was solely a hobby, it didn’t seem necessary to tell them. Besides, I feared my mom’s overzealous snooping. Part of me bought into our sex-negative culture, and I was convinced I didn’t want her reading intimate details about my vagina.

But I needed to tell them. So I finally built up the courage to do it.

Being completely honest with my parents gave me the confidence to put myself out there even more. In 2013 I traveled alone for the first time in my life, all the way to the east coast for a sexuality conference. I met people who, up until that moment, had only existed online. I introduced myself as Epiphora. I chatted with the man who made the best G-spot dildo, the woman behind one of my favorite companies. Having no idea what I looked like, many people told me they “pictured [me] goth,” which still cracks me up.

It was terrifying and it was wonderful.

Meeting people scared me, so I taught myself to do it anyway. At conferences, I perfected the art of luring strangers to my hotel room with promises of wine and camaraderie. Simply being in a hotel room with other sex bloggers was a revelation. It was like seeing old friends, even with folks I’d never met. We stayed up so late laughing and bonding. Sleep would mean less time with these amazing people; I couldn’t justify it.

Can I live in this moment forever? Girly Juice, Red Hot Suz, and I composing a tweet. Photo by Rae.

Can I live in this moment forever? Girly Juice, Red Hot Suz, and I composing a tweet. Photo by Rae.

My second conference was an even bigger turning point. I presented a panel to a standing-room-only crowd. I awkwardly ate sushi next to one of my favorite pornstars. After watching a riotous sex storytelling show, I hitched a ride home with none other than the legendary Midori. (I would’ve never had the balls to ask normally, but I was desperate not to get stranded in downtown LA.)

It all felt like a dream I’d stumbled into.

But it wasn’t a dream. I’d earned it. I’d written 500 blog posts, for god’s sake. There was rarely a day when I didn’t work on my blog. Over the years I’d become more business-minded: selling advertising on my site, utilizing affiliate links faithfully, promoting sales. The numbers couldn’t lie: 80% of my income came from my blog, and now it was exceeding my baseline cost of living by quite a lot. Sex blogging had become my job. My job job.

I was leveling up my sex toy experience, too. I began having more orgasms per masturbation session, laughing in the face of my refractory period. I learned more about my preferences — my clit is a lefty, I hate rabbit vibes, I prefer glossy silicone over matte. Rumbly vibrations are the best and straddling toys is the worst. “Couples” toys are almost always a mistake. The Hitachi is actually awesome.

Circle of laptops at #dildoholiday, with sex toys and cat in the middle.Meanwhile, my circle of sex blogger friends was growing exponentially. Now I even had friends in my city. They’d come over to my apartment, drink rum mixed with orange juice, ride my Sybian, and talk shit about sex toy companies with me. We started taking short vacations together, filling our days with productive blog writing, photo-taking, and toy testing, and our nights with games, laughs, and bad sex documentaries. #dildoholiday became a tradition.

When the next conference rolled around, my friends and I decided to organize a small sex party. It was perfect timing, because I had my eye on a very cute fellow blogger named Aerie. In that hotel room, in front of our friends, we had sex for the first time. Playful, sweet, awkward, perfect sex.

Afterward, the whole room applauded us and one of my friends said, “um, I have something to tell you… I think you’re gay.”

Community, connection, and opening up

I’ve always been queer, but there were many years where that part of me fell by the wayside. It wasn’t on purpose — I started dating my boyfriend when I was still in high school, and monogamy was the default. But he knew I was attracted to everyone, and he knew I craved more diverse sexual experiences. After 8 years together, we decided to open our relationship.

Holding Aerie's hand at a restaurant in Las Vegas.Aerie and I started dating and exploring together. It was like learning how to have sex all over again. Their vulva, and majestic labia, entranced me. Their fingers on my clit and against my G-spot were magical. I discovered how much I love dildo blowjobs, the sound and the view. I finally put my harness to good use. We traveled to AVN together, getting a taste of the ridiculous Vegas show we’d heard so much about.

Somehow, I came upon this thing called “financial security.” In 2014, thanks in large part to my blog’s success, my boyfriend and I bought a house. After 7 years of toiling at my desk in the living room of my apartment, I finally had the office of my dreams — and a closet dedicated to my sex toy collection.

With each toy, and each post, I evolved. I discovered hands-free orgasms and lube dispensers and allowed someone to control my vibrator from across the country. I bought a better camera and taught myself how to use it. I funneled my rage into posts about body-shaming marketingvibrating teddy bears, G-spot misinformation. Turns out, the Hitachi is life-changing… but “couples” toys are still a mistake.

I now fully believed in my work — and saw it as work. My writing was published in a book and I started teaching an online class for aspiring sex bloggers. Then, one night after I filmed my 2015 April Fool’s video, I was taking some selfies and looking cute when I spontaneously decided to put my face on the internet. There wasn’t much fanfare, nor did I want any. It was simple: anonymity was no longer serving me.

Table of dildos and laptops at #dildoholiday in Oregon.That year marked the most epic #dildoholiday thus far, as a handful of sex bloggers rented a house on the Oregon coast. We taught each other blogging skills, blew our own glass dildos, ate pizza while making fun of Fifty Shades, and accumulated enough inside jokes to last a lifetime.

It was like any normal friend hangout, except for all the porn watching, side-by-side masturbating, pubic hair comparing, sex toy sharing, and late-night fingering.

Nothing about it felt weird. In fact, it felt revolutionary.

So when my co-workers invited me to a sex party the next year, I had precedent. I found myself in a circle of people, going around the room describing our desires, playing consent-based Spin the Lube Bottle. That night, I fisted someone for the first time, and it was one of the most incredible sexual experiences of my life. “You are a miracle!” I exclaimed as my entire hand disappeared into their vagina.

We all felt it that night: the transformative power of fucking your friends. We gave our group a name — the femme sex coven — and our parties have become a fixture of my sex life. Together, we are modeling radical consent, body positivity, and vulnerability. Eye contact. Cuddles and reassurance. Soft kisses and hard smacks. We are redefining the boundaries of friendship. We are showing each other unconditional love.

All roads lead to dildos

What would have been the trajectory of my life, if not for sex blogging? Who would I have been? I don’t have the faintest idea, and there’s no use guessing. This job has impacted everything, from my relationship to masturbation and sex to my bank account to the company I keep.

Outtake from my header image photoshoot. Sex toys all over my Throe.

After 10 years and a collection of over 600 toys, my vagina has become all-powerful and proudly picky. I know what I like and what I don’t — no more boring rod dildos for me, no more strapless strap-ons, no vibration patterns. Give me a goddamn G-spot curve or some texture, at least. Give me a good, simple vibrator. Don’t try to dictate when I can have my orgasms. Stop bugging my cervix. And for the love of all that is good and holy, don’t claim your sex toy is “the first ____” when it is definitely not. I’m too jaded for that shit.

Chowder making my life hard, as per usual.As tough as this job can be, it is a job I carved out entirely for myself — and I’m proud to tell people what I do. I test sex toys and write about it, and somehow the world trusts my opinions enough to buy stuff, and somehow that earns me a comfortable living. I work from home, in pajama pants with a cat on my lap. I’m writing. I’m making money writing. The thing I thought impossible.

Sex blogging taught me to trust my opinions — and my body. And it brought me to all of you.

Every single person who has ever emailed me or messaged me on social media to thank me. Every person who has recognized me and said hello. My parents, whose pride in my blog continues to astonish and humble me. My friends, mentors, heroes. I can’t possibly name all the people who’ve influenced my journey as a blogger, and I realize what an enormous gift that is. So many times I’ve laughed until my cheeks hurt, until I cried, putting my head on the shoulder of the person next to me — a friend I would not have if not for this.

Thank you all.

  1. I’m still impressed with myself for convincing my professor that was a worthwhile final project. []
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