The memory’s a bit of a blur now, but almost 7 years ago, I was standing in the bathroom at my parents’ house, mentally preparing myself to tell them I had a sex blog. I knew everything would be okay in the end, and it was — but I could’ve never anticipated just how genuinely my parents, and my mom in particular, would come to encourage and champion this unorthodox career.
Coming out as a sex blogger was my second coming out. My first took place at age 14, when I wrote a letter to my parents confessing that I liked girls. Eons later, two years after revealing my sex blog, I came out as non-monogamous.
Today, my mom is my blog’s biggest cheerleader. She squeals with joy at my accomplishments, helps me stage sex toy photos and brainstorm wild ideas, and tells everyone she knows about what I do. (Sometimes in great detail.) Her unwavering support and openness have even earned her her own hashtag: #MamaPiph. I imagine most parents of sex bloggers are not as accepting as she is, so I decided to interview her in hopes of cracking the code of why she’s so cool with it all — and to finally, publicly answer the familiar query, “what do your parents think about what you do?”
This interview, the second in a series, was conducted on a humid night in remote Hana, Maui. Sitting on a bed in a tiny cottage, drinking mai tais, we discussed the failures of abstinence-only sex ed, what she loves about my blog, how she navigates discussions with others about my work, and we reminisced about that one time I sent her a box of butt plugs. Plus shocking revelations as she discovers I once signed a purity pledge, and I learn the horrifying information that my own mother likes… vibration patterns!
Epiphora: What were you taught about sex growing up? Not much, right?
Mom: Right. Like your standard fourth grade, whatever was the standard for public schools. My mom told me about my period, but I don’t recall any conversation about sexuality, having sex, respect. The closest I had was my cousin telling me that I could ask her any questions I wanted.
E: Oh! That’s nice of her.
M: Mmhmm. I remember hanging out in the camper that was parked in the driveway at our house. She would’ve been 16 and I was 14, and she said, “if you want to ask me anything, you can ask me” and I was like “no.” I was even too embarrassed to ask, “so, the guy has a part that goes in you?” The sex ed class we had at school showed us the mechanics in cartoon form, but it certainly was nothing beyond that.
E: And I’m sure it — I mean, it’s still the case today — did not really talk about pleasure —
M: Oh god no. [dissolves into laughter]
E: So how did you get information about sex? Did you get it from your friends, did you go to the library…
M: Didn’t go to the library. No. It was just what your friends talked about, but I don’t think there was a lot of sharing going on either. So you would have your own experiences to start formulating and realizing what it felt like. Like scared, embarrassed, pleasurable, all of those things were things I think I just learned on my own.
E: Did you feel scared?
M: No. No. But I’d say, you know, you’re hesitant. Unsure. Curious.
E: I feel like even in the modern age when I grew up, I still had fears.
M: I didn’t have the talk with you either, did I?
E: No, you didn’t have a sex talk with me. But if you had, what would you have said? In your ideal world.
M: Oh man, now? Back then, I wasn’t as old as I am now. But if I would have been the mom that I should’ve been, I could have definitely talked to you about all of those things more openly, and even been mechanically descriptive. I could have said, you know, you shouldn’t get that close to someone and have sex unless it’s something you… I wouldn’t have said “unless you’re married,” but…
E: Well, here’s the thing. I feel like I already got that message loud and clear from the school. They say, “oh, make sure you’re doing it with the right person and don’t give it away.” Is there anything else you would have wanted to convey to me that maybe isn’t part of that rhetoric?
M: Sure, it would have been nice if, by the time you were in high school, we could have had a more frank talk. I would say, this is really a great part of life, but you need to be careful to not get hurt emotionally. You’re having this bliss with someone else that you will not experience otherwise. It’s the height of emotion. You just don’t want somebody to get hurt… I think that’s why it’s preached that way.
E: I was terrified. I was terrified of being pregnant.
M: A normal young woman would always have that fear. I did. Fuck yeah.
E: And I thought, like they said, you need to be prepared to be pregnant if you’re going to have sex. That’s the way it was framed.
E: It scared me enough that it kept me from having [penis-in-vagina] sex until I was 21. I wish I had not waited that long because there was no reason to wait that long. We were dating for 3 years beforehand. I remember telling you we’d had sex and you were shocked we hadn’t done it sooner. You didn’t believe me.
M: Well, you had been together for quite a while and it was surprising that you wouldn’t have been intimate before then because you were committed.
E: But I definitely got the fear of god in me about sex, and I think I just got it from the school.
M: Yeah, I didn’t do that to you. I will take no responsibility for that.
E: They made me sign a purity pledge!
M: Oh my god! Alright, well, see, I didn’t even know that stuff was going on. How dare they do that to you!
E: Did you have any goals for raising me in a way that was, as we call it now, “sex-positive”?
M: Oh! Wow. Like not feeling like sex was taboo?
E: As in, sex is good and natural and healthy and pleasurable rather than sex is shameful and bad.
M: I suppose the thing is I wouldn’t have ever preached the latter, but I didn’t preach the former. It’s terrible. It’s terrible that a person has to live so many years to get wiser. Now at 50 I go, yeah, at 30 I needed to be talking to my daughter.
E: I know. But that’s how it always is, and we’re there now. Look at us, we’re talking about it now!
M: I have a pansexual daughter. I didn’t even know the word before tonight! It’s kind of exciting.
E: Yeah! And I think there were certain ways that you didn’t mean to raise me sex positively, but you did. Maybe more like body positively. You would change clothes in front of me and pee with the door open, things like that…
M: Right. You’re right. I don’t think about that because that’s the way I am.
E: You may not have said anything specifically to me about sex, but you seemed to be comfortable in your body and around other people, and that is important.
M: Thank you. Your kids learn by watching you.
E: Okay, so talking about my blog now.
M: Your glorious blog.
E: What did you think when I first told you about my blog? Was it hard to digest all at once considering you probably didn’t know that sex toy reviewers existed at all?
M: True. As far as digestion, I think it was a slow process. You told us what you were doing and we were like, oh, wow. But I definitely had no clue as to what was involved or how income was generated from something like that.
E: But what did you think in the moment? That’s what everyone always wants to know. What did you think when I finally told you… [serious voice] I had a sex blog? They want some big story about how shocked you were.
M: Oh, def — there was no shock. There was no shock. No, there was no shock. Honestly, at the time, you didn’t have a job. But we knew you were paying your bills. So it was more just relief to know you had been ambitious during that time.
E: Sure, but that says a lot about how you weren’t bothered by the sex aspect…
M: Oh, I was excited! It was like, okay, cool, she’s found something that’s probably really fun — and we knew how good you were at writing stories. Writing is like writing a blog; you’re telling a story each time you publish something. So it was exciting to know you were doing something you liked. But definitely no shock. I don’t have a cool big awesome answer. I need to think about that one, maybe I can come up with a better answer.
E: No, that’s a good answer. You can’t make up a big hullabaloo if there wasn’t a big hullabaloo.
M: It was more relief of knowing that in the couple of years after college, you had been busy doing writing you love. Because, to quote your Nana, “you should write something; you might be good at it.”
E: I remember telling you at the beginning that I didn’t want you to read my blog. What did you think of that request?
M: I was fine with that because I was unsure as well. I didn’t have a desire to go infiltrate. I think since that was not something that was a common reading ground for me… [laughs] I mean, other than a few novels that might have some sexual scenes. So I didn’t feel like I needed to go see what you were writing.
M: Correct, and when you said you were doing that, I was like, are you kidding me!? My girl is flying somewhere and going to be a speaker on an educational platform? This is so awesome! Then, yeah, I couldn’t help but go on the conference website to see the speakers, and it was not difficult at that point to narrow down who my girl was!
E: How did you know?
M: I don’t know. It was obvious with the choices that were there. There weren’t that many speakers and I knew the topic. I was proud! So yes, I did go do what I was not supposed to do, and I found your name.
E: [laughs] I know.
M: I found the blog.
E: You found my blog. Then did you go on a spree and read everything?
M: God no.
E: Just whatever was new?
M: No, I just looked at the website and went, oh my god! Look at how colorful, look at how snarky this is, and look at how much information is here! Mind blown! Pew. It became apparent very quickly — and I wouldn’t have expected anything less — that the information you’re giving is so helpful and accurate and humorous and truthful. Who wouldn’t like to read your blog? The way you write is just amazing. I just love it. Every little link, because you’re referring to something…
E: Oh, god, I know. I put a lot of links in my posts.
M: That’s what keeps everybody excited and interested in your shit!
M: Right, and I certainly never want you to feel like there’s something you shouldn’t say because you [deeper serious voice] think your mom might be reading it. And I don’t think you do do that.
E: No, it’s been pretty okay. What I’ve realized now is that you can exercise your own restraint, because I can’t restrain myself on my own blog. I can only think of one time I almost didn’t write something in a post because I was worried about you reading it. But I decided to write it anyway.
M: Ooh, what was that?
E: [laughs nervously] Do you really want to know this specifically?
M: No. I don’t have to. It’s cool.
E: But these days, I feel so lucky knowing how supportive you are. I especially love how open you are with other people about my accomplishments.
M: That’s because I am excited and happy for you to get the recognition you deserve, and I’m glad I have people in my life who I know will fuckin’ give me a “hell yes.” And it’s not just like I can only share this with one friend. I mean, I tell pretty much everybody… and that’s honest. If you’re doing something, I have to share. [spends several minutes naming people — friends, family, and co-workers — and what each of them like about my blog]
E: Do you think part of it is you’ve opened them up to it?
M: Definitely. Sure. Some friends might be focused more on the strides you’re making in education and having people feel confident, etc — not necessarily because it is a sex toy, does that make sense?
E: Yeah, that makes sense.
M: So I think that makes it easier to share with them. The other thing is I’ve been able to explain the business aspect which they are completely impressed with as well… what is that grin? Dude!
E: I’m just… I don’t know.
M: [mimics me] “It’s my first day in Maui. I just got up — oh! I made $700 this morning. I’ve got two new renewals on some advertisements.” You know why? Because you’re up on their contracts. You have the business savvy. You track every goddamn detail down to the iota.
E: You have to.
M: That part of it is a hell of a lot of effort. A hell of a lot of smarts. And I can tell you my friends, they so respect that.
E: How do you decide which of my blog posts to read and which ones not to read? Do you ever stop reading something in the middle and think oh, I don’t want to know, this is going too far?
M: No, I never… I mean, there is part of the website that is the masturbation blog or something?
M: I look when products come up and you’re doing a regular post. Just because I love the creativity, the humor, and the links are fuckin’ hilarious and fun. I certainly don’t read every blog. I might look at something once a month. It pops up in my email and I’ll say “what’s the snark?” and —
E: [laughs] “What’s the snark?”
M: What is the snark about? Is the snark about something I want to hear? Is the snark something I need to know? I’ll look if something pops up, or you’ve mentioned something like that man one where you were like “JESUS CHRIST!”
E: Man one?
M: Dude! Remember? Oh god. I have to remember what the toy was. You were so pissed off.
M: As well it should have been. I sent that one to your uncle and said “dude, you have to check this out.”
E: So there’s nothing you’ve read that you wished you hadn’t read or that surprised you…?
M: Well, you know, when I came across your post from when you told us you were blogging… that was an interesting read. Not realizing how nervous you were and then feeling like maybe my response was flip or that you had expected something different from me.
E: No. No, I think… no.
M: But I loved the part about you and dad going out to breakfast the next morning. That was great.
E: Yeah, that was good. No, I didn’t expect anything else. I knew you’d be okay with it when I told you. I don’t know why I was so scared. Thinking back on it now, it doesn’t make sense to me.
M: I did go back at some point because sometimes the links will take you back, and there was a post about you and Aerie. It made it more real… I was like, oh! Yeah. Okay then! Blogs are about experiences and so there’s definitely been a couple of times like, yeah, that’s my daughter, that’s what she does… in her private life.
E: Do you find it difficult to answer people when they ask what I do for a living? Do you have a cover story for people who wouldn’t want to know?
M: No. No. No and no.
M: Pretty much no and definitely no.
M: I would fuckin’ never have a cover story. Oh my god. That’s ridiculous. Did I not just put the taking pictures in the pool with my daughter and this beautiful turquoise dildo photo on my Facebook page?
E: You did, you did…
M: Which got likes! So I have no problem. I don’t care what other people think.
E: But say you meet someone new and they ask, “oh, what’s your daughter do?”
M: I would tell them the straight out truth, for sure. I’d say “my daughter reviews sex toys. She has a blog and reviews sex toys.” And then I would be ready to — when their mouth dropped —
M: I would be ready to jump right in and say, it’s pretty amazing. It’s pretty amazing what kind of revenues she can generate by the advertising on her stuff and she’s very humorous in the blog posts. I would reiterate a little more information for them to understand. [pauses, listening to a noise outside] That… that’s a frog.
M: Or it could be a gecko!
E: Geckos make a sound like that?
M: Yes, they do! Stand by! Clyde might be outside. [we try, and fail, to locate Clyde]
E: So many sex bloggers’ parents are way more guarded about what their kids do. Like they accept it, but they don’t talk about it or encourage it. They ignore it versus actually being interested —
E: You have a box called Epiphora? A literal box? [laughs] What?
E: I did not know that! Where you print things and put them in the box?!
M: [smiles and nods]
E: Oh my god.
M: I have been blown away at the conscious effort you put into certain blog posts / events / whatever. You’ve got contracts to write, you’ve got people you’ve got to hook up with, you’ve got to say [dramatic voice] “can you offer a free tiny dildo to my people? Because they want it.”
M: You’re working it out ahead of time. You’re getting it all dialed in. And then you have people like [your partner’s] parents, who just don’t even want to acknowledge that you work in a sex toy shop let alone that you write an insanely creative column that is helpful to people ALL AROUND THE WORLD!
E: It’s silicone! It’s never gonna break down. You don’t want a shitty butt plug that’s going to break down; that’s not good.
M: [cackles] Did you say SHITTY BUTT PLUG?
E: Alright, last question —
M: Did you say “shitty butt plug”? Get it? “Shitty butt plug”? Sorry…
E: Was there anything you assumed originally about my job that turned out to be false?
M: Well, I assumed it was a lot more fun than it probably was.
E: [laughs] Yeah.
E: Yeah, that’s the biggest one!
M: Because when you’re testing things, you’ve got to really be paying attention. You have to think about what’s happening, how you’re feeling, how this is, how that is, so that you can describe it. You’re not just having fun, man.