It’s that time of year again, time for my Favorite Things! Last year I embraced the shift away from a favorite things list that was always a list of products and LOVED how it turned out. Then 2017 happened. It was, in a word, hard. I faced down the worst depressive episode of my life, moved like a zombie through things I usually love, barely glanced at products and, due to a completely new body that I neither liked nor was comfortable in (in any sense of the word) I largely disconnected from my sexuality. Once again I considered chucking the list.
Then I sat down and gave it some thought. What did I love this year? I started off with a couple of books, then an idea (my “game changer”), then I accepted that there were a couple of products I did really like, and finally I remembered something that just melted my heart and well, here we are.
So, once again, my list has evolved. And once again, it’s ended up kind of huge. This year it features 3 products, 4 books (books got their own section this year), 1 “game changer”, 1 company, and 1 big one… just like last year, that will make sense when you get there. I’d love for you to read the whole thing but I recognize that there’s a lot to see here so I’ve set it up so you can use the menu to hop right to the sections you want to see (you can hop back up too!). Go check it out!
Products ★ Books ★ Game Changer ★ Company ★ The Big One
Doxy Number 3
I considered not putting this one on here simply because this is getting embarrassing. I have posted a Favorite Things list every year since 2013 and there has been a Doxy wand on the list in 2014, 2015, and 2016. The thing is, I really love this wand! As I said in my October review, the Doxy Number 3 has a lot going for it. It’s light, it’s powerful (but still useable in face-to-face positions!), it has a removable head for easy cleaning, you can pop on fun attachments (some of which make it look like Louise Belcher), and you can fit it in a purse. Seriously, the Number 3 is just pretty great.
So you know what? I’ll stop putting Doxy’s wands on the list when they stop making wands I love.
Le Wand can teach us a powerful lesson about the importance of first impressions. After roaring onto the market (literally, they were REALLY loud) earlier this year, they left folks underwhelmed enough that everyone who I told they were one of the few sex products on my list replied “really?” leaving me to have to re-explain what I explained in my autumn review: The Le Wand Version 2 is a different story than the Le Wand that many of us first met.
While the original Le Wand was basically a shinier and WAY louder version of a product that already existed. The 2nd version brought it. And by “it” I mean the thing many vibrator users love- steady vibration settings. Le Wand Version 2 has TEN (10!). It also has a travel lock and is quieter than its predecessor (I wouldn’t mind it being quieter still though, if anyone is listening…). Le Wand has worked its way firmly into my starting line up.
Liberator Tristan Velvish Toy Bag
My love affair with the Tristan bag began in June when I saw a photo of… well, another bag entirely. I was, at first, mesmerized by Liberator’s Moto bag. As the end of the year approached and I suspected that if the bag fulfilled my expectations it would be a Favorite Thing, I reached out to the folks at SheVibe. As we talked I noticed the Tristan bag. Shaped especially for the toys I actually use (yeah, wands) and available in this very JoEllen-friendly merlot color I couldn’t resist. Almost as soon as it arrived I took to instagram to show off its skills:
Is this a necessity? No. Is it pretty damn cool? Oh yeah.
Get it here:
Yep, I put my best friend’s book in here- deal with it. Seriously, though, I did it with good reason, Curvy Girl Sex is fabulous. Based on Elle Chase’s wildly successful class, Big, Beautiful Sex, it covers sex positions, challenges faced by plus-sized lovers, and precise tips, tricks and techniques that cater big, beautiful bodies of all genders (don’t let the title fool you!)
Peggy Orenstein’s look at the obstacle course of double standards, unattainable ideals, unspoken rules, and unbalanced expectations navigated by young women is fascinating, a bit sad, and a huge reminder of why we do the work we do.
Combining mental health history, current day commentary, and his own family’s heartbreaking story, Ron Powers created an absolutely devastating book that is a must-read for anyone studying mental health. It also gave me a whole new perspective on my approach to my own book so, bonus!
Get it here:
As many of you know, I have a bit of a thing for sex toy stores and love the history of the shops. So, clearly, I was so excited for the publication of Lynn Comella’s Vibrator Nation. Getting to do the work I do is an immense honor and I know I stand on the shoulders of some pretty amazing people to do it. My path, as a sex writer who came up through blogging, writing about toys and shops and has arrived at this wonderful place where I get to learn and teach and write, would not exist were it not for the history laid out in Vibrator Nation, I genuinely believe that. (I’m not crying right now… shut up!) Vibrator Nation is like a history lesson, family photo album, and fun sex geeky read all in one. A must-have for sex geek libraries.
Sex and Disability
When Epiphora and I kicked off our sex blogging class this past fall, one of the students stated that their mission was to write about sex and disability and then talked at length about how NO ONE was doing that- NO ONE AT ALL!! I had an immediate, visceral response to this. Frankly, I was pissed because while a couple years ago I might have agreed, I could name several people off the top of my head who were doing awesome work. Then I realized how amazing it was that I was having that response, that I could do that, that that work was going on. In the last couple of years the growth in the sex and disability conversation has been huge and, as someone who works from (and lives in) the “making space for everyone” space, it’s been amazing to see. So today I’m going to talk a bit about some of the people doing that work.
This list covers only a couple of people doing this work and even among them it only covers a little bit of what they are doing.
There is so much good work happening right now!
Kirsten Schultz frankly, does more cool stuff than I can keep up with. From the Chronic Sex chats to frequent posts that always make me go “damn! what a smart thing to post about!”, and way, way beyond. Kirsten popped up in articles in Broadly and Teen Vogue this year and her site, Chronic Sex, is home to a directory of educators with disabilities.
Robin Wilson-Beattie of SexAbled was recently featured in a Broadly articled entitled The Sex Educator Teaching BDSM to People With Disabilities. Robin is an incredible speaker, educator, human being who, after realizing through her own experience, that doctors were not equipped to approach sex when talking with patients with disabilities set out to bridge that gap. I especially love Robin’s emphasis on agency over one’s own body.
A couple weeks ago I did an interview with Andrew Gurza for his podcast, Disability After Dark and he said something that stayed with me. He talked about a shift in the way he approaches sex and disability that is so similar to what I see in general “sex positivity” all the time: going from “yeah, it’s so hot!!!” to “sometimes it’s hot and sometimes it sucks and we deal with what it is”. It’s stuff like that that makes Andrew’s podcast touching, unique, smart, and kind of exactly what this conversation needs. Andrew is featured in this CBC piece from October.
Intimate Health Consulting is the brainchild of Bianca Palmisano and it is wonderful. Describes as “a national education and training organization, designed to grow sexual health competency in the helping professions” Intimate health consulting provides educational support and training for organizations working to improve their sexual health practices… in short, they teach people how to talk to other people about sex. In a world where doctors are often just as reluctant as their patients to broach the subject (I’ve done research, it seems to be true) this is a key piece of the sex and disability puzzle. Also, Bianca is an educational badass.
Rachel Rose‘s site Hedonish has long appealed to me as it’s mixture of toy talk, health talk, and social commentary that reminds me of my own site (she said humbly). A sex writer with various chronic conditions including vulvodynia and Mast Cell Disease, Rachel has created a site where helpful information for folks with chronic illnesses lives side by side with toy reviews normalizing sex and disability conversations in a much-needed way.
As I said earlier, these are just a few of the people out there doing amazing work, there are many more and I admire and appreciate all of you! Thank you all for everything you do!
On a personal note…
The wave of sex and disability support hit me pretty hard too. In April I got to speak at the University of Tennessee about sex and mental health, I wrote about sex and depression for outlets all over the world– including the BBC, gave more interviews than I ever have, and saw unprecedented support from the sex world. In the spring Peepshow Toys commissioned a piece from me about navigating sexual side effects from antidepressants and the signed on to sponsor my trip to speak about my sex and depression project at the Guelph Sexuality Conference. Additionally, the folks at SheVibe volunteered to send me to Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit to speak and made me their cover superhero during Mental Health Awareness month, showcasing my Monster Under the Bed project and linking to the Patreon supporting my work.
In 2014 this topic was a hard-sell. Frankly, I was told it would, for various reasons, never be something I could get people to talk/listen about. To have it supported like this is amazing and I believe it is due to the work being done to shine a light on sex and disability issues.
Speaking of SheVibe‘s amazing support and my cover and all that stuff… When I sat down to think about what companies made a big impression on me this year I was ready to talk about new companies, exciting products, etc but honestly, one name kept coming to mind and it’s one I’ve been working with and talking about for YEARS: SheVibe.
I have long loved SheVibe as a company. I don’t think I’ll ever stop telling the story of the time when at Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit, I was having dinner with Sandra, Thor and a couple other sex bloggers and it came up that SheVibe had recently added a new lube to the site. I cringed and said that the lube had caused me some discomfort and I suspected it was due to the propylene glycol it contained. Our companions had attended a session on lube at the conference and knew why what I was saying was bad. We talked about it and by the end of dinner Thor was on his phone making arrangements for the product to leave the site because, after what they had just learned about lube he and Sandra didn’t want to carry it anymore. That to me is quintessential SheVibe: It’s bad? It’s gone. They care.
It’s not just products and customers the folks at SheVibe care about either! They care about sex education, and our industry, and how we can all learn and grow together. (Spoiler alert: we may be discussing working together on something that I’ve been talking about doing for YEARS). They care about people. As I struggled this year, they were there checking in on me offering any help they could, letting me know they cared. The two cards (muppets and uterus) in the collage above were both sent to my house when I was dealing with medical stuff. Often, when depression (or my wonky body, you know whatever) acts up, I feel like I have to check out of the industry for a bit and get back to folks when I’m more “normal” but SheVibe has always been there, lending support no matter what was happening.
I always say that in this business I encounter 3 kind of businesses: great people with not so great businesses, not so great people with cool businesses, and then, the holy grail, great people with great businesses. That is SheVibe. Over the last 5 years I have come to appreciate, respect, and love Sandra and Thor like family. They are amazing people and it is an honor to promote their business.
Supporting Each Other
So here’s a deep, dark, dirty secret: I almost gave up on my book this year. Sure, knowing that I was deep in the depths of a dark depressive episode probably makes that not so surprising but honestly, this is like a chicken-or-the-egg thing. I had been STUCK on the book for a long time. I was working with a writing coach who was a fan of vague encouraging platitudes and telling me to “just riff on that some more” and I, in the meantime, really needed someone to say “this is a book. This is how you make it.” I had fallen into a pattern that I think is familiar to anyone with chronic illness: I would feel awful, hate everything, be panicking but know I was talking to the coach person soon and have hope that would help. Then I would talk to her and absolutely nothing helpful would be said and the cycle would start again. People would tall me “just put down words, any words, it will come out.” but after two years of doing that I was feeling a bit like I was just spinning my wheels and getting no closer to any kind of book. Then, on July 15 something snapped. I don’t know why that day (I’d considered doing this for a while but could never make myself go ahead with it), I don’t remember what the tipping point was but that was the day I went to facebook (a site I avoided for most of 2017) and spilled my guts. I admitted everything. How I was stuck, scared, getting nowhere, and clueless about what to do next.
Frankly, after I posted it I was terrified. I felt like I had revealed myself as a big, giant fraud. I thought people would roll their eyes, think I was an idiot, and judge me for my inability to do this as well as my desire to bring in help. I could not have been more wrong. What came next was an AVALANCHE of help. Like, so much help I actually lost track of some of it because I had to choose which help to take. It was beyond my wildest dreams.
In the month that followed I actually sunk so far into the horrid depressive episode that I never actually properly wrapped up that thread or thanked those folks but that thread, and the lovely Lanae St. John, actually led me to an amazing freelance editor based here in Portland and by mid-September I was several, real, honest-to-goodness, not just word-spewing but actual content chapters in. The book is actually chugging along now in a way that I, for a long time, thought it never would and I know that when it is done I will owe a huge thank you to, among other people (Hi Elle and Stephen!) Yana Tallon-Hicks, Ashley Manta, Lauren Marie Fleming, Charlie Glickman, Joan Price, Lanae StJohn, Jerome Stuart Nichols, Cooper Beckett, Stella Harris, Angie Gunn, Kate LaRocque, Allison Moon, Rebecca Blanton, Emily Nagoski, Chris Maxwell Rose, Jaiya Ma, Linda Kirkman, Melanie Davis, Liz Williams Webb, Joan Price, Cunning Minx, HethreBeth Woodford, Marcia Baczynski, and Cassandra J. Perry all of whom played a crucial role in getting me back on track.
The point of that long story (apart from finally giving those people an extremely belated thanks) was to talk a bit about supporting each other. So often society tells us to think of colleagues as competition- if they get the jobs, money, accolades, success, there will be none left for us. But there is another way: we could all make it. We could support each other, promote each other, and grow together. I was afraid to ask for help because I was afraid of showing my weakness, I thought I had to keep up a facade of “smart, together, on top of it sex writer who can do it all on her own” even if it killed me (or, at the very least, killed my book). I think that’s a big part of how a lot of us burn out so don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t be afraid to give help to each other.
Let’s all succeed together in 2018!
Curious about what my past lists have looked like? Check them out!