I grew up in an environment where sexual pleasure was never a hot topic of discussion. We didn’t delve into it over tacos at the dinner table and at school, sex education focused on condoms on bananas, sketches of fallopian tubes and genitals riddled with STI’s. Nobody sat me down and said “Jasmin, sex isn’t just about making babies and protecting yourself from syphilis; it’s also about pleasure and your pleasure is important. Masturbation is important, exploration is important, fantasies are important. It’s all important, healthy and natural.”
I remember my first visit to a sex store when I was 17. It was called “Barbarellas” and I snuck in there one summer’s afternoon with my boyfriend. While I can’t recall if we bought anything, I do remember leaving the store with feelings of shame and guilt - a smear of dirtiness that was hard to wash off.
I knew this feeling was wrong but I found it hard to understand why. I spent the first half of my twenties unsure of how to own my sexual pleasure, unsure of how to communicate my sexual needs to my sexual partners. I was guarded and felt like I had to put on a show; I’d fake an orgasm just to “please” a partner.
And then I realized the power of exploration and the importance of taking your sexual pleasure seriously and while I was lucky enough to stumble into awareness and undergo change, I realized so many others weren’t, they were still as I had been – unsure, ashamed and unable to prioritize their own pleasure. And this is what drove me to start House of Theodora, which I named after a lesser-known Byzantine Empress who tirelessly championed women’s rights.
Image: Sophie Wallace.
The aim of HOT (as we’re affectionately known) is to blow open the discussion on sex because the worst thing you can do is encourage silence. We’re trying to boost sexual expression in two ways - one online, the other offline. Online we are building a directory and community of women who make, create & design for sexual wellness. We currently have nine categories: some women paint, some create film, some craft lingerie and accessories, others help women through tantra and others produce insightful, and at times hilarious, podcasts. The website is about celebrating and creating a safe space where these women can openly share their work & ideas free of the confines of the censorship embedded in current social networks.
Offline we have intimate, long table discussions about sex and intimacy for women. These are run fortnightly out of a quaint room in a French wine bar and have proved to be an incredibly powerful space for sexual expression. Ten of us sit around a table, drink wine and discuss the topic of the evening We leave judgement at the door and sit down with open hearts, thoughtful discussion and a wicked sense of humor. We’ve covered an array of topics such as monogamy, sexual fluidity, BDSM, anal sex, masturbation, mental illness and love.
I’m excited about where sexual wellness is at today. There’s an amazing group of people creating, making, designing, and using their voicing for sexual expression. I think the key is that we’re becoming more aware of what sexual wellness means and its importance, and we’re becoming more open, honest and willing to discuss sex than ever before.
Every week I discover yet another inspirational company or person kicking ass in this space – there’s people creating organic vaginal wellness products, period products, companies that combine chocolate, herbs and weed for sexual arousal and people pushing boundaries and creating amazing sex toys and aides. Whether you buy into the products and services or not, the creation of these companies helps to normalize the discussion about sex, sexual pleasure and health.
So on the one hand, we’re moving in leaps and bounds in this space, but on the other hand, the reliance on social media that exists for companies and individuals today poses a problem. For those in the sex sphere to survive, better yet thrive, they rely heavily on platforms such as Instagram and Facebook to raise awareness. These platforms are where the masses converge daily to connect, discover, learn and buy. In fact many people get their sex education from Instagram accounts and some erotic artists have managed to make a living from sales through their Instagram alone. Never has there been a time where it’s possible to reach so many, instantly.
Image: Chelsea Shaw
The opportunity is incredible but the problem with this is the rise of censorship that we’ve seen in the past 6 months as social media companies try to get their heads around how to handle this ballooning of open sexual expression. We’re moving towards more sexual freedom but facing giant roadblocks in getting the message out.
Instagram, which is undoubtedly the most popular social media platform today, recently changed its algorithm to clamp down on accounts that post what it deems to be ”sexually inappropriate” content. This could be a post of a watercolor featuring lovers, an image of a female nipple, a post about sexual health from organizations like Planned Parenthood or a condom company trying to spread the message that safe sex is important. This isn’t pornography, it’s simply sexual expression and important messaging.
Even Tumblr, which was once known as a safe haven for adult content and marginalized groups to learn, view and communicate, has banned adult content from its platform, and Google and Amazon’s algorithms similarly target sex positive content in a negative way. These companies don’t have nuanced algorithms which can filter the illegal sexual content from the sex positive messaging so their current solution is to eradicate it all, which of course is damaging and makes us wonder if we’re time traveling back 50 years.
So where do we go from here and what does the future of sexual wellness look like? I’m still waiting for that crystal ball but I think our collective voices around sexual empowerment and education are stronger and much more determined than censorship. For both my daughter and for my son, I want a future where female nipples and messages of safe sex are not considered more offensive than guns and violence.
Image: Kimberley Manning
Creators To Watch In The Sexual Wellness Space
There are so many amazing artists and creators in this space, we have hundreds on our website so it is very hard to choose just a few to highlight but here we go!
Chelsea Shaw – www.houseoftheodora.com/chelsea-shaw
Chelsea Shaw, is a Toronto artist. Her illustrations and paintings present a powerful commentary on consensual sex & confidence.
Sophia Wallace – www.houseoftheodora.com/sophia-wallace
Sophia is a conceptual artist whose project “CLITERACY” attempts to educate on all things clitoris.
Kim Manning – www.houseoftheodora.com/kimberley-manning
Kim is an Australian artist who paints lovers in watercolors. She takes us at our most intimate and transports us to a place of intense erotic beauty.