Eloise and I met at Aloha, a summer camp for girls we both attended for many years. On a beautiful lake in the mountains of Vermont, Aloha is a community that provides a safe and supportive place for young women to explore, take risks, and reach their fullest potentials—goals not too different from those of the Lips community.

Her message sparked an entire conversation about art and its healing power for many of the issues facing womxn in our society. Then, Eloise asked if she could share some of her own art with me… @eloiseart66. 

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lil sneak peak of my skeleton piece:)

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Oh, and Eloise is 17.

Artist Statement: Art is a bridge to my inner life. When I am connecting lines, drawing, shading, and adding contouring and unexpected colors, I am revealing (to myself and others) the landscape of my mind. I like to paint because paint is malleable and expressive and untethered, able to capture in thicks and thins my own rapid flow of thoughts and feelings. Words, for me, are too slow, too flimsy, too endowed with other people’s meanings. Paint gives me access to a liminal space, before words, where i don’t have to translate or explain or plan. It’s pure freedom. I find beauty in the cacophony and complexity of the world I inhabit, and I make art about that complex, sometimes uncomfortable world. Through art, I want to tell the truth, a truth, my truth. I want to open up conversation and dialogue—not shut it down. I want to make work that invites contemplation, slow reading, no easy answers, patience—even when the art itself is impatiently demanding discussion. I want to express something real and profound about who I am and what I value. I make art to be seen and understood.

As an antidote to limiting societal expectations, I wanted to create an image of a young woman as poised, powerful, and free. She is looking ahead, unashamed, breasts bared, and in control of her choices… As an artist, I am fascinated by the question of intention: who gets to decide what a work means? Does the work mean what I intend it to mean or is is about how others perceive it? If this work had been made by a man, or presented in a different context, could it be perceived as objectification – the very force I am trying to fight? Would it be censored on social media?

My intent with my art is to capture exactly where I am. I am in between childhood and adulthood, trying to discover who I am and how I fit in the world. I am inundated with messages that tell me how to look, what to say, how to behave, what to want. I am, like many in my generation, particularly adept at creating identities, designed to be liked and shared. I reproduce these identities so often and effortlessly that sometimes it’s hard to hold on to the messier, more nuanced versions of myself.

This piece is a social commentary on the sexualization of the young female body. Whose nipples are allowed to be shown? Why is it that male nipples are not sexual and female nipples are? In the foreground, I present myself as topless next to a teenage boy who is also topless. I have cut out his nipples – now censored with a black bar – and pasted them over my own, as a gesture of protest. The images from magazines collaged in the background provide popular context: women are sexual objects and men are dimensional people.

In this series of works [@eloiseart66], I draw and paint portraits in a variety of media to wrestle with ideas about feminity and sexuality, strength and vulnerability, authenticity and performance. I use mark, gesture, expression, and color to endow my subjects with emotions that society tells me not to express: anger, fear, vulnerability, strength, humor and lust. I  want the world to elicit something visceral in the viewer: a feeling, an idea, a conversation, a fear, a dream. I see each work as a small act of resistance against he ways in which the media presents young women as archetypes rather than as thoughtful, complicated individuals whose stories have something to teach us about what makes us human. Together, the works form a collective portrait of what it feels like to be an unapologetic, empowered teenage girl in 2019. It’s complex and beautiful and true.

In this piece, I use charcoal to express a state of mind at a moment in time. The figure is in motion: confident, seductive, and free, and at the same time, turning away, scared and covering her body. The detailed, cushy chair she sits on anchors her in the present.
This image represents a state of mind I often find myself in. Empowered by sexuality, but also simultaneously targeted and vulnerable.

This is Von, The Feminist Artist Making Music Using Orgasms

When I first started introducing myself as an artist involved in sex tech, the most frequent response was confusion. I started making music with my own orgasm wave patterns a little over a year ago as a way to de-stigmatize masturbation, pleasure, women’s health and so many things in-between. Using Lioness’ bluetooth vibrator I could extract my own orgasm wave forms and input them into my own wavetable oscillator to make sounds. Ever since I’ve been putting out music with orgasm bass lines, synth riffs and melodies with the hope of creating space to have conversations that didn’t exist within my public school’s non existent sex ed program. Being from a traditional suburb I was met with a myriad of opinions. Some of disgust, some thinking it was really cool, but most confused about how my mission as an artist was feasible. I was told about how these advancements in tech would hurt human connection, how they would force us to become more isolated, how the ability to get the job done on our own would result in no desire to add others to the equation: how could music made with a vibrator do anything to help real people talk to each other about sex?

Advancements in tech have always been met with backlash. The same way we’ve been told cell phones killed dating is what was said of cars ruining the chivalry of having to ring the doorbell. What we blame sex toys for today is what we’ll blame another invention for years later. I was 13 during Tumblr’s prime. In 7th grade I felt more seen by strangers on the web than most of my family, friends, teammates, etc. (as did most 13 year old girls in 2010). For me personally, the claim that the internet, or any advancements in tech for that matter, diluted relationships has always been a cop out. Besides being told that the concept itself of making music from orgasms to promote sex positivity doesn’t make sense, the response I’ve gotten from mostly crusty white dudes at record labels has been that it’s too many contradicting identities: you can’t be an “artist”, an “activist” and a “woman in tech” all at once – it’s too much of a cluster fuck.

The time has never been worse for femme creators to gain visbility. Words pertaining to female bodied genitalia are getting flagged, trans bodies are being deemed “against community guidelines”, tumblr banned porn, sex tech companies are unable to run promotions on facebook all while erectile disfunction ads cover the subways. Male artists are posting videos glamorizing rape, songs about dicks face zero flack for “obscenity” and birth control for men has yet to be approved because of potential “mood swings”. Yet the need to combat these issues, both within the communities that feel the importance and within those that do not, has collectively mustered up a big enough fuck you to do it anyways. Whether it be through CGI, animation, tech initiatives, fitbit vibrators, IGTV interviews, podcasts or newsletters, there are so many people on the internet fighting to make space for too many overdue conversations.

They are artists, they are activists, they are womxn in tech. They are prevailing despite every systemic obstacle put in place to make it impossible to do so.

These experiments in the hyper real parameters of the internet not only create existential safe havens but also force us to confront tangible realities, as ugly as they may be. 

Salty, a 100% independently run newsletter highlighting the voices of women, trans and non binary folk, got their account removed by Instagram last year after outing a well known male artist as an abuser. Salty gave victims a space to tell their stories, express their outrage and garner media attention that was being ignored at larger publications. Despite losing access to their account, having multiple editorial covers flagged, content removed and fighting to fund itself entirely by its community, Salty has over 1500 loyal monthly subscribers. Salty’s created a platform to tell stories about things so many experience but so few spaces allow. Alison Falk, founder of Women in Technology Pittsburg and community manager of Women of Sex Tech, uses her background as a software developer to combat tech gentrification and lack of inclusivity. She started Sex Tech Space, a newsletter highlighting womxn in sex tech as well as information from experts about advancements in tech that should be accessible and distributed to the masses but isn’t (ie. Deep fake, removing digital footprints etc.).

Trashy Muse, the collective behind the world’s first virtual avatar fashion show, is changing the way we practice sustainability in fashion and design. Sarah Nicole Francis is not only making some of the craziest CGI art on the internet (including work for Brooke Candy, Rico Nasty, Solange, Boiler Room, Pornhub etc.) but is also the designer of 000sportswear, a gender fluid ready to wear clothing line. Carol Civre, Shani Banerjee, Ines Alpha, Guisy Amoroso, Nathalie Nguyen, @exotic.cancer, @3rd_eyechakra, @stifflog and SO many more are deliberately overlooking the limitations of the physical world to bring seemingly non existent realities to life. Not only are all of those contradicting identities achievable, but they’re already abundant. These communities of programmers, innovators, CGI artists, animators etc. all push the boundaries of perceived constraints.

Their work challenges the ways we contextualize gender, sexuality, physicality, etc. by experimenting in hyper real environments – all rewriting the rules of the internet by directly going up against the current rules themselves. 

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moody . . 📸 @petermccain @waifmagazine

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Similarly to how I felt as a 13 year old Halsey stan with purple hair and too many I <3 Boobies Hot Topic bracelets, for most of my adult life I’ve felt more myself in spaces on the internet than spaces IRL. Dissimilarly to the points made about how these indulgences would ruin my real life relationships and social skills, my interactions with peers, partners etc. have only grown deeper, more communicative, and honest due to being a part of these internet communities. It’s changed the way I vocalize what I want with partners. Vibrators have not only made me feel self sufficient, but also completely elevated what’s possible with a partner. Bringing vibrators and sex toys into the conversation have forced male partners to swallow their ego and understand that the way each body feels pleasure is different, and therefore having to adapt/attune isn’t a knock to one’s ability/performance.

Sharing podcasts/newsletters with friends has changed the way we talk to each other about sex, whether it be while confiding, asking for advice, sharing experiences or combatting how to talk about our queer identities within mostly straight peer groups. Having internet pen pals has tested my ability to be empathetic when interactions are safe guarded by a screen. It’s changed my standards for relationships IRL, sexually and platonically. It’s changed the way I view my body, my boundaries and my fluidity. Having more access to learning about coding has changed my confidence in conversations about tech. Being apart of communities where womxn are the experts has changed my awareness of my own abilities in music production. Before I would rarely speak up in rooms full of dude beat makers, now I lead the info sessions. All due to the artists/activists/visionaries who manipulate abstract physicalities, genders and sexualities to change the standard for representation.

In a reality where everything is categorized into binaries, the art tech communities on the internet make space for all that exists in between – highlighting the gray areas and creating characters, collectives, products etc. to live and thrive within them.

Corporate brands will and have already begun to catch on. From Instagram filters to sell charcoal toothpaste to Lil Miquela’s CGI queer baiting, we’re taught to stay fearful of the things we don’t understand until enough validation is given to those things for corporate entities to deem them fiscally valuable (and therefore most likely problematically execute).

How can music made with orgasms do anything to help real people talk about sex? How can hyper real displays of sexuality do anything to combat stigmas about bodies? How can more women in tech promote inclusivity in corporate spaces? How can more femme artists learning how to code destroy the illusion of so many barriers to entry?

The reality: in the past decade they already overwhelmingly have. While another dude in a suit ponders the questions, pitches a half assed VR marketing campaign and/or rewrites the history of these art forms to exclude the femmes that spearheaded then, these communities will continue to flourish with the odds entirely not in their favor – in comradery and abundance, entering the new decade with unlimited space on the web to claim. 

Be sure to follow Von on Instagram @vonmusic

Why I Love Sex Work

I can still remember when I was little and learned what a Playboy Bunny was. The instant I found out, I decided that was what I wanted to be. Not to my surprise, my mom encouraged me to do it. I did not become a Playboy Bunny, but I did become a sex worker. 

Today, so many people have negative views and opinions around sex work, but they don’t have negative views of any other job that requires physical labor. We have over sexualized everything, to the point that using the body for actual sexual acts is bad, but in every other situation it is okay. 

People get into sex work for a variety of reasons, but I got into it because of my love for it. For most of my life I was shamed for my body, “why are your boobs so out there?” “You are getting fat.” and a whole slew of other comments.

With sex work I got to use every part of my body to please others and make them happy, which in turn made me happy. 

Before I did the work myself, I had a romanticized version of what it could look like from TV shows and movies such as Pretty Woman. But the reality of my experience is simple – sex work gave me exactly what I wanted and needed at that time in my life.

As I came to do the work, I developed a true, honest love for it. 

For me, sex work fulfilled that age-old sentiment: “Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.” I love people, I love myself, and I love making people feel good, in every way, emotionally, physically, and mentally. Sex work allowed me to do that. 

The power to be comfortable in your body, to be confident in it and what it can do, not just for you and others, is powerful. Sex work was like a super power for me. It gave me the power to step into who I was, what I believed in and do work I loved and respected.

Sex work allowed me to push away the negative views and stereotypes imposed on my body. 

I can’t think of another work situation where I had as much control and power as I did as a sex worker. With a client, I set the terms – say yes or no, explain what I wanted from them, and what I was comfortable with. Whether it was camming and telling people no, I’m not going to do that on camera, or in real life creating boundaries with sugar daddies on when I would play and how I would play, and even in the most basic way of setting my prices, I had control.

I made the rules and people either abided by them or that was the end. In traditional workplaces, it’s usually your boss’s way or the highway. In the corporate world, your body is covered in a shroud of shame and disgust.

Sex work throws all of those archaic points of view out the window and empowers people to openly communicate their needs and desires. 

Sex work celebrates the human body. Sex work invigorates the senses. Sex work creates a space for people to be more open than they may be in other parts of their life. Sex work gives comfort to people. Sex work allows people to heal from hurt. Sex work gives people a release. Sex work is a livelihood. Sex work is respectable. 

Sex workers are people. Sex workers deserve respect. Sex workers lives matter. Sex worker rights are human rights. Sex workers do things that not everyone is emotionally capable or willing to do. Sex workers are some of the most honest people. Sex workers are activists. Sex workers are passionate. Sex workers are human. 

Submitted by Anonymous 

Featured artwork by Austin Towns (Sleazy)

The Bisexual Umbrella

Guest post by Lindsay Michelle @lifeoflindsaym // Sex Ed and The City
The term “bisexual umbrella” has been floating around for quite some time now (No pun intended). This can be confusing to some folks….so let’s clear it up!

It is unclear who coined the term or created the graphics for the bisexual umbrella, but a possible origin is Tumblr. The bisexual umbrella is a phrase to encompass non-monosexual identities and attractions. These include many different orientations and identities such as pansexual, queer, bi-curious, heteroflexible, biromantic, demisexual, and polyromantic. Side note: this list above by no means encompasses all of the different identities that fall under the umbrella. Gender and sexual expression are just that — expression. Which means the freedom to choose labels (or lack of) that feel comfortable and fitting to them.

Positive and negative responses to the umbrella have made the graphic more complex in its meaning and delivery. For some, the umbrella provides a source of cohesion, understanding, and unity. Unity of the different communities and identities provides a safe space underneath the umbrella from the rain of ignorance and bigotry. For others, the clumping of different identities into one overarching term can provide a sense of erasure. This erasure unintentionally creates harm and confusion rather than the intended purpose of visibility.

Here are definitions of some of the terms identified under the umbrella. Note: there is truly no universally accepted definition of any gender identity or sexual orientation. That all depends on the individual.

Pansexual: A sexual desire or attraction that is not limited to people of a particular gender identity or sexual orientation. Folks say that this term sometimes “overlaps” with bisexual as it mentions being attracted to at least two genders.

Queer: A word sometimes used to refer to folks with a non-heterosexual orientation. Queer can be placed under the umbrella because it in itself is an umbrella term to define non-heterosexuality and cis-genderdness.

Bi-curious: A folk interested in having a same-gender sexual experience, which would fit underneath the bisexual umbrella.

Heteroflexible: A word used to describe situational homosexual behavior despite a primarily heterosexual orientation. This word is controversial as some folks who identify as bisexual feel invalidated.

Biromantic: A folk who is romantically attracted to two or more genders. They may seek affection and companionship, but may not necessarily be sexually attracted to their partners. Sometimes the phrase “sexual orientation” is misleading due to the word sex in the title. However, they still seek attraction more emotionally.

Demisexual: A word used to describe someone who does not experience sexual attraction unless there is an emotional attraction with a potential partner. This word can encompass attraction to any gender, as to why it may fit under the umbrella.

Polyromantic: A folk who is romantically attracted to more than one person at a time. They are not the same as bi or poly romantic, however, someone who identifies as polyromatic can identify as pansexual so it has the potential to fit under the umbrella.

Ultimately, the bisexual umbrella has the potential to unite those of otherwise marginalized groups within the LGBTQ+ community. However, the umbrella also has the potential OF marginalizing different communities due to its almost “exclusive” and “over encompassing” nature.

Sources: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15299716.2017.1297145

Meet Our Community Manager Val

Hi! My name is Val, and I am Community Manager at Lips. I am also a feminist filmmaker, writer, and graduate of Harvard College Class of 2019.

me 🙂

College can be an extremely high-pressure environment for young adults. Everyone faces pressure to do well in school, look good, stay fit, and, all the while, remain happy. For me, it was hard not to constantly compare myself to others, making it extremely hard to recognize my own worth and feel satisfied in my own body. By the end of freshman year, I found myself struggling to maintain any kind of positive self-image.

My sophomore year rolled around and I decided to enroll in a course that covered many notable works of social and political theory. It was in that course where I first read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, which would be one of the most thought-provoking and inspiring books I read in college. After that, I went on to study and write papers on bell hooks, Nancy Fraser, and, one of my favorites, the radical feminist collective that started the influential women’s health guidebook, Our Bodies, Ourselves. Energized by the history of women’s movements and theories of liberation, I began to see how important it was for women to continue to fight for our freedom from patriarchal forces that try to control what we do with our bodies—a fight even more relevant and necessary today.

Courtesy of the NY Times

By the time I reached my senior year, I had embraced an intersectional, sex-positive feminism that really felt like it had changed the way I viewed the world around me. It gave me a newfound confidence as well as a purpose—to help the people around me find that confidence in themselves. When it came time to choose a topic for my senior thesis, I wanted to be bold, so I decided to write about pornography and the feminist ethical debates that have surrounded the industry for decades. As part of my research, I landed a position behind the camera of a queer and feminist porn film. Thus, my scholarly curiosity manifested into an incredibly unique artistic experience, which only further deepened my passion and enthusiasm for the subject. In the library, I studied how feminists had drawn theories of gender inequality from pornography. On set, I got to experience how feminists could use pornography as a site for gender and sexual exploration and, ultimately, shameless celebration.

A still from the first film I worked on, “Luminous Lust.” Photography by Michael Ellsberg.

After my thesis was complete, I went on to produce a second film called “The Way We Are”—which is currently in post-production—and represents my interpretation of one young woman shamelessly celebrating her own sexuality.

For me, feminist theory and erotic film are my beacons of hope. I have experienced firsthand the healing power of surrounding oneself with words, images, and people that make you feel recognized, beautiful, and worthy. That is why I love Lips. I wish that during some of those hard times in college, I could have opened up my Lips app and scrolled through the feed of incredible art, photographs, poems, and words of wisdom that our community members share every day with the intention of freely expressing themselves and uplifting each other. And so, as Community Manager, I am determined to help Lips reach as many people as possible so that we can continue to spread the kind of positivity that can significantly change people’s lives for the better.