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.


Party of One

My name is Holander and I was censored by Instagram. We’ve reached the point where it’s almost as common as hipsters in coffee shops. Us femmes are all bonding over having been censored or targeted on IG for owning our sexuality.

My latest single, Party Of One, is a sex positive song about loving yourself and your body, aimed especially at womxn who might have been made to feel that they shouldn’t be proud to love themselves and their bodies.

We filmed a video with our amazing collaborator @m.haight and it was honestly a dream; a living and breathing visual image of what the song means to me— minus actually climaxing in front of my team lol.

I really let loose, geniunely enjoyed myself, and fully gave myself over to the message. Even as we were filming that day, I began to see how this project being in the world was helping me with my own journey of empowerment with sexuality, and would therefore have an impact on others.

We went to promote the video, as we had done multiple times before with other content, and were denied. I literally had no idea why! I was shocked. After looking into it more, we found out that we were denied for being too sexually explicit.

The point of the song was to de-stigmatize femme ‘self love,’ so it was upsetting to be flagged for trying to start a conversation. And to be totally honest, this is a conversation that I felt vulnerable about to begin with. I have just never really put myself out there in that way, discussing topics related to womxn and sex in a public forum where I was leading the conversation. Let’s just say, I was nervous-excited.

The song’s lyrics are 100% clean with the exception of some sexual innuendos/metaphors here and there. I was very vocal about this during the songwriting process— I love subtlety in art, making the listener work a little harder to understand the lyrics and what a song is actually about, rather than being blunt. The video, along those same lines, is also clean and subtle: it only includes images of dancing, cake eating, and balloon popping. We kept it purposely metaphorical.

We appealed, after calming my fear that the video would be taken down entirely if we did. We sent a message explaining that the content of the song and video was not in any way explicit. We told them that the song is about a party for body positivity, and offered to remove the word “masturbation” from the caption.  Still denied. Our previous visual, by the conservative notions of ‘appropriate,’ would be more worthy of being denied. It featured me in a bodysuit in a baby pool but for some reason, my fully clothed self having a dance party and singing “this is my party please myself I’m so alone but I’m so in love with me” was more offensive. Oh the fun of the patriarchal hypocrisy.

I got an automated denial back; the only acknowledgment being that they didn’t care if it was educational. The denial made me feel as if I had done something wrong, and that I had been overly sexually explicit in some way which a) there is absolutely nothing wrong with and b) truly isn’t the case with this video. But mainstream society, as we have come to see, is afraid of womxn with autonomy and influence. It only goes to show the extent to which this fear has gone; that my first instinct was to feel ashamed for something that had made me feel empowered within my body. I couldn’t believe that wearing a short-sleeved shirt and pink shorts and singing metaphorically about loving my body was too extreme for Instagram! Really though, it’s not even what it means for me on a personal level, but what it means for the world, and those more marginalized, that the fear is ingrained to such an extent that even something as innocent as what I did isn’t supportable. Because there are people out there doing more provocative things that are just as, if not more, educational and de-stigmatizing. Owning your sexuality, whatever that may mean, and having poignancy to offer the world aren’t mutually exclusive; sexy dancing and wanting civil liberties/equality to be protected aren’t mutually exclusive. There is no aspect of sexual autonomy, there is no level of too much or too little clothing, there is no display of ones gender, there is no expression of sex-positivity that negates other aspects of who you are.

By @holandermusic

Phoenix Rising

I have PTSD.

Sometimes it feels like my brain is broken, like shards of glass are poking into my skull.

To say this diagnosis sucks would be an understatement, but I am learning it is mine and mine alone to heal.

I am a survivor of assault and domestic violence, and mine is a story of repeated trauma, something that is common in the survivor trajectory.

If I were to make a timeline of ages when my body and/or soul were violated it would go something like this: 5 years old. 17 years old. 18 years old. 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 years old. 26 years old. 28 years old. 29 years old. 31 years old. 32 years old.

27 years of sustained abuse in total.

 Not all of those years are moments of trauma but each of them represents a re-traumatization of sorts, patterns of abuse that I learned and relearned and normalized over the years whether it is was verbal or physical, psychological or spiritual. Boundaries that were crossed by others, or even me because I did not know my worth. Instead I knew I occupied a body that served as a target of objectification, a soul fragmented beyond recognition.

With each of those years I could make a small cross, marking the site as a grave, a way to honor the loss(es) that occurred. Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, writes about this practice of memoriam in her book, Women Who Run with Wolves, empowering each woman to take a look at their lives and offer Descansofor the losses they experienced. She states that every time a boundary is crossed, or a loss is faced, a part of our soul dies a little death. It is with Descanso that we can offer some healing to those parts of our souls that have died yet not been laid to rest, it can ease the ghostly wondering and feelings of deep hopelessness.

It wasn’t until this past summer that I took my own Descanso, laying out my pathway of tiny crosses through the mountains and valleys of my life. What surprised me was how vividly the memories came flooding back- the first time he hit me, the way it felt when I fell to the cold wooden floor, the sound his fist made when it met my jaw, the ringing in my ear for days after. I also remembered the times I called out for help. The medical center at my university that simply told me to apply ice and sent me on my way, never once making a note in my chart that I was being abused by a fellow student. The police department on my campus looking at my arm- black and blue- from where he last attacked me, only to say it wasn’t part of their jurisdiction and that I should file for a protective order with the city. The calls I made to my housing department, begging for a transfer or at least a police officer to patrol more because my ex-boyfriend was repeatedly violating the protective order and stalking me and my young daughter. I remember dropping to the floor when he was outside my apartment, hoping that he couldn’t hear me breathing and muffling my daughter from talking- “let’s play the quiet game,” I would say, trying to make a game out of it knowing all too well that at any moment he could break in and abuse me or worse. The time I ended a toxic relationship and my safety was once again threatened by a man I thought I could trust- how deep that deception ran as he stood over me and said, “I will ruin you.”

Along my Descanso I could build a mausoleum for the time I sustained nine months in 2011/12 of being stalked by my ex, a then Ph.D. candidate in one of the country’s best public intuitions in the world.  At the time I was an undergraduate single parent on welfare nearing the end of my degree. Dropping out would have been the easier option but I felt a dutiful need to do all that I could to pull my life forward for myself and my daughter. So, I chose to commit a form of soul suicide, internalizing the trauma and abuse, relying on over the counter sleep aids to keep the demons at bay, numbing myself in every way I could so I could simply get through. My abuser was my ex and my neighbor, and he had constant access to me; walking to my car to take my daughter to school or going to the grocery store became a warzone for me. Driving home at night, after my full day of classes and work, with my young daughter in the back of my car, was like setting off a bomb inside my head, the carnage of my trauma and re-traumatization was seeing him watch as my car drove by then praying that he would not come to my door, demanding to be let in. I knew my university would not to help me, I was alone in this battle. Every single day for those nine months I lost a part of myself. At the gates of this mausoleum let it read “Fiat Lux” the motto of my university and hang my honor cords from graduation day over the entrance; a golden symbol marking my academic successes- but also a reminder of how those same cords tied me to a life of trauma.

Put the ghosts to rest, let them find a sanctuary from all this wandering.

As my Descanso comes to an end, the years 2017-2018 can be marked as a mass grave in remembrance to the souls lost, with collective stories sharing a similar narrative of abuse and silencing.

Build on these hollowed grounds a monument that reminds us we suffered together, but we also spoke out together, and we did what we could to shed light on the patterns of abuse.

“#MeToo” could be the marker above the names etched into a cold marble wall, with dates of the abuse honoring when each of our souls died a little.

Lay flowers here, let the space be vibrant with growth and joy, let the tired ghosts find refuge from their aimless wandering, spirits sent adrift for years, with unfinished business. Generations of hurt and sorrow and hiding in the shadows. Rejoice for us. Rejoice in us. But never forget the lessons learned, let this Descansoserve as a beacon of light in the darkness, guiding fragmented souls’ home.

By Melissa Barker – Founder, The Phoenix Project