Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
A: I've always made zines. As a kid I would make DIY magazines where I interviewed our family pets and gave updates on household happenings. Then when I was in college I started to become fascinated by sex-positivity. I had had some bad experiences with sex, and I was really under-informed about sexuality. So, in an attempt to get over my anxieties and embarrassment about sex, and to learn more about it, I started reading about it online — a lot. I read about sex-positivity, sex education, and gender equality, and took some college classes on human sexuality and LGBT topics.
Q: When, where, and why did you start the Sex Letters zine?
A: I started this zine in in Boston in 2013 as a part of a project called the Sex Letters Project, which aims to share honest perspectives on sexuality in a way that is actually relevant to people's lives. The project started as a blog where I asked people to write a letter to their teenage self saying everything they wish they knew about sex as a teenager. There was so much that I wish I had known about sex as a teenager and it got me thinking about all the stuff my high school's sex education was missing. I started to think that maybe I would want to write my own sex ed curriculum that addressed real life concerns. But I didn't think it would make sense to base it just on what I would have benefited from knowing as a teenager — that would leave out topics that were important to others. So I thought that, rather than polling people about what should go into a curriculum, I would get more thoughtful and specific answers if I asked people what they wished they had known. I figured I might as well post those submissions on a blog in the meantime so people could benefit from the information and sentiments. I never ended up making the curriculum, but the project grew into a blog full of diverse letters, and the zine.
A: I wish I knew that whether or not I had sex was completely my choice — and that whatever I chose was okay. At the time, I was torn between religious beliefs that told me that sex before marriage was a sin, and a boyfriend who told me that we would essentially just be friends if we didn't have sex. There was very little room for me to think about what I wanted sexually. I basically was just trying not to go to hell, and not to lose my boyfriend.
Another thing I wish I knew is that sex can be whatever I want it to be. I was always worried about what my partner wanted it to be like, and I figured that was probably something like porn. I wish I knew that it was okay for me to be myself completely during sex, including being playful and awkward. And that people who like me generally want me to act like me when we're having sex.
I also wish I knew that polyamory was an option. I never understood why physical intimacy could only between me and one person. Whenever I brought this up with friends, they would say that I was being unrealistic and that I would be way too jealous if I actually tried it. But then, after years of imagining the possibility of dating multiple people and being shut down by anyone I mentioned it to, someone finally told me about polyamory. And I was so relieved and grateful that the relationship structure that felt right for me was a real option. I was like, "You mean in the modern day? You mean in the US? In New England? Like, more than just a few people in a commune somewhere in the woods?" I was skeptical at first since people always told me it didn't exist, but I was SO happy when I found that it did.
Q: What misconceptions did you have about sex as a teenager?
A: I had so many misconceptions and so little accurate information! One thing is that I thought that the testicles were separate, not together in one sack, because I had always heard them talked about in the plural. I was really surprised when I saw them in the light of day for the first time.
Q: Are there any embarrassing stories that happened because you didn't have enough knowledge about sex?
A: I didn't know what to do to pleasure a penis, and my friend told me to "just move it up and down," which I interpreted to mean like how a light switch moves up and down, like a lever. So I did hand jobs wrong for a while. I still get a little embarrassed when I think I about it, but then I remember that my boyfriend at the time had no idea how to touch my vulva in a way that was pleasurable for me, so we're even.