For the arts section this week, I profiled cartoonist Erika Moen about her new sex ed/sex toy review site Oh Joy Sex Toy, which is both totally delightful and very NSFW. We talked for about an hour, and I ended up with a ton of great material that I didn't have room to put in the print article. Here's Erika explaining how and why she came up with the idea for Oh Joy Sex Toy.
Mercury: Can you explain how the website Oh Joy Sex Toy came about?
ERIKA MOEN: We’re gonna go back in time 9 years. I’m a sophomore in college. I’m taking a life drawing class where you get to do a project of your choosing that involves bodies. So I drew this comic called Girl Fuck. It’s an introduction to how and why two cisgender [women] would have sex with each other. Because I was totally out, I had a girlfriend, and people would always come up and ask me really inappropriate questions about us.
When strangers ask you questions like that, you’re totally within your rights to say fuck off—but nobody learns anything when they ask a question and are told to fuck off. Girl Fuck was my way of giving a friendly explanation. Those questions are coming from ignorance—they really don’t know. So I explained "This is why lesbians may want to incorporate dildos, and it doesn't necessarily mean they want a flesh and blood penis." "This is how people can be sexually fulfilled without penis-in-vagina intercourse." Super basic.
Now we’re gonna go forward a year. I meet my future husband, Matthew. He loves Girl Fuck. He says, "You need to do more comics like that. You have an ability to talk about sex and issues around sex in a really friendly way. You should do more comics about sex and sex toys."
I try to incorporate it into DAR, my autobio comic, but this whole time, Matt has literally, for eight years, been telling me, "you need to do sex ed."
So I finish up DAR, and I wanted to take a break from everything I’ve done before, so I do a fictional book with Jeff Parker called Bucko. Then last year, 2012, I’m like, this is it, I’m ready to get down and do a story that’s really important to me. And by a "story," I mean, I want to tell teens how to be sexually active safely. I want to tell them about sex, I want to tell them how not to get pregnant , I want to tell them what consent is. I think a lot of them don’t even know how to ask for consent. As a man, you’re supposed to pursue, as a woman, you’re not supposed to [hurt people's] feelings. It is a recipe for disaster. So I spent all of 2012 cranking away on my manuscript for teaching teens how to be sexually active safely. I did this for about 9 months, and then I completely burned out. I have three chapters left. I needed a break.
It was perfect timing though, because I was on a reality show! The reason I went on Strip Search was because I wanted to meet Robert Khoo, the [business manager] behind Penny Arcade. And I just looked at him and was like, "How do I make money? How do I not let the internet forget I exist while I work on this book?"
I wish I had recorded what he told me, but the essence of it was, "Give your audience what they want." My audience, we had determined, was the dick and vagina audience. That is my brand. And that was the sprouting of Oh Joy Sex Toy. I’m gonna give my audience what they want, which is me talking about sex.
When I say "sex," I don’t mean genitals slamming against each other. I mean the world of erotica—sex clubs, strip clubs, anything that has to do with sensuality, and sexuality, and boners.
So how did you become someone who is comfortable talking about butt plugs on the internet?
Let’s go back to childhood. I grew up in an extremely sex-negative household. I didn’t know it at the time, but a lot of the family members who raised me were sexually assaulted. And it’s the whole gamut—spouses, strangers, gang rape, date rape. That had a huge impact on [how I was taught] to look at sex, and look at men. I was taught that, first of all, your virginity is a gift that you give to your husband on your wedding night. Sex is this chore you have to do to keep your husband from leaving you. You have to go in for a pap smear, you have to fuck your husband, it’s just something you do. On top of that, I was pretty explicitly taught that men cannot help themselves, and that all men have these bestial natures, that if they have the chance, they will assault. So I grew up thinking sex was horrible and men are monsters, just a lot of fear around all that.
I know a lot of people have memories of touching themselves when they were little kids. I did start to feel horny, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I knew you were supposed to shove something down there, right? Do something? Shove some hot dry fingers in there? That didn’t feel good.
So I around the time I was a sophomore, maybe a junior, 16-17, I started talking to my friends, asking them how this sort of thing worked. My very best friend and I—she was kind of secretly my girlfriend, but I didn’t really know it at the time—would go into a sex store a few blocks from my high school, and it was well lit, bright and inviting, staffed with queer-looking women, and they would answer our questions, and they were so friendly, and so helpful. That was really the genesis for [learning that sex could be] friendly and playful, and talking about pleasure. Because pleasure had never been mentioned when I was younger.
[That's where] I got my first vibrator. It was the Silver Bullet, it cost $9.95, and I took it home in a brown paper bag and just put it in the bottom drawer of my bureau. And so one night I took it out and touched it to my labia, it wasn’t even the full clit, it was just the outer labes. And I had my first orgasm. And that was the first time where I was just flooded with love. I’m not one of those girls that had a bad body image, I wasn’t worried about my weight or anything—I just never thought about my body, it was just something that took me from place to place, like a car. And that was the first time I really loved my body. And that was amazing, it was transforming.
So, from then on, I started talking with my friends more and more about sex, and learning about it, because suddenly sex was pleasure, sex was about you feeling good and positive and your body doing amazing things, and just magical. And then, going into college, I started doing a lot more comics talking about sex, and my relationship to sex and sexuality and love and having relationships with people. Everything I do today is very much in reaction against the way I was raised. The way I was raised may have been very extreme, many people have a healthier knowledge of sex from a younger age, but there are plenty of fucking people who didn’t. People are so ignorant about consent, about their bodies.
My comics are a reaction against rape culture, if you get down to it. there are a lot of people out there who need to hear that sex is friendly, and you get to do it in a way that makes you feel good. I think it’s important that they hear that it’s friendly and it’s funny. Hilarious things happen during sex, it’s not all just super serious "fuck me as hard as you can." It’s friendly and its fun. Sex can be whatever you want it to be, I just want people to know that.