Guess who we got to talk to this month?! Erika Moen, that’s who. You may know her as the artist behind Dar: A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary, or you might remember her from GirlFuck, or more recently, Bucko. Or even more recently, Penny Arcade’s internet reality series Strip Search, where she famously said the phrase “butt virginity” to a journalist from Kotaku while mic-ed up and on camera, thus solidifying her place as one of my heros. But most most recently, you might know her from Oh Joy, Sex Toy, the immensely popular, super queer sex toy review webcomic. Since Moen draws and writes frankly on the topic of touching yourself, sexuality, queer identity and sex education, we thought she would be perfect to catch up with during Masturbation Month. Thanks to Erika for taking some time (two hours!) out of her day to Skype with me! Please note that this interview was edited for length, flow and that moment where my cat jumped on my shoulder and started biting my hand.
You’re probably super busy, so let’s jump right in. Walk us through concept to creation of Oh Joy, Sex Toy.
It’s actually been kind of eight years coming – coming! Haha. I did this comic called “GirlFuck” from when I very much identified as a lesbian and I was totally wrapped up in my identity as a lesbian – I wasn’t attracted to cisgender men at all. So I did this little comic called “GirlFuck” to explain some of the very most fundamental basics of how cisgender women have sex [with each other], and why they have sex and why that counts. At the time I was in my first real relationship with my first true love and I would get strangers on the street coming up and just asking super inappropriate questions. But sometimes people are asking because they genuinely don’t know. Even if it is coming from ignorance, I want people to know better, I want people to know “how does a lesbian have sex? How does that work? Penis? How?”
And from the get go, my now-husband Matthew was like “That GirlFuck is great, you need to do more comics like that” and I was like “Yeah, yeah, I know, I know, I will.” And then in 2012 I just finished the webcomic “Bucko” which was written by Jeff Parker and I. After that, I spent all of 2012 just working on this sex ed book. I wrote 38,000 words and I only have like 3 chapters left to cover. And I finally hit a wall and I was like “These three chapters, I can cover this, but when I think about it, my mind is blank.” In December 2012 I went on a reality TV show so I took a break to go and be on Strip Search. I got eliminated on episode 19. And the reason why I went on Strip Search: people were like “You’re already an established cartoonist, you don’t need a TV show for that.” I’ve been doing comics since I was 15 years old. I’m turning 30 next month, so literally half of my life I’ve been drawing comics.
Thank you! And I’ve been putting my comics on the internet for over a decade. So why did I go on this reality TV show? One: I really love reality TV. And two: I wanted to meet Robert Khoo, who is the man responsible for turning Penny Arcade into a multimillion dollar business. So when I got eliminated, he gets in the car with me and says “Where do you want to go get dinner?” and I was like “What’s happening?” We just sat there at dinner and we talked and he gave me his insight, his advice. I was saying that I’m working on this sex ed graphic novel, but – if I stick to my schedule – it’s not going to come out until 2015 because I don’t want to fuck it up. When I’m talking about sex ed, I don’t want to give bad information, I don’t want someone to get an STI or unintentionally get pregnant because of my book. I’m going to have it proofread by actual sex educators who do this for reals. So this is my next big thing, this is my magnum opus, but it’s going to be a few years and I don’t know, what do I do in the meantime so the internet doesn’t forget I exist? So Khoo asked me, and this is the most basic question, “Erika, what’s your brand? What’s your audience?”
“I don’t know, dicks and vaginas? My audience is dicks and vaginas.”
He’s like “You need to give your audience what they want and you need to provide it to them at every avenue.”
It was during that dinner that I realized I need to be putting comics out there that are talking about sex right now. I’m still going to do my great big magnum opus of a teen sex ed book. I’m hoping I can re-start that up later this year, but for right now I need to just start talking to my audience about sex and make that happen now, and that’s where Oh Joy, Sex Toy comes from. I love sex. I love everything that has to do with sex. It’s an amazing topic to me because sex isn’t just pushing your genitals against other people’s genitals but also, “What turns you on? Who are the people who turn you on?” There’s the industry around sex, there’s fetish stuff – what’s the difference between attraction and fetish? And then there’s all the shame that comes with sex. You’re supposed to be sexually available, you are supposed to be having all this sex but also you’re supposed to be ashamed of it, you’re not supposed to want it or have it and there’s this constant conflict about it and that is all fascinating to me.
I care about that stuff. I want people to have healthy, happy sex lives. I want to talk to people about that. Oh Joy, Sex Toy, which was named by my friend Amy T. Falcone, is not just a review of products, it’s a platform for me to talk about all of this stuff that I want to talk about. I have some sex ed articles that I wrote for my book and I’m going to incorporate them. I want to do some comics that talk about consent and how consent works in a human, approachable way. I want to make a difference in how people, especially young people, approach sex.
Cool. I actually want to talk a bit about sex education and your knowledge of sex ed. I’m wondering how you went around piecing your information together. What have you learned and what are your opinions about sex ed as a whole in your society from that experience?
As a kid, my mom gave me some really fucked information about sex and I grew up under the belief that sex was just something, literally, that you have to do to keep your husband from leaving you. My sex ed at the beginning was fucked up, pretty unhealthy, and pretty “nothing good can come of this.” And that’s why it’s so important for me to talk to people about sex and say “no, it can actually be really healthy and happy and positive.”
The state of our sex ed in schools is appalling. And there’s all these teenagers that don’t have the vocabulary to talk about sex, and they are getting STIs, they are getting pregnant, they are having nonconsensual sex because they don’t even know they are supposed to be checking in with their partners to make sure everyone is having a mutually enjoyable time. They don’t even know that if they don’t hear a ‘no’ that doesn’t mean it’s okay. I’m not trying to give a free pass to rapists, but I do think a lot of the teenage and college sexual assault that happens – I don’t think they even realized that’s what they were doing because they don’t know what consensual sex looks like. It breaks my fucking heart.
So what you’re saying is that a better state of education would help to shatter rape culture in this country?
Yes, very much so. Very much so. I think rape culture is a culture of – yes, of misogyny and actively bad things. But in addition to the actively evil people, I also think rape culture comes from ignorance, from not knowing, from not being educated about how to have consensual sex, you know?
What resources have you used to compile your current knowledge?
A lot of personal research. The internet. My introduction to sex, to my own body – my very first orgasm is because of Babeland. They had a location literally two or three blocks away from my school. I went inside and there were no gross pictures, just the toys on display and the staff was all people of varying degrees of being visibly queer, and they were so helpful and kind to me. Of course I asked them the most basic things, but I will always remember this person said “Get sexy with yourself” and that phrase has always stuck with me. They weren’t there just to sell some sex toys. That had a big impact, and I bought my very first vibrator. It was $9.99, a silver bullet and I bought and I took it home and it stayed in my drawer for a few days and then finally I put some batteries in it and I was like “Oh, I don’t know, I guess I’ll just put this right here” and had my very first orgasm. That was because of Babeland! I’m actually going to do a post about that very soon, so! Babeland was monumental. It was my basic building block in learning how my body works and getting educated about stuff. I would say other amazing resources are obviously Scarleteen –I picked up the great big printed version of Scarleteen. It’s brilliant.
Your audience is not just queer people, so you’re bringing these ideas of queer sexuality to people who might not necessarily think of them. For example, using the term “penis havers” in your first Oh Joy, Sex Toy is a very queer idea of sexuality and probably more accurate than what people would usually say. Is this something that was intentional or just rising from your personal perspectives on sex?
Both? I feel that once you become educated or knowledgeable about something – not saying I’m an expert, just saying that you know, I’m continuing to educate myself – it’s kind of impossible not to include them. It’s like learning that the earth revolves around the sun. Do I want to include that in my writing or not? Well, yeah! I’m not going to say the sun revolves around the earth. I’m always so worried I’m going to fuck up my wording. Today, the discourse on gender has really blossomed so much more than I was aware of eight years ago when I did GirlFuck. It’s more nuanced than I had any idea of just even just a couple of years ago. The notion that to have a penis does not define gender, once you know that, you can’t keep talking about gender in terms of body parts. I’m very much trying to keep my comic gender neutral so it’s applicable to as many people as there could possibly be. I’m very active in not saying “men, women, ladies, dudes.” I’m going to talk about toys that are appropriate for body parts. Whatever your gender may be, if you got that body part this review can be for you. I can’t say “this is a toy for men” anymore, I can’t.
Thank you for that. I guess that also answers the all my questions about the Masturbateers. You’ve got a lot of diversity in the Masturbateers, so is it the same kind of thing that once you know, you can’t really unknow?
Yeah! It’s also a reaction to a comic I did for along time that is called DAR! That is autobiographical comic. It was about my life and my life is very white and able-bodied and thin. It’s not intentional, it’s just how it worked out, so my comic is not very diverse and I think honestly DAR! doesn’t pass the Bechdel test. Errr. At least not once Matt comes into it.
As a whole, though, it does!
It does? Okay, good. I don’t know, it’s something that I feel bad about. But the Masturbateers in Oh Joy, Sex Toy are about my opinions. I can inject some diversity into it. I don’t want my work to just be white and cisgender and it’ll never be heterosexual, but it can appear to be heterosexual at times. I just want to have a wide representation of people because the earth is a wide representation of people. I want people to feel comfortable reading this and to see themselves reflected in it, at least once. That’s really something about the Masturbateers, every issue I can do a different Masturbateer and they can be a different race, they can be a different body type, so hopefully at some point everyone would have felt represented at least once. And they are all gender neutral! Their pronouns are “they,” “their,” and “them.”
I’m going to tie this back to Masturbation Month. Do you have any plans to participate in Masturbation Month on your website? Not that it’s not, like, one constant celebration of masturbation.
Indirectly I am, because one of my companies I use for Oh Joy, Sex Toy is called LoveHoney and they are having these special giveaways for Masturbation Month, so I’m reporting about their things on the blog posts.
What does the future of OJST look like? Were you expecting that crazy blow up popularity? You cracked reddit, no one cracks reddit!
I know, right? It was nuts. No, OJST is very much a collaboration between Matthew and myself and it’s our comic together. We did not expect that from the get go. The very first day we launched I think we got something like forty or sixty thousand hits or something?
So sex and sex toys are such a taboo; how do you get people to read and engage with content that discusses sex when they might not have otherwise? What do you think it is about your work that convinces people?
My work is so cute and friendly! I’ve had a good number of people say “listen, this content is not for me, I don’t use sex toys, I’m not into this but I’m reading your comic anyway because I like it.” I just have this ability to connect with people in general, and my work is very accessible. It’s very round, it’s very soft and it’s easy on the eyes. Humor! I try to incorporate a lot of humor into my work so that things that would otherwise be scary are funny, we are all in on the joke, we are not laughing at you, and the fact that you aren’t interested in this or are ignorant about it. No, look here’s a joke you can appreciate and look we are laughing together, isn’t this fun? BUY A HITACHI.
Okay. So now for the fun questions. Three favorite toys, go!
Hitachi wand, obviously. Njoy butt plugs, super fun! Njoy butt plugs are such a small size I can slip that right in and so much fun! Because I started using that one I’m starting to be able to take more.
Do you have a third one? I know, it’s really hard because now there’s only one spot left and you have to choose from so many different good ones.
Can lube count as a toy?
Okay, Pink silicone lube. Two of those I’ve already done comic reviews of so people can read my in-depth thoughts of them there. I talk about this in my comic, but most lubes give me this slightly burning sensation that can become really uncomfortable, I don’t know what it is, but with Pink I don’t feel that. Once I found a lube that didn’t do that I said “this is it, I’ve found my lube for life.”
Awesome! So now I’m going to ask about the “butt virginity” topic.
Oh yeah! I just made a blog post for you, actually. Here, I’m going to send you this link over.
Thank you! Is that the answer to the butt virginity question?
No, no! Let’s talk about it. I’m just saying before I forget.
So, if anyone watches Strip Search they may know you best from your “butt virginity” comment to the Kotaku journalist. In our emails you told me that wasn’t 100% what you were hoping to express. Could you go ahead and tell me what you were hoping to express there? What was the heart behind that comment that you really wanted to get out?
Okay, so, in that episode of Strip Search they were giving us journalists who were going to ask us The Tough Questions and put us on the spot. The challenge was how do you cope with being in a really awkward situation, being asked really inappropriate things. How do you deal under fire? How do you keep your cool? One of the questions that was asked to me right off the bat was “how did you lose your virginity?” And I know the proper response is to be like, “oh, let’s talk about my comics!” Or, “ho ho ho, none of your business!” And in my head, I thought “I can spin this, I can use this as a teaching moment AND you think you are going to make me uncomfortable, but I’ll make you uncomfortable!”
And of course, your answer plays really well in the “dicks and vaginas” crowd.
Right? So, my immediate response was, “Well, which virginity?” and in my head this going to open up a discussion about the concept of virginity, and how it is this outdated concept that it is used to determine the worth of a cisgender woman’s vagina, and preserving your hymen. It’s about when did a penis enter your vagina? I thought in my head that by saying “virginity” and then listing through almost all of them, it would illustrate that sex is not just about a penis going in a vagina. Sex is about your body interacting with another body in a sexual manner. I wanted to show the first time I had an orgasm with someone who was playing with my clit, the first time I had an orgasm because someone played with their tongue on my vulva. The first time, yeah okay, a penis went into my vagina. The first time fingers went in my butt, the first time a dick went in my butt, the first time a strap on went in my vagina y’know? Just to be like, “Listen lady, you think you are asking me a straight-forward question, but it’s not!” But instead it just came out as a list of things that went inside of me at various points in time. I think the sex-positive viewer would have gotten it, I don’t think the casual viewer would have gotten it. It wasn’t educational for those who don’t already know the concepts.
Thank you for that! Last thoughts about masturbation?
You should absolutely do it if you are inclined to feeling sexual stimulation. If you are not, that’s totally cool, I totally respect that – not everybody needs to masturbate, not everybody needs to have sex, whatever makes you happy. If you are inclined towards sexual activity and sexual stimulation, masturbation is healthy, it’s helpful, and it is integral to understanding how your body works, especially if you want to go on and be a partner in sex. You need to know what makes you come. I meet so many young women who have not touched themselves. Not because of no desire or sexual activity, but just because they have not touched themselves and it makes me so sad because you should be acquainted with how your body works, you should know how all of that functions, you know?
You can catch up with Erika Moen too, at her website or at Oh Joy, Sex Toy. You can support the artist by purchasing her merchandise at her Etsy shop or on Shopify, or by donating directly. You can also support the artist’s heart and soul by donating to Planned Parenthood because, as she said, “I’m happy for PP to get cash because they deserve it.”