Crista Anne on #OrgasmQuest–the GV Interview!
Everyone who does any sort of sex education or sex therapy has probably heard from people who have issues with orgasm and/or arousal once they go on antidepressants. It’s a terrible conundrum: Sexual dysfunction can itself be an effect of––even diagnostic for––depression, but the treatment for that depression alters brain chemistry and often results in sexual problems too. Blogger Crista Anne is fighting back! With her project #OrgasmQuest she’s shedding light both on depression and sexual response, and her wise words are being heard in perhaps-suprising places: She was interviewed last week by Dr. Drew, got some love from Cosmo, and of course the usual sex-positive and feminist and lady-culture suspects have talked to her too. Now it’s my turn!
If you don’t know Crista Anne yet, here’s her bio (borrowed from her website, cristaanne.com):
CQ: First of all… congratulations on getting actual substantive press for this! I am heartened not only by OrgasmQuest itself but the fact that at least some people actually get it.
CA: The substantive press is astonishing, the fact that the majority of comments on the pieces are positive is astonishing, the whole shebang has left me speechless more times than I can count. The viral nature of Quest was not by design, I didn’t expect it to leave the waters of my friends and readers. When Rachel Kramer Brussel asked for an interview, I did kermit flail arms across my bed. Even after her article went to the top of City Paper, I didn’t think it would spread.
Now that the press coverage has happened, I’ve had time to process everything, I want to make sure that I acknowledge that a large part of why substantive press coverage happened with Quest is because I’m white, attractive, heteronormative (If you don’t look closely because my partners and I are all really fucking queer) and a Mom talking about *gasp* masturbation. Again, not by design, but #OrgasmQuest is ripe for being clickbait. Still, the fact that the coverage has been so positive is really wonderfully surprising.
CQ: Articles about you call you “brave” and “valiant”. Is that how it feels? What do you make of the fact that people respond that way to #OQ?
CA: I have done brave and valiant things in my life, Quest feels more like me being myself than anything else. Raising hell to get myself on the Dr Drew show, because I suspect (though I do not know that for a fact) they didn’t plan on reaching out to me, then defending myself live on national TV? That was brave. The rest is just what I do.
I appreciate that people feel that way, appreciate it deeply. I am very comfortable talking about this and other sexuality related topics in virtually any forum, but I know that most people are not. I’ve had many messages from people thanking me for giving them a voice, and I take that as an honor. My entire career has involved a large element of people trusting me with their most private thoughts and desires. I take that trust very seriously. While #OrgasmQuest is my story, my experience, if someone feels that I am also speaking for them? I’m proud to do so.
CQ: Have you been in touch with, or heard from, any of the drug companies?
CA: No, that actually had not crossed my mind. I am on amitriptyline and klonopin, if they’d like to cover the costs of my scripts, because I do not have prescription coverage, I’d take that. Medical bills are eating my family alive, to be honest.
CQ: Daily Dot said: “Crista Anne has also received some criticism about #OrgasmQuest, particularly that it inherently propagates the idea that sex can only be enjoyable if both partners reach orgasm.” I know that’s not what you think, but where do you believe this misunderstanding on the part of the commentators comes from?
CA: To start, I take responsibility for a good deal of that misunderstanding. The Carnalcopia podcast (http://www.lifeontheswingset.com/20424/cc013-depression-orgasms-navigating-murky-terrain-mental-health/) and initial #OrgasmQuest post on my site were not clear regarding my views on “goal oriented sex”. I did express frustration and sadness at losing my partnered sex orgasm. While in my mind Quest was always about getting my masturbatory orgasm back, because that’s important to me, I did not make that clear as I was beginning.
Now I feel like I am in a place where I cannot win. I’ve posted clarifications on my site narrowing the scope clearly to “just” masturbatory orgasms, choosing to leave the older posts as is so people can read my growth, see my responding to concerns. Now in interviews I talk about how I find “goal oriented sex” toxic to people with anorgasmia – who cannot orgasm even with proper stimulation – because it is. The line of thought that sex without orgasm is a failure makes people like me feel more broken, hurts their relationships, adds to the stigma. Especially if you are depressed, if you already have huge hurdles accepting that your needs are worthy, and/or are not well practiced speaking about sexual needs with your partner(s).
When I express that, I am in turn attacked that I am feeding into the patriarchal standards that vulva owners shouldn’t expect orgasms or reciprocal pleasure from their partners. I am very careful with my language, making sure to always say that anorgasmic sex can be as wonderful as orgasmic sex, because it can. Not that it is, that it can be. If you are an orgasmic person who is not getting the pleasure you deserve, for I am in the camp that says pleasure should be a birthright, that is a completely different topic. A topic that a majority of my career has been focused on. If you are capable of orgasm and are not having them because lack of proper stimulation for your body, lubrication, comfort, what have you – damn right the focus needs to be on getting you that orgasm.
In the interviews I’ve done, I’ve tried to clarify that to my interviewer, but those parts have often been cut. There are only so many words that can be included in these articles, so I know those parts are taken out because they seem superfluous. So I try and clarify my meaning in comment sections, but those areas are a beast in and of themselves.
As #OrgasmQuest is focused on my personal experiences as a newly anorgasmic person, I’m speaking about and to other anorgasmic people. We’ve not been the focus very often, I’m glad to be changing that.
CQ: In your interview with Cosmo you mention “scary for a woman out there” on the interwebs, and you mention threats. How would you characterize those? Are they sex-negative people threatened by your openness? Trolls and meanies? What about this side of your #OQ openness?
CA: I have been a sexually empowered woman speaking openly on the internet for a very long time, I’ve watched the change in discourse change dramatically. While it has always been scary, while I’ve always gotten threats (death threats, rape threats, corrective rape threats because I’m queer, stalking behavior) the last three to five years the trolling, the threats have gotten so much more intense. The fever pitch has risen dramatically. These threats are becoming action far more often than before. Our laws are behind when it comes to the internet, threats and stalking especially.
Until #OrgasmQuest, even with being the Foundress of Dildology, I have not been a well known name within the sexuality writing/blogging world. That has been by design. Until now I’ve avoided press coverage or really promoting myself out of fear. Fear for myself, fear for my family. Now I feel that what #OrgasmQuest is accomplishing, it’s worth the risks.
Trolls and meanies? I very honestly have no fucks to give there. Some people really enjoy being cruel to others online. Personally I cannot imagine what they get out of that behavior, but *shrug* that doesn’t bother me. Sadly, I’m desensitized to people calling me names. At most I poke fun in return.
I’m getting death and rape threats right now; as I am typing to you, two have rolled in. They’re from people who are threatened by empowered female sexuality, they are from people who believe that I should die because my kids may one day be embarrassed by my actions, from people who believe I should die because I’m queer. Because I openly call myself an intersectional feminist, sex-positive. They’re almost universally trying to put me in my place.
It’s not going to work. This is my place. Yes, some of them do scare me, but that fear only turns into me being louder.
CQ: People are contacting you to share their own stories. You’ve been a sex shop worker and sex educator, so you’ve already talked to many people about sex and their issues with it; how do you think the lack of good information/sex ed has affected the people who relate to your #OQ? And even more than that, what do you want to say about the silences that this society likes to enforce on BOTH sex and depression/other mental health issues?
CA: Forced silence by shaming is a form of violence in my mind. Plain and simple. It is violence committed against vulnerable people and it enrages me. Makes me louder. Makes me more comfortable with the threats because I feel like I’m doing something to fight back.
The lack of comprehensive, pleasure oriented sexual information/education has disastrous consequences for people who relate to Quest. I don’t want to share too much, but one message I received from someone broke my heart, their words will stay with me for the rest of my life. They had an otherwise wonderful relationship that was broken, then ended because they lost the ability to orgasm from the medication they were on. Their partner took their loss of orgasm so personally that they left, and the writer attempted suicide in the wake of that. Oh my stars, I’m tearing up right now talking about their story. There have been other stories I’ve heard across my career that play out similarly. I hurt on their behalf. The lack of education ruins lives, I know that for a fact.
CQ: Our pal the Redhead Bedhead, in her awesome post on sex and depression, says to keep partners in the loop. Sage advice — do you have thoughts, pointers, wisdom to share on this topic?
CA: Redhead Bedhead has been talking about sex and depression longer than I have, I do my best to always point that out because we build on each other’s work. Her writing helped me form my writing, my writing is helping others tell their own stories. It’s wonderful. She and I are very close friends and have a good deal of plans for how we can combine our awesome into really great projects.
My primary partner, Val, is the most glorious human upon this earth. We’ve worked hard on getting to a place where we have absolutely amazing communication on all topics, especially on sexuality and our mental illnesses. His story isn’t mine to share, but I can say we both struggle with depression. We both work very hard to allow the other space to speak as freely as possible, especially when our thoughts and feelings aren’t well formed. Then gently ask for clarification on any points that we didn’t quite get. When one of us gets too overwhelmed and needs a break? We work hard to respect that. We work hard on avoiding name-calling, that even when we are in deeply dark places we speak to each other with as much love as possible. Our one hard fast rule is that we never leave. We may need to be in different physical spaces within our home, but we never leave. That may not work for everyone, but it works for us.
Learning to advocate for your needs is incredibly difficult when mental illness is involved. Throw sexuality in there? Oh, it’s not easy. Not easy, but well worth the effort. We’re also open, so communication is something that we’re always working on. Our relationship is beautiful. What I feel for him goes beyond love, into feelings that English has yet to create.
CQ: On your blog you said some seriously nice things about the impact my writing had on your development (i.e. self-building, what a wonderful notion), and I thank you so much! A thing that jumped out at me: as a fellow former shy person (though not to the degree you were, but still), I especially related to two things: the way you talked about camming/exhibitionism being a good fit for you, and the way you speak about the shyness-busting capacity of talking to other people about their sex issues. (Back when I was a baby activist, I couldn’t have a conversation with a stranger, but I could stand up and give a speech.) What do you make of those facts? What is it about putting yourself out there in an erotic context (or a sex-info one, for that matter) that goes to the heart of confidence in that way?
CA: I still struggle speaking to strangers, I will probably always struggle with it. My Me (to steal phrasing from my youngest who just became self aware) is an introvert, most comfortable via text as communication. Thankfully I live in this digital age where I can affect change within my comfort zone.
My days as a naked girl on the internet taught me to love myself, my body. At that time I lived in a body that was twice the size of the one I am in now, so to be a fat queer girl who was being showered in appreciation? I had the experience where that appreciation gave me permission to also appreciate myself, my body, my ever-shifting sexuality. Around that time is when I first found out about you via Real Live Nude Girl, discovered that I wasn’t alone in how I felt and saw the world, and incorporated much of your work into my self identity.
It’s my evangelical love of sex toys that allows me to go far past my normal comfort level to share that love with others. You put a dildo in my hand and I can do absolutely anything. My Pure Wand is in my lap as I type. While I respect people who are uncomfortable with their use, if you are interested in sex toys, sexual accessories, I desperately want to talk with you. Share my love with others. Help them find items that work for their bodies to improve their life. I know that the right sex toy(s) can not only improve someone’s sex life, but the whole of their quality of life. That I can do that? That people trust me with this task? It’s such an honor. Such a pleasure. Putting a sex toy in my hand literally makes me feel like a superhero. I have a gift here. I am a very sweet, very kind person. That sweetness and genuine kindness shows, allows people to share with me things they cannot tell anyone else. It’s my gift, my superpower and I’m trying to use that to affect real positive change in the world.
CQ: One of the most mainstream venues I’ve seen you conquer with #OrgasmQuest is Dr. Drew, who (IMHO) got where he is because he’s a cute MD, not because he’s a sex expert. How did you experience him on this issue? So many MD types are very touchy about criticism of pharmaceuticals, and they’re not all very educated about sex, either.
CA: Woooooooo. The Dr. Drew experience terrified me. Found out that his show was doing a segment on my story when they posted in the #OrgasmQuest hashtag, which I always have an eye on. They had not contacted me, it was late in the afternoon/early evening when I found out, and I had a very intense panic attack. The tweet that was put out read to me as being very sensationalized, I felt that my personal journey was about to be ripped apart and mocked on national tv without my consent. Now, I do realize that I cannot have complete control over #OrgasmQuest once I put it into the world, but I also refuse to allow people to mock or snark me without doing it to my face.
Lynn Comella, who I have so much love and respect for, helped raise the twitter army. The fever pitch of tweets from people within our world is what I think spurred the show to contact me. (I could be wrong! Maybe they planned to all along, but it didn’t feel that way to me.) Their producers were absolutely wonderful, I strongly expressed my fears regarding the segment, and they assured me that while some people may be critical, this was not going to be a “gotcha” interview.
Before the show I felt that Dr. Drew, who I’ve watched much of my life, has expressed some very sex-negative views, felt that he has some antiquated views of feminine sexuality. However, my experience on his show was actually really great overall. The first segment we had audio difficulties, I only could hear every other word or so, my responses were based on assumptions of what they were asking me. I did pretty well though!
The second segment was…interesting. His panel disagreed with my oversharing, I believe at one point someone said that I was using masturbation to hide deeper emotional issues, and one woman – Leeann Tweeden I believe – called out “Do you even/ever think of your children?!?” Which I found to be completely unacceptable, done for sheer sensationalism. I chose not to respond to her, but to the larger point: if you dislike how public I am, don’t read me. My kids are fine. I’m a professional, my children are being raised in a body-positive, sex-positive, gender neutral way. Right now, they are all too young to read, so they are not going to accidentally discover #OrgasmQuest. They are learning about my career in age-appropriate ways, that will continue. Right now, pretty much all they know is that Mommy is on her laptop all the time.
I veered off topic there, but back to Dr. Drew. I actually enjoyed our interactions, I felt that he really listened to me, by the end of our time I felt that he respected my voice, mission and what I am doing. So much so that I was on his radio show the next day, and he has asked me to return again. He expressed respect for my strong articulate voice and advocacy for myself. Right now Dr. Drew AND I have mutual respect, which is something that I never fathomed I’d say.
One more thing that I cannot stop expressing appreciation for regarding Dr. Drew is that when people were pearl-clutching about my children, he started to say “those poor kids” BUT he stopped himself midway, then acknowledged that his own children have had ick factor with what he does. That meant the world to me, really.
CQ: Have you learned anything new about orgasm via this quest? Anything you didn’t experience in your old solo sex practice?
CA: Until this medication, I have always been highly orgasmic. Look at me hard enough and I orgasm. My orgasms were intense, universe creating. I touched the divine when I came. I give a lot of credit for that to my mother, who never shamed me for exploring my body as a child nor for masturbating as I grew up. When I was young we called it “my feeling good stuff” and I was taught that it was a special, private thing for me to do in my bedroom. Praise sex positive parenting!
Losing that has taught me so much. It’s making me a much better sex educator because I now have personal experiences on both extremes. I can relate and work with anorgasmic or under-orgasmic people in a way I never could before. I have had the personal experience that prioritizing masturbation is incredible self care that boosts me across the board. Before, masturbation was quick and easy. Now, I have to carve out the time for myself within an amazingly busy life as a work at home Mom to 4 young children. My kids and their needs have come before mine for years now, this is one of my first steps in going “I’m still a whole and complete person. My needs are still important. I am a Mother and a sexual woman at the same time. I allow myself to prioritize my pleasure.”
Masturbation still feels great! I use a variety of sex toys, but I make sure to spend time with the Original Magic Wand that you lovely folks sent as part of sponsorship (thank you!!) every day. That deep vibration across the entirety of my vulva, stimulating all those clitoral nerves, is having an effect. After a month of daily use? I now experience vagina contractions, wobbly legs, a small pleasure spike. Not what I register as an orgasm, my brain isn’t processing it as one, but I really feel like I am getting closer. Maybe I won’t have universe creating orgasms again any time soon, but I’m getting somewhere and that’s amazing.
CQ: Is there anything you wish one of these interviewers would ask you, but they haven’t?
CA: I haven’t been asked very much about my partnered sex life and I do have something to say there. Tying into my above comments about how anorgasmic sex can be as great as orgasmic sex, I find that I enjoy partnered sex in an entirely new way. I often say that 95% of my oral sex skills are enthusiasm. When I am having partnered sex, everything still feels amazing. I hit “Oh, that feels so good” because my partners are very focused on my pleasure as well as theirs. I don’t go past “Oh, that feels so good,” which allows me to stay in a very pleasured place while keeping more focus on what I am doing to pleasure them. I feel like an even better lover than before, which is something I take pride in. There are no longer peaks and valleys in my pleasure experience during partnered sex, but sustained pleasure. For me? It’s different, but not better or worse than the amazing sex I was having before.