The Intricacies of Sexuality & Body Image: Meet Ev'Yan Whitney
Our sexuality and body image are so intricately intertwined that it is difficult to seperate out which impacts the other more. If we are uncomfortable in our skin it is hard to find the strength to embrace the vulnerability of being intimate, or being able to be present enough to enjoy any of the blissful sensations of sex. At the same time, because sex is mainly physical all of our past sexual experiences impact our body image. If you have ever been sexually assaulted or harassed, verbally or emotionally abused, or rejected by a lover, that can have a devastating and lasting impact on how we feel about ourselves. Today we have an interview with Ev'Yan Whitney, a woman who openly and honestly shares her story surrounding her sexuality and her journey to being comfortable in her own skin. Through her blog Sex, Love, Liberation and as a sexuality doula (read on below) she helps others on their own journey to being confident in their bodies and owning their sexuality.
Talk to us about what you do and how you got started.
I write about female sexuality on my blog from the perspective of my own journey of erotic awakening. I also work intimately with women in one-on-one sessions, helping them step into their erotic power. I like to call myself a sexuality doula, someone who helps facilitate, educate, empower, and hold space for women who are awakening their sexual identities out of old stories of shame and fear.
I got started really by chance. A friend of mine and sex journalist had asked me at the time to write essays about women's relationship to masturbation and pornography, and I was really intrigued by the project. But I wasn't sure if it was appropriate to host my essays on my personal blog (which was something my mom and family read). So, at my husband's suggestion, we created a new digital space called Sex Love Liberation to house the project. That was over five years ago and it's just expanded from there.
You share your own experiences on your site as well as stories from others – why?
At first, I wrote publicly about my sexual curiosities and struggles as a way to process what was happening to me. Writing has always been the method I use to self-reflect and better understand my own experiences. So, I did it just to help explore this new territory I found myself in.
But it's since then transformed into a place where other people come to affirm themselves in their sexual liberation journeys—as a way to take up space, as a way to speak our truths, as a way to be inspired to keep going. I didn't realize when I was first starting how universal the struggles around sex is, and having a place online like this has helped so many women feel less alone. It's been beautiful to witness SLL's evolution.
You are very open, honest, & raw on your site - how you did you find the strength to do so, and what fears did you struggle with? Is it something you struggled with, or did it always come easily? How about now?
You know, it's funny. I get asked this question a lot, and I truly don't know why (or how) it is that I can be so vulnerable and open with these really personal topics. I mean, I wouldn't say that it's always come easy. I definitely do feel a sense of nervousness whenever I'm writing a piece that's really sensitive and intimate, but that nervousness never seems to keep me from hitting publish. I don't know why that is! But I'm really glad that it's relatively easy for me to express myself like this and share it with others.
What inspires you?
Ahhh, so many things. The sun inspires me. Music inspires me. The tarot readings I do on myself everyday inspires me. My sex-positive queer women of color friends inspire me. The sex I have with my husband inspires me. Anais Nin and Nayyirah Waheed inspire me. Lots of things!
What does body image mean to you?
Body image is how we see ourselves and our bodies. And sometimes we see ourselves through the lens of other people's opinions and desires and society's insistence on how bodies "should" look. And sometimes we see ourselves through the purity of our own lens and we can see our own beauty. I for one go in and out of seeing my body through those certain lenses. I've been in this body for nearly 30 years and I've only started to feel at home in myself. It takes time and diligence to remove the societal lens and rely on how you want to feel about yourself. I heard that a lot growing up, that body acceptance and self-love takes time, and I'm only just now understanding that fully.
How do you think society impacts our body image in both positive and negative ways?
Absolutely! I mean, I think that the negative impacts are really well-known, but this idea of society impacting it in positive ways is something new that I'm exploring. Like, lately I've been seeing ads for makeup products not as a way to change the way I look (which is how I used to see it before), more as a way to play up and enhance my beauty and to step more into unapologetic femme-ness. Lately, I've been learning to enjoy and find the power in my femininity, rather than seeing the femmey things as being superficial or vainglorious. I mean, obviously that takes a perspective shift more than anything; we can't rely solely on those makeup ads and products to validate and make worthy our beauty. But it's been really fun for me to play with.
How do you think body image impacts our lives on a daily basis – from things like sex to our professional lives?
It's sad, but negative body image is what I see blocking women from being sexually free. It's so common, and it's one of the first places that I start with my clients when we're working on getting them sexually free. The body is where everything starts, and it's so true that if you don't feel sexy, if you don't feel like you are able to be erotically powerful, there's no way you'll be able to have the kind of sex you want to have. So yes, body acceptance and self-love is so directly tied to our ability to enjoy and feel like we're worthy of pleasure. It's connected so inherently to sex and sexuality.
What does beauty mean to you?
Beauty is the radiance we let shine through and take up space in the world.
What change do you wish to see in the world? What are you doing to move towards that? What can others do to help if they feel called to?
I wish for women (all women!) to be sexually free. I wish for them to feel that their sexual desires and the pleasure they crave is important enough for them to ask for it, seek it, own it. I wish for women to not feel shame with who they are as sexual beings. I wish to help empower women into new stories about sex and sexuality that make them feel like the queens they are—powerful, centered, and sovereign. I especially wish for women to prioritise the relationships they have with their bodies—both sexually and platonically. If we want to be sexual, we must first know ourselves, we must first establish a healthy relationship with our bodies (our genitalia especially).
My work is centered around these wishes, and I'm completely dedicated to helping make these wishes come through by walking my own talk and continuing to do my own deep work. Because one thing I know for sure is that when we see a woman being sexually free, we are given permission to find that sexual freedom within ourselves. It's a ripple effect.
And if others want to help me on that mission, they can shine their radiant light. They can create sex positivity within their communities and amongst their friends. They'll start asking their besties how the sex is. They'll encourage their friends to unmute their desires. And they'll do their own work to unblock whatever it is that's keeping them feeling shamed and weirded out about sex.
What do you think we as humans can do to support each other?
Community! Community is so important. Convening with other sex positive babes and conspiring to make this world a more sex positive place is how we can support each other. (And you can totally join my women's-only sex positive online community if you like! Just send me an email and request to join: firstname.lastname@example.org)
What is your ultimate goal, both personally and professionally?
Ease and groundedness in my center. Always.
How do you define success?
Whenever I put pen to paper. Whenever an idea of mine becomes actualized into the physical world. And whenever that idea resonates or impacts someone.
How do you find balance? What does balance look like to you?
Balance lately has been looking like prioritizing self-care just as much as I prioritize being productive. And it's hard to stick to, because we live in a capitalist society that encourages, celebrates, and benefits from our constant producing. So it's not always easy for me. But I've noticed that if I don't prioritize self-care, my work deeply suffers. I can't give as much as I want to. I can't hear my intuition's voice as clearly. So I commit myself to self-care first and foremost. Everything else falls in line.
What do you feel is the most important thing in life?
Speaking your truth. Standing up for what you believe in. And wearing things that make you feel like a babe.
What advice do you have for those starting their own endeavours?
Be true to you. Follow your intuition always. Don't pay any attention to the noise. You are important and have something special to say, so please say it.