Eileen Kelly on Body Positivity, New York City, and Life as a Sex Educator
Commonly known as @killerandasweetthang, sexual educator and social media maven Eileen Kelly has most likely graced your explore page at some point. Living up to her username, Eileen has been busy giving keynote speeches while establishing her own brand and working on her website, killerandasweetthang.com.
Killer And A Sweet Thang is a safe space to learn about the birds, the bees, and everything in between — from tips on how to properly use condoms, to articles about issues such as single stigma. Her passion for educating readers is rooted in her desire to create a resource she would’ve wanted when she was younger.
Eileen chats with us during her NYC commute.
I’m curious about the name, @killerandasweetthang. Where did it come from?
It’s actually from a Too Short song, which I’m embarrassed to say. It’s like the most misogynistic, disgusting, song…
…It really is. It’s called Gangsters and Strippers, and I don’t know, I feel like I just heard it in high school and I thought the “killer and a sweet thang” part of it was really catchy. I guess I just stuck with that and I wanted to rebrand it as something feminist and sex-positive.
I like the idea of kind of… reclaiming it. What inspired you to pursue sex education? Have you always been very passionate about it or was there a situation that drove you to start your site, killerandasweetthang.com?
I grew up in a very conservative bubble. I grew up attending Catholic school my entire life, I had a single dad, and I grew up in a household full of boys with two brothers. So I would really say [what inspired me was] just like my own personal lack of sex ed, or really anyone to talk to about my body and the changes I was going through. It just came from a real personal need, and watching a lot of my friends and peers struggle as well… And these are people who are financially privileged and educated, so I couldn’t even imagine what it was like for people who don’t have that luxury.
Even though it’s 2018 I feel like talking about sex openly is taboo to a lot of people. I’m sure you’ve experienced maybe some unpleasant reactions to your work or posts from people who don’t understand your intentions to educate and bring awareness. How do you deal with the negativity?
I would say I get a lot less nowadays, than you would think, and I think it just comes from maybe doing gigs or jobs that have more leverage as being more [legitimate,] for example I’ve gone and spoken at a few Ivy League universities and so I feel like when I do things like that it kind of shuts up people who think “Oh, what does a 23-year-old know about sex?”
But as far as posts in my bathing suit or whatever, I’ve always had the mindset that what someone shows on the outside or a photo has no relation to someone’s sex life, so if someone’s going to try to slut shame me, it slides right off my back because I’m like “You have no idea who I’m dating or how many partners I have” and so it doesn’t even matter to me.
Speaking of Instagram, a lot of people assume they know everything about you judging from social media. What is something about IRL Eileen that you want people to know?
I don’t like peanut butter. The smell makes me instantly nauseous.
In the whole realm of sexuality, a large part of it is body positivity and being comfortable with your body. Do you have any advice for people who are struggling with body issues and people who want to be more comfortable in their skin, especially during intimate settings?
Like a social media purge maybe? Just like leaving your phone off for like an hour a day is so healthy. We just published a piece on the effects of social media on our attention spans and memory and self esteem, and I mean, the data is new, but it’s there. And it does have very serious consequences, and I feel that even myself. So if you can just put your phone away for a little bit and try not to get in the endless scroll on Instagram, it will really boost your self esteem and that way you don’t compare yourself to others. And hopefully, you can feel more comfortable with your body and yourself.
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Gave my very first keynote speech last month at the @dameproducts conference! I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to be in a room full of people willing to engage in an honest dialogue around sex. Thank you to everyone who came 💞💭 A post shared by Eileen (@killerandasweetthang) on
Speaking of gigs and keynotes, I know that last month you gave the closing keynote speech at the DAME Products Nuance Conference. How was that experience? Do you have a lot of experience with public speaking?
No, I’m fairly new at the public speaking gigs and it’s honestly something I’m not really comfortable with, but I push myself out of my comfort zone because I want to promote this message and I have the opportunity to. So that’s more important to me than my comfort with public speaking. I am definitely becoming more comfortable with public speaking but it is a process. But I’m willing to put my personal discomfort aside because I think the message I’m promoting is more important than my personal comfort and needs. Saying that though, the DAME conference was really cool because they gave me complete freedom to really talk about whatever I wanted to. So I actually shared a few pieces from my site and I would say our whole mission is elevating voices that don’t usually get heard. I read one of our pieces from a trans writer about their transition and I wrote another piece about the fetishization of black women in college culture, and it was really great because I was able to get up there and speak about how I started the website, and the work that needs to be done but I think it’s really important that sexuality is such an individual experience, and everyone goes through it differently and I think it’s important to have a well-rounded view of different people’s experience.
It’s inspiring to me that someone in my generation is speaking on something that people like me are going through and aren’t always willing to talk about.
Yeah, it’s really cool – we have over 70 writers now.
What’s the process for someone who wants to write for your site?
We have a submission process, we have an email address if you go on the website that you can submit pieces to. We go through them and most of the people that do submit become recurring writers, and we have a team of editors who will work with you on your piece, so the process is fairly simple and we’ve set it up and now it has an actual method of how things get posted. It was not like that two years ago.
Something unrelated to KAAST: You seem to enjoy traveling often. Do you have any travel advice for readers with wanderlust?
I mean, living in New York, if you have the opportunity to – the financial ability, I really do think it’s a place to reset. It’s nice to get out every few months, even if it’s just for two days, and I think just being from Seattle, Washington where it’s very outdoorsy, I need it or else I’ll feel like I’m going crazy.
When did you move to New York? What was that like?
I moved here six years ago, when I was seventeen, right after high school, to start college. But I would say, I mean it was like, a different world, like a dream world. I remember the first time I came to New York I was like I need to live there one day. It’s just so fast-paced and like the energy and the diversity… It’s unlike any place I’ve ever been before. You go to a different neighborhood and it feels like you’re in a different city.. or country, even. It’s actually such a small area and yet there’s so much there and so many people so, it’s addicting.
Last question. What are you hoping for KAAST in 2019? Are there any upcoming projects or events that you’re looking forward to?
I’m moving into different media realms so… I don’t want to say too much but like some TV stuff or podcast stuff, so just keep posted.
It’s really exciting and it feels like a new chapter. And everything is moving steadily, which is nerve-wracking but I would say one of the biggest pieces of advice that anyone’s ever given me is to trust the process and know that life gives you what you have in the current moment for a reason, and so, you’re ready for it.