We’re living at a time of heightened female sexual empowerment existing in conjunction with heightened sexual exploitation. Often the two overlap, making our attempts to navigate our way through life that much more confusing.
Coming across Ev’Yan Whitney for the first time, I was floored by her ability to articulate and dissect complex issues of female sexuality with such ease. Working as a sexuality doula, Ev’Yan has dedicated her life to helping people – particularly women and femmes – to heal their relationship with their body and sexuality.
Keep scrolling to read our conversation about sex, healing and body image. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
So my very first question: what did you have for breakfast today?
Haha that was not the question I thought you were going to ask me but I love it! I actually haven’t had breakfast yet! I’ve been drinking tea and doing macramé.
Macramé is when you take rope and you make a bunch of knots to make these really cool designs. My family asked me for plant hangers for the holidays so over the past few weeks I’ve been making plant hangers every morning. I started it as a way to get the fuck off the internet and my phone and now it’s kind of my ritual to drink tea, tie knots and listen to podcasts every morning.
You’re a sexuality doula. What is that?
A sexuality doula, as I have defined it, is basically someone who helps educate, facilitate, hold space for and empower women and femmes who want to transition out of sexual shame, trauma and fear; into expressions of sexuality that feel liberating, powerful, decolonized and more freeing. I like the term doula because doulas work a lot with people through transitions.
Are there male sexuality doulas?
Not that I know of. I know that there are male sex coaches, and I know that we are getting more men that want to tackle issues of sexual trauma and emotional intelligence. But for the most part, I’ve seen that a lot of the work around male sexuality is performance based. Like, how to keep your dick hard, or how to make her orgasm a million times. No shade to those things, those things are really important too. But men have a lot of psychological, sexual hangups as well; often rooted in white supremacy and fragile masculinity. And I think it’s really important that those things get addressed.
Let’s talk a little about your background and what led up to you becoming a sexuality doula. How did all this start?
I was a writer. I’ve been writing all my life. Writing has always been a way for me to understand and express myself and process the things that are going on inside of me. So, basically, I started my website sexloveliberation.com just from the pure place of wanting to have a blog where I chronicled my own sexual liberation journey because I was in a place of sexual dysfunction.
I, at the time, would have called myself a “frigid woman,” which… I don’t really subscribe to that terminology anymore because I think it’s problematic. But back then I was deeply sexually traumatised and it was really starting to wreak havoc on my relationship.
Shortly after I started writing very publicly about my sexual liberation journey I started getting a bunch of people reading my blog saying, “you should write a book,” and “I want to attend a workshop of yours.” I just thought, I’m still learning about these things myself, I’m not a sex expert. But two to three years after starting my blog and consistently hearing these requests, that’s when I started doing one-on-one sessions with people where – based on what I had learned and based on what had worked for me – I would be teaching them how to liberate and heal their sexuality.
You have your own podcast titled The Sexually Liberated Woman, and in one of your episodes, you have a conversation with your sister where you talk about how you were the “naughtier” sister, the one who was curious about exploring your sexuality. While at the same time, you also express that you were a “frigid woman”. How do those two narratives co-exist?
So when I was in my early teens, and even before that, I was totally boy crazy. It wasn’t until I was 15 or 17 that I started getting pummelled with these ideas that sex isn’t something you should do unless you’re in a relationship – or more particularly, married. I was heavily involved with the church at the time and they were giving me all kinds of messages, trying to squash that sensuality and sexual curiosity that I had. So as I grew into my adult years, it really started to get to a point where I had shut down. I wasn’t able to completely embody my sexuality in a way that felt safe, free, fun and pleasurable.
You also talk about your struggle with sex at the beginning of your marriage. Tell me more about that!
When I was married, that was when things really started blowing up in my face regarding sex. When I met Jonathan it started to really come to the forefront that I have some really serious issues with sex. It was really unfortunate that I had to juxtapose this beautiful relationship that I had with an amazing person as also a place of so much hardship and crying. One of the biggest things that was coming up for me was the realisation that a lot of the things I had been taught by the church were at the source of my issues. I mean, being told that masturbation is wrong, having sex outside of marriage makes you a horrible person and that your virginity is something that is prized and you should harbour it for the right person. Those are some really, really damaging messages. Even though I didn’t subscribe to them anymore in my early twenties when I got married, they were still affecting me and my relationship.
I’m very much of a “be a slut do whatever you want” kind of person, always encouraging my friends to have the trashiest sex of their lives because… it’s just sex! So when I come across people like you who use phrases such as “dive into your sexual center” and “sexual healing and awakening,” I just feel like it clashes with my version of being sexually liberated. These words are so serious that it almost makes sex feel just as sacred and intimidating as religion does. Do you understand what I’m getting at?
Yeah, I understand. And it’s really interesting that you’re picking up on that… the language that I use these days and the last couple of years has not been as flowery. My belief system around sex is that, yeah, there is a spiritual component to it. But I’ve also, especially these last couple of years, really been playing around with the idea that sex doesn’t have to be so goddamn serious. Putting limitations on sex, needing it to be sacred, and needing it to feel spiritual – it is just another form of purity politics. It is the same kind of things that I was being taught when I was eight years old.
There are obviously ways that you should be protected both in the emotional and physical sense. But I think you’re right; all the taboos around sex has caused it to become so serious. That’s one of the reasons why I started using sensual self-portraiture, to fuck with respectability politics and to reclaim the word “slut”. Because I realised some of my hangups around sex were caused by internalised slut shaming.
I also want to say, too, that I have been doing this work now for almost a decade. So as I have grown sexually, my work has also grown. I’m always willing to hold space, not just for myself but also for my clients who come to me from this place of like, “I want sex to be sacred, I don’t want to be a slutty person,” or whatever. I’m the first person to call them out and be like, “if you want sacred sex that’s fine, but let’s pick apart this part of you that feels that sacred sex, whatever the hell that means, is more important, more worthy, more respectable, than ratchet sex, whatever the fuck that means.”
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if your sexual liberation (or sex education, or sexual healing practices) caters to the male gaze; if it lives on gender essentialism; if it speaks only to & about cis white hetero folks; if it uses new-age spiritual jargon that promotes the belief that “sacred sexuality” (i.e., anything that doesn’t involve the more “unevolved” expressions of sexuality, like casual sex or nude selfies or slut walks or the radical notion that a woman’s nipples should be desexualized) is the “right way” to do sexual empowerment; if it’s anti-woman, anti-hoe, anti-feminist, ableist, not inclusive of other genders; if it’s racist, classist, or has its roots deep in patriarchy; if it slut shames or dismisses others’ certain methods of erotic empowerment that counters your own—it is not sexual liberation & IDFWU. ➖ I will forever & unconditionally be for your sexual liberation—whatever that looks like—& I will continue to use my voice to speak up fiercely against these fair-weathered sexual liberationists with their fake & harmful “sex-positive” personas. ➖ & to anyone who thinks that my taking sensual, nude-ish selfies & flaunting my body as a form of feminine empowerment means that I am "disrespecting my temple”, & that I don’t really love myself because if I did I wouldn’t be degrading myself as a sex object—you can catch these twerks.
What is your relationship with your body? Not necessarily in a sexual context, but rather when it comes to exercise, food and body image.
I have a really interesting relationship with my body. I feel that it’s important to acknowledge that I have a lot of privilege; I am a black, queer woman, but I have able privilege, pretty privilege, skinny privilege, and I feel it’s really important to acknowledge the fact that my body isn’t as oppressed as other people’s bodies are. That said, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with my body and I think things like being on Instagram has been really interesting for my body image. I’m seeing so many images of people with this tiny little waist, big boobs, big asses, big thighs, and that’s not me! My body is, and probably will always be, like a string bean body. So yeah, it’s been really interesting to try to stay confident in my own body when there is this new wave of what an ideal body is supposed to look like.
I like to think of my relationship with my body as a journey and not a destination. I mean, I have my bad days just like everyone else. But when I think about where I am with my body now, I realise that it took a lot of work to get here. I think we focus too much on like, “I want to love my body. I want to wake up tomorrow and feel amazing about myself.” But it takes time. The journey of body acceptance is a path made by walking. It has taken a lot of time, practice, courage and unlearning the lessons and conditioning that I’ve gotten about what a good body is supposed to look like.
How do you feel about 2019? What are your plans for the future?
I have so many plans and I have so much excitement. 2018 was such a perfect, amazing, messy, challenging, activating year for me. And I feel that with every year that passes I get a little bit closer to the person that I want to be. 2018 really allowed me to see that so many of my dreams really can come true and the work that I’m doing really is important. So I just want to continue and follow that thread.