Okay. First off, my apologies. I’m late! Ridiculously so.
But it’s Canada Day – HAPPY CANADA DAY to all my fellow Canucks – and last night while I was celebrating the birth of my native land, I got into some mischief (the details of which I just might share later). So, blogging was the last thing on my mind.
But here’s what…Because I fell down on the job in such grand style, I’m going to give you all (even you non-Canadian peeps) a Canada Day treat: a two part interview with Carlyle Jansen…
I recently had the good fortune of sitting down with Carlyle – sex educator, activist and owner ofGood For Her– for a chat about her store, porn, women’s sexuality and everything in between. Listening to her speak, I was in awe of the depth of her knowledge about all things sex, as well as her passion and commitment to her work: a sentiment I’m sure you’ll relate to once you’ve read all she had to say.
Carlyle Jansen, owner of Good For Her. Picture courtesy of the Toronto Star
Skye: What is it that initially drew you to sex education as a career?
CJ: So, it kind of falls into my history, which is that I was someone who was non-orgasmic and it wasn’t until I got dumped because of it that I decided I needed to learn about sex. So, I learned about it and I was then at my sister’s bridal shower and gave her some sex toys. I thought that was a regular bridal shower thing to do. But in her circle of friends it wasn’t. So, after she opened the gifts containing salad bowls and wine glasses, she opened my gift of sex toys and her friends started asking me all these questions. ‘What is that?’ ‘Where do you stick it?’ and “What does it do?’ I answered all their questions easily, and they told me ‘Wow, you’re so comfortable talking about sex, you should do workshops.’
And that was what kind of got me into it. When they told me that, I thought really? Do I actually know something about this? Also, because I had been learning over several years, I had picked things up along the way that I didn’t realize I had, until the questions from those women made me recognize I actually knew much more than they did.
After that I continued taking workshops so that I could start teaching.
Skye: And back then, where did you go for workshops? Were good sex ed courses being offered in Toronto at the time?
CJ: In the mid 90s I was in Seattle and I took some courses through the Body Electric School, and also through the Human Awareness Institute. Those were probably my two main sources of information and education back then. Also, there were DVDs that were put out by Joseph Kramer, which taught me a lot, in addition to my own research.
Skye: Who are your idols/mentors in your field? The sex educators you most admire?
CJ: Off the top of my head, I already mentioned Joseph Kramer, who founded the Body Electric School. I’ve also learned a lot from Alex Jade, another teacher at there. I really likeSheri Winston, and her bookWomen’s Anatomy of Arousal. I have a lot of respect forJaiya, who recently came here for the Feminist Porn Awardsand I took her workshop which was really, really great. And one more person, who is no longer with us, who had a big influence on me, was Chester Mainard. He was a really, fabulous teacher about all things butt sexual, among other things. I was lucky enough to do some private workshops with him as well, and his death was a big loss for lots of us.
Skye: Your store, Good For Her (GFH), has been around for about 14 years now and its mission is to make it convenient to learn about and find sex products in a welcoming, women-positive environment. Some would argue that a sex shop that is woman-positive isn’t necessary in 2011. What would you say to those folks?
CJ: I would say that sex has certainly changed since we opened and that there are a lot more people who are comfortable shopping in sex shops since the late nineties. But I guess my first question is what’s wrong with something being woman positive anyway? (laughs) I’m not sure what the issue would be with that. Secondly, we still get women and trans folk that only come to the shop during our women and trans folk only hours each Sunday. Not a lot, but enough that we’ve decided to continue doing it, since that’s the only time they feel comfortable enough to come to our store to shop. So that’s definitely one reason why a store like ours is needed.
Skye: Your shop is a bit off the beaten track, with very low key signage. Was the choice of location and the exterior look of the shop by design, to make it more comfortable for women to visit?
CJ: Yes. We wanted to be off the beaten track because some people are uncomfortable being seen walking into a sex shop. So, a lot of people in the neighbourhood think we sell books (laughs), which is great for customers coming in who want a discreet environment. It’s not good if we’re missing out on selling sex toys to people in the area who don’t know who we are. But when we chose the location it was very important that we were very close to the TTC, but not in a high-traffic area.
Being here also makes it a much more positive shopping environment, because we don’t have people walking in off the street for a laugh, saying things like, ‘Oh my God! Let’s go see what the latest vibrators are’ or ‘Look at this crazy thing.’ Everybody who walks into our shop is coming in for a reason. They may be uncomfortable, but they know why they’re there and it’s not just to poke fun. So that’s another reason.
Skye: For the sake of our readers who have yet to visit your shop, can you tell me a bit about what they can expect to find at GFH?
CJ: First of all, when you arrive out front you’ll notice that our shop looks like someone’s home, which will hopefully make our customers feel more comfortable. I wanted it to be a space where people who didn’t feel comfortable going elsewhere would come to. And when you first walk in, we offer you some tea, which is our way of saying hello and welcoming you to our space. Also, having a cup of tea in hand can be a bit comforting for some people. Next you will see an array of books, vibrators, dildos, harnesses, and a whole series of DVDs. We also carry a wide range of condoms, lubricants, massage oils and other things to get you started, as well as a few kink items. I’ve probably missed something, but that’s most of it.
Skye: As I’ve heard more than a few men say that GFH is only for women – which is not at all true – can you tell me a bit about the services and products do you specifically offer to men?
CJ: I really find that the men who come into the store are so lovely, so great. By and large they really seem to understand why it is we’re doing what we do, and how we do it. And yes, we carry many products that men can use.
One of the misnomers we deal with frequently is that everybody thinks that vibrators are only for women. So, we really focus on trying to educate our customers about the fact that your average vibrator that is long and thin , is not limited to going inside the vagina, ,and can be used in many ways. Even if he would not buy it necessarily for himself, if he is in a relationship with a woman, he and his partner could use it together as a couple.
For example, you can use it to stimulate her clit; put a condom on it and stimulate your anus or hers; you can roll it around the penis or place it against the testicles; your partner can put it against their cheeks or mouth when they give you fellatio; you can put it against the perineum which also feels really fabulous; and you can also put it against your nipples. So, the average vibrator can also be used for men.
Then there are butt toys, and of course the anus is the equal opportunity orifice, so it works well for everybody – with men having the added advantage of the prostate. We also have specific male masturbators and pumps that a lot of men like to use, on their own or with their partners.
Many men are also interested in cock rings, which are rings that will help them maintain an erection once they have one, and some men will use them along with a pump for this purpose. Sometimes cock rings are used by men to help them stay harder for longer during intercourse. Some of them come with vibrators on them, which gives their female partners a little bit of stimulation during intercourse, so they both get more pleasure for a longer time.
Also, there are a lot of men out there who don’t like the mainstream porn DVDs out there. So, even though the porn we have is more woman friendly, a lot of men find them more men friendly as well, if they’re looking for something different.
Finally, we have condoms and lube, which anyone can use.
Skye: In a video you did for the National Post on Feb 12, 2008 you state that when it comes to sex, you believe that having respect for yourself is more critical than having the love of your chosen partner. Can you elaborate on that?
CJ: Hmmm…Obviously I think it’s important to have respect for your partner and to love your partner. But again, on a regular basis I see women who clearly do not have as much respect for their own bodies as they do love for their partners – in fact, there was a customer who came into the store today who I think fits that description. She was unable to voice her desires in a way that her partner would hear, and within a few minutes of talking to her it became clear that the dynamic of her relationship with her partner was set up to be all about him.
Skye: In the bedroom in particular?
CJ: I don’t know that for sure. They walked in together, and any suggestion about what she might like was dismissed, by her. It was ‘No, no, no, he’s not open to that’, ‘No, I can’t bring that home’, and ‘What can I do to pleasure him?’ I suggested the movie 5 Hot Stories for Her and she said, ‘No, he’s not going to watch it, it’s for women.’ So does she have respect for herself? I can’t really say. But that’s an example of just one woman among the many out there who values pleasuring her partner more than getting what she wants and who may be short-changing her pleasure.
Now, I also have times when I don’t voice my concerns. Even though I’m very comfortable talking about sex, I do get really shy when I’m with a partner, so I don’t want to pass judgement on her. And I also recognize that some people get immense pleasure from offering their partners pleasure. But I just feel that what happened with that woman today demonstrates the fact that we often find ourselves in situations where we compromise what we want. We all make choices about why we stay in relationships, and there’s nothing wrong per se about her choices and they need to be respected. She knows why she made the choices she did and perhaps she is very happy.
But once again, it’s easy for us for us to end up in situations, especially if we ignore our own needs and what we want, where we are more focused on our partners than ourselves. And then it’s very likely that the sexual component of our relationship will certainly not be as satisfying as it could be. Still, we all make choices about our relationships, how we behave and why we stay, some healthy and some not. It’s complicated.
However, I do think around sex particularly we need to have self-respect, and that that is more important than love for a partner: because if you respect yourself and are able to maintain that, you’re able to love your partner even more. It will only enhance your love rather than diminish it. So, it’s not about being selfish. It’s about knowing what you want and being able to convey that, so you can meet the needs of your partner from a really authentic place.
Be sure to come back to read Part Two of my interview with Carlyle tomorrow, when she discusses her thoughts on the pressures many women put on themselves to orgasm via penetration only, the many sexuality workshops offered at GFH and her favourite sex toys!