When it comes to sex, we're always afraid the worst is going to happen. Last week we looked at new research linking a taste for sexual adventure with life satisfaction and, surprise, surprise, despite all the handwringing about "hookup culture," people who are open to sexual adventure tend to be more satisfied with life. So much for that dire prediction.
Now let's turn to the great natural experiment of our time—the internet. Surely the explosion of sex blogs is one of the internet's more revealing quirks, a data-mining platform into the ongoing rebellion of desire against all forms of shame. On Tumblr, Blogger and many other platforms, you can now read about the intimate lives of swingers, sluts and even fans of pegging*. That's on top of the millions of amateur porn makers who can't wait to show their O-faces to their friends and neighbors.
But the land of the free has always been ambivalent about actual sexual freedom, as Walt Whitman learned when his boss at the Bureau of Indian Affairs read Leaves of Grass and fired his eminent gay ass. A more recent version is Kendra Holliday, a sex-blog pioneer from St. Louis who got a divorce at 30 after seven years of a "vanilla" marriage and began writing—anonymously—about her carnal adventures on a blog called The Beautiful Kind. She was utterly unapologetic. "I fuck creatively daily," she wrote in one post. "I'm grateful to have a partner who supports me in my unconventional endeavors. I don't just write about sex—I LIVE IT."
Until three years ago, when she posted this downer entry: "In mid-April, I got fired from my day job for writing about sex. My employer told me, 'We simply cannot risk any possible link between our mission and the sort of photos and material that you openly share with the online public.'"
It got worse. Unemployed, not knowing how to pay her mortgage, Holliday decided to "come out" as a sex blogger and try to make a living "spreading responsible hedonism." She discussed it with her ex-husband and contacted the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom for advice, after which she gave an interview to the local paper where she revealed her true identity. Her husband was interviewed, too, and he seemed okay with the whole thing—at first.
A week later, her 10-year-old daughter was kicked out of her private school. Then Holliday was dismissed from her post as "Cookie Captain" at the local Girl Scouts. As the public controversy mounted and her husband found himself mocked by his friends, his tolerance evaporated and he began a custody fight over their daughter.
I spoke to Holliday a few times during that dark period. "I just had a meeting with my husband yesterday, and it went pretty bad," she told me one day. "He was still hostile and territorial about my daughter. He sees me as this troublemaker slut."
Some of her male friends were uncomfortable, too, seeing her as threatening. Her response was plaintive: "I'm not a feminist. I'm totally about dick! I just want it on my terms."
When her lawyer advised her to never to talk to her daughter about sex lest the judge decide she was creating "an immoral environment," her response was defiant. "Rosa Parks had it a lot worse than I did, but this is about sexual civil rights. A brain surgeon comes home and doesn't operate on his daughter's brain. I don't go home and have a sex-toy party with my 10-year-old daughter." She was committed to the fearless life. On the phone, she bragged to me about how wild St. Louis was getting—there was a BDSM group called "Beat Me In St. Louis" and a new "sex-positive coffee shop" called Shameless Grounds. She was planning to commemorate her scarlet letter by shaving her head at a party for Sex Positive St. Louis, a group she helped found. "A fetish model named Cat First is flying down to do it. I've wanted to do it for a long time, but I thought if I could turn it into a party, that would be nice."
Three years later, I'm happy to report, things are improving. Holliday found a good day job in a scientific firm where they don't care to monitor her sex life. She's on good terms with her ex, got shared custody of daughter and her Republican father has become her biggest supporter. In fact, her parents have even attended Sex Positive St. Louis events. "My parents are really supportive of this whole sex-positive movement." Holliday's been with her "primary" for six years—he's a schoolteacher—and is now dating a married couple on the side. "It's all respectful and fun," she says. "We like to try different fantasies, like once I wanted to do double penetration and his wife suggested someone." Her daughter is now 13 and a straight-A student who isn't interested in her mother's private life. "She knows I'm polyamorous," Holliday says. "She doesn't care. She's into Japanese animation."
Her dream of making a life as a sexual missionary is working out as well. Sex Positive St. Louis has gone from 4 people to more than 600, and she also dabbles in work as a sexual surrogate with her usual lack of shame. "I've got virgins driving in from all over the Midwest because they want to touch a woman," she says. "I give them an opportunity to make that move. I'm like the virgin whisperer."
This is the real reason why she's so outspoken, the political agenda behind her shamelessness. "People are so afraid all the time," she says. "They need a safe place to be themselves. I'm amazed these virgins will drive all that way because there's nobody like me in their freakin' area. I'm like, 'There's got to be some freakin' sluts out there!'"
So her message is, you can test the limits of today's society in one of the most conservative places in America and get away with it, even thrive. And like last week's scientist said, the taste for adventure leads to greater life satisfaction. "I feel like I walked through the fire and came out on the other side," Holliday says. "Everything's is so beautiful all the time."
*Ed Note: A commenter has brought to our attention that one of the blogs we linked to may be a front to try to sell ebooks. We have removed that link from the article.
Photo by Kendra Holliday/The Beautiful Kind