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Sex & Love “Pleasure is a birthright”: doula Ev’Yan Whitney talks sensuality

Apr. 12, 2022
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When was the last time you really took a second to be in your own company? If you can’t remember what it feels like to connect with yourself, Ev’Yan Whitney’s work might just help you find your place. Their new book, Sensual Self, is the culmination thus far of their decade of work decoding what it really takes to maintain a connection with yourself. As a sexuality doula, author, podcaster, and sensualist, they're uniquely equipped to speak on self-intimacy, and the 150+ prompts throughout Sensual Self are indeed thoughtfully crafted to help readers reconnect with their pleasure. Fresh off their virtual book tour, Ev’Yan and I talked over Zoom from our respective living rooms to discuss how to maintain slowness in a world that asks for anything but.

Adolescent Content: You just released your first book! How has that experience been? 

Ev’Yan Whitney: Oh man… It's been so beautiful to watch people engage with and find themselves through the book. I'm already starting to write book number two, so I can't wait. I had been writing Sensual Self for two years before it came out. Now, I’m hearing people are giving it as gifts to their friends. It's really wonderful. 

Adolescent: How was the book tour? 

Ev’Yan: The book tour was great. I designed it to not just be me talking about and reading from the book, but actually creating a workshop where folks [could] explore their bodies and sensuality… I [got] to see people [experiencing] massive enlightenment and creating new narratives around what sexuality actually is for them. 

Adolescent: When you discuss sensuality you frame it not a singular moment but a whole body practice—something that’s ongoing. Do you have any reflections on what it’s been like to maintain a sense of sensuality?

Ev’Yan: This is going to sound strange, but I think there's one piece of the pandemic I've kind of appreciated. It’s forced us to slow the fuck down in ways that we're not always comfortable with. I feel like the pandemic has forced us to take a look at our attention spans, our relationships, the way that we work, the way that we're in space with other people, and [which] things aren't serving us. It’s like, okay, we're being forced to sit down and slow down and be with ourselves. How can I do that in a way that is going to help me to connect to myself more as opposed to running from myself?

Adolescent: Do you have any key takeaways from the pandemic? 

Ev’Yan: I think it’s made me realize that I'm more anxious than I thought. I've been thinking about ways that I can hold space for myself without judging myself too harshly. In some ways, the pandemic has helped me [befriend] my anxiety—we're not enemies. Rather than going into a shame spiral, I can calm down, take a step back, and give myself some love and softness in those moments. It's been a little bit easier for me to do that lately.

Adolescent: What’s it been like advocating for sensuality on social media? Are there certain platforms you feel best support your work?

Ev’Yan: I've been doing this work for almost eleven years, and the internet has completely changed, even from what it was five years ago. It's one of the biggest things that I've grappled with, to figure out how to continue my work, and respect and honor the process, while trying to keep up with the Joneses. I'm in a place right now where, if I'm really honest, I kind of hate social media. I don’t want to be on it, and I also have to be on it, because that’s how I get my work out, how I make money, how I put food on the table. I would agree that Instagram is very fast-paced, so if you want a little piece of me for five minutes, that's where you go. My podcast is my favorite of all my projects because it requires so much intention—I really take time to talk to people that I actually care about. It reflects where my curiosities are at. 

It's difficult for educators and artists like me to do our work without [feeling] this pressure to perform. I've been really struggling with that. Even this week, I've been like, I don't want to do anything, I don't want to go on Instagram, I don't want to post Stories, I just want to be. Then, there's that feeling of guilt—like, well, I have a business and I don't want people to forget about me. So it's been difficult to try to find that balance and feel out what works for me beyond being like, fuck it, I'm just not going to be on the internet anymore. I don't even know how that would work. 

Adolescent: There's definitely a sense of internet fatigue these days. I imagine there's another level of intensity to that for you because you’re a public figure, especially one who talks about sexuality. 

Ev’Yan: Yes—the audacity in my DMs! It’s difficult for folks like me who are front-facing. There’s this illusion of intimacy with the people that engage with my work, because I’m so forthright. I think people feel like, “If they’re including me on their journey, I get a say.”

That feeling of entitlement is something that I deal with a lot, and I've had to erect really strong boundaries around who gets my energy. I'm also very selective about what I share. I think a lot of people see the work that I do and think that I’m sharing 90% of my life, and I'm like y'all, this is 10%, if that. That's my way of keeping some of my life to myself, which is hard because we live in a culture [that tells us to] overshare. 

Adolescent: One thing that strikes me about working as a sexuality doula is that it's a pretty selfless practice. You have to have a lack of ego to be able to guide people toward these transitions and actualizations. What keeps you grounded in this work?

Ev’Yan: The thing that helps me is that I'm not just doing it for other people as a service to them—I'm also doing it as a service to myself. Even when I was writing Sensual Self, I was thinking about prompts that baby or teenage Ev'Yan would appreciate. I thought about prompts that would help crack open their ability to heal and become the person they want to be. When I'm thinking about workshops, prompts, and even content that I'm creating on Instagram,  I have that version of myself in mind that helps me stay grounded. I really do feel like it's something that I can pour back into myself every time I do it.

Adolescent: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

Ev’Yan: There's so much I love! I love when I share something that is literally just me being like, "here's what I'm going through," or "here's something that I've been thinking about," and people are like, "oh my God, me too. Thank you for describing this experience I've never had the language for." It’s one of the reasons why I even got into this work as an actual profession. I’m really happy to be a beacon for people who feel the same as I do: not necessarily an inspiration, but maybe an advocate for them to think about [how] they can heal themselves… Watching people liberate themselves in real time, ugh! There's nothing like that. That's why I keep coming back to this work. It's so gratifying and beautiful.

Adolescent: Is there anything about your doula work that’s surprised you?

Ev’Yan: When I first started I was surprised that coming back into the body and healing yourself is a universal experience. No matter what age you are, what your body looks like, what race you are, how you've been raised, whether that was in a religious household or not, there is a through line. I used to think I was the only one on Earth having issues with my sexuality, so it floored me when I found out people have the same sort of issues. 

I've worked with people who are well beyond their 40s, who are dealing with sexual shame, who are just finding out that they are queer. That’s always surprising, in the best way. It doesn't matter how old you are... If you have a desire and an impetus to learn, change who you are, and unlock your potential as a sexual individual, it doesn't matter where you come from. Everybody deserves that. That is their birthright. 

Adolescent: Do you think the sexual industry is changing for the better? 

Ev’Yan: The whole invention of a sexual wellness industry really bothers me. It feels very capitalist and consumer-driven. I understand that products can be a great tool to help you explore your sexuality and pleasure, but sexual wellness and liberation aren’t things you need to buy. I take real issue when sexual wellness equals buy more shit. That's been really disappointing to see.  

In terms of non-depressing things, though, it's been really cool to see people filling this space of sexual professionalism, and ramping up efforts to make sexual education comprehensible and consent-based. As much as I fucking hate social media, I love that you can follow 200 world-class sex educators and get free, comprehensive sex education. That wasn’t something that I had growing up. No matter what the kids are doing, or what sort of upbringing they’re having, it's possible for them to get that kind of information. I want there to be hundreds and thousands of sex educators. It's really cool for me to share this space with so many other people that have the same mission and maybe not the same cadence or niche. 

Adolescent: Are there any specific accounts or sex educators you love?

Ev’Yan: Oh my gosh, there are so many. I love Ashleigh Tribble, she does incredible work. She speaks so unapologetically about sex and not settling for weak dick. She's also a really great advocate for fat positivity, which I fucking love. I’m also thinking of Melissa [Pintor Carnagey], who teaches under @sexpositive_families. I'm like, man, I wish that I had you when I was five years old! The work that she's doing to help teach parents and adults how to talk to their children is vital. I'm also going to mention Angela Chen, who wrote the book Ace. Her work has been so transformational for me. It's changing the way that I see myself and it's also helping me to help clients and students on the ace spectrum.

Adolescent: What are your hopes for 2022? How can we all shift towards a more sensual world?

Ev’Yan: Coming off the heels of releasing Sensual Self, I want to slow down. I want this to be the year where we put our phones down and be with ourselves, without having to think about all these things that we're having to constantly do and perform. I want us to think about who we are when nobody is looking, when there isn't an audience. There's a lot of wisdom to be found there. 

You can keep up with Ev’Yan on Instagram.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.