An Interview with Carlton Perry & Dr. Kit Stubbs of The Effing Foundation
June 21, 2021
Interviewed by Joyce Chen, TSW staff
When it comes to sex and sex positivity, there are perhaps no two better folks to chat with than Carlton Perry and Dr. Kit Stubbs, the president of the board and the founder, respectively, of The Effing Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to “promote sexual literacy, health, and wellness worldwide.”
The Effing Foundation was founded in 2016, and since then, has awarded over $170,000 in grants to projects and individuals who are helping to de-stigmatize conversations about human sexuality. The hope? That through art and education, folks can better understand the nuances of sex and sexuality so they can make healthy choices, reframe their own experiences and desires, and find genuine joy in the face of societal expectations.
Earlier this year, I spoke with both Carlton and Kit via Zoom about their own experiences with the term “sex positivity,” and what exactly makes kink and BDSM so, well, sexy. (Hint: it’s not what you might think.) Our conversation touched upon everything from religion and sexuality to nerding out about sex toys to how the sex positive community is a microcosm for society at large, blemishes and all.
Joyce Chen: The sex positive community has always smacked of a certain bold-faced honesty and authenticity that is often missing in almost every other community besides maybe recreational drug users. So let’s start with a fun question: what’s your favorite thing about sex?
Carlton Perry: I think sex positivity is about a lot more than just sex. It’s about a lot more than just two people or multiple people fucking. It’s a state of mind. It’s a state of body positivity. It’s a state of how you and your body and your mind react to the world and society around you. Sex is great. Sex is awesome. Not having sex is also great and awesome. The unique thing about sex positivity is that it holds space for all of that. All the way across the spectrum. From if you’re consensually and happily a slut all the way to if you are ACE (asexual). There’s a lot under that sex positivity umbrella.
The unique thing about sex positivity is that it holds space for all of that. —Carlton
Dr. Kit Stubbs: Absolutely. Sex is all about connection and connecting with a partner in a physical way. I have physical disabilities; I’m disabled by chronic illness and generalized anxiety disorder. I’m very open about that, and so for me, while sex has been at times tricky to navigate, it’s also felt like a liberating force in my life. So that’s the thing I’m really grateful for. Connection, liberation, so many things.
Joyce: And those two things are very much related.
Carlton: I think sex positivity expands your definition of sex, so sex can be very much what people need it to be at a given time. If penetrative sex doesn’t necessarily work for you, then phone sex is a thing. Connecting over technology, using technology. Kink, BDSM, touch. There are so many different ways to have a sexual, connective experience or a sexually intimate experience, or just sex for fun that expands the definition of what we think of as “just having sex.” It deals with the mind, it deals with the spirit, and it deals with the body. It deals with a lot of different things, so just as we said about sex positivity, it can include not having sex or it can include having sex. It also broadens our definition of what we think about sexuality and pleasure and health and all of these other things.
Joyce: I’m curious to know more in terms of your own awareness of sex positivity and being introduced to that as a concept. Did that happen earlier on in life or later on in life?
Dr. Kit: I don’t think I came across the words “sex positivity” until 10 or 12 years ago. I grew up in a very conservative, religious family — I’m from Missouri originally — my family is Missouri Synod Lutheran. They’re not the most conservative Lutherans, but they’re, like, the next most conservative Lutherans. So I had abstinence-only education through the church, not really so much through my school, and I was not excited about that. When I became less religious later on in high school, I was a teenager, and I decided, okay, I’m going to get on birth control, I’m gonna go to college, I’ll find someone I trust, and I’m going to have sex. And that’s pretty much what I did. And it was great. I still had a pretty narrow conception of sex at that time, and I mostly thought of sex positivity as, “Hey, everyone should get an education.” Everyone should have access to birth control and the health care that they need. It wasn’t until later when I started making sex toys and started talking to other people and getting introduced to the sex positive community that I started to learn and appreciate how broad it really is.
Carlton: I am actually still a practicing Catholic. I grew up as a Catholic and all of my schooling up until the bachelor level was in Catholic institutions. But I had an amazing family and I had an amazing mother who told me to think for myself. To explore things. To discover things. And as long as I wasn’t hurting anybody — my mother always preached consent to me — she wanted me to be my own authentic self.
I started off as the typical kinky person who looked at comic books and movies and saw bondage and said, “I like that, but I don’t exactly know why.” Then life happened. I went through a period of my life where I was actually a caregiver for my grandmother, who had dementia. I cared for her until her passing, and that was a 10-year period out of my life. That took me to a little later in my life. I always had an interest in kink, so I started to revisit it after my grandmother passed. That’s when I realized, wow, there’s actually a community. And you can take classes and there’s actually people who do this stuff. And that helped me embark upon my journey and get to where I am now.
Joyce: Were there any misconceptions that you had about sex positivity that, as you learned more, you course corrected? Or, is there anything out there right now that is a misperception about sex positivity that you feel like people should know more about?
Carlton: I think people tend to grow up with misperceptions. People either think, I’m attractive or I’m not attractive. People tend to think I’m good at sex or I’m not good at sex. Or, I’m good in relationships or I’m not good in relationships.
When you become more exposed and you start thinking more about what sex positivity can offer you, you find out a lot of things are skill-based. That’s why most of us have sucky experiences the first time we have sex: because we don’t know what the hell we’re doing. The cool thing about becoming sex positive is we learn that we can develop skills. I can become better at sex. I can self-pleasure myself. Masturbation is also its own thing, so you find all of these different things and all of these different tools to help yourself. And not only physically, but you also find these tools to help yourself emotionally.
When you get into the sex positive community, you start to learn about negotiating. You learn about informed consent. And it’s like, oh wow. I can actually ask for what I need? I can actually see that my needs are being met? I can show concern for my partner’s needs? It’s like, wow, there are so many modes of relationships! I’d almost compare it to going to a small little hardware store and there’s only a few things that you can buy to work on a project. But then somebody says, “Why don’t you check out Home Depot or Lowe’s?” and you walk into this big box store and there’s all this stuff and you realize, Oh, I can order stuff too? And now you can put all these things together. You went from not being able to put together a tool shed to being able to build an entire building. And that’s what sex positivity is: it gives you all of these tools to live your best life. To fully come into yourself and come into your own.
When you get into the sex positive community, you start to learn about negotiating. You learn about informed consent. —Carlton
Dr. Kit: Growing up, I read a lot of the books of R-rated movies. My parents would not let me see the R-rated movie, but I could check out anything I wanted from the library and nobody would care. I did as much reading as I possibly could to make up for my actual experience, and one of the things I started to run into in college and even later was kink and heavy sensation play.
People are flogging each other, they are whipping each other. They are saying, “I want to be bit,” and for me, that just did not make sense. That is not an experience that I generally have. I have enough pain in my life that for me, more pain is not a useful experience. But then at one point, a partner and I were having a make-out session and they begged me to bite them, and I was like, “Okay, this is what you want?” And then watching and hearing and feeling their response, I realized, Oh, they’re actually enjoying this. Ohh. This is not a thing that I would like to receive, but clearly, I’m hearing them, I’m seeing them, and they’re telling me that they want this kind of pain, and so for me, that was really eye-opening.
People are just wired differently in all kinds of ways. The more I learned about humans, the more I learned that humans sure do a lot of things. And I think coming to sex positivity and realizing that nope, we’re not going to shame that and nope, we’re not going to judge people — but having that personal moment of going yup, people are really into things that I’m really not into, and that’s okay. We can work with that, we can negotiate that. And for me, that was a really big moment.
Joyce: You both mentioned that consent and negotiation are important and foundational to sex positivity. Has sex positivity changed the way that either of you have treated others?
Dr. Kit: I will say that I was not explicitly taught about consent growing up, and the only sex talk I got with my parents was heading off to a boyfriend’s house in high school and my parents saying, “Be good.” That was all I got. Not super useful. So for me, getting a little older and getting involved in the sex positive community, I’ve learned that it’s okay to ask for what I want. It’s okay to have boundaries. It’s okay to say touch me here, don’t touch me there. Today, this is okay but tomorrow, this might not be okay. This idea that it’s okay to be excited and to talk to your partner about what you each want and what you each don’t want is really empowering. I hope it is for a lot of people. Like, yeah, we get to have things we want. We get to talk about that with people. We get to find where we match. We get to articulate those boundaries. I feel that sex positivity has a lot to offer people because unfortunately, we don’t have enough parents emphasizing consent with young people. At least around the communities where I grew up.
I’ve learned that it’s okay to ask for what I want. It’s okay to have boundaries. It’s okay to say touch me here, don’t touch me there. Today, this is okay but tomorrow, this might not be okay. —Dr. Kit
Carlton: What was a blessing for me was that I was raised mostly by women. Being raised by primarily my mother, aunts, and my grandmother, I fortunately avoided a lot of toxic masculinity. By no means have I been perfect, but I didn’t grow up in a culture where when you’re in your teens, you’re expected to go out and sow your oats. That’s what makes you a “man.” That’s what makes you an adult. So I avoided a lot of things.
I can remember being in high school—I went to a Catholic high school)—and we took sex ed. A teacher asked me the question, What do you do when you’re going on a date? How do you approach it? I start off on this long monologue about how you’re supposed to talk to this person and ask about their feelings and when I got finished, there were a bunch of guys who were laughing at me. And one of the guys said, “From hearing you say that, I can tell that you’ve never been on a date.” And I remember that and at the time it bothered me a little bit, but I’m so grateful for the education that my mother gave me and the things that she exposed me to, because having that mentality then allows me to do what I do now.
I’ve had the opportunity and the blessing of having a little more fun than I probably would’ve had in high school, doing things that some of those folks only get to see on TV. The blessing of being raised mostly by women has been big, because having that knowledge taught me not only how to treat people, but how to take care of myself too.
Joyce: I’m curious how rebellion plays into sex positivity — or does it?
Carlton: I think when you say to someone that something is “rebellious,” it also gives you the connotation that it’s wrong or that it’s subversive in some way. I think part of what we try to do with The Effing Foundation is we try to reduce sexual shame and sexual stigma, so we can have open, healthy conversations around sex and sexuality and things like gender and all these other things. There is no shame. What being sex positive does, is it teaches you that you don’t have to be embarrassed of who you are or what you want. Or fundamental things that are integral to your being.
Dr. Kit: When I was a teenager seeking information about sex or trying to figure out how to masturbate, that felt super rebellious because that wasn’t information I was getting anywhere else. If anything, it was super negative information. Unfortunately, we still live in a very sex negative culture. Sex is this thing that we obsess over and yet, we cannot talk honestly about. At the Foundation, we normalize conversations about sex, we’re reducing shame around sex and sexuality, and so we are pushing back against longstanding Puritan narratives about who people are and what they should do. Does it feel rebellious? Well, there are not yet long lines of funders lining up to hand us money. We are out here on the fringes of the bigger nonprofit community. There are some other organizations, but I don’t know that anyone else focuses on sex positivity and art education like we do.
Unfortunately, we still live in a very sex negative culture. Sex is this thing that we obsess over and yet, we cannot talk honestly about. —Dr. Kit
Joyce: In terms of both your experiences within different institutions — academia or otherwise — I’m curious about whether sex positivity was or wasn’t welcome there, and, was that at all an impetus to starting The Effing Foundation?
Dr. Kit: For me, I started getting involved in the sex positive community through the maker movement.
There is a maker space that started in Somerville that was called Artists in Asylum. And I started going there and taking classes because most of my background in work had been either software or my undergrad was in computer science and my grad work was in human robotic sciences. I’m very interested in anthropology, and I think that people are more important than tech, but I come from a very academic or even software space. Not so much things you can touch.
Going to those maker spaces, I met people who were artisans and crafters, hobbyists and folks who are making things. it took a few years volunteering there to figure out what I wanted to make. And I realized what I wanted to make was sex toys, so I took a casting class from my friend and I said, “Okay, I’m signing up — you understand that I want to leave your class with the maximum number of fuckable objects?” And my friend said, “Okay.” First project, everyone makes a candle, Kit makes a butt plug. Final project, people have various sculptures, and I have a copy of my favorite dildo. I started making toys and I started meeting more people and there was some contention, but folks were generally supportive. I kind of started from there — giving talks and meeting people — and finding folks in the sex positive community who were like, “This is amazing! We need more of this.”
It turns out, if you want to change the world, one of the things that is necessary but not sufficient is money. So it became: can I take money from my friends in tech and give it to artists and educators who are doing this kind of sex positive work? This is where the foundation came from.
Carlton: I’m currently working on a degree in project management, but my bachelor’s degree was actually a degree in political science from Loyola University here in Baltimore. As I said, it’s a Catholic institution and a lot of my teachers were Jesuits. And for all of the many problems that priests have, Jesuits are typically excellent teachers. A lot of what I focused on was political philosophy, so it was a lot of Socratic thought, a lot of Montesquieu, Descartes, and what it did was it trained me to think.
I’ve always been the sort of person who asks a lot of questions, and my education kind of formalized that. As I embarked on becoming more sex positive in my life, I had this idea of “I’m not sure about this, but let me find out. Let me be creative in some way.” When I got involved in the BDSM community, it was cool because it’s something to learn. Kinky folks love to go to classes. And they love to read books. They love to do all of these things. It’s not necessarily — like you said at the beginning of this interview — about just sex. If you’re preparing for a kink scene or you’re going and learning about it, the sex part of it is awesome, but it’s also about how suspension works. Or let me find out about the kinesiology of how I can go for longer. I’m teaching a wax play class tonight. So it’s like, let me figure out the physics that go into the heat of pouring wax on somebody. It’s all of these things that you get to geek out on, that you get to think about. Basically, it’s like a really cool science project.
Joyce: What’s been one of the most interesting or unexpected skills that you’ve learned?
Carlton: The amount of research that you have to do for different things. Two of the most popular classes I teach are BDSM interrogations and fear play. To teach that fear play class, it goes back to that idea of creating an idea and learning and researching. I went out and did a bunch of brain research into the hypothalamus and the amygdala and how the brain processes fear. I then have all this science data, but how am I going to put that into something that makes this work in a kinky scene? Or, for the interrogation class, I read and researched KUBARK, which is the only manual the DCIA wrote about interrogation. How do I read all this obscure stuff, military manuals, all of these different things, and how do I bring this back to something that’s consensual and fun and cool to do? It sounds ridiculous on some levels, but it’s awesome if you’re a geek and you wanna do geeky things.
Dr. Kit: For me, I think it was getting to make my own toys. Trying to figure out what kind of silicone is body safe, and what does body safe even mean? It’s not regulated in the US, so who knows? How can I get in there and make the safest toys? It’s cool because you get into customizing things. I’ve had friends who are trans men who are like, hey, can you make a copy of my penis before it’s gone? And I’m like yeah, we can do that, sure! Researching and talking to people and having the privilege then of being able to share that information — having a website or presenting, or sharing that information at cons — I love that.
I didn’t have a super artistic background. I knew nothing about sculpture or casting, so that was a whole thing to get into. And then you get into the politics of things: who gets to make toys? What are toys made of? How are toys regulated? How do I know that something is body safe? How do I find a vendor that I trust? Yes, I am a sex nerd, but I am also a nerd of many other things in my regular life. I love reading and I watch anime and I play video games and all kinds of stuff. Finding out that sex, sexuality, and kink are all things that humans can nerd out about and have fun never ceases to amaze me.
And then you get into the politics of things: who gets to make toys? What are toys made of? How are toys regulated? How do I know that something is body safe? How do I find a vendor that I trust? —Dr. Kit
Joyce: Is there a topic of conversation that feels super hot to the touch right now?
Dr. Kit: For me, I can talk forever about sex toys, but I have not had as much time to actually get in my work and craft things, because I’ve been making The Effing Foundation. So right now, I can nerd you a lot on trying to start a nonprofit, and trying to start a nonprofit in this weirdo field over here. There’s so many things we could say about the nonprofit industry and things that need to change. Trying to become aware of issues of class and power and privilege — and especially white privilege in the nonprofit industry — that, in general, is a really hot topic right now, especially as people encourage grant makers to actually award their flippant funds, the minimum requirement for private foundations to award. So right now, I have a lot of feels about trying to start a nonprofit and trying to start an equitable nonprofit.
Carlton: I often see a lot of sex positive communities as a microcosm of larger communities and society as a whole, so it’s fascinating because when folks enter the sex positive communities, it’s like, “Wow, I’ve waited my entire life to get into this,” but when you get into it, you realize it’s not the Smurf Village. Not everybody’s awesome, not everybody’s like you, not everybody is one and the same. When you start to encounter things in sex positive communities, you start to see microcosms of good things, but you also start to see microcosms of bad things. You see privilege. You see class. You see economic issues. You see racism. You see misogyny. You see transphobia. You see fat phobia. You see prejudice against disabilities. You see all these different things, and as you encounter and start to work with those issues in smaller communities, it makes you think about the bigger picture.
It’s one thing to talk about racism in a play space or in a community, but then you think, okay, what am I not addressing, what am I not thinking about when it comes to racism on the larger level? Or when you see something that’s blatantly transphobic and it’s in a sex positive community, it makes you think, okay, how many things that are transphobic am I missing in the wider community? By spending time within that sex positive microcosm, it makes you more aware of larger issues in society and hopefully it makes you a person who will adjust your own behavior and your own beliefs. But if you have the capacity to do so, then maybe it will encourage you to try and make things better and safe and more comfortable and more supportive of everyone not just a certain people. Or at very least, you’ll be more aware of things.
By spending time within that sex positive microcosm, it makes you more aware of larger issues in society and hopefully it makes you a person who will adjust your own behavior and your own beliefs. —Carlton
Joyce: Does it feel as though there is at least some sort of intimacy barrier that is broken in a good way, so that it’s easier to talk about racism or privilege?
Carlton: You would think that in kink communities, in sex positive communities, we can talk about issues easier, but a lot of times, we can’t. So when I refer to the community as a microcosm, I also mean that we duplicate a lot of the problems that we have in larger society. So if something racist does happen, then we have the same difficulty of bringing up race like we do in larger society, where you have people who say that it’s a non-issue. Or you have people who say, “I don’t see race, I don’t see color.” People don’t realize things like white privilege. They don’t realize things like microaggressions. It’s almost like a case study. And sometimes, it’s super difficult to work through things, because we have a lot of problems in sex positive communities. But it also gives you an opportunity to look at those problems, study them, and work through them on a smaller level.
If anything, in sex positive communities, people are exposed in good ways, but people are also exposing themselves for all of their flaws and problematic behavior. If you are a person of color in a sex positive space, and you see how people in Black bodies are fetishized in communities, you may have people who think that’s a compliment. Or feel like that’s okay. But you get to see that racism at play. You see that racism in action. When you have spaces and you have segments of the sex positive community and they say things that are blatantly transphobic, and they say, well, to be a man is this or to be a woman is this — you can clearly see the transphobia. You don’t have to guess. This is transphobic and this is problematic, but you also get to see how people double-down on transphobia. You also get to see how people double-down on racism. But then you also get to see how people refute that and work against that and work to educate and work to reduce harm that statements like that cause. You get to see everything in play.
When we talk about sex positivity, we often follow up with that and say, “It’s a community.” But what we don’t say is that if you take it to a societal level, a community has a lot of different elements. It has a lot of different structures and hierarchies and people can be in a lot of different communities. If you go to any major city, that is in essence a community. You will come across people who are living really well, you will come across people who are barely getting by. You’ll come across a lot of different things, but that’s all the same community. You have to understand all those different structures and elements in order to understand that community. That is very much what we encounter in the sex positive community: learning about all those different things and how those structures work, but also seeing how inequalities and prejudice and harm work in those communities. How do we start remediating these different things? How do we work to make things better and safer? It’s things like access to health, information: how do we put the emphasis on pleasure and lack of shame? There’s a lot that goes into the community.
Joyce: Tell me more about the education side of things at The Offing Foundation. What are the hopes and dreams for what The Effing Foundation can do more broadly?
Dr. Kit: We’re trying to fund artists and educators doing this kind of sex positive work. We fund a really broad range of people very intentionally. We set very specific demographic goals each year.
At least 60% of our dollars go to projects that are led by people of color. At least 30% of our dollars go toward artists who are trans/non binary/two spirit + people. We’re trying to get dollars specifically to multiply-marginalized peoples who are out there. We funded everything from Poly Dallas Millennium, which is a conference that centers people of color in consensually non-monogamous relationships, to Honey & Hot Wax, an anthology of art and sex which is essentially tabletop LARPS that are around sex and sexuality, and in some of these games, sex is a game mechanic, and in others you are talking about sex through other means. To me, it’s all kind of education. We want to amplify the voices, particularly of multiply marginalized folks, speaking to their experiences with body and gender. The Black Trans Prayer Book, for instance, we gave a couple of grants to — a collection of pieces by Black trans artists all speaking to their experiences, a lot of which ties into sex and sexuality and their gender. To Birds, Bees, Porn, which is a book for teens and their caregivers., which features very frank discussions of sex and sexuality and consent. So that’s a very specifically educational project. We want teens and their parents to have good information, to be able to critically analyze what they see in porn.
My hope is that eventually someday in the far future, we won’t be as needed. The hope is that by then, there are enough cultural shifts to bring the education and information and freedom of sexual expression that we want to see. But in the meantime, we’re gonna try and do our best to share those perspectives. To amplify those voices as much as we can. That people have enough resources to support themselves so they can make the kind of art and do the kinds of projects they want and that society needs. There’s all these big changes that we support that we hope will eventually mean we are no longer needed. We are trying to write ourselves out of a job. But we do think it’s probably going to be a pretty long battle, so we would certainly appreciate the support right now. But that’s the change I would like to see.
My hope is that eventually someday in the far future, we won’t be as needed. The hope is that by then, there are enough cultural shifts to bring the education and information and freedom of sexual expression that we want to see. — Dr. Kit
Carlton: Kit spoke about education. Take something like rope bondage. The statistics show that a lot of people are interested. But if your only education is seeing somebody tied up on TV, you’re going to think, “Oh cool, if I do this to somebody, then I can suspend them from their wrists, and it’ll be fine.” But the truth of the matter is, if you do that, you’re going to hurt their wrist, or you’re going to dislocate somebody’s shoulder, and that person is going to have a horrible experience, and you’re going to feel terrible, and it’s not going to be sexy, and it’s not going to be great. But if you have the resources and you say the first thing I start with is not tying somebody up, but the first thing I start with is learning how to negotiate — it goes back to that communication. How do I negotiate? How do I set boundaries and limits? How do I grant informed consent? How do I learn about consent culture and how can I tell when something is not right? How do you learn all the soft skills, and then how do you learn all the technical skills? How do you learn to be risk aware? How do you learn to position somebody?
When you finally do get the chance to be tied or tie somebody up, you can have that awesome experience. But you can think about all of the things that you’ve learned leading up to that, building up to that, that will help you in other areas and other facets of your life. If the only thing you’ve ever seen is seeing somebody in a movie, and you see somebody with their hands cuffed and their hands suspended above their heads, and that’s your only frame of reference — if your only frame of reference is not the best information, then you don’t know any better. You start to learn, wow, I could’ve hurt somebody. Or wow, I could’ve initially really hurt somebody. At best, I would’ve had a sucky time or I would’ve caused somebody else to have a sucky time. If I start to get more knowledge, I start to get more education, then I’m going to create safer experiences, better experiences, and it’s going to be beneficial in so many other ways than just that one act or just that one thing.
Joyce: Final question. What is bringing you joy today?
Dr. Kit: Mine is about a game that isn’t out yet: there’s a small indie tabletop game development team, and they’re developing a new sex positive game. And they’ve come to me now to ask for my guidance and they’ve got a publisher and they’re so close. So to be able to go and try it for feedback — having that opportunity to work with other sex positive folks and try to create something together, that brings me so much joy. And they were telling me that, “It’s so great to talk to somebody who gets it.” That meant a lot.
Carlton: I’m actually excited about the wax play class that I’m going to teach tonight because the perspective for that is going to be that COVID has changed a lot of things, and even though some spaces have started to open up, which they shouldn’t, right now, people are mostly stuck at home, so it’s like, how can you connect with kink in a way that is accessible, that’s not going to be super expensive, a way that’s accessible that’s got a fairly easy learning curve? And how is it going to create a moment of joy or a moment of connection or just a moment of fun? Not too expensive. It brings me joy to be able to hopefully give people information and it’s reliable information that allows them to do that. So that’s what brings me joy, if I’m able to help somebody say, “Hey, I learned something today and it was cool.”