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Zoë Ligon

Dildo Duchess Zoë Ligon on sexual wellness, skid marks and clit smegma


TextOlivia Edwardes

We spoke to sex educator and sex toy entrepreneur Zoë Ligon about her booming vibrator business Spectrum Boutique

Zoë Ligon is the self-described “dildo duchess” shattering social taboos with her charismatic take on sex toys and sex education. Selling everything from corn on the cob dildos to mushroom-shaped buttplugs, and 100% body-safe personal care products, her sex-positive, sex toy shop, Spectrum Boutique, which she set up in Detroit back in 2015, is a haven for all identities, curiosities, and experience levels. When she’s not curating brightly coloured, uniquely shaped dildos, you can find her waxing lyrical over on social media about everything from skid marks to clit smegma. Funny, open, endearing and refreshingly honest, always referring back to personal experience, she’s the sex educator you wish you had growing up. Because for Zoë, when it comes to talking about sex and the human body, no topic is too awkward. “Stigma towards anyone's intimate body parts harms all of us,” she says, which is why she’s made it her life’s mission to challenge the status quo. Here we speak to the sexpert about vulvas, vibrators and the importance of sex education.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up? How has your background shaped who you are as a person?
Zoë Ligon: I’m a sex educator, writer, artist, and the owner of Spectrum Boutique. I grew up in the DC suburbs in Silver Spring, MD, and attended Quaker schools until high school when I went to public school. I loved what Quaker philosophy taught me from a conflict resolution, peace, and non-violence standpoint. It was a space that allowed me to be my weird and wacky self, while also encouraging awareness and reflection. I had a loving and supportive family, but it was a very chaotic and sometimes traumatizing home environment. I had OCD that centred around symmetry, as well as compulsively “confessing” things that I was thinking. I am a highly sensitive person, and I consider that both my superpower as well as my Achilles’ heel.

How did you find yourself in the industry of sex education and sex toys? 
Zoë Ligon: Initially I wanted to be a dancer, but I gave up those dreams and decided to be a therapist instead. I moved to New York when I was 18, where I was a bartender at DIY venues and worked other jobs on the side. I used sex to distract myself from trauma, and while I had some great times, I didn’t have boundaries and was hurt many times. I eventually met a woman who worked at a sex toy store, and once she got to know me and my art, she suggested I apply for a job at the shop she worked at. I had just started using sex toys (and had only recently become orgasmic) so I jumped at the opportunity to spread the good word of sex toys and tools.

What is your most popular toy?
Zoë Ligon: There are several popular toys we carry, but one in particular that we can never keep in stock is the Polka Dot Jollet. Not only are the colours absolutely funfetti-licious, but it’s also a dildo that was created from a mould of the vaginal canal. It essentially fills every nook and cranny and creates a deliciously-filled feeling. As a frequent personal user of this dildo myself, I think it’s popular simply because it’s different and effective. Unlike many dildos which are designed for thrusting, this one is more intend to go in and stay in like a plug, but I personally like to nudge and twist at it as I use it

How are sex toys evolving? 
Zoë Ligon: The trends are constantly changing. In 2017 I saw a lot of sex dolls being released, and in 2018 it was VR and app-compatible everything. This year I’m seeing a lot of “squishy” things trending. I am hard to impress, and it’s always the unlikely little things, like silicone masturbation sleeves (a rare thing to come by), that make my ears perk up. We have come a long way with sex toy design -- body-safe materials are slowly becoming the norm, and now you can get a rechargeable vibrator for under $50 (six years ago, only the luxe $100+ toys were rechargeable.) I have met a lot of people who have been in this industry for decades, and I have a lot of appreciation for how they paved the way me to create Spectrum Boutique, given that many brands were getting raided by the police for selling sex toys in the 70s and fighting against laws and restrictions.

How is technology changing our relationship with sex?
Zoë Ligon: Free, streaming porn is probably having the largest impact on our relationship with sex. When you don’t have sex ed, you learn from porn, but porn is a caricature of what sex is about. It warps our expectations of what sex is, as well as our impressions of what genitals and bodies look like, and makes it more difficult for our erotic minds to fantasise -- which is a huge component of sexuality that is often overlooked. Porn itself is an amazing tool, but it is not sex education, and most viewers don’t have the education or context to separate porn from reality.

What does sexual wellness mean to you?
Zoë Ligon: For me personally as a sexual trauma survivor, sexual wellness is about honouring my bodily autonomy and boundaries while feeling comfortable and able to explore intimacy. Sometimes that means not having any sex, and sometimes that means taking a risk and exploring new areas of my sexuality that make me uncomfortable. I think it’s important for people to define this for themselves, but at it’s core I suppose sexual wellness is about kind, loving, intimacy with yourself, which can then be extended out towards others.

What are the physical, spiritual and emotion benefits of sex?
Zoë Ligon: I believe sex is one way of tapping into the energy of the universe. Emotionally, sex is one powerful way of filling our hearts with love and kindness (which is also why sexual abuse is so painfully damaging to our “hearts”.) Physically, it is a stress reliever, an endorphin-releaser, a delicious treat for us to savour and feel present in our bodies. In many ways, the physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits are all the same.

You’ve spoken about this lots on your page, but why do you think the narrative of sex, masturbation, sexual exploration should be spoken about online?
Zoë Ligon: You don’t have to be raised Catholic in order to internalise the shame society projects into sexuality. I struggled to feel safe exploring my own body, and still struggle with it to this day. We are all just humans trying to feel safe and loved, and sexual shame deeply fractures our sense of identity and humanity. I know the world would be a more peaceful place for everybody if we could feel safe sexually expressing ourselves without fear.

What do you hope to see more of online in terms of wellness content and sexuality?
Zoë Ligon: I would like to see sex education move into more nuanced realms -- instead of more “butt sex 101” and sex position articles, I want people to talk about the difficult subjects that make us uncomfortable but are truly necessary for us to progress. While I think we are already having these conversations, the taboo comes across more as “shock value” pieces rather than a genuine desire to understand. I want to see white feminism step aside and make space for other voices in the “sex positive” world, because it doesn’t benefit anybody to have a homogenous population of sex educators talking about the same topics over and over again. That includes me too, obviously. While I’ll always create my own education as well, I am shifting more of my focus towards providing revision/editing support for other writers and publishing or signal boosting them through my own platforms whenever possible.

You recently spoke out about clit smegma and skid marks, what is it you wanted to address with this?
Zoë Ligon: One day while I was showering (and you know, wiping away clit smegma) I was reminded of how "smegma" is this gross punchline for people, and it's really only associated with penises with foreskin. In reality, it's just a regular fact of life for everyone with skin folds -- it's an oily sebum that all of our bodies excrete, but if you're circumcised you have fewer skin folds for it to accumulate.I am very much against the norm of circumcising infants (the United States is one of only a few countries where this is normalised) and smegma is one way that people shame intact penises. Perhaps they do that to distract from the disturbing reality that many people have no say in their foreskin being removed at birth. Unless you're inspecting your vulva up close, you might not even notice you have it because it's hidden under skin folds. As for the skidmarks, poop is just another fact of life that isn't 100% avoidable. People go to great lengths to douche before anal sex, but even then, you're still potentially going to encounter poo flecks. It is upsetting that we are so ashamed of our bodily functions that we think we must flush out our insides to even CONSIDER anal play (which removes the mucus layer of the rectum, and makes the rectum more prone to irritation in the long run.) Yes, I own a bidet. Yes, I learned how to wipe myself properly. Shit happens, and people are fully deluding themselves if they think their genitals are a sterile environment. Ask any OBGYN, nurse, crotch waxer, or sex worker -- more often than not, there is a little fleck of smegma, poop, or a toilet paper clump hangin' out on your body, and it's okay. 

Were you surprised by the negative comments you received?
Zoë Ligon: I wasn't surprised by the negative comments. I got a whole lot more appreciation and support, and had so many professionals who work closely with genitals chime in, in agreement with me. The negative commenters always yell the loudest. Most of the negative commenters come from a place of insecurity and internalised shame about their own bodies, and I'm happy to be a person that challenges them. 

Why do you think there's such a stigma attached to women's intimate care? 
Zoë Ligon: The world is full of misogyny, and is also vulva-phobic. Basically if you aren't a straight cisgender white dude, your sexuality is stigmatised and marginalised. While I sometimes feel frustrated with individuals for their shamey and sometimes hateful views, it's really our sexually oppressive culture that has failed us all. Stigma towards anyone's intimate body parts harms all of us, really. It's somewhat ironic that my impetus to discuss clit smegma was also an attempt to destigmatise foreskin (or what people assume having foreskin is like.) The full structure of the clit wasn't understood until the mid-90s, yet we have known how penises work as far back as human history goes. When you can't see your own genitals without a hand mirror, there is a huge information gap. I didn't personally know that the tiny flecks under my clitoral hood were a natural thing and not a problem with my body -- I literally put it together by myself after having partners with foreskin, and making the connection to my own clit. We shouldn't be left in the dark about our own bodies, and be forced to reinvent the wheel by self-study and self-exploration alone -- people need to talk about vulvas, even the "gross" stuff. You don't need to *enjoy* the moments when you encounter poo flecks and smegma, but don't beat yourself up or shame a partner when it happens. The reality of bodies is that they excrete, so stop punishing the human body for doing what it's supposed to do.

How has talking about sex empowered you? 
Zoë Ligon: I am definitely becoming more comfortable in my own skin. It’s a continuously evolving empowerment that makes me grateful to be alive. I have learned how to love myself more. I went from being someone who was having a lot of reckless sex to fill a trauma void, to a person who hasn’t fully figured shit out but is a whole lot happier and slowly healing. I have had a hard time loving myself, and carry a lot of pain with me still, but I am just so happy to be alive -- and curious!

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