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Munroe Bergdorf Salty cover
Munroe Bergdorf as featured on SaltyCourtesy of Salty

Salty is the site giving you advice about sex you might actually take

This New York-based email newsletter is the refreshingly realistic content we deserve

“We’re kind of like Playboy meets Cosmo, minus the all the bullshit,” says Claire Fitzsimmons, the editor of Salty. A cursory glance at the site will have you hooked. Staying true to the name, the New York-based digital newsletter and community has an unmistakable acerbic tone. Their “how to” pieces that tell you how to copyright your nudes to avoid revenge porn; how to ask your boyfriend to let you peg him;  peg him; how to take care of yourself when you’re a sex worker. They even provide cut-and-paste texts to help you establish boundaries with potential sexual partners. Headlines like “I’m Sick of Being Eroticised By ‘Woke’ Dudes” aren’t just intriguing – they illustrate that this platform is willing to go beyond the overdone and outdated love and relationship tidbits from archaic glossies.

Fitzsimmons is a surprisingly reserved character who is keen to eschew personal spotlight and praise. “It’s truly a team effort”, she insists. She heads up a network of femme, trans and non-binary editors and writers around the world.  There are five central tenets for what makes a Salty story: inclusivity, celebration over condemnation, authenticity, respect and fun. “Like duh, we know how depressing and fraught dating and sex is, we live that reality,” she explains. To maintain a supportive and nuanced environment the site is keen to pass the mic, and allow people to tell their own experiences. She continues: “Sex work content is written by sex workers, trans content is created by trans people. That doesn't feel radical to us, that's just common sense.”

Having built a community of 40,000 followers and 20,000 newsletter subscribers in a matter of months (“pretty good for a scrappy bunch of salty babes with no cash”), we caught up to learn how Salty become 2018’s most promising new sex and relationships platform.

Why did you feel moved to start a site that amplified the voices of women, trans and non-binary people?

Claire Fitzsimmons: I’ve been told my whole life I’m too much: too opinionated, too sexual, I dress too weird and I don’t know when to keep my mouth shut. I’ve had a terrible time dating, like many of us. I’ve never felt like a girl or a boy and it was, and continues to be, confusing. I’m not a Glamour girl. I’m not refined. I’m definitely not alluring. I’m beyond all that. I’m Salty. And I figure there’s babes out there that feel like that too.

We believe that people in power and privilege have a responsibility to lift others up. If we’re going to fight for women’s rights we have to round out the conversation to include race, sexuality and access. Salty’s way of doing that is by amplifying people’s stories and always, always using colour and personal expression as a tool for joy and dissent.

What makes a Salty cover star?

Claire Fitzsimmons: Salty babes are unapologetic people who speak their mind and stick their necks out to change the world. They have guts. Our cover stars are people teaching the world about feminism like Rachel Cargle, Munroe Bergdorf or Erika Hart. Or like KhrystyAna (a former ANTM finalist), who uses her platform to elevate others with #theREALcatwalk. This month we partnered with #theREALcatwalk for our covera by featuring thirty of the models.

“Some days Salty feels like a freight train and all we can do is hold on for dear life” – Claire Fitzsimmons

You’ve already angered men’s rights activists. Did they really hack your site?

Claire Fitzsimmons: Six months ago, we broke a #MeToo story about emo musician William Control, who was famous in the 00s and still holds some clout in the goth and industrial scene. We spoke with six of his alleged victims and shared their stories, which included financial extortion, beatings, sexual assault, branding on their genitals as well as taking and sharing sexual imagery without consent, all under the guise of BDSM. It’s totally fucked up. There were a number of ongoing police investigations at the time.

A few hours after the story went live, our site suffered a hack and took three days to get back online. We found the fatal error code hidden in the back of a dormant widget. Luckily, the story was picked up by The Daily Beast, The Guardian, Pitchfork, and Jezebel so it got out. But William Control and his fans continue to terrorise Salty. Last month he lead a targeted harassment campaign which resulted in our Instagram account being “accidentally disabled” (according to Instagram), but thanks to the energy from our community it was reinstated.

Even tech companies have tried to censor you quite a bit so far.

Claire Fitzsimmons: Ugh. We sent out our first "Welcome to Salty" newsletter, and three hours later we were banned for violating the terms of service. MailChimp refused to give us a specific reason. We tried three other services, but none of them would take us either. There are harsh sexist terms hidden in the fine print of many digital services, and we've been censored a lot. It's exhausting. The reason why we went with a newsletter strategy is so our content isn't held at the whim of Social Media's ZuckBro Reptillian Inc – and thankfully now we're set up with a large scale newsletter service which will allow us to send out anything.

We’ve been disabled (and reinstated) from Instagram, and our Facebook ads are rarely approved. The censorship is constant. So I wrote about “The Patriarchy in The Algorithm”. In partnership with non-binary Salty cover star Rain Dove, we encouraged users to regram this topless Salty image to highlight the censorship of non-binary and female bodies on the platform. We posed the question: If men's nipples are okay, but women's nipples aren't – what is the policy on non-binary nipples? The image was shared 19,000 times, and as a result, the Instagram reinstated the image after it was deleted, and changed their nipple censorship policy to take into consideration those who identify as non-binary. A small victory.

Why don’t enough publications look beyond heteronormativity?

Claire Fitzsimmons: They’re stagnating. Legacy media outlets lost the trust of consumers through years of shitty advice and content that assumed the readers’ fragility and/or frigidity, heteronormativity, and whiteness, or was centred around the pleasure of men. The reason why the other publications can’t look beyond white girls having sex to please men? Well... maybe because straight white men own these companies? Men own the advertisers who pay for the magazines? The teams are filled with white ladies? Many of these institutions are too big and old to pivot. Having said that, even if they did, it would feel inauthentic. This kind of perspective has to come from an outsider to disrupt the market.

As teens, we received such flawed advice in women’s magazines; so many articles on how to please and appease men and how to contort your body like origami during sex. What’s some advice you’ve received that was actually useful?

Claire Fitzsimmons: Understand that your sexuality and gender identity can be fluid and changing. There's a lot of pressure to know exactly who you are and what you want, but the truth is 
for many of us – we exist somewhere in between. And that's okay, and that’s valid.

What next for Salty?

Claire Fitzsimmons: It feels like we’re tapping into a cultural zeitgeist. Some days Salty feels like a freight train and all we can do is hold on for dear life. We don’t want to be volunteer-run forever; we’re rolling out a membership plan next year, and expect people who are able to start paying for the experience.

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