Interview: The Team Behind Oh 'Joy Sex Toy' Talks About It (Sex)
Mar 14, 2021
Interview by Troy-Jeffrey Allen
In 1991, Salt-N-Pepa made the declaration: "Let's talk about sex." And while that song is a generational touchstone, the conversation is far from over. As a matter of fact, that was clearly just the beginning.
Enter creators Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan. The duo behind Oh Joy, Sex Toy has created a teenager's guide dedicated to not just sex, but also to relationships and just plain ol' "being human." That means friendships, gender, sexuality, anatomy, body image, safe sex, sexting, jealousy, rejection, and all points in-between. It turns out that (gasp!) sex is only the beginning when it comes to having a proper sex education.
PREVIEWSworld: So what made you want to focus on teen relationships in the first place? Did you see a need to tackle this topic for a new generation?
Matt: It’s just a topic that feels near and dear to us and is something that’s not really given enough space in comics. The book wasn’t really a reaction to anything in particular. Instead, it’s just the direction we’ve been working toward as a comic-making team. We’ve been doing sex education for a while, but it was always aimed at an older audience. We’d wanted to make comics for younger folk, but it felt daunting and so it was easier for us to cut our teeth on education aimed at our peers, rather than teens. With a lot of years under our belts and the support of Random House Graphic, we felt ready to try our hand at the book we’d always wanted to make.
Erika: As a teen, the world of dating and sex-related stuff was just… incomprehensible to me. I felt these strong desires-- I’d form these deep, soul-entwined friendships or become infatuated with a crush I’d never spoken to-- but I didn’t know how to navigate them. I didn’t know how to communicate with a friend when they hurt my feelings and I didn’t know how to communicate to a crush that I liked them. I had NO idea how physical stuff entered the picture. It was just this boiling pot of FEELINGS with no roadmap, no vocabulary to put the chaos in my head and heart into words. Looking back now, if I had been taught just a few of the communication skills I’ve learned over the last twenty years, I could have been a better friend, a better girlfriend back then-- and I could have advocated for my own needs as well and taken better care of myself. Teens are either taught Abstinence-Only or, if they’re lucky, the mechanics of heterosexual sex and the need for pregnancy/STI protection, but they’re not taught how to navigate the normal, human interactions that come before they need to remember how to roll a condom on correctly. Sex is so much more than genitals smooshing against each other! Teens need to know that! They need to know what their options are, they need to know what questions to ask themselves to figure out what they feel ready (or not) to try, they need to know how to have the potentially embarrassing-awkward but totally needed conversations with their friends and partners, they need a vocabulary to express and advocate for themselves when they inevitably do wind up in uncharted territory with another person. Teens have the capacity to speak up for themselves, to have difficult-but-compassionate talks with each other, and they don’t need to bulldoze through an extra 20 years to learn those skills the hard way.
PREVIEWSworld: Why tackle this subject in graphic novel form?
Matt: Because comics are amazing. They give you so much room to explore and express things in ways that are impossible in text or animation alone. We’re tackling some tough stuff in our book; Jealousy, body image, sexuality, and gender - to name a few. Stuff that is DENSE and tough to get into. With comics, we can break all of that down, make it easier and fun to read.
Erika: Comics are one of the most powerful educational tools, in my opinion. It’s impossible to not read a comic if it’s in front of you. You see the picture and then -Whoops! - you instinctively just start reading the text on that picture and next thing you know you’ve read the entire page. It’s so much easier to ignore a page of text, your eye can just bounce right over all those repeating letters. So, even if you’re not interested in a specific topic if you cover it in a comic? You’re going to read that. Comics are like the Trojan Horse of learning about shit you wouldn’t have looked up in a prose book. And that’s just the utilitarian reason to use comics! Comics are ART! You know that adage in writing, “Show, don’t tell”? You can do that literally with comics. I could draw visual analogies or illustrate concepts and practices with fun, pretty pictures, instead of describing them in dry text and hoping that the reader was picturing the right thing. Especially when it comes to sex and bodies, the reader needs to know exactly what you’re talking about, and comics is the perfect vehicle for that.
PREVIEWSworld: What new growing pains do you think teens face in 2021?
Matt: It’s a whole new world of quarantine-induced stress. I can’t even begin to fathom the difficulties young adults are facing now or will be for the future. I hope we come back to a world of normalcy soon, and that the damage isn’t too severe for the young people in our lives. Hopefully, our book can help a little bit along the way.
Erika: We’re in totally new territory when it comes to the digital aspects of relationships, from the politics of friending or unfollowing, to how long you wait to read and reply to a message, to public shaming, to sharing sexually intimate messages and pictures. Humans have been around for 200,000 years (at least, that’s what Google just told me) and it’s only in the last thirty years that people have become connected to each other online. This is genuinely uncharted territory and we, as a people, are figuring out how to navigate it right here, right now, in real-time.
PREVIEWSworld: Do you both have a background in this sort of thing?
Matt: Erika and I have been making sex education comics on Oh Joy Sex Toy for 8ish years now!
Erika: We’re just two passionate nerds who love to research and turn information into easily-understandable comics. Like Matt said, we’ve been making sex education comics professionally for the last eight years, but we’re not certified or have any degrees in Sex Education. But actual medical clinics and health professionals use our comics and refer patients to our site, so I think we’re doing an OK job.
PREVIEWSworld: Was there a particular aspect that was very difficult to navigate?
Matt: Yes! A lot of the book was tough for us. The more complex subjects or the ones which aren’t easy to express were the hardest. But we didn’t want to shy away from the tough stuff, and tackled everything we could, with the best intentions. Jealousy, Rejection, Kinks, and Fantasies, those subjects in particular took a lot of work.
Erika: It was really hard to cut back how much info we could share on each subject and to leave out whole topics entirely. There just wasn’t space or time! It was also really challenging to find wording that would work for the broadest amount of people, too. There are so many people who have slight variations in their anatomy, their attractions, their identity, their beliefs, so it could be challenging to find words and descriptions that would apply to everyone.
PREVIEWSworld: The full title of your book is THE TEEN’s GUIDE TO SEX, RELATIONSHIPS, AND BEING HUMAN. I’m curious where “being human” falls into the discussion. Can you elaborate?
Matt: The big through-line of the book is communication and treating those around you the way you’d wish to be treated. We have teens educating teens, kids being human and showing feelings and thoughts. Education isn’t finger-waggy, and instead supportive and caring. ‘Being Human’ to us reflects the fact that the book treats those who read it as equals, and encourages them to treat others the same. Hopefully, teens will read it and walk away feeling supported and reflected, but also with a greater sense of care for those around them - the human lesson.
Erika: Being a human is hard! We’ve got all these thoughts and feelings and everyone else does too and then you throw us all together and it can be a big ol’ mess! Most of the lessons we teach in our book are applicable beyond sexual situations; it’s about communicating with yourself and others. To me, “Being a Human” means honoring the legitimacy of your own thoughts and feelings while respecting the same is true of others and navigating around and with each other from there.
PREVIEWSworld: What has the response been to the book been like so far?
Matt: Really overwhelmingly positive, which has been disarming for us both! We were working on this book back in 2019, and made it in such a flurry of speed, that we just didn’t know what to expect as a way of a reaction. But everyone who’s read it has been really excited and positive. It’ll be really interesting to hear how it’s received when it gets into teen’s hands.
Erika: So far it’s been really positive??? Matt and I knew what we were trying to make, and it’s been such a relief to see that our intended messages are being picked up by the first few reviews and early-readers who have taken a look at it. There’s still plenty of time for it to make its way into the camps of people who will be offended by this subject matter, of course, so I’m just enjoying this time of positivity while it lasts.
Let's Talk About It (JAN211496) is available now at comic shops everywhere.
Let's talk about it.
Growing up is complicated.
How do you find the answers to all the questions you have about yourself, about your identity, and about your body? Let's Talk About It provides a comprehensive, thoughtful, well-researched graphic novel guide to everything you need to know.
Covering relationships, friendships, gender, sexuality, anatomy, body image, safe sex, sexting, jealousy, rejection, sex education, and more, Let's Talk About It is the go-to handbook for every teen, and the first in graphic novel form.
Troy-Jeffrey Allen is the producer and co-host of PREVIEWSworld Weekly. His comics work includes BAMN, Fight of the Century, the Harvey Award-nominated District Comics, and the Ringo Awards-nominated Magic Bullet.