If you’re like me, you learned about sex from pornography, stand-up comedy, and Jarvis Cocker. To say the least, I could have had better teachers—take Lena Solow, for example. She’s dedicated her professional life to giving young people positive, realistic views of sex. She’s a sex educator, the author of a Teen Vogue column about sex, and an employee of sex toy shop, Babeland, where she recently led a unionization effort. It’s basically impossible to overstate how important this work is, and how deep and long-lasting its effects can be. Just imagine if you thought all your weird sex stuff wasn’t weird, and you could discuss it openly with all of your partners? You’d probably be a lot happier. But maybe you’re already like that. My sex teachers were pretty weird.
Where do you live and how old are you?
I’m 26 and live near Prospect Park.
What made you first interested in your profession, and how old were you when that happened?
My mom says I was born with the “comfortable talking about sex” gene, and I was always the one my friends came to for learning about puberty and to answer their sex questions. I’ve always been interested in how we can build a world that affirms and celebrates all different kinds of bodies and relationships, while still acknowledging the pain and trauma so many people are holding in their bodies. Officially, I was hired by a young women’s empowerment nonprofit in Washington, DC as a peer sex educator at age 15.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I’m not sure exactly what it looks like, but I’m working in community with other people building a world where queer people, trans people, and people of color are not just surviving but thriving. And some tiny part of the fucked up world has become less fucked up. I’m surrounded by people I love and we all get to spend more time in nature. Maybe there are babies.
Have you ever felt like leaving your career path?
I was part of unionizing efforts at Babeland, where I’ve been slingin’ dildos and butt plugs for more than three years. The experience of unionizing has been truly life-changing, and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to get more and more people able to feel this sense of power and solidarity on the job. So maybe that’s next for me.
What’s felt like you’re biggest professional accomplishment?
Helping lead the unionizing efforts at Babeland and fighting for everyone’s favorite local dildo-peddlers to get a fair wage, safety on the job, and basic respect. Babeland is now the only unionized sex toy store in the country. No matter what kind of work you’re doing, you deserve a voice on the job and a say in your working conditions. Follow our campaign at #DildosUnited and #FistsUpForBabeland!
What’s some advice you’d give to people trying to get a foothold in your industry?
Focus on relationships. We’re so often told that our success is predicated on other people’s failures, so we have to really push against that if we’re going to build our careers in a way that’s not isolating and violent but affirming and generative. Don’t work for free and don’t be afraid to ask for more money. Make sure your sex education work is intersectional—that you’re coming at it from a reproductive justice lens and including race, class, gender, and sexual orientation not just as an afterthought but as integral to the work.
Who are your role models in your industry?
I am always learning from Bianca Laureano, a colleague and dear friend who helped found the Women of Color Sexual Health Network. I’m inspired by all the radical doulas doing support work for folks at all stages of birth (abortion, miscarriage, pregnancy, birth, etc). In one of my jobs I work with a group of brilliant teen peer health educators—Crismely, Joe, Gerald, Natalia, Monserrat, Tamara, Yuleissi, Daniela, and Shaoli—who are deeply committed to supporting and uplifting each other and to building a better world, and I learn from them every day. Vera Papisova, my editor at Teen Vogue, is doing great work to bring radical messages about bodies and sex to a really broad audience.
Who would be your pick for 30 Under 30?
I want to shout out two groups of people. The first is my brilliant and powerful coworkers at Babeland, who fought like hell to have a union in our workplace and are still fighting to get a really good contract (follow our campaign #DildosUnited and #FistsUpForBabeland for updates). I’ve never experienced the sense of solidarity that I feel in my workplace now, and I’m so grateful to the beautiful folks I work with.
And second, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the work that doesn’t get valued or even compensated—care work that is done mostly by women and femmes. So my second group is the friends in my life doing an incredible job keeping each other alive and thriving. That work is never going to get this kind of recognition, but it should, because it makes any kind of success (professional or otherwise) possible.
And ok fine, if you need a name, you should all be reading everything Muna Mire is writing.
Should we all move to LA?
I recently reread that Onion article “8.4 Million New Yorkers Suddenly Realize NYC A Horrible Place to Live” and pieces of that super resonated—I’m sometimes overwhelmed with the feeling that this rodent-infested city is grinding on me and the people I love way too hard. But for now I’m here to stay!