It’s still Women’s History Month and we didn't want it to pass unnoticed. So, we’re taking a moment to bow down to the women who’ve championed for better sex and female pleasure. These badass activists, feminists and all-around sex-positive people are the vanguard for sexual freedom. They’ve tirelessly advocated for orgasms and acceptance and want every single woman to own their sexuality – whatever that means to you.
Joani Blank (1937-2016), feminist pioneer, writer, philanthropist and sex educator
Known for: Blank founded the publishing house Down There Press in 1975. With $4,000 in savings, she then opened Good Vibrations two years later. It was the first sex-positive, female-friendly adult store of its kind in the U.S. The pioneer for sex positivity also designed vibrators, including the strap-on Butterfly model. Although Good Vibes played a part in popularizing now-iconic items like the Hitachi Magic Wand, it above all aimed to make females feels safe about sexuality, toys and erotica.
Best quote: “We were tapping into a need that was already coming forth in people’s minds, for women to actually learn more about their sexuality and not depend upon a man to tell them about it. And a lot of acceptance of variations in terms of what arouses a woman, it’s not the same for everybody. What the role of fantasy in their sex lives and how OK it is for them, given their upbringing, to take some initiative around sex or to ask for something to be different or to just talk about sex, period, to use the words, and be told it’s really OK for them to get what they want around sex and to learn how to ask for it.”
Susie Bright, writer and activist
Known for: Bright’s resume is long. The author, editor, performer and sex critic was one of the first females to be referred to as a sex-positive feminist. An avid writer, Bright co-founded and edited On Our Backs, the first women-run erotica magazine to feature lesbian erotica in 1984, as well as founded The Best American Erotica series. Find her on "In Bed with Susie Bright" on Audible.
Best quote: “I think that you have to do everything you can do to empower girls when they are young, from their education, to their successful independence, to their sexual self-knowledge.”
Betty Dodson, artist, author and PhD sexologist
Known for: The “Mother of Masturbation” has fought to liberate female sexuality for more than four decades. Her books, "Liberating Masturbation: A Meditation on Selflove" (1974) and "Sex for One; The Joy of Self-Loving" (1987) are feminist classics. Her Bodysex workshops, where she teaches women to overcome sexual shame and connect with their orgasm, are legendary.
Best quote: “Masturbation is a meditation on self-love. So many of us are affected with self-loathing, bad body images, shame about our body functions, and confusion about sex and pleasure, I recommend an intense love affair with yourself.”
Alexandra Fine and Janet Lieberman, founders of Dame Products
Known for: Fine, a Columbia University grad with a master's degree in clinical psychology concentrating in sex therapy, and Lieberman, a mechanical engineer, teamed up in 2014 to launch Dame Products, a revolutionary line of vibrators made by women, for women. Their hands-free vibrator, Eva sits pretty within a woman’s labial folds via two wings and makes clitoral stimulation during coupled, penetrative sex possible. It was the most successful sex toy crowdfunding campaign in history
Best quote: “I make the world a happier place...one vagina at a time,” Fine once said.
Lucy Gillespie, writer, producer and playwright
Known for: She’s the brilliant mind behind, "Unicornland," the sex-positive web series that portrays Annie, a young queer woman, who zigzags awkwardly (and oh-so endearingly!) through her journey of sexual exploration. Over the span of eight episodes, Gillespie shares authentic moments of kink, threesomes, polyamory and life as a single, unattached woman.
Best quote: “People would ask, “Why is [the protagonist] even there?’ I’m like, ‘Because she’s horny. Why does she need a reason?’ I don’t understand that,” Gillespie told Self-Care With Writers.
Janet W. Hardy and Dossie Easton, co-authors of "The Ethical Slut"
Known for: After coauthoring two books on kink, Hardy and Easton teamed up to pen a book on non-monogamy. The queer and polyamorous identifying twosome intended to reclaim the word slut and in 1997, published "The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities." Long considered the “Bible” of alternative relationship styles, the book celebrated its 20th anniversary last year with a fancy new, updated edition.
Best quote: “So what’s wrong with wanting attention? Isn’t there plenty? Remember about starvation economies: Don’t shortchange yourself. You do not have to be content with little dribs and drabs of comfort, attention, support, reassurance and love. You get to have all the comfort and reassurance you want,” Easton said.
Erika Lust, screenwriter, director, indie adult filmmaker and founder of Power Pussy apparel line
Known for: Lust founded LustCinema, a subscription website for adult films, in 2010. The ethical porn producer also runs two other film websites, pay-per-view website EroticFilms.com and subscription-based XConfessions, the first crowdsourced project in adult film that takes publicly submitted anonymous confessions and turns them into erotic films twice a month. Her most recent venture? Power Pussy by Erika Lust, a collection of t-shirts, totes, panties and caps with sex-positive messages, like ‘I'm sorry I'm late, I was masturbating’, 'It’s not gonna lick itself’, ‘My Hole Rules’, and ‘Let’s misbehave.’ The launch of the apparel line coincided with the release of the 100th XConfessions film.
Best quote: “The sex can stay dirty, but the values have to stay clean.”
Mistress Matisse, sex educator and founder of Velvet Swing, a cannabis-enhanced sexual lube
Known for: Matisse has been a professional dominatrix on the Seattle scene for more than two decades. She’s been a superhero for sex workers, advocating for the decriminalization of sex work and an avid writer about BDSM, polyamory and women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and workers' rights.
Best quote: "I kind of regard that as my purpose in life - to make people have more orgasms. And now they get to have them even when I'm not in the room," Matisse told The Stranger.
Bree Mills, writer, producer and award-winning porn director
Known for: Mills is the mastermind behind Gamma Films, as well as Girlsway, a site for girl-on-girl porn, and more recently, PURE TABOO, which took home five awards at the recent AVN Awards, including Best Drama and Movie of the Year for "Half His Age." The 30-something excels at producing films with raw, emotional and believable sex – very different from a lot of the forced and formulaic films seen in mainstream porn.
Best quote: “Just because you’re a sex worker does not mean you’re a sex object. People forget these are actually people, and that makes it easy to dismiss behavior.”
Carol Queen PhD, sex activist extraordinaire
Known for: Founding director of The Center for Sex & Culture in San Francisco, staff sexologist at Good Vibrations, curator of the Good Vibes’ Antique Vibrator Museum, author of several books, including "The Sex & Pleasure Book: Good Vibrations Guide to Great Sex for Everyone."
Best quote: “All our differences and similarities are vast and rich - their interplay is the fabric of all relating. It's hard to invent rules out of such complexity; we improvise as we learn about each other.”
Amber Rose, model, author and founder of SlutWalk
Known for: The model, actress and SlutWalk founder is one of the loudest voices in fighting to end sexual stigma, slut shaming and victim blaming. She’s also collaborated with LELO to promote her favorite sex toys to help destigmatize masturbation and promote female pleasure – partnered or not.
Best quote: "Men go out and get some all the time, without anyone making a fuss about it. It's not our problem there's a double standard in our culture."
Carlin Ross, attorney, entrepreneur and President of the Betty Dodson Foundation
Known for: The “keeper of all things Betty Dodson,” Ross landed on the front page of the New York Times when she left a legal career to promote female pleasure. Her vulva was broadcast on national TV in Norway and makes frequent appearances as Dodson’s “stunt cunt” in the Bodysex workshops the fab duo facilitates for women.
Best quote: “I want to thank you, Betty, for never giving up, for never selling out. You have taught us all to love ourselves, to embrace pleasure and to become the women we were destined to be in this world. These are your leaders who are going to take your work out there, so that other women and girls can move through life, full and happy,” Ross said at a Bodysex retreat in 2017.
Annie Sprinkle, sex educator, writer, actress and producer
Known for: Sprinkle was a top-grossing actress in the '80s, and toured with her notorious “Public Cervix Announcement” in the '90s, where she invited women on stage to view her cervix through a speculum. She continues to rewrite the script for women with her educational workshops and videos.
Best quote: “There’s a lot of pain and suffering out there. I think there needs to be more joy, and love, and orgasms in the world. We are a pleasure-negative society. Suffering is much more acceptable. And I want to tell women that they are sexually powerful beings, but they often don’t get in touch with it because they are socialized to please men.”
Dr. Ruth Westheimer, beloved sexpert and author
Known for: The psychosexual therapist broke all sorts of taboos with her no-nonsense radio and cable talk shows in the '80s and '90s. Now, the octogenarian continues to dispense sex advice and life lessons via her website, YouTube channel and Twitter.
Best quote: "When it comes to sex, the most important six inches are the ones between the ears."
Victoria Woodhull (1838-1927), women’s right leader, free love champion and first woman to run for president
Known for: The “free love” advocate garnered celebrity in the 1870s as a political radical who redefined the suffrage woman and challenged the sexual status quo in the public and political sphere.
Best quote: “I am a free lover. I have an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or short a period as I can; to change that love every day if I please.”