Since April 2013, queer artist Erika Moen and her husband, Matthew Nolan, have been publishing the weekly sex-education web comic Oh Joy Sex Toy (OhJoySexToy.com). As the name suggests — in addition to explaining the mechanisms of sex, the ins-and-outs of sexual health, and how to find pleasure — the site also reviews sex toys.
It does so while presenting a broad range of perspectives, genders, body types, and sexualities. Portraying sex acts and the use of sex toys reviewed by the couple, the comics depict trans people, people with disabilities, people of different ages and sizes, and truly all kinds of sexual pairings.
“That’s what the world looks like,” Moen says. “And if we’re going to do a comic that’s meant for the general, average, normal person, we have to show a million different types of bodies. ... If we just drew skinny white cisgender people, that would be inaccurate.”
Nolan adds that it’s been important to create characters who are happy and smiling because “they should be having fun when they have sex.”
Despite what the web comic’s title suggests, Moen says, “the sex-education angle was always the main goal, and then the sex toy review was the garnish on the side. Doing sex education takes time and effort. And we really have to think about the scripts. We have to really put a lot of energy into making them. [With] sex toy reviews, it’s just like, ‘Hey. It felt good. It didn’t feel good.’”
Nolan explains that originally Moen planned to do a sex-ed book, until another comic creator suggested she instead put it online “rather than just trying to make this big giant book and disappearing for a few years.” Ironically, the couple has since released three anthologies of Oh Joy Sex Toy comics, and is launching a new Drawn to Sex book series.
Sex toys, Moen says, “are a part of sex education,” just “not like, the main thrust of it.” Nolan laughs at the double entendre. “That’s terrible,” he says. The two often finish each other’s sentences and spar with suggestive innuendos.
Moen says that masturbation is an important part of sex ed, “especially for women. A lot of women don’t masturbate. They don’t touch themselves. They come into sex just expecting that [their partner] is going to do everything and it’s up to [their partner] to make them feel good. Sex toys are a very important part of learning how your body works and how to make your body feel good completely on your own. It’s literally in your own hands. There’s nobody else’s ego at stake.”
Ultimately, Moen adds, “I wanted to make the sex education that I needed when I was learning about sex. I want this to be a friendly, accessible resource for anybody who’s got questions about sex.”
That they’ve succeeded in reaching a broad audience is evident in a change that occurred earlier this year: Oh Joy Sex Toy is now sponsored by Planned Parenthood, which Moen says regularly sends “their volunteers to look at our website to get information. And it’s referred to in doctor’s offices. They’re like, ‘Oh, hey, if you want to learn how your Pap smear works, there’s this website that has a really good, easy explanation.’”
Switching from advertising to a sponsorship model will also open the site to new visitors who could have been put off from the sometimes-explicit ads. The couple devolves into an extended bit referencing a furry ad featuring an “anthropomorphic horse cock.”
“Horse cock’s not for everyone,” Moen admits. Still, “both of us were really surprised that people would be scared away by the ads. Because ... I draw explicit fucking. I thought, Obviously they’re OK looking at the stuff that I’m drawing. Surely these ads can’t make them clutch their pearls.”
But, she realized, “even when I’m drawing something super explicit, it’s still so cartoony … it doesn’t feel like I’m drawing something super graphic.”
Indeed, that’s part of the web comic’s charm and what makes Oh Joy so accessible and nonthreatening — aspects that are essential in sex-ed materials.