Photo credit: Other Nature
Last month, I caught up with the Kitty May, the Director of Education and Community Outreach of the feminist, eco-friendly and queer-oriented sex shop, Other Nature, in Berlin. Kitty May is also a psychotherapeutic counselor in private practice and brings over 10 years’ experience working in the areas of sexual and reproductive justice, sexual health, and sex and relationships education.
I heard about Other Nature initially because of the workshop Kitty May hosts, called “Demystifying Orgasm”. We chatted about the female anatomy, sex without goals, Other Nature workshops, her experience teaching adults and youth and so many things in between over coffee in the sun.
Photo credit: Not Another Woman mag
We talked about society and why most people are still having goal-oriented sex. Kitty May’s response was simple, that “maybe it’s because we live in a goal-oriented society. The lens through a capitalistic society is through achievement. 'Am I measuring up?' 'Am I as good as my peers?' 'How successful am I?' [If] that's the way we think about work, friendship, material possessions and everything...then that's the way we will think about sex. The media is a machinery of many different parts and that machinery towards sex is very goal-oriented. This is something that I talk about with young people, particularly.
With young people now, it’s a really tricky time, because in many ways, the media is so full of sex. There’s this idea that as a society, we’re super comfortable talking about sex, you can make jokes about sex, sex is everywhere, there’s sex in the movies. The reality is actually that it’s still a bit taboo, especially about the things that are challenging or do not fit the norm.”
It was interesting to me to hear someone who isn’t from the US talk about how sex-obsessed yet explaining the severe taboo over the subject still exists. I, up until this point, thought it was an American cultural thing. For so long, I imagined Europe to be open about sex in general, yet Kitty May was telling me differently.
“The mainstream message is that everyone is having amazing sex. Sex is really important. A lot of women magazines will use this sort of empowering language, but if you really look at the messages they are communicating, it’s [includes] a lot of shaming. It’s not the traditional prude-ish shaming. It’s a shaming around how much are you achieving in your sex life.”
We began to speak more about Berlin and the shop we were sitting down the street from. I sat back, wondering how something like Other Nature could exist. It makes sense that such a progressive and inclusive shop would be in Berlin, but I couldn’t help but compare it to the likes of She Bop in Portland, due to it’s open and friendly atmosphere. I was curious how Kitty May got involved with the shop and how their event schedule has evolved.
“I was living in South Africa, at a party in Johannesburg and I said I was moving to Berlin. Someone said, ‘You must meet my friend. She’s really great.’ I learned that she ran a feminist sex shop. I said, ‘Oh, that’s my kind of place.’ I had a blind date with this couple, one of whom is Sarah, who founded Other Nature. I would’ve found my way to it anyway, because everyone in my friend group frequents the shop. Sarah and I became friends and I told her my background in sex education with youth. I had been doing sex education projects in Cape Town. She wanted me to teach a workshop at Other Nature and I said had never given a workshop to adults, which wasn’t true - I had been training professionals who work with young people about how to talk to young people about sex. Through doing that work, I had very quickly realized how much baggage most adults have. It’s not about young people at all. It’s about themselves and their struggles, insecurities, vocabulary...
Sarah told me, ‘If you can do it with young kids, you can do it with adults’. It’s true. It’s not wildly different, actually.”
I asked Kitty May if the same language and visuals were used with adults as she had previously used with young people. She emphasized the important in non-dense material and metaphors. Because she primarily teaches in English to people whose mother tongue is a different language, she found her background very useful in being simple, but effective with her language.
“There are differences for sure, in my experience, young people are more likely to call bullshit in what you’re saying out loud. I find with adults, they’re more likely to sit back, but I can see it in their eyes.”
We talked about the vulnerability with workshops that cover such intimate subjects and how to create and open and safe atmosphere to learn about such subjects.
“I always try to make it clear, in the way I describe the workshops, that participation is welcome but no one is required to share more than is necessary. I have a workshop coming up, once a week for six weeks/sessions, called ‘Reclaiming Sexuality’.
The workshop that put the shop and Kitty May’s work on my radar, “Demystifying Orgasm” became a focal point towards the end of our conversation. Kitty May explained, “the orgasm workshop does not feel very intimate to me, although I also fully recognize that it could be a big thing for people to walk through the door, absolutely, especially because in the marketing for the workshop --it's for people who struggle with having an orgasm, or never have had an orgasm, or maybe they do sometimes but would like to be more aware of why they do when they do and why they don't when they don't. But I think, given that that's kind of the marketing, I would recognize that it would be exposing for someone to walk through the door. I'm always happy when people do, because it's quite theoretical. I give a lot of information about desire and arousal with a lot of anatomy, which people may already know, but I think it's always good to get that in there.”
Speaking of the future, there’s potential in workshops on sex positive flirting and with youth Green Party members on sex positivity. Other Nature continues to collaborate with local clubs on feminist events.
“There is no other shop in Berlin like Other Nature. At the moment, I don’t know anywhere in the world exactly like Other Nature - there are super awesome feminist sex shops or queer sex shops or women-oriented sex shops doing amazing things, but I feel very proud of the specific focus we have here.”
To find out more about Other Nature:
To find out more about Kitty May: