In celebration of Women’s History Month, it's time to review some of the key trailblazers who have inspired change in the world of sex and sexuality. From Helen O'Connell, a urologist who revealed the first ever 3D image of the clitoris -- all the way to Erika Hart, a sex educator and all round role-model for discourse on intersectional sexuality. These sex activists have created change that has led us to where we are today (and will continue to shape our future).
Hailed the “Guru of Self Pleasure”, Dodson found her calling after inviting a group of women to her New York apartment for a genital “show and tell.” There, she taught how each vulva was unique -- varying in shape, size and color. She also showed women how vibrators are used (and recommended Le Wand as the “Cadillac of vibrators”). Her legacy has inspired others, like post-porn modernist Annie Sprinkle, to continue paving the way in sexuality for years to come.
Rubin is best known for being an ardent activist, anthropologist and theorist of sex and gender since the 1960s. Across her career, Rubin has covered topics from sadomasochism to queer theory, as well as the histories of queer cultures. If you're new to Rubin's work, her interview with Judith Butler goes into great detail about her research on sex topics.
Between 2008 and 2020, 3664 trans and gender-diverse people were killed, 62% of which were sex workers. Sylvia Rivera’s work sets an example of the work that still needs to be done to protect the trans community. As a transgender activist, Rivera spent much of her life battling for LGBTQIA+ liberation and rights at a time when she was largely ostracized within the community. Only this year are her efforts finally being recognized -- with New York erecting a statue in Rivera’s memory (the first ever transgender statue to date).
Perel is a psychotherapist who explores the tension between the need for security (love and belonging) and the want for freedom (erotic desire, adventure and distance). While so many relationships face pressure to fulfill both sides of this tension, Perel has led conversations on how to manage this dichotomy in the 21st century. Her latest podcast series, Where Should We Begin, takes on open marriages, racism inside an extended family, coming out, and and chronic infidelity.
Professor Helen O’Connell
It was in the 1980s when Helen O’Connell, a urologist, became fascinated by the clitoris. After reading a textbook on anatomy that dedicated a whole chapter to erections (neuroanatomy and vascular nutrition included) and not a single mention of the clitoris -- she knew something was wrong. Since then, O’Connell has become a leading researcher in the area of female pelvic anatomy. Publishing the first-ever research into the full structure of the clitoris in 1998, then in 2010 going a step further to reveal its 3D shape and 15,000 nerve endings.
Speaking with Forbes, Hart described what drove them to become one of America’s most respected sex educators: “When it came to sex, it was just quiet, and people skated around the issue… started to get that this has a lot to do with people’s discomfort and I just wanted to make people feel comfortable with asking about this topic.” At just 35, Hart has done just that. With nearly 500,000 Instagram followers, their platform shines a light on racial, gender, and social injustices. In the world of sexual wellness, Hart has been one of the leading figures to speak out against the systems of oppression that impact our sexual selves, and sexual pleasure. Hit follow if you haven’t yet.
Emily Nagoski, PhD
Nagoski’s mission is simple: to teach vulva-havers to live with confidence and joy with their bodies. Nagoski first entered the world of sex in 1995 as a peer health educator at the University of Delaware, educating fellow undergraduates everything from stress to sex. Since then, Nagoski has been a researcher at the Kinsey Institute and lectured for eight years in Wellness Education. You're probably know her from her bestselling book "Come As You Are", a go-to read for a scientific take on female sexuality.