For the first episode of True Love No Shame, I interviewed Amy Boyajian, founder of Wild Flower, a sexual wellness store.
Amy and I share a lot of the same goals in destigmatizing sex and she has an amazing background in sex education.
Interview with Amy Boyajian, founder of Wild Flower
Dani: The first time I walked into a sex store was actually several years ago. I lived in San Diego and there was a street fair going on where all the stores were open and had special things going on. I was with a friend and we both had a Christian background, went to a Christian college together and were just browsing around.
As we started walking through, one of the first things I saw was a dildo. I was like, “Oh, my gosh, that’s so much bigger than I would’ve expected.” Tampons were painful for me to put in.
As a Christian who was waiting until I was married to have sex, I just had no idea. That’s why I love how your store combines the education and the accessories and so it’s like here’s something cool that you can use and then here’s some background on it, which I think is so essential. Tell me more about the background behind Wild Flower and how you got started.
Amy: Yeah, totally. I totally understand your first experience with that store. I feel like that is a quite common experience, even if you don’t come from the same background that you came from. It can be very intimidating. The first goal in building Wild Flower was I want this to be the least intimidating space for people to come and share about their sexuality. Wild Flower is an all-inclusive, sexual wellness boutique. That means it includes all kinds of sexual identities, all kinds of genders, experiences, and ages. We specialize in body safe products, so toys and lubes are all body safe. That’s part of our mission. The sex industry, especially the pleasure industry around toys, isn’t very regulated.
The women’s side always seemed to be lingerie and more of products to please somebody else, and I didn’t really see that a lot on the men’s side. It almost felt unnecessary to have those labels, male/female, when we could just be talking about body parts and maybe that would take away some of the stigma about talking about sex, too.
Dani: Right, because it’s prescriptive. It’s like you look at it and it’s like oh, well, this is what I should want to do based on how stores have things laid out.
Amy: Exactly. I didn’t want anyone to be intimidated and turned off. There’s no naked bodies at all, there’s no ideas of how you should look because I also think a lot of the products have really sexy women on the front and you’re like wait, that doesn’t look like me. I want to take that away completely, so you’re just okay, thinking about what you like and there’s no comparisons to anyone else.
Dani: Yeah. Yeah, that’s so true.
Amy: I’m also very into education and creating an open dialogue around sex because that can be the hardest thing, especially when you’re talking about something that’s so personal to you and saying certain words like vagina or penis could be difficult for people, even though they have those body parts.
I encourage people to ask questions and they do. Sometimes, they’re questions that blow my mind. I’m like, wow, how have you existed in your sexual body without knowing the answer to this question?
Dani: That’s so true. I was in my 20s before I found out about the clitoris, so I can totally relate to that.
Amy: Yeah, which is wild because you have one and you have no idea about it. Yeah, I have a pretty similar experience. It’s like wait, how did I not know this?
Dani: What are the most common questions you get from customers?
Amy: It’s very common to ask a question and they are the person at fault. It’s like, “My boyfriend really wants to try anal sex and I don’t like it. What do I do?” It’s like, “Well, don’t do it.”
Or there’s a lot of questions about like, “Oh, I have a low sex drive. How do I fix it?” I’m like, “You’re not broken. Nothing’s wrong. Is it affecting your life in a negative way or is it the fact that you’ve been told that you should feel a certain way or you should act a certain way?”
Dani: Yeah, sort of like they’re asking is it okay to want what I want?
Amy: Exactly. The biggest thing is people asking for permission to be themselves, for sure. The biggest thing for me was to create this platform where people could feel like they could be themselves and it’s okay. I think a lot of that came from my previous work of working as a dominatrix.
Dani: Yeah. For people who don’t really know what it is, start from the beginning. How do you classify it and how do you describe it to someone who might not know anything about it?
Amy: I wouldn’t say there’s any particular Google definition of what a dominatrix is. If you were to Google dominatrix, you would find dominatrix-related pornography, which is not the same thing.
I think that was definite shock for when I told some friends and family what I do and they type it in and they see that. They’re like, “What?” I’m like, “No.” It’s like if I said I was a superhero and you saw superhero-themed porn, it’s a separate thing. It does delve into the realm of sexuality.
The way that I like to think of what a dominatrix is is basically someone to explore your fantasies with. The BDSM side of it is related to it, so it can involve dom-sub relationships where I would obviously be the dominant. They would be submissive. That’s a lot of role playing, a lot of coming up with scenes. I almost feel like I was back in high school in my drama class.
Some people who like to experience certain sensations that they find sexual that most other people don’t find sexual. It really makes you rethink what you think of sex and sexuality are because legally, sex is penetrative sex. That’s not happening. If somebody has a sexual fantasy where they get tickled and you do that, it’s not sexual to me, but that person has some kind of sexual relevance with it and so they find it arousing.
Dani: What’s your background? What did you hear about sex growing up?
Amy: I grew up in a very British household. We didn’t talk about anything. I never got any kind of talk about any kind of sex. I didn’t even know what it was. There was absolutely no sex education in the part of England I grew up in.
Dani: Not in school, not from parents?
Amy: Not from school, not from parents. I didn’t know anything. Then when I moved to America when I was 14, sex is everywhere. I would turn on the TV and there’d be a Girls Gone Wild advertisement. It blew my mind. Then it also took me down a very dangerous route of well because it looked like my sexuality was based on other people’s pleasure, so I never really felt very empowered and never thought about what I find pleasurable. It was very serving to other people. That’s how I felt my sexuality developed.
It wasn’t until I became a dominatrix that I became empowered and really felt like I could ask for what I wanted in my own personal relationships because my job was literally demanding me to demand things, which I was not used to. Pleasure is so personal, but it’s also not talked about. Any kind of sexuality isn’t talked about, so it’s hard to gauge what’s right and wrong. I do understand that a lot of religious backgrounds incorporate these really harsh constructs around sex and the only good sex is sex for reproduction.
Then I was working in vintage stores and in fashion, and meeting all of these queer people. I was having my own internal struggle of whether I was queer. They are having sex and they’re happy. I’d obviously heard horrible things about gay people and the sex that they were having. Then I was actually friends with them. It made me discover more things and question more things — pleasure isn’t something that somebody can dictate to me. It is something I have to discover inside myself.
Dani: What changed or what made you question that women are meant to provide pleasure versus enjoy it for themselves?
Amy: Yeah. I think a big part of it had to do with moving to New York.
Then it was like I’m in New York and this is the center of all kinds of hookup culture. Everybody’s sleeping with everyone. Everyone’s having all different types of sex. Nobody cares. I felt like it was like this idea of, I don’t know, like San Francisco free love. I was so uptight, unbelievably uptight compared to everybody else. I never went home with anybody. I never dated anyone. I had a lot of friends, but I always remained in this bubble of my friends. Also, I identified as bisexual, but I wasn’t comfortable with that because it was like as a teenager, I tried to have girlfriends and my family didn’t like the idea of me being bisexual. I always knew I wasn’t gay, but I always knew I wasn’t straight. There’s definitely this idea of bisexuality meaning promiscuousness in our culture and I was just not identifying with that at all. I just felt really unusual. I was like okay, well, I’m bisexual, but I’m not the bisexual that I see or that the culture sees.
Dani: The labels for anything, it’s like well, what does that mean? I’m just me. It’s hard to define what you are.
Amy: Exactly, so I was very much into all of these labels and trying to figure myself out. I remember crying to my friends, being like, “I’m not just gay. I haven’t figured it out.”
Then this dominatrix gig came up. First of all, it made me feel so uncomfortable. I was like, I don’t know if I could do this. At the end, it was a friend that said, “Just try it. It would at least be a good experience.”
It just opened my mind to everything. I met so many different kinds of people and so many spectrums of sexuality that mine seemed so tame. I was like, what have I got to hide? It also made me feel really great about myself because I used to wear a lot of boys’ clothes and wear very baggy clothes. Then it prompted me to have to wear leather and latex. I was like oh, wow, this makes me feel great. I met a whole group of friends that were in nightlife and I started to go to nightlife parties where it doesn’t matter about your body shape or how your body looks. It’s how you decorate it and how you explore it and how you enjoy it.
Dani: I think my experience was pretty similar, too, because I was also taught this is the way that you could be. Then I started to get to know these other people who were roommates and see the relationships were fulfilling and good, even though they weren’t married.
Amy: Yeah, and you’re like no one’s dying. Everyone’s happy. It’s just like it starts this line of questioning. You’re like wait, if that is fine, then what else is fine? You really go and discover things and yeah, sometimes you can get burned and you’re like, “Oh, that’s not fine. I’m not okay with that.” For the most part, it’s just you creating your own path. It was also very validating to me that I was on the right path, on my right path, because a lot of my clients were people who were restricted in their youth, whether it be because of religious affiliations or they got into really intense monogamous relationships at a young age.
It was just now that they’re exploring themselves and I’m just like whoa, I don’t want to be 50 and just exploring myself. It just gave me this reality check of you can’t put your sexuality on a back burner and just not deal with it. It’s such an integral part of who you are and your sexual health is so related to the rest of your health and your mental health that it can ruin your life if you don’t pay attention to it.
Dani: Yeah, there’s a big difference between there’s base morals like love and respect for other human beings and the specifics of what that actually means.
Amy: Like I said, it was like when I got out in the world and I started seeing all different kinds of love and all different kinds of pleasure and I was just like honestly, if it works for you, it works for you. Yeah, if you’re not hurting anyone, if you’re not hurting yourself in any way and you’re happy, you found it.
You found the goal to be. You know what I mean? Just go that path. To me, it would seem ludicrous to be like, “Oh, no, I’m not going to go the way that makes me happy because somebody else is telling me not to.” It’s the number one search for human existence. It’s what thousands of millions of self-help books are sold every year because of it. Everybody just wants to find happiness. I feel like happiness is just being who you are, genuinely and in a way that you don’t feel accountable to anybody else aside from yourself. If you feel like you’re being a good person, then explore that path.
Dani: What are some first steps people can take to discover what’s pleasurable to them, if they haven’t really done that before?
Amy: In anything that I start talking about educating people about, I always tell people to explore it on their own first. I think that that’s super important because when you’re having any kind of interaction with anybody else, even if you’re trying not to, you are trying to please the other person. If you’re having any kind of yeah, sexual or intimate moment, you’re thinking about how does that other person feel? People have empathy and it comes into play. When you’re alone, it’s just a more intimate look at yourself. You can really concentrate on what you feel like, what sensations feel good to you.
For people who’ve never masturbated before or they just have some kind of blockage with masturbation, I always just say start slow. There’s no race with sexuality. There’s no getting to any kind of finish line. It’s just a journey that’s supposed to be fun. I always tell people get the most relaxing place you can think of. Have no disturbances. Lock your door. Just have no expectations. Don’t come in it being like okay, I have to use this toy this way and I have to explore my body this way and this is what … No, just start with what feels good.
Sometimes I do coaching for people and I talk about writing it in a journal and writing it down and then reading that journal out loud and just getting used to saying different words out loud can be really transformative for people, like talking about your vagina, talking about your penis. Some people can’t even say those words. I think it all begins with a very introspective look into what makes you feel good and try to take all of the judgment away. I know it takes time. That’s the thing, too. Like I said, it’s no race.