Well Woman Weekly: Kait Scalisi on Finding Freedom in Pleasure

Every Friday, we send out a weekly roundup of what’s new on Blood & Milk along with articles you may have missed from the archives. We also include an interview with an inspiring woman and this week we’re excited to Kait Scalisi. To get the newsletter, sign up here.

Kait Scalisi, MPH, is an advocate for the revolutionary power of pleasure—in the bedroom and out. Through her workshops, counseling, and online platform Passion By Kait, she harnesses her science education, social justice insight, and radical empathy to empower folx to get more in tune with their bodies, discover what brings them pleasure, and integrate it into their lives and relationships in ways that are both practical and powerful. Learn more and find #freedominpleasure at PassionbyKait.com and on Instagram @PassionbyKait. You may also recognize Kait from her many contributions to Blood & Milk.

Kait Scalisi

You’ve shared such thoughtful wisdom with our readers for years (!) now, I’m excited to flip the spotlight on you! I’d love to hear, as one of Blood & Milk’s earliest contributors, are there any memorable learnings or reader questions from your time with “Ask Kait”?

Thank you! I grew so much as an educator through my work with B&M. Overall, my favorite part was the ways in which I got to dive into the nuance of sex, intimacy, relationships, and pleasure. We would often agree on a topic and while writing, it morphed from a listicle into a personal essay or sermon of sorts about a topic like the G-Spot. I did tons of interviews in 2019 and 2020 and those were always so fun to put together and be able to share the vast options of this work! 

Three pieces really stick out to me. My very first article, which was about the importance of context. I was just starting to take this more intersectional look at sex and its relationship to the other parts of our lives. Every piece I wrote after was built on the back of that one. It’s still the foundation for how I write and teach about sex today. 

Another was my interview with Madison Young on erotic lactation. I still don’t see much written about this topic yet it’s an experience that’s more common than most people would think. That combination is ripe for shame to develop. It was an honor to interview Madison and I learned so much! 

Lastly, my essay about not going home for the holidays in 2020. I remember feeling so alone in the relief and happiness I felt. While it wasn’t explicitly a sex piece, the experience connects to so many of the themes that come up in my sex coaching and couples counseling practice: feeling burdened by “shoulds,” wondering if you’re normal, worried that you’re broken…all because of a societal script that may or may not even work for you. Outside of the PbK Pleasure Note, it’s the most vulnerable thing I’ve written and it was a deeply healing experience, as were the responses I got to it.

We talked at the start of the pandemic about how it was affecting people’s sex lives—some people were having tons of sex, some couldn’t bear to think about it. As a sex educator who also coaches individuals and couples, were there any recurring themes throughout the pandemic? Any interesting learnings coming out of it?

One common theme was the healing power of pleasure. Folx looked to sex as a way to destress and connect with themselves and their partner/s. Reconnecting to pleasure amidst the chaos of the world and the tension in their relationship/s not only offered a reprieve from grief, anxiety, and loss but also helped them refuel, stay more grounded, and meet the chaos with more grace. Pleasure is a powerful healer!

Another was the way in which this pandemic really highlighted how capitalism is killing our relationships, romantic or otherwise. The pace at which so many of us lived before allowed us to shove problems under work, hobbies, kids’ responsibilities, etc. So often it meant sex and intimacy and partnership were disregarded. Without that tending, many couples found themselves wondering if they were still a good fit. I spent a lot of time with couples helping them find their way back to one another as they are now, in a pandemic, and setting them up with the rituals, tools, and strategies to keep this going despite inevitable future changes. 

I also noticed healing taking longer. A lot longer. I don’t think anyone is pouring from a full cup right now. That makes it scarier and harder to do the work of healing and finding freedom in pleasure like trying new things, initiating vulnerable conversations, or diving into core beliefs about sex, intimacy, and pleasure. 

Lastly, we cannot ignore the body, which sounds funny because duh, sex is a physical act. Yet, so much sex advice and life advice, really, focuses on the brain and mindset. Some of the biggest breakthroughs my clients experienced happened when we worked on things like releasing stress, anger, and grief physically or sourcing dignity, strength, and courage through their bodies. I shared some of my favorite ways to do that here.

And, if I’m allowed a little shoutout, these patterns are what led me to create The PbK Guide to Getting the Sex You Want, a 75-page workbook with exact tools, prompts, movement practices, and meditations that have helped hundreds have more confidence, connection, and pleasure in the bedroom and beyond. 

I’m hopeful younger generations have a more positive, less shameful approach to sex than we grew up with, and certainly our parents and grandparents before us. What’s one thing you wish you could tell everyone before they become sexually active?

Fuck the shoulds.

This world has done a wonderful job indoctrinating us with beliefs about what “real” sex looks like, what’s “best.” Ultimately, though, that’s a very personal decision. And one that will change over time, many times! 

There really is no such thing as “normal” when it comes to sex—just more and less common. How your body experiences pleasure, turn-on, and orgasm is unique and the only people who have to be satisfied by your sex life are you and whoever you get it on with.

Letting go of the societal norms and pressures that don’t do it for you and embracing what works for you is at the core of Passion by Kait. It’s what “freedom in pleasure” is all about. And that’s my wish for everyone I work with and for younger generations.

More of a mental health question: As the leader of your own woman-owned business, how have you managed through the uncertainty of the past 18 months? Do you have any rituals or guiding principles when you feel yourself getting anxious or unclear about your direction?

I’m very much in this space right now. Like many helping professionals, and especially those of us who focus on sex, intimacy, and couples, I found myself working more than ever during the pandemic. For all those reasons and patterns I talked about above, people really took BIG action to support themselves and their relationship/s. It was such an honor to be part of so many people’s healing journeys in the last year and a half.

And also, after launching The Guide, I crashed hard. That was in early May. I’m writing this mid-August and to be honest, I’m still recovering. I’m seeing similar rhetoric from other therapists and coaches too, especially those of us who were already working online in the before times.

Here’s what I’ve been doing to reprioritize pleasure, self-care, and connection: 

1. I took most of July off to tend to my health and my heart. I still saw clients but that was it. My amazing assistant kept PbK running. I slept a lot and increased the dose of my herbal sleep tincture, spent time in nature, and watched movies that would either make me cry or laugh ’til I did. I knew there was a lot of pent up grief and anxiety, and often find it helpful to use media as a guide to releasing that when other avenues feel inaccessible

2. Practicing slowness. Like many of my clients, my previous pace very much was not working for me.  A gift of the last 18 months was that it truly highlighted what and who’s important and what’s not. So, I’m in the process of integrating that and living it out through things like prioritizing eight hours or more of sleep and community time, taking more (movement) breaks during work, and letting myself reconnect with my hobbies. 

3. Reaching out for support; practical and emotional. As a queer disabled woman who was high risk for COVID, this period has been a crash course in making peace with being needy. This support has shown up in so many ways: extra therapy sessions, a new accountability group, rejoining support groups, rousing discussions about church sign meme, having friends grocery shop for us, (lovingly) screaming about which team we’d choose in Captain America: Civil War… the list goes on. And because of that sieving process, the people in my life now were able to be there for me in really healthy, boundaried ways and vice versa.

4. Using tools like mantras, journaling prompts, candles, cards…but without the pressure to have one set routine. I picked up my sexuality affirmation deck for the first time since before the pandemic began this week and it felt so nourishing. Recently, I came across the idea on TikTok of having daily self-care “menus” and my accountability group and I are going to make ours together at our next meeting. I’m so excited!

5. Movement. All that “weird movement shit” I work with my clients on? I do it myself, too. At any given moment throughout the day, I might be shaking or making figure 8s with some body part or working on balance or doing something else to help my nervous system not just calm but grow in its capacity. 

You’ve been with your partner for over a decade. Top tips for keeping sex interesting with a long-term partner?

Again: fuck the shoulds.

Since the start of our relationship, people judged it and how I showed up in it. We just celebrated 17 years of knowing one another and I truly believe it’s because the whole time we kept doing what worked for us, without worrying about what it looked like to others.

During the first eight-ish years, we stayed together because we kept asking “Hey, is this still working for you? Yeah, great, me too.” We didn’t make big declarations before going away to college but agreed that if at any point we weren’t happy or it stopped working, then we’d stop.

I’m so grateful both of us innately “got” this because when I became disabled in 2016—and, since then—it’s been invaluable to our sex life. So much of what society, school, and the media tell us sex “should” look like doesn’t actually work for the majority of people.  This is what “freedom in pleasure” is all about: letting go of what’s holding you back so that you can say yes to the things you want. 

Most recently, for example, we realized that we weren’t really feeling a lot of the sexy things we used to do together. Bodies change. So do desires, turn-ons, turn-offs, and what helps you experience pleasure. Rather than judge these changes, we used them as an opportunity to get curious, play, and explore and answer the question: what do we want now? That’s not to say I don’t miss how sex used to be, especially in our case because it felt easier, but I know it doesn’t mean that we’re doomed to bad sex. That’s the best part of intimacy: there’s so much to experience, more than many people imagine!

Talk about it and regularly. I literally wrote a book on how to do that because it was one of the single most transformative tools my sex coaching and couples counseling clients took away from our work together.

Lastly, read smut, fall in love with fictional characters (especially the anti-heroes), and flirt with strangers you’ll never see again—and let that fuel your desire, intimacy, and connection. 

And since you’re a sex educator, I have to ask…

What’s your most highly recommended sex toy?

Toy recommendations are so personal based on your body, the type of stimulation you enjoy (and don’t), budget, etc. I keep an ever-growing list of top-sellers and favorites here.

However, if I had to choose only one toy to recommend for the rest of my career, it would be the We-Vibe Touch X. No other external vibrator has knocked it off the throne I placed it on in eight years. It fits nicely between bodies during all sorts of partner sex, it lets you get either direct or more diffuse stimulation, for vulva-havers, it can stimulate the clitoris and vaginal opening at the same time, and it’s so very quiet. 

The runner up position is a three-way tie amongst Le Wand Petite, Maude’s Vibe, and Pom by Dame.

And, of course, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t give a shoutout to lubricant. My fave is called Shine, also by Maude.

Most underrated sex position?

Making small tweaks to your favorite positions so that they feel new and/or bring you more pleasure. Think: arching your back, leaning forward, moving up the body, sitting or standing instead of lying, etc.

Most frequently asked question(s) from your clients?

It’s a tie between, “Am I normal?” and “Am I broken?”

Both of these usually come couched in a different question, one about a specific position, struggle, or concern. Underneath that question about low desire, not having enough sex, struggling to orgasm, not being able to talk about sex without fighting is a fear that something is wrong with them. Most of the time the answers are yes and no, respectively. Again: this is why I harp so much on “fuck the shoulds” and “there is no normal” and guide folx to find freedom in pleasure by releasing these harmful ideas that have them questioning their worth.

The topics I get the most questions about in general are anal sex (Will I poop? Does it have to hurt?) and the g-spot and squirting (Is it real? How do I do it?).

Book or podcast on sex you think everyone should read or listen to? 

Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are is my bible. I’m also ridiculously excited about With Pleasure by Jamila Dawson, LMFT, and August McLaughlin which comes out this fall!

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