Well Woman Weekly: Nicolle Hodges on Why “Losing Your Virginity” Needs a Rebrand

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 introduce Nicolle Hodges. To get the newsletter, sign up here.

Nicolle Hodges is a Toronto-based journalist, author, sexual freedom philosopher. Nicolle, a former CTV Vancouver television host, and producer, left her previous life to pursue the world of sex, psychedelics, and shedding shame. Staying true to her media roots, she became the culture editor for Herb, an independent journalist for DoubleBlind, and host of The Dales Report, telling stories about cannabis and psychedelics. In 2017, she launched Men Who Take Baths, a men’s mental health movement addressing masculinity, vulnerability, and gender equity. Hodges holds intimate conversations with men, interviewing them on what it means to “be a man” as her guest sits in a bubble bath.  

She is also the founder of Girls Who Say Fuck, a pleasure-centric incubator for ideas that instigate change. Here, she launched a viral movement urging people to rebrand “virginity” to “sexual debut,” pushing back against heteronormative, patriarchal ideas of sexual expression and towards female empowerment. Her debut book, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go Oh Oh,” explores the power of female orgasms through Dr. Suess-style rhyme and illustration. 

Nicolle Hodges

From hosting Girls Who Say Fuck and Men Who Take Baths to writing Oh the Places You’ll Go Oh Oh and rebranding virginity as “sexual debut,” you’re leading so many inspiring community projects. Surely, this work has touched and transformed countless other peoples’ lives. Is there any particular moment, conversation, or realization you’ve made along the way that has really stuck with you?

At this point in the process, I’ve confirmed my suspicion that shame is a major barrier to becoming oneself. I am very much part of the experiment in how to effectively overcome it, as much as I am facilitating the opportunity for others to do the same. I think what makes the projects I’m creating and the communities I’m building so intriguing to people is that they can tell I’m learning as I go, adjusting when necessary, and evolving publicly. I’m not positioning myself as an expert or acting as though I’ve reached any grand conclusion about life. Rather, I’m questioning the way we’re told life is supposed to be and inviting others on that journey. 

In all things that I do, the guiding motto is ‘heal the divide.’ Every time a man says ‘yes’ to being interviewed in the bath, or a woman, trans, or non-binary person reaches out and says that something I’ve written or hosted has helped them take another step towards fully accepting themselves, I feel like the universe is speaking through them and giving me permission to continue. 

I know you hear many people telling you that they wish Oh the Places You’ll Go Oh Oh was around while they were growing up. What would it mean to you to have a book like this available to you when you were younger? 

You know when you listen to a song as an adult that you used to sing along to as a teenager and realize all of the sexual innuendos that went completely over your head? That’s what this book would have been for me. Sometimes, we don’t notice something until we’re ready or have enough life experience for its relevance to reveal itself. I feel like Oh, the Places You’ll Go Oh Oh! is a book that would have become something new to me each time I read it growing up. The point is that it would have been there to facilitate that discovery. As I evolved, so too would my understanding of the messaging. I think the book would have shown me that there is a whole wide world of things to explore. 

As an advocate for sexual liberation and transcending societal expectations/limitations, you often focus on the concept of “more pleasure, less shame.” How do you think our interpersonal relationships would change if more people embraced this pleasure-centered mindset, both in and out of sexual settings?

Knowing that you deserve pleasure is a major component in conjuring erotic energy. It changes how you move through the world and how the world moves for you. This doesn’t have to mean it’s expressed sexually, either. Erotic or pleasure-centered energy can be channeled as creativity, healing energy, and love. It’s all love, really. Shame, on the other hand, or thoughts of being unworthy, impure, wrong, broken, or unlovable, block that flow of energy. It disconnects us. Shame keeps people fixed to a version of themselves that might not truly fit, causing everything they attract to feel off or unfulfilling. The closest I’ve come to understanding the “purpose of life” is that by living in accordance with your true self, you become capable of moving energy. There is nothing more powerful than being yourself. It’s like the whole world opens up. There is a lot of space on the other side of shame.    

I love the ‘sexual debut’ movement you’re creating to replace the concept of virginity. Why do you believe rebranding virginity is a pressing matter, and what sort of response have you received from people? 

The phrase “losing your virginity” is so embedded in the cultural lexicon that people hardly notice the implications of it. The underlying message is that a woman’s sexuality is something outside of you because it can be “lost” or taken. It delegitimizes all forms of sexual expression that aren’t heteronormative. It reinforces that penetrative sex is the only transformative act available in your sexuality—and it’s from “purity” to impurity, unless within wedlock. It also says that transition is completely dependent on someone else, a male. 

It’s not enough to reevaluate the concept of virginity and replace it with the term “sexual debut.” The whole idea that one sexual act defines you needs to be updated. That’s why ‘sexual debut’ is defined as any pinnacle moment in your sex life when you feel most like yourself. This can happen at any age, and in many ways throughout your life. It can be the first time you try something or the fifteenth. It’s the moment when something clicks or lights up inside and you think: holy shit, I’m the most me I’ve ever been right now! 

The response to this concept has been overwhelmingly positive. Teens, moms, sex educators, and therapists have mentioned that it has sparked important conversations in their households, classrooms, or private sessions. Even if ‘sexual debut’ isn’t where we end up, I want “losing your virginity” to be what we grow away from. 

Before you started the work you currently do, you used to live what you’ve called a “comfy life.” Now, you’re spearheading several feminist, sex-positive projects. How do you keep yourself inspired? What draws you to this work? 

I don’t need to keep myself inspired because I find life inspiring. It wasn’t always this way. Let me explain the “comfy life” comment first. I worked hard to put a lot of distance between myself and my mother, who, while growing up, was a violent and mercurial woman. I strove to succeed in order to feel safe. It went like this in my mind: if my talents were recognized by teachers, they would nurture me; if I created a community around me, my mother would not be able to reach me; if I did everything the opposite of her, I would be happy. It was only once I had the job of my dreams, was seven years into a monogamous relationship, and living in a beautiful apartment in the middle of Vancouver that I woke up to the realization that I had no idea who I was. I had based most of my existence on who and what I didn’t want to be. 

So, I swept my hand across the table, left everything behind, and dove into uncertainty with no plan. I had only one question: what if everything you think you know about yourself is wrong? That was a little over four years ago. The ideas for the projects I’m doing now started to materialize almost as soon as I let go of that identity. The process of discovering my true self has created all the momentum and inspiration I’ll ever need. 

I’m a big fan of your interview series, Men Who Take Baths. Redefining masculinity plays a big role in feminism but can often be pushed off to the side. Can you talk about the significance of holding this space for men to be vulnerable and why these conversations are important for all genders? 

Judith Butler, an American philosopher and gender theorist, says that “gender is not only a cultural construction imposed upon identity but in some sense gender is a process of constructing ourselves,” to which I would add: constructing ourselves in relation to cultural expectations that must be upheld in order to belong. The concept of toxic masculinity refers to certain cultural norms that are associated with harm to society and to men themselves. Toxic expressions of masculinity might show up as subjugation of others, that is, the fear of letting go of a perceived position of power at the expense of someone else’s well-being, and the repression of emotion—often seen as “feminine”—out of fear of being perceived as weak.

Feminism is an intervention in response to a system that reinforces the male status as superior by examining our relationship to power. It is for the benefit of us all that we question the cultural forces that prohibit anyone’s growth, freedom, or sense of wholeness. Men Who Take Baths creates a space to connect through conversation. It is, at its core, a project based on empathy. I have come to define empathy as the ability to see a piece of yourself in another and love them as you wish to be loved.    

Congratulations on starting school again this year to get your BA in psychology! It’s no secret that you’re a proponent of using less “traditional” tools to support mental wellness, including BDSM and psychedelics. What have you learned in your own work that you wish more mental health professionals paid attention to or saw the value in?

I’m not here to tell experienced people what to focus on. I have just started my BA to learn the fundamentals of psychology from the ground up and build a foundation upon which to construct my own practice. There is much that is innovative in psychology today, but there is also over a century of empirical study to absorb. When I have more experience facilitating psychedelic experiences for women, and have given the rich history of human psychology the study it deserves, I hope to synthesize that knowledge into a new and unique style of therapy—but it would be dishonest now to tell you what that might look like. You can be sure that I’ll keep doing what I’m doing and sharing what I learn along the way. 

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