Spectrum Boutique Owner Zoë Ligon Wants You To Have Better Sex
Zoë Ligon (aka the “Dildo Duchess”) is a sex educator, writer, bad ass artist, and owner of the very cool and well curated Spectrum Boutique. An online education-oriented sex toy store based out of Detroit, Spectrum is a breath of fresh air in a world stippled with stale sex shops that are uninspiring and cheesy, uncomfortably exclusive, or simply out of touch. But while all of your friends may not yet be freely discussing the benefits of lube in their Facebook statuses, more people in general are starting to explore their own sexualities (or at least are being more open about it) and are looking for new places to find information as well as maybe a fun new toy or two to try. And as Ligon continues to follow her own growing passion, she’s inviting us all to join in on the ride.
Historically for Ligon, people have seemed surprised to learn that, while she was a sexually active teen, she did not find the act to be pleasurable until the age of sixteen and did not have her first orgasm until she was nineteen (which actually is not that unusual). This was also around the time in her life that she was first drawn to the sex industry. “I spent most of my adolescence feeling curious, yet intimidated, and too overwhelmed to embark on the journey,” she says. "[But] once I pulled at the threads of my sexuality, it all metaphorically unraveled in the most amazing way.”
Ligon discovered her sexuality primarily through books authored by different sex educators, which she credits for allowing her to take her time and have sources to return to as she continued to process and learn more about herself. Her innate and increasing inquisitiveness spawned what ultimately became an important crux of both Spectrum Boutique as well as Ligon’s own growing personal brand -- honest and judgement-free sex education for all. When Ligon moved to Detroit from New York in the Spring of 2015, she found there to be an extreme lack of sex toy stores or any non-specific educational sex resources for all experience levels and identities. She was on the hunt for a sex toy for her male partner’s bottom during a trip to a local fetish shop in the suburbs and specifically remembers receiving terrible and judgemental treatment from the store attendee.
“I thought it would be SO easy -- and enjoyable -- for me to curate a sex-positive boutique. It’s truly standard retail, just with much more sensitive products for sale, and that takes a certain level of emotional commitment that most folks aren’t willing to dive into,” she says. “I’m lucky enough to naturally love geeking out over the science, philosophy, etc. of sexuality!”
This passion for sex education and exploration was based not on any one single person or experience, but instead on how our “sex-negative society brainwashes women” and the way that archaic gender roles still play a large part in prioritizing male pleasure over female sexuality.
“I spent most of my adolescence feeling curious, yet intimidated, and too overwhelmed to embark on the journey, [but] once I pulled at the threads of my sexuality, it all metaphorically unraveled in the most amazing way."
Ligon explains, “Part of the reason I want to be frank about sexuality and make education my career is that I was outraged that there wasn’t any way for me to feel as though my (female) sexuality wasn’t contingent on my male partner's pleasure. Once I realized I was truly inspired by the subject matter, very comfortable discussing it with others -- and finally old enough to move away from home -- I quickly saturated my life with the world of sex on multiple levels.”
Two of these levels include sex ed through the mediums of journalism and visual art. Her written work has been published on sites like Bustle, Your Tango, and Refinery29, usually documenting her own experiences with her body and sexuality. Ligon has covered off on a plethora of relatable topics like slut-shaming (“I’ve Officially Slept With 99 People - And Now I’m #LookingForMyHundo”), STD scares (“What Happened When I Got My False-Positive HIV Results”), and the pressure women often feel to make our bodies look a certain way (“I Was Told I Could Be The Hottest Girl In Brooklyn - If I Lost Weight"). She confesses that it was hard for her to be so public at first about some of these very personal issues, and that she was not exempt from negative comments and online hate.
“I went through the whole reading and crying about the comments phase right away, and even though things still get to me sometimes… I think having a sense of humor about yourself is really the only way to ‘let it all hang out,'" she says. “At the end of the day, I put myself out there to be judged, and there are so few negative interactions compared to the vast amount of positive ones, that it’s absolutely worth it.”
Ligon began creating collages in her teens but says that the once porn-free hobby took a sexual turn when the rest of her life did. Last year she was approached by independent publisher Ain’t-Bad, resulting in the publication of a book of Ligon’s art (spanning five years of work) titled “Woman With The Good Meat Removed.” Her collages consist of found images of females, dividing and allocating different sections of their bodies like a diagram, and have been featured in publications like Vice and Naked Magazine. “I make images that I find aesthetically pleasing, meaning that I don’t seek to send some specific message with my art, but I really enjoy all the various interpretations of it and the way people project themselves onto the image,” says Ligon.
As if this lady boss wasn't busy enough, Ligon has also booked several public speaking opportunities and sessions, including a recent speaking engagement at the Baltimore Design School regarding some of the common myths about our lady parts. As a Silver Spring, Maryland native, the school’s location was especially enjoyable for Ligon, who says it was "pretty nuts" to be discussing female ejaculation and the G-spot in her home state for the first time. Her speaking events all tend to elicit a similar response from her audiences, who usually listen quietly and then approach her following the talk with questions and comments. But while her sessions have been going smoothly as of late, there were others early on in her career that were a bit less comfortable.
“The weirdest talk I ever gave was a mini-class on spanking which fell on Father’s Day, and I had to actively avoid making any dad/spanking jokes the entire time even though everyone else was going there... I could have turned it into a learning opportunity, but it was early on in my career so it was just awkward,” Ligon recalls.
For those who are less experienced and less vocal than Ligon, talking about sex and our bodies -- particularly in front of a group of people -- can be just plain awkward. But this lack of open discussion has led to the continuous circulation of erroneous info and various misunderstandings regarding sex and the female body. Ligon shares a few of the “stand-out” misconceptions she’s come across that admittedly include things we've wondered about ourselves:
The Female Orgasm: “Many women fret over their inability to achieve orgasm from penetrative intercourse alone, when in reality, it is very difficult to bring a vulva to orgasm without external stimulation or external stimulation paired with internal stimulation.”
Female Ejaculation: “A lot of people are still trying to assert that female ejaculation/squirt is pee or mostly pee, but I think that I hear that misconception the most because I am constantly making PSAs about how squirt is simply prostatic fluid (because that’s what it is.)”
Straight Men & “Butt Stuff”: “I hear men, and their female partners, express concern that they were gay because they like butt stuff. However, it’s not what you do, it’s who you do it with that determines sexual orientation.”
“I think all of these myths are a result of binary gender as a very rigid and imbalanced construct (female orgasms are lesser than male orgasms, ejaculation is solely a male act, receiving penetration/being sexually vulnerable is a female role, etc). The myth about prostate play is rooted in homophobia additionally, which is also often marked with themes of ‘feminine’ acts being shameful,” Ligon explains. “They’re honestly all misconceptions that should be easily dispelled, yet we don’t have a frank and honest platform to discuss sexuality which is universally accessible, so myths keep getting passed around like one big game of telephone.”
Which is why education and awareness are so important and are such a big part of her platform. Spectrum Boutique has a large offering of inclusive, educational books covering a wide span of topics from finding your G-spot and a guide to pregnancy for lesbians to healing after painful sex. Ligon acknowledges that unfortunately not everyone has a real life mentor and suggests reaching out to herself or a fellow sex educator if you're looking for a more personal touch, but also stresses the importance of continually doing your own research and then cross-referencing what you learn.
“In a world where sex education is quite limited and enshrouded in shame, it’s important to be your own sex educator and seek your own knowledge, be that from a book, podcast, or film,” she says. “Until there is some form of reform in the way we talk about sex, always, always question the information you receive and investigate what piques your interest.”
In addition to the reading materials, Spectrum has a very cool variety of toys for all sexes and levels to peruse. Ligon’s boutique favorites are ever-changing but currently include the Big Boss Black Line, the Swan Wand Classic, and the Fascinator Throe (the first two are internal vibrators and the third is an absorbent blanket). She’s also personally exploring the world of latex clothing, which she says can include some incredibly high-maintenance garments but “they’re so worth the effort.” And while she's sure to mention that what she likes is no foolproof indication of another’s preferences -- different strokes for different folks -- the self-proclaimed “size queen and squirter/heavy duty lube user” sings the praises of lube above all and is adamant that it should be a staple in everyone’s nightstand (“I could write a dissertation about lube and why every soul on this green earth needs to douse themselves in it”).
The past few years have seen Ligon’s work focus primarily on human sexuality and the pursuit of informed intimacy, and her growing career as an educator is truly about to take off. In addition to the release of her art book earlier this year, she plans on hosting two solo art shows with book signings in NYC and LA this summer and fall and will continue to focus on the ownership duties of her quickly growing business, one that Ligon says is gaining momentum at an exciting pace. Her day-to-day can range from CEO-level tasks to the more “boring/dirty/monotonous” work that Ligon claims she does happily. “I am my own employee and am totally not above wiping down dildo displays for an afternoon (in fact, I completely love those tasks.)”
“My life is super dope, and I am so, so thankful to be in a position where I'm able to create my own schedule and be a free agent for the most part,” she says. “My favorite part of the job is that I’ve created a ‘brand’ that encourages and empowers people to take charge of their own sexualities… I cannot express how truly fulfilling it is to know I’ve inspired anyone to become a more sexually aware and uplifted human.”
Who’s your MISSBISH?
“I think a MISSBISH is a self-care queen who does whatever makes her feel good while also caring that others feel that goodness, too. Tyomi Morgan has been a stand-out fave sex educator of mine lately because she’s breathed new life into the dynamics of intimacy for me personally. Sometimes when I’m having sex, I literally think about her tips about riding d!ck and it genuinely energizes me. Sex education is always fun for me, but it does get a bit redundant, and she’s been a hugely inspirational person on my radar.”
Photographer: Jeremy Deputat