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First time sex in a Camaro involving a Slurpee, blowjobs gone awry, park romps and strap-on shopping all come to a head in the 26 page anthology of essays and confessionals that is Awkward Sex Zine. Behind the fiery rocket red cover, you’ll find contributions from 20 women from six different countries around the world discussing the endearing subject of awkward sex with all its tribulations – physical, pyschological and situational – that follow suit. Though awkward intimate tales are often portrayed with a comedic leitmotif, the zine spins a yarn on sexual experiences that are less satirical and more like dreadful close encounters of the third kind. Afterall, the level of awkwardness relies on the point of view and level of comfort for the participant: a fetish for one may be an unswerving embarassment for another.
Though many people are more than reluctant to share their less-than-perfect sexual experiences or non-conformity to socially prescribed monogamous and heterosexual relationships, this project aims to dissolve such inhibitions and in turn empower women to speak of awkward sex and what it teaches us about ourselves and our desires.
Below we speak with founders Kim and Natalie to find out more about their project.
Awkward Sex Zine on Etsy
Qompendium: What do you think is currently missing from the sexual landscape that you want to touch on?
Kim: Awkward sex is so common, but no one talks about it. With the zine we wanted to address the age-old sexual double bind, and awkwardness is a fresh angle for exploring that. On the one hand, as women we are told that we’re not supposed to like sex, want sex or talk about sex, and if we do we’re sluts who should be ashamed of ourselves. On the other hand, if we’re clumsy, inexperienced or inhibited, we’re prudes who should also be ashamed of ourselves. Either way, as the stories show, awkward situations and feelings are produced. So we wanted to create a forum where women could share stories that made them feel ashamed or empowered or angry and discuss how they dealt with those experiences.
Your zine focuses mainly on the female sexual experience, do you think there can come a time when the dogma attached to female sexual liberation will be mollified?
Kim: That depends on your definition of sexual liberation; for me it’s not only about women, even if that’s what this one piece of work is about. I’d like to think that we might see a time when there is no stigma attached to gender expressions and sexual identities of lots of people – queers, genderqueers, transpeople and so on – but if that time comes, it will probably be after I’m long gone.
Natalie: I think when traditional, rigid notions of gender are blasted out, we'll finally hit that point where there isn't such thing as "sexual dogma." Sex is so individualized when it happens it's hard for me to accept any generalized notions of what is right for men, what is right for women or what is right for everyone.
What about male awkward sex?
Natalie: Good question! Kim and I tried to do an issue of the zine that included stories from men, but the response was lukewarm at best. I can't help but wonder if notions about gender made men a bit more reluctant to share their stories. There's this idea that men are supposed to be smooth operators who are always in control when it comes to sex. Maybe many men were wary of admitting that in real life: that they're not always so smooth. I can empathize with that.
Kim: I’ve met men who have had great awkward sex stories to tell, but the response we got for the second issue was lackluster. Many men wrote in a “Dear Penthouse Forum” style. It made me wonder if they’d even read the original zine. The stories in the original zine were heartfelt and confessional, while the submissions we got for the second issue seemed more geared at titillating people. Too much of our sexual culture is about men bragging about their sexual conquests or prowess. The original zine is explicit, but it's not supposed to turn you on. I mean if it does, that’s cool, but that wasn’t our goal.
Looking at the average age of those who submitted essays, is there any relation between age and sexual maturity?
Natalie: I don't think so. In fact, I'm not so sure sexual maturity even exists. I think we might grow more comfortable with our bodies, what we enjoy sexually and understanding that sex can always be a little awkward, but I don't think we ever mature to the point of being sexually graceful. I actually find that thought comforting, that I'm not lagging behind the sexual maturity curve.
Kim: I agree. Sexual confidence doesn’t necessarily come with age, and you can experience awkward situations no matter how confident you are – though you may handle those situations more gracefully the more confident you are.
We got a view into the sex life of people from Finland, Germany, Australia, Canada, the US and UK, do you think the experience of sex can be equalizing in this case?
Natalie: Absolutely! I think everyone, regardless of culture, can feel some really strange and awkward feelings related to their sexual experiences. Of course we only received submissions from people in western countries, and I'd really like to learn more about this from people in other areas of the world.
Is there perfect sex?
Natalie: I think all sex you enjoy and find fulfilling is perfect – flaws, stumbles and awkwardness included.
Kim: Perfect is relative. If everyone is getting what they want, you’re doing alright.
Any veteran writers for you in the sexually charged literature scene?
Kim: I’m not really into that genre of literature, but there are some popular sexperts whose work I enjoy reading: Carol Queen, Tristan Taormino, Violet Blue and anyone who knows me knows that I’m a big fan of Dan Savage.
Favorite porn, vintage or not?
Natalie: Vintage all the way, like super vintage! There's something exciting about viewing it and thinking, "Not every 13 year old kid could pull this up on his/her laptop." It was more undercover back then. I remember seeing an actual amateur home video from the 1950s and thinking, "Oh my God, the police could have been called on them back then!" And there is an exciting edge to that, I think.
Kim: I haven’t seen enough porn to have an opinion. Based purely on bodies you see in vintage erotica versus contemporary porn, I’d say vintage. I’d rather see a burlesque show than go to a strip joint or look at old-fashioned pin-ups than Playboy.
The internet killed porn stores, true?
Natalie: Probably, but you know, I appreciate that many folks are nervous about buying their sex toys in public. I appreciate that the internet has made it easier for a person to explore his or her sexuality without the added burden of being embarrassed about getting caught by their parents' friends or whomever.
Kim: There are still some great stores – at least in American cities – that sell smut and do important educational work: Babeland in NYC, Good Vibrations in San Francisco, Smitten Kitten in Minneapolis. I’d rather there were more of those places and less of the old-time, hidden, sleazy shops anyway.
For your first edition you had an interview with Cameryn Moore, a full-time phone sex operator, what’s coming up?
Kim: I’m not sure! We’d love to do another issue of the zine because it was so much fun to make and has generated such a positive response, but like we said, the response to our second call for essays didn’t pan out. We got some really fabulous comics, but not enough words to fill pages. If we’re going to do this again, it has to be at least as good as the first one – which sets the bar pretty high.