In our What’s In Your Nightstand? series, we chat with friends of Swell across the globe about their sex essentials, their new projects, and what harmful sexual messages they’re railing against.
Senti Sojwal is a writer, strategist, and reproductive justice advocate. She currently works at the women’s health platform, Tia, as their creative director, and has worked for Planned Parenthood and Feministing. Born in India and raised in New York City, she is a co-founder of the Asian American Feminist Collective, which has been featured in places like the New York Times, NPR, and Teen Vogue.
Swell spoke with Senti about veinless vibrators, the true roots of wellness culture, and why stereotypes about Asian women are so harmful.
What are your top 5 bedside essentials (i.e. lube, vibes, sleeping mask, books)?
- A candle! I’ve recently become a candle girl in quarantine. I love lighting one for a few minutes at night to get relaxed and ease myself into bedtime. I’m a big fan of Boy Smells and the Rue Dix candles from Marché in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
- Lots of books. I just started the Kink anthology which features work from some of my favorite writers like Roxane Gay and Carmen Maria Machado.
- A vibrator. I tend to go for small and sleek, bright colors. No veins, please…
- Phone – sometimes you just need to unwind with some deranged Gen Z TikToks before bed.
- Überlube – the bottle is so chic!
If you could tell your teenage self one thing about sex, what would you say?
Your pleasure matters. Sex should be fun, playful, communicative, and joyful. Explore your desire without judgment or shame. Embrace your sexuality, your openness, your curiosity. Expend less energy thinking about what you should or shouldn’t be doing, and more time considering who and what you actually want. You have a right to say yes. Do it!
What question about sex and intimacy keeps coming up in your work?
I co-lead the Asian American Feminist Collective, a grassroots gender justice group, and we host an annual Sex + Love Talk Circle, a facilitated dialogue about all things sex, pleasure, desire, and relationships. As Asian American women, femmes, and gender noncomforming people, our identities exist at many intersections that we don’t necessarily see reflected or explored with dignity and nuance in our culture. The complexities of dating as an Asian American come up often. The racialization and sexualization of Asian American women, in particular, is deeply rooted in colonialism, and we’re often depicted as sexually available, docile, and “exotic.”
These cultural ideas about Asian women provided the backdrop for the tragic shooting in Atlanta that killed six Asian women, who were murdered by a white man who saw them as “temptations.” To witness this kind of specific racialized and gendered violence is so traumatic. We all have a responsibility to reflect deeply on the history that led us to this moment and commit to dismantling the toxic white supremacy that denies so many of us our humanity.
What does “self-care” mean to you?
When Audre Lorde was diagnosed with cancer for the second time, she declared that caring for herself was a radical political act. Self-care has been so co-opted and whitewashed by today’s “wellness” culture, but this concept bloomed from marginalized people preserving themselves in a world that is hostile to our identities and communities. I practice self-care by honoring my truths and feelings, by being gentle with myself, by resisting capitalist notions of my value as inherently tied to my productivity, by surrounding myself with people who light me up, prioritizing rest, and centering pleasure and joy in my life as critical necessities for living well, not things I have to “earn.” We are all deserving of ease, beauty, and tenderness, and recognizing that in ourselves means we can recognize it in one another.
What harmful or useless sexual script have you learned to dismantle in your own life?
That centering pleasure is frivolous or should be secondary in our lives. Great sex, whether alone or with partners, is powerful, world-altering, and life-changing. It’s actually an amazing thing to recognize that and give yourself the gift of a life where pleasure is valued. Not everyone needs sex and that’s fine! But often, especially for women, we’re told there is all kinds of shit we should prioritize (motherhood, shaving our legs, men’s feelings, a flat stomach, being accommodating), and so rarely on that list is considering and honoring our own desire. It is actually cool as fuck to be committed to your own bliss.
De-Stress Your Sex
Learn actionable strategies for relieving stress and focusing on your pleasure in the on-demand workshop, led by Shadeen Francis, LMFT.