Lorrae Jo Bradbury (pronounced “LUH-ray”) may have started Slutty Girl Problems as an outlet, but the project has quickly molded into a sex-positive enterprise over the course of the decade. Now boasting over a quarter-million followers on Instagram and nearly as many on Twitter, Bradbury has a hold on an enterprise focusing on sexual education and empowerment. While she has fought off deactivation by bringing the unfair attempts at shuttering her accounts by new, puritanical government measures, her resistance to the censorship has caught national attention.
Not satisfied with just running and operating a fantastic resource for sex education, this activist also works as a love and dating coach. Recently I caught up with Bradbury to discuss how Slutty Girl came into being, her work with the #WeNeedAButton campaign, and the quandary of being “queer enough.”
This is Bradbury’s first interview about being queer.
Jennie Roberson: How did you come to identify as bi or queer?
Lorrae Jo Bradbury: I knew from a very young age that I wasn’t just interested in boys. From 6 years old, I already knew I was just attracted to such a wide variety of people, but I didn’t really understand or have the words for that. But I remember very specifically as I was approaching my adolescence saying to my mom, “I don’t think I’m into boys that much.” And she was like, “What are you, a lesbian?” And I was like, wait - are those my only two options? (Laughs) Because it just didn’t feel like a really good fit. So I thought: well, I like boys, so I guess I’m not a lesbian. I didn’t really understand the concept of being bi or queer at the time, and I didn’t really see any representation of that around me. So in retrospect, I had an awareness that my sexuality wasn’t as confined to heteronormativity as what I saw around me, but I also just didn’t have the context to understand what was going on.
Then I remember being in high school and joining the Gay-Straight Alliance and just really feeling connected to that community, and wanting to expand and explore. But I remember my parents saying “If you’re in GSA, people are going to think you’re gay.” And I was like, “Well, I’m not gay, but I support gay people and I love gay people, and I’m interested in women. But I don’t know to what degree I’m interested in women, or why, or how, or what does that mean.”
It just didn’t occur to me it could exist on a spectrum, and I felt like I just had to pick one or the other. It was almost easier in a sense since I was attracted to men and was interested in men to fall back into that heteronormative model. And not to stop questioning, but I did stop pursuing the alternative. But it still felt like I was shoving something down or suppressing it, almost creating even more shame on top of the layers of cultural shame because I was hiding a piece of myself I wasn’t really even allowing myself to explore.
So kind of evolving from that, into my early twenties, there is that college experimental culture where it’s kind of hot to hook up with other women. Your partner wants to have threesomes, and it almost becomes like a performance-based element of sexuality. I remember being in those scenarios and being confused still. Like I’m really enjoying this, but am I just enjoying it because of my partner? Because of the performance? Because I’m fulfilling somebody else’s fantasy? Or is this really something that is within me that I’ve been kind of shutting down my whole life?
And then [I started] exploring what that “more” means on my own and separate from the male gaze, and separate from a partner, what it really means to be interested in women and people of all different orientations. I feel much more fluid, and I love all different types of gender expression. So [I’m] exploring what does that mean to me when I kind of get out of the binary and start looking at having to fit in one box or another, or any box at all, and just explore that I’m interested in all different types of people.
Word. And that male gaze aspect in college is a real head-messer.
How has your experience been being out as a queer educator and activist?
LJB: It’s definitely something that’s new to me. I’ve been in the sex-positive industry for years now, talking about sex education and kink and fantasy. And I’ve come out about being poly, but this is actually my first time actually talking about being queer!
Oh, I’m very honored! Thank you!
LJB: Yeah, so it’s really exciting for me! I’m excited to explore it.
I think I had a lot of fear around it because I had hidden it for so long that I almost felt like … am I a traitor that I didn’t understand this sooner, or am I just appropriating queer culture, or …? There’s this misconception I think I internalized that if you don’t come out loud and proud when you’re young, that you’ve been hiding it and you come out later … I don’t know, I just felt like a bad queer. That I’m not queer enough. Especially because I’m femme-presenting and because I’ve dated mostly male-identifying partners up until very recently, it’s just felt like - am I allowed to claim that name for myself, even though I haven’t very deeply explored it yet?
I really feel like I’m a baby queer. I’m still in my infancy!
That’s okay! Baby bis are totally welcome!
How do you explore your queerness later in your life? How does that play into shame and stigma, and the messages you received growing up?
LJB: That’s a great question. I think what’s really helped me is being poly and being involved in communities where people are very sexually expressive and open. I found that when I’m on dating apps and tell women that I’m bi, there’s definitely an element of: “I only want to be with other women that are just into women.” Other bi people kind of get it. And then with men, they’re like - some men - are like: “Oh awesome, you’re gonna be the one that’s gonna help me fulfill my threesome fantasy. Let’s do it.” And then they’ll start pitching me all of these other women. They’re like, “Do you think she’s hot? How about her?”
Yup. Yup. Yup.
LJB: I’m not just an accessory to your fantasy.
I’m very grateful I have a male-identifying partner that is very non-pressure around it, and is like, “Go do your own thing, go explore on your own.” And I really value and appreciate that because I feel like a lot of partners are like: “That’s cool if you want to explore, but it has to be with me, for my entertainment, and I have to be involved in some way.”
But really, this is a separate part of my identity from my relationship. So I love being in communities and sex club communities - even if you’re not hooking up at the sex club, but just to meet other queer-identifying people that understand where you’re coming from and understand the fluidity. And also understand that just because you’re bi doesn’t mean you’re attracted to everyone - I hear [that] a lot as well, and [it] has been part of the stigma, too.
Even with coming out to friends, I’ve been a little nervous to think like, will all my girlfriends think I’m attracted to them? But just like my guy friends, you can have friends and they’re just friends and not be attracted. It really exists in segments of my life, which a lot of people that are more heteronormative, it’s a hard concept to wrap [their] brains around.
So how do you see yourself as an entrepreneur, and how does being a love and dating coach fold into that?
LJB: So I have been running Slutty Girl Problems since 2011, and it really started as an outlet for me to talk about my sexuality in a real shame and stigma-free way. I was feeling a lot of shame around being an active sexual person, exploring the hookup culture and casual sex. So it kind of was just naturally fused into my work from the beginning.
I think the love and dating coach piece has really been a natural extension of that work, because as I have learned tools to navigate my own sexuality - and especially to navigate feeling confident and in control, empowered, and rewriting those shameful messages for myself (whether it’s about queer identity or kink, or just being a sexual person) - I wanted to share everything I’ve learned with others, and help people going through a lot of the same challenges I’ve faced to overcome and feel confident. Because our culture in general around sexuality is just so shaming, and we kind of need a guide to navigate it, with inspiring role models to look up to [who] share how they got through.
Is there anything about yourself that you would like people to know about you that maybe isn’t part of your public persona?
LJB: Interesting. So I feel like I’m an open book, but what I think what’s interesting when you talk about sexuality online is you get pigeonholed into just being a sexual being, and we’re just so much more.
I think a lot of people interpret that especially because I claim the word “slut” and I’m reclaiming that word that I must be hyper-sexualized and want to sleep with anyone. And then, of course, being bi and poly and kinky really plays into that hyper-sexualized assumption that people make. But in reality, I’m at home in my sweatpants cuddling my dog most of the time. [Or] curled up reading a book, or going out to dinner with friends, and just living kind of like a normal life. It’s just when I end up owning and embracing my sexuality, I removed a lot of those layers of shame. It’s an ongoing process, it’s not completely done, I still have a lot more to un-write. But most of our lives are still just as normal as anyone else.
Tell me more about how Slutty Girl Problems was founded.
LJB: So I actually founded Slutty Girl Problems after I had experienced a sexual assault. I lost my virginity through a sexual assault, and I reclaimed my sexuality by becoming very promiscuous. I had grown up with this thought that once you lose your virginity, you’re like a chewed-up piece of gum. And I was like: “Well, if I’m already a chewed-up piece of gum, I might as well let everybody have a piece.” So I really started to step into that in a physical way without really about thinking why I’m doing that - the emotions behind it, the impact it’s having on me.
I’m really grateful that I had that experience, but I also realized I needed an outlet to be able to talk about it. Because when you’re just going through that on your own, it feels really isolating. And I really just wanted a place to connect with other people. So as I started to talk about my experiences - not just with hookup culture but with catcalling, and sexual assault, and all the trauma that goes with being a sexual person. Even if it’s not sexual assault, just the fear we walk through as women in the world and as sexual beings in hookup culture.
I realized that so many other women and people, in general, are having such similar experiences, and wanted to expand that conversation - just that we could talk about it more and have a sense of community. Like the big sister I wish I had for the younger generations to come and learn this information. When I first created it, I hadn’t found any spaces where people were talking about this in such an open way.
That’s awesome. Thank you for sharing all of that.
As of the time of this interview, you just got banned again from Instagram last night and this morning reactivated. So with SESTA/FOSTA going into effect, you’ve seen your Instagram accounts (as well as other sex educators) get banned, and you brought it to national attention.
Can you walk me through that experience was like? Have things improved since you’ve fought your way back from deactivation?
LJB: Yes, I feel like I keep coming back from the dead because this is my fourth time getting deactivated and coming back! It’s happening to hundreds of activists, educators, sex workers, and people in the industry in general across the board - simply for talking about sex. Not [for] doing anything against the terms, not posting nudity or explicit content, but really just being a sex educator, or [as if] someone talking about sex in this space seems like a threat to the system.
So I feel really grateful I’ve gotten back, but I really want to keep fighting on behalf of all of the accounts being shut down. Because the more that sexuality accounts are shut down, the less access marginalized groups - and I think specifically about the LGBTQIA+ community - they don’t have any more resources. If we’re shoved off of Instagram, sex educators and LGBTQ educators, less and less visibility is out there for all of these causes and experiences and communities, and it kind of becomes a puritanical culture where it feels like we’re hidden into the shadows and relegated to the corners of the internet where you have to seek and find it.
So I think it has really scary repercussions for young people on these [online] spaces. And I hear so often, “Well, if you keep getting shunted off Instagram, just get off of Instagram and go to another platform.”
They already did that with Tumblr, they already did that with …
LJB: Yeah! And young people really ought to be able to see other people who have been through trauma. Other queer people. Other people who are into kink. Other people that are non-monogamous. Other people talking about sexuality in empowering ways. Otherwise they’re just seeing mainstream media representations of sex.
And it blows my mind that harassment is still allowed on the platform. Where getting dick pics in your DMs is still allowed on the platform, but talking about sexuality in an empowered way isn’t.
So it’s an upward battle, but we’re still fighting, but hopefully, we’ll be able to turn the pendulum in the other direction and right some of these wrongs.
You’re also part of the #WeNeedAButton campaign. Can you tell me more about it, and how you got involved in the campaign?
LJB: My friend, Zachary Zane, told me about the campaign, and I instantly wanted to share my story of getting unfair care from health care providers.
The #WeNeedAButton campaign is to support a portal online where providers can opt into being LGBTQ positive, and [be] understanding and compassionate to the unique care needs of that community. So to me, that encompasses being sex-positive, being nonjudgmental around STIs, around PReP, around testing.
I’ve had a lot of experiences with care: shameful messages around getting frequent STI testing, when I’ve had STIs [and was] getting treatment for it when I disclosed I have multiple partners, or that I’m not using protection or that I’m not on birth control. All the shameful messages I have gotten from providers over the years make it even scarier and shameful to talk to your health care provider about these issues when they should be the ones you can trust to go to support your needs and not be, like, the Morality Police. (Laughs)
So I think it’s so important we have access and not go into something for our physical health, that should be a benefit and then [not] be shamed as a moral issue, when we’re really doing the right thing by our bodies by going in and inquiring about our sexual health.
You mentioned before feeling like you’re “not being queer enough?” How do you grapple with those feelings?
LJB: I was actually on a date with a girl who had once identified as heterosexual, then identified as bi, then identified as a lesbian, and she told me it was basically just the stepping stone, and that I had to come out as a lesbian, and that I was just confused. I was like: “How do you think you know more about my sexuality than I do?”
And it’s true that a lot of people who come out as gay or lesbian do start out by coming out as bi because it can be an easy way to kind of segue into exploring your identity before realizing you’re more into one gender more than the other. But that doesn’t mean that bi doesn’t exist. I think that there’s so much bi-erasure, especially as somebody that’s femme-presenting and has dated mostly men in the past, I definitely feel “not queer enough” a lot of the time.
In terms of grappling with that, I think being in sex-positive communities really helps, and connecting with people like you that understand what the experience is, and reading other peoples’ experiences. Like reading through all the interviews on bi.org made me realize I’m not alone in coming out later in life, or not understanding my identity sooner, or feeling like I have to conform. There is a little bit of a privilege in a sense when you can almost pretend to be heteronormative; even though you’re shaming and hiding a piece of yourself, you get to be the public persona of being “straight.” And I really want to change that narrative, for myself and for others. That it’s okay to come out sooner, and it’s okay to really embrace it; you don’t have to hide because you feel like you’re not queer enough, or because it’s scary to do that and easier to pass.
Of course, everyone’s in a different place in their own journey, but it’s definitely hard to be bi and fluid and recognize you’re not totally accepted by the straight community, and not totally accepted by the gay community, either.
Finally: Do you have any advice for those newly identifying as bi or queer, or any advice you wish you could give the younger version of yourself before you came out?
LJB: I wish I could have told myself to just own it a lot sooner and to explore it a lot sooner and not to worry about what anyone thinks. Because ultimately what anyone thinks really doesn’t matter to you - unless you’re physically or financially dependent on them for your primary care needs, and are afraid that you’re going to lose housing or resources - really, people’s outside opinions do not matter on your situation.
I really wish I had explored it sooner and been less afraid of what people would think, because ultimately I feel so much better now being able to be open and finding the communities that love and support me for who I am, versus hiding pieces of myself to fit a mold I thought would be more socially acceptable.
*** This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.