Ev'Yan Whitney: Pleasure Is For Everyone, and Every Body
Ev’Yan Whitney wants you to get to know yourself.
Sex? Of course. But also the sensuality of living, and simple joy of feeling good in your skin. Sexuality starts with the body and believing in the possibility and importance of your own pleasure. In her work as a sexuality doula over the past eight years, Ev’Yan has witnessed the struggle and rise of countless individuals.
We caught up with Ev’Yan during a stopover in LA where she’d just hosted a sold out “Sexting Myself” workshop. She speaks with a warm, soothing voice, and thoughtful, steady cadence as she shared her journey built upon self inquiry, personal honesty, and driven by the desire to authentically express her own personal challenges.
When asked the nugget of wisdom she’d like to pass on to all who cross her path?
The most important sexual relationship you will ever have is the one you have with yourself.
And with that, we’ll leave you to fall in love with this woman and her vision as much as we did…
Virgo sun, Cancer moon, Sagittarius rising. I'm also an Enneagram 4.
Your ideal lunch?
A fresh, handmade deli sandwich with lots of mustard.
A work that has meaning to you?
Likufanele by Zero 7. It's a Zulu word that means "It suits you." I have it tattooed on my arm.
Where in your life can you do less?
I could honestly work less, which is currently a work in progress!
What brings you joy + pleasure?
Sunshine, conversations with my sister, spring water, mandarins, and being surrounded by black women/femmes.
How did your upbringing shape your work and present outlook?
I was raised in a conservative household where I intuitively picked up messages that sex was bad, my body isn’t mine, sensuality is dangerous. My younger self didn’t have the freedom to explore those aspects of myself.
Religion and patriarchal messages were stifling; my parents were adamant about me not being a “fast girl” because they knew what happened to those women - culturally the shame that could get placed upon me and how damaging that could be.
However, protection can be safe keeping as well as and imprisonment. The walls that were built up around me disconnected me from my body. I learned that I didn’t have agency or autonomy.
Even now, I still struggle with old stories that sometimes make themselves heard when I least expect it.
Well-being and wellness
Where in your wellness journey are you challenged and growing?
I’m not always confident, and regularly experience self doubt. Imposter Syndrome has a daily presence in my life. I’d love support and space holding around this as I grow through it. I bristle when i'm called an expert or guru… I have insecurities and doubts of my own: am I the right person to do this work? Is someone out there better equipped to serve those who come to me?
I have to remember that no one knows everything, and the wisdom I share is unique. My gifts, my journey, the years I’ve put in to my own healing and in to my practice of helping others heal — this is what I have to offer. As I step in to a role as a leader, business woman, and teacher, it is with lots of excitement and possibility but still the old voices of doubt creep in. I’d like to get more proficient at listening but not believing or letting these slow me down.
Where does wellness fall short?
Wellness is talked about as exercise, skin care, eating clean, etc. and the importance of sexuality is forgotten. Why is it left out? It’s a fundamental part of our health.
Sex and talking about pleasure is still very taboo, and the impact of sexual shaming and trauma is vast. Thus, we’ve neglected to include the concept of a sexuality practice as part of all around well being.
We can shift this with education — teaching the importance of bodily autonomy, clear consent, and communication. Supporting those who are out, proud, and empowered. Creating spaciousness around what the relationship with your body looks and feels like, how we can consider more empowering ways to be in relationship with others, and the way to keeping yourself safe with boundaries and listening to your heart.
How is the glamorization of busyness detrimental to healthy desire and sexuality?
We see pleasure as superficial and frivolous, an excess. Spirituality texts talk about how overcoming bodily pleasures, mastering impulses and achieving “purity” is necessary on the path to “enlightenment.” We starve ourselves of pleasure by having no relationship with it and giving it little value against the drive to achieve, do, attain.
It’s really difficult — I struggle with creating balance, practicing self care, attending to my sexual wellness and pleasure.
I try to prioritize an undercurrent of feeling good in my day and acknowledge that pleasure and feeling good on a daily basis is important. Little things like putting on a hand moisturizer that I love and setting an intention of feeling good while doing so, and eating foods that I love.
When I’m super busy, the last thing I’m thinking about is how my body is feeling and my connection to my body. It’s so easy to get disconnected, and pleasure is tied so closely to our relationship with our bodies. In moving so fast, we must slow down so that we can listen, feel, and hear our messages from our body and thus allows us to tap in to our pleasure.
Work and mission
What’s it like to work with you?
It’s not all about lube and sex toys! We start off by creating a solid foundation of healing by strengthening the body connection, body acceptance, and centering pleasure within yourself. What's your relationship like to your body? Your pleasure? What comes up when you hear “you-centered pleasure”? How do you feel about taking up space? It seems simple, but the answers say so much about the stories someone carries within them.
We can then start working in the sexual realm by healing old shames, stories, and traumas. We look to discover: what has been keeping you from feeling sexually free? We can begin to explore what you desire so you can communicate it, and core pieces of sexual identity and expression. After that comes discussion of toys, tactics, relationship, etc.
What do you want others to gain from your work?
I felt shame, trauma, and confusion around my own sexuality and I started this work to make sense of who I am beyond the stories that had been put on me. In sharing my work, I started see that I wasn’t alone, that the conversation I initiated was really important, and that people were resonating with my story and feeling witnessed by what I was sharing. This motivated me to continue, and it’s now been about eight years since I started on this journey.
I want people to realize that pleasure is accessible for everyone. It doesn’t have to be a certain way, or look a certain way; it’s not about luxury or consuming or attaining something. It’s about the relationship we have with our bodies and it can be accessed in this very moment.
Pleasure doesn’t have to be sexual touch; pleasure without the sexual context is deeply tied to our bodily knowledge. I encourage the connection to daily sensuality and embodiment, connecting with the senses on a daily basis.
For those with sexual trauma, I want them to know there are ways to access pleasure really gently to rebuild that bodily relationship.
I want all to believe what their bodies are telling them, what is true in their bones, and that if how they think about sex and sexuality is not ideal for them that they can rewrite the story — it can be more expansive and satisfying.
You are already a whole and complete sexual being — even if its been a while, or you have trauma. By knowing your wholeness you can find comfort, curiosity, playfulness in your exploration of pleasure and sexuality.
How does intersection of racism and sexuality impact your work?
I love working with all women and femme identifying individuals. But working with women of color is especially powerful and provoking because our experience of sexuality and sexual oppression is also racialized; every aspect of our sexual expression, the messages we received growing up and that continue to this day are impacted by white supremacy and racial oppressionWe have to look at ditching things like respectability politics [the pressure marginalized groups place on members to blend in to the demands of dominant groups rather than expect the acceptance of differences], that idea that as women of color we are not allowed to be sexually expressive and the proliferation of the Jezebel stereotype [dating to pre-slavery, the stereotype that black women are inherently, predatorily lascivious and promiscuous as opposed to white women whom represent modesty and purity], and the messages we receive demanding that we stay within the lines of being small and meek, and a vessel for someone else's pleasure.
As women of color, we must consider the systems of oppression that say body and sexuality doesn’t belong to us and recognize the trauma and hangups that are influenced by white supremacy and patriarchal systems of oppression, including beauty standards.
In challenging the stories that my POC clients carry in them, it also challenges the stories I still carry in me. I love this work because I learn so much, it’s a dual investigation that continues to open up new places within me that need spaciousness.
What do you want everyone who crosses your path to leave feeling or thinking about?
Remember that you are sexually whole outside of a relationship with a partner, you can autonomously explore this part of yourself.
I wish this is what I was taught as a 12-year-old, first and foremost. Yet I learned that the most important relationship was with a partner and this gave my sexual power and my experience of pleasure away to someone else instead of centering it in myself and my own body.
Know this: the most important sexual relationship you will ever have is the one you have with yourself.