Harlot Interview: Nicole Mazzeo, Founder of Pleasure Pie
By kora shultz
Sex positivity and art: What's not to love?! Pleasure Pie - a sex positive zine and publication organization based out of swingin’ Boston, Mass - exists in that sweet spot where sex education meets unbound creativity. Their zines cover everything from consent to menstruation to sexual freedom activism - everything we love discussing here at Harlot! I was thrilled to be able to touch base with Pleasure Pie’s founder and director, Nicole Mazzeo (the queen of zines!), this past week for a quick Q&A on her current projects, zines, and more.
So, without further ado, let's jump in!
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your current projects at Pleasure Pie?
The sex education I got as a teenager was almost nonexistent, and instead I internalized the harmful idea that sexual desire is sinful. When I eventually tried having sex, I couldn't enjoy it almost at all. I was so ashamed that I had sexual desires, and I didn't know how to advocate for what I wanted (or didn't want). In an attempt to improve my relationship to sexuality, I started reading about feminism, and eventually found articles on sex-positivity, which were incredibly helpful to me! In the years since then, I've become a sex educator and started Pleasure Pie as a name to make sexuality zines under (though it's grown into much more than that).
Right now, I'm focusing on making new zines and publishing articles on our website. Last night I finally hit publish on an article I've been working on for months about a Palestinian sex educator living in the Gaza Strip and the state of sex education there. I've been doing a lot of interviews lately because I'll hear about someone who is doing something I find interesting, and I want to learn more, so I figure I may as well ask some questions and share it with the public.
I also recently finished a new zine about finding sex-positive initiatives and community in Jerusalem, because I was living there for the past nine months. In comparison to Boston (where I was living before Jerusalem), Jerusalem is much more conservative and has less going on in the realm of sex-positivity, but that made it all the more exciting to discover the sex-positive efforts that are being made there.
My next project feels like a big undertaking, so I'm a little nervous to start it, but I'm also very excited to (someday, somehow) finish it! It's going to be a colorful, heavily illustrated, in-depth zine all about penises. It will cover topics like circumcision, penis size stigma, femme penises, blowjob tips, and more (like, so much more!). The challenge for me with this project is that I want to include facts and stats throughout, but 1. I am not great at doing research, and 2. There is so much conflicting information in sex research! So I'm going to need to spend a lot of time sifting through information (and it sounds I'll have some help from a Pleasure Pie contributor who is more suited for the research side of things). But I'm very excited about the day when I can share the finished penis zine with the world!
What attracted you to zines as a medium for sex education?
I've made zines since I was a little kid (long before I heard of the existence of DIY zines), so it was natural that I fell back into zine-making when I wanted to talk about sexuality. The first Pleasure Pie zine I made started out as a flowchart, but I wanted to include lots of (sometimes long) options, so I ended up realizing that a choose-your-own-adventure style book would be easier to read, which is how “Choose Your Own Consensual Adventure” was born.
In general, I love that zines are personal, uncensored mixtures of art and writing. I love that I can print nudity in a zine and no one gives me a hard time about it, because I'm not going through a traditional publisher. And I guess print is dying (so they say), but I love reading zines, and I have found that they're an effective way to distribute ideas and information on a somewhat large scale. Some of my zines have been printed in mass at colleges and distributed to students there, which makes me so happy.
I think you do an amazing job at making sure your sex education materials are LGBTQIA+ inclusive! What advice do you have for other sex educators that are working to make their own materials more queer & trans accessible?
Thank you! I'm queer so that makes it easier to remember to include queer stuff. I'm also surrounded by a sex education community that is full of queer, trans, and intersex people, including some of Pleasure Pie's contributors. I've been able to ask trans friends for feedback on how to handle discussing gender in my writing when I've been uncertain (shout out to those friends — thank you!). I know that people with marginalized identities don't always want to be everyone's personal inclusivity educator, but when there are activists and educators in your life who don't mind occasional questions that can be a great resource. I think that people often are happy to help if they can tell that you genuinely care about making sure that your work doesn't ostracize groups of people, and that you are taking the initiative to do a basic level of learning on your own (through Googling, etc.). It's also been helpful for me to go to events where inclusive language is explained and used in person.
In terms of being inclusive of asexuality, I've often heard criticisms that the sex-positive movement tends to leave out asexuals, so I make a point to keep asexuality in mind. I find it frustrating when people glorify sex in the name of sex-positivity. To me, sex-positivity is about refusing to shame sexuality and sexual diversity, and it's counterproductive to start shaming a lack of sexuality. The person who coined the term "sex-positive," Carol Queen, recently spoke out about the fact that sex-positivity isn't just about having enthusiasm for sex — she proposed the alternative term "sexual justice" as a way to center shame-free, consensual sexual autonomy, rather than overly simplified ideas about sex being good.
What are three things you think every teenager should know about sex/sexual health?
There are so many things! But here are three:
It's your right to decide what you do and don't want to do sexually! It's not up to your boyfriend, girlfriend, partner, parents, or teachers. People might pressure you in either direction, but it's ultimately your body, and your choice.
It's okay to have sexual desire, and it's okay not to have sexual desire.
Masturbating isn't gross or bad. It can actually be a great way to relax and to get to know your body!
Where can our readers find more information on Pleasure Pie & purchase your zines?
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KORA SCHULTZ - WRITER & EDUCATOR
Kora Schultz (they/them) is a loud, genderqueer, incredibly anxious sex education nerd from the swingin' Midwest. They are passionate about LGBTQIA+ inclusive sex ed, youth outreach, women's empowerment, and sex worker advocacy. Most of their free time is spent ranting (and writing) about these topics.
Read more . . .