Sex podcasts are demystifying one of America’s favorite pastimes.
A man who’s married to a RealDoll. A trans performer who’s fearful for her future. A former United States Surgeon General who was fired for suggesting Americans teach children about masturbation. These people couldn’t seem more different, but their stories can help us reexamine the way we view sex in the United States, which is exactly what sex podcasts such as American Sex aim to do.
He’s into clown play, and she fancies mimes. Much like their guests, one might not imagine American Sex creators and hosts Sunny Megatron and Ken Melvoin-Berg to fit into a traditional love story narrative. Yet, somehow, the sexuality educators have found a way not only to make their relationship work but to also inspire their listeners each week.
Though they’re perhaps best known for their work on the Showtime series Sex with Sunny Megatron, the couple’s résumés boast many impressive accomplishments. They’ve authored books, worked on films such as Diminuendo and hosted many BDSM soirees. But at the heart of everything they do is the desire to shatter taboos and make the country a safer, sexier place — and what better way to get to many Americans’ hearts than through their earbuds?
“We want the conversation about sex to feel very normal,” Megatron said. “Like, we could be a podcast about astronomy or plants. We kind of approach sex in that way.”
Unlike some sex podcasts, American Sex doesn’t sell itself as a place where people come to get advice on love and relationships. Instead, listeners hear discussions on sexual subcultures some might call “unconventional” — iDollators, CannaSexuals, polyamory, you name it. On American Sex, every topic is fair game, and everyone is welcome. Come for the oratory stimulation; stay for the community.
For Melvoin-Berg, sex podcasts are about so much more than just shocking stories of sexual escapades. They’re also a way for people to be vulnerable and open about topics and insecurities people typically leave behind closed doors.
“The personal is very much the political, and a lot of people don’t realize that, even down to who you f—k, how you f—k, when you f—k.”
“We were looking for a media platform to do something with as we age because aging and sexuality is an ugly subject that people don’t want to discuss,” he said.
Melvoin-Berg, who likes to say he has “very low friends in very high places,” could have taken his thoughts to TV or print magazines, but he’s found that sex podcasts offer a way for hosts and artists to have more agency to do the things they like without restrictions. As a military veteran, he recognized the importance of examining how we treat sex on a political level. Though some people might not consider mixing politics and pleasure to be sexy pillow talk, Megatron and Melvoin-Berg believe it’s just about as American as apple pie.
“When we found out that nobody had a podcast called ‘American Sex,’ we were shocked,” he said. “It very much resonated with the two of us about everything that we want.”
“The personal is very much the political, and a lot of people don’t realize that, even down to who you f—k, how you f—k, when you f—k,” Megatron later added. “It’s all political.”
We’re not just talking about laws pertaining to porn or public indecency. Politics have filtered into our bedrooms — and sex chambers — for centuries, from regulating someone’s right to marry whom they please to censoring sex education in American classrooms. Perhaps no one has a better understanding of the federal government’s complex relationship with sex than former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders, who served in President Bill Clinton’s Cabinet for just over a year. Her progressive stances on abortion, drugs, contraceptives and health care stunned even some of her liberal colleagues, but where Clinton drew the line was masturbation. In 1994 Dr. Elders attended a conference at the United Nations and told a reporter she’d be open to including self-pleasure in school sex education plans.
“I think that is something part of human sexuality and it’s a part of something that perhaps should be taught,” she told a reporter during a Q&A, according to the New York Times.
It’s a view she unapologetically defends to this day.
“Healthy sexuality education is about healthy sexuality,” Dr. Elders, now 84, said on American Sex. “It’s because of our ignorance that we’ve turned it into something dark.”
“Healthy sexuality education is about healthy sexuality. It’s because of our ignorance that we’ve turned it into something dark.”
—Dr. Joycelyn Elders
“Imagine what would happen if we lived in a culture where teenagers were taught how to negotiate sex in ways that were meaningful and relevant, where they weren’t always defaulting to f—king, and they were able to actually explain ways that they would like to be touched,” she told American Sex.
Megatron and Melvoin-Berg posited that it’s because we’re afraid of having these types of honest conversations with children and young adults both during and outside of school that we’re creating unrealistic expectations and perpetuating unhealthy power dynamics in sexual relationships. We’re seeing these consequences play out on a national stage, as people come forward to accuse high-profile politicians and entertainers of sexual misconduct. While the discussions surrounding consent are essential to breaking down rape culture, Megatron argues that sex has to be about more than just a contractual encounter.
“We’ve taken pleasure out of the equation, so anytime we talk about sex, it’s ‘It’ll kill ya! You’ll get pregnant! You’re going to get blisters all over your dick!’” Megatron said. “We start to look at sex like that and everybody’s terrified of it, but most people still really want to do it. Most people end up doing it. They do it unsafely. They’re confused. They end up hiding their fetishes.”
Sex podcasts like American Sex can start to chip away at some of the stigmas and taboos surrounding pleasure, serving as an educational outlet for those who’ve never had “the talk” and for sexperts alike. But all the sexuality lessons in the world could get us nowhere if Americans aren’t open to empathizing with people who live outside of the socially accepted sexual norms.
Sure, the idea of marrying a synthetic RealDoll may be off-putting to some, but can’t we all understand feeling lonely and yearning for connection? Though we may not all be trans porn stars like Wendy Williams, don’t we all sometimes worry about finding our place in the world as we age?
“Part of what we do with the podcast is we talk to some people and hope our listeners go, ‘Whoa, that’s me. I’m finally represented somewhere. I can relate. I’m really into this,’” Megatron said. “Or some guests will be like, ‘Oh my goodness, I’ve never known this. This isn’t my world, and I’m shocked / surprised / upset / whatever to find this information out.’” She concluded, “We’re kind of digging under the surface to show that we all have the same common denominators. We want to be loved. We want to be valued and seen for who we really are.”