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This episode is about safer sex and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). It features two conversations with Rachael Rose and Jack Lamon.
Rachael Rose is a certified sex & relationship coach and educator. She's chronically ill, has MCS, and identifies as queer, neurodivergent, and polyamorous.
Rachael's work focuses on an inclusive, sex-positive, pleasure-focused, and healthy approach to sex education and sexual health for all. As a coach, she specializes in working with chronically ill and disabled folks.
For more info about Rachael's work, check out her website. And explore her Beginner's Guide to Fragrance and Chemical Sensitivities.
In the second part of this episode, I’m speaking with Jack Lamon. He is the longest-serving member and worker-owner at Come As You Are. It’s an anti-capitalist and feminist cooperative in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It sells products connected with sexual pleasure, health, and education. I reached out to Jack and invited him speak about safer sex toys for people with MSC.
I hope you enjoy these conversations.
If there's someone you would like to hear interviewed on the podcast, please let me know. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Chemical Sensitivity and its associated website are made possible with grant funds awarded to Aaron Goodman by Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) under the KPU 0.6% Faculty PD Fund. With the exception of Aaron Goodman as the creator of the Podcast, neither KPU, its directors, officers and employees operate, control, are responsible for, or necessarily endorse The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast and associated website. The content, opinions, findings, statements, and recommendations expressed in The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast and associated website do not necessarily reflect the official views of KPU or the students of KPU.
Aaron Goodman 00:06
Welcome to the Chemical Sensitivity Podcast. It's a podcast that amplifies the voices of people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity or MCS and highlights emerging research about the illness.
Aaron Goodman 00:18
The focus of this episode is safer sex and MCS. It's a topic that doesn't get enough attention. But we know for folks with MCS, chemicals can really complicate this part of our lives.
Aaron Goodman 00:29
So in this episode, we explore themes around safer sex, and asking partners, whether they're new or longer term, to not use chemicals that can make us ill. We're also exploring the topic of safer sex toys because there's a long history of companies making toxic ones, but it's possible to find sex toys that help us protect our health.
Aaron Goodman 00:51
I'm speaking with two people with a ton of knowledge about safer sex and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. First, you'll hear from Rachael Rose. She is a certified sex and relationship coach and educator. She's chronically ill, has MCS, and identifies as queer, neurodivergent, and polyamorous. As a coach, she specializes working with chronically ill and disabled folks. I'll post links so you can find out more about Rachael's work.
Aaron Goodman 01:18
In the second part of this episode, I'm speaking with Jack Lamon. He's the longest serving member and worker owner at Come As You Are. It's an anti-capitalist feminist cooperative in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. CAYA sells products connected with sexual pleasure, health, and education. I reached out to Jack and invited him to speak about safer sex toys for people with multiple chemical sensitivity. I'll also post links to Come As You Are.
Aaron Goodman 01:46
I hope you enjoy these conversations. We release new episodes twice a month, the best way to never miss one is to subscribe for free wherever you get your podcasts. I hope you enjoy these conversations.
Aaron Goodman 01:59
Rachael Rose, thank you for joining me.
Rachael Rose 02:01
Thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here.
Aaron Goodman 02:02
Folks will have heard me read your bio. But would you like to let people know a few things about you and your work?
Rachael Rose 02:07
Sure. So I am a chronically ill, and disabled sex and relationship coach and educator, and I talk a lot about disability and how that interacts with sexuality, especially from a perspective of somebody who has like a chronic illness perspective through my own lived experience. And I have severe chemical and fragrance sensitivities that I've developed over the last decade or so.
Aaron Goodman 02:30
I'm sorry to hear that. But it's also helpful for listeners to know where you're coming from. Thank you for sharing that.
Aaron Goodman 02:37
And so the theme of this episode is about sex and relationships. And I wanted to start off by asking you about some strategies that you might suggest for folks who have fragrance and chemical sensitivities, so they can partake in sex and enjoy it and stay safe as much as possible. And so we're talking about avoiding triggers. Do you have any tips on? I think it's a pretty big question, but any tips for folks about how to stay safe?
Rachael Rose 03:03
So I will start off by saying like, this is a challenge for everybody. I think it's important to acknowledge that having fragrance and chemical sensitivities is a challenging thing to navigate in the world we live in.
Rachael Rose 03:14
It's a challenge anytime you need to interact, especially with other people, but especially when it comes to dating and relationships. For some good ways to try to navigate things, it does vary heavily.
Rachael Rose 03:23
Obviously, everybody with Chemical Sensitivities has a little bit of a difference to it. So I can speak from my own experience. I know that there are people out there who have far less significant sensitivities, and far more significant sensitivity. So it's obviously a wide spectrum. Were you thinking more like going out and meeting a new person? Are you talking more about like established relationships or like somebody developing a sensitivity?
Aaron Goodman 03:42
it's important to make a differentiation between the two because they're kind of different. And so let's talk about them. Which one do you want to start with?
Rachael Rose 03:49
So let's start with established relationships. And I think that what you have, what we have, as far as navigating established relationships, kind of surpasses just dating and romantic relationships into friendships and like navigating things with family members. I think co workers is kind of a little bit of a different type of relationship that has to be navigated maybe slightly differently. But like the close personal relationships, I think a lot of them have a lot of overlap.
Rachael Rose 04:12
And I think that it can be really helpful, especially if it's like something that you've acquired in the time that you've known the person so that there was a point of time where they knew you as a person who didn't have these sensitivities. And I think that sometimes people can have a harder time getting on board with it when it's something that like, oh, but you were fine with this hairspray the last time I used it. There's like, I don't know if it's some cognitive dissonance there that people are like, not really sure how these things have just manifested. Much like the people experiencing are also really not sure how these things happen sometimes.
Rachael Rose 04:39
But I think that trying to explain to them that one, it's not the smell that's making me sick, it's the chemicals that create the smell. So if it's just quote unquote a little perfume or something you put on that morning, or it was on your clothes from a previous day, it's not because I can still smell it, it's the chemicals.
Rachael Rose 05:00
And two, it's not actually the scent itself. It's not that I think somebody smells bad, it's that what they're wearing is making me sick. So that's an important thing that I think helps people understand a little bit better. I think it's fair to be patient to a degree. But at some point, when people aren't respecting your boundaries and your safety, you do have to get a little more firm, it's ideal when that doesn't happen.
Rachael Rose 05:22
And nobody really wants to have a confrontation, especially around a topic that none of us have chosen to be a part of. That's where it gets a little bit tricky, especially with intimate partners and relationships, where you may be living together. You really need them more than anybody else, you know, I only see my family every so often, but the person I live with I see daily.
Aaron Goodman 05:40
So it can be really difficult. Just repeating what I'm hearing you saying that with established partners, when the Chemical Sensitivity wasn't present at the outset of the relationship it can be difficult to bring people on board, because they might say, when we first got together, you didn't have a problem. So where did this come from? Is that something you hear in your practice, people coming to you with these challenges of being believed or getting partners to support them or accommodate them?
Rachael Rose 06:08
I sadly have heard both from the work that I do, and from attending other conferences, or chronic illness or disability focused events. Talking to other people who may have similar sensitivities that there are a lot of partners out there who just don't respect or understand or even I heard some really horrific examples of people using it as a way to quote unquote, 'show that they were upset' with their partner.
Rachael Rose 06:30
I've read in Facebook groups, someone saying that when their partner is upset they wear, ____, which is horrific and harmful. And I think there's a case to make for calling that abusive. More often, it's somewhere in the middle, where people just don't understand. There's a good amount of education that's needed to kind of explain to a partner. One, to explain why somebody might be responding, right? Because you were saying that, so it'd be like 'you didn't react to this before? Why is it happening now? Why are you allergic to this now?'
Rachael Rose 06:54
So I think that explaining like some background information, and I know that you--I've listened to a few of the other episodes, and I know that there's a lot more information that's been shared in there, but some of the information about fragrances that's, you know, they're often not tested for safety. They are harmful, honestly, to pretty much everybody. It's just a challenging thing to prove on a legal end to get them prohibited.
Rachael Rose 07:13
And in the United States, it's particularly chemical friendly, in the sense that they don't have to do much to be allowed to sell it, if anything at all, and kind of understand the background of how these things might be impacting different people.
Rachael Rose 07:25
There's some good documentaries out there now, that might be helpful to watch with a partner. And then hearing it from a source that's not you, is often really helpful. I'm not sure if you've ever tried to get like a significant partner or significant other like a movie recommendation. And they're like ignoring it from you, oh, it's like, you know, hearing it from your mom, oh yeah it's special. It's nice. You hear from a friend at work. And suddenly, they're like, dragging you out to see the exact same movie you're trying to get them to see. So sometimes just hearing it from a source, that's not you, I tend to find that it sometimes helps the people around me, but it kind of depends on the individual.
Rachael Rose 07:56
So I think that kind of explaining or answering some of the questions, why is it happening now? Well, these things can build up over time, and you can become sensitive to it. You know, if we don't culturally talk about the fact that people can develop sensitivities at any time in their life to virtually anything, I was surprised to learn that personally, reminding people that you didn't choose this, that it's not a personal preference, I think is also helpful. And it's semantics, but it doesn't matter. And I think it helps change how people look at it, framing it as a--an option rather than a, you know, a necessity and a safety issue, then I think sometimes people are in their heads, they have it framed differently.
Aaron Goodman 08:31
Right. And I've heard it said that what happens in the bedroom is a metaphor for what happens in the wider relationship. Right? If it's difficult to ask for what you need, in terms of safety, from chemicals, accommodation in the bedroom, is that perhaps reflective of maybe something that's happening more generally in the relationship?
Rachael Rose 08:52
So I think that it's very indicative. If people aren't taking care of your safety or aren't concerned with your well being in other respects, that's probably going to translate into the bedroom too.
Rachael Rose 09:04
I can't imagine that somebody who wasn't caring about your well being, your safety, how much you were able to enjoy your life or living at home comfortably, is going to be super concerned with you enjoying yourself in other situations either including and perhaps especially sex.
Rachael Rose 09:19
So I think that while it's obviously not a simple thing, I think sometimes that when somebody develops significant health issues, that that can also often lead to like a shift in weight in relationships. And obviously, it's not simple, relationships often lead to available housing, financial stuff, children may be involved. There's countless other factors as well.
Rachael Rose 09:38
If you've tried all the different things and someone isn't being respectful of your boundaries and is not concerned with your safety, you deserve to be in a relationship where your safety is a priority. Where your comfort and your enjoyment and what you're able to do with your life as far as your partner can help you have a better like, more safe and comfortable lifestyle.
Aaron Goodman 09:56
Because there is still a lot of misunderstanding and misdiagnoses around Chemical Sensitivity, sometimes I know for myself, you might feel anxious about asking for accommodation. Do you have any suggestions perhaps for people to, is it just a matter of drumming up the courage to really ask for what one needs, you know? Or are there specific ways of framing or requests that you might be able to recommend?
Rachael Rose 10:19
So I think asking for what you need, in general is an extremely good skill set. Those skills definitely carry over to the bedroom. Since you know, we are talking about sexuality, it takes practice, especially people who are assigned female at birth, generally, especially. And this happens for a lot of people, regardless of gender, are not particularly socialized to be comfortable asking for what you need.
Rachael Rose 10:38
And so I think that that's something that's not going to happen overnight. Because it's something you probably haven't done for many years. Start small and keep doing it, because it's important.
Rachael Rose 10:47
And it also can make for better relationships in general, right, even if outside of sensitivities. Your partners, unfortunately, do not have the ability to reach your mind. So asking for what you want and what you need, is a really great way to get closer in your relationships, to have more clear communication and to be able to like meet each other's needs better, in whatever way you're able to, or to be honest with the fact that you're not able to meet a specific need.
Rachael Rose 11:08
I think when it comes to asking for what you need. As far as sensitivities, it's tricky. I personally also experienced a lot of anxiety about it, no matter how many times I do it, and I probably do it every single day countless times, because you really can't interact with another human without asking for some level of accommodation when you have severe sensitivities. I will say the majority of the time I get positive responses, or at least not negative ones. But there have been those times where they--it hasn't gone well. And those things leave a mark.
Rachael Rose 11:37
I think framing it as an accessibility issue, as a medical accommodation, that language I think can be helpful. It is a disability for most folks, depending on the severity. I mean, obviously people can identify how they feel most comfortable, but it is something that generally is a huge barrier to living your life in a way that you would otherwise. So in my mind, that would constitute a disability.
Rachael Rose 11:57
And so using that language can be helpful because it shows the gravity of the situation. I tend to be somebody who apologizes far more than I should, especially for asking for medical assistance. I always feel really bad when I have to ask my partner to shower for the third time because it still smells like fragrances from the person they were next to at work or you know, something else.
Rachael Rose 12:16
And you have to have a partner who's willing to--to accommodate you, in order to make it work, there's not really a way to ask if the person is completely unwilling to be helpful, or accommodating, because unfortunately, they need to also be a participant in keeping you safe in order for you to be able to spend that time together. But I do think that framing it along the lines of accessibility and it being medically necessary and it not being a personal preference is a helpful way to get started with that.
Aaron Goodman 12:43
You've written a very detailed and helpful what you've titled A Beginner's Guide to Fragrances and Chemical Sensitivities on your website. And I'll definitely link that for listeners, I think it's a good resource for folks if they want to share with partners, would you say?
Rachael Rose 12:56
I think so, it's--I wrote it for a number of reasons. It's something that I got a lot of questions about, because I'm quite public about the fact that I have these sensitivities. And I tried to speak up and advocate for myself and for you know, the other 30% of people who have some level of Chemical Sensitivities.
Rachael Rose 12:57
So people would come to me with like, looking for certain fragrance-free options, or because they didn't fully understand something, and to save myself the time and to have a link to send people, so they could do a little bit of their own homework about how to accommodate me, I wrote the article. So I think it's helpful for a wide range of people.
Rachael Rose 13:27
I kind of wrote it as generally as possible. There's a tiny bit of background about like the--why chemicals can be an issue for certain people. And I broke down some of the stuff that I keep hearing from people like my mother who keeps buying clear hand soap and wondering why the clear hand soap isn't also fragrance free, because it said natural on the bottle, or it was clear. And so that like, mentally it not having a color made her think it was also fragrance free. There can be a lot of tricky stuff and packaging. So it helps people navigate that. I think it's good for partners and anybody else in your life.
Aaron Goodman 13:57
What kind of barriers do you think Chemical Sensitivity presents for folks with MCS? So just anecdotally, in one of the online groups that I'm part of around MCS, someone shared that they've never been able to have intimate relationships because of reactions to the products that people use. How do you view the level of severity of this issue?
Rachael Rose 14:19
I think that there are literally countless ways this presents issues for people because we live in a society where I think, and I might be a little bit off of the statistics, but I think it was like 96 or 97% of all personal care products contain fragrances. Some mash up of like 4000 different chemicals and unknown quantities, and it's impossible to avoid.
Rachael Rose 14:42
Even in my own home. I know that there's things that I have to keep in the garage, or I keep outdoors because it's something that was necessary but also makes me sick. So obviously that trickles down to anything intimate as well.
Rachael Rose 14:55
When you want to interact with other humans, they really have to be agreeable and accommodating in that sense to make it something that you're able to be a participant in, and obviously that varies a little bit based on how severe your sensitivities to whatever their products are, or in general are.
Rachael Rose 15:10
There are certain things I can tolerate slightly better than others. I really need the other person to also be--or other people, whoever they are, to be willing to make it something that is accommodating and accessible to me to be able to enjoy it. So there's literally countless ways in which that plays a role in our lives.
Aaron Goodman 15:27
How about when it comes to hookups or, you know, meeting partners for the first time, or whether it's just casual dating? Casual, intimate relationships--easier, harder, different than those longer term relationships to ask for what you need to stay safe?
Rachael Rose 15:44
I think that in casual dating and hookups, I think it can be in a way a little bit easier, because you can do it in a way or at least I tend to where I let people opt out of it. If they're not willing to be a part of it, they're not willing to make things accessible to me, I'm not really interested in getting to know them, or spending time with them.
Rachael Rose 16:00
That's something I decided for myself a few years ago, where I just realized that there were so many people in my life who just didn't make it seem like a big deal, you know, and why was I putting up with people who made me feel bad about something that I literally couldn't change, it just isn't worth my time.
Rachael Rose 16:13
And listen, don't have sex with someone who's not willing to keep you safe. They're not going to be a good partner to have in bed. They're probably not going to be that concerned with your pleasure or the experience that you're having and other ways you can do better, and you'll have more fun doing it. That's part of it.
Rachael Rose 16:30
I think for me, when it comes to, the way that I handle it going into it is like if I have a dating profile, I'll put like 'allergic to fragrances. I enjoy breathing please be willing to accommodate.' It's often a good conversation starter because people often don't understand that I get a lot of really silly messages typically from men, I date people of all genders.
Rachael Rose 16:47
So it's interesting to see how there's a difference in the messages I receive about that, where people are like, does that include deodorants? Does that include detergents? And I don't know why people think there are exceptions to the rule when you have a sensitivity, but I tend to find that most people, especially because they knew that going into it, are really respectful.
Rachael Rose 17:02
There's a lot of education that's done on my part, that I often send them the link to the article that I wrote, because it saves me time and energy and explains a lot of stuff I'd have to explain because even if they're super willing to, there's a lot of times not a full understanding of what that means.
Rachael Rose 17:15
I will say that one thing tends to trip people up a lot would be laundry detergent, because people don't recognize that even if they haven't washed it recently. And it previously washed it in a certain product, the smell will linger. And that's how these fragrance chemicals are designed, they are meant to stick around, it often takes a little bit of extra explanation to explain to people that like you know, in order to be around you like I need the clothes not to smell and that can take several washes.
Rachael Rose 17:41
It's also good if you have a space of your own to host people because it's really unpredictable to have to know whether or not you're gonna be able to safely go to their place. I recommend that if you were going to go to their place, and I know this can be tricky, with like if it was planning on being a one time hookup thing, but that might not be the best strategy because kind of having a short trip to their place for some reason. Maybe you're stopping by real quick just to kind of like gauge if that's a space that you might be safe in. It's better than planning this big epic hookup of some sort or, you know sexual encounter, you're going to have only to get there and find out that you can't even stay in the room.
Aaron Goodman 18:18
Like feel it out first.
Rachael Rose 18:19
I tend to just because I try not to avoid putting myself in situations where I'm going to get really sick. If I'm able to.
Aaron Goodman 18:25
Do you find that some folks just come to a point where if they're not in a long term relationship, that they just stop exploring options for sex and just become celibate just because it's really difficult to be continually faced with illness? So do you find people just sometimes, or often come to a point where they're like, okay, I'm done. I'm out.
Rachael Rose 18:25
I think it's been a little bit trickier the last few years with COVID. I feel like I could handle the fragrant stuff. I could handle the pandemic. Doing it both together seems very overwhelming. You know, when you're avoiding people for like, now multiple reasons for safety. It's just a little bit mind blowing.
Rachael Rose 19:05
I haven't found a ton of people who have kind of given up on that as a whole, although I understand where that thought process comes from. And if someone were to do that, I would get why. I tend to be like a compulsively social person. I'm very extroverted. So I know that that's something that mental health wise wouldn't work for me. And the people that I've worked with or spoken to tend to crave some sort of, I mean, I'm not that everybody doesn't crave social interaction. But that hasn't gotten to the point where they were willing to give up on that entirely.
Aaron Goodman 19:35
It's a human need, would you say to have physical intimacy?
Rachael Rose 19:38
I think so. I think that we are social animals. And I think it's really, I mean, I think, you know, if you think about how many people just from the pandemic alone were isolated during quarantine, and how that like if you've, if you know, anybody like that, who's had really--the impact that's had on mental health over that period, it's--for a lot of people I know it was really devastating. And I think that that's just because we're meant to be social and sexual. I mean, not everybody chooses to be sexual or has an interest in it, but I think everyone should have the option if they want it.
Aaron Goodman 20:08
I want to invite you to talk a little bit about if you're open to talking about the group sex dynamic, what kind of challenges that can present because it might be on some people's radars.
Rachael Rose 20:16
So a little bit of background is I also host--before the pandemic, and I hope to bring them back when it feels safe. I co-founded a business called Glittergasm events that hosts sex positive queer play parties. My co-founder and I both come from a sex-ed background and wanted to have a really inclusive space for people to be able to explore in ways that felt comfortable to them.
Rachael Rose 20:36
And so in those spaces, there are some nonsexual spaces people can enjoy and be social, if they choose to be. There's like a PG 13, more makeout area, but there are full sex spaces. In order for me to be able to host the events, they are fragrance free.
Rachael Rose 20:49
Again, I don't spend as much time educating that community because that's not as many one on one interactions. So there has been a few issues where someone didn't notice the 7,000 reminders to be fragrance free, I can only think of one person who came in from out of town. So I felt quite bad because they had traveled from, I live in the Philadelphia region, they traveled from New York City. They had so much perfume on, I actually couldn't go up and speak to the person myself. So I had to send somebody else to talk to them and ask them to leave and shower and come back with different clothes on.
Rachael Rose 21:18
I think it's a little bit easier in those specific settings, because they were a space where there was already pointed out in advance that fragrances needed to be avoided. And people do that with varying levels of success, people's clothing, again, fragrances and in detergents. You know, those things linger for quite some time. I think that sex in general, as long as that person is already willing to accommodate and depending on the setting, pre-planning is going to be your best friend here.
Rachael Rose 21:42
But it doesn't mean you can't do it at all, you just have to do some planning. Other things to consider would be like if you have a latex allergy, some people with Chemical Sensitivities, well a lot of people have like more contact issues with latex, some people have issues with the smell it gives off. So you know, you want to make sure that the person leaves those at home. So they're not actually opening up a condom or some kind of barrier that you're going to react.
Rachael Rose 22:00
I believe that there are some--I've personally never bought them. I think there's some scented lubricants out there. I know there's some scented condoms, those are more flavorings. So I don't know if everybody reacts to them. But you know, something to keep in mind if that's something that you think you might be sensitive to. So those are some things to keep an eye out for, also plan it in a space where it's going to be on a bed or fabrics of some sort that won't have fragrances in it, perhaps asking the people to shower first, if they do smell.
Rachael Rose 22:25
Another great solution, or better yet, take a sexy shower together and make it a fun thing. And then either ask them to use certain products or provide them for them. There's a lot of extra legwork involved in having fragrance and the chemical sensitivities. And I'm sure anybody listening to this who has them would understand what I mean. You're constantly providing things for other people just so that they will use a product that won't make you sick in any context, not just sexual, but it carries over.
Aaron Goodman 22:50
As we move towards winding up our chat. When do you think a sex therapist or a counselor can play a role in terms of these challenges around sex, relationships, Chemical Sensitivity?
Rachael Rose 23:03
I think sometimes it's really helpful just to have another person to talk to about these things in a way that you feel comfortable being open and honest and transparent about. We as a society are not very comfortable talking about sexuality. Most people have never received sex-ed. It's something that's kind of kept behind closed doors.
Rachael Rose 23:19
If it's something that you're struggling with and you feel like you would benefit from having a conversation about it with somebody where you wouldn't be judged, and somebody might be willing to help you navigate some of the trickier bits or the conversations. therapists can be great, or coaches or counselors of other sorts can be great with things like helping you come up with a little spiel that you can give to people.
Rachael Rose 23:40
I know that when I first started developing sensitivities, it was actually a work related issue. I sat down with my therapist at the time and literally came up with how do I explain this to my co-workers because I really need them to stop wearing, like I need the person who sits next to me to stop wearing fragrances or I need my boss to understand that sometimes I need to step outside for a little bit.
Rachael Rose 23:57
Also, if we start getting into more things like anxiety and depression, definitely therapist is like the right way to go for that. It's more help navigating interpersonal interactions or suggestions, ideas. A coach would also suffice when it's for mental health issues, I would recommend a therapist be the better recommendation for that situation.
Aaron Goodman 24:16
Thank you, Rachael, for everything you shared. It's really, really interesting, and maybe not on people's immediate radars. But I think it's really important to hear from you. So thank you so much.
Rachael Rose 24:26
Yeah, and I think it's a really important topic, and I really appreciate you having me on to talk about it.
Aaron Goodman 24:31
Thank you for listening to part one of this episode of the Chemical Sensitivity Podcast. Please stay with us for part two featuring a chat with Jack Lamon from Come As You Are, a feminist cooperative in Toronto that sells sex toys that are safer for people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. And just to mention, Jack was outside for our chat, so you'll hear some birds in the background. And at times the audio is a little bit off, but it's fairly minor. And I hope you enjoy the conversation.
Aaron Goodman 25:02
Well, hi, Jack, thanks so much for joining me on the podcast.
Jack Lamon 25:05
Thank you. I'm so happy to be here.
Aaron Goodman 25:07
Would you like to just recap or share anything about letting folks know who you are? Where you're coming from?
Jack Lamon 25:13
Sure. So my name is Jack Lamon. I'm a worker, owner, and member at Come As You Are. So we're actually the world's only cooperatively owned sex shop.
Jack Lamon 25:24
I've been here for about 20 years, and I've been the lead product buyer for about 15 or 16 of those years. So I have a particular interest in you know, sexuality, gender orientation. And then both from my personal experiences and my experiences, working in the shop and helping customers. Definitely very familiar with MCS and Chemical Sensitivities generally.
Aaron Goodman 25:50
Thank you for sharing that. So you are a person who lives with Chemical Sensitivities?
Jack Lamon 25:56
I do. It is something that I have struggled with since I was a child. I think I had a very hard time figuring out what it was I was sensitive to. I think that I've largely been able to get on top of it. I've gone through years where I don't seem to have the same sensitivity to chemicals that I sometimes do. But anytime I have some sort of adverse immune system issue, it comes right back. Yeah, like I said, it's something that's been a lifelong struggle for me.
Aaron Goodman 26:27
I understand. And thank you for sharing that. When we talk about sex toys, what kinds of things are we talking about? I know on the CAYA website, there are different categories vibrators, dildos, strap-ons, harnesses, anal sex toys, masturbation sleeves and rings. You don't need to go into detail about all of these, but what are sex toys? And who are they for?
Jack Lamon 26:50
So we would consider almost anything that a person might use to increase pleasure or sensation during sex to be a sex toy. So for us, it's not just things like you know, vibrators or dildos. We also consider lubricants, some condoms to also be sex toys. But really, it's any sort of device some people would consider, like, an assistive device formerly called marital aids. But obviously not just for married people anymore.
Jack Lamon 27:15
But yeah, anything that we incorporate into our sex lives that sort of isn't a person, can be a sex toy. So you know, for some folks, that might be something you purchase in a sex shop. For some folks that might be an organic cucumber, who are we to judge?
Aaron Goodman 27:28
Right, and we're talking about sex toys for all kinds of people right, for LGBTQ2S+ folks, for gender nonconforming people, for everyone?
Jack Lamon 27:40
Sure. And I think that's the thing that I've always really appreciated about Come As You Are, is that it truly is a sex shop for everyone. And we often will hear customers walking by in the street and be like, oh, that's the gay sex shop, or that's the feminist sex shop, or that's the co-op sex shop.
Jack Lamon 27:55
But yeah, I mean, our sort of fans, friends, customers tend to be from all walks of life from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Queer people, straight people, cis people, trans people. There's something quite universal in the way that we present sex information and products.
Aaron Goodman 28:12
So maybe we could talk a little bit about Come As You Are, for folks who aren't familiar with it. You're based in Toronto?
Jack Lamon 28:19
Aaron Goodman 28:21
Maybe, could you give us a little bit of a history of the store and the business?
Jack Lamon 28:27
Yeah, so it's our 25th anniversary this year, we opened in 1997. The shop was founded because of toxic sex toys.
Jack Lamon 28:37
So back in the day, most sex toys were made of kind of rubber, jelly rubber, they were plasticized rubber, so they contain phthalates, other plasticizers, which a large number of people have sensitivities to. But there was this burgeoning movement in San Francisco and elsewhere of really small-scale sex toy makers. Mostly things like dildos out of silicone.
Jack Lamon 28:37
Now silicone is amazing. It's as close to hypoallergenic as you can get. Very few people are allergic to it. They use it as medical implants, that sort of thing. And there was nowhere in Toronto or even Canada that was selling actual high quality sex toys that were widely available in the market.
Jack Lamon 29:18
Our shop was founded by Cory Silverberg, and Carey Gray and Cory is a noted sex educator, and has done a lot of work in disability communities. Has written some books around sex education and disability as well. And Carey is actually someone who makes strap on harnesses in materials that are also non toxic. So I think for them, it was a great opportunity to try to bring some of these non-toxic, high end, really well made sex toys into Canada, and I think for Carey to have a place to display and sell his goods. So it came together really nicely.
Aaron Goodman 29:53
And that was 25 years ago and today if people walk into the brick and mortar shop in Toronto, or find you online, I imagine people are buying your goods, safer sex toys from around the world?
Jack Lamon 30:12
Absolutely. I mean, I would say that, you know, more than 60% of our customer base is outside of Toronto or outside of Ontario. So we definitely have folks all around Canada, we do have some international customers, definitely some of the US.
Jack Lamon 30:24
I think the thing that's really different--you know, traditional sex shops, kind of trade on sleaze, and titillation and shame. That's kind of their marketing, and then there's sort of feminist sex shops. And we're definitely in those sort of feminist ethical sex shop genre.
Jack Lamon 30:38
I would say that traditional sex shops prioritize the male gaze or men above everyone else. I would say that most traditional feminist sex shops prioritize women's sexuality and don't actually carry a lot of toys, or options for men. Whereas for us, we really try to be a feminist space that's open to all. So that does mean you know, caring, and you'll actually note like, you know, most feminists have something like women's wears, or babe land, right, like really female centric.
Jack Lamon 31:08
And for us, we--we want to have a much more inclusive vision of what our shop could be. And so Come As You Are, you know, sort of strategic to make sure that everyone felt like they could come as they were, and not just with their, you know, partner who was female or whatever else. So yeah, we really tried to make sure that it's a really open inclusive space, regardless of gender, sexuality, orientation. There's something for everybody, for sure.
Aaron Goodman 31:31
Understood. And on the CAYA website, it reads, as a cooperative, we review all of the sex toys, we stock, and we refuse to carry products that are unsafe, misleading, or unusable. So when we're talking about unsafe in the context of our discussion for listeners, who may have Chemical Sensitivity, those are the kinds of products you carry, right, and that's a focus of yours?
Jack Lamon 32:01
Absolutely. I mean, so you know, when people hear that we try every sex toy, before we stock it they feel like, everyone thinks that's like the most fun job. But the reality is, most sex toys are terrible, or harmful, or poorly made. So you know, it's not as glamorous, I think, as people think.
Jack Lamon 32:18
We wade through a lot of bad stuff to get to the good stuff. And we do want to really make sure that our customers really trust us. I think that we have a really unique relationship with the folks who visit the shop, or online. And so we want to really make sure that the things that we're stocking we really stand behind, and that they do what they're supposed to do.
Jack Lamon 32:37
Now, not everything we stock is going to be safe for everybody. So, you know, we do have lubricants that have chemical preservatives, namely mostly parabens, but we also provide a lot of information including opinions, lists, and shopping guides, and in store help, so that we can figure out what people's needs are, and then point them in the right direction.
Jack Lamon 33:00
In our experience, our customers who identify as having MCS or Chemical Sensitivities, they know who they are, and they are, you know, happy to let us know, and then it's really easy to point people in the right direction. You know, even in the store, we have sort of shelf talkers right on the shelves there that have the ingredients in big print. I don't know if you have ever been in the Shoppers Drug Mart or the pharmacy, trying to look at the ingredients on the back of a bottle, that can be really difficult and stressful. And so we have everything right there. So people can also set out for themselves, you know, what, is in this product? Is it suitable for me?
Aaron Goodman 33:34
Right? And so if someone is buying a sunscreen or face cream or shampoo, for example, we know the Environmental Working Group and find out how it's rated, and that's something that you're doing right, you're providing a service for folks. You noted silicone, right? Is that sort of the go to? Should folks who are looking to buy sex toys, keep that in mind--silicone, silicone, silicone?
Jack Lamon 34:06
You know, I think in this day and age, there's no reason to buy a jelly rubber product. So whether that's a vibrator or a dildo, you know, silicone has come down so far in price that it is actually either as affordable or almost as affordable as a toxic toy.
Jack Lamon 34:22
So you know, it's sort of a no brainer now but if folks are interested in sex toys, like other materials that might be appropriate with that, we have a good selection of glass. Glass is amazing, as close to hypoallergenic as you can get, similarly with stainless steel.
Jack Lamon 34:35
And we do carry a small collection of wood toys that have a non porous hypoallergenic coating now and I have to say like, I don't believe anything is hypoallergenic. I think that you can find someone who's allergic to everything.
Jack Lamon 34:49
When manufacturers say something's hypoallergenic I usually like to put it in air quotes. Chances are you won't react to it, but someone's allergic to everything or has a sensitivity, so nothing's guaranteed. But I think I read a stat fairly recently that more people are allergic to water than to silicone. So it tends to be a really great option.
Aaron Goodman 35:09
Can I ask you to talk a little bit about maybe some of the most popular sex toys that are safe for folks with Chemical Sensitivity?
Jack Lamon 35:20
Yeah, I mean, so, you know, for us, we don't talk about sort of best selling or most popular toys only because, you know, I feel like so often people do just like, what's the most popular thing and just because a lot of people like something, you know, it doesn't mean you will, you know, everyone's so different, right?
Jack Lamon 35:38
We have so many people who come in with their best friend who were like, you have to get the magic wand, you know, they're like, I have one it's the best thing ever. And it's true. The magic wand is a very powerful vibrator. But I would say that, you know, half the world thinks it's the best thing ever. The other half thinks it is way too powerful. And they buy it and it winds up being a back massager.
Jack Lamon 35:59
But you know, having said that, the magic wand is a classic. Now the classic magic wand does have a vinyl head. So it does mean that, you know vinyl does have chemical plasticizers in it, but they've updated it. So now the magic wand plus and the rechargeable are ABS plastic in the body, and then the head is silicone. So again, it's a really great non-toxic toy. We would heartily recommend anything from Fuse Silicone, they're actually a Canadian company located just outside of Peterborough, Ontario. And they have been making like high quality body safe sex toys, I think for now more than 15 years. Really great small, ethical company--really cares about their customers, and they only work with medical grade silicone.
Jack Lamon 36:36
And then in terms of lubricants, if you're someone who has Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, but you don't have a lot of like other allergies, you know, like say to flax or aloe, that sort of thing, then something like a lubricant from Hathor/SUTIL would be great, they're a Victoria based lube maker. It's actually a mother daughter team. And you know, I cannot imagine making lube with my mom, but like, isn't it so lovely that someone in the world has that kind of relationship with their parents that they make these really amazing organic lubricants?
Jack Lamon 37:06
All of their stuff is chemical free, it's tested. So it's a really great option. But you know, we do divide people into sort of different categories in terms of like, you know, there are people who have just a lot of allergies to things. And there are folks who are specifically sensitive to chemicals. And some people may experience both. But we do find that our recommendations for MCS folks is actually kind of different than for folks who kind of have more broad based allergies.
Aaron Goodman 37:30
So folks jump on the CAYA website, they can take a look round, obviously and reach out to you and ask some questions if needed?
Jack Lamon 37:38
Oh, yeah, please do. Yeah, we love questions. I mean, people can reach us via email or phone or come in the store, or you know, social media, we're widely available. And if you check out our website, you'll notice on like the category pages, so if you're in the lubricant page or the dildo page, there's filters along the right side of the page. And so you can actually specify if you want toys that are phthalate free, or lubricants that are paraben free that--just a little checkbox, and then you can really quickly go from a list of like 50 products to like the 25 that will work for you best.
Aaron Goodman 38:12
Just to take a step back. What are some of the advantages of using sex toys for folks who may not be familiar or may have never encountered them before?
Jack Lamon 38:23
Yeah, it's interesting in the--in the bubble that I live in, you know, sex toys are obviously really commonplace. I've worked here for a long time, I talk about sex toys sort of freely and often, and it is easy to lose sight of the fact that for most people, sex toys aren't part of their everyday lives.
Jack Lamon 38:41
So we really truly believe that sex toys can change the world and can be a way to experience pleasure and sensation where sometimes our bodies aren't able to access that on our own. Or sex toys can heighten those experiences.
Jack Lamon 38:56
So a couple of examples, you know, people often say to us, oh, you know, I don't need lubricants. And you know, it's not really a matter of needing a lubricant or not, but reduced friction between bodies no matter what sexual activity you're participating in, is a positive thing.
Jack Lamon 39:11
All forms of sexuality, all forms of sex, tend to feel better with lubrication. So lubricant test is really fundamental you know, really basic sex toy, so everyone should have some, and then also people's bodies age you know, folks do need things that like say like a daily like a vaginal lubricant daily so after people go through menopause then you can see a really like practical medical health benefit to using a lubricant.
Jack Lamon 39:37
And then similarly we find that a lot of folks who are disabled find things like vibrators are a great way to increase sensation, especially for folks who have like diabetes or MS. There's a lot of different ways that people can actually experience reduced sensitivity to their genitals and other areas. And vibrators are a great way to kick off that sensation and to make orgasms possible.
Jack Lamon 40:00
And even things like strap ons. Like, I think people sort of feel like strap on harnesses or dildo play are kind of like the purview of lesbians, but in reality, we find so many of our heterosexual couples, you know, they'll actually buy a strap on, you know, maybe for pegging, you know, for their male partner, but often really just to have a spare so that as you can, you know, you can use your natural God given equipment to have sex, but at some point, you know, everyone does get tired.
Jack Lamon 40:28
So it's kind of nice to have something else to kind of continue to play. So I think that sex toys really like overcome these very natural human limitations to what our bodies can or can't do. Whether you identify as someone with a disability or not, you know, sex toys just kind of make it much easier to get in touch with desire, to experience pleasure, to increase sensation.
Aaron Goodman 40:48
And do you see it as an accessibility issue? When we're talking about folks with Chemical Sensitivity? Do you see it as a case where folks with MCS have been unable to access or use these products for a long time?
Jack Lamon 41:02
Absolutely. I mean, it's horrifying, to think about what used to be in sex toys and a lot of everyday household products as well. I think that the world views MCS folks as a bit of a minority, but you know, I actually believe that we're all Chemically Sensitive, you know, whether we're aware of it or not.
Jack Lamon 41:21
I think some people do have more like, overt symptoms of MCS, but I have no doubt, a toll is happening on everyone's bodies. And so whether or not they're connecting other stuff that's going on with their bodies with their exposure to chemicals. I 100% believe that we're all impacted by it. And I think it's really unfair, that the onus is put on, you know, actively symptomatic people with MCS to be advocating for safer products in all industries, right, not just sex toys.
Aaron Goodman 41:50
Yes. And do you feel that what you're doing at CAYA is quite unique in terms of making these products accessible for folks? And do you ship globally?
Jack Lamon 42:02
We do, yep.
Aaron Goodman 42:03
Anywhere can order from your store?
Jack Lamon 42:05
Absolutely. And I think that, you know, even for folks in other centers, like, you know, if you inform yourself and you know, you figure out which which brands are safe, which aren't.
Jack Lamon 42:15
You can walk into any sex shop, but, you know, do not rely on what people in retail stores are telling you, I mean, maybe aside from our own, because it's not so much that they mislead intentionally. But you know, manufacturers put out a lot of incorrect information.
Jack Lamon 42:30
So legally, a product only has to have 10% silicone in it to be considered a silicone sex toy. So a lot of folks will go to a store buy a silicone sex toy only just to discover it's loaded with phthalates because legally there's no regulations around this stuff.
Jack Lamon 42:46
So you really have to find like a trusted retailer, or manufacturer, do your research. You know, often people who work in sex shops or just you know, really have been trained poorly, have bad information. So it's really important to do your own homework.
Aaron Goodman 42:59
Well, thank you very much. I think listeners are really going to benefit from hearing from you. And I've learned a lot. So thank you so much.
Jack Lamon 43:06
Amazing. Thank you.
Aaron Goodman 43:08
That brings us to the end of this episode of the Chemical Sensitivity Podcast. Thank you to Rachael Rose and Jack Lamon for joining me. The podcast is produced by me Aaron Goodman, Dani Penaloza, and Emma Bolzner. Please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts to never miss an episode. We release new episodes twice a month. And follow us on social media. Just search for the chemical sensitivity podcast or podcasting MCS and get in touch. If there's someone you'd like to hear interviewed on the podcast, just let me know. Email me at email@example.com. I'll definitely respond. And thanks so much for listening.