Interview With Natalie Rivera, Creator and Host of the Podcast How I F***
Let's talk about sex, baby!
It’s interesting how so many are invested in our sex lives, yet sex is still kinda treated as this taboo subject.
Sex was always a topic that brought about conflicting messages for me growing up. The assumption when it came to Black girls was that we were fast, a.k.a. we were the ones out there orchestrating all the eggplant emoji x peach emoji action, regardless of who made the first move or whether or not we made a move to begin with. We were sluts if we did it, but bitches if we didn’t, and if you were fat, like me, there was this strange sort of urgency placed on you to have sex to prove you were appealing to men. Always men, always heteronormative, as you were told things like, “You’d be cuter if you lost weight,” unless he, gasp, actually managed to look past your tummy rolls or … something.
None of that really mattered because I honestly wasn’t terribly interested in having sex—at least, not back then. For the entire year I had a boyfriend, folks wondered why we weren’t sleeping together and couldn’t believe it was as simple as “I don’t want to.” This, of course, led to assumptions of me ending up with a girl in college—that MY BOYFRIEND wasn’t any good at it so now I WAS TURNED OFF FROM MEN FOREVER.
Heaven forbid the answer be as simple as “She’s bi, it just didn’t work out with her boyfriend.” It was somehow easier for some to think that my boyfriend “turned me gay” because he was bad at foreplay, therefore, he pushed me away from the idea of sleeping with men to, instead, sleep with women. Ah, if only I’d waited for the right peen to come along instead of enjoying myself with my new girlfriend and present-day wife.
I feel like honest conversations about sex and sexuality would’ve saved me a whole lot of trouble. And hell, maybe I would’ve been more interested in sex if it wasn’t used as some litmus test on my worth/the deciding factor on why I changed my relationship status. I certainly would’ve had my bisexual epiphany earlier if folks would’ve stopped telling me that I just needed the right guy to f*ck me to get over the “phase” I was in with my girlfriend.
To be fair, my mother did have honest conversations with me, but even THAT had a lot of folks scratching their heads because HOW DARE A PARENT TALK TO THEIR TEENAGER ABOUT THIS. And it’s hard to retain any “sex is fine, just be safe about it” information if it’s only one source telling you that, especially a source that other folks clutch their pearls over because, I dunno, moms aren’t supposed to do that?
It’s a whole-ass mess, one that I feel inspired podcasts such as Natalie Rivera’s How I F***.
How I F*ck is a bi-weekly sex podcast that explores sexuality and human connection through real stories from people of all backgrounds, communities, identities, experiences, and lifestyles.
Every other week, host and creator Natalie Rivera takes listeners through a guest’s story. Using interviews, narrations, and original music, How I F*ck tries to discover what sex is like for everyone.
The podcast talks about, well, sex, but it’s from the perspective of folks who deal with a lot of assumptions because of who they are. Society has its fair share of opinions about fat women, for example, and is, for some reason, surprised to learn that we can be (and are) sexually active, and not just because some guy is “nice enough” to do it with us. There is a range of guests on the show who delve into things like that, like the blind woman who talks about how people are surprised that she can even have sex, or the throuple that dives into how their poly relationship works, or even how some folks just don’t want to have sex, like, at all.
I got to talk with Rivera about the podcast, how it came about, and why it’s important to have genuine conversations about sex.
The Mary Sue: According to the mission statement, How I F*ck is a podcast that “explores sexuality and human connection through real stories from people of all backgrounds, communities, identities, experiences, and lifestyles.” Why did you choose sex as the focal point of what connects us to one another?
Natalie Rivera: Sex and sexuality is very important to most people. While sex seems to become less and less taboo every decade, I don’t think many of us understand that sex isn’t necessarily the same for everyone. Like housing and access to basic needs, sex, at least for me, is a human right. It should be accessible to everyone and it should be something that is approached with patience and understanding, and on top of that, consent. And I don’t just mean sex with other people; I also mean sex with ourselves. Something that many of us have in common is that we masturbate. We are our first sexual partner or at least our most consistent sexual partner. What does that look like for everyone though? That’s what this podcast is trying to answer.
TMS: How do you come up with the topics to discuss on the podcast?
Rivera: A lot of them are topics I’ve wondered about myself. I have always been a very curious person. I remember early on when I was developing this show seeing a homeless person sleeping on a bench and wondering what sex and dating might be like for someone who has no home. Are they just celibate? Where do they have sex? Unfortunately, the pandemic has made it difficult to explore this specific topic. However, these kinds of questions are similar to what I ask myself whenever I think of a community or experience. I also have had a couple of friends recommend me topics.
TMS: Are people able to approach you about being on the show?
Rivera: I do most of the approaching honestly. While we have had people approach us, I think a lot of them do so not really understanding how deep these interviews can get. Maybe “deep” is too dramatic of a word, but that’s the first word that comes to mind. Each episode explores a person’s relationship with sex from the very beginning. One of the first questions I normally ask is, “What was your first sexual experience?” “What was your exposure to sex growing up?” I really try to get to know who they are and what their story is because I think for a lot of people, our identities or interests kind of go back to when we were younger. I’ve had guests tell me, “Wow, now that I look back, I can totally see how that affected my interest in X, Y, Z.”
TMS: The podcast really takes to heart exploring people from all backgrounds, communities, and identities. Why did you feel it was necessary to talk to folks who would be seen as being outside the norm, both with their sex lives, and who they are (ie: folks within marginalized communities).
Rivera: I didn’t want to focus on what TV and film have mostly focused on, which is mostly hetero, white, vanilla, and/or able-bodied sex. I can’t back this up with stats at this moment, but I strongly feel that the majority of people don’t fall into some, not to mention all of those categories. I really want this show to explore stories from people with lived experiences that can’t be found on a streaming service. I feel like this world is made up mostly of marginalized communities and that the stories being shared should reflect that. Doing so might help all of us be better sexual partners. Taking into account that sex is different for everyone might help you be more patient, more willing to listen, and maybe even more likely to explore, all traits that I think make for healthy partners.
TMS: The general vibe I get from the podcast is that everyone can, and does, have sex if they want to, so it’d be best if we stopped treating it as such a stigma. I imagine you’ve had to deal with your fair share of assumptions since you created the podcast, how do you deal with that?
Rivera: I think one of the biggest assumptions about this podcast is that it’s scandalous. In some ways, it can be, but it’s not meant to be a raunchy confessional type of show. I like to explain to people that while we do have episodes with sex workers or people with certain lifestyles, we’re not just asking these guests stories about some crazy orgy sex they’ve had (though that will be one of the questions), we’re also asking them who they are and what having this kind of sex means to them. I think there’s more to sex than toys and hookups: there’s sexual freedom and empowerment. There’s self-respect and respect for others. I think every person’s sexual history tells a bigger story.
TMS: What is “the norm” when it comes to sex, anyway? And why do you think people are seen as doing it outside the norm at all? Why do you think people are so concerned about how consenting adults are having sex?
Rivera: I think the “norm” is white and able-bodied. Even with some queer representation, you see queer people who are able-bodied, white, and have well-paying jobs. That’s not necessarily the case for not just queer people but for everyone. One of our most recent guests is a blind woman who shared with me that people are surprised that she has sex at all. I think some people have a hard time imagining people of certain communities or experiences being sexual because it’s not talked about or depicted in TV or film. They might think of it as “out of the norm” when they see someone with cerebral palsy posting about hiring sex workers, which is what one of our previous guests does. To him it’s normal, but to the outside world, it kind of isn’t.
I do think that there is a growing interest in how everyone has sex because it is, like I said, something that connects us all. It’s also easier to find someone online who can speak to certain experiences you might be living through at that moment. I didn’t have anyone to look to when it came to my bisexuality. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I found YouTubers talking about internalized biphobia or talking about the bi stigma that I could really connect with my sexuality better. I was seeking out that information because I wanted someone to help me understand my own interests and needs, which I think a lot of us do now.
TMS: The guests you’ve had on the podcast so far have been amazing, and have offered great insight on sex within their space. What impact have they left on you personally?
Rivera: I think they’ve made me feel less alone somehow. A lot of them have talked about how they didn’t know anything growing up and that they felt shame for their sexual thoughts and interests. That was definitely the case for me. I wasn’t allowed to take sex ed in middle school so I knew nothing and was teased by some of my classmates for being “innocent.” Yet, I was masturbating as early as the second grade. I used to look back at that part of my history and feel embarrassed, but after interviewing so many of these great people I’ve come to realize that a lot of us experienced something similar growing up.
TMS: Are there any topics you haven’t covered that you’d like to discuss on the podcast?
Rivera: Oh so many. Absolutely the topic of homelessness. I have been extremely careful during the pandemic and I would never want to put our audio engineer or others at risk, so that is a topic that I’m planning to explore once more people in our area get vaccinated. One topic I am eager to do that I’ve been trying to get someone to talk to me about is what it’s like navigating sex as a man with a micropenis. I’ve had a couple of potential guests ghost me. It is the toughest topic to book so far, so if anyone’s interested in sharing their story, please reach out!
TMS: Are there any topics that are off-limits?
Rivera: I think stories from people who are predators or who just don’t care about consent are absolutely off-limits, whether that be people who have problematic infatuations or who have victimized others.
You can listen to How I F*ck pretty much wherever you listen to podcasts: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, etc. Rivera tells me that Apple Podcasts can be tricky though, “You have to look us up there as How I Fck though we can be found as How I F*ck everywhere else.” You can also check the show out below:
(Image: Natalia Rivera/How I F*ck Podcast)
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