In a New Book, the Comics Writers Behind Oh Joy Sex Toy Tackle Sex Ed

Portlanders Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan set out to school us on the basics.

By Fiona McCann October 17, 2018 Published in the November 2018 issue of Portland Monthly

Erika Moen at work

In one comics panel, a short-haired, pink-toned woman boards a roller coaster. “The way your first time goes does not determine what your sex life will look like for the rest of your life,” she tells the trepidatious person beside her. They ride along, the woman waxing lyrical all the while on changing sexual tastes while her companion covers their mouth and makes a barfing sound. “At the end of the day, what types of sexual activities you do or don’t do will not change your worth as a person,” she says after they clamber out. “You are whole, you are valid, you matter, and you deserve empathy and compassion.”

Matthew Nolan's comic book avatar

Welcome to Drawn to Sex: The Basics (published by Erika Moen Comics & Illustration and Limerence Press, out November 6)—the sex-ed book you probably wish you had 20 years ago, and that may still have something to teach you. It’s the newest graphic tome from sex-positive Portland writers Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan, the power duo and real-life couple behind the long-running webcomic Oh Joy Sex Toy, a site that offers up education and sex toy reviews in the form of conversational comics.

Oh Joy has become a critical and commercial success since its 2013 launch, keeping Moen—who made a name for herself with the autobiographical comic DAR in the aughts—and Nolan, a former video game designer from England, in more-than-full-time employment. They’ve also released an annual compilation in book form of the site’s best work.

Last May the pair launched a Kickstarter (something they’ve done for previous books) and raised more than $85,000 for a sex-ed-only book. The money funded Drawn to Sex, the first in a planned three-part series, which Moen and Nolan see as a jumping-off point for people interested in learning more about sex in all its confusing glory. “This is what I wish I knew when I was a teenager,” says Moen. “I like to think of Oh Joy Sex Toy, and specifically this book, as an appetizer to the world of sex education.”

With its puce-hued, gently humorous illustrations, Drawn to Sex covers a dizzying array of subjects: defining consent, sex positivity, contraception, masturbation, and sex in various forms—through various orifices, and with various toys. Both Moen and Nolan feature as characters therein, climbing into roller-coasters, surfing condoms, and slurping oysters (no prizes for guessing which chapter that one appears in). And while the panels are explicit and instructional, with candid depictions of diverse nude bodies engaged in all manner of play, Moen and Nolan stay clothed throughout. “We didn’t want to just be like Erika and Matt showing their genitalia,” says Nolan. “That doesn’t feel right.”

The graphic illustrations, however, do. “You need to see it explicitly to understand it,” says Moen, "to show this is what you do with this body part and this is how it fits together.” 

It’s about as warmly conversational as you can get about sexting and internal condoms, the kind of book you can give a randy-but-clueless friend to stand in for the kind of chat you may not be comfortable having in person. Instead, you introduce them to what Nolan calls “coffee shop Erika,” the friend with a little more expertise in the subject, who’s willing to spill everything she knows, sans judgment.

The final panel features coffee shop Erika surrounded by floating sex toys and pink hearts. “Now go out and have fun with each other, you delightful perverts,” she tells us.

Challenge accepted.  

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