My Sex Positive Story from Stu Nugent

In this fourth instalment of our sex positive journey series we hear from Wowtech Creative Content expert Stu Nugent.

Sex toy creative director Stuart Nugent of Wow Tech

Carol Battle met Stu Nugent over Zoom. Irish by birth, he is currently based out of Berlin. He has worked in the pleasure industry for 15 years, with specific expertise in sex toys.

CB: How is it that you’ve ended up doing the type of work you do?

SN: So I made a kind of strange decision when I was about 14, but it really paid off.

I think that my particular path is quite unusual inasmuch as I actually chose it for myself very, very early on. I was in my early, early adolescence when I chose that I wanted to go down a career that combines my love of communication and writing with a kind of inborn passion for pleasure, sex and sexuality.  I wanted to surround myself with those people from a very, very early age.

There was no particular road path or no map to follow on how to get from one place to the other so I kind of had to carve my own route through it.

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I figured a good way to establish a kind of online presence quite early. When I was around 14 or 15, I had this big TV that had internet built into it. It was really, really early kind of technology and had no memory or rich media, and I was able to get very clearly focused on communicating about sex through writing very early, and in a kind of healthy and mature way as well.

Not like in a frivolous silly way, in a way that really actually I think contributed.

I decided that I needed to have qualifications. I studied neurolinguistics and world literature, which is kind of an interesting study and it gave me a scientific grounding and also a creative grounding at the same time.

When I finished my degree, I sought out jobs in the adult industry.

I was very quickly assigned to work on a tiny, tiny little sex toy company that me and and a friend ran together and grew it from nothing until it was competing with some of the bigger names, at least in the UK.

Eventually, through a series of happy coincidences and chance meetings and just having the right people around and making the right connections, I quickly moved on to a company called Ann Summers, a UK retailer, at the forefront of pleasure in the UK.

They are a high street retailer that focuses on lingerie and sex toys and pleasure, and sex and sexuality. From my early twenties, I found that I was mixing with some of the most interesting, articulate, exciting people that I could possibly meet. From there it’s taken me all over the world.

CB: Do you feel like it’s possible for a guy to authentically write about the female sexual experience?  

SN: That’s one of the most interesting arenas of discussion for the kind of thing that I do.  I have the same reticence as other people do, especially, for example, writing for gay audiences, if the writer, the author isn’t himself or herself.

I had that same kind of reluctance.  For a while, part of my job was editing erotic fiction. So I would quite often be compiling an anthology of erotic fiction for an audience that I didn’t really try to demographize particularly heavily.

I found myself resistant to male writers writing for female audiences myself, so I know that that’s within me, too.  

I find that it hasn’t really impeded my own work since I try not to consider my audience in terms of gender, but rather as individual people. Once I stopped trying to contend with the fact that I felt like a little bit of a charlatan, or I felt like I was an impostor, I was able to process and understand that the audience consists of a group of individual humans.  That is just that’s really the start and the finish of it: if you try to resist the temptation to categorise readers, you kind of evade categorisation yourself.

I stopped any kind of self consciousness and my creative work has been much more accessible as a result.

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CB: Tell me about how that thinking evolved for you.

SN: A lot of my training in the earliest days of my career was in a nuts-and-bolts, old-fashioned kind of marketing, which involved things like demographics and audience segmentation.  I moved away from that and onto a new way,a kind of different way of thinking about audiences in terms of psychographics instead of demographics.

I was part of a taskforce for a small company called Picobong, which is owned by Lelo.  It is like a budget brand sex toy company: very colorful, slightly less premium, less expensive, more accessible and more experimental.  We were tasked with developing a product that eschewed any assumptions about gender or anatomy and instead existed in its own right, a product that could be picked up by anybody of any background and used in any way that they desire.

We wanted to create a product to that kind of transcended discussions of gender or sexuality.

Through the process of working with that I came to the conclusion that that was an infinitely useful way to consider people: as more than their sexuality.

Once you step aside from traditional categorizations, whether it’s through creative work or whether it’s through a product that you’re creating, or whether it’s through how you consider an audience, once you stop considering it in such rigid terms, the work you produce is much more honest, much more organic, much more natural, and just more fun.

It’s called the Transformer, and it was essentially two vibrating motors connected by this infinitely articulating cord. And it could be folded and bent and and caressed. It’s all sorts of innovative and different shapes.

And I felt like that the development of that product and the outcome and how well it was received, was very instructive for how I now approach even the discussion of sex and sexuality, which is to let it exist in its own space. That sounds a little bit poetic.

CB: So what does it mean to you to be sex positive?

SN: One of the benefits and also one of the dangers of the sex-positive label is that it can only be applied in opposition to something. Sex positivity, for example, can only exist in opposition to sex negativity.

There is an essential and necessary part of the discussion around that, but I would like to move the conversation to a place where it’s slightly beyond simply positive and negative binaries, and sort of slightly more textured, but I recognize we’re not in that place at the moment.

So for now I think sex positivity is an important label, but it’s one that is kind of at risk of strengthening the opposite side as well.

There’s been a lot of reaction in particular around talk of sexual politics where the discussion itself seems to energize both ends of the spectrum negatively against each other.

There’s a gulf between the healthy, positive and progressive conversation at one end and conservative and domineering conversation at the other. The gulf seems to be widening as those two standpoints become more and more entrenched and I think the concept of sex positivity is at risk of becoming a weapon with which to beat the other side.

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More textured conversations are being had by sharing minority views in our community, which are really complex, dense and fascinating.

Those conversations need amplification. Let’s take black trans rights, for example, that’s a conversation that has so much intersectionality — an intersectionality in an old fashioned sense and the original sense of conflicting viewpoints all meshing and kneading together.

The people who are living those lives and having to have those conversations daily are the people who best understand these conversations. I do a lot of work behind the scenes with British sex workers, for example, and those also are the most authoritative voices that exist on the issue of sex positivity.

Those are the people who understand it inside and out and that’s why I think it’s important to make sure that those conversations add texture to the more mainstream conversation.

As horrible as it is to say, I think that the backlash against those minority voices is almost a sign of the wave beginning to break.

I feel like there’s great uplift of tension and aggression in the conversation about sex and sexuality.

It’s a sign that the right side of it is winning.

CB: What does the sex positive utopian future look like? 

SN: I don’t think that it looks so entirely different from how things look at the moment.

I have huge enthusiasm and excitement for this new generation of people who are coming up behind my generation.

They are having incredibly complex conversations about their identities and dense conversations about consent.  They have the kind of fizzy energy of a younger generation, but  I worry that a lot of the younger activists who are coming up want to destroy the current system from the foundations; they wrap up issues of capitalism and failures of democracy, and that kind of thing.

All of those massive questions are being added together with issues of sexuality, gender politics and identity politics.

There seems to be a groundswell of desire at the moment to take out the whole rotten system and throw it away. 

I think that the system is very broken socially, sexually — socio-sexually—but it’s not beyond repair. A more productive and a safer way to try to build this utopia is to accept that if we burn it down and throw it all away, a lot of what we’ll put in its place will just be reinventions of what we have now anyway.  Even Noam Chomsky said at least capitalism is stable.

Utopia doesn’t look very, very different to the world as we have it except it would have a lot more space for things like personal agency and responsibility.

And a lot more talking therapy. I think that should have a central place in whatever utopia we build for each other.

Things change very slowly. It’s almost a threatening thing for some people who believe that change needs to happen within their lifetime. In my utopia, of course, change manifests itself in every generation and every generation is an evolution, but realistically, the best we can do is plant the seeds for the future generations.

CB: What are you excited about?

SN: Regarding what I’m most excited about right now, there’s a LOT to be excited about. There’s never been a better time to do what I do, which is essentially to find innovative and engaging ways to drive demand for pleasure products.

What’s really got my attention right now is the convergence of physical and digital spaces, and the possibilities that introduces. I just finished reading a book, Turned On: Science, Sex and Robots, by the wonderful Kate Devlin.

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It was as though it was written just for me, to exactly my interests, specifically: the intersection of the organic and the technological.

I thoroughly recommend it, it’s extremely readable, in some places very funny, but overall it’s like peeking behind the curtain of what’s next in sex.

It talks at length about the integration of artificial intelligence into our sex lives, based on what we can predict based on current technology. This is a field we should all take notice of, since the internet is already so entwined with our lived realities. I’ve been watching this closely for a while. In Shanghai, a year or two ago, I was at a sextech expo. At one point, I found myself in conversation with a sex doll. I asked it (her?) about the weather, and I was given a full, live, local weather report, punctuated by the word “baby.”

We’re entering a new phase of our psychosexual evolution here, in which we will have to face chillingly complex ethical conundrums.

Should an artificially intelligent sex toy have the right to refuse consent, for example?

If so, how do we enforce that? Very quickly, we are finding ourselves facing dilemmas that extend far beyond our sexualities, and which dig deep into our basic integrity. These are deep, challenging conversations which would have only been theoretical a generation ago, but have now become relevant, and increasingly important, and these questions seem to quickly tentacle out across issues about what makes us human. THAT’S exciting.

We recommend you check Wowtech, and follow Stu on Instagram.