Erika Moen is used to being asked rude questions.
In college, strangers had no qualms pressing her and her girlfriend with such intrusive inquiries as, "How do lesbians have sex?" Rather than tell them to screw off, Moen instead chose to educate, through her preferred mode of communication: cartoons.
"I realized that people genuinely don't know this information," says the 36-year-old illustrator. "I didn't know this information. So I started doing comics in a really friendly, accessible, not condescending, not scoldy way.'"
A child of modest parents, Moen says the informative comic strips she began creating while in school became the sex ed she wished she had as a kid.
"I came from a family where [talking about sex] was just very, very shame-y and very scary," she says. "So when I, on my own, started figuring out otherwise, I really wanted to share that with more people."
But the idea for her web comic, Oh Joy Sex Toy, didn't take shape until Moen met her current husband, Matthew Nolan, at a comic convention in England. Moen says she and Nolan, a 34-year-old England-native who formally worked in the video games industry, immediately "became best friends," and Nolan encouraged her to make sex education her focus.
"I'm just a fan of Erika's comics," Nolan says, "and I'm a professional pervert at this point."
A few years after meeting, Nolan immigrated to Portland to be with Moen. Soon after, the couple formally launched Oh Joy Sex Toy, a website mixing sex and kink education with illustrated sex toy reviews. It's as intimate as it is comical, depicting cartoon versions of Moen and Nolan trying everything from vibrators to butt plugs to sex dolls together.
"A lot of sex ed, I found, is very dry and devoid of human connection. It's diagrams about your uterus and instructions on how to roll a condom on," Moen says. "Putting ourselves in [the comic] is our way of making it more accessible—making us these, like, super-dorky, super-earnest characters lets people laugh at us, in a good-natured way."
The comic strip is now so popular that both Moen and Nolan have quit their day jobs to focus on it full time. They employ guest artists and run occasional features on topics ranging from STIs and mutual masturbation to how autism affects intimacy.
Moen and Nolan say they now get messages from fans about how the comic inspired them to pursue careers in sex therapy or psychology. The duo look at their success with incredulity.
"It was just a subject that was really interesting to us, and Erika had a way of making it feel really fun and friendly," Nolan says. "Now, it's been seven years and it's still doing really, really well."
As Oh Joy nears its eighth anniversary, we went to She Bop, Portland's female-friendly sex toy shop, to ask Moen and Nolan for their tips for people making their first sex toy purchases.
Suggestion: The Bullet Vibe ($16)
Matthew Nolan: "Don't put any pressures on getting the biggest, fanciest thing. Grab something that's small, grab something that you can put batteries into, something that's not going to be a heartbreak if it breaks. One toy is not going to be the right toy for everybody. So those first one or two toys are just experimental. When you've found the recipe for success, and you've got more of a language in your head for what you want, go for one of the fancy ones that are going to last forever."
Suggestion: The Magic Wand ($80-$125)
Nolan: "It's OK to start basic, small and cheap. But for someone who wants more or bigger vibrations, the Magic Wand, while more of an investment, is the bee's knees. It isn't meant for penetration—it's too big. The vibrations are softened and spread out, and you can change the speed so it's not one solid vibration."
Erika Moen: "The bigger the vibrating thing, the more diffuse the vibrations and the more surface area covered. The smaller [the vibrator], the more acute the stimulation."
Pay Attention to Material
Suggestion: Bandit ($116)
Nolan: "VixSkin is a team from the South that makes really wonderful dildos. They have two layers: one in the middle that is dense and firm, and one on the outside that is soft and skinlike. They are very high-quality toys. But if someone is brand new to sex toys, I wouldn't necessarily start with a dildo."
Moen: "Wherever you're starting, you want your product to be metal or silicone—something that can be cleansed that's not porous so that you can get your germs out of it."
We also asked the staff at She Bop for their tips for picking out your first sex toy. Watch what they had to say here.