This Valentine’s Day, local podcasters, sexpert-preneurs and now authors Amy Baldwin and April Lampert (the team behind the Pure Pleasure Shop and the Shameless Sex podcast) have some advice for those of you trying to get to the pleasure point.
They want you to take the pressure off of sex (episode 311). They think you should fuck first, before dinner,(Episode 358) so you don’t load up on food and wine at the Shadowbrook and pass out in the tram car. Amy and April believe you can revive a sexless relationship (episode 263), plus, they hope those of you who are single or don’t fit into neat boxes can F the dating myths and live your own love story (episode 365).
For many years, Amy and her mom ran the Pure Pleasure shop we all know so well from downtown Santa Cruz. Known for their compassionate, pragmatic take on sex information, they are on a mission to divest sex from shame. To that end, their new book, Shameless Sex: Choose Your Own Pleasure Path to Unlock the Sex Life You’ve Been Waiting For. invites people of all genders and sexual orientations, in all types of relationships, to benefit from their treasure trail of knowledge and experience.
Our overall culture is fairly attached to shame. April and Amy know this firsthand, and guide the reader through the rough terrain of self-forgiveness by modeling gentle, validating conversations with themselves, each other and their audience about the ways sexual shame has shaped us, and how to break free. It’s not an easy task.
It is socially acceptable to wallpaper over the shame we feel from those experiences and memories that make us want to sink into the floor. But not these two. Whether it’s living with STIs, overcoming guilt, reframing negative programming or accidentally getting poop on your lover’s hand, Amy and April make the listener feel like it’s ok that it happens, and furthermore, it’s probably happened to them; and when they tell you about it, it’s going to make you feel less alone.
“One thing you are going to get from our book that you won’t get from the podcast is the structure,” says April.
“The podcast is based on what guests we could book at the time and our conversations went all over the place, which is great, but this book has the benefit of a very well-thought out format.”
The book, which took about a year for the pair to write, “was definitely a labor of love,” says April.
“Yeah, people are already asking if we are going to write another one,” laughed Amy, “never say never, but that was a lot.”
The structure is what they call “Choose Your Own Pleasure Path,” kind of like “Choose your own adventure,” but for sex. The beginning of the book presents a lot of the interpersonal and intrapsychic work they recommend before setting out on sexcapades–sexy things, like healing past trauma, finding the right therapist and unpacking negative programming about sex. In all seriousness, to quote the Mandalorian, this is the way. From that base of honest and loving communication, the book guides the reader, depending on where they want to go from there, to various other chapters.
The different parts of the book cover A LOT. This is not your average sex book. They have managed to capture so many nuances of sex and relationships that are appropriate for singles, couples, non-monogamous folks and pretty much any type of intimacy configuration. Written in a frank, refreshing way, the book dissolves stigma with each kind word.
During my own time as a private practice psychotherapist specializing in non-monogamy, alternative lifestyles and relationships, I would have saved myself time and my clients money if I could have given every one of them a copy of this book.
When people are anxious about their perceived limitations or flaws, or when they are ashamed of something, they can put up a front that they have nothing to learn about sex when, well, they do. Some of us were socialized to put our pleasure aside, while others were told it wasn’t manly to discuss feelings and check in with a partner.
Some of us were led to believe that a hot body was all you need in order to have good sex and still many others of us were told that our body would never be hot enough for someone to really want us. This book meets all of us where we are, on our own island of weirdness.
Amy and April are the mermaids willing to swim out to that island, and gently guide us to the oceanic experience of trust and pleasure. With obvious-yet-nevertheless-still-revolutionary ideas such as talk to your partner, learn new things in order to get better at sex and masturbate so you know more about yourself, the book validates people at any and all parts of the journey, reminding them to slow down and enjoy the water.
April and Amy last sat down with Good Times in 2018, where they discussed their origin story: the two best friends went into business together in the sex toy and adult products sphere.
To promote themselves, they were guests on the famous Sex With Emily podcast, and had such a great time that they started their own podcast, and the Shameless Sex brand was born.
At the time of the 2018 interview, they had recorded 36 episodes of the Shameless Sex Podcast, and boasted 70,000 downloads total, with an average of 4000 a week. Today, those numbers have jumped to 366 episodes, 19 million downloads and over 350,000 listeners a week.
Last year, Shameless Sex ranked in the top 1% of all podcasts and has maintained an impressive, trusted presence in a glutted sex information space.
Last November, Amy and April crossed another milestone and released their book.
At the end of January, they won adult industry trade publication XBIZ’s coveted “Sexpert(s) of the Year 2024” award, recognizing “outstanding contributions of individuals playing a pivotal role in shaping the pleasure industry.”
In lay (heh heh) person’s terms: they got the equivalent of a Teacher of the Year award in a big community of sex teachers, along with the folks who make the playground equipment.
In a moment that I’ve come to recognize as “so April,” Ms. Lampert quoted Maya Angelou in her acceptance speech for their award: “‘When you know better, you do better,’” and asserted, “That’s what sex education is all about. Let’s keep spreading the word, breaking down taboos and making sex education not only informative, but fun as fuck.”
“I never thought in a million years that I would be doing this as my life’s work,” says April,, fixing the Zoom camera with a cornflower blue-eyed gaze, perfectly framed by adorable brunette bangs. Her presence is somehow earnest and fierce at the same time.
Originally from Wisconsin, she grew up in a blue-collar, conservative household where she was chastised for bringing up the word “sex” when she was just a little kid who didn’t know what the word meant (she thought it was food and asked her brother to pass the sex.) April has come a long way from the days that she referred to her genitalia as her “no-no zone.”
In the forward to the book, she writes that she knew she wanted to change the world, but didn’t know how. Her petite features, impassioned speaking style, and Midwestern warmth remind me of a kinky, modern-day Norma Rae, fighting for non-violent communication and radical pleasure, with a better haircut and cuter shoes.
The other half of the successful sisterhood is lanky and droll Amy Baldwin, an equally gorgeous and brilliant sex educator. She grew up here in Surf City, with a blond mane and Nor Cal drawl to match. She started on this path through academics: absorbing everything she could from her college human sexuality classes despite the dry (womp womp), boring presentation of the professor.
A lifetime learner, her introduction to Good Vibrations and the woman-and-femme centered sex education space changed her course from academic sexuality education to on-the-ground sexuality education, where the rubbers hit the road (I had to). She and her mom brought April–a born educator and the type of salesperson that’s so good she doesn’t seem like a salesperson– into their pleasure-industry retail business (Pure Pleasure).
The podcast provides the opportunity to highlight sponsors that sell products carried by the sex shop, utilizing the trust they have built as popular retailers and influencers, as well as leverage their relationships with other educators, inventors, clinicians and brand ambassadors by way of bringing them on the podcast as expert guests.
These best friends, known to their circle as “Chip and Dip,” generously share their own experiences, good and bad, and how they overcome shame. Their willingness to be vulnerable in interviews, podcasts and their book gives the listener/reader permission to be vulnerable. Their growing, global listener count seems to bear out that this approach is appealing and liberating, even as we live in an increasingly shame-driven world committed to slut-shaming, controlling and downright ruining our attempts to have healthy relationships.
For those who are ready to do the tough job of healing shame, Amy Baldwin and April Lampert deliver pearls of wisdom. The thing about metaphorical pearls is; It’s anyone’s choice whether to clutch those pearls or dive for more. They try not to allow any swine who might catch a stray pearl to bother them.
“Go ahead, Judge Judy, knock yourself out and shame the Shameless Sex duo,” they write in the section of their book called STI’s Happen. “But, if you’re ready for a reality check, it might be time to put down your gavel because guess what? STI’s are very common! Your judgment is likely just a reflection of everything you’ve been told is dirty and wrong with people who have sex with multiple partners–or with sex in general. This could even be a reflection of how you feel about your own perceived flaws, or your shame, trauma, and insecurities about sex and relationships.”
Just like the book, Amy and April are the real deal, encouraging readers and listeners to feel and heal our Inner Judge Judies instead of sucking it up (perhaps literally) and doing something we don’t want to do and ignoring the voice of shame, or repressing both trauma and desire.. That’s why they’ve started the book with a two-chapter punch that is not whips and chains, nor “masculine” and “feminine” but–Am I Normal and Am I Broken? followed by the ultimate knockout punch for anyone who is struggling with shame: What Do I Want in the Bedroom?
The formula works.
And they work as a team. I find myself loving everything about them 30 seconds into our Zoom: Their obvious, solid friendship. Their business savvy. The way they approach being influencers. Their charisma, riding the waves of a healthy dose of down-to-earth.
Their clothes.Their couch. Their straight talk. April’s dog. The way they seem just as curious about me as I am about them.
Most of all, I appreciate how normal and approachable they seem while still carrying the validating banner of “there is no normal.” Amy and I bonded over our shared knowledge of therapeutic healing modalities (she’s trained in Hakomi and Somatic Studies, plus we have the same certification in sex education from the same place, San Francisco Sex Information.) She thanked me for my work in my other profession–mental health–during an interview celebrating her.
I can see why they work so well together on-air and off in their “non-sexual life partnership”: April is the treble to Amy’s bass; vocally as well as energetically, and the way they riff of of each other is the product of real friendship and can’t be faked.
Over the last five years, the podcast has evolved to host listener questions, a wide array of expert guests on topics that include medical care, gender studies, sex toys, physiology, psychology and human behavior, relationships, solo sex and community care, to name a few.
Their on-air dynamic in that first Sex With Emily podcast was so fun for all involved that it prompted them to start the Shameless Sex podcast in the first place.
It feels like you are in the room with two good friends, talking about the things you only feel comfortable discussing with very few, if anyone. They feel like the girlfriends I wish I had in high school, the fun aunts who tell you the things you need to know but your mom is too embarrassed to say, the beautiful women you meet at a party that intimidate you until you talk to them, and then they are so cool that you end up with a crush. In short, they inspire trust. I’m guessing that presence is why they were voted Sexperts of the Year.
Podcast topics run the gamut from maintaining erections to codependency. They maintain a good balance of focusing on the guest while still interjecting their own knowledge, facilitating discussion and keeping things entertaining. By choosing sponsors that they know from the industry whose products they believe in, they have kept the podcast free to listeners but with funding that doesn’t taint (ha ha) their purpose.
That can be really hard (snort).
Podcast listeners appreciate that they speak to a diverse audience of all genders and backgrounds and with guests reflecting that diversity.
One of the most excellent things about their work–on display in the pod–is that they divulge the ins and outs (I’ll be here all week!) of things everyone wants to know but is too embarrassed to ask–like how to have sex when your body is changing due to age, injury or disability; or the many, many different tips and tools for people interested in visiting someone’s pleasure cottage through the back door.
April and Amy are business leaders because of their ability to pivot, their innovative approach to marketing toys, and the value they provide with education that is free in the podcast or for the small price of a book. They are a reference desk as well as retailers. They also maintain separate, but related sex industry business ventures while collaborating on the book and the podcast.
Amy Baldwin has a sex and relationship coaching practice combining her education in Hakomi (body centered counseling and psychotherapy) as well as the Somatica method of sex and relationship coaching as well as additional certifications in sacred sexuality. At some point in our interview she began a sentence “The other day when I was teaching this very sweet, shy guy how to (consensually) throw his girlfriend up against the wall–”
Wait–you can teach that?
Amy is also the lead educator for the personal lubricant brand Uberlube. The sex store that she runs with her mom, Pure Pleasure Online Shop (they sold the brick-and-mortar store a few years back) is still a big part of her business.
April co-owns a sex toy brand Hot Octopuss, where she is the Chief Sales and Partnerships Officer. Identified early on by Amy as someone who has a gift for explaining to people how to use things, April uses her acuity in providing clear, detailed, no-nonsense instructions to not only sell these toys but evangelize the message of the pleasure revolution.
Together, they leverage not only different life backgrounds, but also complementary business and communication skills. This affords not only a platform for sex education but also their growing empire, which includes classes and retreats.
Pure Pleasure as an online boutique can promote Hot Octopuss products not only because it is good synergy but also because they believe in these products and put their money where their mouths are (well, I’m not totally sure about that one, but if you want to know more about where to put mouths, check out episodes 273 and 329).
With all of the products and practices they talk about on the show and in the book, it only makes sense to go with a lube recommendation that will do the heavy lifting (easy sliding?) for all of them.
Santa Cruz is a tough town to sustain a business, yet these two have gone against the tides and have built a sustainable set of international nesting online businesses and a book to build multiple streams of income that allow them to continue providing a huge value.
All built on being ourselves and healing shame.
As the wise poet Mary Oliver wrote in Wild Geese,
“You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”