Rythm is a platform that is on a mission to strengthen the vulva-mind-spirit connection. We want to normalize a world where humans with vulvas have a better connection with their bodies, parts, and partners. For our blog series “Humans of Rythm,” we interview founders, thought leaders, and experts in the sexual wellness space and share their responses with you.
Jenelle Marie Pierce, CSE, is the Executive Director of The STI Project, an Adjunct Professor, and a Spokesperson for PositiveSingles.com. As an STI+ Certified Sexuality Educator, Jenelle has been dismantling stigma by reclaiming STI narratives® through awareness, education, and acceptance since 2012.
She also tri-chairs the Communications Action Group for the National Coalition for Sexual Health (NCSH), and she is a member of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT), in addition to a variety of other reputable organizations that share her mission. Her work has been featured in popular TV, radio, and print outlets such as: The Washington Post, CNN, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Jezebel, Forbes, HuffPost Live, NPR, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, Refinery 29, The Daily Mail, Bustle, and many more.
Read below to learn more about Jenelle, the veracious Virgo, speak her truth in the interview below!
Where were you born, where did you grow up, and how was sex (the act) perceived in your culture/household?
Born and raised in West Michigan. Sex was talked about relatively casually and comfortably in my house, but it was still viewed as something that only happens between a woman and a man after they are married. There were also a number of expectations that accompanied sex, and then accompanying shame if you were deemed too sexual or if you deviated from the “norm.”
What’s a funny or embarrassing memory you have from when learning about or experiencing sex?
The first time I experienced manual sex (ie. with hands) was during a sporting event in the hallways when no one was around. At that time, I didn’t know about the hymen and when the boy I was fooling around with saw a little bit of blood on his hands, he acted grossed out and quickly stopped. I was mortified because I was sure I wasn’t on my period, and I didn’t understand what had happened. Later, I learned that he had likely broken my hymen. I wish I had learned about hymens earlier because there’s so much misinformation associated with such a small layer of insignificant tissue that many people don’t even have.
What is your profession and why did you choose to pursue it?
I’m an STI+ certified sexuality educator (CSE) specializing in STIs/STDs. I chose this profession as a result of my personal experience with stigma after contracting genital herpes when I was a teenager. I struggled with the psychosocial ramifications of that diagnosis for years until I realized that the stigma I internalized was not an accurate depiction of my relationships, my lived experience, or how I viewed myself overall – so I set out to help lessen that stigma for others.
What about your industry surprised you when you were first getting started? What is something about your industry that might surprise those who are not in your line of work?
I’m surprised about the competitiveness and lack of collaboration that exists among other sexuality educators. Literally, everyone needs this work, so we need TONS of people doing it – all different types of people with all different types of backgrounds, identities, experiences, and specialties. We aren’t in competition because the demand is staggering and there aren’t nearly enough of us to meet it – one person or a few people cannot possibly serve all the people who need this work. The scarcity mindset that exists among some sexuality educators hinders us from making a larger impact and more impactful difference.
What do you wish your caregiver(s) or guardian(s) had told you about pleasure, relationships, and the female body when you were growing up?
I wish I would have been told that it’s ok to be sexual, that there’s no such thing as sex addiction or being ‘overly sexual.’ I’ve always been very interested and exploratory around my sexuality, and there were so many times that I wondered if there was something wrong with me.
What was something you were surprised to learn about your body, relationship with self, and relationship with your vulva in the past decade? How has it changed?
I was surprised to learn how important I would find masturbation. It was something that wasn’t talked about, and that I learned virtually nothing about until my 20s. It’s a self-care activity that is important and empowering and it serves so many purposes, insofar as my mental health is concerned. I feel as though we are doing our adolescents and young adults a disservice by not ensuring they understand the benefits of self-pleasure and that it is not a shameful activity.
When do you feel the most empowered and alive?
During my first cup of coffee in the morning. That’s when I feel like I can take on anything – there’s something about the beginning of the day with a simple pleasure that’s a part of my routine that makes me feel like all is right in the world (even though it most certainly is not).
What is something non-sexual that brings you immense pleasure?
Bugs! And everything alive outside! We rarely stop and smell the roses anymore, so to speak, and it’s a shame because there are tiny universes of life happening all around us all the time. The simple act of pausing to examine a cool critter going about its day brings me all of the joy in the world.
What can a partner do to turn you on in and out of the bedroom?
Foreplay is a mind game and engaging my mind is the absolute best way to turn me on in and out of the bedroom.
How do you find your rythm in connecting with your body and self? What wisdom can you impart to us regarding lessons you’ve learned along the way to finding your rythm?
Removing shame has been pivotal in how I view my body and understanding that shame is a social construct meant to control us and create a hierarchy that doesn’t honor the innate beauty and value that exists in all humans (regardless of what our shells represent). This has been a key to connecting with myself.
From a relationship standpoint, I am continually working toward being mindful – not obsessing over past events or future possibilities and remaining present. One of the most important aspects of that mindset is to strive to improve my listening skills – listening to absorb and with an empathetic and compassionate frame of mind instead of listening to respond. And lastly, being gracious with myself and the people with whom I have formed relationships, as we’re all just doing our very best.
What is your favorite quote for ‘finding your rythm’ or ‘living in rythm’?
The Devil whispers, “You can’t withstand the storm.” The Warrior replied, “I am the storm.”
What is your favorite song you are jamming out to these days?
What’s your go-to song to get in the mood? Or, what song helps you find your ‘sensual rythm’?
What is your favorite sexual wellness product that you can’t live without?
LUBE, glorious LUBE!
You can find Jenelle on the following platforms:
Gillian ‘Gigi’ Singer, MPH
American Board Certified Sexologist, Sexuality Educator, and Sex Ed Content Specialist