It's one thing to swap stories of sexual escapades with your girlfriends after a few glasses of wine, but would you share your most embarrassing, kinky, shameful, awkward, or hurtful sexual experiences in front of 300 strangers? Men and women have been doing just that for nearly seven years at Bawdy Storytelling, a sex-themed storytelling series that was founded in San Francisco by self-proclaimed "sexual folklorist" Dixie De La Tour. Dubbed "The Moth for pervs," Bawdy is a sex-positive show if ever there was one, where real people share true stories about their sex lives that are emotional, hilarious, and shocking. Besides the now-multicity, monthly curated shows (which are all themed), there's also a monthly story slam competition in San Francisco and LA, a brand-new podcast, and a TED Talks-esque event on the horizon.
I recently chatted with Dixie — after attending the "It Sounded Like a Good Idea at the Time"-themed show — about how rare it is to talk openly about our sex lives, how she came up Bawdy Storytelling, and the most memorable stories she's heard. "It's amazing therapy," she told me. "People walk out of there going, 'I can't believe I did that.' They feel so empowered by it, because we all have this side we show the world. Nobody shows that side to the world." Get the interview and a couple videos from the show below:
POPSUGAR: Why don't we open up more about our sex lives?
Dixie De La Tour: It's tough to talk about sex because it's so private and your feelings around it haven't developed that callous that we have on so many other things in our lives. We've never learned to work that muscle. We've made it this thing that's not discussed. But when we do, it's such a raw, emotional place. There is so much sex education and there's so much "I thought I was the only one." I get emails the next day going, "I have new things on my sexual bucket list. I had no idea those even existed!"
PS: How did you come up with Bawdy Storytelling?
DDLT: Part of my sexual journey was figuring myself out and going through every community that I was invited into: the BDSM scene, the swingers scene, the polyamory scene, the orgies. I learned pretty quick that it wasn't about having sex myself — it was about facilitating what other people wanted.
Then one day, I was invited to a storytelling event and I went, "Wow, we need this in our community." The first one was really small, and at the end of it, they went, "It feels so good to talk about these things that you don't ever share with anyone else and you connect in this way you've never connected before." After I hear your story, you feel so drawn to somebody. The connections that happen, the relationships that start because people walk up to people who walked off stage and are like, "That was amazing . . . I felt this way," and they start dating and have children.
Read more to find out what celebrity wants to do the show!
PS: What's the best thing someone's told you after the show?
DDLT: I got an email, and it said, "Last night after the show, my husband and I went home, and I took him upstairs, and I sat him down on the edge of the bed, and I stood in front of him and said, 'Now our seventh storyteller of Bawdy Storytelling . . . ,'" and she told a story about when they had given each other a hall pass a year before. They had come back and done "don't ask, don't tell." They talked about everything that happened. In a year, they had come back from this thing and never talked about what their experiences had been like. We can talk about everything except we can't talk about sex and our feelings around it. So to create this place where people can share things that there's never the right time or place — I think we create the place for that.
A lot of people will tell me that they will take someone to the show for the first or second or third date, and they can judge whether this person is a likely partner by their reactions to certain stories. Say you were into BDSM, and there's always that time when you're dating somebody off OkCupid or wherever, and you're like, "So, what do you like to do?" You can throw it out there, but when's the right time? I get women saying, "Thank you, you saved me a lot of time!"
PS: What's makes a great storyteller?
DDLT: Vulnerability. If you're willing to go to a place where you talk about being hurt or you talk about your biggest fear or your biggest hope. People tell you a story the same way they tell their friends: this stuff happened. It was crazy. You call your best friend the next day and go, "You're not going to believe this one!" But when you ask them the questions, "So what were you really afraid of? What were you really hoping for?" That's when the audience is taken to a place where they're, like, "Oh, I remember having that experience once. I was terrified too! She handled it well."
PS: Have there been any really memorable stories over the years?
DDLT: I have one from a man who was about to have his 50th birthday and his partner said, "You can have anything you want for this birthday — what would you want?" He said, "I'd like to have a threesome with you and a transsexual prostitute." (Now if you saw this guy, you'd go, "What?") They went to Vegas and went to a beautiful hotel, and he met this prostitute who was trying to do this surreptitious lobby of the hotel thing. And he went over and met her and put his arm out and ushered her with pride through the lobby. Then they had their tryst, but at the end of it, he said that she just liked them. Her name was Maria, and they just kind of laid around this suite in Vegas all night, telling each other stories, and at one point, she said, "You know, when I was 14, I told my mother that I wanted to be a woman, not a boy," and she pulled up her clothing and showed where her mother had tried to stab her six times and kill her because she couldn’t accept it. He pulled a split of Champagne out of his pocket and said, "I think we should all drink to Maria. We should all be the people we always wanted to be." And we lost it. It was pretty beautiful.
PS: Anyone on your storytelling wish list?
DDLT: I have people who are on my wish list all the time. Sometimes it's just a local person that I know and I'm, like, "I'm gonna get your story. I want to know what drives you." And sometimes it's like a sexuality educator. I want John Waters bad. I've talked to Dan Savage — he wants to do the show.
PS: Where do you see Bawdy in the next five, 10 years?
DDLT: It would be a more private thing in smaller cities, but I'd love to have it in a lot of major metropolitan areas. I get emails every month from all over the world who are, like, "Why don't we have this here?" They watch our videos online and they want it in their town. I want to go to a lot of new cities in 2014 and show them how it works. It's not just me, but I do have a very unique method that I teach people for storytelling. I'd like to start laying out the format for what we do because every city has crazy underground stories.
PS: You seem to get a wide range of people.
DDLT: One of the themes coming up is "vanilla and proud." You don't have to have a crazy story. It's just a moving story. As long as you're willing to open up and show us the real you and what you really thought. Married for 10 years? You still have a story. That's part of my goal to make people realize you don't have to be wild or extreme. It just has to be something real.
PS: What have you learned doing this?
DDLT: I call myself a sexual folklorist because you can learn so much from a story. You can read a book and learn about an act and go, "Huh." But then someone tells you a story, and there's all of that, "Wow, it opened up my world!" I learn something at every single show or in rehearsal or on the phone. I love it when people contact me and say, "I'm a furry," or "I'm a crossdresser," or "I'm trans." I learn about the secret workings of every new culture. To know that there are things we don't talk about that we would never know unless someone who personally experienced it would tell us. It's so private — you just automatically lean in and go, "I've always wondered, but I've never had anyone to ask." That’s a lot of what the show is.
PS: What would you tell someone scared to get on stage?
DDLT: There is no place in the world where you can tell a story and have the people be so receptive as at our show. The audience is, like, "We know everything we're gonna get on stage is real, as long as the storyteller is willing to show us the stuff that's hard to talk about." How much easier it is to talk about when you know the people listening are going to listen with an open mind? With comedy, you better be funny in 30 seconds. There's none of that. You might be funny, but it's not about comedy. It's people learning to know about each other and accept each other.