Last September, Kate McFadden announced a new product launch she’d been working on for months by inviting followers to answer a series of seemingly unrelated, cryptic questions on her Solitary Magic Instagram account. But, as with all things McFadden does, there was a connection between the questions, namely, How do you connect with yourself?
The questions spanned the human experience from nostalgic musings like, “What do you miss about being a child?” to more introspective, adults questions such as, “What do you feel when you first read the word ‘masturbation?’”
Like many creatives and small-business owners, McFadden found herself needing to expand her brand during the financial uncertainty brought on by COVID-19. McFadden’s pivot? She expanded her online presence from simply being a “green witch” and wellness include to the sale of a lone product: Solitary Magic sex oil.
Though many answers to McFadden’s masturbation question were simple (“Yessssss” or “Release”), others spoke to the shame surrounding the concept and their process toward healing, an issue that originally inspired McFadden to launch her line of Solitary Magic oils.
Masturbation allows individuals to understand how they like to be touched and leads to communication about what works and what doesn’t in partner sex. For McFadden, masturbation is part of a healing meditative process, allowing her to interact with her body and provide space for personal and emotional renewal. Embodying her sexuality and queerness allows her to embrace where and how she seeks companionship. Because she had always had a rich sex life with herself, this process led to her finding her truth and this is what she wants for others.
Making the pivot
Initially posts of tarot card spreads and goddess circles with captions like “Shit ain’t easy, Kids” and, “It is winter, the moon is super full, and I am waking up,” filled McFadden’s Solitary Magic Instagram feed. Moving from plants and parenting into a steady stream of release-centered posts focusing on masturbation and awakening, with hashtags like #queerwitch, #queeraf and #bodyhairdontcare, McFadden is opening herself up to a world she’d previously felt was off limits.
About two months into quarantine, sex-toy companies saw as much as a 97% sales increase. Without the option of partner sex, many were turning back to themselves for pleasure and release, McFadden explains.
“People were alone more and there was less noise,” she says. “People were — and still are — masturbating more than usual either out of necessity or because there was more time.”
McFadden identifies as a self-pleasure activist, among many things, encouraging people to touch, explore, release, and heal. In safe and consensual contexts, sex can be a healing experience (queue Marvin Gaye) and for many in the time of isolation, solo-sex has become even more integral to sexual and emotional wellbeing.
“There is a physical need for the body to heal and regenerate,” McFadden says.
The oil she created is meant not only as a lubricant but as a conduit for healing through pleasure.
As a “green witch,” McFadden relies on nature to restore and connect with the world around her. She follows the description from Arica Murphy-Hiscock’s guide The Green Witch: “she uses plants, flowers, oils, and herbs for healing; she calls on nature for guidance; and she respects every living being no matter how small.”
McFadden brings in varying Earth Elements to support the healing properties of her thoughtfully crafted Solitary Magic product. Organic and wild-crafted herbs are infused into a blend of coconut and castor oil, with lavender and copaiba essential oils, each of which McFadden uses for their “specific energetic signature and physical properties.”
“It’s pleasure and touch and healing outside of all that,” McFadden says, “especially for queer bodies that aren’t validated and are shamed out of full embodiment.”
A suppressed childhood
A queer single mother of three, McFadden has experienced the internalized shame of a queer body and it is through this that she seeks to heal the world around her.
As a child, McFadden was often anxious. The first panic attack (that she can recall) occurred when she was 12 years old, shortly after her parents’ divorce. She wasn’t sure what was happening and neither were her parents. She was sent to therapy, though at home the issue was largely ignored and unaffirmed.
“My panic attacks were really just swept under the rug,” McFadden says. “I think my mom may have suffered from some of the same things and maybe felt responsible, so we just didn’t talk about it.”
These were the pre-Google days, during which it was impossible to search virtually for community space, blogs, or inspiring TikToks and YouTube channels for solace.
Despite her reflective speculation about her mother’s assumed responsibility, McFadden does not blame her family for their response. Growing up in Sanford, North Carolina, did not leave room for an abundance of mental-health resources. McFadden’s access to therapeutic interventions was lacking to say the least, and she instead turned to friends, many of whom were experiencing the same, largely unnamed, phenomenon as herself.
McFadden has always identified as neurodivergent, a term that arose out of a late 1990s response to the concept of “neurotypical.” Born with a mild case of cerebral palsy that affected her speech and both fine and gross motor skills, McFadden became well-versed in forging her own path in a world with which she did not fully identify.
This divergence from societal norms, like her preteen mental health issues, was eventually swept under the rug of McFadden’s own mind. Her highly sensitive nature paired with anxiety and sometimes depression left her hyper-aware of the results of her parents’ divorce.
McFadden’s mother’s dialogue surrounding life as they now knew it led McFadden into the acceptance of Man as Center. Without a man on whom to build a home, a family life was not worth having. Therefore, at home with her mother, life stopped happening. Holidays were no longer celebrated.
As their lives came to a standstill, McFadden’s mother insisted, “There will always be someone younger and prettier and your husband will leave you for it and it will be shit.” The only life McFadden could consider worth having, then, was tied to her ability to be feminine enough and pretty enough to attract a man who would thus complete her and provide her the life society was insistent upon.
The path to self-discovery
The myth of domesticity followed her, creeping into her core, driving her to what we are often incidentally taught by society, our parents, our own misguided internal gauges. Spouse, house, kids. Get the good job. Live in the right neighborhood. Smile, dammit, you should be happy.
Unable to fully find herself in this patriarchal mindset passed down from a wounded mother, she found herself immersed in the rave scene and drug culture. The community felt largely beneficial, though her underlying reality remained.
For 20 years, she found herself pairing with emotionally unavailable men, trying desperately to follow the path her mother laid out for her. After a divorce, she found herself in a years-long partnership with the father of her two youngest children. Their relationship was “kind, not tense,” McFadden says, though internal exploration led to an awakening of her sexuality, allowing her to come to terms with her true self and, amicably, their partnership shifted from lovers to co-parents.
As a mother leading her children today, no topic is taboo. A true nurturer, motherhood comes naturally to McFadden. Conversations about sexuality flow freely, and feelings are taken seriously and addressed. Needs for personal space are both communicated and respected, setting the stage for a peaceful existence now and an understanding of boundaries to apply when sexual encounters become their reality. Stepping into authenticity has enhanced her family life, providing a sense of peace and openness, where everyone is free to be fully themselves.
Continuing on this path, she allowed herself to be open to sexual encounters with women. McFadden experienced the revelation of how a body should react sexually to another human being. She wants others to have this experience in their own bodies and identities.
McFadden is clear that pleasure takes various forms. Whether it is in a sexual context or other intimate encounters like massage, physical closeness or even daily rituals of gardening or cooking, the finding and embracing of her truth has led her to a fervent stance of activism. It’s not just “masturbating is fun, you should do it,” but more of an insistence that we need to be masturbating. We deserve to feel good.
A desire to change the dialogue
Societally, conversations around sex and our bodies are shrouded in shame. As children, penises and vaginas are described as “private parts” and the topic is often off limits. Television laugh tracks accompany scenes of children asking where do babies come from as awkward parents give a quick explanation of storks or “when a man and woman love each other very much…”
Countless movie tropes center around a horrified parent walking in on a teenage boy masturbating and the subsequent comedic dialogue, while girls who embrace their sexuality are given a scarlet letter, neither of which is a healthy response to human sexuality. Girls are sent home from school or subject to humiliation for too-short skirts. Female sexuality is regulated by public policies surrounding birth control and family planning. Men are taught to conquer and women learn to give in. Little representation is given to a healthy relationship with one’s sexuality and shared sexual experience.
Largely this stems from adults being ill-equipped to speak of sex outside of “the talk,” and the shame therein has follows children into adulthood, perpetuating a cycle. We use phrases like “talking dirty” and “naughty” and, though these can be used in a playful manner, the more we address our sexuality from this context, the more we are prone to go into hiding.
At best this leads to self doubt and unhealthy relationships, at worst to abuse and violence. Having open dialogue and communication regarding sexuality breaks the taboo and repression of desire, leading to human beings who can be as they truly are. We are sexual beings and that takes a variety of forms.
McFadden’s goal for Solitary Magic is to facilitate and be involved in a community stepping out from beneath the shroud of shame and into an experience with pleasure, regardless of the form. She wants to see adults have their own awakening, grant themselves space for exploration, leaning in to what pleasure means for them and how that can transform into the most true versions of themselves they can be. All it takes is openness and a little curiosity.
Interested in other local aspects of the health and wellness? Check out The Seeker.
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