If you haven't heard of Sunny Megatron before this moment, prepare yourself to enter a world where sex and sex education can be fun, non-judgmental, and completely devoid of shame. Sunny's about to hit the big time thanks to her upcoming Showtimes series Sex with Sunny Megatron, premiering Thursday October, 30 at 11pm EST. Sunny has been a mainstay of the sex education scene here in Chicago for sometime now, but soon she will no longer belong exclusively to us, but to the world at large. Sunny's message of sex positivity isn't necessarily radical in and of itself, but it shines like a beacon in a world still consumed with guilt and shame regarding sex.
Along with her husband Ken Melvoin-Berg, Sunny was part of the infamous "fucksaw demonstration" at Northwestern University in 2011, a moment that landed her in the spotlight, yet sadly didn't afford her any real opportunity to present her side of the story, and the message of positivity she seeks to bring to all sexual acts across a broad spectrum. Now it's Sunny's time to shine, and I got a chance to chat with her right before the premiere of her new series about everything from the fucksaw, to her Weird Chicago Sex Tours, and her goals for her new series. What I discovered is a woman whose views on sex are so positive, I can only hope they radiate out to a world so desperately in need of them.
Tucker Bankshot: Can you talk a little bit about your own sexual awakening, and what it was that gave you the notion that it was something you could pursue as a career?
Sunny Megatron: You know, when people look at someone who's done something that's successful, it appears that you kind of systematically set out to achieve it, and I kind of completely fell into this by accident. It was because of my sexual awakening that I was always kind of kinky and open, and I was your average stereotypical American that had missionary sex with the lights out, and faked the orgasm, and didn't talk to my sexual partners about my fantasies, and it was a pretty repressed existence.
And so I found myself suddenly single at about 35, and I thought, you know these things that I've been secretly thinking about, I'm gonna go and check them out. And unbeknownst to me at the time, there is a whole community of people that do all sorts of things, and I realized how, one, I took comfort in being around those types of people, and two, how absolutely normal it is to be, 'one of the abnormal ones.' So I got into that, and I met my husband who had been a sexuality educator for about ten years before I met him, and he was always kinky since he was a teenager, so it was kind of a melding of the minds, and we started teaching together, and it just sort of happened.
TB: And you just got married recently, right?
SM: Yeah. We've been together for, gosh, it's been about five or six years, and we got married in the thick of filming for the show. So we were on planes to go here and there, and then got back to Chicago, got married the next day, had a day to be hungover, and then got back on a plane and finished filming the show.
TB: (Laughs) It's all in the timing, right?
SM: Yeah. Little did we know that when we set the date it would be the worst timing possible, but we made it work and we had a really good time.
TB: Being based out of Chicago, do you find that you have a different perspective on sex than if you were, say, in L.A. or New York where the sex industry is most prevalent?
SM: Yes and no. I kind of consider myself, in a way, a sexual anthropologist or sociologist. I like figuring out where the differences are regionally. So if you go to L.A., yes, things are completely different than they are in the Midwest; Attitudes are completely different. So in some respects, yes, I think I was raised to be the very stereotypical, average, middle-American person, and I probably wouldn't have been raised in that environment had I grown up in L.A. or what not.
It's also a different type of challenge to get into the sex education business when you're not based in a place that's a center where all of these sex educators, again I think of California. So that has shaped my perspective on sex education as well.
TB: What was the genesis for your Weird Chicago sexuality tours? Did you have the idea for it or were you approached to sort of spearhead it?
SM: That was actually all Ken. He was the owner of the company Weird Chicago before I met him, and he was the original creator of the sex tours. So when we got together, I started educating with him and it was kind of like, hey, why don't you start leading some of the sex tours, and it ended up snowballing from there.
He didn't even start it to be any sort of sex education tour, it was more of a "Secret Chicago" tour, and one of the stops was an S&M dungeon, which is one of the many secret things in Chicago. And people really started clamoring for it, and people started demanding more sex stuff, and so the tour ended up morphing into all sexuality focused stops.
TB: So, the infamous fucksaw demonstration. Did you have any clue that was going to blow up on social media and even the mainstream media the way it did?
SM: I would have never guessed in a million years that fucksaw would have blown up the way it did, I was completely blindsided. This kind of demonstration is something that is frequently done when it comes to sexuality education, granted it’s normally done in a sex education class with volunteer participants, but Ken and myself have done classes for students that had demonstrations, but this was done on University property, and that was the one factor that just made everybody completely lose their minds.
Part of it was a game of telephone sort of. You talk to the students who were directly in the class and 99% of them were like, it was great, you know, I actually learned something. It was really educational, and it was a great class. However, they went and told their roommates, and the roommates told their friends, and their friends told their parents, and it morphed into, these freaks came and did a sex show for the poor, impressionable kids, (laughs) which isn’t what happened. So that’s what it ended up sounding like to the media.
TB: Obviously you did a lot of interviews and wrote a lot about this, so do you feel that any particular platform really gave you the opportunity to get your point about this out there? The WTTW interview seemed like the only place where they really allowed you to talk.
SM: Absolutely and that was the only interview that I felt was balanced and fair, and it’s funny because after that interview came out, everybody just kind of went, Oh, that’s what happened. But that doesn’t attract viewers. What attracts viewers is “scandal” and “sex” and so that’s why the media wanted to perpetuate that story, and that’s really not what happened, but I mean, yeah, if they portrayed the truth as the truth, everybody would change the channel and not want to watch TV.
Also, one of the things that really surprised me at the time and which prevented us from presenting our side of the story is that we were interviewed by various news media, and we had very clearly explained things in very clear terms, using anatomy words like vagina and clitoris, and they wouldn’t publish or air those parts of the interview because you’re generally not allowed to say those words on TV.
So just by standard broadcast censorship, we weren’t really clearly able to explain what we were doing so we could clear the air and make everyone realize that it was clearly an educational thing and it really wasn’t that big of a deal.
TB: I was aware of it when it happened, but in going back and researching, I went back and watched that interview with WTTW, which is funny because I watch Chicago Tonight while I’m eating dinner most nights, so it was interesting to me that they were actually letting you talk. What a novel concept in journalism.
SM: Yeah, it was amazing. Very thankful for public television.
TB: Yeah, how about it? You mention on your website that due to the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey, you are frequently asked to host educational events related to the book. What are some of the biggest misconceptions that exist about the BDSM world that you have to dispel, and are you ever surprised by how open-minded people seem to have become about BDSM since the book was released?
SM: Okay, well the most common misconception about BDSM is that it’s abusive. Yes, it’s true that in BDSM one person “has all the power,” and the other person receives whatever is doled out, but what people don’t see behind that is the negotiation between both parties. They don’t see that it’s actually the submissive that lays down the ground rules, and just the amount of conversation that goes into, can I do this to you, can I do that to you, and all of the planning. So when people realize that, they’re like, oh it’s not just where I can do whatever I want to a person? No it’s not.
Another thing is the misconception that BDSM is all about pain. People may find the dominant/submissive dynamic appealing, but they don’t like pain so they think it isn’t for them. You can do a lot of things that are considered BDSM that have nothing to do with pain. You don’t have to use pain as a part of your kink.
As for the second part, I don’t honestly think that the book has changed people’s perceptions as much as it has made talking about this stuff okay. I think that there were always people that might have been a little interested in kink, might have been a little curious, but didn’t know much about it, or didn’t think that other people did it, or didn’t think it was ever available for them to explore. And now that we have the book, a lot of people are thinking, whoa there are other people who are into this? It’s okay to think about this, it’s okay to find out about this, and explore this, and bring it up to my partner.
So I think that’s the main thing that the book has done, it has sparked the conversation, but really, we have always all been thinking it, it’s just that nobody talked about it.
TB: You know, it’s funny because it was so easy for me to write the books off initially because they started out as Twilight fan fiction and they’re not at all well-written, but at the same time I can now see the flip side of that coin which is that it’s at least enabled the discussion to begin. BDSM is not this weird thing done by weird people, you know? It’s easy to shoot it down for artistic reasons, but at the same time it is a breakthrough piece of work.
SM: Right. I think that if we’re talking about the book itself, and not its impact, I think it’s a horrible series of books. It’s poorly written, the woman who wrote it knows nothing about BDSM and it portrays that world very incorrectly. I think that the relationship itself, outside of the bedroom, borders on abusive. He stalks her, he separates her from her friends, all of these horrible, horrible things.
So I’m not endorsing the particulars of the book, but I am wholeheartedly embracing the fact that the book has started the conversation.
TB: We couldn’t be more on the same page about that (both laugh). You spent over a year and a half developing your new series for Showtime. What are you hoping that people take away from the show, what are some of your big goals for this 8-week series?
SM: You know, I have one basic, generic goal. People will see the show, and they’ll see all of this wild and crazy stuff, and people will get the impression that that’s what I want to inspire people to do, to take their biggest, craziest fantasy and act it out. And that’s not what I’m going for, you know? Hey, if that’s what they’re inspired to do and what they want to do, great, but my goal is to just to get people to start talking about sex. That’s it.
We’ve grown up in a society that has told us that sex is something to be scared of, that it could kill you. That sex is something to be ashamed of, and we’re not taught that it can be fun and pleasurable and all of these positive things, so we grow up with partners, and maybe we’ve been married for twenty years and have never been able to have a meaningful conversation about sex with our own partner. Maybe we’ve never had sex with the lights on, or been able to verbalize our fantasies, or even just say, go a little bit to the left, you know?
So if watching this show inspires just those simple, first step conversations about sex, then I feel like my job is done. That’s what I aspire to inspire in people.
TB: Which is great, because I think that it’s attainable and at the same time ambitious.
SM: Yeah, yeah. And whatever else people get inspired to do, if there’s a segment about a particular kind of sex, or fetish, or specific sexual act that someone’s been wanting to try and this inspires them to take that next step, great. So I think it’s going to be a lot of things for a lot of different people.
TB: Yeah, and Showtime is a great place for it too. The kind of programming they’ve been doing and the way that they’ve been separating themselves from what, let’s say, HBO is trying to do, it’s almost like they’re more, and I hate this phrase, but more educational and more like what HBO used to be. It reminds me, somewhat, of the Real Sex documentaries HBO used to do, which were a very formative part of my own sexual awakening, and from the very little that I’ve seen, it seems to be hearkening back to that style of programming. So for Showtime, and the things that they’ve been doing with shows like Masters of Sex, this seems to be more in line with the direction that they’re headed.
SM: You know, I have to give huge props to Showtime because from the initial conversations with the network, all the way through to today, they have always gotten it. They have always stood behind promoting the message of sex positivity and education, which is phenomenal. They get it like you wouldn’t believe.
The thing that’s going to be different about this show as opposed to some of those past sex shows that we all enjoyed watching, is that I always kind of got a sense that the people we saw on those shows were people other than us. They were those people. It was kind of like, hey, let’s go see what these freaky people are doing. And our show is more, we’re all the freaky people. The people that we’re going to be watching, that could be your neighbor, or your sister-in-law, or you! So I think it is making it a little more human and a little more relatable to your average, everyday person because it’s not the weird, freaky people that are doing this stuff, it’s your doctor. It’s the person that bags your stuff at the grocery store. It’s the person you’re sitting next to in church. It’s not just those weird, freaky people. It’s everyone, or potentially everyone.
TB: Which is great because if nothing else, that’s a huge step. Your work is available in a number of different platforms from blogs to Twitter to your own personal website. Is there one particular avenue of this tech & social media explosion that you feel has been best suited to what you ultimately hope to achieve in educating people?
SM: I think YouTube and just video in general has been great. One of my co-executive producers for the show is Paul Fishbein who created the AVN Network, and he also produces, with me, on the web series Outside the Box and that has been really, really helpful to people. And you know, just the boring, generic interviews and talks that I do sitting at my desk, putting them on YouTube, people love them (laughs). Not that I put much production time or anything into them, but it’s just straight talk and I can interact with people easily and answer questions.
Also, strangely, Facebook has been great for talking with people, and not even so much me interacting with people, it’s more like me posting an article or bringing up an idea, and plopping it out there on Facebook and saying, okay everyone just go and discuss! And they do have these really good, intelligent conversations, and it’s all different sorts of people from all different walks of life; People that normally would never talk to each other, let alone talk to each other about this kind of stuff, and they do, which is pretty cool.
TB: Yeah, and I imagine, going back to the videos, that tone of voice is crucial to certain discussions that you tend to have. Sitting down and just reading it can make it seem more academic and certainly not as engaging and exciting as you want it to be, so I can really latch on to why you would favor that.
SM: Exactly, and you know, one of my qualities, I guess, whatever you want to call it, is that yes, I’m an educator but people don’t like to be “talked to,” you know, it’s boring when someone’s “teaching you.” And it’s the same when it comes to advocacy, people will say, I’m an advocate for this or that, but when you use language that makes you sound like you’re an advocate, people kind of tune out and their eyes glaze over. So what I do is definitely advocacy and it’s definitely education, but I do it in a way where I’m entertaining, so I kind of sneak it one people, and it’s easier to do that when I’m talking than it is writing or what not.
TB: I agree. So what do you think is the one great taboo you think is still pervasive and you would like to see disappear within the next ten years or so?
SM: Oooooo, gosh there’s so much. I’m gonna give you kind of a broad one. I’m starting to see people embracing the concept of fluidity. We’ve always had this concept when it comes to relationships and sexuality that you are one thing, and you can’t be anything else. If you’re married to a person, you are married to that person and that is it, you can’t even look at anyone else. Or if you are straight, you are straight, you know, you’re a straight woman, you can’t look at someone’s boobs! Or if you’re a woman, or a man, you can’t embody qualities of another gender, and that actually keeps people back.
So let’s say I’m a straight, monogamous woman, but I’m a little curious about this, or I’m curious about that, because of the label that society has put on me, or that I put on myself, I feel that I can’t explore or do anything else. And I’m starting to see people lowering the senses, I guess. Just because I’m a straight person doesn’t mean I can’t do this or that, or just because I’m a woman, or a man, or just because I’m married, that allows people to explore and not just shut themselves down.
So yeah, that’s kind of a broad one, but I see that being big in the next few years.
TB: I agree with that and you do see it more and more, and the lines are starting to blur more, which is nice.
SM: Right, and I even see that more and more in the kink community, for instance. If you’re considered one of these people, and you let out to someone that you went home last night and had plain old missionary vanilla sex, you’re gonna get judged by all the other kinky people. Well, why can’t you enjoy vanilla sex? It’s okay, just because you identify as something, doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in other things and still be yourself.
TB: So my last question is just if there’s anything else you’d like your fans to know, or perhaps anyone that’s discovering you for the first time?
SM: Well, I just want to give people the lowdown about the show, and when they’re watching the show or whatever they’re discovering about me, etc, I want them to keep an open mind. When we judge not only other people, but judge ourselves, that really keeps us from being happy and keeps us from discovering the life that we want to live, because we’re harsh on other people. So just keep an open mind. Don’t be so judgy (both laugh).