I have been asked to judge the Sexual Freedom Awards 2023 after having won in the Activist of the Year category in 2019. It’s a huge honour to be invited to do it, and I want to make sure those of you who are eligible to apply get some well-deserved awards for your work, so here’s everything you need to know about the Awards, my experience in applying and winning, and why YOU should apply.
What are the Sexual Freedom Awards?
Formerly known as ‘the Erotic Oscars’ and then ‘the Erotic Awards,’ the Sexual Freedom Awards celebrate pioneers in the field of sexuality by awarding erotic performers, sex workers, activists, journalists and practitioners with a coveted ‘golden flying cock trophy,’ hand-carved for the event in Bali. Yes, you read it right.
First established in 1994 by Dr Tuppy Owens, the Sexual Freedom Awards aim to counter negative messages in the media about people working in sex and eroticism – something incredibly important particularly here in the United Kingdom, where anti-sex work sentiment and puritanism are rife.
In ’94, Dr Owens invited the public to nominate people for each category and appointed a Grand Jury of Conspicuous Sensuality – aka a panel of sexuality experts and enthusiasts that have so far included art historians, fetish club owners, sex workers, academics, activists and writers – to judge the nominees.
Award categories have been changing over the years to reflect the areas of sexuality and eroticism where most progress has been made, including Politician of the Year, Academic of the Year, Blogger of the Year and Activist of the Year which were added to regular awards for performers, striptease artists and sex workers.
The proceeds of the Sexual Freedom Awards ceremony are used to fund the work of the Outsiders Trust, a charity which supports disabled people in their sexual freedom and expression.
Winning in 2019
I won the Activist of the Year category of the Sexual Freedom Awards in 2019, for my work against Instagram’s censorship of nudity and sex through the apology I got for pole dancers and the #EveryBODYVisible campaign. I’m still blown away by having won to be honest – I was up against iconic activists like Travis Alabanza and Jason Domino, so sometimes I still wonder if they read the wrong name on the night!
I remember attending by myself only to find familiar faces such as the incredible Stacey from the East London Strippers Collective and journalist Franki Cookney, and I remember feeling like a sort of Pollyanna when watching Mouse, a performer known for putting absolutely anything (from beer bottles to cigarettes) in her vagina. It was the most shocking performance I’d ever seen, and she really lived up to her reputation.
Featuring performances from well-known London strippers I greatly admired, including one of my fave performers crushing a birthday cake with her butt, the awards felt like a raucous night out and an important recognition of a form of labour, performance and activism which is too often overlooked.
When the ceremony started, I was so nervous that I didn’t clock that they were calling the nominees first – not the winners. So when they called my name – the first name in the first category of the night – I stood up, only to have to stand back down. Awks! And then… when they actually called my name I couldn’t believe it. Someone took a picture of my face when I won, and… it says it all. lol
I couldn’t believe I’d won, and it all felt extra sweet because one of the judges was my former media law lecturer from my Journalism BA, one of the people who inspired me to become an academic. I got on stage, gave an awkward speech and got very drunk. I felt incredibly grateful to share the stage and a venue with so many incredible people.
Winning the Sexual Freedom Awards was more than a chance to win a trophy which my parents still lovingly judge to this day – it was an incredible platform, and the first big recognition I ever got in fighting social media censorship. I can’t recommend nominating (yourself or others) enough!
How can I nominate someone?
After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the Awards came back last year, with iconic nominees such as the Bristol Sex Workers’ Collective and Cybertease, and incredible winners such as Sabrina Jade and Eva Oh. Nominations are now open for this year’s Awards, which will mark the ceremony’s 27th edition. You can nominate people here, but please read all the info about categories and criteria here first!
The categories for the Sexual Freedom Awards 2023 are:
- Activist of the Year
- Ally of the Year
- Event of the Year
- Performer of the Year
- Pioneer of the Year
- Publicist of the Year
- Sex Worker of the Year
- Somatic Sexologist of the Year
- Striptease Artist of the Year.
The Awards welcome nominees from a wide, diverse range of perspectives, and are especially interested in receiving nominations for disabled people and disabled artists. You can absolutely nominate yourself – and in fact I think I did nominate myself in 2019 because YOLO. Finalists are selected by the judges panel according to merit rather than the number of nominations received – so even by nominating yourself you’re in for the chance of winning like I did!
To nominate or be nominated, you must meet the nomination criteria below:
Sexual Freedom Awards Nomination Criteria
- The work of nominees should be available or have been seen in the UK (including online)
- Nominees are judged on their recent work
- Nominees cannot win twice in the same category but they can win in more than one different categories
- Finalists from previous years can only be finalists again if they have done completely new work
- Nominees are required to accept their nomination and confirm that they agree to the ethos of the Sexual Freedom Awards and are willing to have their work and information about themselves on our website
- Judges cannot be nominated
- Judges are required to declare any friendships with nominees/finalists when voting.
You don’t have to be based in the United Kingdom to apply. While initially the Awards were strictly for people based in the UK, now thanks to the internet they welcome international nominees, although the Trust won’t be able to cover transport or accommodation for you to travel to the ceremony.
What does judging entail?
I am in awe of the judging panel I get to join next year! Aside from me, the nominees and winners will be selected by the incredible Activist of 2018 winner and LGBT+ and human rights advocate Aderonke Apata, by Stripper of the Year 2019 winner and one of my pole teachers and inspos Sasha Diamond, by Pioneer of the Year 2022 Irving Olvera, and by legal academic, law commissioner and chair of the Sexual Health and Disability Alliance (SHADA) Prof. Claire De Than, who happens to be my former media law lecturer. The judging panel is chaired by erotic pioneer and certified sexological bodyworker Kian de la Cour. You can read more about the judging panel here.
The Sexual Freedom Awards judges meet regularly to select nominees, reviewing entries in accordance to the aims of the awards, choosing categories according to their relevance, inviting members of the public – aka you – to nominate, selecting finalists and winners.
This is my first time judging the Sexual Freedom Awards, or any awards ceremony of this type. I was asked to do it last year, but due to a clash with a pole competition I wasn’t able to do it. And although I have judged various pole comps, this is an entirely different scenario: I’m both incredibly honoured and nervous about it, because I want to make sure I do right by the Awards and the nominees.
Official nominees will receive an email asking them whether or not they accept the nomination and, if they do, inviting them to submit information about their work for the judges to consider. Obviously a nomination doesn’t guarantee a win or a spot amongst the final nominees, but you’re in for a good chance.
Judges are asked to disclose friendships and work relationships, so please know that if we know each other, your nomination or win won’t depend just on me. Don’t hate me pls 🙂
What happens on the night
The ceremony will be held on May 4th in London at Bush Hall in Shepherd’s Bush.
Once the judges have chosen the finalists in each category, those who did not make it to the final are informed via email. Those who have been selected as finalists are invited to attend the Awards Ceremony for free, while any plus ones will have to pay the full ticket price. The only exception to this are finalists in the Striptease categories, who are entitled bring a friend to the ceremony for free to help them get ready.
Usually, those nominated in the performance and striptease categories are invited to perform at the ceremony, together with some incredible guest performers – and if the time I myself attended is anything to go by, you will see things you wouldn’t believe!
So start nominating, friends: it’s time to celebrate all the sexy people in your field!