Alix Fox is a multi award-winning TV and radio presenter, writer and sex educator. She co-hosts BBC Radio 1’s Unexpected Fluids: a weekly no-holds-barred, no-holes-barred comedy show where listeners’ real life tales of sexual fails, erotic accidents and f*ck-ups whilst f*cking are discussed with celebrity guests and specialists.
“We kicked off Season 2 with a live show at Edinburgh Fringe, featuring stand-up sets from two acclaimed rising comedic stars, and have shared true stories about everything from a guy who got rather too caught up in roleplaying as a ‘sexy burglar’ with his partner and caused hundreds of pounds of damage after he broke into his own home by enthusiastically smashing a window whilst in character; to a young woman who got a frozen sausage wedged up her foof during an inventive masturbation session. The meat was so cold that it stuck to the walls of her vagina, so she panicked and called the first medical professional she could think of…her father!” Fox grins. “Her doctor dad calmly ran her a warm bath to help defrost the stuck saucisson. I don’t think he was too phased, as he’d already help to remove a can of deodorant from the same experimental lass’s ladyparts not long previously.”
The anecdotes she and co-presenter Riyadh are sent by their audiences each week have them howling – but they also offer great jumping off-points to discuss more serious aspects of sex. “The show aims to create a relaxed, taboo-busting environment where nothing is out of bounds for frank, honest discussion, as well as to reassure people that sex is rarely the perfect, polished, super-slinky slick act so often presented by the media,” she states. “When it comes to feeling each other up, a lot of folks are simply feeling their way.”
Elsewhere, Alix is resident sex, relationships and dating advisor on The Modern Mann podcast with veteran broadcaster Olly Mann, and regularly contributes to publications including Stylist, The Guardian, Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan. In addition, she’s a proud Ambassador for young people’s sexual health charity Brook; one of the faces of Terrence Higgins Trust’s 2018 National HIV Testing Week campaign; and represents and consults on brands including ONE Condoms, Tenga and Superdrug. “I’m frequently more thinly spread than a miser’s Marmite, and ironically for someone who so often discusses what happens beneath the duvet, my busy schedule means I seldom get the chance to laze in bed,” she admits. “But I’m effervescently enthusiastic about my job and my causes. I find exploring people’s problems, passions and perversions endlessly fascinating.”
Alix, how does one become an internationally known sex expert? Alix Fox: I started my career about 15 years ago as a print journalist, although I’d dabbled in television presenting before that. Whilst studying linguistics at university, I spent a brief period as a roving correspondent on prime-time chat show Richard & Judy: a position which involved such glamorous assignments as being sent to Wigan to report on a baker who was encasing entire cheeseburgers inside pies. I was also a winning contestant on cookery competition programme Ready Steady Cook. I’ve got a VHS recording of the episode stashed somewhere; host Ainsley Harriot said something extremely explicit to me as a joke just before the cameras started rolling, so my eyes are popping out of my head in shock in the opening scenes. These days, my involvement in sexual health and STI prevention means I deal with more green peckers than green peppers!
Anyway, I got my real big break when I joined the editorial team of an alternative culture magazine called Bizarre, where I began to specialise in writing about extreme body modification (think cervical piercings, eyeball tattooing and horns implanted beneath the skin of the scalp); weird, subversive art (teddies made from placentas, paintings inspired by tentacle pornography)… and fetishes, sexual subcultures and BDSM.
Over time, I earned a reputation for being someone who could be trusted to represent kinksters in a fair, representative and balanced fashion, and who made people feel reassured and relaxed during interviews. I asked difficult questions when they needed to be raised, but tried hard not to be judgmental, and delved into the intriguing roots and reasoning behind fetishistic activities rather than just saying “Ew, look at what these weirdos do with their wibbly bits”, which was sadly the extent of a lot of mainstream coverage of fetish at the time. I worked hard to ensure my interviewees always felt that my work helped them to feel better understood, rather than exploited – a maxim I strive to uphold today.
Then, 50 Shades exploded: a series of books I would rather sprout verrucas on the insides of my eyelids than read again, although I’m grateful for the constructive conversations about S&M that they started. All of a sudden, there was enormous demand for writers like me who had rare access to and understanding of communities such as furries – folks who like to roleplay as anthropomorphised animals – or sploshers, who get off on being covered in gooey, gloopy, gungey substances and foodstuffs, or watching someone else ‘get gunked’. I went from being a fairly niche, cult reporter to someone who big household names like Durex, The Guardian and the BBC wanted to hire.
This coincided with a personal realisation that I wanted my media career to be genuinely helpful to the public, not just hedonistic. I decided it would be wise to seek some proper qualifications on fundamental sexual wellness topics like contraception and child protection, so I sought training with Brook, whom I’m now very proud to represent.
Through some serious graft, dedication, and a long history of off-the-wall email openers designed to cheer up people’s days and make me memorable, things have grown from there. I’m now doing decently enough to have my own office in London’s Shoreditch, in an old tea factory – which, as a brew-guzzling Northerner is about as close to heaven as you can get.
PG Tips tea is about the only ‘PG’ thing in my life – everything else is rated 18+ and adults only!
What does a typical working day in the life of Alix Fox look like?
I’m not sure any of my days are typical – because I take on so many different roles for different clients and organisations, my schedule bends and flexes more than the Kama Sutra’s most pretzel-esque positions. The variety keeps things novel and interesting, although I’ve had to become skilled at juggling jobs.
Today I met with the UK PR at Tenga to discuss our plans for me to write more about male masturbation toys in men’s publications. Whilst it’s becoming increasingly acceptable – celebrated, even, especially amongst the younger generations – for women to own more rabbits than your average pet shop, there’s still a lot of stigma attached to straight guys using self-pleasure products like strokers. I’m trying to break down the sense of shame and intimidation some boys feel about toys.
I also had a meeting with the events team at Stylist magazine, to plan the keynote speech I’m delivering at their Stylist Live event in November. I can’t reveal all yet, but let’s just say it will be brought to you by the letter O…
Then I spent ages comparing travel insurance policies online, trying to find one that will adequately cover me and my enormous rolling suitcases of dildos ‘n’ dicks! I jet around a lot for work: I’m heading to the International Radio Festival in Malta with the BBC soon, to broadcast Unexpected Fluids live and chat about the future direction of radio, podcasting and streaming services with experts from all over the globe. And in a fortnight, I’m taking a much-needed solo holiday to South Korea and Hong Kong. I find throwing myself into wildly different cultures and surroundings can be more relaxing than just laying on a beach, cooking in the sun and over-stewing my thoughts. Flooding my senses with new sights, smells and tastes; being forced to live fully in the moment in order to navigate unfamiliar languages and streets; immersing myself in the wild, vibrant unknown… I’m too dazzled and distracted to think about my stresses. For once I won’t be working, although I am making room to visit Haesindang Park, which houses dozens of sculptures, hangings and artefacts…all in the shape of penises. Willies? I’ve made a whole Korea out of ‘em! Ha!
Sex is a quite intimate topic … how do you get people to open up and share their experiences?
I find humour a great ice-breaker, although it’s important to use it appropriately and judge the mood carefully, which can be a highly nuanced affair. I try to balance comedy with compassion. A couple of years ago I created a series of audio documentaries for The Guardian called Close Encounters, in which individuals opened up about some tough topics such as sex after severe spinal cord damage, being gay in an Asian Muslim family, and vaginismus: a complex psychologically influenced condition in which the muscles of the vagina tense up so tightly that penetration – with a penis, a finger, a tampon – is painful to the point of impossibility. I was concerned that my interviewees and my audience might find me cracking jokes here and there disrespectful, but in fact, both enthused about how it lifted the mood, made the programmes more engaging by offering a little light relief amid the sad stuff, and helped present my subjects as relatable, rounded human beings – not just charity cases to be pitied.
The series won a silver Audio & Radio Industry Award (sometimes called ‘the broadcasting Oscars’ – whoop!), but I take even greater pride from the fact that every single interviewee from that series is still in touch with me. I get regular updates on how their lives are going, even extending to being sent photos from inside a sperm donation clinic ‘collection room’!
In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception regarding sex and sexuality?
Ugh, I could give you a list longer than Jonah Falcon’s trouser snake. Incidentally, misconceptions about penis size abound: the majority of men who believe themselves to have small genitals actually have perfectly normal, average-sized scholngs. I’m friends with Ant Smith, an activist who’s campaigning to stop the widespread societal ridicule of guys who genuinely happen to have more modestly proportioned parts, and encourage them to have greater bod confidence. He threw a ‘Big Small Penis Party’, where guys with more weeny wieners paid less to get in, so their dick dimensions put them at an advantage for once.
At present, I’m particularly focused on trying to demystify misconceptions about HIV. I’m working with BBC Radio 5 on a short documentary to explain that when managed using modern medicines, the number of viral particles in an HIV+ person’s bloodstream (their ‘viral load’) can be brought down to undetectable levels; at this stage, there is so little of the virus present that it becomes impossible for them to pass the virus on. Undetectable = Untransmittable. I find this remarkable. It’s an absolutely incredible medical advancement. I was born in 1982, when the famous ‘tombstone’ HIV prevention ads on TV depicted the virus as a death sentence. Now, provided with the right meds, HIV+ people can lead very normal, long, healthy lives. That makes me so joyful as to be tearful.
Let’s talk a bit about the erotic industry. In your opinion, what are the most interesting trends in this industry at the moment?
Some of the best toys on the market suck! That is, they use pulses of suction to stimulate the clitoris rather than vibration. When I initially encountered this tech being used by German brand Womanizer, it was the first notably different type of toy I’d seen in ages. That company are really pushing things forward. Their latest Premium model stops instantly the moment it’s removed from the body – so no panicky pushing of buttons if your play is accidentally interrupted by kids or housemates barging in – and I’m waiting with bated breath to see what comes of their new merger with We-Vibe.
Conversations about condoms are changing gear in the UK, and I welcome that with open arms. New female-founded luxury brand HANX produce vegan, fair trade products that are designed to make women feel empowered and confident about buying, carrying and using. They won a Diet Coke-sponsored start-up competition that saw them bag a £10,000 bursary, expert mentorship, plus £10,000 worth of advertising – definitely a company to keep your eye on. Then there’s TheyFit, the British-born custom fit condom brand who were bought out by massive manufacturer Karex a couple of years ago. They’ve been relaunched under the MyONE Perfect Fit name in the States, and are due to be back in Britain again in the next few months, with eye-catching wrappers and stockage in major high street retailers. Condoms are currently the only form of contraception to offer protection against sexually transmitted infections; I am all for innovations, fresh attitudes and clever campaigns in this area, especially since recent reports from Public Health England revealed a 20% rise in syphilis diagnoses in the last year whilst the World Health Organisation are warning of increases in the occurrence of antibiotic-resistant strains of gonorrhoea that can be worryingly tricky to treat. It’s vitally important to look after the health of you and your partner by treating the penis just like a present: wrap it up before you give it to anyone!
I’m spellbound by the possibilities of virtual and augmented reality, and the fantastical ways that such technologies may be employed within a sensual or sexual context. I always look forward to the results of the ‘sextech hackathons’ arranged by senior computing lecturer Dr Kate Devlin – a friend of mine, and author of new book ‘Turned On: Science, Sex and Robots’. At least once a year she gathers together the brightest minds in computer science, product design and sex-related disciplines to brainstorm and create wildly imaginative and ingenious inventions. Previous events have birthed gadgets such as a hammock that stimulates different parts of the body whilst you lay in it, encouraging people to relax and explore sensuality beyond the genitals and usual ‘hot spots’. It also has potential applications to deliver pleasure for those who have disabilities or who are incapacitated.
Elvie is a product that gamifies pelvic floor exercises: you pop a little silicone ‘egg’ inside your vagina, connect it to your mobile phone via blueooth, then every time you correctly perform a series of muscle squeezes it causes a dot on the screen to bounce about, so you essentially play videogames using your genitals as a joystick! It’s a Fitbit for your bits. I think there’s a lot of potential to use tech constructively to teach, promote better health and encourage playfulness – so long as it’s employed with intelligence and real thought about what people want and need. Tech for tech’s sake, as an empty gimmick – ugh, that annoys the hell out of me.
“I’m spellbound by the possibilities of virtual and augmented reality, and the fantastical ways that such technologies may be employed within a sensual or sexual context.”
Generally speaking, how important are sex toys or other products of this industry for good sex anyway?
Great sex comes down to people’s attitudes to themselves and each other. Products like lubricants, vibrators or prostate massagers can doubtless be revolutionary and revelatory, and I’ve seen them change people’s lives. But you’re unlikely to have the best experience with any tool if the person you’re using it with is being a tool!
If you had a wish for your industry, what would you change?
Please stop saying vibrating toys are ‘whisper quiet’ when you could hear them with 17 pairs of noise-cancelling ear muffs on. From space.
More seriously, sex education needs greater diversity. For example, I would struggle to name many men of colour working as sex educators in the UK public eye, and whilst I fully understand that this is because there are many more cultural barriers to people from different ethnic backgrounds entering this sphere, there’s a dire lack of representation that urgently needs to be addressed.
Young men – and all young people, and everyone – need to hear reliable, inclusive information about topics like consent, sex positivity and emotional and physical health from role models who they can relate to, and who understand the messages they might be getting from their respective families, communities, peers, religious influences and so on. I am so aware that the ‘sexpert’ space is dominated by white cis gendered women and I try to use my platform to lift up others speaking from different backgrounds whenever I can.
What projects are you working on right now and where can our readers see and hear more? from you?
Season 9 of The Modern Mann podcast kicks off in late October and I can’t wait; after so many years of doing this show, the sense of authentic friendship, trust and camaraderie that’s developed between me, my team and our audience truly satisfies my soul – we’ve all grown together. I so look forward to the letters and feedback I receive. In fact, a rare opportunity has come up to sponsor my Foxhole sex advice section, so please get in touch if you’re interested in advertising – I’m on HiAlixFox@gmail.com.
I’m featured as a specialist advisor on upcoming Channel 4/E4 TV show The Sex Testers, which will be broadcast in the coming months. The production team set up a special clinic in London’s Guys & St Thomas’ Hospital, where members of the public could come along and get screened for sexually transmitted infections as well as getting advice on kinks, sexual dysfunctions or any bedroom-based botherations they were experiencing. Look out for me nattering to an asexual gent, chatting about polycystic ovary syndrome and slipping on a heavy duty elbow-length fisting mitt that made me look like James Herriot about to help a cow give birth.
I also have another exciting telly project up my (rolled-up) sleeve, in which I’ll play a more central role – follow me on Twitter or Instagram @AlixFox to hear more when I’m able to reveal it. C’mon – push my buttons!