21-year-old Eileen Kelly is a sex educator for a generation that is leading the charge in inclusivity, sex positivity, safe sex and breaking down restrictive gender norms. With over 400K Instagram followers on her iconic account, @killerandasweetthang, the native Seattlite gives a peak into her life as a young woman exploring sex education in New York City. Her website of the same name, created a team she leads, is a free online resource for young people to access comprehensive sex education tips and to read about and share their experiences. Kelly is currently working on an app that will act as a resource for teens and young people to have the kind of shame-free, disarmingly honest and helpful sex education that she didn't receive growing up in Catholic school. Kelly shows that when you dedicate your life to helping other people live without fear, shame and misinformation, you're truly a beautiful person.
How did you get your start?
I grew up in a conservative, Catholic community and wanted to make the changes I wish I had experienced growing up. I studied gender studies in college and am currently getting certified as a sex educator. I used the internet at a young age to spread my views and opinions and that's where things took off.
What are you working on right now? Can you describe any current projects or activities?
I run a free online sexual health resource. It's called Killer And A Sweet Thang and we have over 15 writers who share their personal experiences with our readers. We have pieces ranging from getting abortions to inserting your first IUD, really anything you might be going through as a young adult, you can find on our site. As a side project, I've been working on a zine that explores the relationship millennials have with sex and how social media is changing our sex lives and the dating game. From porn to cyber-sex, breaking up and seeing your ex on social media, we tried to give an honest view of what people in my generation are going through. It launches early this fall and will be available for purchase on my website and a few bookstores in NYC. This has been especially exciting because it's as if the website is in tangible form. I also have been working with two close friends on throwing events and dinners for different causes in NYC. The first one we did this summer was a letter writing to congress dinner for Planned Parenthood and the next one is for Trans Awareness this fall.
What is success to you?
I think true success is a mentality. It's choosing something you love and working really hard at it. As long as you internally feel good and successful, it doesn't matter what others see on the outside. It's not about getting your name in magazines or having a fancy house or car. Success is loving what you do and ultimately your life.
Do critics matter?
I think critics can help you improve and give you feedback. Although, you should be secure with what you do and as long as you are doing it for the right reasons, negative reviews don't matter.
Obviously you've seen success in your career, but can you tell us about a time you failed?
Working as a sex educator in the sex industry or field has been very interesting. For the most part, when it comes to adult novelty items, it is a male dominated field. I've been stood up or taken advantage of by a few companies and even though that sucked, I wouldn't look at it as a "failure." If anything, it drives me to make changes in the industry that I believe are necessary.
Do you think about legacy?
No. Your legacy is what you leave behind and I'm not thinking of leaving anytime soon.
What advice do you have for someone looking to break into your industry?
Education! There are a million different ways to get into my industry but you can never be over-educated or over-qualified. The industry and the subject matter is constantly evolving due to new research so you can never know. Whether that means volunteering at your local Planned Parenthood, taking gender studies classes, getting certified in Sex Ed or Sexology, attending conventions, panels, and SARs. The community itself is built by people who share this passion for uplifting, empowering, safer sex. I have never met such wonderful people in my life and in my experience have only met sex therapists and educators who want to help you out, so I also urge you to reach out to those around you and connect!
Did you ever give up (or want to give up)? What were the circumstances?
I've had moments where I thought I was in over my head or wanted to do too much. I've felt especially discouraged with our current political climate. However, I get messages all the time, or read the interaction from our readers that make me keep pushing. I was down South a few months ago and it gave my work new purpose. There is such a great need for my job and I plan on seeing great changes during my lifetime.
What trends in your field do you find most exciting / are you most optimistic about? What about your field is frustrating? What would you like to see change?
I feel like feminism and conversation regarding sex has been a trend recently. This is both positive and negative! It draws attention to a very important subject and I think that's great. However, it can be frustrating when the activism feels very surface level and commercial. Feminism and gender studies should always be completely INCLUSIVE. Slogans like the Future is Female are trans exclusionary and problematic. So it's great to see the generation below me jumping on the band wagon, I just think there needs to be more thought on what exactly you stand for and doing it in the most inclusive, positive way.
How do you plan to build on your success so far? Is there anything you fear will set you back?
I want to eventually teach. Whether that is in school or in my own programs. I feel like I am on the right path towards my end goal so I want to continue what I am doing. Everything I have done so far has come about organically, so as long as I can keep my focus and determination I am sure that things will continue in the way that they are. My only fear is that the work I do will become harder and harder due to our government and its limitations on sex education in this country, but I am optimistic that it will change over my life.
What was the first moment you knew you were going to be able to do this as a job – not necessarily your first big break or success, but the first time you thought, "This is it, this is my career"?
Hmm. Maybe when I took my first gender studies class in college. I felt at home and like I had never cared so much about a subject before. And then when I enrolled in my certification course and met all these different people in my field, I knew that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. As cheesy as it sounds, I am so lucky because I am so young and have found my calling.
What's been the biggest choice you've had to make in your career so far?
Choosing what I believe is right over money. In my career there have been a lot of tough decisions that included saying no to more lucrative deals because I don't entirely stand for the message behind them. Finding that medium has been difficult; however, I only want to promote things I truly believe in and that I feel align with my message and views. There are a lot of activists online who speak for certain issues but then do work with certain big brands or wear t-shirts that say something that I don't agree with and I just think to myself what are you doing…. I find it so fake and a façade. I don't treat what I'm doing as a trend, it's truly what I love and find important.
What is your morning routine like? (What time do you get up? Are you a coffee or tea drinker? Any breakfast routines?)
I have a morning beauty routine lol. Not so much a breakfast routine. It switches up depending on my schedule for the day. I usually head to my office by 10 am. As far as my morning routine though, I only use organic natural products. I use an amazing oil cleanser, a green serum for my face in the morning and sunscreen!! I drink tea at my office, no coffee.
What are you most excited about for the future?
I want to move down South in a few years to Louisiana or Mississippi and see where this work takes me down there. Doing the work I do in New York, LA, and Seattle is very privileged and moving down there will open my eyes to what this country really needs in regards to my career choice. I think it will bring lots of challenges and I'm nervous but also excited.
What are you most worried about for the future?
I try to remain positive however, I am worried that we are taking many steps backwards in the way our government is treating the sex education programs in our country. We've made great strides to develop comprehensive education programs and the current administration is trying to revert back to abstinence-only. There is so much importance in our education systems because although we cannot control what goes on in the homes of our citizens, we have a duty to educate the youth and uplift them so we can create a strong, kind, and educated next generation who will eventually lead us. When people are educated and exposed, then comes better decisions and ultimately understanding. This can lead to less hate, racism, STIs, sexual violence, etc.
Are you good at giving advice? What is the best advice you've ever given?
Back in my Tumblr days I was always told that I gave good advice. That's sort of how I got my start in all of this. It's not my advice but my favorite book is the Four Agreements and I always try to shed light on my favorite one. "Don't take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering." – Don Miguel Ruiz
Are you good at receiving advice? What is the best advice you've ever received?
It depends! I think people want to hear what they want to hear. I can be pretty stubborn but if it's advice when it comes to what I do or care about then I'm all ears. I attended a program in June in LA for my certification in Sex Ed and one of my teachers told us, "Work hard in this career and never let anyone tell you no because it's the most powerful, empowering, honest work you will ever do." And I believe that.
What makes a person beautiful? What makes you beautiful?
I think drive makes someone beautiful and sexy. Motivation literally spews out of certain people and it's enchanting and addicting. Finding someone who loves what they do and are obsessed with it is really beautiful. Also, being humble and kind.
What are you most proud of?
I'm really proud of the work I do and even more so the reasons I do it. It's always felt very authentic and real to me and working on the things I do, connects me back with my 15 year old self. It's everything I wish I had growing up. It's providing young people with resources and a person to talk to. Our forum Birds & Bees allows our readers to converse with each other and ask questions they wouldn't ask in person. You make an anonymous account, similar to Reddit and then you can start a thread on any subject. And then the community responds back to you as well as a few experts in the field made up of sex educators, sex therapists and gynecologists. It's currently getting developed into an app so that is very exciting and will launch this year.
Photography by Maya Fuhr
Styling by Ella Cepeda
Photography Assistant: Sarah Deaner
Stylist Assistant: Katie Rintala
Makeup & Hair by Alberto Luengo at Wilhelmina Artists using Afterglow Cosmetics and N4 haircare
Location: Dune Studios