Feelin’ It Out with Shelby Sells

In the comfort of her STUNNING Brooklyn apartment, Jems had the absolute pleasure of speaking with sex and relationship coach Shelby Sells. In her practice, Shelby provides a safe space for her clients to begin a healing journey of sexual empowerment and self-love. We've been dying to get to know Shelby as she'll be joining us in NYC at the new Moxy Lower East Side Hotel for a live taping of her podcast Love Spells on February 16th.

Shelby! We're so excited to have you on board as one of our Community Experts! Curious to hear about your professional background and how you became such an icon in the sexual wellness space?

I'm a sex and relationship coach based in New York City. I got certified in Holistic Transformational Life Coaching three years ago, which is wild, and I'm currently completing my license as a sexuality counsellor. I went to school for child development psychology. I thought getting in at the ground level was necessary because, from what I know about mental health, so much happens in our childhood and young adulthood that impacts us later in life. As a coach, I try to be as well-rounded as possible. I've also experienced a lot in my own life that has led me to this point.

You've been creating safe spaces to talk about sex for a while now.

I started a blog almost ten years ago called Pillow Talk, where I interviewed people about their experiences with love, sex, and dating. That experience showed me that there weren't many spaces to discuss sexuality, love, dating and relationships – and I still find that to be relatively true. I aim to continue providing that space for people, meeting them where they're at, and doing what I can to encourage healthy communication, personal empowerment, and confidence in my clients.

We love how you speak to sexuality, relationships, and dating as a whole! You bring a lot of fashion and humour to your work, especially on your social platforms.

I went to fashion school in LA before pursuing my current path. When starting out, I had an identity crisis. I felt like I couldn't be myself. I thought I couldn't be fashionable, cool, and funny while also being a professional wellness person who holds space for folks. I've now realized that such a big part of this work is deconstructing these notions of what coaches and therapists look like in the wellness space. It is super important to take the therapist off the pedestal and bring them back to earth. I was so grateful once I realized that the more authentic I stay to myself, the more I can focus on helping people.

What a great sentiment! Where do you find your daily inspiration? 

The positive feedback I hear from my community! It always makes my day when people say, "thank you," "your posts have helped me," or "I've been following you for a long time online." Also, what keeps me inspired is that… in love, sex, and relationships, there's no right or wrong answer. I love how unique and individual everyone's experiences are. 

That's something we all can relate to – the community we surround ourselves with and the people we hold close to our hearts are great ways to find inspiration. And we're each on our own journey.

Amen! Thank you for naming that. Even if you and I hooked up with or dated the same person, there might be some similarities, but we would also have two totally different experiences. I find that to be so beautiful. The deeper I get into this work, the more that is reaffirmed to me in ways that inspire me but also complicate things – but not necessarily in a bad way. There's so much love in the world, and you can derive pleasure in many wonderful ways. Getting to dig deeper into myself and working with many trusting, beautiful, and vulnerable people allows me to experience all of that. Each day, I wake up grateful that I get to peel back the layers and learn something new about myself and other people.

What are some causes close to your heart? Are you an advocate for anything in particular?

I am a huge advocate for mental health and emotional wellness overall and firmly believe that mental health resources should be accessible. Within the sexual and reproductive health industry, I advocate for Planned Parenthood and places that can provide these resources to folks, especially in the BIPOC LGBTQIA community. It's tough, at least in the United States, with our healthcare system. I'm grateful to live in a place like New York, where I can access things like abortion. I firmly believe in the right to choose and that every person should have autonomy and agency over their own body. That's not something that anyone else should interfere with.

It's terrifying that we are living in a time in which abortion access is being limited. How do you maintain a positive mindset with all of this going on? 

It's interesting that you bring that up because in a session today, I had a couple of clients question how they can maintain a positive mindset. For many people, it's the beginning of the year; maybe we're doing a lot of reflecting. With so many horrors going on, it can be challenging to maintain a positive attitude. 

It certainly can be!

Some days, I'm so excited. I'm fighting for the things I believe in and am optimistic about the future. There are so many beautiful things to be excited by – tiny miracles that happen and the little moments we can be present for – all of which help me maintain a level of gratitude and a positive mental attitude overall. Then there are also days when I am just sad and angry. It's important to acknowledge all of those feelings. As humans, our emotions are on a spectrum, and you can't pretend some things aren't happening when they are. In processing our emotions, the best thing you can do is feel them out. I allow myself days to be imperfect, sad, and upset so that I can gather myself and show up as my best self when I am feeling good.

Feeling out our emotions is so important; thank you for sharing that. We're curious to hear how you define safer sex for yourself and your clients.

When I first started in this field, I never really considered safety when I thought about sexuality – beyond obvious things like assault and maybe birth control. But I've come to understand that safety looks different to everyone. For me, so much of my sexuality is tied to feeling emotionally and physically safe with somebody – making sure we're both comfortable when having sex. And, you know, sex can't be perfect all the time. Sometimes things happen. Sometimes things get uncomfortable. Still, if we can communicate, voice concerns and have boundaries, we can cultivate that feeling of safety. 

Ultimately, safer sex looks like having a sexual experience you feel good about overall. I don't think that hookup culture prioritizes a lot of that.

Do you think safety within sexuality is integral to experiencing pleasure?

It's probably situational and depends on what you're into. But for me, right now, they go hand in hand. I also find that feeling safe during sex has much to do with what happens outside the bedroom. It's important to recognize that and question how we cultivate these intimate scenarios with ourselves and the people around us. You can still have what some people might not consider totally safe sex or kinkier practices; however, within the BDSM community, safety is a huge priority. Having boundaries is essential. Trust is also such a critical aspect for me. I once thought I was not a cum-every-time person, but I realized that when I feel safe and trust the situation and the person, it's much easier for me to let go and be present, which allows the pleasure to come in.

Feeling emotionally and physically safe is crucial for many of us when hoping to achieve an orgasm you certainly aren't alone in that! Do you have any last words of advice or bits of knowledge that you would like to share with our community?

A motto I like to live by is: One day at a time. As humans, we are inherently dynamic beings, and so much of life is subject to change. It's crucial to check in with yourself, whether that's a daily, weekly, monthly or hourly ritual. Hold space for all the different sides of you, including past, present, and future versions of yourself – especially in terms of sexuality. Things come and go. What you used to be into might not be what you're into now, and what you're into now might not be what you're into going forward. Or, you could have some things that are totally consistent. Be gentle with yourself and continue honouring wherever you're at because that's exactly where you're supposed to be.