Nonfiction | Intensive

2-Day Nonfiction Intensive: Writing the Personal Sex Essay

All too often, our sexual experiences--or just talking honestly about sex and sexuality at all--are dismissed as TMI. In this smart, introspective, and bawdy two-day intensive, writers will explore what their personal stories have to offer the world, and how best to share them. We'll open with an interactive conversation about the sex culture we live in and how this shapes the stories we tell (or don't). Using activities adapted from public health to broaden our understanding of the complexity of our sexualities, we'll mine our own histories for narratives we may have forgotten, or may never have noticed.

Although the term “sex writing” calls to mind the sex scene, this course places its focus instead on making meaning from our sex lives. During our two days together, we'll tackle craft challenges specific to writing about sexuality--diving into the opportunities provided by narrative distance, considering what authority looks like on the page (including how we might access our own), and processing what it means to write (and publish!) about real people. Beyond simply telling the narrative of what happened on any given night, this intensive helps writers build strong connective tissue between their individual stories and the larger questions about sex with which our culture grapples.

While writers will be invited to share their work from in-class prompts, we will not be workshopping our own full-length essays together.

Writers should arrive prepared to cultivate a fun, safe, and nonjudgmental atmosphere that is affirming of all sexualities and identities. Straight or queer, cis or trans, abstinent or asexual or sexually active, kinky or vanilla, poly or monogamous-- your stories are important, and you’re welcome in this course. While this class aims to offer a supportive environment for figuring out how to turn stories of sexuality into cultural critique and art, it is not intended to be a support group or provide a replacement for mental healthcare.


- A deepened understanding of the sex culture our writing lands in, and how this shapes what we write (and don't)

- A supportive, sex-positive, and trauma-sensitive community with which to share your writing about sexuality

- Increased ability to identify the craft choices that might help frame, focus and drive your writing about sexuality

- Access to an instructor who has provided sexuality education to more than 8,000 people over the last ten years, and who has personal experience with what it means to publish sexually explicit work in high-circulation publications

- A one-on-one conference with the instructor to discuss your work and chart a path forward

- Access to Catapult's list of writing opportunities and important submission deadlines, as well as a 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


This workshop is primarily generative. Writers will receive a robust packet of published essays to read before the class start date, which will form the “class context” we’ll draw on in our discussions.

Katherine Standefer

Katherine E. Standefer's debut book Lightning Flowers is forthcoming from Little, Brown in 2020 and was shortlisted for the 2018 J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Prize. Her work was featured in The Best American Essays 2016 and won the 2015 Iowa Review Award in Nonfiction. A Fall 2018 Logan Nonfiction Fellow at The Carey Institute for Global Good, her recent work appears in Virginia Quarterly Review, The New England Review, Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere. She earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction at the University of Arizona and teaches in Ashland University's Low-Residency MFA program.


"‘In Praise of Contempt' takes a no-nonsense approach to sexual morality, and sets forth a surprisingly unconventional theory of how to live and how to love, with some of the freshness of such feminist classics as Virginie Despentes's King Kong Theory or Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex. The sexual stories that 'In Praise of Contempt' contains are refreshingly anti-pious; the author's voice is clear, cool, and committed to an erotics that is blissfully contrarian and unruly. I especially admired the author's insights into the interlocking relation between desire and contempt."

Wayne Koestenbaum judge of the 2015 Iowa Review Award in Nonfiction and author

"I am a besotted fan of Katherine Standefer’s writing, especially about sex, especially about sex and its relationship to pain and power. When Standefer is away from e-mail, she sends an automatic message reminding her correspondent to “run toward what scares you.” In such blisteringly complicit, precise, and intelligent essays such as 'Animalis,' 'In Praise of Contempt,' 'The Taste of Lavender,' 'Clearcut,' and 'Breaking the Body,' she runs exactly toward what scares her (and you). She refuses to write about sex with either an ounce of sentimentality or an ounce of false cool. Martha Graham said, ‘The body never lies.’ Nietzsche: ‘There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy.’ Standefer’s work beautifully and powerfully embodies and proves the irreducible truth that sex is everything."

David Shields International best-selling author of twenty-two books

"There are few writers for whom I drop everything when I see their byline. Katherine Standefer is one of those few. Her writing is essential to our cultural understanding of sexuality, technology, health care, poverty, and the body. But listing her subject matter misses what is truly important in Standefer’s work, for in it, she employs the pumping heart of the personal to that inform nuanced and well-considered cultural criticism. In truth, I’d follow her words anywhere they would want to take me—and on any subject."

Christian Kiefer author of PHANTOMS and West Coast Editor of THE PARIS REVIEW

"Do you get tired of the phrase, “this will change your life”? I do, except when it is true. I’ve taken several workshops with Kati, and also worked with her as my editor. Hers is the generous painstaking critical attention I have needed for years. My first published essay started as meandering idea in one of Kati’s workshops. I feel like a writer! And Kati reminded me recently, “You are a writer!” Funny, an infectious laugh, caring and so smart, I highly recommend Kati’s services, teaching and/or editorial manuscript reviews. Changed my life."

Whitney Vale creative coaching client and student, Tucson, AZ

"Kati is a passionate sex educator, and she brought a wealth of knowledge into the workshop. She creates a safe space for participants to share their most vulnerable material and fosters lively discussion about sex in our culture and in modern literature. Her workshop was a treat I didn’t know I needed. Sex writing has many facets and nuances, and I am confident approaching it now."

Libby Horton Writing the Personal Sex Essay student, Boulder, CO

"I loved the structure of the class, bouncing from discussion of this taboo subject— *sex*— into suddenly having a timed writing exercise with a prompt that jump-started ideas. Writing fast and furiously, not having to share, was freeing. When we did share, that was wonderful and wild."

Patti Gassaway, Writing the Personal Sex Essay student, Boulder, CO