Online | Nonfiction | Workshop

8-Week Online Nonfiction Workshop: Writing the Personal Sex Essay

All too often, our sexual experience—or just talking honestly about sex and sexuality at all—are dismissed as TMI. In this smart, introspective, and bawdy eight-week workshop, writers will explore what their personal stories have to offer the world, and how best to share them. We'll open by exploring 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, and although you may receive feedback on your individual sex scenes during workshop, this course places its focus instead on making meaning from our sex lives. Over the course of eight weeks, 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. Through two workshops, one individual 15-minute meeting with the instructor, and weekly readings and exercises, writers will move beyond simply telling the narrative of what happened on any given night, building strong connective tissue between their individual stories and the larger questions about sex with which our culture grapples.

Writers should log on 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.

This class will meet over our text-only chat platform. There will not be any video or audio component to class.


- 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

- Two essays or excerpts workshopped and ready for revision

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


Students should expect to read up to three essays outside class each week and complete weekly optional writing exercises. Students will also be invited to turn in work for class feedback twice, with their submissions totaling up to 15 double-spaced pages, spread over the two workshopping dates however they wish. 


Week 1: Introduction to the class, Exploring the Sex Culture We Live In, Goal Setting, Workshop Scheduling.

Week 2: Mining Our Sexual Lives For Narrative

Week 3: The Promise of Narrative Distance, Workshop #1

Week 4: Recognizing the Powerful Places Our Stories Meet the Larger Context, Workshop #2

Week 5: Writing Our Complicated and Contradictory Selves, Workshop #3

Week 6: Building Sexual Authority On the Page Part I, Workshop #4

Week 7: Building Sexual Authority On the Page Part II, Workshop #5

Week 8: Writing About Real People and Facing Your Mother, Group reflection and Goal Setting, Workshop #6 

Katherine Standefer

Katherine Standefer's debut book LIGHTNING FLOWERS was a finalist for the Kirkus Prize in Nonfiction and the Arizona/New Mexico Book Award in Memoir, selected as a New York Times Editor's Choice/Staff Pick, and shortlisted for the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Prize from Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. The book was named one of Oprah Magazine's "Best Books of Fall 2020," selected as the Common Read 2022-2023 at Colorado College, and featured in People Magazine, on the goop podcast, and on NPR's Fresh Air. Standefer's previous writing appeared in The Best American Essays 2016 and won the Iowa Review Award in Nonfiction. She earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction at the University of Arizona and spent time as a Logan Nonfiction Fellow at the Carey Institute for Global Good. She lives in Wyoming.


"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

"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

"‘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

"This was my first writing course and Kati created a fine introduction to the craft, helping me start on a new and fantastic journey. Kati distilled so much about the craft to create focus and liveliness, without the ideas being overwhelming or out of reach. She inspired an atmosphere of discovery and ease so each student felt her own voice and understood more of her own story in a way that could only occur by group effect. No one wanted the course to end! The impact was deep—changing how I read, think, and write. Kati helped free something in me, dissolving a fear and a holding back, leaving me with excitement to keep journeying in the country of writing."

Julia Jurgens illness writing student at The University of Arizona Poetry Center, Tucson, AZ

"It’s difficult for me to refer to Kati as a ‘teacher’ as she does not simply treat each of her students as someone to teach, but rather someone to inspire. She takes specific care in making sure that she gets to know each student, their interests, their strengths, and their weaknesses, so that she can customize her feedback and optimize their experience in her course. I never felt like I was overlooked, but rather that each assignment I completed and each comment that I made was important. She took a personal interest in each of our work, our processes, our goals, and us. The only improvement I could ask for in her course is to simply have more of it."

Jennifer Sedler former creative nonfiction and narrative medicine student at University of Arizona

"This was my first writing class ever. I was nervous - unsure if I could hold my own. Kati blew away my fears with the kindest breath, welcoming my story and beckoning forth new details, descriptions and angles. It was a revelation; I thought I could only tell my story one way. Kati taught me differently - through prompts, exercises and masterful facilitation. I gained not only new skills, new friends and a new community, but a whole new way of seeing my narrative."

Daisye Orr illness writing and trauma writing student at Seattle’s Hugo House

"Ms. Standefer found hidden writerly places in my soul and encouraged me to dig deeper. I am eternally grateful for the impact her skill has on my writing."

Onita Morgan-Edwards graduate student at Ashland Low-Residency MFA