Summary: The story behind my life’s calling to help women and my “Shame-Free Sex Ed” course…it all started in a shady college dorm room with a flashlight and a plastic speculum… (part of my college Brown University’s “FemSex” Female Sexuality Workshop, which CHANGED MY LIFE)!!
I always view my life as Pre and Post-FemSex.
I grew up trying to fit into a box, be the perfect model minority Asian daughter who got straight A+s, never stayed out late, and never complained.
I was always striving to prove my worth and not be a burden, because I felt the love from my family was conditional, depending on my performance.
After changing caregivers twice (at age 3 months when my mother moved from China to the US, and then 2.5 years when I was put on a plane with a stranger since my grandparents couldn’t immigrate with me), and moving every year to a new school until age 10, I had a severe abandonment wound and fear of losing those I loved because I wasn’t good enough or loveable enough.
I lost countless friends, was bullied, outcasted and rejected because I wasn’t a “normal girl” – I was overweight, big-boned, broad shouldered/”manly,” had acne, glasses, and braces, shy, awkward, introverted, and geeky (I loved video games and anime/manga).
I preferred to hide away in a corner and draw art by myself. At least my imaginary friends wouldn’t leave me.
(I see now that the harsh words and strict rules came from good intentions, and they were just human struggling with their own demons too, but I’m still recovering from the damage because as children, we don’t know better and assume it’s our faults when a parent is upset or angry.)
Both my parents worked 100+ hour weeks while I was shuffled between babysitters and after-school programs. Like many Asian families, they gave me everything physically I could ask for, but I desperately craved emotional closeness, connection, expression and safety.
I did not feel safe to be vulnerable, after being berated for any slip-ups or imperfections (such as a 78 on a math quiz or coming home after sunset, when the door was slammed in my face and my dad had to wrestle the door away from my mom. I still remember her cutting words so deeply – “If you like it so much out there with your friends, just stay out!!”)
It led to me settling for any attention, even a neglectful first romantic relationship. I was just so happy to be liked by SOMEBODY!! I had never thought anyone would like me in that way, since I’d always felt like the “ugly one” in my friend group, invisible and passed over by romantic prospects.
My sexuality was severely repressed as well. Health class had done a pretty good job of scaring me into abstinence due to STD and pregnancy risks, and drilling into our heads that sex was just for reproduction. (It wasn’t a religious school or anything, but most schools take this extreme abstinence stance).
I also felt mortified at the thought of potential unplanned pregnancy, and felt my family would disown me if I ever became pregnant before marriage. (They had said as much, as I couldn’t figure out if they meant it or not, but didn’t dare to push it), and my friends would shun me based on their comments about the media or others who were more open about sexuality. It seemed like the most irresponsible, frivolous thing I could possibly do, throwing away everything I was working towards for my “good career/future.”
Though I considered myself decently educated, I knew embarrassingly little about sex. I didn’t even know what an erection was or how mechanics worked until my 20s! I also could not tell fact from fiction, and the Internet didn’t help.
I always felt so embarrassed or awkward when an adult scene popped up unexpectedly. I read stories without understanding them fully; I was curious but also deeply ashamed to be curious about this, and felt so conflicted. I wasn’t raised religious, but it felt “dirty,” “wrong,” “sinful,” “inappropriate.”
So when I had my first pregnancy risk scare (I thought back then that you could become pregnant from sharing a bath with someone…) at 17 in China, (when I lost my menstrual periods due to anorexia), I felt SO utterly ALONE.
I woke up drenched in sweat from a nightmare that stays with me to this day – of hearing a heartbeat getting louder and louder and realizing it was coming from inside my belly.
I couldn’t think of any safe person to talk to or share this with, other than my ex-boyfriend at the time, but we were on shaky ground, unsure if we would try upcoming long distance colleges.
People would assume we had sex, which we DIDN’T!! I couldn’t imagine telling any family or friend without them judging me for being “loose,” “irresponsible,” “a slut,” or a “bad daughter,” when I had worked so hard my entire life to be “good.”
I felt trapped and didn’t know what to do. I panicked when I tried to think about how to even logistically buy a pregnancy test without anyone finding out, much less what to do afterwards.
When I finally got ahold of my ex via phone (we were in different countries for the summer before college), he could not even spare more than a few minutes to listen to my panic. He tried to get off the phone as soon as possible. I was afraid he would choose to leave/vanish, since he COULD.
It was then that I first became acutely aware of the differences between men and women. Men can walk away from an accidental pregnancy (they shouldn’t, but the reality is that many do, or the father is unknown).
Women, however… are stuck, with several months of physical and emotional pain and hardship. They have terribly impossible choices before them — change their future to accommodate a child, go through the pregnancy and delivery and give the child up for adoption, or abortion/termination. The burden is placed disproportionately on women to manage this “pregnancy risk”.
I never want anyone to feel as alone or helpless as I did.
I didn’t realize it then, but my passion for reproductive health and women’s rights was born. This is why I’m so big on proper education and access to PREVENT as many unplanned pregnancies as possible, so that women will not have to go through the trauma of these impossible choices, and the children will not have to suffer from the lack of a stable, loving home.
FemSex came into my life when I was 21. It was a semester-long program offered at Brown University (initially created at Berkeley college) that met twice weekly with the same group of about 20 (mostly) women, but we had wonderful diversity. I remember being so intrigued by the syllabus and applied multiple times for it, feeling so grateful that I got in in my last semester.
It was SO MUCH MORE than anything I could have hoped for.
Not only did I learn so much amazingly helpful material (about my body, contraception, sexuality, communication, etc), I felt so LOVED, nourished, held and supported by the community, in a way I hadn’t ever experienced before. I didn’t know people could be so KIND and ACCEPTING and WARM.
For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel that there was something wrong with me, for liking the things I did, wanting the things I wanted, or being who I was. I still felt broken and scarred, but not unsalvageable anymore.
I finally felt safe to be fully myself, let my guard down, and I shared things in that group that I had NEVER told ANYONE before, even my ex.
At that time, I had never even used a tampon, so I was scared and sad that I couldn’t participate in the “look at your own cervix for empowerment” activity using a mirror and a speculum (a tool that goes into the vagina and then opens so you can see the cervix, the opening to the uterus! Doctors use it for “pap smears” – I explain it with a cartoon illustration HERE)!
I didn’t expect FemSex to offer me the chance to look at ANOTHER person’s cervix!! An extremely kind and sweet volunteer, a FemSex facilitator, and I all met in a tiny, poorly-lit college dorm room, and I was given the speculum, some lubricant, and a flashlight.
I remember sharking, sweating bullets, staring at the objects before me. They really trusted me to do this??? I didn’t have any training!! What if I hurt her??! @_@
Afterwards, the volunteer said it was the gentlest pelvic exam she had ever had, and that I would one day make a fantastic gynecologist (I was already in the combined college + medical school program at Brown).
I remember feeling SO honored, so fulfilled, that I could make a procedure that was supposed to hurt, be less painful or scary for someone else.
And I have felt that way with every subsequent pelvic exam I have done for my patients. Countless women, girls, in the tens of thousands, I have had the honor and privilege of being able to guide them through becoming comfortable with and taking ownership of their health, their bodies, their emotions, and their futures.
I have seen other doctors do harsh, traumatic pelvic exams, and so I take extra care for my patients, especially if it is their first time.
I have delivered 400+ babies (both naturally and by c-section), managed IUDs and other birth control, tied tubes, done pap smear cancer screenings, breast exams, removed tumors from ovaries…
It was an enormous privilege that my career path took me down the path of OB/GYN training first for 2 years after medical school, and I got to experience being the go-to provider of all services for women in need.
I still remember the day I chose to be a gynecologist – the day a friend came to me after finding out she was 5 months pregnant. She was one of the most responsible people I had ever known, used birth control diligently, which gave her irregular periods, had sex only once, yet this still happened.
I saw how unfair it all was, that this could happen to anyone, yet it still carried so much shame and stigma. I was one of the first people she turned to, and it was an incredible honor to calm her and speak with her about her options.
She would’ve had to travel out of state if she wanted an abortion, which again brought up my despair and anger that healthcare was not more accessible and that women still lose their autonomy, suffer from forced pregnancies and deliveries, lose their lives due to delay of care, or if they try to do a DIY abortion (i.e. with coat hangers...)).
Unfortunately, the weight of being an OB/GYN and responsible for such young, fragile lives took too much of a toll on me. I’ll never forget the day I saw a baby die during birth – he was being delivered feet-first, and his head got stuck/trapped by the cervix, and he suffocated because the umbilical cord was stuck, cutting off blood/oxygen supply. The mom did not have any anesthesia (pain medicine), so her cries of pain when the doctors cut her cervix frantically to try to free him still haunt me to this day
I know this rarely happens, but it could one day, if I continued down that path. We forget that doctors are simply human too, and fail to save everyone. I know these tragedies are not anyone’s faults, but I don’t know if I would be able to live with myself if something like this happened in my hands.
So I made the difficult decision to change to Family Medicine primary care, give up surgeries and deliveries, to focus on preventative care and education. When I found out about coaching, I dove right in as well.
Because what lights me up the most were the conversations, seeing women relax into the safety of the space I created so they could fully be themselves for one precious moment in their lives, when they are otherwise too busy putting on masks and caring for others, forgetting to care about themselves too.
Being ONE person in their life they can turn to for fully open-hearted nurturance and support (as well as accurate health information).
Passing on the lessons that FemSex taught me brings me indescribable joy. I saw myself in so many of the women I’ve helped, been in their shoes, felt their pain, worries, and heartbreaks. I made many more mistakes, survived abusive relationships, eating disorders, fell into depression, anxiety, self-loathing and hatred.
FemSex wasn’t a cure-all, but an amazing start to my healing, forcing me to look deeply at myself instead of running away or distracting myself as I always had. After growing up in a culture where mental health, sexuality, and other vital parts of our humanness were treated as invisible, in the FemSex community, I felt like I could finally breathe. I didn’t know how much I had been drowning until I got a taste of air.
I’m in a much better place now. I now honor and embrace ALL parts of me, including my sexuality. Though I’m far from perfect, but I have let go of the unrealistic expectation of being perfect. I am human. I am flawed. My flaws can be my strengths. It feels like all my pain and struggles are worth something if I can use my experiences to help someone else.
I believe we humans were even meant to go through experiences of suffering, so that we can make life better for someone else. No one lives without hardships, but how we respond to them matters. Will we become a victim to our traumas, or will we rise up to create something beautiful from them?
That is my story, and what drives me to do what I do. FemSex was an inspiration for all the work I do today in helping others fully embrace and express themselves, and I want as many people as possible to also feel liberated and SAFE to be exactly who they are.
There is no such thing as “too weird.” We are all deserving of love, respect, kindness, understanding, and acceptance.
We all deserve to be seen, heard, and held without judgment or fear.
We DESERVE to be honored, not settle for abusive treatment or injustice (by ourselves or others)!!
My tribute to, and version of FemSex, is my “Shame-Free Love+Sex Ed” annual online group program. It combines all my 15+ years of medical experience, coaches training, books, podcasts, therapy, relationship coaching, all into an intensive 8-week course. APPLY HERE.
I hope it will be as transformational for you as it was for me. FemSex is something I wish EVERY school had; it should be mandatory education for people finding themselves and learning to navigate relationships. I think of all the abuse, hurt, confusion and heartbreak that could have been prevented if we had only had some quality formal education.
The program will be 8 sessions (60-90 min each) over 8 weeks. To ensure safety and confidentiality, group size is limited to 10, and an anonymous participation option is available. CLICK HERE TO APPLY.
Donations are gratefully accepted to fund scholarships for those in financial hardship, for this or next cycle. (Thank you so much to everyone who donated from the free mini-course!!)
Sexuality is just one part of who we are, but a big source of shame, guilt, dissonance, and hiding from who we are, especially for women, and freeing this side can open up all other areas for us, allow ourselves to finally create the healthy, nourishing relationships and connections we have been craving, and that we so deserve.
I also am so excited to share what I feel is mandatory Love, Sex + Relationship Education, clarify myths and build comfort + confidence so that no one else will be as confused as I was!!
You will learn Self-Love and how to nourish, navigate, communicate, and create more harmony and fulfillment in all your relationships.
It will have a ripple effect on all areas of your life when you move away from disconnection, tension, and resentment towards authentic connection and nourishment.
And you will bond with a community of soul sisters who have shared your struggles and help you feel finally free to be your full self!!
Though this course is focused towards cis-gender women from shame-inducing backgrounds (such as Asian, religious, etc), all sexes, identities, orientations and backgrounds are welcome to participate. It would even be highly appreciated to hear your perspectives and better bridge our understandings.
No one will be turned away due to lack of finances if they are seriously committed to joining. Anonymous participation available (after meeting with me to see if you’re a good fit).
I share a preview/some tips on embracing your sensuality on the “Happy Asian Woman” podcast.
Feel free to message or book a chat with me if you have any questions or concerns.
If you cannot join us this cycle, please join my email list to stay updated on next year’s cycle, as well as occasional free webinars, events, guest podcasts, monthly personal growth challenges, and gift giveaways.
I also create patient handouts using my art/cartooning skills to further advance women’s health education, empowerment and equality. You can access or submit a question to “Project Dr. Tooni” HERE.
I work with 1-2 private 1:1 clients at a time, as well, if you are seeking intensive support. Book an intro call and I can point you in the right direction, whether it’s with me or someone else.
Thank you for reading to the end. I felt very vulnerable sharing all this, but I know someone out there needed to hear this. If I can bounce back from all my traumas, SO CAN YOU.
Please take the first step for yourself, whatever feels right for you. You can reach out to me, sign up for the group course, join my loving Facebook community, or my email list to stay up to date with me.
I would love to meet you in person anytime too; I am often on the move as a digital nomad, and if I am staying in a place that allows it, you are welcome to my homes if you are in need of shelter or a safe haven.
You got this, dear one. You are a beautiful, wonderful soul, deserving of unconditional love. It would be an honor to guide you and walk alongside you on your journey <3