An Intimate Conversation with Evelin Dacker
by Briana Bliss
As a long time polyamorous and sex-positive person, I was super excited to meet Dr. Evelin Dacker. I had heard a lot of amazing things about her and was excited to get to know her on a more personal level. I was even more excited to introduce her to our community in a way that most people might not know about her. I knew we would be talking about her role in Sex Positive Portland and her medical practice, which I was equally excited to learn more about, but I’m especially happy to learn the story of her personal journey into a life that is more self-aware and intentional.
Briana Bliss: How about you tell us a little bit about yourself, maybe stuff that people don’t know.
Evelin Dacker: I don’t know… I’m pretty much an open book. I’m a family practice doctor; with my own practice in Salem, Oregon, called Vida Integrative Medicine and Behavioral Health. I opened it about 13 and a half years ago. I did medical school in Cleveland, residency outside of the East Bay, and then I moved here 23 years ago. Salem has been a great place to live the life that I lived for most of those 23 years. I was married for 22 years and I have two beautiful children, a 21-year-old boy, and a 19-year-old girl. You know, I’ve lived a pretty traditional life… sure I was a liberal and a bit of a hippy. I had a home birth, breastfed my babies for way too long, and used cloth diapers. I did the hippy mama thing, but I was pretty much a monogamous, working mother with two children. I had a supportive husband who helped raise my children and help me start the current business I’m in, and it was all fine and dandy until– You know when they talk about that midlife crisis? I don’t really see it as a crisis, I see it as an awakening.
So I had this midlife awakening that brought me into my authentic self. You know it wasn’t a crisis in the sense like, oh my god who am I? It was more like… Oh, this is who I am and what am I doing right now? Am I doing my life’s calling? I had pretty much come to a place where I didn’t feel like I was doing my life’s calling and I wasn’t being true to who I wanted to be. I wasn’t happy in my current relationship for many reasons, and that led to where I am now. I couldn’t have foreseen that five years ago, but I knew that I wasn’t happy where I was.
Before I got married to my spouse, I would say that I was queer and polyamorous in the sense that I had an open heart and loved many, but didn’t have labels on that and didn’t understand it. Before I was married, my primary relationship was with myself, my career, and my dreams… It wasn’t with another person. So I had loves, lovers, and people who entered my life but never had an attachment to that being anything other than that container. Then I met my spouse on a beach in Thailand, when I was 27 and fell madly, madly in love and created this life which worked for a good number of years… until it didn’t. I think that during this awakening I came back into myself where I recognize that I’m queer and I’m poly-hearted and I needed to live that life and felt like the parameters of what my married life could offer were smaller.
BB: What makes you say polyamorous hearted instead of polyamorous?
ED: Well it is, I just want to define that it is more about my heart than my loins…
BB: That’s a fantastic statement!
ED: I mean sure I enjoy sex. I enjoy connected sex. I appreciate love filled sex. So, it’s very confusing for some people when they say you know… ethical non-monogamy is a big umbrella for many different things. What I define my little space in that world, is really about love…
I went to this talk given by Amory Jane at SheBop, I think it was Opening Up 101. I went with my spouse at the time, and we were just kind of exploring non-monogamy. She talked about polyamory, and one of the things she talked about was about platonic polyamory. How you can have these platonic relationships that are really deep and connected and committed, but you aren’t having sex with them. I thought “that’s me,” that’s been me my whole life. I’ve always had people who were jealous of me for doing that. My mother was very jealous when I connected with other friends. My husband was jealous of my relationships with other people because my connection with people could go really deep. So, for those people who wanted that depth from me, it felt like a betrayal to them and ultimately that’s what happened in my marriage. A lot happened in my marriage, but one of the things was it stopped being a place where I could grow and be myself. I had to make this choice between choosing myself or choosing my marriage. I decided to choose myself without knowing what was ahead of me and what I can and can’t do.
BB: That’s great! A lot of people don’t do that these days it’s all focused on outward and not inward.
ED: It’s very hard. I’m not gonna lie. I’m not going to say it was easy and I can’t say that it wasn’t without a significant cost.
BB: Would you do it again?
ED: Absolutely, but there was a cost associated with it. I lost community, I lost friendships, but it also came with a lot of gains. I gained a lot of community, and passion. In the journey, I think one thing that I want to say is, I really came to discover my mission and value statement. My mission really is to make this world a better place. Some of my top values are self-growth, awareness, and community. So whenever things get difficult, I fall back on that mission and value statement for myself.
BB: That sounds like something that should be on a plaque.
ED: I actually think that everyone should have their mission and values statement if they can have one. It’s not wrong or right; it just a matter of what feels true to you. I was telling Moxie earlier about how having those things really helps me get through a lot of times when I’m having issues, because believe me there were times when– oh my god, life was so much easier when I was a mother, and wife and I only fought with two people, and conflicts were smaller…
BB: Oh yeah, I have had that thought and conversation many times. *laughs*
BB: You are considered a Sex-Positive Integrative, Family Practice physician. That’s a title not used very often. What do you feel is important by adding sex-positive in your title?
ED: You know it’s about seeing the whole person, and it’s actually a radical statement in the sense that I want to see a whole human being, not just for their illness, but also for their pleasure. I want to elevate the fact that being healthy and well, includes integrating joy and love into one’s life. I don’t want to create an experience like, when you go to the doctor they’ll tell you your weight is too high and you have to stop eating as much. They tell you to exercise and to do this and that, and we never talk about what feels right to us. It’s a real gap that’s missing in our perspective of holistic health and integrative humanity.
I did a whole certification in functional medicine, which is kind of looking at the roots of illness, and I jokingly say, it’s like naturopathy for medical doctors and when I went we learned all about this stuff, physical health, mental health, biochemistry, and nutrition, but we never talked about sexuality. They never mentioned sexuality, and yet when I think about sexuality, I think about sexuality as what is is to us, not about what is what we do with other people. But the more integrated we are with our own sexuality, the better we are at connection and love, and that is really the key to being healthy in my world.
BB: I had a doctor who used a whole wellness approach, and it changed my life. Seeing that in another doctor gives hope. I’m enthusiastic to hear that there are others. With medicine now, you go in, you say your complaint, you see the doctor for a second, and you’re done.
ED: I can’t say that I am beyond that because that is also part of what I do. I do primary care, so there are still these limitations on me, but even with that, I try to think with that perspective of, it’s not just what you’re coming in to see me with. Sex positive also means that I will see you for who you present yourself as. I want to hear who you think you are no matter what you do sexually with another person. As long as it’s consensual, it’s okay, I’m not going to judge it. It also means that I value consent over your body which means I’m not going to touch you until you say it’s okay, even if I’m a doctor, you’re coming in to have me examine you, I still want to hear your yeses. It’s about making that part of the dialogue. I teach courses on how to be a sex-positive healthcare provider to bring this sort of awareness to other medical providers because I think we need it. Some doctors are terrified hearing about what people do to bring people pleasure, and we’re really in our own minds about judging how and what they do. I was teaching this to a group of doctors, and one said: “You know what? I don’t even want to hear about it, it makes me so uncomfortable.” And I’m like exactly… you’re a doctor. It’s important. You need to know who your patients are.
BB: You did a Ted Talk on sexual communication. In it, you said that you want to hear yes, yes, yes and that you need more than one word for consent… How do you express consent?
ED: Just like all of us humans, it’s multi-faceted. It’s more than having to get a yes about everything along the way, and that’s difficult. It doesn’t always flow in a way, and it feels awkward with people from the get-go, so I created this sexual communication model that I call STARS. It stands for STI status, Turn-ons, Avoids, Relationship intentions, and Safer sex etiquette. Those are the five elements that I feel if we could discuss early on in a relationship, creates a framework for everything else to build on. It allows us to take responsibility for our sexual health, our physical health, our mental health, and also have a place to discuss our traumas and our desires. For me, my consent talk really revolves around that and having this open communication and discussion. I have partners who want to hear yes to everything that they do along the way. I will be like, okay, that’s what you need I will provide you that. I have other partners that I’m like, okay, this is how we’re going to do this and what we’re going to do. I’m okay with going into this, and I feel like I have enough agency that if I don’t want to continue what we’re doing, I could say “no” or “stop” or “this is ending.” But these are all things that have only come into play with practice.
I remember the first time somebody told me, when she finds herself in the middle of having bad sex, she has no problem just saying, “You know what? This isn’t working for me let’s stop.” I was like blown away I was like really… you do that? That was really powerful to hear that a woman can do that. I’ve learned so much from other people and how other people do things. I have yet to have to do that, but I would. *laugh*
Since I’ve started using the Stars talk model myself, I’ve not had bad sex, and I have not had an unhealthy relationship because everything is getting sorted out in the beginning. I honestly know from before I ever even kiss a person whether or not it is going to go in a positive direction. So I am a big advocate of STARS.
BB: I believe that I will be too!
ED: Once you get down to what those five elements are, you don’t have to do them in any specific order, or in any particular way. It’s really a reminder that if you talk about your STI status with somebody that you’re taking care of your health. It tells them that you are being responsible sexually and that you expect them to come to meet you at that same place. Not talking about it continues the shame we have around what we’re doing. So it’s like, “Hey, when was your last STI status?” and “This is what I was tested for.” I don’t feel any shame about that.
Turn-ons are really important to set the groundwork, and that could shift depending on who you’re with. Your “avoids” are really about your boundaries, and it’s a perfect place to talk about trauma. I do think that a lot of women have had some trauma around sexual behavior with alcohol in those situations. I think it’s essential and okay to share that with another person and for them to be able to hear it when you’re not in sex brain. It’s also really vulnerable, and when you actually are communicating in that vulnerable place, it’s really sexy.
BB: Vulnerability and communication are very sexy. I concur!
ED: Relationship intentions are a place where you say who you are and what you want with the other person, and what it means to you. Also, if you have needs around it like, hey I want to be texted every time, or I don’t need it. Safer sex etiquette is not just about barriers and safe-sex. It’s just about what you need to feel safe… safety is sexy.
BB: What was the actual Catalyst for your career? What made you want to become a doctor?
ED: I always wanted to be a physician, that one’s easy.
BB: And the rest?
ED: It’s really all of the other things that I have done. I created this STARS conversation that came out of… me wanting to mainstream the concept of people communicating better and really trying to find a way of ending rape culture on college campuses and for young adults.
My STARS talk is not for the polyamorous community or the kink community. It’s really for mainstream. I want to mainstream the concept of us having this conversation. And so from that, grew me becoming a consent educator and then from that grew me becoming the CEO of Sex Positive Portland.
BB: How about you tell us a little bit about Sex Positive Portland?
ED: Yay! Sex Positive Portland is an amaaaaaazing community of about 700 plus members, it’s a big community, and our foundation is all about education around communication, consent, boundaries, how to say yes, how to say no, how to listen, and how to not just come up to somebody and hug them without asking. The most important concept that I learned from my beginning at Sex Positive Portland was sovereignty. The fact that if somebody says no to you it’s not necessarily because of you, it’s because of what they need. We have this great saying that if somebody says no, you just turn around and say thank you for taking care of yourself, and that is a really profound change in how we relate to each other.
BB: That is quite beautiful.
ED: So, Sex Positive Portland, that’s the foundation we’re built on. How to say yes, how to say no, how to communicate, and how to have sovereignty. It’s an excellent testing ground for people who are in all sorts of relationships. You could be monogamous and be in SPP. I wouldn’t say that we’re exclusively into non-ethical non-monogamy. We won’t judge people who are cheating. We will just help them on their path to being honest, and authentic.
At Sex Positive Portland, there are kinky people, tantra people, monogamous people, asexual people, genderqueer, trans, cis… I mean we have it all, and you know as you step up in levels, the events become more touch based. Level one is all education. Level two is more like cuddles and massages… touch based. Level three is where you really start learning how to move sexual energy without needing an orgasm. So it’s actually learning how you have your sexual energy, that it is yours, and how you can share it.
BB: There is no end goal.
ED: Yes, and it’s lovely. Level 4 is really more about community than anything else.
BB: How does one attend an event? Where they listed? How do we find you?
ED: There are two ways of finding us. The most direct way is through meetup.com. You go to Sex Positive Portland, and there’s an application. I would say that you should definitely read our homepage and what we are about, and then apply to us. We probably have between 3 and 5 people applying each day. You have a two-month free trial where you can come and do the classes, the classes have a fee associated with them, and then if you decide you want to join there is a $22 membership fee for a year. You move up the steps by taking classes, and by getting sponsors to watch you at events to make sure that you are acting appropriately and that you belong to the community.
BB: When you started, was there any connection with LoveTribe at some point?
ED: Sex Positive Portland was started by Gabriella Cordova in 2009, and I think some of the people were from LoveTribe and from different areas. I don’t know. I became a member of SPP in 2015 and then took over as CEO last year in 2018. Gabriella stepped away at that point from being the lead organizer CEO of SPP. I co-run it with two other people, Karen Hery and Jim Walker. They are the COOs. Jim and Karen will be leaving in September, so we will see who steps into their roles. Change is always happening. SPP has shifted a little bit, and it has changed, but it still will always be the flavor of who is in charge.
BB: If someone is uncomfortable having a conversation about their sexuality, their STARS, what would your first suggestion to start a discussion of that nature especially with someone new? Do you have any tips and tricks that you use when you meet someone?
ED: You know… it’s how you present it. I sometimes go on these Tinder dates or whatever dates and I kinda just start by playing games. One of my favorites I like playing is, “Guess what I do for a living?”
BB: That’s not fair! *laughs*
ED: But it’s a fun ice breaker! If you see me, you wouldn’t necessarily think that I am a family physician. I have blue hair and piercings. I don’t look like your stereotypical family physician. During our date, I say, hey I created this thing I call a STARS talk. Would you like to do it with me? Usually, people are intrigued, and I’m like okay great. I just start cold. I start with the S, my last STI test was blah blah blah, and then after I am done with that then I’m like how about yours?
BB: Do you take people for their word or do you actually swap results?
ED: I take everybody for their word, because if I can’t take them for their word then what’s the point? If someone is being manipulative or dishonest, that will show up somewhere. Then they are not someone that I would want in my life. I always believe that everybody does the best that they can at any given point in their life, with what they have available to them at that time. If someone is being deceitful, that’s probably because they are still trying to do the best that they can, but what they have available to them is not sufficient to support. Then it is up to me to decide whether I want that person in my life or not. I honestly don’t find there is any reason to lie to me so I wouldn’t lie to them. If someone seems a little uncomfortable with the STI part of it, like, oh I’ve never been tested, I will talk to them about why it is important to me, without judgment.
Going from something logistical to get it out of the way and then I go into turn-ons. When I start telling people what turns me on and what I like, they usually have no problem with that. It’s kind of sexy. I think that people get into that. I always start first, and I always tell them my turn-ons, and usually if someone is like Oh… I can intrigue them enough to open up. So yeah, I haven’t ever had anybody have trouble with talking about turn-ons. You just have to do it. The more you do it, the easier it is, and then it’s actually kinda fun.
BB: It seems like such a great start especially if you think that it may lead down a romantic or sexual road…
ED: And even if it doesn’t and its someone that I will never see again, I am teaching them how to do a STARS talk, so that maybe they will do it some other time with someone else. So sometimes I go on dates with people just to teach ‘em what I’m doing. Give them a card. It’s funny I had someone that I was doing it with, and he was like, oh yeah, I was doing this with this other person. I was like YES! It’s out there!
BB: Where and how do you meet people? You said you did Tinder sometimes…
ED: Oh, like I did it for 24 hours once. *laughter* Most people that I meet are through my community and through friends. Sure I’m on OkCupid, and sure I’ve done the bumble thing, but it’s tough… I’m best met in person. I think that my profile and what I do, can be intimidating to people. I mean I have significant energy and I am pretty passionate. Other people I just date through knowing them and being friends with them. Now, I consider myself a relationship anarchist.
BB: Explain what that looks like for you.
ED: Tough question… It’s not easy to describe. It’s much easier when everything fits into a category. When you’re a relationship anarchist, it is like nothing really fits. It’s the absence of story around a relationship and just being present within that relationship for what it is. Remember, I’m coming from a place where there was so much story, and that provided safety. So it’s hard for me sometimes not to want to put a story onto a relationship and name it something. It had to be something and then have attachments to it, to have expectations from it, and to always be, you know, in place of, it just is. Right now in my life the more that I can let go of story in all my relationships, the happier and healthier those relationships are. That’s not to say that this is where I want to be my entire life. Someday if the right energy comes, I’d love to have a nesting partner and someone where there is an attachment to certain ideals and commitments, and co-decision making… and all of that. However, that time is not right now. Right now, the time is more for me to create that primary relationship with myself.
BB: I am inspired by that because that’s where I feel like I am at in my journey right now.
ED: It’s not easy. And also allowing transitions in relationships to be just that. I don’t believe in endings like even with my ex-husband, and it was a difficult marriage… I’m not going to lie. I left that marriage with a lot of trauma, hurt, and pain, and all the things people leave their marriages with. I can understand why people when they get divorced, they end and sever all of that thing. For me, I decided that’s not the path that I’d want to take, because I loved this person for a considerable period of my life. When I made a commitment to love him until death, that was a real commitment that I made. Why would I change that? And I will love him until the day that I die. And I will honor the relationship that we have. We have a co-parenting relationship which is extremely important to both of us. We are still family even if we aren’t married and even if we aren’t going to be together in that way. That is part of my relationship anarchy. When I first heard about relationship anarchy, I was like, “oh my god that’s exactly me.” It made sense to me. It totally flipped out my husband, he was like you can’t be married and be a relationship anarchist. I disagree with that. I think that you can. You just look at things differently. You look at story around it, you allow people to grow. And as a person grows and they have to evolve away from you, that’s okay. My relationship status… I have a primary relationship with myself and I have beloveds in all different colors and flavors. It’s all very conscious and mutual. And who those people are shifts and transforms because sometimes those people are some of my platonic relationships which can be incredibly intimate and deeply beloved.
I was so comfortable with Evelin, we chatted for some time, but that is all that we have room for here. I left the interview with many warm thoughts and I’m totally feeling all fan-girl about Dr. Evelin Dacker now. Like, I feel like I want her in my tribe… in my circles. I will definitely be looking into Sex Positive Portland and exploring some of their classes and structures. Maybe to start with, I will attend Polytopia… you should check it out yourself!
As of the date of this publication, there are still tickets left for the 2019 Polytopia event coming up March 29-31 If you would like to secure your spot in the weekend festivities please visit their eventbrite page.