Introducing Emma Kenny, therapist, TV presenter and creator of Appy, the first fully free wellness app, focusing on physical, mental and relationship health
What is Emma Kenny and how did you get into doing what you do?
Under my own name, Emma Kenny, I’ve built a personal brand working as a therapist for more than 20 years in my private practice in Manchester and via skype, and as a TV presenter and commentator with an emphasis on sex and relationships (recently writing What To Do if You’ve Been Sexually Assaulted for the blog). I also regularly post videos on related topical issues, such as the recent Michael Jackson documentary and write an advice column for Closer magazine. I’ve also just launched Appy, the first fully free wellness app, covering everything from sexual happiness and relationship communication to healthy meal-planning, aimed at single parents or anyone who just wants to have a good quality of life and can’t afford something like Headspace.
I was inspired to create Appy from something that happened to me a long time ago – when I had a two-year-old and a four-year-old my husband had an affair with a close friend of mine and I was only working three days a week as I had devoted my time to my family. Right as I was focusing on bringing my boys up, my life fell apart. I used to run six miles a night but suddenly I didn’t have the time or means to do that, and I couldn’t afford good quality food for us. Years later when I reflected on what would have made my life better – information on how I could look after myself and my family and our health and well-being for free– I decided that if I ever had a chance to make a difference that’s what I would do. And that’s always been a driver for me – doing something ethical for people who don’t have the financial options.
What is your vision for the future of your app?
I have one vision which is to create a healthy social network where nobody has to spend any money to have high quality health and well-being and a cushioned support network. Appy aims to be a place where the brands pay so the users don’t have to, and where users create their own content to share with other people. In time, I’d like to make the app global so that no one feels on their own, and in the long term I want to do Appy kids that’s also free. You can do a lot to create a great brand without exploiting people and more than anything, I want to solve the problem of people feeling that they have no one to turn to with this app. If we can do something ethical that in the long term also makes money, then that’s great.
What’s the biggest surprise you’ve had since starting to work in sextech?
That I’ve carried on with my endeavours?! Coming from the therapy world, it’s brutal, the corporate world, the investment world. You’ll be spat out and belittled, you’ll be told all these things, you’ll get caught up in this trajectory of thinking that there’s only one to fund your business, ie. via an angel investor. But there’s always another way. In the corporate world without any business experience you make lots of mistakes. But the best is when you think “I’m going to do it exactly my way”. The best thing for me has been breaking the mould and ignoring the standard ways business works. It’s really been hard but every second of the day it’s confirmed why I’ve done it. It’s so easy to give up but I’ve never stopped and thought I don’t want to do it anymore. As long you really believe that’s what you’re here for it’s how you’ll make it in the end.
When it comes to sex, what’s the one thing you wish everyone knew?
That you should buy as many pleasure products as you can?! Actually, the most important thing everyone should know is that, when it comes to sex, we get into habits of performing for others which start when we are often very young. We don’t think to tell others that we are not enjoying ourselves so we put our own needs second. It’s endemic in women to let men think they’ve satisfied us. We often don’t tell the truth about what satisfies us and we end up with these lacklustre relationships. Sex is adult play and you should be authentic and honest and tell the truth about what your needs are.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
There were three things. The first relates to when I was nine and my mum caught me masturbating and told me I was going to damage myself. She laughs about it now but I remember being disturbed at the time. It wasn’t until I read the teen magazine J17 when I was 15 and somebody had written in asking about masturbation and a columnist there had responded to them that I remember thinking, ‘My mum lied, masturbation is normal!’ And then I remember thinking I’d like to be a writer in J17. Secondly, I wanted to be the agony aunt Claire Rayner on This Morning and then finally, I wanted to be Oprah – I’d still like to be Oprah! I don’t enjoy being ‘known’ from the TV work I do, but there’s nothing like having the power to set the record straight and that’s what a platform like TV can allow you to do. Therapy is my home these days and it’s the right place for me to have ended up.
What was your sex education like growing up?
Well, as my mum said – ‘You’ll damage yourself!’ At school, I remember a class where a woman put a Tampax on a plate of water in class, that was it. So I didn’t receive any real sex education. In the end, my education was finding my uncle’s homosexual porn and then realising what penises looked like. Then I learned by fooling around but really, I didn’t have a clue. It’s such a beautiful, brilliant time now to be learning about sex, to be able to embrace the fact that sex is not shameful.
Who else in the industry do you admire or look up to?
Dr Linda Papadopoulos is amazing. She’s very canny, unbelievably intelligent and articulate, and she’s not afraid of her femininity or her academic status – she combines them without any fear. She collides with a lot of the misconceptions and stereotypes around clever and humane women. Obviously Oprah is someone I admire, someone that I adore. And then there’s the sextech entrepreneur Emma Sayle. She’s massively empowering but completely herself. And of course, my mum.
What advice would you give someone who is looking to break into the industries you work in?
It depends which one. When it comes to TV, don’t listen to any of the bullshit you’re told. If you really want to be famous for being famous, well, I can’t speak that language, and it’s important to remember that TV is an industry that will spit you out, so never build your foundations around that. I’ve had a lot of people tell me I haven’t done more in TV because I don’t tow the party line, but as a therapist, as someone taking about what makes for a healthy relationship, I’m there to tell the truth. When it comes to therapy, it’s more about who you are as a person than any other qualifications you have. If you see solutions where other people see their limitations, then that’s your gift. If you consistently believe in hope and refuse to believe that humans are anything but amazing it will stand you in good stead for therapy.
Do you have any practical tips that someone could use tonight to enhance their pleasure?
Women assume men are more knowledgeable sexually than they really are. Cock rings, vibrators, bullets, it doesn’t matter what it is, don’t be afraid to accumulate pleasure products that work for you then share them with your partner. When I’m doing sex play work with older people I have them experiment on a chuppa chupp lolly, treating it as if it were the head of the penis. So if you’re wondering what else you can do, get a lolly and practice on it, be creative. One of the things that’s vital when it comes to enhancing pleasure is that, providing they’re legal, women or men don’t feel any shame about their needs or desires.