Embracing and Reframing Sexuality – CatalystCon West 2014

sex-positiveI met so many fabulously mind-blowing women and men at the Catalyst conference last week. So many wonderful people who willingly push the edges in working together to build a strong, safer and more sex-positive world. I had many conversations with attendees and sat in on informative and entertaining sessions on all aspects of sex education and awareness. And, was honored to be presenting a session with Will Fredericks as well.

The conference closed on Sunday afternoon with a stellar presentation focused on the history of the sex-positive movement. Who doesn’t want to spend a Sunday afternoon listening to former porn stars and prostitutes talk about their lives? Don’t judge quite yet. This group of talented women, ranging in age from their early 50s to late 60s (or older) presented stories of love and companionship, activism, pushing boundaries and reveling in their sexual pleasures. The closing ceremony at CatalystCon featured Annie Sprinkle, Veronica Hart, Veronica Vera and Candida Royalle, women of beauty, wisdom and amazing dedication. They are the women of Club 90, women who met and joined together in the mid 80′s to support each other as friends and as professionals working to bring about positive change in the sex industry and the world of sexuality. Sunday’s interview by Jackie Strano, of Good Vibrations, focused on NYC in the 80s, the sex industry and the work that each woman has done over the last 30 years to help shape the conversation around sexuality.

Several of these women have PhDs. Some work in the film industry behind the camera, making sex-positive, female-focused movies. They lecture, write professionally, teach classes, do research and contribute to the field of sexuality. All beautiful in their own skins and totally at ease sharing some wild and funny stories about their time as sex workers. This was by far the most positive, uplifting presentation I’ve attended in a long time.

This was my third CatalystCon conference, and my second time as a speaker. Each conference has its own unique flavor. The West Coast conference draws a different crowd than the spring conference held in the DC area. I meet many individuals who are sex workers–broadly defined. I met educators and writers, coaches, sexological bodyworkers and others. It was inspiring and energizing to participate in the networking and collaboration. It is the work of Dee Dennis, the conference founder and organizer, as well as many others who work behind the scenes.

I was honored to be surrounded by some of the elders in the field who continue to lead the way in creating ways to educate about sex-positivity. It all makes so much sense. Regardless of sexual/gender orientation or identity, skin color, hair color, kink, and all the other things that define us, the message is universal. Our sexuality is unique and glorious. There is nothing dirty or shameful about the natural expression of our desires–it’s all about how we pursue those desires and interact with partners.

Consent, trust, communication and respect are the most important aspects of a sex-positive approach to life, relationships and sexual activity. There are few places you can go and find so many people talking about sex with smiles on their faces. It’s fabulous.

As one of the women on the stage noted, she’s not ashamed or apologetic about her choices. She expressed sorrow that her children might have been impacted by her choices but she has no regrets. It was that acceptance and positive approach to living a sexual open life that made me a little emotional.  It’s awesome to see women of age and energy so committed to their vision.

Here’s the thing. Humans enjoy having sex, as do other species on the planet. Two people engaged in consensual sex is a lovely thing, natural and not harmful at all. And, yet in the United States we’ve set rules and conditions. We’ve said that two people have to look a certain way and have to behave in a certain way. We’ve restricted and criminalized sexual activity. We preach about the morality of sex while embracing a media, and a culture, saturated with sexual violence and constant degrading of women and those of “other” gender identities. The two are not compatible. Why can’t we acknowledge that sexual activities bring people pleasure. And, as with any enjoyable or pleasurable activity it’s natural to want to feel and give pleasure. In a consensual, sex-positive world there is no harm. I saw people talk about the power of sexual expression, the benefits, the delights, the healing and the overall well-being that comes from expressing one’s desires freely. It’s completely natural.

And then the conference ends, we pack our bags and go home to a world where violence mimics sex, where women are degraded and humiliated, gays are persecuted and religion is twisted to justify negative behavior. Sad.

I applaud those four women who shared their journey with us on Sunday. They shine a bright light on the power of the individual to affect positive change. If there was bitterness over the hardships and discriminations they faced, it didn’t show. These women are powerful instruments for change–a catalyst.

I was honored to be in their presence and I commit to continuing the work year-round to create an open and accepting sex-positive world.

Nice Is Over Rated, No More Nice For Me

PurpleTraining someone to be ‘nice’ can be a way of silencing that first voice.

Justine Musk’s writing often strikes a chord for me. That was just what I needed to hear.

NICE.

I was raised to be nice–it’s what they did to good Southern girls in the 50s and 60s. I don’t think I want to be nice anymore. Is it too late at age 60 to abandon nice? No.

No more nice when it comes to sex.

 

What do I mean by that? Well, I’m pretty outspoken and open about my desires. But there was a day when I sacrificed my needs by not speaking up. So I lay there. Played along. Tuned out.

Nice is overrated.

What’s the point in having sex that is one-sided? Why play nice when you can create a wonderful sexual experience by speaking your truth? Because what I think Musk means is that by playing nice we give up too much. She’s mostly talking to women (the context of article makes that apparent), but I suspect men play nice sometimes. One might assume that no more nice means I am also opening myself to a wider range of sexual expression!

No more being the Nice one when it comes to expressing myself and living an intentional life.

 

Being nice in my childhood meant being quieter and more compliant. Submissive if you will. Boys rule. Be the proper little girl–which meant not being too smart or too assertive. It’s easy to lose yourself in that situation, particularly if everyone around you is buying into that notion as well. And, what if there is no role model for strong and independent?

My grandmother, who died in her mid 60s was a wonderful, bright and vibrant woman. I spent a lot of time with her as a child; she was my role model. Brightly colored clothing, jet-setting around the world and engaged with a large circle of friends, she seemed ideal to me. She died when I was 12 and it felt for a few days that my world might just end. Somewhere along the way I forgot about her strength and vibrancy. I started being nice. You know—the good wife, the good mother, the nice one who played along, etc. Nice.

Maybe I’m ready to fully embrace this single life and let loose. Wear purple when I feel like it. Take off for destinations unknown and create adventures.  Let go, live loudly. Say a big Fuck You to being Nice. Gasp, I said Fuck in an article. Twice.

Musk is really talking about finding one’s voice, as a brand, as a writer and in life as well.  The true voice of who we are and what we want, down deep in our innermost parts. It takes some people years to figure out what they really want. Each phase of life brings its own challenges—what we want and need changes as we move through life.  And maybe, just maybe, this is our strongest and best time to find that voice.

It is my time.

Baby steps. On my birthday I was dining alone at the fabulous Restaurant Martin in Santa Fe and spotted a man dressed from head to toe in purple. Longish silver curly hair and lots of silver jewelry. My first thought was of my mother, who forbade me to wear purple as a child. Purple was a tacky color and God forbid that we be mistaken for Tacky! During dinner I thought about this as I watched this guy…curious. I shared with a friend, via text. Yes I was texting, briefly, with a girlfriend while at dinner! She was sending birthday wishes.  She urged me to speak to him, so I did. I got up and went to his table, politely interrupted, and asked him for a photo. He was a bit reluctant to give in to the crazy woman but his dinner partner jumped at the offer to take our photo so he agreed. They invited me to sit for a few minutes and we had a delightful conversation.

Last night sitting in the bar at my hotel I saw a lovely woman across the room in a deep violet-purple silk suit. It was very stylish and almost formal, there must have been a fancy occasion in the hotel. I sucked up my courage and went across the lobby to tell her how gorgeous her suit was. I think she was very touched, maybe more so because this younger white woman had gone out of her way to offer a random compliment? She blessed me and I felt it.

I was pretty pleased with myself. I was being nice—on my terms. I was responding to what brought me pleasure and doing something out of my normal routine. This is more about feeling comfortable in my own skin and reacting spontaneously. Because part of what growing up nice entails is always being aware and vigilant.  Being on guard and a bit censored. Thinking more of others as opposed to my own emotional well-being. I can’t begin to count the number of times I felt tamped down and shoved in the box of conformity as a child and youth…as an adult and woman.

I talk about sex a lot now days. Totally comfortable with that. I’m thinking about sex a lot too….from a personal angle. Maybe I’m no longer content to do what I’ve always done? Maybe I want a little less proper and a little more bohemian in my life? I want experiences and things I don’t even know I want yet. Sometimes I fear that I’m too late…that my chance to get a little wild should ideally have happened in my late 40s. I wasn’t ready then. I wasn’t the person I am now.

It’s never too late. Each day is a whole world unto itself. There are an infinite number of possibilities. It’s just a matter of embracing them.

For me it will mean less NICE and more authentic sensuousness and freedom. More saying NO to things and pursuing opportunities to say yes. Play with more vivid crayons. Start drawing and painting. Continue to let go and open up.

What about you?

photo credit: Luz Adriana Villa A. via photopin cc

Talking Sex-a Weekend at CatalystCon West

I’m sitting in my hotel room in the LA Airport Westin, having the most expensive breakfast in the world (room service!). Catalyst Con starts tomorrow and I’m preparing for my presentation and doing a little writing. I’m also getting revved up for the fun—meeting new people, reconnecting with colleagues and some serious learning! This is how founder, Dee Dennis, sums up Catalyst Con:

CatalystCon is a conference created to inspire exceptional conversations about sexuality. The conference mission is to reach out and stimulate attendees to create important conversations within communities and change discourse and acceptance of sexuality within society. These conversations are intended to stimulate the activist within us all and spark transformation and growth for all adults and children in one of the humanity’s most important aspects; sexuality.

….a “melting pot of sexuality” that unites sex educators, sexologists, sex workers, sex therapists, writers, activists, sex researchers, those in the adult industry, and anyone with a passion for creating change. Knowledge is power, and sharing that knowledge is the first spark in igniting change. This is the fundamental principle behind CatalystCon.

Checking in last night the desk clerk asked me to describe CatalystCon. I imagine they’re all wondering about this sexuality conference; I know that each time I’ve mentioned the conference there have been questions. A whole conference dedicated to sex? Can one talk sex for two full days and nights? What am I going to be talking about?

I was in a taxi with two securities/investment guys for almost 2 hours yesterday as one airport shuttled us to our connecting airport and the conversation came up there. Maybe part of the curiosity is in trying to sort out the individual and understand her, or his, connection to the topic of sex. No one blinks an eye if you say you’re giving a presentation on social media or the newest trend in elementary education. But sex? And a graying ‘old’ woman like me? I pride myself on not quite resembling Dr. Ruth but I’m still a bit over the hill to some, I’m sure. What am I sharing, how did I get my training and a myriad of other questions, asked and implied.

I answered some questions, talked a little about my view of sex and our role in creating a sex-positive environment…and I gave them each a card. One of my fun business cards.

sexuality, CatalystCon

I was interested in their reactions to the card and the statement. I gave the older one the ‘deliciously improper’ card–which, now that I think about it, seems more fitting for a female. Because I think that women hold back in expressing desire and may need an invitation. I wish we hadn’t been in a cab and could have talked a little about their perspective on the topic of sexuality and male desire.

In the everyday world we don’t talk as openly about sex as we will here at CatalystCon. Because we work and related to sex in such an open way we don’t filter our conversations in public–totally a good thing in my mind. It’s an ease and comfort with the topic that is refreshing to experience.

I am presenting again at CatalystCon, I spoke about sex education for midlife women back in March. On Sunday Will Fredericks and I will  be giving a presentation on Working with a Sexological Bodyworker. We will be talking about the benefits of this work and reasons people might choose to see a practitioner. I can share my unique perspective of having  worked with a Sex Bod, as they’re often called. Our goal is to show how useful this kind of work can be for individuals, men or women, who want to go deeper in exploring their sexuality. There are many avenues to working with issues or body image, healing trauma and expanding our capacity for pleasure–this is one modality.

Learning and sharing is vital to any practitioner’s work, regardless of the field. At CatalystCon we do just that, through conversation, lectures and networking. We come from all walks of life with that unique goal of creating positive change. I’m honored to be a part of the conversation. And, I’m excited about being an eager student, all over again.

World Sexual Health Day-Let’s Practice and Promote Pleasure!

Today is World Sexual Health Day, the kick-off to a month-long global celebration of sexual health. I’m thrilled to see that one area of focus here in the United States is Boomer Sexual Health.

Yes, finally! Boomers are being recognized as sexual beings, with wants and desires as well as challenges around our sexuality.

sexual health, sex-positive

There are so many ways to talk about sexual health and our roles in promoting sexual health. As adults in relationships, in our professions, as grandparents, bystanders, consumers and educators. Throughout the month I’ll talk about what’s going on around the web and focus on different aspects of sexual health as they pertain to the over 50 demographic.

World Sexual Health Day is a collaborative effort of the World Association for Sexual Health, WAS, and the World Health Organization, WHO to “promote a greater social awareness on sexual health across the globe”. This year’s theme is Sexual Health: The Wellbeing of Sexuality. Here’s their definition of sexual health:

Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social wellbeing in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.

 

We have a long way to go towards embracing sexual health in the United States. Both from the point of view of understanding the medical aspects of ‘sexual health’ and finding doctors who are trained to work with men and women to answer questions, provide resources and create a safe environment for discussing patients’ sexual needs.

Our society, as reflected through the media, also has a lot of work to do. Fully embracing sexual health starts at birth and continues to evolve as we age. An ideal sex-positive world would embrace a well-researched, age-appropriate sex education curriculum in schools. Parents would feel comfortable talking about the facts of life and educating their children about sex and sexuality. The media would shift the emphasis from objectification and sexual violence to a more transparent way of selling products. No more ‘sex sells’….. Birth control would be uniformly available to men and women, without censure. Consensual sex would be the norm.  And, as adults we would embrace our sexuality free of shame and full of joy. Informed, aroused and in full ownership of our sexual desires.

Sounds idyllic doesn’t it?

Each of us can make a difference when it comes to promoting sexual health. And, to grab that old cliché, it begins at home! Ha, imagine what fun you can have interpreting that statement.

“Be the change that you wish to see in

 

What changes do you need to take on this month?

  I’m already working on sexual health in my work here, at Boomeon, Kinkly and Midlife Boulevard. In addition to focusing on sexual health this month I will take a personal challenge to do more reading on the topic to help educate myself…and you. And, of course…practice, practice, practice. Join me in talking, playing and acting to improve our sexual health all month-long.

What will you do to promote World Sexual Health Month?