I 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.