This past weekend, a friend and I attended the 8th Annual Careers in Sexuality Conference at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania. Although the event was geared largely toward aspiring sex educators, there was so much insight to absorb on a general level. Besides, two of the presenters wore dog collars. Dog collars! How cool is that?!
The event’s keynote speaker was Feminista Jones, who I had never heard speak prior to the conference.
Her speech was powerful and passionate. We learned about the asexual, aromantic attitude social workers attribute to their clients; the absurdity of the concept of hypersexuality, as it assumes an arbitrary, vague baseline (and, as Ms. Jones put it, “…if there is [a baseline], it’s probably something white.”); recognizing the historical oppression of not allowing black people to admit to enjoying sex; approaching people as fluid and refusing to lazily label and clinically assess them; not assuming that people in disadvantaged circumstances need the help we try to offer, or that we can offer the type of help they do need; how we’re not true allies because we, unlike she, are unwilling to die to end marginalization that people like her have dealt with their whole lives; and so much more. I was also sorry to hear that she has been told by multiple kink-oblivious therapists that her masochism is a defect which needs to be corrected.
Her takeaway messages were to allow people to do for themselves and not impose help on their social determination; to examine how our privileges influences out approach to the “help” we want to give to the world; to resist relying on the status quo, even when it benefits us or threatens our livelihood; to challenge bigotry when we are invited to conversations; and to deny the temptation to be self-serving, and instead strive to aid self-liberation.
Although there was more diversity to the audience than I had expected, we were mostly white, female, and cis-gendered. I would not be surprised if we were largely heterosexual, too. Most of us probably did consider ourselves “allies” as Ms. Jones described, and by a quick glance around the room, I could tell that I was not the only one taking Ms. Jones’s words to heart.
The most influential seminar I attended was about creating a sex-geeky business model, led by infectiously-attituded Reid Mihalko — whose quote I stole to be the title of this post.
Among other brilliant advice, Mr. Mihalko encouraged us to be authentic and focus on moving from an attraction economy in business to one of self-expression and depth, meaning that we should showcase ourselves as we are and allow our audience to come to us, rather than trying to mold ourselves to fit whatever we think they want of us. He also reminded us that not knowing what we want indicates a high state of awareness, and that we will be happiest if we direct our energy toward solving the problems that we most enjoy solving in the way we most enjoy solving them. Most importantly, he gave advice for how to calm down the inevitable explosions of insecurity that come along with figuring out what you want to do in life and fumbling at full speed toward achieving it. Deep breathing and asking other people in the community for reassurance can help enormously.
Other highlights were the free Lelo vibrators that every attendee received (!!!!!! — and yes, they are as kickass as they look online) and confirming during the public speaking seminar that I’m notably more at ease talking with strangers about sex toys than about my breakfast habits.
And then there was the best sex toy shop I have ever seen.
I had no interest in seeing the Liberty Bell or anything historic, but my friend and I found business cards at the conference for a sex toy and seminar shop called the Sexploratorium and knew we had to check it out before leaving Philly’s neck of the woods. After all, I would have a hard time declining an opportunity to venture into any shop whose windows displayed multiple signs prohibiting photography of its merchandise.
This shop had the most comprehensive collection of kink gear my friend and I had ever seen. To say the shop was incredible would be a grievous understatement. While I was impressed by the vast array of fetish wear (corsets and latex, in particular) and styles of vibrators, dildos, Kegel balls, and other vanilla insertionary devices, all of them paled in comparison to the BDSM supplies.
I got to touch and ogle men’s chastity toys for the first time in-person, both the plastic penis cages as well as full metal belts, and my friend practically had to peel me away from the display. The shop stocked gear for fire play, needle play, wax play, and electricity play, in addition to numerous shades of dyed bondage rope. They had gas masks, leather puppy masks, clamps for every body part you could possibly want clamped, a dozen varieties of locks for whatever restraints you’re into, straps to attach a shoe to someone’s face, and at least twenty different collars. Not only was there a person-sized dog cage, but you could even purchase fixtures that you could use to attach an ashtray or toilet paper holder to your partner’s face. You could also purchase an attachment with a metal light plate cover to attach your partner’s face directly to a wall. The selection was magnificent.
Needless to say, it was an exhilarating weekend, and my friend and I will definitely be visiting both the conference and Sexploratorium next year!