Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit 2015: Best Conference Ever

Reid and me

I go to a lot of conferences. The conference presentations section of my CV is a bit ridiculous, and lately, as I’ve been attending more conferences in the sexuality field, I haven’t even been presenting that much, but rather going to soak it all in. So, I’ve experienced tons of conferences.

But Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit is one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended, no contest. The participants were all thoroughly engaged and among some of the top in the sexuality field – but all were equally warm and welcoming to newcomers. I’m going to
try to do the conference justice in this recap, but I probably won’t succeed. Ah well.


As you can see in the picture to the right, those of us who are bloggers got ribbons saying so. These came courtesy of Tantus, a silicone sex toy company that also sponsored the blogger lounge. I got to meet company founder Metis Black, who was really cool and has lots of stories about working on the front lines of the sex toy industry and what it’s like doing sex ed from within manufacturing and retail. One of the amazing things about this conference was just how much bloggers were valued: we were told that we’re an essential part of the Woodhull Alliance’s mission, because we’re helping get the message of sexual freedom out to various publics. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so appreciated as a blogger before!

Another part of what made this conference so special was the diversity of attendees and of topics. I met fellow sex educators and scholars as expected, but I also met therapists, journalists, sex workers, political advocates, writers, sexological bodyworkers, swingers, and porn stars. And everyone was wonderful. People were just so engaged and passionate about all these topics, and about supporting one another, too. During the Sunday morning brunch and roundtable, I sent out a tweet looking for ibuprofen since I had a headache, and within 5 minutes four people had responded with offers of aid. I was completely blown away by their generosity.

As far as the topics, I attended workshops on the following:

  • The influence of machismo on condom use in the Latino/a community
  • An in-depth look at personal lubricants
  • Sex, shame, and love
  • Storytelling and community building within sex positive activism
  • Addressing compulsory monogamy

Then there are all the fascinating ones that unfortunately I missed due to scheduling, such as sex & depression, addressing abuse & violence in kink communities, the argument for decriminalizing sex work, the fat positivity movement, normalizing trans bodies, senior sex, and more (plus the whole institute on sexuality and aging, which looked intriguing but which I totally didn’t prioritize because again, all the things!).

Oh, and there was also the Family Matters roundtable on Sunday morning, which was an inspiring mix of academics and activists speaking on issues of family diversity, from same-sex marriage to the health and safety implications of non-monogamous families trying to cohabit (spoiler: these are the same health and safety concerns as when any group of people lives together, except here they’re veiled by hypocritical moral judgments). I especially enjoyed hearing historian of sexuality John D’Emilio speak on the panel, and I (nerdily) asked him to sign a copy of his book Intimate Matters for me (it’s a history of sexuality in the U.S. from its founding through the present).

For anyone who’s as much of a Twitter fiend as I am, you can click here to read the conference Storify, which is organized by day. There are a lot of great tidbits about the various workshops, so I didn’t feel quite as bad about the ones I missed, since I could keep up with the quotable nuggets that people live-tweeted.

All of the topics were really thought-provoking, and the workshop on shame has already inspired a blog post, in which I ruminate on how my dance teaching style is meant to remove shame from the learning process. Similarly, a conversation with a sex ed colleague spurred me to ponder how all sex is transactional, which also became a blog post.

In addition to the daytime events, the conference’s evening activities were fantastic and valuable in so many ways. On Thursday night there was a Bedpost Confessions show, which is a live storytelling event that originated in Texas and that features stories about sexuality, gender, eroticism, relationships, and related themes. All of the stories were great, but I especially loved Nina Hartley‘s, in which she answered her parents’ question: why did she get into the porn industry? (short answer: she likes women) What I loved was how in an offhand comment, Nina said that she doesn’t have multiple orgasms, and that it’s totally okay for women to not be able to have multiple orgasms, or not want to… it’s normal, it’s fine, it doesn’t mean you’re broken. As someone who falls into that camp, I felt tears prick at my eyes out of gratitude for such a simple de-stigmatizing message about women’s bodies. There were lots of other inclusive-leaning narratives about body image that night, and throughout the conference, which made me really happy.

Between the planned events like Bedpost Confessions, and the informal gatherings that took place at night, I felt like I got to meet a good sampling of folks at the conference and chat in less-structured environments. So while we could’ve used more time for, say, lunch breaks (that’s seriously like my only criticism of how the conference was organized), I thought the conference presented a good mix of activities and down time, which is important for networking (and networking with sex geeks is such fun!).

And then there were the people. I got to hang with sex educators I adore, such as Reid Mihalko, Charlie Glickman, and Kait Scalisi. I connected with bloggers, like Lilith Reviews, and got to spend time with a blogger in my local scene, Mandi of EROcentric, whom I never get to see enough of. And I chatted with Nina Hartley, who is just so damn smart, and hung out with fellow Sex Geekdom emissaries, such as Dawn Serra.

I was really excited to meet and hang out with so many wonderful people… and they were excited to meet me too! Every time I told someone I was a folklorist their eyes would light up, and we’d have a conversation about sexuality in folklore or something along those lines. I came away with great connections and tons of ideas for blog posts and things to do in my sex education work, which is notable since as an introvert I often feel overwhelmed at conferences where I don’t know as many people going in.

In short, I can’t say enough good things about this conference. I can’t wait for next year. Attending Woodhull helped me realize how much of my work is already activist, even as I continue to navigate my way into the sexuality field and find the places where I can do good while making a career of it… and we’re all doing good work here.

That’s what’s so mind-blowing: the information we exchange and obtain at these kinds of conferences benefits people and changes their lives in very tangible, real ways, and we get to be the ones doing this amazing work. We’re helping de-stigmatize various forms of sexuality, from the outlier kinds like kink and non-monogamy to the very typical things people do in monogamous, heterosexual relationships but still have questions or feels about. We get to help with not only STI prevention messages and messages of tolerance, but also sex education revolving around cultural differences and transgender identities. We get to advocate for diversity, inclusivity, and all sorts of social justice, addressing the intersections of sex with disability, age, ethnicity, nationality, religion, and so on.

It’s an exciting time to be a sexuality professional, and I’m just getting started. Thank you, Woodhull, for inspiring me to add my voice to the chorus of voices championing sexual freedom.

p.s.: I’m not the only one who adored this conference. I’ll post links to others’ experiences as they get published and cross my radar. For now, here’s Mandi’s take on the conference, which I loved reading because while I’m a blogger, I’m not specifically a sex toy blogger/reviewer, so I got some neat insights into that corner of the sexuality world.

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