Conference Bae Part Two: Sex Down South ATL 2018!

Many thanks to my sponsor Spectrum Boutique for their assistance with my travel for the event, as well as to the Sex Down South team!

This conference season has been a whirlwind for me, and it’s only my first! I went from not going to any sexuality conferences to attending two within the span of a month, thanks to scholarships, sponsorships, and friends who helped me.

For the uninitiated, Sex Down South is a Black-founded, Queer and POC centered sexuality conference that takes place in Atlanta, Georgia. 2018 marked their third year. I’ve wanted to go to this conference for two years now, but the stars finally aligned just so and I was able to make it. i’ve had quite a few people ask me to compare and contrast Sex Down South with the Sexual Freedom Summit (check out my reflection here), but I’ve decided I won’t do that because highlighting differences between the two may make it seem like I’m positioning one as better than the other, when in reality they serve completely different audiences and I had an amazing time at both.

There’s something to be said about a space that aims to center Southern Blackness. I’m proud to be from the south, and I don’t see myself settling down anywhere else. Regionalism plays as big a role in how we approach sex education work as any of our other identities but frequently gets left out of the conversation, or only becomes the center of conversation when people feel the need to drag the South for being backwards or out of touch.

The world operates differently in the South, that’s a fact. There’s a myriad of reasons why, directly tied to slavery and religious patriarchy, but the major movements for justice in this country have started here too. The way that folks in the north, even so-called progressives, reduce us to stereotypes of ignorance and enemies of progress, erases the organizing and educating that people have done to make the south more equitable. There’s so much power in holding a conference that is open about sexuality in one of the biggest cities in the highly-religious South and I don’t think people who aren’t from here truly understand why that’s so important.

For me, Sex Down South started with a too-early plane ride Thursday morning which meant that by the time I got to the hotel, after I caught up with all my friends I was running on fumes and had to sit out most of the day’s sessions to sleep and recharge. I ended up only making it to the keynote by Ericka Hart, about the role that pleasure takes in liberation movements.

I had trouble connecting with it, but I’m chalking that up to exhaustion and the realization that I don’t think about my work being directly connected to Black liberation. I guess it is, but I haven’t given it much thought or intention for that matter. This ties into my broader thoughts about “who am I writing for”, and “why do I write”, which requires more unpacking outside of this post.

Thursday night, I went to Magic City, the world-famous strip club. I had never been to a strip club before so i really didn’t know what to expect, because I didn’t want to go off just what I’ve seen on TV and in movies. IT WAS AWESOME. I’m afraid to go to any other strip clubs now because I’m afraid they won’t live up to Magic City.

Friday, the first session I attended was “You Let Her Do What?” Examinations on Polyamory and Masculinity with Bex Caputo and Kevin Patterson. I live-tweeted it, and you can find the thread here. This workshop was one of my personal “must-sees” of the conference. While I’ve known that monogamy wasn’t ideal for me for years, my relationship hasn’t been polyamorous for very long.

I’m often at a loss for helping my partner through his feelings when trying to combat the issues that toxic masculinity presents within our polyamory, so I was excited to hear people with different relationships to masculinity talk about their experiences. The workshop evolved into a conversation about undoing the damage that toxic masculinity causes, which was cathartic and healing, but ultimately kind of disappointing to me because we never got back around to the connection with polyamory.

 Scaled replica of a human clitoris, courtesy of  Aria !

Scaled replica of a human clitoris, courtesy of Aria!

The great people from The Pleasure Chest hosted Lunch & Learn Mini-Workshops all weekend, and Friday afternoon I was able to make it to the session hosted by my pal Carly: Using the 5 Senses to Create an Erotic Scene, threaded here. It is abbreviated, as my UberEATS came in the middle of the session and I had to leave early.

My second full session of the day was Fuckstrology: Sex Languages According to the Stars with Gigi Robinson. I know plenty of people think astrology is hokey, but I don’t. I consider it as useful a spiritual guidance system as anything else. Learning about my chart more in-depth was beneficial because astrology can easily get overwhelming when you’re trying to learn on your own. The workshop focused on Mars and Venus placements, as Venus controls how we like to receive love and affection and Mars controls how we like to give it.

Each sign has different ways they like to give and receive affection, which when taken with your chart as a whole, can explain parts of your personality. For example, my Venus is in Pisces. On its own, that means that I’m very sensitive and want constant affection from my partners. But when taken with my materialistic Taurus sun, it manifests as a desire for gifts or food when a partner wants to show me they care, the more luxurious the better. If you’re interested in doing your (or a partner’s) birth chart, you can find the one I use here.

 From left to right, my conference baes:  Victoria  of Pink Lotus Bud,  Ari  of Who Do You Kink You Are? Podcast,  Aria  of Your Heavenly Body. and yours truly.

From left to right, my conference baes: Victoria of Pink Lotus Bud, Ari of Who Do You Kink You Are? Podcast, Aria of Your Heavenly Body. and yours truly.

The last session I attended on Friday was my favorite of the whole conference: Race and Desire Roundtable with Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, Aida Manduley, M’kali-Hashiki, and Kevin Patterson, moderated by Tristan Taormino. I live tweeted it here, but as a disclaimer my tweets are mostly paraphrases of what the speakers were saying.

As a Black woman in a relationship with a white man, I’m constantly thinking about race, white supremacy, and the roles they play in how my partner and I interact and express our love. I spent the first few years of my relationship feeling like I needed to apologize for or otherwise justify dating him, because it was implied and sometimes outright said to me that I can’t really be about Black liberation if i’m dating a white person. This made me insecure in my relationship and hurt us in a lot of ways. I didn’t feel like I could look to my partner to make me feel better, because, to me, he was the cause of this conflict. I would sometimes take my insecurity out on him which he didn’t deserve. We’re in a much better place now, mostly because my feelings about what it takes to do “the work” now go beyond judgments based on identity politics.

The session took so many different routes and left me with a lot to think about in my own relationship as well as how I think and talk about sexuality. It requires more than just seeing and naming explicit instances of white supremacy in the sexuality/sex ed community. It necessitates understanding the insidiousness of whiteness and how white supremacy’s main goal is to protect itself. This can manifest in actionable goals like being honest about how some of us have different labor demands placed on us for less pay and interrogating how we support white supremacy in our sexual lives. Sure, you may not have an explicit “whites only” policy for your genitals, but do you only have partners of certain classes, formal education levels, or other social markers that perpetuate white supremacist ideals of “the perfect partner”?

For people of color, it requires undoing the messaging that leads us to police the behavior of ourselves and others. When we engage in the woke olympics, we’re ultimately left exhausted from the inter-community conflict, which leaves us no more mental or emotional capacity to process and undo the damage white supremacy has caused. Even when we’re not explicitly desiring whiteness, we still have to grapple with how its benefits are dangled in front of our communities as a goal to aspire to.

Saturday brought my most introspective workshop of the conference, Uses of the Erotic in Times of Resistance by M’kali-Hashiki. I’m familiar with Audre Lorde’s essay, Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power, but this workshop allowed me the opportunity to take it out of the theoretical academic context in which I knew it and make it tangible, practical, and livable. I’ve been feeling very disconnected from myself for a while now, and I had so much going on right before the conference that I almost didn’t go.

Holding space with the other workshop attendees and connecting back with myself helped me remember why I started writing in the first place, as a form of release in a world I felt didn’t hear me otherwise. We went through different breath work techniques, and it was grounding to feel and release some of the energy blockages in my body. I’m still struggling to maintain that balance now that I’m back at home but the workshop was a reprieve.

 It almost goes without saying, but I look for any opportunity to take my pants off. Shout out to Lil Kim for the pose inspo.

It almost goes without saying, but I look for any opportunity to take my pants off. Shout out to Lil Kim for the pose inspo.

Saturday night culminated in the Big Bang, a huge party with performers and giveaways. My favorite moment of the night, hands down, was when the contestants of a lap dance competition had to dance to “Stomp” by Kirk Franklin. This is what I was getting at earlier when I talked about the intersections of Southerness and Blackness and why that’s so important to see in a sexuality conference. Watching people twerk to a gospel song I grew up hearing was so beautiful I almost cried.

I just felt seen and recognized in that moment, in a way I don’t feel often. And that’s what this conference was for me. An opportunity to share space with people who weren’t asking anything of me other than for me to show up. I didn’t feel invisible, I didn’t feel exoticized, but I felt validated. I didn’t even get to all the personal connections I made, but suffice it to say that I found my people. Sex Down South 2019 is already on my calendar for next year, but I’ll remember to take Vitamin C ahead of time (con flu sucks).

Review: Le Wand Massager Petite

While I was at Woodhull, I won a Twitter giveaway held by my pal Red Hot Suz. The prize? A Le Wand Petite Rechargeable Massager, plus lube and massage oil samples from SUTIL. I was excited to win this giveaway for a few reasons. First, I don't normally win things, so winning the giveaway in and of itself was a cool surprise--as much as winning a contest you entered can be a surprise.

Secondly, this is my first wand-type vibrator ever. When I was younger, I believed the myth that using wands can cause clitoral desensitization and make it harder to orgasm without them. This knowledge, plus the not-broke-college-kid-friendly $100+ price tag of most meant that wands were low on my self-pleasure bucket list. Before now, my only experience with a wand was hearing my college roommate's plug-in hitachi from across our house. 

 I'm a sucker for beautiful packaging, and this box endeared me to Le Wand IMMEDIATELY.

I'm a sucker for beautiful packaging, and this box endeared me to Le Wand IMMEDIATELY.

The Le Wand Petite is a smaller version of the Original Le Wand. It comes in two beautiful colors: the light violet I have, and rose gold. Within the ridiculously gorgeous box, you get: the wand, the USB charging cord, a travel pouch, instruction guide, and a bonus pleasure guide. The pleasure guide is an amazing addition to the packaging because it helps explain using a wand to beginners. Wands aren't self-explanatory, so the pleasure guide was helpful to me as a wand newbie and as someone interested in sex education.

The wand is rechargeable and waterproof, with 10 speeds and 6 patterns. It measures 10 inches x 1.8 inches and 0.47 lbs (7.52 oz). The head is made of silicone and the "neck" joint is flexible. It has three buttons: one to turn the intensity up (it looks like a plus and also functions as the on button), one to change the vibration pattern, and one to turn the intensity down (it looks like a minus and also functions as the off button). The buttons also act as a travel lock, which when coupled with the wand's light weight, small size, and storage pouch, make it incredibly travel friendly. 

One of my favorite features is the (lack of) noise with this product. I knew it wouldn't have the lawnmower noise of my roommate's hitachi, but even on maximum power it's not much louder than so-called traditional vibrators. It's not whisper quiet, but not likely to wake, say, a partner sleeping deeply next to you. 

  I don't have an Original Le Wand for comparison, but my hands are fairly small and the Le Wand Petite fits very comfortably. 

I don't have an Original Le Wand for comparison, but my hands are fairly small and the Le Wand Petite fits very comfortably. 

okay, but how did it feel?

I have to be honest, there was a learning curve the first time I used it. I attribute this to my lack of experience with wands in general though. The infamous numbing sensation associated with using wands is normally caused by holding it in one place for too long, since the vibrations, while rumbly, are stronger than a traditional vibrator. Because the sensation spreads across a bigger area since the vibrations are stronger, one might not think to move it around like with other kinds of vibrators. This is all explained in the pleasure guide I didn't think to read when I first opened the package. 

Rookie mistake, but I took a break and tried again, adding lube to the head the second time around because why not? This time was much better, and I finally understood the buzz about wands in the community (pun not intended, but does it really matter?)

 Do as I say, not as I do: if you're new to wands, read the pleasure guide BEFORE your first use.

Do as I say, not as I do: if you're new to wands, read the pleasure guide BEFORE your first use.

Due to the small size, accessing the buttons during use wasn't an issue. However, the buttons themselves do present my biggest issue with the wand. Like I mentioned above, there are 10 speeds, and the minus button is the only way to turn it off. This means that if you're using a higher speed, once you're done you either have to click down a bunch of times or hold the button for as long as 10 seconds to get it to turn off. Maybe this is standard for wands, but I'm used to a 3-second hold on a dedicated power button to turn a toy off.

That being said, I really enjoyed this wand. It was a great first-time product, so I'd definitely recommend it to wand beginners or anyone who's in the market for a wand but doesn't need something as strong as the traditional models. Even for wand aficionados, the travel-friendliness of this particular model makes it a must-have.

Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit 2018: Conference Bae!

I've been to quite a few conferences, most of them during my time in college. They were mostly based on my activism or leadership work, and each time I would go to one I'd leave feeling reenergized and confident in my abilities to keep pushing forward in my work. The Woodhull Freedom Foundation's Sexual Freedom Summit (mostly shortened to "Woodhull" or #SFS) gave me that feeling on steroids. this was my first conference as "Sexology Bae", and I had the opportunity to meet so many bloggers and educators I knew through the internet, who I will avoid naming here lest I forget a name and hurt someone's feelings.

 The cat isn't part of the conference swag, but the bags underneath him are.

The cat isn't part of the conference swag, but the bags underneath him are.

I was terrified to go. I actually didn't even consider going initially because I didn't think I was enough of an expert or professional to fit in. I didn't know about it last year, and it came across very stuffy to my uninitiated eyes this time around. My friends at The Sex-Positive Blog encouraged me to apply for one of the brand new (as of this year) blogger's scholarships. I almost didn't do that either, because I hate rejection and again, felt I was too new and/or my blog was too shitty to qualify.

Thankfully, I didn't listen to my first brain. I applied and got it! The scholarship offset most of the costs for travel and accommodations, and I was able to crowdfund some additional cash so I basically broke even on expenses.

 Had I not gone, I wouldn't have been able to see & hold this vintage vibrator from the 1900s currently being restored by Kenton from FunkIt Toys. Very rumbly.

Had I not gone, I wouldn't have been able to see & hold this vintage vibrator from the 1900s currently being restored by Kenton from FunkIt Toys. Very rumbly.

While you might read other Woodhull reflections that focus more on the conference itself, I feel inclined to talk about why going to Woodhull this year is the reason I'm going to continue blogging for the foreseeable future. The opportunity of the blogger's scholarship itself speaks to just how far the sexuality world has to go in terms of accessibility. I have a good paying job and still wouldn't have been able to go without significant financial strain had I not gotten the scholarship.

The conference is expensive, the hotel is expensive, and travel is (potentially) expensive based on where you live. Couple this with the uphill battle of securing sponsorships when you're not very well connected, and even getting to a space like Woodhull in the first place seems practically impossible. Now, I know that everyone has bills to pay and needs to keep their lights on, so for an organization like Woodhull to make financial accessibility a priority for bloggers meant a lot to me. 

As a new blogger, it's hard to break into the world where it seems like everyone has known each other forever. The first few years are the hardest while you're struggling to get your footing, but it's worse if you don't have any support. Even if you make connections online, it's easy to feel like your voice is lost because there are fewer eyes on you, especially when you hold marginalized identities.

Kind of like restaurants, the first 2 years for bloggers are where the most people drop off. I haven't even been blogging consistently for a year yet and I've already noticed people who started around the same time as me fall off. Meeting people in person and connecting with industry professionals is, for me, the thing that has given me the momentum to continue blogging. I wasn't necessarily close to giving up on it, but I really struggled to see my voice as valuable in an insular community that felt full to capacity.

Woodhull also helped break me out of my "talented tenth" mindset. The sex blogging world is very white and very female, and the biggest names are mostly people who do toy reviews. This isn't a bad thing in and of itself, but it made me feel like I was in competition with other bloggers of color to be the exceptional one, to stand out and gain acceptance. I wanted to be the Black sex blogger.

That's an incredibly toxic mentality, and my time at Woodhull helped get me out of that scarcity-based thinking and made me realize that we can all eat. Supporting other bloggers, not being in competition with them, is the way up. This was a lesson I didn't talk about much during my time at the conference for fear it'd make me out to be a bad person, and I really want people to like me. But as I've had time to process, I've come to realize that I'm not the only person who felt (or feels) this way and talking about it, not around it, is the best way to overcome these kinds of feelings. 

 I got to see the infamous "Jar of Horrors" in person, an expiriment Dangerous Lilly has been doing since 2014 to demonstrate the difference between body-safe silicone and other toys made out of toxic rubbers and plastic. The melty jar smells like pool toys.

I got to see the infamous "Jar of Horrors" in person, an expiriment Dangerous Lilly has been doing since 2014 to demonstrate the difference between body-safe silicone and other toys made out of toxic rubbers and plastic. The melty jar smells like pool toys.

As for Woodhull itself, I won't do a complete rundown of every session I went to (which unfortunately wasn't many because I hit my social interaction wall on Saturday and spent most of the day in bed). The toxic toys session presented by Dangerous Lilly and Kenton of FunkIt Toys was recorded here, and I'll be doing a summary post later and a flame test of my own on Instagram one of these days.

The biggest learnings for me happened in the Bloggers' Lounge, a too-cold conference room filled with comfy chairs and the place we all went to introvert together when the activity of the sessions got to be too much. It was here that the personas I'd come to know via Twitter over the last few months were demystified, where I got to meet people behind the avatars and actually build relationships (one of my favorite pasttimes).

 I know that the melty jar smells like pool toys because I opened it and smelled it myself. Featuring  Fairy Cakes Land  standing next to me,  Witch of the Wands  looking in amused disgust, and my beautiful thighs.

I know that the melty jar smells like pool toys because I opened it and smelled it myself. Featuring Fairy Cakes Land standing next to me, Witch of the Wands looking in amused disgust, and my beautiful thighs.

Big names, people I look up to in the industry are human to me now, and it's because I got the chance to sit in a room and shoot the shit with them for a few days. The sex blogging world becomes a lot less scary once you put names to faces and realize that we're all just people trying to make the world slightly less shitty. Of course, you had to be able to get a foot in the door in the first place, which ties back to my earlier point about accessibility.

It was here where I learned about practical things like building brand relationships and pitching to sponsors. The people I met and the knowledge they shared helped me feel at peace in the space, and in my role as a member of this community.

Most importantly, I got to express myself in a way that I don't get to in my every day life. It made me so happy to be among people to whom I didn't need to explain why I liked what I did. They just understood (or if they didn't they were polite about it). More brown faces would've been nice but a girl can dream and push for more bloggers of color next year.

 Yours truly, mid-spank. Not pictured: the very scary lady holding two floggers. That beautiful ass next to me?  P  retty Pink Lotus Bud.

Yours truly, mid-spank. Not pictured: the very scary lady holding two floggers. That beautiful ass next to me? Pretty Pink Lotus Bud.

We had an impromptu impact play scene on Saturday night, which consisted of me bottoming for over 90 minutes and being hit with at least 5 different implements. I felt so connected with myself during that time, that the pain on my plane ride home the next day was completely worth it. That was my first time being part of a scene in public, and it was so chill! It was like any other day, except someone is getting flogged on the floor.

I'm not done using my #WoodhullLessons. If anything, I'm just getting started. I'm excited to take this energy + momentum and use it to carry me into my next year of blogging and beyond!

Fortunately, I've been offered the opportunity to attend Sex Down South 2018 in Atlanta, another sexuality-focused conference in September. I'm hoping that the Southern setting and emphasis on Blackness at this conference will help me step even more fully into my role as Sexology Bae. At the least, I'm hoping to get my ass beat again.