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. 

What Does It Really mean To Pay for Sex?

Sex work is the world's oldest profession. Although it has evolved into more of an umbrella term due to technological advancements and the development of things like camming, sexting, and porn, at its core sex work is still what it always has been--the exchange of sex for money or something else of value.

But what if I told you that sex has always been transactional? This probably comes as a shock to some of you, because in my experience the Venn Diagram of men who won't spend money on a woman without expecting sex in return and men who shame sex workers for their profession is a circle. Non-men aren't without blame in the perpetuation of violence against sex workers though. misogyny is insidious and we've all been bamboozled into thinking that buying into it offers us some sort of protection from its effects. it doesn't, especially when you add in other factors like race, social class, and (dis) ability.

I've touched on our society's control of women in previous posts, so rather than getting back into that, let's unpack our cultural aversion to admitting we like to pay for sex. 

Historically, women were "sold" by their fathers to the highest bidder via marriage. Whether it be for political alliances, land, money, or protection, women have always been a form of currency. Along with this exchange came the expectation that the daughter was a virgin, because who wants to pay full price for used goods? Puritanical, patriarchal ideas about women's bodies rooted in Christian doctrine had nothing to say about selling your daughter's pussy for a couple of acres and some livestock because everything is pure in the eyes of God since she's married, but it takes a lot of issue with a woman deciding those things for herself.

I'm on twitter fairly often and I see tweets like this all the time:

  I didn't write this tweet, but I cropped out the username for privacy.

I didn't write this tweet, but I cropped out the username for privacy.

The first thing that annoys me about this post is that it implies that "prostitution" is something people should want to avoid. For many people, sex work is a lucrative and fulfilling career. More than that, this post fundamentally misunderstands how sex works...works. Dating someone who can provide for you financially is radically different than having clients pay you for sexual services.

Whorephobia aside, almost all of us have used sex in a transactional way to get what we want. If you've plied someone with gifts to endear them to you so they'd have sex with you, you've had transactional sex. If you've had sex with someone because they've given you gifts, you've had transactional sex. If you've accepted and/or given sex in exchange for something else (like weed), you've had transactional sex. This doesn't mean you're a sex worker, but I make this analogy to demonstrate that sex workers choosing to monetize the same thing we all do is just good business acumen. Ancient ideas about sexuality just make us regard them as not worthy of respect. 

Using sex transactionally isn't inherently a bad thing! It's just the nature of how sex has worked in our society forever and how we're socialized to engage with it. but trying to do mental gymnastics to justify how we're not doing just that perpetuates stigma that ultimately impacts actual sex workers. Let people (consensually) fuck in peace and get it how they think is best.

 

 

 

 

Puff, Puff, F*ck?

I’m not ever going to advocate that someone turn to drugs and/or alcohol to make their sex life more fulfilling or pleasurable. It’s potentially dangerous for a lot of different reasons. But for those of you who do use these substances as a way to cope with issues that make intimacy difficult, just know that I see you and you shouldn’t feel shame for doing what you think is best for you and your body.

I have anxiety. More specifically, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and most of its accompanying symptoms, like a pervasive feeling of impending doom, trouble sleeping and problems with concentration. I’m notorious for being a worrywart, and for finding things to make me worry if there weren’t enough already. I’ve been this way since at least my early teen years, and I’m fairly certain it’s genetic, based on conversations with my mom.

My anxious thoughts make communicating difficult at times. I’m afraid the person I’m talking to won’t take me seriously, because what sounds like a perfectly rational statement or concern to me sounds like paranoid rambling to someone else. I’m very good at knowing what I want or need in all facets of my life, but absolutely terrible at communicating it — to friends, lovers, family, whoever. It’s why I struggle with writing consistently, because I’m afraid the things I feel are unique only to me and I’ll sound…crazy. I’m slowly unlearning that mindset but it still shows up every now and then.

In the decade or so since I became a teenager, I’ve learned some more about myself. As an adult, my anxiety hasn’t gotten worse — there are just more things to be anxious about. Even as I got older and embraced my sexuality, I realized my anxiety was showing up in the bedroom, too.

In my day-to-day life, I hate feeling inconvenienced by arguments or disagreements, so I generally let things ride until it’s so far past what I’m okay with that I have to speak up. When it comes to sex, this has led me to some not-so-comfortable situations where I allowed things to happen that I wasn’t okay with. I struggle with those moments in retrospect, because I don’t think I can feel violated since I didn’t speak up or otherwise indicate my discomfort or non-consent, and people aren’t mind-readers. But that’s a mental unpacking for another day.

Despite having understanding and communicative partners, I always felt uncomfortable expressing my sexual needs. Part of it is the social conditioning that seeks to shame women for being open about sexuality, and the other part is my anxiety. There was a point where I just wasn’t enjoying sex because I wasn’t communicating what I wanted. And that’s where my good friend Mary Jane comes in. Sex is complicated! Especially if you’re prone to overthinking and you have self-esteem issues that make it hard to get out of your head and into your body.

[I’m so bad at finding good pictures. All the ones with the keyword smoke or smoking looked cheesy or otherwise didn’t apply.]

 

I smoked and had sex for the first time on the same day in high school. They were both pretty underwhelming experiences. After that, I engaged in both activities pretty sporadically until I got to college. I was having sex way more often, but that knot in my gut just wouldn’t go away. I could never feel truly comfortable, just that I was going through the motions with enough self-awareness to actively consent to everything that was going on.

I started smoking more consistently in college, and that’s when something clicked. Sex was way more fun when I was high. I was able to communicate more, to share those desires that I normally felt too awkward to say out loud even with a trusted partner. Because my communication was more open and fluid, I was able to try new things. Everything also felt so much better physically.

Being able to speak up made me more confident about myself, and my confidence helped me develop my sexual identity. Granted, I’m still very young and my sexual needs and desires will change as I get older, but I’ve been told that the kind of insight I have about my sexual self and myself as a sexual being takes years if not decades for people to understand, if they ever do.

Part of the danger in using intoxicating substances is that they alter how you function. As we (may or may not) know, physical drug addiction boils down to our bodies essentially needing to be in this altered state to function normally. It’s why physical withdrawal symptoms are potentially fatal. To be completely honest, I still self-medicate my anxiety with weed to this day because I can’t afford to/don’t have the time during regular business hours to see a psychiatrist.

At any rate, I knew that I didn’t want to have to be high in order to enjoy sex for the rest of my life, so about 2 years ago I did what I should’ve done years ago: I turned the lens inward to dig into the root of my anxiety — specifically about sex — so I could unpack it and figure out a more sustainable coping method. It took a lot of internal dialogue, journaling, and talking to my partner about the things that made me so uncomfortable.

I don’t feel the need to share all of my findings, but suffice it to say that I’m an overthinker who constantly seeks external validation and it really throws me for a loop when I think I won’t get it. The discoveries I made about myself during this introspection actually led me to start blogging as a means of expression and connecting with others who may have felt similarly.

I don’t have it all together by any means, and I definitely don’t have my anxiety under control. But I’ve made a lot of progress in feeling comfortable advocating for myself in the bedroom while sober.

High sex still feels better, though…