Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit 2016: Part 1

I was dying to go to Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit. Since I found out about it last year, attending was on my to-do list. The Woodhull Freedom Foundation’s mission is to affirm sexual freedom as a fundamental human right. That’s a cause I can get on board with! Plus, a ton of industry folks were attending, including my beloved blogger community. Last year I watched everyone tweeting as they spent a weekend in sex-positive heaven, wishing that I’d found a sponsor to get there myself.

This year luck was on my side. I was fortunate enough to have a little money saved up, and when Harry and Mary found out that I couldn’t quite afford to go they were kind enough to pay for my registration. Then Lilly helped me connect with Ignite and I was over the moon! Without Ignite I would have had to choose between getting a room or eating something every day. Obviously, my experience was greatly improved by Ignite’s sponsorship, because I got to attend, sleep in a bed, AND eat!

On Friday I attended “Self-Publishing for Radicals” (#SFSPublish), “Navigating Social Media Practices for Adult Businesses” (#SFSMedia), and “Likes and Liberation” (#SFSLikes). That evening I partied at the Blogger PJ Party, hosted by our beloved SheVibe. Saturday’s schedule was “Eugenics: It’s Still a Thing” (#SFSEugenics), the Roundtable Lunch, and “The Monster Under the Bed” (#SFSMonster). I had originally planned to attend a couple more sessions, but life happened. I really enjoyed the sessions that I did attend.

I think that the session I learned the most in was “Eugenics: It’s Still a Thing.” Full disclosure: Erin Basler, who presented this seminar, was one of my bosses during my internship at The CSPH. That was a huge contributing factor in my decision to attend the seminar. Once the session started, I was shocked by what I learned. Previously, whenever someone asked me about eugenics (inevitably while playing Cards Against Humanity), I was like, “Nazis did it,” because I had no idea that it was a much of a thing in America, nor did I realize it was STILL a thing in America. And, believe it or not, the Nazi eugenics program was based on a blueprint for compulsory sterilization laws in the United States.

Over 30 states adopted compulsory sterilization laws, and many of those laws remain on the books today. In 1927 the Supreme Court affirmed states’ rights to forcibly sterilize the disabled. After World War II ended, eugenics “ended,” and instead states began implementing “eugenics-based practices,” which limit the reproductive decisions of marginalized groups like the disabled, people of color, cis women, the poor, and trans people. And don’t think that Europe was exempt from the horrors of eugenics-based practices after the fall of Nazi Germany; in addition to the 28 U.S. states that require it, 34 European nations require “medically-appropriate treatment” (including sterilization) for the government to recognize gender transition.

Eugenics: still a thing, and still super shitty. We cannot ignore eugenics and eugenics-based practices as reproductive justice issues. It’s not just the government – the non-profit industrial complex is complicit in contemporary eugenics.

To read more about what we learned regarding eugenics, check out the #SFSEugenics tweets.

“Self-Publishing for Radicals” was taught by Allison Moon (of Lunatic Fringe and Girl Sex 101 fame) and was an informative glimpse into the world of self-publishing: why people do it, what people need for it, and the pros and cons of it. Writing a book has been one of my goals since I was in middle school, so learning more about the world of self-publishing was really wonderful. That really isn’t the focus of my blog, so I won’t go into a lot of detail about the session, but if you’re interested in learning more about it, you can check out the #SFSPublishing tweets.

The social media panels were really interesting to me. #SFSMedia with Sandra, Metis, and JoEllen we learned a lot about the social media history of Shevibe and Tantus. When Shevibe started they had multiple Myspace accounts, one for each of their signature heroes. Can you imagine managing 6 social media profiles? Like, REALLY managing them? Engaging with people on each one, writing/drawing/photographing new content for each? That sounds exhausting. I can’t even handle having three Facebook accounts, and after managing The CSPH’s social media for about four months I can confirm that my head would explode.

In #SFSMedia we also talked a lot about social ethics and responsibility, making (and owning up to) mistakes, and social media self-care. Take breaks when you’re stressed out, and remember that you can block people. Block button, block button, block button. If you turn out your bathroom light and say it three times in front of a mirror, a troll appears and harasses you until you learn to use it. Or you could just post about social justice and sex, not use your block button, get overwhelmed, and surf off of the internet forever on a wave of dick pics and rape threats. But we don’t want that, because chances are that we like your face and your quality content.

#SFSLikes was a little bit more focused on activism and creating dialogues via social media. We talked about hashtags like #LubeGate and #TweetYourLube, which brought a topic that was somewhat obscure/taboo in the mainstream (personal lube for your ~personal parts~) into the spotlight and sparked lots of discussion about it. We also discussed how social media can be a great platform for minority activists, but that it can also reinstate social hierarchies – who has the time for social media? Who has access to social media? Who has the followers and engagement to bring about change? It was a very thoughtful presentation by Gwen Rosen.

My last session was #SFSMonster, the seminar about sex and depression taught by JoEllen Notte and Stephen Biggs. This session had a lot of audience participation, which resulted in a lot of resource-sharing and advice. I am not sure if Stephen and JoEllen got through all of their material because of the frequent interruptions, but the things they did say were very wise and impactful.

For starters, depression doesn’t always mean an end to sex. In JoEllen’s survey, she found that more people wanted MORE sex when they were depressed, rather than less. This hit home for me, because for a long time when my depression was very severe, sex was a high priority for me. Now I live medicated, with a consistent feeling of less-severe depression, my feelings are completely reversed.

Making conscious decisions about sex is important. If you’re not feeling up to sex, don’t force it. And speaking in terms of physical arousal, just because the bodily cues that you’re used to (an erection, vaginal lubrication) aren’t necessarily there doesn’t mean that you can’t have sex. In fact, depression messing with your body’s reactions just gives you an excuse to try new things. You might have to re-learn what acts are going to arouse you, or what acts will constitute “sex” for you – maybe vaginal intercourse isn’t my thing anymore, but my partner using a vibrator on me is. (I don’t know, I’d have to stop crying in bed long enough to try). It’s frustrating when our bodies won’t do what we used to do regularly, but the world of sex is vast, and there are always more things to try.

We talked a lot about coping, self-care, and support systems. Emotionally speaking, being open with your partner(s) about your capacity to do things, including support them emotionally at that moment, is a big deal. If your partner needs a shoulder to cry on, it can mean a lot to affirm their feelings and acknowledge that you care about them, but tell them you don’t have the energy to be wholly present and attentive. Many audience members confirmed that this makes them feel heard.

Stephen and JoEllen discussed how having separate social lives can help a romantic relationship a lot, because having a wide and varied support system means that the depressed person’s partner doesn’t feel the pressure of being the only person that their partner can rely on.

Another audience suggestion for people with depression (or other chronic illnesses) was saving a spoon for your partner at the end of the day. This is based on spoon theory, but if you don’t want to learn about the details of spoon theory then just think of it as “saving a little bit of energy” for your partner.

A lot of these suggestions were really thoughtful and valuable, and I appreciated a perspective on depression and relationships that took a step back from feelings and experiences and focused on resources and solutions. It was nice to get out of my own head for a while, and also very affirming to be in a space with people who live with similar mental and chronic illnesses.

In my next post about this year’s Sexual Freedom Summit I’m going to talk about the social aspects of the event. While you’re waiting for me to publish that, please consider checking out the site of my sole Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit 2016 sponsor, Ignite. I had never heard of Ignite before Lilly connected me with them, but I am really impressed by their commitment to body-safe products, and I highly recommend considering them the next time you’re shopping for sex toys.

Ignite Pleasure Products Banner

If you’d like to see all my tweets from #SFS16, here’s a link to them!