The Good Vibrations Sex Summit happened this past Saturday (October 27, 2012) – I went, I spoke, and it was awesome.
According to press material:
Good Vibrations is the San Francisco-based retailer trusted for more than three decades to provide a comfortable, safe environment for finding sex-positive products and educational materials to enhance one’s sex life.
Through this “Gathering Of Great Minds On Sexual Politics, Health, Education, and Culture,” Good Vibrations was working to address the sexual state of the union.
From the battle over reproductive freedom to the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, sex is dominating politics and headlines and it is keenly felt in this election year. Pioneering adult retailer Good Vibrations has gathered the brightest minds to explore our sexual state of the union at the Sex Summit on October 27th in San Francisco, CA. Featuring an all-star line-up of authors, journalists, academics, and pop culture commentators, this day-long conference will unpack the many issues and implications in sex and the media, health, pop culture, and politics.
The day-long conference consisted of three keynotes, four panels, and some great moderators. Some people did double-duty (ie each keynote presenter was also on a panel), and some people really carried the MCing. Honestly, there was too much to ever fully recap it all, so I think I’ll focus on three folks I found to be especially interesting: Debby Herbenick, Heather Corinna, and Brian Alexander.
Debby Herbenick, PhD, MPH, gave the opening keynote at Sex Summit. Debby is a Research Scientist and Associate Director at The Center for Sexual Health Promotion and a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction at Indiana University, where she writes and hosts podcasts of the Kinsey Confidential column. Debby is also the author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction and Sex Made Easy: Your Awkward Questions Answered for Better, Smarter, Amazing Sex. She has a PhD in health behavior from Indiana University and a master’s degree in public health from Indiana University. In addition, she is certified as a sexuality educator from the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists.
Debby’s keynote was AMAZING (as was her contribution to the “Sexual Health and Pharmaceuticals” panel). She discussed her research, specifically her work on big, national, representative surveys about sex and sex-related behaviors. Her findings were interesting, but I think her insights regarding the difficulties of conducting large-scale quantitative survey-based work were almost more useful.
Here’s the thing: unless you’ve been trained in demography and/or been a part of a project of this nature, it’s almost impossible to comprehend how difficult, tedious, and expensive this sort of work is. Every word matters, and every word counts. Better: every word costs.
By going through just some of her process, Debby was able to convey to an audience of not-demographers (I’m pretty sure that characterizes most of the folks in the room accurately) just how difficult it is to get this kind of work done. And though this may be all sorts of problematic and unfair, the fact remains that we live in a world that privileges this sort of information. While some folks are working to reframe the system, Debby is one of a rare few working to advance sexual knowledge within the canon’s terms. Not only is her work amazing (and, occasionally, amazingly obvious), it manages to frame sex-positive findings in a manner that is understandable to the powers that be.
I could write as I do currently for the rest of my life and probably never accomplish that, while Debby gets it done.
Check out Debby on MySexProfessor.com.
Sometimes it feels like all I do is lament the state of sex education in the US, both for adults and for young people. Because I really honestly feel that sex-positive, informed, and diverse sex education would benefit… like… the world – this would also have a positive impact on the ways in which we interact with adult entertainment.
But, unlike me, Heather Corinna is actually doing something about it. (the sex education part, that is)
Heather is the executive director of Scarleteen, the inclusive online resource for young adult sexuality education and information that she founded in 1998. She is the author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College; a contributor to numerous sexuality and erotica anthologies and other publications; and director of the CONNECT sexual health outreach program for King County, which primarily serves homeless and transient youth. She is on the editorial board of the American Journal of Sexuality Education, was a writer and contributing editor for the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves, a member of the Board of Directors for NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, and her sexuality advice is syndicated weekly at RH Reality Check.
That pretty much says it all. Like Debby, Heather also spoke on the “Sexual Health and Pharmaceuticals” panel, and her insights were razor sharp and amazing. A lot of what she said was informed by Scarleteen. Here is some text from their “About” page:
Scarleteen is an independent, grassroots sexuality education and support organization and website. Founded in 1998, Scarleteen.com is visited by around three-quarters of a million diverse people each month worldwide, most between the ages of 15 and 25. It is the highest-ranked website for sex education and sexuality advice online and has held that rank through most of its tenure.
Since 2006 alone, our site has had over one billion hits and nearly 70 million page loads. We have an above-average rate of page reads and amount of time spent at our site: young people spend almost twice as long here as users on Facebook and nine times as long as users on YouTube or MySpace (Nielsen, 2009). We engage in around 5,000 direct conversations with users online per year via our message boards alone. Most users find Scarleteen through search engines or when provided a link or verbal referral from friends, other websites or magazines; parents, guardians and other family members; healthcare providers/clinics or other sexuality/sexual health education programs and resources. Every day, young people and adults who care about them let us know how valuable they find our services…
When Scarleteen was first created, we had to start from scratch. In early 1998, around a year after the first abstinence-only mandates began, there wasn’t anything like it we could look to in building our model. Scarleteen was created out of an expressed need: young people had written Scarleteen’s founder letters asking for sexuality information and support through a website she maintained about adult women’s sexuality, and she had nowhere online she could refer them that provided direct service for young people…
As with previous generations, many young people in their teens and twenties today have already begun or desire to soon begin enacting their sexuality with others, often with little to no accurate and inclusive sexuality and sexual health information. We know that comprehensive sexuality education has been proven to have positive outcomes, whatever choices young people make, including increased condom and contraceptive use, lower rates of unintended pregnancy, and a decrease in sexual debut that occurs earlier than youth may want or be prepared for. We also know the kinds of negative outcomes that are far more likely to occur without that information and support. [this and so much more here!!]
I highly recommend checking out Scarleteen… It’s a huge piece of the change I, for one, want to see in the world!!
Check out some of Heather’s work at Scarleteen.com.
Brian Alexander, who gave the closing keynote and spoke on the “Sex & Media” panel (with me!!), is an award-winning jounalist and author who has been a contributing editor at Wired and Glamour magazines and has written for The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Outside, and many others. He is the author of four books, including America Unzipped: The Search for Sex and Satisfaction. His new book, written with neuroscientist Larry Young, is The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction. It was published in September, 2012.
Brian did two great things during Sex Summit…
1. He asked for definitions.
When people (myself included) discussed “The Media,” Brian asked for clarification. And he was 100% right to do so. Because, just like there is no “The Women” and “The Pornography,” there is no one monolithic version of The Media. Clarifying who and what exactly is being discussed, be it for their positive or problematic or otherwise whatever dimensions, is important.
Sex Summit was filled with energetic and like-minded individuals; and though we didn’t all work on the exact same things, we all seemed to be working toward the same end goals. Brian’s simple question about clarifying concepts and players reminded me that there are so many other perspectives out there. Regardless or whether or not I agree with them, these positionalitites need to be addressed as spaces and places other humans may choose (yes, “choose” is loaded) to engage. Because being mindful and respectful of all human’s lived experiences and chosen paths is what sex positivity and social justice are all about.
2. He overtly pointed out in his closing keynote what Debby Herbenick’s opening keynote and work were an example of – meeting X on their terms (ie speaking a common language, finding common ground, etc) in order to encourage change.
Brian’s closing keynote and his discussion during the panel were met with a variety of reactions, and not all of them seemed to be approving. But what I got from Brian’s closing keynote was this: there are a lot of people out there, and they’re not all as “repressed” as we may think. Consequently, a useful course of action may be to ally with others – others who may seem “different” from us on the surface – in a common space.
Maybe it’s around safety for children, maybe it’s around freedom to engage in whatever sex behaviors we enjoy (with consenting adults, of course)… Maybe it’s just around the idea of respecting individual choices, I don’t know. But what I heard from Brian is that, though we certainly have much variability, we humans are really not all that different. Thus, a useful enterprise might be to meet on those similar points, rather than attempting to get “others” to change into “us.”
It’s an interesting idea.
Check out some of Brian’s work at BrianRAlexander.com.
In sum, Sex Summit was awesome. I wish you had been there, and I hope to go again next year.
Good Vibrations for The Win!!!!
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