Sexuality conferences are the best. Getting to present at a new one, put on by scholars and activists I respect, is going to be a highlight of 2018.
The Positive Sexuality Conference will be the first of its kind, focusing on cultivating strengths, well-being, and happiness in the realm of sexuality. It looks to be a hybrid conference, open to academics, activists, students, and everyone in between, and honestly, that sounds like precisely the kind of invigorating atmosphere I’d enjoy.
My experience at a similar conference, the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit, led me to dub it the “best conference ever.” Because, again, it has that invigorating atmosphere that many uniformly-academic conferences do not. This is also, incidentally, why I enjoy ICFA so much: because in addition to scholars, there are writers, artists, editors, and publishers present.
Okay, back to the Positive Sexuality Conference, or as I’ve been nicknaming it for brevity’s sake, SexPosCon: I was intrigued when I saw the theme, because I agree that so much discourse on sexuality focuses on the negative (the consequences and risks of various sex acts; stigma, homophobia, and transphobia; STI education and prevention; etc.). And don’t get me wrong, we need to focus on the stuff that’s messed up in order to address problems and move forward with solutions.
But if your sex education is only about risk and coming from a fear-based place, that means you won’t be talking about pleasure. If your sex ed focuses on pregnancy prevention alone, you won’t have room for conversations that include folks for whom pregnancy isn’t a thing (people who don’t have penis-in-vagina sex; intersex or infertile folks for whom that isn’t an option). If your sex ed makes the (somewhat progressive, sadly enough) move of addressing sexual violence and intimate partner violence, then you need to make sure that you’re covering healthy relationship structures and communication in addition to flagging the potentially abusive stuff.
[Abstinence-only] educators have tons to say about the social, psychological, and spiritual risks of premarital sex, while withholding factual information about the physical risks or potential ways to prevent specific outcomes like pregnancy and STI transmission…I wonder how young adults (or hell, any adults) are supposed to mentally flip on a switch that says “okay, now that I’m married it’s acceptable to start learning about sex – from anatomically accurate body part names to how desire and arousal work – but not one second earlier!” My mind reels with the cognitive dissonance of this enormous task: suddenly, upon getting married, being faced with the need to learn everything there is to know about how to have a happy, healthy, and successful sex life with your spouse.
Clearly, we have a ways to go when it comes to finding that delicate balance between “here are some risks and here’s how to protect yourself” and “sex can be wonderful, intimacy is a basic human need that we shouldn’t keep ignoring, and here are some great ways to explore pleasure.”
So I’m all about SexPosCon’s mission, and thus I was delighted when I found out that my proposal had been accepted!
My paper’s titled “Trans Tales and Queer Witches: Sex-Positive Images and Resources in Folklore.” Here’s the abstract:
Folklore – informally transmitted traditional culture – provides a wealth of images about sex, gender, sexuality, and relationships, ranging from normative to subversive. Many folkloric representations are undoubtedly sex-negative, from the passive princesses of the Disney franchise (often based on the Grimms’ fairy tales) to the disastrous consequences of sex in urban legends and rumors. However, folkloric materials provide many untapped resources for understanding various viewpoints on sex: among others, European folktales featuring transgender protagonists and global legends where witches queer gender.
In this talk, I bring insights from folklore studies to bear on contemporary issues in the study of and advocacy for positive sexuality. In defining folklore as a living part of culture, not simply crusty old tales, we can become attuned to the resources that communities have used and still use today, from popular storytelling genres to coded forms of communication like the hanky code. Sexuality researchers, educators, and activists will leave this presentation with an appreciation for the how studying folklore allows us to speak in terms of community resilience and resistance, as well as an understanding of how traditional views of sexuality still impact us today.
Those of you who know me know that I’m all about exploring the connections between folklore and sexuality. It’s my jam. And other people are into it too; for example, my talk at AASECT this year on the roots of hypersexuality in fairy tales and literature, co-presented with my fantastic colleague Lucie Fielding, was extremely well-received! Clearly people want to know more about the intersections of folklore and sexuality, they just don’t always know the right questions to ask or the best topics to inquire about.
Hence I’m really thrilled to be bringing my expertise to the inaugural SexPosCon, in addition to getting to meet all the other wonderful folks who will be there! The keynote speaker, for example, is Susan Wright, the founder of NCSF (the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, which does incredibly important work). And I’m hoping that meeting some of the people involved with the Journal of Positive Sexuality, since I’ve been interested in publishing with them but haven’t known where to start.
So, SexPosCon – let’s do this!