Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit 2015


Bright and early on the morning of August 12th, my partner, myself, and a lovely friend of ours loaded up our tiny road-tripping hatchback and set off on the 9+ hour drive to Alexandria, VA for Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit. You may recall that in my list of goals for 2015, I expressed a desire to attend my first sexuality conference — and with the shared travel expenses & the amazing
generosity of Tantus and njoy‘s blogger scholarship, that goal suddenly became much more attainable.

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 101718 AM_phixr_phixrI didn’t know what to expect from my first conference. And to be honest…there was a part of me that was panicking, fearful of being an outcast among a group of super accomplished bloggers & sex educators. I’m a dangerous combination of introvert & perfectionist by nature, with social anxiety that kicks in during new and/or crowded situations. What if I couldn’t handle the pressure to be “on” all the time? Or what if nobody understood my special brand of weirdness? 

As it turns out, I had no reason to worry; I have never felt so completely understood and, as a result, so comfortable in my own skin. Woodhull went out of their way to make us feel welcome, Tantus was amazing enough to sponsor a special Blogger’s Lounge that served as a calming oasis (and a place to squish their fabulous new dildos), JoEllen Notte (aka the Redhead Bedhead) made an encouraging video to remind everyone about the importance of self care, and there was an abundance of hugs all around. It honestly felt like I was part of a magical little sex-positive family.

Buck AngelI cried while Crista Anne shared her experience with depression that so closely matched my own. I rallied behind Lilly when she declared, “As a group, we are loud. We make shit happen. We don’t shut up.” I felt unease at the intersection of sexual consent & dementia, examined my own language for both offensiveness and trans* inclusivity, and found acceptance of my lingering sexual shame thanks to the unique way that Charlie Glickman approaches the subject. I got hands-on experience in zine-making thanks to the very talented Pleasure Pie and learned about the super impressive lube research that Sarah Mueller of Smitten Kitten has been conducting.

But most importantly, I made connections with amazing individuals that all share a common passion for sexual freedom & education. I got to meet many inspirational people in person for the first time, including Metis Black & Peyton from Tantus, Sandra & Thor from SheVibe, and the original “sex geek” Reid Mihalko. I danced with the ever-beautiful Nina Hartley and got a little teary as I thanked Buck Angel for helping me learn to love my vulva.

And then…there was the “blog squad.”

Me, Artemisia, Epiphora, Lena, Bex, Reenie, & Penny

Photo credit: Penny of www.pennysdirtythoughts.com

Dizzy was the reason that I was brave enough to venture out of my room the first day, and meeting her in person felt so natural and easy that the first few hours in the blogger’s lounge flew by. Honestly, I think that I was better at keeping up a conversation with her than I am with some people I’ve known for years, and that proved to be a good indicator for how the rest of the weekend would go.

Lena was a complete riot. I thought I was going to die when she presented a member of the Woodhull Board of Directors with a tiny dildo as a consolation for missing their floor. (It only got better when a very confused businessman that was sharing the elevator with us asked, “…What do you intend to do with that?”) She is one of those rare, super-authentic individuals that, in turn, makes you feel more free to be yourself.

Lilly, with her infamous reputation for being “100% bite,” was actually one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. She’s passionate, she holds nothing back, and we desperately need more people like her in the world. I loved every moment of ranting with her about the absence of accurate electro-safety information and first-toy horrors. I never did tell her this, but…she’s my biggest blogging role model. Hers was one of the very first sex blogs I started reading, long before her focus was on toy safety. My other favorites have all disappeared over the years, but she has continued to grow and create change.

Lunabelle's amazing dildo suitcaseIn contrast, I didn’t know a whole lot about Lunabelle before the summit, but I quickly learned that it’s impossible not to adore her in all her sex ninja glory. She may have even done the impossible and turned me on to the fantasy genre with her epic suitcase full of bright & colorful dildos (which we, of course, dug into like it was Christmas in August). As sex toy reviewers, we’ve seen a lot, but this collection had all of our jaws on the floor.

Reenie was a fucking champ. As many of us were freaking out and wanting to hide, she was walking through the hotel waving around dragon cocks and inviting people to win dildos. I know she was nervous about starting conversations with so many people, but she really did make it look effortless. And when she did quiet down…I enjoyed waiting for her to pop back into the conversation in adorable & hilarious ways, like with her first dick pic.

Epiphora hosted an epic sex blogger pajama party on the last night of the summit, where we surprisingly discovered that we are post-puberty Hanson soulmates and she introduced us all to the now extinct Mr. Man. This, of course, inspired an impromptu DIY dildo brainstorming session — because some of us (like myself) are very intrigued, and the disappearance of a legitimately innovative sex toy simply isn’t fair, dammit. But seriously, Piph’s just as awesome & snarky as you all had hoped.

Bex, Nina, & Me

Photo credit: Artemisia of www.afemmecock.com

And then there’s Bex. Without her, there’s no way I would have been brave enough to dance with Nina Hartley — and none of us would have managed to make dinner happen that first night. She is a force to be reckoned with and has one of the brightest (and most seductive) smiles I’ve ever seen. Her use of the term “vagina feelings” is totally contagious and, at the risk of sounding creepy, I may have watched one of her video reviews during con-drop because it’s impossible to be sad with that glorious east coast accent.

Penny was just as sweet as I imagined she’d be. When I first found myself in a loud room full of bloggers and was feeling overwhelmed, she was the first one to come over & strike up a conversation. I’m pretty sure that she’s my kindred spirit when it comes to cats & books — except I’m not nearly cool enough to pull off this dress. Oh! And if you haven’t already checked out her Etsy shop, get on that. How else are you going to cover your coffee table in dildo coasters?

If the weekend was a roleplaying adventure, Artemisia was the glittery hero among us as she successfully defeated the Rockbox monster by spilling its battery-guts all over the hotel floor. And if that wasn’t enough… By the end of the weekend, she was able to regale us with the epic tale of obtaining not one, but two njoy Elevens (one for her; one for Bex) before sharpie tattooing perfect sex toy silhouettes on Penny’s bum. She’s totally the chosen one.

I love discovering new bloggers, and Mary & Harry were no exception. In fact, I found them to be some of the most inspiring individuals at Woodhull. Listening to the stories about how their relationship has grown over time was simply amazing and it made my heart smile, knowing that it is possible for love to embrace major change.

swag_phixrIf I have one tiny bit of sadness from the summit, it’s that I wish I would have had more time to talk to Crista. She was the one person that I couldn’t stop myself from running straight up to for hugs, and I absolutely loved hearing about her “outlaw dildo peddler” days. She is a huge inspiration of mine and one of the most warm-hearted individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.

I didn’t get to talk to Caitlin or Beck much either, but I still feel honored to have met both of them. Caitlin’s fashion sense is simply to die for. I’m convinced that there’s never a moment when they don’t look absolutely stunning. And although I only got a moment’s time with Beck, I was so happy that she was able to attend the Summit after working so hard to get there.

I honestly could not have asked for a better group of people to spend my weekend with, shenanigans & all. It was such a uniquely freeing experience and it inspired me to not only become a better blogger & sex educator, but a better person in general. I realize now more than ever just how lucky I am to be a part of this online community.

                     njoy-logo   tantuslogo

I want to thank njoy & (my affiliate) Tantus again for granting me one of the blogger scholarships. If you’re in the market for stainless steel or premium silicone toys, please consider ordering some of their beautiful products. 

woodhull logo

I’d also like to thank Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance for all of the amazing things they are doing to make the world a better, more sex-positive place. If you’d like to find out how to donate to their cause, simply click on the banner above.

If you’d like to read more highlights from the Sexual Freedom Summit, check out the tweets from #SFS15 or read what my fellow bloggers had to say about the experience…

Sex Blogger Travels: NYC

As some of you may have noticed from my #SexBloggerVaca posts on Twitter & Instagram, I had the amazing opportunity to visit New York City this summer. My brilliant partner got accepted into a summer institute at NYU, which of course meant 6 long, strange weeks during which I talked to the cats like they were people. But it also led to a very convenient & thrifty week full of big-city adventures together.

Being a sex geek, I had a slightly different list of must-see attractions than most. I scoured the internet for sex toy stores, weird museums, and erotic date ideas. I discovered a few places that were absolutely out of our price range, some that simply weren’t having any events during the week that I was in town, and (most heart-breaking of all) a handful of amazing places that have gone out of business in the last few years.

We jam-packed our days together, riding the subway all over town. I got to squish Vixskin, drool over Fucking Sculptures, & feel the heft of the njoy Eleven. I somewhat unexpectedly discovered the appeal of packers after encountering the pure realness of one. And I squeed to anyone who would listen about how amazing Tantus is, because there they were — in real brick & mortar shops!

For a girl straight out of the sexually repressed Midwest, it was like a dreamworld; like I jumped straight into the internet with all of my favorite manufacturers, retailers, & other sex-positive individuals. For anyone who is planning a sexy trip to NYC — or simply feeling isolated and desperate for a reminder that shame-free communities do exist…Here are my 2 cents on the whole experience.

pc textPleasure ChestI had just arrived in NYC and I was excited to jump straight into my own custom-tailored, sex obsessed itinerary. “I’m not going to have to put anything in my mouth, am I?” my partner nervously asked as we made our way to the Pleasure Chest‘s advanced blowjob workshop, cleverly titled Head of the Class.

This would be my first visit to a sex-positive toy store & my first real-life glimpse of adult sex education. To be honest, I wanted to see if I thought I could be on the other side of this experience some day: standing in front of a group of people, teaching them how to have great sex. I know it’s silly, but I was fearful of suddenly realizing that I am on the wrong path.

If anything, this experience only reinforced my dreams of becoming a sex educator. Despite the room being full of strangers, the facilitator expertly fostered feelings of relaxation, openness, and sex-positivity. Plus, I learned a few things along the way! I would suggest that anyone who lives (or visits) near a Pleasure Chest store to take advantage of this amazing resource. Workshops are free — and we even received a 15% in-store coupon for any purchase after the class!

The following morning I’m standing in Bluestockings bookstore, flipping through zines about consent, menstruation, & herbal abortions while chatting with my partner’s classmate about my upcoming trip to Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit. Again, I’m struck by the atmosphere of the place. It’s soft & welcoming, but yet still considered “radical.”

In case you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a huge bookworm. I’ll happily waste hours in any old bookstore, but nothing makes me happier than cozy little shops that cater to my specific interests of sex & gender studies. Bluestockings is an open-minded, intellectual oasis.

I leave with a couple of issues of Bitch, homemade zines, & a huge smile on my face — only slightly regretting the fact that I passed up the felt nipples.

museumofsexEven before my partner got accepted into his academic program, I started daydreaming about the Museum of Sex. Okay okay. Let’s be honest… I was mostly thinking about floundering around in their boob bounce house — exactly like this.

Maybe it’s because we lost track of time & arrived within the last hour, or maybe it’s because I live right by the Kinsey Institute, but I was a little disappointed. First of all, at $17.50/person, admission is a little steep for how small it is and for how text-heavy some of the exhibits were. Secondly, I felt like most of their audience was drawn there by a juvenile “tee hee” reaction to sex, which I found a little distracting at times.

Still, they had a pretty great exhibit on the history of porn. (I’m a sucker for black & white vintage images of BDSM.) There was an interactive exhibit that made the art student in me smile. And I did get approximately 15 seconds with the inflatable titties before they closed. In the end, I think riding the dildo bike was the most exciting.

purplepassiontextDV8When someone asks what my favorite part about NYC was, I have a decision to make: be honest and say, “This awesome little kink shop we went to!” or substitute a more acceptable answer (usually involving delicious Czech food).

The truth is, Purple Passion/DV8 wins — no contest. It was my first visit to a kink/fetish store, and their selection of impact toys & educational books had me wishing that money was no object. Leather goodies are a weakness of mine, but what impressed me the most was the amazing customer service.

Immediately upon entering, we were greeted by Keith: a gentleman whose photo could be used under the kinky dictionary definition of “leatherman” & who was so genuine in his warmth and helpfulness that I was completely smitten. He showed us his favorite new items, shared some of his personal experiences, and expressed our own belief: that BDSM is about connection above all else.

We ended up spending a small fortune on rope & leather items hand-crafted by local artisans — all of impeccable quality at affordable prices. (I actually regret that we didn’t spend more; my dreams are filled with a certain leather-padded cane.) Basically, if you are kinky & find yourself in New York, you simply have to check out their selection. If you’re a member of your local BDSM club, you’ll even save 10%!

eve's gardenEve’s Garden has an impressive history. Founded in 1974, it is the world’s first “sex boutique for women,” created with empowerment & sex-positivity in mind. Sounds great, right?

Unfortunately, our experience was lackluster at best and mildly uncomfortable at worst. The shop itself is located in a high-rise office building, which (in theory) makes your shopping adventure more discreet from street level bystanders — leading to a more relaxed experience. The problem is: My partner & I are ridiculously awkward in new situations.

Once we reached the 12th floor, we were faced with a plain wooden door with a gold placard stating our destination. This is where our social anxiety kicked in: “Do we knock? Is it locked? Is this place so fancy that it’s by appointment only?” On top of that, once we did gather our nerves and walk in, the selection was unimpressive and limited. Sure, there were body-safe sex toys of high-quality…but there wasn’t anything special or unique about the place. We left empty-handed.


Shag is one of New York’s best kept sex secrets. Despite days of internet-scouring for notable attractions, the place never reached my radar. The way that I finally discovered it was by seeing an advertisement in Purple Passion for the Sex Ed a Go Go event that they help sponsor. (Sadly, I discovered it the day after the event. Cue much pouting.)

Shag is a unique shop, specializing not only in sex toys but also jewelry, artwork, and beauty supplies. Although we didn’t find anything to bring home with us, we did take the time to admire their selection of crafty, erotic nesting dolls and — if we had the necessary funds — we would have purchased a stunning set of bronze doorknobs, molded from the vulvas of real women.babeland textBABELANDThe moment I walked into Babeland, I loved it. It had a “homey” feeling that was unlike the other sex toy stores that we visited. It was beautifully organized, but not fancy. The employees were super excited to show me items (like the new Minna kGoal) but didn’t impose upon our experience as a couple.

One of my best discoveries was that Babeland offers the most fantastic array of scented & flavored items. We left with two bottles of lubricant (pomegranate vanilla & dulce de leche) — which I’m super excited to try during oral sex and report back to you all! And we vowed to make an online purchase for a couple of their body massage bars. (Didn’t want to risk getting our luggage all oily on the flight home.)

On our way out, we struck up a conversation with our cashier about the Midwest’s extreme lack of sex-positive shops and promptly found ourselves being buried under an avalanche of swag & coupon codes. Seriously, I cannot stress how nice these people were! I’m so glad that I got to experience this company’s atmosphere & generosity in person.

nitehawkNot specifically an erotic theatre, Nitehawk Cinema is a bit of an added bonus to this list. We were lucky enough to catch one of the midnight screenings in their Nitehawk Naughties: Scandinavian Erotic Cinema from the 1960s and 1970s series.  The film we saw was titled Without A Stitch and to be honest, we were never quite sure if it was trying to be serious or facetious. There were several moments when the audience was erupting in laughter, regardless of the original intent.

With a delicious set-up of truffle popcorn, homemade lime jerky, and beautiful naked ladies exploring new & humorous sexual escapades, it was a perfect date night for perverts like us. I only wish that there was a similar theatre closer to home.

IU Sexploration – Fall 2013 (Part Two)

Incase you missed it, I discuss anthropologist Helen Fisher, erotic photographer Barbara Nitke, & “hooking up” in Part One.

11/4 – Dr. Kand McQueen: Breaking the Gender Dichotomy: Why Two Are Definitely Not Enough

McQueen is a public speaker spreading knowledge & societal acceptance of individuals who do not neatly fit into the categories of “male” or “female” in sex and/or gender. At this event, McQueen presented a brief overview of different transgender identities that people often confuse: cross dressers (dress as opposite sex), drag queens/kings (perform/entertain as opposite sex), gender queer (identify as neither, both, or moving between sex/gender), and transsexual (identify as the opposite sex).

Transsexual rights, or the lack thereof, were also addressed. McQueen shared stories that broke my heart; terrible injustices done to human beings simply because their gender wasn’t male OR female. For example, Robert Eads, whose experience was documented in the film Southern Comfort, was a female-to-male transsexual individual diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Because of societal concerns, over two dozen doctors denied him treatment, allowing the cancer to spread and cause his death. Unfortunately, his story is but one of many.

Despite the fact that intersex condition rates may be as high as 1 in every 100, the rights of intersex individuals are rarely talked about. McQueen addressed them directly. For those unfamiliar with the term, “intersex” is used when chromosomal or anatomical variation occurs, complicating the biological distinction between male or female. Historically, doctors have often been the ones to decide which sex the child should be raised as…and their decisions have not always been healthy for the children in question. For years, biological boys born with what is called a “micropenis” (exactly what it sounds like) would have their penis and testicles amputated and be raised as girls. Doctors would then advise parents to keep this a secret, even from their child. Talk about being confused about what’s happening with your body. Plus, early surgery like this can drastically reduce genital sensitivity, robbing individuals of sexual pleasure — for life!

Overall, McQueen’s keynote address (including personal narrative) promoted education, acceptance, and social justice in a very candid and accessible manner. For a thought provoking experience on gender identity, I would highly suggest attending or scheduling a talk by Dr. Kand McQueen.

11/20 – How to Survive a Plague (Screening and Q&A with director David France)

If you keep up to date on film news, you may have heard about this Oscar-nominated documentary on the AIDS epidemic. How to Survive a Plague follows two New York-based organizations, ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and TAG (Treatment Action Group), and their fight to find an effective treatment for HIV/AIDS.  First-time director David France had just moved into NY when the epidemic began. Although he never contracted HIV himself, he dedicated this film to the lover that he lost to the disease. Combining his own footage with clips from media coverage and other members in ACT UP & TAG, France created a raw portrayal of minority struggle and community activism.

As part of a generation that was born in the middle of the AIDS crisis, I wholeheartedly believe that every 20-something should see this movie. It’s a part of history that should not be forgotten, but yet the story has ceased to be told. Growing up, I never heard about how the government largely ignored AIDS until it was out of control and had already killed thousands. I never knew how many people in positions of power openly spoke out against AIDS victims like they didn’t even deserve to live. And I never saw the diversity of people affected or involved, because in the rural Midwest “AIDS is a gay man’s disease.” (This still seems widely believed, despite the fact that globally, more than half of the people living with HIV/AIDS are women.)

AIDS awareness and prevention continue to be overlooked in sex education and the media. That condoms don’t protect against HIV or that AIDS can be transmitted through saliva — or even by shaking hands — are just some of the still prevalent paranoid myths. On the other hand, some complacent individuals view AIDS as a battle that has already been won. (The NY Times recently reported on the increased rates of unprotected sex among gay men and how this nonchalance may factor in.) The sad truth is this: there is no vaccine and millions die every year because they cannot access or afford treatment. Despite the need to focus on prevention instead of damage control, I almost never hear about the amazing new discoveries that have been made or are still developing, like the pre- and post- exposure prophylaxis or the contraceptive vaginal ring with HIV and herpes protection that is scheduled for clinical testing in 2014.

If you have Netflix, How to Survive a Plague is available for streaming at the time of this post. Watch it. Learn about the amazing activists who made a difference. If you feel inspired, check to see if an ACT UP chapter or another organization dedicated to fighting HIV/AIDS is near you.

IU Sexploration – Fall 2013 (Part One)

Each year, the Kinsey Institute partners with various student organizations and health services to provide students (and the greater community) with a series of events that celebrate knowledge of sexuality & gender. Different from years past, Indiana University’s 6th annual Sexploration was spread out over two months, making it much easier to attend.  (I still couldn’t go to everything, but I was so close.) While I’m awaiting next year, here’s a recap of my Sexploration 2013 experience.

10/1- Dr. Helen Fisher: Lust, Romance, Attachment: The Drive to Love & Who We Choose

Fisher is an anthropologist who studies love and attraction. She has written several books, including Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love. She also works closely with Match.com to develop questionnaires that utilize science for finding romantic compatibility.

Fisher has derived 4 styles of human thought/behavior from compounds present in all of us: dopamine, serotonin, testosterone, & estrogen/oxytocin. Forming these groups from common traits, she has observed attraction trends. (Ex: The estrogen/oxytocin group, “negotiators,” are described as intuitive and empathetic. They are generally attracted to “directors” from the testosterone group, who are ambitious and competitive.)

She also distinguishes between 3 separate drives: lust/libido, romantic attraction, and attachment. This reminded me a lot of Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love, but Fisher did not use these drives to gauge the strength of a relationship. Instead, she states that while they can occur within a single pairing, a relationship may also be formed on only one or two drives. Individuals may have separate partners to meet separate needs. And a relationship can evolve in any order. (What starts as “friends with benefits” may lead to an exclusive relationship and vice versa.)

Although her recent work on personality traits kept my attention, I am much more intrigued by her older research on love from an evolutionary perspective — which unfortunately wasn’t the focus of this lecture. However, if you want to find out what style you might be, Chemistry.com offers a free questionnaire. And if you would like to learn more about Fisher’s work in general, she has done some excellent TED talks.

10/10- Barbara Nitke: American Ecstasy: A Photographic Look Behind the Scenes of the Golden Age of Porn

Nitke began her artistic career on porn sets in the early 1980s, taking promotional photos. In between scenes, she began to focus on the reality of adult film instead of what the promo materials idealized, taking photos of stars in un-airconditioned rooms (which interfered with sound quality) or moments of boredom. She later worked for mail-order fetish companies, where many previously mainstream porn stars transferred during the AIDS epidemic. This work led to her involvement with the Eulenspiegel Society where she met real-life couples to photograph more intimately.

As a fan of Nitke’s work, I was very excited for this event. She talked about her career while showing beautiful photographs from her new book American Ecstasy, her first book Kiss of Fire: A Romantic View of Sadomasochism, and other unpublished collections. When she showed her work on body suspensions, there was an audible gasp from the audience and I could feel the discomfort around me. Without missing a beat, Nitke provided a very positive and candid explanation of endorphins and the experience of pleasurable pain within a trusting environment/relationship.

Perhaps what I most appreciate about Nitke and her work is how open she is to different behaviors and ideas. She is a respectful observer, motivated by genuine curiosity, who explores sexuality through her camera. If you are interested in Nitke’s erotic photography, she offers substantial previews on her website.

10/14- Sex Ed: A Real Conversation About Sexual Hookups in College

Dr. Justin R. Garcia and Dr. Kristen Jozkowski led a very rewarding discussion on hookups. With the help of the application PollEv, the audience could even anonymously interact. Despite the fact that 65-85% of college students are “hooking up,” it quickly became clear that the term is very ambiguous. Some define it with intercourse, while others argue that kissing or touching warrants the same title. The only consistent factor is the context; lack of romantic commitment. (Although some do wonder if hookups are becoming the new first date.)

For sex positive individuals, the problem is not casual sex. The problem is a lack of communication about both pleasure and consent. In a hookup, individuals (especially women) are more uncomfortable communicating what they desire and what they find pleasurable. A gender gap also divides what people are comfortable doing in a hookup, with women being somewhat less comfortable with all activities compared to males. (Men, however, are reported as disproportionately uncomfortable giving oral sex.) When comfort levels are down, so are reports of sexual satisfaction.

More important is the issue of consent. Men and women interpret expressions of consent differently. While women use and expect verbal consent, men often use and rely on non-verbal cues such as body language. It’s easy to imagine a scenario where one person, expecting to be explicitly asked for their consent before having intercourse, continues along what the other person interprets as the “all clear.” Add in alcohol and this miscommunication gets much more pronounced, possibly attributing to the high rates of sexual assault on college campuses.

So how do we fix this? A simple answer is for women to speak up, and for men to verbally ask for consent. But this isn’t so easy for a lot of people. In our society, women are still not supposed to enjoy sex or demand their own pleasure. A persistent fear of “ruining the mood” by asking questions also exists. We need to assure ourselves and others that sex should be a pleasurable experience for all involved, and that everyone has equal rights within a sexual encounter. 

If you’re interested in more of the current research about hooking up, Jozkowski wrote a wonderful supplementary article about consent at Kinsey Confidential, The NY Times recently reported on the lack of female pleasure in particular, and ScienceDaily shared some of the reasons behind hookup behavior.

I review the documentary ‘How to Survive a Plague’ & Dr. Kand McQueen’s discussion on gender in Part Two.