This year was my fourth trip to the Sex Positive Event known as CatalystCon. It was far more of an emotional adventure than I had ever expected. My first year was an eye opener! As a Passion Parties Consultant I deal mostly with suburban housewives who have never seen a vibrator before, let alone know what to do with them. To enter a world of people who not only know what to do with a vibrator, but who have designed them, sold them, tested thousands and openly talked about them was revolutionary.
Each year is a little bit different and largely based on the “choose your own adventure” model of having multiple sessions in the same time slots across two days of the conference. My first year of Catalystcon was my first exposure to the Sex Positive movement which draws strongly from the concept that so long as sex is Safe and Consensual, it should be allowed to proceed in whatever direction an individual wants to go. My second year of Catalystcon was a true educational experience. From Dr. Carol Queen and Dr. Morgan Lawrence I learned that we can move beyond the 5 basic senses to erotic stimulation of our sense of Temperature, Timing, Pain, Muscle Memory and more. From Dr. Ava Cadell we heard about the neuroscience behind love making and all the hormones that different phases of the arousal process bring out in us. My third year of Catalystcon introduced me to the Unslut Project and Mo Beasley walked us through how to be a sex-positive parent and bring age appropriate sex education to our children.
This was my fourth year and the introspective turn it took was not what I expected, but absolutely fundamental to the Sex Positive movement. It started with a panel by Ashely Manta, Damon Holzum, and Yosenio V Lewis titled The Importance of Trauma Informed Sex Education, Writing, and Therapy for Survivors and Professionals. They challenged the normal “Fight” or “Flight” concept of Trauma response by adding a third category, “Freeze.” It’s extremely validating for anyone who has experienced Trauma, especially Sexual Trauma, to know that disassociation, being unable to move or talk, and other similar responses are just as normal as anger, crying, or agitation. I can say that from my own experiences of Sexual Trauma from a past relationship, I would actually shut down and fall asleep during sex to avoid having to be present for it. It’s amazing the ways the body will respond to protect us.
After Trauma we moved directly into Shame! Amy Jo Goddard and Marcia Baczynski challenged us to reveal when we have inadvertently shamed someone else. A blogger admitted to being called out for suggesting her readers should leave Missionary Sex for the “Vanillas” and effectively shaming anyone who enjoyed the Missionary position. Others confessing to blasting “Christians” or “Republicans” as a group rather than the specific ideological views being expressed. We quickly learned how easy it is to get caught in the trap of shaming others while at the same time asking society not to shame us for our sexual desires. At my parties I often have clients react loudly and negatively when the issue of Anal Sex is brought up and I have found that the only way to reduce the instances of such shaming is to remind guests that there may be things I will talk about that are not for them, but I ask them to be respectful of the fact that others in the group may enjoy such activities and we don’t want anyone to feel bad about their desires. A phrase I learned from another consultant and share often at my parties is “don’t yuck someone else’s yum.”
Jean Franzblau took the emotional rollercoaster in a new direction with Sexual Esteem. She gave us a wonderful key phrase “thank you for taking care of yourself” for responding to what would otherwise be perceived as rejection, even for something as seemingly innocuous as a hug, so that we can respect the boundaries laid out by others while also encouraging them to set such boundaries.
However, for me, what turned out to be the most gut punching session of all was one of the most clinical and cerebral presentations I attended. It was conducted by Dr. Joshua Gonzalez on the topic of Sexual Medicine and examined male and female sexual dysfunction and some of the current ways these issues are being treated. Stressing heavily that the use of the word “dysfunction” is loaded with negative implications and not how we would wish to discuss these issues on a personal level, but on a clinical and medical level it is a necessary word to get the scientific industry to take these things seriously and search for answers. He reminded the audience that as everyone is different, one defines a “problem” with sexual function by whether or not it is causing distress. This is such a huge point to make because so many people ask me at my parties if what they experience is “normal” or if something is “wrong” with them. While I never try to offer medical advice at my parties, I love that I can offer them this small Qualifier. If it causes them distress, then it is something worth exploring. On a personal level, this session brought me to tears. After over ten years of experiencing low libido, pain during penetration, and true distress as to my sexual function, all while being told by multiple doctors that there’s nothing wrong with me and I’m “normal,” I finally found a doctor that showed me that “normal” or not, there are many many things that could be coming into play and my issues are just as “normal” as they are potentially treatable. The entire weekend truly came to a climax for me (if you’ll pardon the pun) with this session because it validated that the Trauma I have experienced, the Shame society has made me feel relating to my sexual function, and the need to take care of myself all have real world answers and solutions that it has taken me 34 years on this earth to find. This should not have been such a long road to find these answers, but the lack of Sex Positivity in our culture has made it incredibly difficult to find.
While my journey through this year’s CatalystCon was an emotional one, it’s hard for me to believe that there were 32 other sessions that I didn’t even go to on a range of topics from Porn to Sex Workers to Business advice to Kink and more! I’m thrilled to have another year’s worth of education to bring back to my clients and Hostesses at my parties and I am very much looking forward to next year’s CatalystCon. I can only imagine what direction this next year will take us.