Guess What? We’re All Perverts!
“Hey, if you’re a pervert raise your hand! Come on, who here’s a pervert?”
The question seemed a little disconcerting, a little too personal. It was being asked by a loud, brash, large woman wearing a green cap and a sash. She looked like a Girl Scout.
“OK, for those of you a bit uncomfortable, a ‘pervert’ is simply someone who isn’t judgmental about the kind of sex you or anyone else enjoys,” said the speaker, bawdy storyteller and sexual folklorist Dixie De La Tour.
Oh. OK. Then I’m a pervert, I thought. I joined those around me and raised my hand.
The exchange was part of the Sex Positive World seminar held at UCLA on Saturday, July 25. It was a revealing, exciting four hours of discussions with some of the world’s leading (and cool) sex educators. The auditorium was filled with 350 people, including folks from the LA and San Diego amBi groups, students, professors, and people visiting from all over. There were couples, “thrupples,” and folks of every shape, size, and age.
2015 Sex Positive World Seminar, UCLA
It was a very open and boisterous crowd. Behind me, a handsome, long-haired man in his 20s described his relationship with a voluptuous brunette. “We’re not monogamous now, we’re trying the poly thing, and I’m here to learn,” he said. During a break between panels, he added, “The best thing is to have a bisexual girl go out and find a partner, a girl or guy, to bring home, because they have creativity. With men, there’s always some sort of drama. Let a woman work her magic.”
The conversations in the audience and on the panel were geared toward normalizing so-called “alternative” sexualities and relationships. The panel discussions were filled with important statistics, data and amusing anecdotes, and everything was very sex-positive.
This seminar is the first of its kind organized by Gabriella Cordova, who founded Sex Positive World six years ago in Portland, OR. The non-profit organization is “dedicated to making the world a Sexier, more Touch-Positive, Heart-Centered, and Connected Place.” There are 12 Sex Positive chapters in major cities around the world, with a total of 4,000 members in five countries. Cordova invited six chapter representatives to the stage and introduced them to the audience. Except for one, the chapter leaders were all women; that wasn’t a coincidence. Cordova pointed out that having female leaders made women feel more comfortable joining their local chapter.
“We need more women to get involved in the Sex Positive groups,” Cordova said. “For every eight hetero males, we have one hetero female applying. We need you women to show up.”
Dr. Kate Loree
Many Sex Positive World members identify as polyamorous. Polyamory (poly for short) is generally defined as “love for more than one person.” Poly relationships run the gamut in regard to how they navigate non-monogamy, but they all have one thing in common: they value honesty and consent. Kate Loree, a therapist specializing in such relationships, explained. “Polyamory can have a lot of rules, but I think society is slowly becoming more understanding about these kinds of relationships.” The problem, though, is that such progress requires social awareness. “In many cases, polyamorous relationships are still hidden,” Loree said. “I think that today some people in same-sex relationships may feel more comfortable walking with their partner holding hands, but a poly person holding both of their partners’ hands isn’t that easy to do. We want to be proud of our relationships, but it’s still not easy for those in poly relationships.”
Author Janet Hardy
Janet Hardy, co-author of The Ethical Slut, a book sometimes referred to by fans as “the Bible of polyamory,” talked about working on her upcoming book Spanking for Lovers. In her research, she discovered a Domestic Discipline group which do things that surprise even her, such as bringing real-life situations and realities into their bondage play. “In my experience, BDSM groups normally say to check real-life drama at the door, but not this group.” She described meeting a guy on Craig’s List with whom she did a spanking session. “I did not find him particularly bright or particularly attractive, but I wasn’t in the mood to be choosy,” said the 60-year-old Hardy. “He asked me if I had done anything ‘bad’ for which I deserved to be spanked. At first I couldn’t think of anything, but then I thought, ‘well, I am pretty bad at handling money.'” She recounted how after being spanked repeatedly, with interjections from the man demanding prudent answers about her finances, she ended the scene abruptly because “it was turning into a small business consultation.” The audience erupted in laughter.
“Wry,” Co-Host of Kinky Salon LA
One of the panelists was a hip-looking guy called “Wry,” the co-host of Kinky Salon LA. Sporting a mohawk, he emerged from the audience where he had been sitting with his arms casually wrapped around two women. “When I was a kid, I thought I wanted to grow up to be a Catholic priest, then I realized I couldn’t go my whole life without sex,” he chuckled. “Later, when I went out looking for a woman, I thought ‘if she will be the only person I have sex with for the rest of my life, she better be fucking great.’ The more I thought about it, the more I realized monogamy wasn’t for me.” Basically, Wry was describing the process of coming of age, of slowly growing out of conservative values into which he had been indoctrinated. “In my family, masturbating was a sin,” he said. “We thought it was pointless and mindless, and yet I couldn’t sleep unless I masturbated at least once a day. It isn’t good to make kids feel guilty about things that are so natural. You shouldn’t be slapped over it; it should be encouraged.”
Author Lauren Brim
Author Lauren Brim, who wrote The New Rules of Sex, is a sex coach for women, who is available for sessions both in person and via Skype. “I work a lot with clients who have been the product of a sex negative education,” Brim said. “They don’t believe in themselves or their sexual well-being. For some of them, it’s the first time they can even talk about going through puberty. There is a lot of need for this kind of work, for people of all ages.”
Author Orpheus Black
Another panelist, author and sex educator Orpheus Black, who is starting a Sex Positive People of Color chapter, added, “I have noticed that a lot of people fear the deep emotional connections that come with sex. People are facilitating sexual desires and not making meaningful connections.” Black argued that sex-negative cultural norms perpetuate an unhealthy disconnect between sexual desires and emotional fulfillment. He said we need to encourage a paradigm shift toward sex-positivity in our culture, which will mean more stable romantic relationships.
Dr. Hernando Chaves
Dr. Hernando Chaves, an author and marital therapist, worries that the disconnect between the fulfillment of sexual desires and openness to emotional connections stems from sex-negative attitudes in society. “Pornography is stigmatized,” he said, “even as it is consumed by the majority of the population.” Pointing out that most people will have been exposed to pornography before they turn 18, Chaves said “I’ve seen the benefits of showing clients various forms of pornography. It can help. Porn can show different kinds of sexual fetishes, and it can also show that a lot things are just natural,” Chaves said. He told a story about a client from Saudi Arabia who worried about insulting a woman if his penis was flaccid in front of her. After seeing a Nina Hartley video of a woman pleasuring a man who was limp at first, he realized that it was OK to not lways be in a state of arousal in front of his partner. “He wrote me later, thanking me, and informing me that he had met a woman and married her.”
Dr. Chris Donaghue
Dr. Chris Donaghue, who wrote the book Sex Outside the Lines, believes that too many his fellow therapists aren’t properly educated in matters that pertain to sex and sexuality. “The experts now in sex therapy have lied to us, and it’s resulted in sex shaming,” Donaghue said. “You don’t have a sexual dysfunction, the system does.” Donaghue explained that therapy often views the concerns of clients through a sex negative lens, thus “emphasizing the shaming of it,” reinforcing narratives that may perpetuate intolerance, relationship problems, and cognitive dissonance. He stressed the importance of “healing society.” To Donahue, many of his client’s problems result from being victimized by a sex negative culture. “Real progress means working from the outside in. We need to do the hard work and change society, rather than shame individuals into conformity.”
The seminars were overwhelmingly positive. It was inspiring to hear story after story about how sex-positive education was changing lives for the better. The audience was clearly thrilled.
“Wow, it was a full house!” gushed one attendee. “I am left with such joy to have been in that theater with so many amazing sex-positive people. Such honesty from Janet and the audience.”
Another said, “I had so many ‘ah-ha’ moments. Things the speakers and the audience said rang so true. I had experienced those things throughout my life. For the first time, I saw that they’re all related and mean something.”
Sex Positive World chapter representatives
By the end of the seminar, it was clear to me what Dixie De La Tour meant to achieve by encouraging us to embrace the label “pervert.” Having spent several hours at a Seminar in the company of sex-positive attendees and outspoken sex educators, I felt like I was about to leave a bubble of positivity. Day-to-day life in the real world is rarely so fulfilling and conducive of healthy sexual expression.
Words like “pervert,” “deviant,” and “slut” are often used to shame people into conforming with strict sexist and homophobic “norms,” which artificially restrict healthy sexual expression. Dixie De La Tour, in her booming voice, was calling upon us to embrace the label “pervert,” much like the LGBT community embraced and repurposed the word “queer.” Being sex-positive is a good thing, something to which to aspire, something to encourage in others. It isn’t shameful. So, regardless of how one feels about the word “pervert” in particular, I think she has a point. Semantics aside, we should be proud of our sex-positivity, no matter what pejoratives people call us.
I came away convinced that Dr. Donaghue is correct. Sex-positive people are often steered by society into therapist’s offices in a misguided attempt to “cure” them of their desires. Yet, in many cases, it is the sex-negative social “norms” that are sick. It’s refreshing to see a group of therapists, authors, and sex educators who are working on finding a cure to the social diseases that cause so much harm, rather than throwing bandaids on the problem by prudishly shaming clients into conformity. I left the seminar inspired to be part of that change, and judging by the conversations I had with other attendees, I’d say Sex Positive World has begun to build an army for progress.