Seeking words of wisdom from the wise: meeting sex educators.

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I managed two meetings with significant sex educator, sex-positive people, Joan Price and Joani Blank.

Lunch with Joan Price

Kevin drove me north to meet Joan Price, guru of senior sex, author, presenter, former English teacher, line dance instructor and generally lovely and fun person. We got on like a house on fire and it was great to discuss all things sex geeky. Joan is a retired English teacher with a new career as a writer, sex educator, and advocate for a healthy, sex-positive approach to ageing sexuality (she calls it ‘ageless’ sexuality, which makes sense as the principles of being respectful to your partner/s willing to learn, open to new things, willing to adapt to circumstances apply to all ages and taking a safe sex approach). She has been travelling all over the USA giving talks in sex shops and at conferences – and this year won the Catalyst…

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Aging and Society Conference Manchester

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Manchester 9 November 2014

The Aging and Society conference is over. The room was packed for the session with my presentation and I had lots of positive feedback. I asked Liam Leonard for critical feedback too; he suggested a few more slides with summary data to anchor some points better. I have tried to present without notes, unlike my earlier style of reading/not reading with a careful script, and maybe have strayed too far the other direction. He was positive overall, which was encouraging. Abe2 The Lego characters depicting relationships were a hit. This slide representa a man who identifies as polyamorous and a swinger, has always had female lon-term partners and in the last 10 years has practiced non-penetrative penis play with other men at swinger events.

Being a Graduate Scholar (scholarship which covered fees and obligated me to chair sessions) gave me a community to connect with which was…

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Sex educators and socialising

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I’m loving New York. Such rich experiences to be had and the people have been great.

Highline

I walked The High Line, a high rail track that has been converted to a walking track, and explored Greenwich Village before going to meet Jeffrey Keefer who I know from #phdchat on Twitter. The friendship was as I expected when we met IRL; he is lovely, as is his partner Michael Storrings, an artist. There were pug puppies too who were cuddled while we drank excellent red wine.

Puppies

We went to see the view from the roof before going to dinner. Awesome view. Jeffrey has a great view from the roof.

Jeffrey has a great view from the roof. Jeffrey has a great view from the roof.

We had dinner on Sunday night with Mark Brennan-Ing, his partner Michael Ing (who I had met in Melbourne in 2012) and Jeffrey’s partner Michael came too. The four men had not met before…

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Pushing conference boundaries: Midlife and later life adults challenge relationship assumptions

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How does one try to change the culture of an organisation, or the way society is viewed and studied? The nature of relationships is changing – or their overt expression is changing – and my research contributes to the bigger picture about this change, yet mainstream research seems focused only on mainstream. Joining an organisation and sharing work at its conferences is one way to raise awareness of change and promote interest in new ideas. I have been doing this through IARR.

The International Association for Relationship Research (IARR) has its conference every two years. I presented in 2012 in Chicago at the very unfriendly time of first thing on the morning after the conference dinner. The symposium, organised by (now) Dr Jocelyn Wentland was on casual sex, and at the time I wondered if the timeslot implied a judgement on the topic. I wrote at the time how I felt like a fish out of water as most presentations assumed the committed, heterosexual couple was the default and expected gold standard. My non-cohabiting, not always monogamous, not all heterosexual participants did not fit this model. I wondered if the emphasis would change for the 2014 conference, and if diverse relationships would feature more. This year the conference was in Melbourne, and I was part of two presentations. Dr Sue Malta’s PhD was on late-life romantic relationships and our work complements each other well. We did a joint presentation which focused on agency and sex – and it was at 9 am after the conference dinner, just like last time! There were 12 people present which was a good number considering the time, and the work was well received.

Better positioned at 3.30 on Friday afternoon was a round table panel presentation which was: From Early Adulthood to Later Life: Redefining the Boundaries of New Intimate Relationships Across the Lifespan. Four of us were in this: Dr Sue Malta represented older adults in new romantic relationships aged 60-92; I included baby boomers in friends-with-benefits aged 46-65; Dr Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli spoke of poly families with adults in their thirties and forties; and Luke Gahan referred to young same sex attracted, religious people aged 14-21. That session was fabulous. We each commented on three topics: exclusivity and commitment in the relationships; significance of sexual activity; the impact on wellbeing of the relationships and how it was influenced by the level of social acceptance of the relationships. A consistent finding was that the individuals and their relationships were doing well, and the main concern was the judgement or stigma that was feared or enacted in relation to being outside hetero-monogamy. We are writing a paper based on this presentation, so watch out for it. The picture shows us anxiously waiting for people to come – 14 turned up and were engaged and interested.

From left: Luke, Maria, Linda and Sue

From left: Luke, Maria, Linda and Sue

Rural sexual health conference – including a unicorn

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Having a conference dedicated to rural sexual health was an opportunity not to be missed, even thouImagegh I’d said no more conferences this year. It was in Shepparton, not too far away, but not as exotic a location as Thailand where some of my colleagues are going next week. It was cool to see some of my #sexgeek tribe there; Bonnie, Anna, Kat, Kim, and Alaina . There were some interesting presentations and I learnt some new things, primarily that the main researcher in chlamydia thinks that screening as it is practised is not the right thing to do from a health or economic point of view. That was intriguing to me. The key point is to test for STIs before starting a new sexual relationship, irrespective of age or sexuality. My presentation on rural baby boomers’ experience of accessing health services for sexual health needs is here. It has pictures of a sad puppy and a unicorn. The unicorn symbolises my dream of good sexual health for all – is it a fantasy? I hope not.

Writing up

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I’m ‘writing up’. That’s a strange phrase, and I did not accept that I justified it for a while, but now agree that writing up is indeed happening. After conducting 22 interviews I have lots of interesting, thoughtful and diverse information. I’m describing it within different themes. Today I’m working on structure and agency and how it develops over time. Last week it was people’s use of health services. Next it will be either defining friends-with-benefits, or about the wellbeing aspects of the relationship.

I’m trying very hard to represent people’s words and meanings accurately. This is important for the validity of what I write, but also respectful of the participants. I’m also trying to write in a way which is easy to read, interesting, and suitably thoughtful.

I’m enjoying the process at the moment. Hope that continues.

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Sex Camp 2013

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There seemed to be a lot more actual sex happening at sex camp this year. I don’t know if it was just that I was aware of more, or if there was an actual change. It started with the couple in my dorm who made quiet but prolonged noises of ecstasy and pleasure, in between whispered conversations. Their sounds were punctuated by the persistent cough of the person in the next bed who said later she had not been aware of any sex. I also heard more people discussing their own sexual activity or the overheard activities of others. Still, it’s sex camp, what do you expect?

The energy in the lead up was different, too, and I was less sure about what it would be like. I was thrilled when sexgeek friend Kate asked if she could hang out and share a dorm with me like a ‘sexgeek slumber party’. It’s fine to go alone, but good to have someone in particular to connect with. I found a travelling companion via the sex camp car pool page too, and because she’d never visited a sex shop we had to check out the one in Lilydale en route. This research later proved useful for helping answer the sex geek quiz on Saturday night. Lelo toys is the brand with the gold dildo, FYI, and I led the Dinosaur Penis team to a thrilling victory in the quiz, YES! But I’m ahead of myself. I also saw Emma from WA soon after I arrived and had a wonderful sex researcher catch up, and clarified what I’d seen about her facebook doings, so felt connected and as though I belonged from the start.

The opening ceremony included a demonstration of how to put on a condom, and Vanessa’s swagger as she walked about in the demo strap on made me want one too. Including safer sex, and having lots of condoms and lube available everywhere was a great improvement on last year. One of the sex professionals called out ‘What about taking it off and disposing of it?’ which elicited a discussion about not putting condoms in toilets, but showed that those demonstrating had no understanding that how a condom is removed is probably more important for safety than how you put it on. Next year it would be good to get a professional who knows what she is talking about to do the condom demo. The candle lighting ceremony was still lovely.

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Everyone held a tea light candle, and extinguished it at the same time.

 

Last year I’d not attended any Tantra workshops and made them a priority this year. It’s the usual conference gripe, everything you really want to do is on at the same time. I missed the cuddle party in favour of the play session which was sort of an intro to Tantra. We made sculptures of people, held hands and made eye contact with the next person, did lots of activities that relied on dividing into men and women and behaving in a heterosexual manner. This binary was to be repeated a lot in many of the workshops; FYI acknowledging your heterosexual-male-oriented upbringing and making no further changes is not enough to be inclusive of sex, gender and sexuality diversity. The same presenter in the Resonance Tantra session the next day with a significant imbalance of men and women eventually divided us into equal, non gender-specific numbers, but it would have been better if we had done that at the start. The activity centred around one group standing with eyes closed, while the other moved about them, sensing their energy, touching them if the indicated that was ok. I was very tentative during this at first, and when it was my turn to be the statue, loved the more confident and affectionate interactions. In the discussion afterwards someone said it was like being picked as winner of a beauty pageant, and there was definitely that sense of standing there, vulnerable, waiting to be chosen for an interaction. When it was done without the gender division, with equal numbers, it felt much more inclusive, less about sex, and more about human interaction.

The skill of the presenter is crucial to any teaching, and especially so with topics that are potentially threatening or button pushing. Some people are keen to participate and try out the new skill in spanking, kissing or cock and ball bondage, but others prefer to listen and learn and try it out privately. There is great skill in holding a space so that those who participate and those who watch are enabled to feel equally as included and safe.

The best workshop I attended, where the presenter’s skill at inclusiveness and keeping a safe space while delivering a sensational (pun intended) session, was Absolutely Vulvalicious by Laura-Doe http://www.yoniversity.com.au/ . The workshop was on vulva massage techniques. Laura-Doe had a number of vulva cushions, anatomically correct with labia, inner and outer, clitoris and clitoral hood, anus, and a vagina within which could be felt the internal ridges and cervix. Some people used these, and others practiced the techniques on themselves or their partner. Hand sanitiser, gloves, and lube were provided for those working on the real thing. About a quarter of the 40 or so attendees were men, some with a partner. One woman immediately got gloves and lube, lifted her skirt, removed her knickers and waited calmly for the activity. This helped set the mood of acceptance and about a third of those attending got organised to practice on themselves or a friend. After an introduction to the intricate and nerve-ending filled explanation of what was to be found, we were being taught a number of moves with fun and silly names, beginning with Pussy Petting. “I love Pussy Petting” said one woman, identifying this stroke as a favourite. As well as the techniques and how they worked with the anatomy, we discussed communication and the best way to keep in the moment while requesting or offering feedback. No complicated questions that require going into headspace! The use of hand signals was encouraged, with five digits being held up indicating keep going, and one finger suggesting that it’s time to move to something else. Just because something got a great reaction yesterday, or five minutes ago, does not mean it will be ok now. The men commented that the same goes for them. There was some thoughtful discussion and respectful sharing, and much earnest testing out of strokes and feedback. Near the end of this session some women were having orgasms, some audible and some shuddering quietly, and one woman had a loud, prolonged, surprised-sounding vocal expression of pleasure. (Afterwards I heard her say, I can’t do this for myself, how did he manage to do that for me?)

I’ve described this workshop to people and had quite shocked, astonished reactions. But what made it SO perfect, contained, and professional was that Laura-Doe held the space in a dignified, matter-of-fact but fun way. Observing quietly or participating fully were equally ok, in a safe, non-sleazy, sex-positive environment. Kudos to her as a skilled presenter.

The Saturday night entertainment was hilarious and diverse. It opened with the Sexgeek quiz, asking serious (and obscure) questions, such as ‘Which animal gives birth through its clitoris?’* The two presenters, Kate and Louise, were fun, had good rapport, and managed a quiz in a marquee of people with great skill. The bottom percussion which followed was quite astonishing. Visualise, if you will, a fat woman in short purple tutu and no pants, and a man in g string, both kneeling with bare bottoms presented to the audience. Each is straddled by a drummer, who proceeded to slap the bare bottoms in complex and complimentary rhythms, drummers making eye gleeful contact with each other, playing in harmony. Ouch, but so much energy, clearly enjoyed by the drums as much as the drummers, and hilarious to watch.

Sexcamp is a bit like a convention for sex geeks, or at least the sex-positive. The people who go range from the nervous, the curious to the confidently kinky, and all are catered for respectfully. I learnt heaps again this year, which included some emotional shifts and food for thought. I’ll be signing up next year.

* It’s a quadruped mammal and really ugly, I said to my team, trying to remember what this unfortunate creature is called. Hyena, someone said. Yes!