I tried to write one big Woodhull recap post, but it ended up being like, a million words long. Instead, I present to you the first in a series. Today, we’re talking about what I learned in some of the brilliant sessions that I attended.
Woodhull SFS16: What I Learned
If you read my first post about Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit, then you know there were plenty of talks I was excited to attend. In fact, there were so many great talks that I simply didn’t make it to all of them – I would have needed a time turner.
Unfortunately, Sex Educator Bootcamp was cancelled due to a health emergency. But, I made it to Nurturing Connection Through Healthy Touch, Navigating Social Media Practices for Adult Businesses, Sexualizing Cancer, Embodied Consent and the Cultural Lie of Sexual Desirability, Facing the Monster Under the Bed: Continuing the Conversation About Sex & Depression (read it Storified!), and Your Voice Matters: How to Start a Revolution through Podcasting.
I walked away from each of these sessions with something important, whether it was a feeling of companionship, inspiration, or pride in my community. But three sessions really stood out to me:
Sexualizing Cancer (#sfscancer)
This session opened my eyes the widest. Rebecca Hiles, Harmony Eichsteadt, and Ericka Hart talked about their experiences with cancer and its effect on their bodies, their sex lives, their emotional health, and their relationships.
I think it’s important to note right off the bat that cancer is something I know basically nothing about. It’s also something that affects so many people (and in many different ways). There’s a very good chance that at some point, I’ll have a client who has or has had cancer, or a client’s spouse will be diagnosed. Because of just how prevalent cancer is, I thought it was pretty important to attend this panel.
It was also eye-opening for me, as a person with many different kinds of privilege, to hear about how other people with different identities (particularly fat folks & people of color) experience medical care. For example, a correct diagnosis took way, way too long for Becca because her doctor was seeing only the fact that she’s fat, not the fact that she was sick.
All three panelists talked about how the caretaker dynamic ultimately took a huge toll on their relationships. They decried the trope of the wise and angelic cancer patient. While one person loves a one night stand, another feels that they’re no longer an option because they must explain their scars. Regardless, sexual pleasure and a need for sexual connection was never dimmed or destroyed by cancer.
Embodied Consent and the Cultural Lie of Sexual Desirability (#sfsconsent)
I was not prepared for how hard Embodied Consent and the Cultural Lie of Sexual Desirability would hit me. Elle Chase and Jaclyn Friedman addressed several tough, vulnerable topics like body image, consent, and pleasure. There was an interesting discussion thanks to audience participation about recognizing and accepting a No, and about ideal circumstances versus circumstances that many of us find ourselves in IRL.
But for me, the most intense part of the discussion was about pleasure. Seems weird, right? I literally write about orgasms. But here’s the thing: That doesn’t mean I’m going around experiencing amazing pleasure all the time. In fact, as a person with a lot of anxieties, I’m really prone to self-criticism, which hits my sexual brakes. And it doesn’t end with sex, either – this happens with just about every pleasure. So, I was feeling seen and vulnerable by the time that session ended. I retreated for a nap and a call with my partner.
PS: I Storified the tweets here, so you can check out what others had to say as well.
Facing the Monster Under the Bed (#sfsmonster)
Facing the Monster Under the Bed was predominantly about depression’s effect on relationships. If you’re not aware, JoEllen has been conducting research on sex & depression for some time now, which is amazing considering she’s doing it without the benefit of an academic institution’s financial backing.
What’s the #1 misconception about sex & depression? That people with depression aren’t interested in sex or aren’t having sex. After finding this theme in her research time and again, JoEllen started to focus on how depression affects the whole relationship, not just the sexual relationship. What emerged was the caregiver dynamic, the need for separate social lives, and the necessity of a complete support system for both/all partners.
As someone who has had depression – both hypothyroid-induced and otherwise – and someone who has had partners with depression, I think that JoEllen and Stephen did a fantastic job addressing things from both points of view. While I think you always leave a good presentation with more questions (because really, you should want to learn more, right?), I also left this talk with some ideas about how to enact positive change.