Sex Tour: Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit, 2018 (Alexandria, VA)

Back in December, I started fundraising for the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit, a four-day sexuality conference in Alexandria, Virginia. Thanks to a bunch of individual donors and a registration sponsored by Tantus, I made it to the Hilton on August 1st, despite being overheated and exhausted from an eight-hour road trip. There was an unexpected issue with our check-in process, which added to the already hefty amount of anxiety I was dealing with, so I kicked off the weekend (I’m calling this a “weekend trip” even though it started on Wednesday for me) with an anxiety attack in our hotel room. Thankfully, those twenty minutes were the worst part of the entire trip.

My partner (who did not attend the conference but came along for moral support) and I made it to our room Wednesday night and dug into a much-needed hot meal after a day spent fueling up on energy drinks and gas station candy bars. Once fed and properly hydrated, my anxiety died down. I decided to let myself relax for the rest of the night to be ready to socialize the following day.

Thursday (08/02/2018)

I, like much of the Blog Squad, arrived at the conference early to have a day of socializing before workshops began that Friday. Woodhull had set up a space for us in a big meeting room, thereafter dubbed “the blogger lounge.” We had several big round tables set up, some couches in the back of the room, and the ever-so Millennial addition of bean bag chairs to give the room a comfortable, more casual feel.

I spent the entirety of Thursday socializing with other bloggers–some of whom I had read and idolized for years. On my first visit to the blogger lounge, I found it quite empty. However, as it got closer to the afternoon, more and more bodies trickled in. I walked in and sat at a table with Beaux, who I had known as Tantus’s social media manager (note: at the time of publication, Beaux has ended their employment at Tantus). Beaux was a familiar face who also recognized me and we hit it off right away. They were a pleasure to chat with and as I got to know them, all my nerves about meeting everyone else washed away. I breathed in deeply and let myself relax.

I met Indigo, who I had only seen on Twitter through others I followed. Once making their acquaintance, I immediately followed them as well. Indigo was a lovely company and had brought a bunch of Lust Arts toys to show off. I was joined at the table by other familiar faces like Sarah from Formidable Femme, Taryn from Ace in the Hole, and Epiphora–who I was so excited to finally meet after years of following. We discussed the Lust Arts alien dildo (we may have put tiny hats on it) and the velvet thruster, which April had brought from their sponsor.

In addition to getting to meet (almost) everyone for the first time,Thursday was also the day of swag. Beaux took me up to their room to talk up the new Tantus paddles and gave me a soon-to-be-released larger version of the Hero, dubbed “the Champion.” Indigo and I may have sword-fought with two giant Hoss dildos, as well. After that, Sarah took a group up to her room for swag, and I walked out with a shirt from Sugar (a sex shop in Baltimore), a Le Wand enamel pin, and a bunch of sponsor stickers. I also got to see Luna’s “dildo forest,” a fantastic collection of fantasy dildos of all kinds. It was an exciting adventure!

I attended the Woodhull mixer that night, hosted by the Black Pomegranate. Despite a low supply of pizza, an overpriced bar, and way too much volume for conversation, I had a decent time. I got to meet Kat Stark (who later signed my copy of their book!) and their husband, Flick, which was very exciting. I also got to mingle with some more of the blog squad and see Kenton’s restored antique vibrator. Even though I did enjoy myself, I called it an early night and headed back to my room at a reasonable hour for some much-needed recharging.

Friday (08/03/2018)

Friday morning, workshops began. I spent part of the morning in the blogger lounge, talking to more lovely folks and quietly building up my stash of stickers and other free goodies provided by sponsors. I mean, is there anything better than free stuff at conferences?

My first workshop of the day was about sex toy safety and myths, run by none other than Lilly (of Dangerous Lilly) and Kenton. In the session, Kenton and Lilly went over the flame test, how silicone is mixed and cured, and what the lack of safety regulation in the industry means for sex toy consumers. Kenton performed a live pouring of his NoFrillDos and tossed them into the audience at the end of the session. Thanks to some video recording by the amazing Suz, the whole session is available to watch here. After the session, I got to check out Lilly’s famous sex toy jars, which illustrate the dangers of toxic toy materials. It was a really informative session to kick off my day.

We took a break for lunch, allowing me to eat for the first time that day while I got to socialize with more folks like Bianca, Meg, Laurieann, and Felicity. By this time, my social anxiety was gone and I truly felt comfortable walking into the lounge to take a seat and chat up whoever was at the table at the time. We all ate our lunches and headed off to the next set of workshops.

My next workshop of the day was probably my favorite of the whole conference. It was put on by Sarah Brynn Holliday, who discussed how sex toys can be used as a tool to help people heal from trauma. She began by asking the room to talk about different types of trauma. While I expected sexual abuse to be a big focus of the workshop, the audience mentioned a wide variety of other traumas (physical, emotional, medical, death, etc.) that could be aided by the use of sex toys. Sarah discusses how trauma can affect one’s sexuality, and how sexuality is often left out of the narrative for recovery. “Pleasure,” she said, “is a human right for everyone, including survivors.” Her words were inspiring and thoughtful, leaving me with a lot of emotions to analyze about my own experiences and how I could bring Sarah’s message to my blog followers. (A piece on this topic is in the works, and I absolutely have Sarah to thank for the inspiration.)

Following Sarah’s session, I attended a similarly-themed workshop on kink and trauma, put on by a LCSW named Samantha Manewitz. Her message was a lot like Sarah’s: if we let trauma survivors take control of their own pleasure and sexuality, we can give them tools and resources that can help them make progress in their recovery. Her take on using kink as a means to heal from trauma was very familiar for me. As someone who has advocated for this, especially with those interested in rape play, I know what good the control over a situation can be for a survivor of trauma.

It was a heavy day, emotionally, but I left my last session charged up and inspired to produce more trauma-related content. I believe these topics are hugely important, and I’m so grateful to have had the privilege to see these two presenters speak on this issue.

My partner and I grabbed a bite to eat and headed to a local sex toy shop called Lotus Blooms, recommended to me by Sarah, who used to work there. I had an amazing time there and headed back to the lounge later in the evening to relax with everyone. A burlesque show was put on at this time, but a bunch of us decided to put the bean bag chairs in a circle and stay up chatting instead of attending. People filtered in and out for a bit but we all got to relax and discuss things many of us may not have much opportunity to outside this setting. We stayed up late making inappropriate jokes and building friendships.

Saturday (08/04/2018)

On Saturday, I attended only two workshops, due to sleeping in and wanting to socialize in the blogger lounge. The first was called “Black Girls Deserve Better” and was run by Lashea Brown, manager of the Get Smart B4U Get Sexy program in California. Her workshop covered the topic of sexual harassment and oppression faced by young black girls in the school system she had worked with. As someone working in education in a predominantly non-white district, I found the topics discussed helpful for understanding the sexual perspective of teenagers like those Lashea worked with. Through a focus group, survey, and pre/post tests, Leshea’s research shows that these groups of students received most of their information about sex through social media, Google, or television, and were widely misinformed. Surveys also indicated much higher instances of catcalling and harassment in young girls of color. Leshea’s work in this area highlights a very important reality we need to recognize when it comes to sex education, access to sexual health services, and racial privilege.

Like the day before, workshops took a break for lunch and I headed off to the make-your-own sandwich buffet line with a few bloggers to grab a bite before my next session. I had just picked up a plate when someone walked up to me and asked if I was Submissive Feminist. I told them I was, surprised that people had been recognizing me at Woodhull. They told me they had sent me an anonymous message back when they were dealing with an abusive relationship and that I had helped them. Tears literally welled up in their eyes, and I asked if I could hug them. We embraced, and I had never felt more appreciated or validated in my entire career as a sex blogger. I hope if they’re reading this article, they know that this was the most important thing that happened to me at Woodhull, and I will never forget this moment.

After lunch, I had some time to kill before my next workshop, so I attended a small group session with Duck DooLittle from Blush Novelties in the blogger lounge. Ducky was a real delight to get to know. I had seen her speak at events in the past but to sit down with her and have a conversation about this industry was just incredible. Newer bloggers gained a lot of insight from her discussion, I think, and we all took away some important information–not only about Blush, but for the industry as a whole.

The next workshop I attended was put on by the Black Pomegranate. Their topic of discussion was all about the dangers of performative consent in the kink community. “Mr. Black” led the discussion, establishing what the BDSM community looks like, and how the people involved structure it. Those with influential power run the events and the dungeons, and those who are marginalized risk exposure to dangerous situations. He and “Ms. Pomegranate” note different margins of the kink community based on race, class, gender, ability, experience, etc., and how these things put us at a disadvantage that can be harmful when it comes to establishing consent in a scene. The discussion made me consider the way we handle consent in kink in a new light. I had not previously considered a lot of the situations Mr. Black discussed as problematic, and I was grateful for the learning experience. Hopefully, I can use this information to make the communities I involve myself in more aware of these issues.

After the workshops, a lot of the blog squad attended a live recording of one of my favorite podcasts, the Dildorks. Sex educator, Bex Caputo, and sex journalist, Kate Sloan discussed the topic of flirting with sex bloggers and it was a very good experience for my first live podcast. The audience laughed a lot and I got to see two great people I idolize host their show, which was awesome.

After the recording, a bunch of us got into our swimsuits and headed down to the pool, where we swam and chatted until they had to close it down and kick us out. I popped back into my hotel room, changed into pajamas, and went down to the blogger lounge for our last night together. We pushed all the bean bags together and piled on top of them, sharing alcohol and bags of candy, giggling all night. A few flogging scenes broke out and a spanking or two was had, but it was very low-key. I had never been so relaxed around a large group of people like this before. I didn’t want to say goodnight but once the early hours of Sunday morning broke, I decided I should get some sleep before the long drive home.

Sunday (08/05/2018)

Sunday was a lot shorter than I expected. I packed and checked out of the hotel, and got to see a few folks in line while doing that, but when I went to head down to the blogger lounge for my goodbyes, I was told it was locked and no one was able to get in. With that, I left the hotel for home, extremely disappointed that I wasn’t able to say goodbye to the new friends I had made or take photos together. I later heard they were able to open the lounge, and regretted leaving so early.

The ride home was long and, although we got to stop off at Sugar in Baltimore, I was really bummed out about the way Woodhull ended for me. If I had known I wouldn’t have seen many people in the morning, I would have given hugs and proper goodbyes the night before. Thankfully, we all have a heavy internet presence–keeping in touch hasn’t been difficult. Still, I felt short-changed.

Takeaway

Woodhull was everything I wanted it to be and more. The community of sex bloggers wasn’t what I expected—it was so much better. With so many of the blog squad being repeat conference goers, I was terrified of cliques and cattiness. What I found instead was a strong, supportive family of people who understood my experiences, my passions, and my needs. Most of us experience social anxiety or introversion. However, being around folks we read about all the time made all of that disappear for me, and I had no problem feeling comfortable in their presence. Everyone was friendly and welcoming and not once did I hear a bad word uttered about any other blogger. I remember my time there very fondly.

I can’t thank my donors and sponsor enough for helping me get to Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit this year. Being there opened so many doors for me, allowed me to network, to learn crucial information about my community, and most of all find a sense of connection with my peers. Everything about Woodhull made me feel good. It felt like home–and I can’t wait to go back next year.

xx SF

Leave a Reply