In a hotel in Long Beach California a collection of sex educators, activists, writers, therapists, sex workers and a variety of others gathered for a new kind of conference. The goal of this conference, CatalystCon, was communication in sexuality, activism and acceptance. According to Dee Dennis, the creator of the conference, “Knowledge is power, and sharing that knowledge is the first spark in igniting change. This is the fundamental principle behind CatalystCon.”
I went to CatalystCon not as a certified sex educator but as someone who enjoyed writing about the subject and hoping to find others who shared that passion. I also wanted to learn more in the hopes of becoming a better writer and researcher. The list of speakers was impressive as was the growing list of people planning to attend. I was going to find an amazing selection of educators, activists and writers, many of whom I already admired and followed on Twitter and Facebook while others I would discover for the first time.
The conference was held over three days along with a pre-conference party on Thursday night at The Pleasure Chest in West Hollywood. There was a pre-conference CE seminar on Friday, “When Sex Gets Complicated: Working With Couples Around Affairs, Pornography and Cybersex” with Dr. Marty Klein. It was open to everyone even though it was geared more towards professionals. Dr. Klein is an engaging speaker so I’m sure it was a fascinating session for anyone who attended.
Friday evening was the official start of the conference with the opening reception. There was a delicious buffet and a fun icebreaker with Reid Mihalko. Next was the hilarious Maria Falzone performing part of her act “Sex Rules” and then working it into the reading of the conference rules. Lastly was the opening keynote plenary. It began with a welcoming by Dee Dennis and then was passed on to moderator Lynn Comella, PhD. The panelists Dr. Marty Klein, Megan Andelloux, Maggie Mayhem and Francisco Ramirez, MRH shared stories about their involvement in sex education, their goals, their battles and their challenges. It was an inspiring way to start the weekend.
Saturday was filled with sessions all scheduled five at a time. You could choose from a variety of classes such as “America’s War on Sex and the 2012 Election," ”The Anatomy of Pleasure," “How to Be an Ally to Sex Workers in Theory and Practice," “A New Monogamy: Catalyst for Conversation," “Sex Education: Out of the Classroom, into the Streets” and “How to Make Ends Meet as a Sex-Positive Professional.” The sessions ended with two special events, the Safe Office demonstration about online security and privacy and the Aneros EVI debut with Ducky Doolittle. I loved the Girl Gasms presentation she gave to debut the EVI. Ducky gave a lecture on orgasms that was both funny and informative.
The sessions may have been over at the dinner break but there was still more to come. Saturday evening was filled with events like a screening of the documentary “How to Lose Your Virginity” and Ducky Doolittle’s Dirty Bingo and Bawdy Storytelling. At Bawdy Storytelling, Dixie De La Tour put several conference presenters on the stage to share sidesplitting stories all with the theme of catalyst. Candid stories by Allison Moon, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Sarah Dopp, Carol Queen, Sex Nerd Sandra, Meghan Andelloux and Reid Mihalko proved you could educate and entertain at the same time.
Sunday was only a half-day with more great sessions like “Sex and the Media," “Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex," “Talking With Your Kids About Sex," “Why Talk about Sex and Disability Anyway?” and “The Online Activist: Creating a Social Media Content Strategy.” The conference ended with the closing keynote plenary defending pornography, what constitutes obscenity and intellectual property violations with John Stagliano, Constance Penley, PhD, and Allan Gelbard, esq. Dee Dennis closed the conference with the results of the Scarleteen raffle and a touching thank you to everyone involved.
I left the conference feeling like I had not only learned a great deal but grew in a way I hadn’t expected. The one on one interaction with such amazing people made me realize I had something to give. I had just as valid a voice as the established people who had blazed the path before me. We all need to work together if we’re going to get through this time where women’s rights, proper sex education and the freedom to express your sexuality is in need of constant defending.
I highly encourage everyone to attend CatalystCon East next year in DC. The March conference is just gearing up with a call for sessions now open. The next West conference should be back in Long Beach next year if you can’t make it to the March Con. I know I’m looking forward to returning. An important phrase I heard at the conference was “You have to find your own personal catalyst.” I hope CatalystCon helps you find your personal catalyst so you can use that to make a difference both in your community and the community at large.