a publication of the sexuality and aging consortium at widener university

My First Time…at CatalystCon East

By Melanie Davis, PhD, CSE

This column was first published at www.MelanieDavisPhD.com

Melanie Davis PhDI just returned from a three inspirational days at CatalystCon East, which founder Dee Dennis describes as a “melting pot of sexuality” that brings together sex educators, sexologists, sex workers, writers, activists, people in the adult industry and others seeking to create change.
I was changed by the experience, not only in terms of the knowledge I gleaned and shared, but also in terms of conversations I engaged in, the people I met, and the welcome and energy I enjoyed during the event.
There were neither CEs to earn nor evaluations to complete, which removed the typical conference focus on earning hours toward professional recertification. Like others in attendance, I was there for the joy of learning, sharing, advocating, and networking  in a safe, inclusive setting. Our common goal was to make the world a more sex-positive, accepting place.

A Few of My Take-Aways

  • During Francisco Ramirez’ fun and fast-paced Entrepreneurial IQ workshop, I wrote a vision statement using the Mad Libs word puzzle model — It’s now on my bulletin board to inspire me.
  • From Eugene Hedlund’s and Monique Darling’s Sex Road Warriors workshop, I learned a strategy that enabled me to book a second speaking gig when I’m in DC to present at the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit.
  • In her Birth Matters session, Amy Gilliland identified the sexual significance of childbirth, including the ways that medicalized birth practices can have short- and long-term effects on parents. From a short video about water birth, I learned why Russian birth attendants are called spiritual midwives.
  • During The Hijacking of Healthy Sexuality panel discussion, Maria Falzone, Jackie Strano, Sandra Daugherty and Yvonne Fulbright  shared parenting advice that illustrated the beauty of simple, honest conversations with children and teens.
  • I learned about exhibitionism from Carol Queen, who was interviewed by Tina Horn for an episode of “Why Are People Into That?!”  Carol talked about a shyness-to-boldness continuum  that allows people to explore their show-off side while respecting other people’s boundaries and consent.
  • Mara Levy’s Problem Solving with Disability workshop allowed us to apply an occupational therapy model to helping people with disabilities enjoy sexual activity. Beautiful in its simplicity, the model asks individuals whether they want to fix, compensate for, or feature their disability during sexual activity. What an empowering approach!

Contacts and Connections

CatalystCon nametagOn behalf of the Sexuality and Aging Consortium at Widener University, I presented a  Shattering Assumptions about Sex and Aging workshop that explored age-related sexual privilege. We started by forming a circle, tossing Koosh balls, and calling out ageist stereotypes and assumptions. Participants then pulled out their smartphones to watch a 30-second video; and after rich discussion, they reframed older adult sexuality by crafting short messages celebrating it.
At the end of my workshop, I met people with whom I’m likely to work on several projects, including a journal article. I also met people working with the Our Whole Lives lifespan sexuality education curriculum I oversee for the Unitarian Universalist Association — a treat because we usually communicate via email. One workshop participant asked a question about safer sex and condom use, which led to her introducing me to a sex worker who shared perspectives on internal condoms that I would not have gained without CatalystCon East.

Next Steps

I’m submitting the same workshop proposal for CatalystCon West with the workshop’s co-creator, Robin Goldberg-Glen, who serves as co-president of the Sexuality and Aging Consortium with me. We also hope to borrow some of Dee’s ideas for conference logistics when we co-chair the Consortium’s conference this fall.
I’m already putting to use some of the knowledge I learned in CatalystCon workshops, and I am following up with many of the folks I met at there. These conversations can only help to build a stronger, larger web of people devoted to creating change and promoting sex positivity.


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