Earlier this month I announced my sponsorship by Stockroom for the CARAS conference. I cannot believe that it came and went so quickly! I had such a blast. CARAS is not a huge conference, by any means, but its attendees will spread the word of alternative sexuality research like ripples in a lake to their respective communities.
In addition to Stockroom’s sponsorship, I had a lot of help getting to Chicago. I created a Go Fund Me campaign and was surprised, shocked, honored, and humbled by the amount of support I received from friends and family who gave what they could because they believe in me and my work. I could not have gotten to Chicago and had a place to stay and been able to eat had it not been for several people. I won’t list their full names, because they have not consented to be outed on my website (and I know at least one and maybe two who will not read my site for a variety of reasons, which is totally okay) but A.D., LT, H.A., P.M., AM.P., C.A., and my Mom (who I love with every fiber of my being!) deserve huge thanks and hugs next time I see each of them. Thank you all for believing in me and my work and helping me to go places to learn more!
So, what did I learn at CARAS?
I was thrilled that the Center for Positive Sexuality‘s Executive Director, Emily Prior and Director of Research, Dr. DJ Williams were presenting the opening keynote of the conference. This presentation is probably one that sticks mostly firmly in my mind, because in a way, it is the foundation for everything else.
Emily and DJ presented From Sex Wars to Peace: Working Together for a Model of Positive Sexuality in which they talked about the 8-dimension, multidisciplinary framework for sex positivity.
You should definitely read the paper they co-authored with others in it’s entirety. (Don’t worry, it’s short: 6 pages including references.) This is a great place to pause and plug the Journal of Positive Sexuality for a moment. This is a journal launched by the Center early in 2015. It is an online publication that is free to access, downloadable, easy-to-read, short (no more than 8 pages), multidisciplinary, and peer-reviewed around the topics of sexuality, kink, and gender. They also encourage students to submit papers.
I should also pause here and say if you are curious about the CARAS conference, I live-tweeted a bit, along with a few other atendees, if you’d like to check that out search the hashtag #altsex2015 on twitter or have a look at the Storify I curated including tweets from several people who were not using the hashtag.
Okay, back to it. This is just a quick outline of the 8-dimension positive sexuality framework. They’re pretty easy to understand, but for a more in-depth explanation, please do check out the full article linked above.
- “Positive” Refers to Strengths, Well-being, and Happiness
- Individual Sexuality is Unique and Multifaceted
- Positive Sexuality Embraces Multiple Ways of Knowing
- Positive Sexuality Reflects Professional Ethics
- Positive Sexuality Promotes Open, Honest Communication
- Positive Sexuality is Humanizing
- Positive Sexuality Encourages Peacemaking
- Positive Sexuality is Applicable across all Levels of Social Structure
Next, I split my time between two sessions, something I don’t like to do at conferences, because I feel like I’m missing something. That feeling was further validated when I walked into the second half of a session titled Interdisciplinary approaches to talking about kink culture and identity in higher education. I didn’t tweet that session at all, but what I got from it was that it can be challenging to implement clubs and organizations that are kink/BDSM specific on college or university campuses. On the other hand, once they do get started, the conversations that are generated can be incredibly rewarding, both for the young people attending and getting involved, and also for the faculty/administration/staff who put on the educational events.
Then we broke for lunch and many of the conference attendees took advantage of the Whole Foods that was right within the building of the Center on Halsted. (The prices were just the same as in Los Angeles; I felt right at home.)
The next session I went to, Sadomasochism without Sex? Exploring the Parallels between BDSM and Extreme Rituals, was really fascinating. The presenter talked about altered states that take place in piercing rituals. In the study, various tests were used to compare mental sharpness, kind of like a sobriety test, before, during, and after these rituals. Perceptions of time and space were altered, social bonding was increased, feeling floaty or peaceful was common. It was very interesting to see a comparison in the types of awareness that were heightened or lowered based on piercers/piercees vs. Tops/bottoms in BDSM scenes. Levels of perceived stress and physiological stress (measured with cortisol levels) were very similar in both groups. I’m definitely not doing this study as much justice as I should, but you can check out some of the slides here. [Note: There are several presentations within this Dropbox doc, but the info I’m specifically referencing is the Sadomasochism without Sex study.]
There was one more block of concurrent sessions before the closing plenary. I attended Dr. Richard Sprott’s on The Psychobiology of SM which was absolutely brilliant! First of all, I love Dr. Sprott’s energy. I wish I’d gotten to chat with him more. His session really looked at the brain and brain chemistry and how various elements of BDSM were related to that. It took me back to my undergrad days, and classes for my psych major.
There’s no way I could do justice to Dr. Sprott’s session either, but a few things stood out:
- When we experience “pain,” in life or in a scene, we’re actually just registering a change in sensation. There is no pain center in the brain.
- Pacing is important in a scene.
- Pleasure and pain are not on the same scale, so you can experience both at the same time.
- If you want to slow down a scene that’s getting too intense, talk to your bottom/sub. Get them to focus in on your voice.
Finally, the closing plenary: Is Kink a Sexual Orientation? Panel Discussion. This one stirred up a lot. Is kink something we’re born with? Is it something we choose to do as a leisure activity? They talked about the challenges of researching BDSM identities because they can be so fluid. People can change over time, or have different roles depending on the partner they’re with, etc. Similar to the Klein Sexual Orientation grid which takes into account multiple elements that factor into an individual’s sexual orientation (attraction, behavior, emotional, fantasies, social, etc), the panel suggested six dimensions of kink orientation
— Dr. Victoria Reuveni (@DrVixenne) May 22, 2015
I’m no researcher, but I certainly have thoughts and ideas around kink as an orientation. (Future blog post perhaps?)
If you’d like to learn more about the other sessions, the poster presentations, as well as the presenters themselves, you can view the conference program here.
The rest of my Chicago trip…
I walked around Chicago and got to see a few famous buildings. We walked along a river and on the bridge (including the scary middle part which freaked me out!). Then went on the Untouchables Tour where they take you around town telling the early history of the mob. It was a really fun tour and the guides were great! Highly recommend!
I ate. Oh did I eat! I got to sample a couple Chicago classics – deep dish pizza and Al’s Italian Beef. Yummo!
I wanted to do my Sex Toy Shop Tour a la Redhead Bedhead, but I wasn’t able to get around to that. (I just have to come back! Obviously.) I was able to visit the Leather Archives & Museum. That was seriously amazing to experience. There is so much history. And the museum is really not that large. I’m sure it’s just scratching the surface, but what they have curated – art, history, media, culture, education, ephemera – it’s really lovely. If you like history and are a sex geek you totally need to visit.
Here are just a few photo collages I threw together of some of the exhibits. Check out my Instagram for a few more. (I took way more photos than I’ve put on social media so far.)
And right after the Leather Archives, before I had to get to the airport, I went to the Bean. It’s a tourist and photographer’s dream! I even saw a couple taking wedding photos. Very cute.
I had an absolute blast learning and experiencing lots of new places. I cannot wait until the next CARAS conference which will be September 24, 2016 in San Francisco! And I look forward to visiting Chicago again someday.
Thank you again to all the people who supported me and made this trip possible! Huge thank you to Stockroom for sponsoring a portion of my trip. Visit their site if you’re looking for kinky gear, clothing, and education!