CatalystCon: celebrating sexuality

I’m basking in the joy of CatalystCon, a weekend of learning and sharing with other sex educators and self-proclaimed sex geeks. The mission of this event was “Sparking Communication in sexuality, activism and acceptance.” Oh yes, mission accomplished.

Though most attendees were younger and I was the only speaker on senior sex, there were other people with grey hair (or they would have had grey hair had they not colored theirs). I felt total acceptance from all the people I met, even those decades younger. The sex-positive nature of the event conveyed this message to everyone: “I celebrate my own sexuality, sexuality in general, and your sexuality, no matter how different from mine yours might appear to be.”

Megan Andelloux

I tried to choose from 40 sessions presented over two days, wishing I could attend them all. For every session I attended, there were four I had to miss.

Charlie Glickman

Some of my favorite sex educators featured in Naked at Our Age were speaking:  Carol Queen, Charlie Glickman, Megan Andelloux. There were names that inspire recognition and awe, such as Dr. Marty Klein.

(Want your own “Sex Geek” shirt?  Order from Reid Mihalko here.)

I attended sessions where I’d learn information that you, dear sex-positive senior readers, would benefit from knowing, and others where I’d come away with plenty of “huh! I didn’t know that!”


For example, the “Toxic Toys” session with Metis Black, founder of Tantus, high quality silicone sex toys; Jennifer
Pritchett, founder of Smitten Kitten; and feisty educator and author, Ducky Doolittle. I was amazed by their stories of activism in an industry where sex toys used to be cheap, easily broken, and made of noxious materials that leached chemicals into our mucous membranes.  We have women like these three activists to thank for the safety and quality of sex toys today.

One of the most memorable speakers I heard was Buck Angel. Buck calls himself “a man with a vagina” — he’s a transgender man who elected to have top surgery but not bottom surgery.

As a child named Susan (but everyone called him Buck), he was a “total tomboy” and thought of himself as a boy. “Occasionally someone would say, ‘You’re a girl,” and I’d beat the crap out of them, and they’d say, ‘OK, you’re a dude,’” he says. “Everything was fine until at 15, puberty hit. Not puberty as a boy – but puberty as a girl. Here I am bleeding, my boobs are growing, I’m turning into a woman.”

He had his sex change 20 years ago, before female-to-male changes were done. He was the “guinea pig” for the surgeon who removed his breasts. “For years I hated what I was, and now I love it,” he says.

Now Buck is 50 years old, a porn star (“the man with a pussy”), transgender activist, and motivational speaker. His past includes alcohol and drug addiction, modeling, hustling, attempted suicide, and death threats. “I should be dead,” he says. “Why am I still here? Because I have a message to give the world: Deprogram yourself, and love your vagina.” Buck Angel’s story is worthy of a  book. (Buck, do you need a ghostwriter?)


Carol Queen & Robert Lawrence

Another provocative session was “Why Talk about Sex and Disability?“, co-presented by Robin Mandell and Dr. Robert Morgan Lawrence (who also gave a fascinating talk on “The Anatomy of Pleasure” with his partner Carol Queen).

Robin Mandell

Robin referred to people without disabilities as “temporarily able-bodied” and made the point that we have much to learn from sex-positive people with disabilities. Robert, who referred to himself as “old and crunchy,” jolted us all when he spread out all the medications he has to take for myriad medical challenges including pain that limits mobility. He has had to make many accommodations sexually as well as in other ways. “It took being crippled to realize that sex wasn’t penetration,” he says.”

I had fun at a workshop learning to use the new version of the female condom, called the FC2. If your experience was with the first female condom, which felt and sounded like having sex with a shower curtain, you’ll be happy to know the material is completely different now. It’s great for folks of our age, because the penis can be inserted even if it’s not erect, and lube in the condom doesn’t dry up or get absorbed.It can also be used for anal sex for either gender, just remove the inner ring. One man in the workshop said it was a way “to feel bareback sensations while staying protected.” (This video shows how to insert it and gives lots of info.)

Okay, the female condom does look funny (especially in this model with a dildo in it that we passed around — should I not have shared this?), but the workshop leaders, Planned Parenthood sex educators Alma de Anda and Mayra Lizzette Yñiguez, advised us to give it three tries to discover how comfortable and empowering it is. They gave me a bunch of samples (three in a pack, to prove their point) to share with my workshop attendees!

My own session was titled “Senior Sex Out Loud,” the story of my journey from high school English teacher to fitness professional/ health writer to sex educator/ senior sex advocate, with experiences along the way that were sometimes amusing, sometimes amazing, occasionally appalling. I started out wearing a jacket, but shed it when I talked about body acceptance. (Want to hear this speech yourself, or offer one of my workshops at your venue? I have a suitcase packed, would love to come to you. Please email me and let’s talk.)

But CatalystCon was more than the knowledge, more than the networking, more than the
opportunity for me to share what I do and how I feel about it, more than
learning what other sex educators do and how they feel about it. It
felt like a brave new world was possible, one in which acceptance and
celebration reigned.

Imagine living in a society free of closed-minded people and repressive attitudes and policies, where we celebrate our similarities and our differences and are truly
kind to each other. That was in the air at CatalystCon.

I applaud Dee Dennis, who conceived and birthed CataystCon; the sponsors who made it possible and affordable; the extraordinary speakers who were willing to donate their wisdom and incur their own travel expenses; and the attendees who were eager to absorb new knowledge, communicate openly (even those who wore the “I’m shy” wristbands that Reid gave out), and take our messages home. CatalystConWest will become a yearly event, and CatalystConEast will rock your world March 15-17, 2013 in Washington, DC.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Sex Tapes for Seniors: The Musical

It’s no joke that we need sex education courses for seniors–we’re inhabiting different bodies, different minds, and trying to make sense of relationships, new and/or ongoing. We’re dating, relating, retreating, all of the above.

So let’s put some humor in the whole situation, which playwright Mario Cossa does with Sex Tapes for Seniors. Approaching 60 himself, Cossa decided to write a musical comedy for older performers who sing, dance, and talk about sex and relationships. That’s a good thing, in my view.

The plot: a group of retirees, played by actors age 52 to 73, decide to produce educational sex videos for seniors. I loved the diversity of the seniors portrayed. They’re gay, lesbian, straight, widowed, single, coupled — you name it. How refreshing that all these older folks are shown dealing with relationships in their complexity, including but not solely sexual, and they don’t fit any stereotypes. Hallelujah.

The issues we really deal with are addressed here — and we laugh at the memory lapses, the need for new positions that don’t stress our aging bodies, the need for sex toys with instructions we can read. We nod in recognition when Dottie talks to the photo of her deceased husband, a lesbian couple bickers over a daughter not accepting their relationship, a husband doesn’t want to see a doctor about his unreliable erections despite the prodding of his sexually charged wife.

The whole cast is good, but I have to say that the wildly talented Phillipe Coquet stole the show for me playing Matthew, a wiry, tap dancing, rapping, sexy gay guy whose dream is to be on Oprah. Coquet, age 52, has been acting since the age of eight and I could have watched him for hours more. (Okay, so he was also my personal heart throb in the cast.)

I was surprised that the audience remained remarkably subdued through the first act, but started loosening up as the jokes and songs got a little raunchier. e.g. suggesting that “false teeth and fellatio” pair superbly.

The sex tapes story is a minor part of the plot, a way for the characters to reveal their issues, emotions, and back stories. It works, it’s fun, and it’s about time.

If you’re lucky enough to live in or near San Francisco, please see it at the Victoria Theatre. Tickets are affordable–$25-$40–and the show runs through August 22, 2010. I hope you’ll add your comments to mine.

Sex words in your dictionary?

The Internet is abuzz with a story from The Press-Enterprise about the Menifee school district in Riverside County CA, which has banned the dictionary because it has an entry about “oral sex.”
I’m not kidding! Here’s an excerpt from the newspaper’s Menifee local news:

After a parent complained about an elementary school student stumbling across “oral sex” in a classroom dictionary, Menifee Union School District officials decided to pull Merriam Webster’s 10th edition from all school shelves earlier this week.

School officials will review the dictionary to decide if it should be permanently banned because of the “sexually graphic” entry, said district spokeswoman Betti Cadmus. The dictionaries were initially purchased a few years ago for fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms districtwide, according to a memo to the superintendent.

“It’s just not age appropriate,” said Cadmus, adding that this is the first time a book has been removed from classrooms throughout the district.

There are so many things we could discuss here that my mind is reeling. But let’s look at this from the perspective of those of us who had a heck of time getting accurate, meaningful information about sex when we were growing up.

Did we look in the dictionary? Of course! Did we find anything? Nada. “Clitoris” wasn’t even in the dictionary or in any part of my sex education. I didn’t know I had one — or, for that matter, how to have an orgasm — until a fellow college student named Alan showed me what he had learned with a previous girlfriend.

Do children look up sex words? You bet they do — didn’t we? Should children be able to look up “clitoris” or “oral sex” or whatever other permutation of sex or street name for a sexual act that interests them?

Of course they should! How are we even needing to discuss this in 2010? Of course the dictionary can’t be the complete resource, especially as children become teenagers. Thank goodness books like The Guide to Getting It On by Paul Joannides exist.

Here’s a job for you — grab your printed dictionary, old or new, and look up a few sex terms. Comment here to tell me what dictionary you used, its edition or publication date, what words you looked up, and what you found.

(Thank you, Carnal Nation, where I read this story first.)

Hurdling the Generation Gap: Talking to Younger People about Senior Sex

I recognize the culturally pervasive “ick factor,” as I call it, in the way the media and most young and even middle-aged folks view the idea of the older generation still having and enjoying sex. I think it’s important to create a respectful dialogue whenever possible, so I’m delighted when a young person contacts me to convey a sincere interest in senior sexuality.

“C4bl3Fl4m3” (see photo), who tells me I can call her “CableFlame,” is 25 years old. She writes,

Human sexuality is my main professional and academic interest, and I’m always particularly interested in parts of sexuality that aren’t addressed very much. And one never hears about sex after 50 or after 60. Especially not at my age. Heck they never even mentioned that in my “comprehensive” sex ed class in school. All they teach us is what they think we need to know right then, for sex at the time as a teenager. We’re not given the tools we need to make choices as adults or as seniors. Our sexual knowledge needs change as we get older, enter committed relationships, enter into casual sex relationships, get married or enter into a civil or holy union, (some of us) enter into polyamorous relationships, leave our relationships, and generally age.

So I’m interested in sex in general and sex while aging is part of that. I do recognize that just because people get older, they don’t stop having sex. It’s uncomfortable for a lot of younger people to think about, but it’s part of life.

I’m curious what it might be like for me when I get older. I like going into things prepared, and so I’m curious about older sexuality. I’d love to read an article or have you talk some on your blog about kink/BDSM and aging. I’m sure there are plenty of older people who enjoy it (especially as the Baby Boomer kinksters are reaching retirement age) and it would be interesting to see how it’s the same and different for them, both in terms of desire and in terms of what’s physically safe and what has to change.

I welcome your comments about CableFlame’s questions, and I’d also like to know what you’d like young adults to understand about senior sexuality. It’s up to us to talk out loud about our attitudes, if not our activities, if we’re going to make a dent in the sound barrier surrounding older-age sex!