Friday, April 17, 2015

Catalyst Con 2015: the porn panels

Gram Ponante: Covering Porn: The Life on an American Porn Journalist
After taking a break for lunch, I went on a futile search for coffee, returning to the vendor area where coffee and tea were made available for attendees and as we'd find throughout the weekend, no coffee was to be had. But to my surprise, Lynn Comella was at the convention bookstore unpacking her new publication, New Views On Pornography: Sexuality, Politics, and the Law. So I made my way to over to purchase a copy of the hefty academic text and ended up chatting excitedly about porn studies, since I'd just finished a 6 week couse on the topic. But before long, I was heading out to listen to Gram Ponante's talk on porn journalism.

Turns out at Gram Ponante is a fantastic storyteller as his talk was mostly his story of how having barely even seen any pornographic movies, he ended up with a career writing about porn for AVN, i.e.the Adult Video News.

The take away message from this presentation is that it is nearly impossible to spend any amount of time telling entertaining anecdotes without addressing the various legal challenges faced by the industry. The adult industry has always existed on the line of legality and until the Freemen decision of 1988, the filming of pornographic movies was done in secret, with cops regularly busting shoots and the actors being arrested under charges of prostitution. But thanks to one court battle going all the way to the Supreme Court, the production of pornographic materials became legal in the state of California. And this is why productions are always made in CA. One would logically conclude that the ruling would automatically make the production of porn generally legal, but it hasn't been tested in other parts of the U.S. and no one is eager to find out, especially as many of the courts have become significantly less liberal in their interpretations of law.

But this led gracefully into the final panel I attended that day, New Views on Pornography: Sexuality, Politics, and the Law with  Lynn Comella PhD, Kevin Heffernan PhD, Kimberly A Harchuck Esq LLM, and Carol Queen PhD to discuss the growing field of porn studies. The date of this talk actually coincided with the one year anniversary of the release of the first academic journal dedicated to the discipline, Porn Studies. And the panel talked about the current interest in the academic study of pornography, but they primarily focused on their individual contributions to the newly released book, New Views on Pornography. edited by Lynn Commella and Shira Tarrant.

Kevin Heffernan (Southern Methodist University) pointed out that we talk about pornographic film differently than we do any other media. However, there was a time when porn was exhibited in theaters. In his study of the horror movie, he noticed that the genre responded more to changes in the movie industry than it did to major cultural changes. So in his chapter included in New Views, he explores the impact that shifts in the distribution of pornographic films has on the adult industry, legal battles around censorship, and finally on the films themselves.

First Amendment lawyer, Kimberly H Harchuck, addressed the relationship between the adult film industry and the obscenity laws. Basically, pornography has always pushed up against censorship and is a test of the first amendment. Our regulation of pornography is rooted in the Miller test. Basically, community standards determine when something is deemed obscene, but now that pornography is primarily distributed on-line, how do you determine community standards for a global medium?

So today, pornography and our internet freedoms may be the test that demonstrates our relative human liberties. Kimberly Harchuck pointed out that today, China has locked down their internet, tightly regulating the content that citizens can see. And porn is blocked. By comparison, the UK filters porn at the level of service provider and is attempting to restrict access to certain kinds of pornographic materials.

And finally, Carol Queen sees a resurgence in anti-porn feminism as fueling porn scholarship.

Her chapter in New Views traces the history of legendary women friendly sex toy store, Good Vibrations. When the store opened in 1977, they were opposed to carrying porn. But Susie Bright was instrumental in bringing pornographic film to Good Vibrations and curated a small selection of woman friendly porn. At one time, they even kept a notebook where customers could write their reactions to the movies.

And finally, Carol Queen points out that in today's landscape of very private consumption of porn, we no longer enjoy porn as a cultural phenomenon.

And finally, the panel discussed the major question of 'why do we need porn scholarship?'

Basically this boils down to the general lack of good studies on the topic. The media tends to regurgitate the same poorly executed studies that claim various social harms as a result of the availability of porn. Laws are even drafted citing bad science. So the field is instrumental in our understanding of the social impact of pornography. And this volume even includes essays on how to properly evaluate existing studies on pornography. I cannot wait to tear into my copy, but am waiting until I finish some of the essays by many of the same scholars included in the Feminist Porn Book.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Catalyst Con: therapy is not neutral, it's political.

I attend Catalyst Con for the panels and Saturday morning, I was in desperate need of a time tuner. But I was forced to make hard choices and decided to listen to Sheri Winston talk about The Missing Pieces of the Female Anatomy Puzzle. And it was fascinating and it was about so much more than just anatomy.

The presentation began with Ancient Greeks in walking us along a cultural map of female pleasure. It seems that throughout history, female sexual anatomy is inferior. It seems that female anatomy is only interesting in as it pertains to reproduction and that it is the penis that is for pleasure. Thanks to this long standing bias, even today there is very little accurate information of female sexual pleasure and orgasm. But with a vulva pillow in hand, Sheri Winston presented the basic mechanics of female arousal and orgasm. I believed that I was very well informed on this topic, but still learned so much more.

Cis women have the same volume of erectile tissue as men, it is only underneath the skin. But despite this, full engorgement is still visually apparent, it just isn't as obvious because it can take upwards or 45 min of stimulation to fully engorge and orgasm can happen without. Also, we tend to equate wetness with arousal, which occurs much earlier, but doesn't indicate that they body is ready for penetrative sex. Like the penis, the clitoris and it's two arms will fill with blood. Also, the vestibule bulbs will swell, sometimes quite dramatically. Actually, I learned that at last year's Catalyst Con during a presentation on the history of lesbian porn, when Shar Renoir stopped to point out an actress' highly engorged vulva with the comment that you almost never see that in porn.

She also showed us the layers of muscle that compose the pelvic floor, a topic that I've been attempting to understand but remains a bit elusive. But the pelvic floor, or PC muscles, are multiple sheets of muscle tissue and not distinct 'muscles'. So when my doctors explain that I have pelvic floor weakness or spasticity, that is far from a specific statement. There is a huge number of muscles encompassed and this is likely why physical therapy is so incredibly challenging.

Sheri Winston also talked about the role of the uterus in arousal. I didn't even know it played a role, but it absolutely does. There's a pair of muscles that during arousal contract to pull the cervix back, lengthening the vaginal canal and allowing for vaginal tenting.

And there was so much more. She covered the urethral sponge, where the fluid some women can ejaculate likely comes from, and so much more. Many of the images came from her book, Women's Anatomy of Arousal. This is a book I would have looked past as having too much woo and not enough basis in science, but is actually the concise and reader friendly literature review that I've been looking for.

And now for a selection of live tweets...

Immediately after, I didn't have time to attend Sheri's book signing, since I was racing off to listen to Chris Donaghue's talk, The Sex Education of the Media: How social media impacts and distorts your sexuality.

This is one of the more challenging talks to summarize due to the tremendous amount of exciting ideas flowing. The main points were that our "social media is a direct link into our psyche." What we put out into the world on these platforms are aspects of who we are and additionally, what we see on-line impacts how we see the world. Who we choose to follow on sites like facebook and twitter impacts our perception of the world. We are always learning and the media bombards us with only the most dominant of social norms. And these social norms teach us who we are supposed to be and we will always fall short.

But on the bright side, Chris Donaghue points out that we can shape what we see on-line to create a world more friendly and accepting by following only those who challenge social norms. If someone is always posting body-shaming articles and images, we can choose not to see what they share. On the flip side, we can find communities in social media that can boost our self-esteem and self-worth. The not conventionally attractive can find validation by posting images of themselves to their social networks.

"Social media is great for queers-
Community  Normalization  Intersectionality  Resistance  Identity  Reduce Shame and Isolation   Explore   Escape    Educate"

He also talked about how the media reinforces the social and sexual norms for men and women, creating a Mars and Venus model of the sexes that doesn't actually exist, i.e. the battle of the sexes is completely a social construct played on by the media "There are more differences between women than there are between women and men.

Chris Donaghue didn't just talk about the media, but as a sex therapist, he spoke about the inherent sex negativity in psychology. Basically, any behaviour that isn't "normal" requires treatment. Psychology tends to individualize (privatize) and ignores that mental health is a reflects institutions. Actually, this emphasis on self-improvement can be seen throughout so many of the talks at Catalyst that it was refreshing and exciting to here someone touch upon the sociological ideology behind mental health.

In addition, Chris Donaghue, who was trained in sex addiction treatment, is firmly in the sex addiction isn't a thing camp.  Go Team!

Friday, April 03, 2015

Catalyst Con 2015 Opening Keynote complete with gluten-free pasta and salad.

Catalyst Con opening keynote image credit @dalliances
Monday we returned home from Catalyst Con East in Washington DC and it was an amazing conference. Catalyst gathers together the top voices in sex education, therapy, research, among other disciplines to spend two days discussing human sexuality. This year the conference opened with a discussion between Francisco Ramirez, Kristin Beck, Dr. Melanie Davis, and Rachel Kramer Bussel, moderated by Lynn Comella.

This year opening keynote focused on fostering diversity within the sex-positive communities. Looking around the convention, it is not exactly the most diverse group of people. Attendees and panelists may have a broad range of sexual orientations, gender identities, and even abilities, but are overwhelmingly white. It seems this discussion was part of last year's convention, too. But it was good that they are at least attempting to have the conversation.

The conversation tended to focus on positivity and being inclusive, which is a step, but doesn't do enough. Ignacio Rivera added to this conversation with the most insightful comment, basically stating that it isn't enough to attempt to invite diversity into the community, but to actually engage with existing minority communities. Go to their events and give to their communities.

Despite a bit of frustration over the diversity question bringing up too many of the same ideas, there were still so many insights shared. Francisco Ramirez talked about the rights of all people to be sexual, including the homeless and Dr. Davis talked about the difficulties faced by getting messages of sex positivity to the elderly. And there was a much appreciated discussion of the importance of self-care in a  field where too many appear to be working without much financial compensation.

But the biggest surprise of the night was the announcement from Kristin Beck of her intention to run for Congress. She was probably the most positive and optimistic when it came to offering solutions for reaching out to those outside of the sex-positive community.

The most frustrating moment came when Hedwig asked about the place for anger when uncovering the structural injustices that exist in the community. Suggestions were all about the personal processing of feelings of anger, instead of ways the community might work to dismantle the cultural structures of oppression, but that's America for ya. We are slow to catch on to issues of class, income inequalities, etc and the solutions offered always involve personal betterment when we probably should all attempt to run for office.