When I was a kid, I always wished I could go away to summer camp. I’d read countless books about the magic of camp and the incredible friendships born there. I wanted that mystical experience of meeting a bunch of other kids from different places, spending every waking hour together, forging bonds that would keep us close until we could return the following year.
Summer camp sounded like an amazing place, but overnight camp was never able to fit in our family budget. I got over it, of course, finding other ways to meet and make friends through my pre-teen and teenage years. By the time I went off to college, my summer camp fantasies were relegated to a dusty corner in the back of my mind. After getting married and starting a family, I’d pretty much forgotten them altogether. But for one weekend in mid-August, that decades-old wish for camp camaraderie was finally granted… if not quite in the way that my younger self envisioned it.
Arrival and Getting Started
I walked into Woodhull feeling much like I do before any conference: tired, nervous, and in search of a familiar face. Except that this time, I had never seen the faces of many folks that I hoped to meet. I stopped at the registration desk first to pick up my badge and swag bag, then decided I’d put my bags away before trying to track down fellow bloggers.
Tracking them down proved not to be difficult. Shortly after my arrival, Reenie messaged me to come down to the Blogger Lounge. With my badge and ninja “no photo” lanyard on, I headed back downstairs. The excellent folks at the registration table guided me to a room at the end of the hallway. It looked like many a conference room I’ve seen before: large, shiny wooden table, rolling office chairs, coffee station. But then there were the dildos. Big, small, abstract, realistic, circumcised and uncut… an assortment of Tantus‘ finest for us bloggers to examine, fondle and squish. There were also stickers, buttons and a scattering of adorable mini Uncuts festooning a side table.
I admit, I was at a loss for words seeing the Blogger Lounge for the first time, finding myself in the presence of not only fellow bloggers, but Metis Black and Nina Hartley. I managed to find my composure eventually, saying hello and making introductions. I met Dizzy, my partner and supporter in social anxiety. Mary and her partner Harry were both warm and friendly. Reenie was every bit as cute as expected. I got the impression that Lena could be a little bit sassy (which would prove to be accurate). Mandi was down to earth, funny and sweet. Then Epiphora entered in her glittering golden Converse, and I felt a little bit starstruck again. But despite her reputation for snark, Piph was all smiles and very easy to talk to.
It was strange to refer to myself as Lunabelle (or more often, just Luna) out loud, but it got easier each time. I also had to remember that while I recognized a few faces, no one there knew me. Except for Lena, that is. She cleverly deduced my identity from pre-Woodhull tweets. “You said you’re tall, have big boobs and would be wearing purple,” she cheerfully explained.
We were off to the opening session on sexual rights as human rights a few minutes later, my head still spinning. As I listened to Ricci Levy, Carmen Vasquez and Monica Simpson speak, I began to comprehend how amazing this conference would be. For the next three days, I would be living in a world where all aspects of sex and sexuality were discussed frankly, openly and without judgment. Where I would be shown new perspectives on topics that I thought I understood. A parallel conference universe in which a meeting table strewn with sex toys is perfectly normal, the badges announce people’s preferred pronouns, and my business cards depict a vibrator-wielding ninja instead of a corporate logo. Of all the stirring and memorable things said in that initial session, it was this quote from Ricci Levy that struck me then and stayed with me since:
“Pleasure and desire. Good God, we have a human right to those things. Why don’t we demand them?”
The Blog Squad Assembles
After the session, we gathered in the Blogger Lounge once again. My pre-conference jitters quickly turned to giddiness as more bloggers arrived. Bex, grinning and offering hugs. Penny, looking as lovely in real life as in her amazing photos. Caitlin, stunningly attired and perfectly coiffed. Lilly, who immediately hugged me and made me feel welcome… just as she did when I first reached out for advice on my brand new blog. While saying hello to the fabulous Artemisia, I blurted out “I’m like, I can’t believe it… we’re real.”
That flaky sounding comment was my poor attempt at expressing a more profound thought. All these big online personalities were now attached to living, breathing humans. And while I was seeing many of their faces for the first time, I felt an instant connection because they aligned so perfectly with their online personas. Many of them may write under screen names, but the Blog Squad is probably the most genuine group of people I’ve been privileged to meet.
Before dinner, Lena, Reenie, Dizzy and I slipped up to my room for the Unveiling of The Dildos. I’d packed a substantial portion of my collection to show people, and nobody was more excited about that than Reenie. Take the excitement of a kid in a candy store, the anticipation of Christmas morning, and the thrill of flying down that first hill on a roller coaster and you might be close to estimating Reenie’s emotional state. She had extracted my solemn ninja oath that not a soul would open the magical dildo-case before she did. Of course, I kept that promise because it is physiologically impossible to say no to Reenie. She is tiny, sweet and adorable and she must be obeyed. You can check out some of Reenie’s reaction here.
For dinner that night we ordered Chinese food in, orchestrated by the highly capable and decisive Bex. She managed to get us all fed before the evening’s events began. I loaded my vodka, shaker, mixers and snacks in my small rolling suitcase and brought it along, thus creating a mobile bar to accompany dinner. We hung out together, getting know each other and also had a visit from Sandra and Thor of SheVibe. The video clip of Reenie waving my giant rainbow dildo made the rounds, and someone asked “Can you actually use that?”
I hesitated for half a second, imagining the reactions my response would get in the outside world. I remembered all the times I’ve held back from talking about my girth-loving ways for fear of being shamed. But then I remembered where I was, and who I was with. “Yes,” I answered, “yes, I can.”
There were no disgusted looks, no comments implying that something must be wrong with me. There were smiles, cheers, high fives, and a few looks of admiration. It probably seemed unremarkable to everyone else, but that was a defining moment in my Woodhull experience.
After dinner, we heard hilarious and touching stories at Bedpost Confessions from Julie Gillis, Ricci Levy, Elizabeth Wood and Nina Hartley. Julie’s tales about her son asking awkward sex questions in the care resonated with me as a mom. The car also seems to be the place where my kids are most likely to ask such questions, usually without any warning whatsoever. Ricci’s story about learning to love her body was as deeply thought-provoking as it was humorous. I think I laughed hardest at Elizabeth’s story of her mother discovering BDSM, yet it was also this story that brought tears to my eyes. And Nina’s confession yielded a quote that would be borrowed by the Blog Squad all weekend long: “Bits? For me?” The rest of the evening is a bit of a happy blur… more hotel room hangout time, laughter, and an appearance by the horrifying LoveHoney Rockbox Finger. Trust me, it’s even more terrifying in person.
Friday – Back to Back Blogger Awesomeness, Lube-apalooza and more
Friday’s events began with a session on The How’s and Why’s of Sex Education in Blogging, Retail, and Manufacturing (#sfssexed). We bloggers were particularly excited about this one, as it featured Lilly and Caitlin Murphy on the panel, as well Metis Black from Tantus and Jennifer Pritchett of Smitten Kitten. Because the sex education most people receive in school is limited and medicalized, consumers turn to bloggers, retailers and manufacturers to fill in the blanks. Lilly has made it her mission as the “mad scientist” to educate people about the dangers of toxic sex toys. Caitlin’s focus was on sex education in a retail setting, having customers return and literally tell her the information she provided was life-changing. Smitten Kitten was the first retailer to commit to selling only body-safe toys, and has developed an amazing sex education program. When they couldn’t find accurate, pleasure-centric anatomical diagrams, they developed their own materials. Tantus pioneered the mass-market manufacture of silicone sex toys, guided by the belief that everyone deserves access to body safe materials.
These four presenters all care deeply and passionately about consumers’ safety and pleasure. Metis told the story of the Tantus Splash being redesigned after testers found the placement of one “drip” irritating. Jennifer teared up as she spoke about a woman who had been trying for decades to have an orgasm with her husband. They had been through therapy and seen multiple doctors without success. Jennifer talked with them, and realized that no one had ever explained how to locate her clitoris. Jennifer’s advice and an inexpensive plastic vibrator helped them more than years of medical treatment ever had. For more quotes and stories, I recommend that you check out Lilly’s Storify. It’s a great reminder of why we do what we do.
The next session The Monster Under The Bed: Starting the Conversation About Sex and Depression (#sfsmonster) featured two more bloggers as panelists: Crista Anne and JoEllen Notte. Crista is a mighty rainbow powerhouse, foundress of Dildology and known for chronicling her ongoing #OrgasmQuest. JoEllen, also known as The Redhead Bedhead, has written about sex and depression and recently conducted an extensive Sex and Depression Survey. The panel was rounded out by psychotherapist Stephen Biggs.
To say that this was an emotional session would be a tremendous understatement. JoEllen and Crista’s stories, as well as the feedback from the survey and OrgasmQuest, were raw, honest and struck a chord with many people in the room. You can see that in JoEllen’s Storify. We learned that most survey responders didn’t feel that their doctors had prepared them for the possibility of sexual side effects from depression treatment. Many felt that when they told their doctor about issues, their concerns were dismissed or even ridiculed. The panel also addressed the persistent myth that people with depression never want or care about sex. Sex (solo or partnered) can be a coping mechanism and key part of recovery for many patients. Unfortunately, too many patients are afraid to bring up the topic and too many health care providers aren’t prepared to listen and help them. The Sex and Depression Survey is a huge step in getting that conversation started.
Our final session for the day was an absolutely epic lube learning extravaganza, presented by Sarah Mueller of Smitten Kitten. Sarah is the ultimate lube guru. She can tell you about pH, osmolality, preservatives, glycerin and parabens and why all of these things matter when choosing a lubricant. We learned that there are lubes out there whose acidity approaches that of gastric acid (no thank you) and that many big name lubes have an osmolality that will literally cause mucous membrane cells to shrivel up and die (again, no thanks). The worst offender was KY Warming Gel, which she described as “vagina poison”. But don’t panic, there are good lubes out there! The best choice for body safety is silicone lube, because its molecules aren’t absorbed… but silicone lube can damage silicone sex toys. In the water-based lube department, Sliquid and Good Clean Love Almost Naked scored well on safety. Hybrid lubes are a newer development that offers the best of both worlds: the safety and slickness of silicone, but are primarily water-based and unlikely to react with toys. If you’re feeling the urge for more lube facts and figures, there’s a Storify of this session by Aida Manduley.
After such a jam-packed day, I grabbed a quick dinner with Lilith and headed up to my room to introvert for a bit before the evening’s big event. Bubbles & Burlesque was a completely new experience for me. I loved the spirit, creativity, confidence and individuality of the performers. I never thought I’d see a striptease set to Monty Python’s “Lumberjack Song” (eventually transitioning into “Timber”, no less) and Glam Gamz had the most gorgeous and intricate costumes. I was too tired to stay for the dancing afterward… but I’d make up for it the next night!
Yes, this post got so ridiculously long that I had to split it in two. Click here to read more about the sessions and shenanigans, and also more Blog Squad love…