Alternative Sexualities Conference 2012 (aka CARAS) by Jasmine St. John
When I agreed to blog about the Alt-Sex Conference in Chicago this year for “The Fetish Show,” I wasn’t even sure what I would write about. I mean I’m a sex-geek, alternative sex therapist, and all-around supporter of research in the field, but would I have experiences that “The Fetish Show” audience would find interesting. Luckily the moment I was walking into a sex shop with a pro domme, I knew I was on the right path. We went in to look at all the new toys, lubes, books, and gadgets that are available–and all of this is for the betterment of my Alt Sex therapy clients. It was an important data finding mission for the conference; How terrific is that? I love what I do!
But before we get too far down the rabbit hole, I’ll give you a little background on how this all got started. There aren’t a lot of therapists that specialize in Alternative Sexuality (it is the best name we currently have for the grouping of kink/fetish/power dynamics/poly/open/LGBTQIA communities). In fact, most people don’t even know that there is research being done for this community and that there are therapists and other professionals that are totally open to helping people who express sexually in non-standardized forms.
This is where CARAS comes in. The Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities (CARAS) looks to bring a spotlight on to Alt Sex in the most positive way by encouraging professionals in the field to talk about research and therapy as a means to better support the communities they serve. It is really kind of outstanding if you think about. There is a whole conference for people to educate, inspire, and connect with one another with the dedicated purpose of focusing on uplifting the Alt Sex community in every way possible.
So imagine my delight when my co-therapist and I were asked to present our “Strength Based Approach To Working With Alt Sex Clients” to a whole group of people who wouldn’t flinch at the idea, but instead would embrace it fully. I was overjoyed. I felt like my brain was actually about to explode with giddiness at the opportunity to talk with others in this emerging field.
Now to find our way back into the conference, I pretty much went into fan-girl mode from the start. The first person I saw was Race Bannon. He is someone who I have long admired, and his work throughout the community is legendary. Getting to talk about how we can combine our efforts with NCFS and move forward on a larger scale is exciting! Next I met with Dr. Richard Sprott, he is the director of CARAS and this is pretty much his baby. Richard is the man with the vision to see that research and clinicians needed to band together and provide the Alt Sex community with information, support, and accepting professionals.
Just to be clear, all this was in the first five minutes.
I was floating on air and the conference hadn’t even begun. I admit that I had been jonesing to specifically meet Dr. David J. Ley. He had been stirring the pot in all the right directions with his recent book that challenges the idea that there is such a thing as sex addiction. It felt like he was the perfect person to give the keynote address..I’ll tell you what… Ley did not disappoint.
I could go on about all the details that he presented, but overall it comes down to is that there is NO research that supports that there is sex addiction and NO research on a cure for sex addiction. Read the book, it spells it all out but this is the sort of thing that gets a lot of press in our culture yet there isn’t support that sex addiction is even a real thing. He signed my book and we talked in hushed whispers in the corner about his work and passion for it. I almost felt faint… it was wonderful sex-geekery for me!
Next up were the various panel discussions on alt sex paradigms. Dr. David Rodemaker is someone I have known for a few years and continues to impress me with his ability to push boundaries in the most tactful of ways. He was able to get a packed room full of Alt Sex professionals to reconsider the notions of consent. I already have a request in to him to provide his presentation to the public, as what he is trying to get across about how the nature of consent is constructed is an important matter for the bdsm community. Seriously, he will blow your mind with the stuff he talks about. It is a powerful and much-needed discussion. I wish I could tell you more. Stay tuned.
There was current research presented by some other wonderful clinicians. I know and work in the same community with Martha Kauppi and Nick Wittwer who took on the monumental task of trying to understand polyamory. Yeah, you try explaining all the varied nuances of an open relationship to someone, asking questions, and then compiling all the data. No big surprise, it comes out that from their research you can in fact be happy and have a long-term relationship if you are polyamorous. Still, again in the packed room, everyone was well aware of how this is just the beginning of much-needed research.
There was of course my presentation about clinical approaches to working with alt-sex clients from a strength based perspective. I’m pretty much an advocate of not making people feel bad about the way they approach their lives. My co-therapist and I really believe in empowering people to use what they have and springboard into something that helps them reach their goals. It doesn’t seem so revolutionary but considering there is almost no one talking about this stuff, it feels pretty great to be on the forefront of supporting a community that I so deeply care about!
The conference came to an end with a discussion on the future of how to best move research and clients along with more acceptance. Dr. Braden Berkey and his panel looked at how researchers and clinicians work together in the coming years to create an approach that Alt Sex is about diversity NOT a pathology. I swear I almost cried sitting there listening to how we are on the edge of shifting into more acceptance. It is imperative that academia, researchers, and clinicians look into how to best support people in their exploration of themselves. It was beautiful!
Alright so there was a ton of other stuff, but those are the highlights of the presentations I attended. But you know damn well, with a bunch of alt-sex-types there is going to be networking, talking, bonding, and lots of double entendres. This is where I had the awesome pleasure of spending hours talking with colleagues including the wonderful Kali from Kink Academy fame.
Sitting next to this powerhouse actually makes me seem quiet. It is astonishing how much drive this woman has for positive sexual expression. I really wanted to drink up everything she had to say and yet every time she spoke I knew that I had to respond with how much I agreed. It probably seemed like we were just gabbing about nothing, but we were planning on taking over the globe in a sexually open and accepting way!
There you have it. I managed to stay up for almost two days straight with colleagues, researchers, community members, and influential people within alternative sexuality. It was terrific and yet almost all I can think of is how excited I am for next year’s conference in San Francisco. I want to go and experience all the brain power, support, and innovation within this field. Also being able to go to The Amory and possibly meet another hero of mine James Mogul has got me all eager for the conference in 2013!
Alt Sex Therapist
Jasmine St. John MS, LMFT
Jasmine St. John is a licensed Systems Therapist. Her focus is working with clients on LGBTQIA and alternative sexuality topics. She has a private practice in Madison, Wisconsin where she sees people from across the nation using a sex-positive, strength-based approach.