2012 Good Vibrations Sex Summit Is a Veritable Sex-Nerd Orgy

Charlie Glickman

San Francisco is brimming with sex events and conferences, but Charlie Glickman, the Education Program Manager at Good Vibrations, and staff sexologist Carol Queen organized the 2012 Sex Summit because they saw most of those conferences lacking the breadth of the full conversation about sexuality.

Glickman says that part of the inspiration for organizing the Summit was a return to the store's original ethic: "We'd been talking about doing a conference for at least a decade. And it's been one of those things where we've said 'Wow, it would be really great to do this, but we don't have the time to do it.' And we finally decided to go back to our old company motto, 'If you want something done right, do it yourself.'"

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The point of the Summit, Glickman says, is to bridge the gap between academics, mainstream writers, and activists. "What we've noticed is that you often have these events that are very personal without the more academic side of things, or you have the more academic side of things that doesn't necessarily relate to the individuals who are participating. So where we've tried to situate the Sex Summit is in this middle ground where we'll have people talk about the research and the sexual politics as well as how that plays out in people's individual lives."

Queen sounds like a kid in a candy store when she talks about making the Summit a reality. "It was super exciting to be able to sit down at the table and finally plan this thing," she says. "We started by thinking about some of the people we would be most excited to bring to San Francisco. Some are local of course, but many are coming from out of town."

Although the conference is small and short, the roster of names looks like a veritable sex-nerd orgy, ranging from mainstream journalists like Brian Alexander and Tracy Clark-Flory to therapist Marty Klein to local activists Maggie Mayhem and Reid Mihalko. There's no doubt that it's an eclectic mix. The topics are just as eclectic. In addition to keynote addresses by Alexander, Klein, and Kinsey Institute researcher Debby Herbenick, the day includes panels covering censorship, pharmaceuticals, media, and pop culture.

Carol Queen

As Glickman points out, a lot of discussions about sex get locked into increasingly small echo chambers, and it's a challenge to get real discussions happening between those communities. Conversations are taking place, though. "I've talked to academics about things as basic as, when you are doing research about sex, tell me what sex means. Does sex mean making out with someone while a third person goes down on them? Because you're there while they have an orgasm, but you're not necessarily touching their genitals. So does that count as sex?"

If that seems strangely abstract and basic, a quick look at this year's election coverage shows how stunted America's discussion of sex is. First, Todd Akin declared that vaginas are hyper-intelligent things that won't allow pregnancy in case of "legitimate rape." The GOP candidate for Senate in Indiana, Richard Mourdock, thinks women can get pregnant from a rape, but that women should consider the rapist's child "a gift from God." Both of these guys have come under fire for their comments, but still actually have a chance of being elected to office. In contrast, sexuality activists and academics alike have to keep their heads down. Speaking up for the rights of whores or the joys of anal sex is pretty much guaranteed to kill your chances of getting funding, never mind running for office. It's no wonder that it's so difficult to have serious sustained discussions, or that people form small, insular groups separated by mutual distrust.

Whether the Summit can live up to its name and serve as a meeting of the minds from diverse backgrounds remains to be seen. Conferences can mute the conversation in their own way, by locking it away where people without time or money can't participate. But of course, this is the age of social media, so Good Vibrations is going to try to expand the Summit's influence beyond the walls of the Marriott through live-tweeting (follow the hashtag #sexsummit to see the updates) and video footage of the conference will be made available in coming months.

The 2012 Good Vibrations Sex Summit is on Saturday, October 27, from 8:30 a.m. - 6 p.m. at the Marriott Marquis Hotel, 55 Fourth St. (at Market), S.F. Admission is $99.

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