Is there room for sex (or at least sex-positivity) at atheist/skeptical conferences?


So, the consensus that is forming on the atheist blogosphere seems to be that there should be significant distance between the world of skeptic/atheist conferences and the world of sex.  If you find yourself at a conference, you should probably put the possibility of hooking up aside.

You know, unless you really want to keep pissing a lot of people off.

Some quick context, in case you have not been aware of the various goings-on around the atheist/skeptical blogosphere recently.  I won’t bother trying to summarize, so I’ll just point you here, here, here, and most recently here (there are many others, but that is where I spent much of the last few days or so…).  Arguments have been had, flame wars ended in ban hammers being unleashed, and good times were had by all.  In the end it seems that a few people were educated, some minds possibly changed, and many others are still holding onto the opinion they came in with.

Oh, and a fair amount of frustration (perhaps related to lack of sex? Or is that joke not funny? Fuck it.)

Just another weekend on the internet.

(I also spent way too much time here, but that is not directly related to this post, but since I spent like 2 or 3 days reading and contributing to comments, I figure I would pass it along)

So, I’m a bit nervous to bring up some questions considering where things stand and what people have said, but I’m going to do it anyway.  I’ll claim that I was tired.  Perhaps drunk will work.  I’ll start drinking now….

So, this is a question that is of some interest to me, because I think, write, and sometimes comment about the intersection of issues related to sex-positivity and skepticism.   I’m an unapologetic slut who is not only quite comfortable with my sexuality, but who believes that sexuality is and should be a part of our lives in more integrated ways.  That is, I don’t think that we should pretend that it’s not a real thing that we think about day to day, assuming we are actually thinking about it.

And I know that many people don’t think about sex at all, much, or in most circumstances.  I also know that other people, such as myself, think about such things rather frequently, and I personally have to remind myself that this is not the case with many people.  So, what do we do with these facts when we travel near or far to go to a conference and find ourselves possibly interacting with interesting people whom we will likely not see again any time soon?

I don’t often go to conferences, being generally broke and not being invited to speak at them and all.  But when I do go to such events, I would be lying if the presence of hundreds, if not thousands, of smart, funny, sexy people is not something I will notice.  I’m attracted to smart people, and I feel no shame in feeling that way.  I’m not merely objectifying a person by finding them attractive if part of what attracts me to them is a combination of their thoughts, sense of humor, and of course their body.

We are always objectifying others.  We are doing so in the technical sense of other people literally being objects (but not mere objects), but also in the sense of making judgments based upon mere appearance, even if more information will eventually provide a more substantial judgment after we have a chance to get to know them better.  The question is whether we are merely objectifying, or are using multiple criteria of judgment to view a person.  I think it’s only honest to admit that this is part of our humanity, and not pretend that this behavior did not exist or that it was wrong per se.

It seems to me that part of this desire to cut out flirting, hitting on, etc at such events verges on doing just that.  In an attempt to create a safe space (and I cannot emphasize enough how important safe spaces are), I worry that we may be cutting out part of our humanity, a part of our humanity that means a lot to me and many other people.  I wonder if we are forgetting that part of creating a network of people, if we care about sex positivity in our culture, must involve our sexuality in all of its diversity.

Religion has done too much to squash and make sexuality dirty and immoral.  I am left with a bad taste in my mouth that the hetero-normative concept of sexual ethics has made too much of an impact on our culture, even among skeptics and atheists. I want to live in a world full of sex-positive skeptics who embrace their lustiness openly and unapologetically.  Perhaps my definition of sex-positivity goes beyond most people’s.  I think that is quite likely.

Now, I don’t suggest we schedule orgies at conferences, or that we consider this desire for sex positivity over the concerns of people’s safety, but I think that in this conversation we need to keep in mind that some people at such conferences, while not there for the sole purpose of sex, are quite interested in finding potential partners for such activities.  And whether we extreme sluts are an extreme minority or not, the fact is that recent discussions are going to make us avoid such interests.

And while I think those safe spaces are ultimately more important than this concern, I don’t want this concern to be ignored.  I don’t know what role sex-positivity can play in the networking and growth of this community pf reason, but I hope it is not left behind completely.

That said, I am quite shy IRL.  I rarely openly flirt with people I don’t know, I have never directly propositioned anyone at a conference whom I had not already known and interacted with prior to then, and I do attend such things primarily for the lectures and opportunity to meet people in non-sexual ways.  I don’t go to conferences to hook up and I have always tried to be completely respectful to speakers, guests, etc as people with minds, and not as mere bodies.

But bodies we have, and we cannot forget that nor the fact that they can be quite distracting at times.  I find a wide variety of bodies, especially when they contain brains which house intelligent minds, quite attractive.  I am left wondering if there is room in the conference world for this sexuality, or if it will have to be something left behind when we attend such things, perhaps finding it by accident in rare cases, but never intentionally pursuing it.

The fact is that if you want to find hook ups, there are places for that.  There are singles bars,  clubs, and swingers cruises for all those interested in such things.  But is there room for setting aside a time and place for people who might be interested in sexual activity at such conferences? Could we designate an arm band system, a specific location and time, where such flirtation is not only acceptable, but set aside for?

And if this were to be arranged, would it end up merely attracting the creepy people none of us wants to hook up with?

Ugh, there just does not seem to be an easy solution here.  Perhaps it would be better to leave it out of the conference atmosphere, but I hope not completely so.  Guidelines at very least are important, and we need to continue to educate ourselves and one-another about what a safe space looks like, as there are still many who don’t understand this idea (hell, I’m still learning and I think about this stuff all the time).

It seems that we, as a community, will have to adjust to the fact that many people (perhaps most?) simply don’t want to mix their business/activism with that kind of pleasure.

And while I understand this, the side of me that wants a more sex-positive world can only look on with some small measure of frustration and disappointment.  Despite what I would ideally prefer, I am forced to admit that there are too many issues of social justice between where we are as a society and where we will need to be before we can have gatherings where enough people are respectful, safe, and mature to allow our freaky flags fly en masse.

I hope I get to see it before I die, but I’m skeptical.