The 1998 SSSS/AASECT Conference
This is a review of the 1998 Joint Annual Meeting of SSSS (the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality) and AASECT (the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists), held from November 11-15 at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles. SSSS and AASECT used to host their annual meetings separately, but chose to host their 1997-2002 meetings jointly; for non-specialists this was a boon, as the variety of talks and workshops to choose from was much greater than might be otherwise.
Note that numbers in parentheses after session names indicate audiotape numbers, as recordings this conference's sessions may still be available through Resourceful Recordings.
I'm going to review below the plenaries, workshops, and symposia I was able to attend, but please keep in mind that this represents only a fraction of the sessions which were held at the conference. In general I found that almost all of the sessions were delivered in straightforward language, and would be completely accessible to the non-specialist.
Workshop: Raising Sexually Healthy Young People - Designing and Conducting a Workshop for Parents
This workshop covered the basics of effectively and respectfully teaching sexuality-related material to parents, with the intent that they will then be comfortable relaying it to their children.
I found this workshop to be quite valuable in "personal growth" terms. Quite often an exercise in the workshop would turn out to be self-referential; you would get to the end and learn that the exercise itself wasn't the point, but rather (for example) how you ended up selecting the people you did the exercise with. But aside from the personal-growth exercises, we also learned a fair amount of specific information; here are a few examples from my notes:
This workshop was followed by another one with the same instructor called Sexual Literacy: Designing and Conducting a Workshop for Professionals.
- Boys in high school are often terrified of gym class because they're convinced their penis is abnormally shorter than those of others in their class. For many boys this belief is actually due to an optical illusion: if you look at yourself in a mirror your penis will seem a few inches longer than if you view it by looking down at it.
- A recent videotape aimed at pre-teens, called What Kids Want to Know about Sex and Growing Up, is available at many Blockbuster Video stores. If a kid is about to go through puberty and needs some guidance on what is going to happen to him or her, this particular tape might be a perfect choice.
- TV teaches us that it's clever to humiliate. When teaching groups of young people (especially middle-school mixed classes or groups of boys) it's especially important to be clear that statements intended to hurt someone else are not allowed; it is common for boys of this age to use statements like "you fag!" as preemptive attacks, which can shut down trust and willingness to share.
Keynote Plenary: Sex and the Mass Media (1-9823)
This talk was preceded by opening remarks from the conference organizers. Dr. Beverly Whipple, for example, shared some of her goals for her AASECT presidency: to work nationally and internationally with other organizations, to find more ways for students to be active in AASECT and SSSS, and for AASECT to offer more educational opportunities for professionals.
The keynote speech itself (by Dr. Edward Donnerstein) was quite interesting. I learned, among other things, that 85% of viewers believe TV should deal with safer sex issues but that it fails to do so. Research apparently suggests that TV does have the potential to change attitudes and convey knowledge, but there is still little-to-no evidence for behavioral causality. Some R-rated movie genres, however, seem to have specific issues as regards gender and violence. In a random sampling of TV programs, 94% of murder victims are male and 6% are female. In a random selection of R-rated movies, 79% of murder victims are male and 21% are female. In a random selection of R-rated "slasher" movies 50% of murder victims are male and 50% are female, but (interestingly enough) 33% of these deaths take place in a sexual context and it takes the women 5 times longer to die. Additionally, the evidence concerning their temporary effects on "rape myth acceptance" and "abuse victim empathy" seems to implicate violent movies rather than purely sexual ones.
This suggests to me that efforts to censor pornography based on concern about "violence against women" may be misguided, and that if this is indeed the rationale that the "slasher" genre should be hands-down more of a concern than pornography.
Symposium: Orgasm - Recent Models and Methods (10-9823)
This symposium, moderated by Dr. Beverly Whipple, consisted of separate talks by Dr. Herbert A. Otto (on his "Orgasm Spectrum Research Project," which consists of expanding the number of terms for orgasm based on where in the body they seem to originate), by Dr. Betty Dodson (whose talk was on "Looking at Women's Orgasm Over the Last Thirty Years"), and by Dr. Kenneth Ray Stubbs (on "A Mystical View of Orgasm," which discussed various neo-Tantric and Native American viewpoints on orgasm). The audiotape of this symposium, as I learned later from the person responsible for the audiotapes, was the most popular of the whole conference. I suspect that this was largely due to Dr. Betty Dodson's talk, which was quite extraordinary. I spoke to Dr. Dodson after the symposium, and she granted us permission to create a transcript of her talk (from the audiotape) for our web site. I'm very grateful to Dr. Dodson for allowing us to do this, and I hope her talk proves to be inspiring and valuable for sexuality enthusiasts and professionals around the world.
During this symposium, I also learned that new research (presented at W.C.S. in Spain) suggests essentially all women ejaculate (i.e. that it's just a question of noticeability and quantity) and that this fluid must be coming from the prostate rather than just the bladder. There was also some interesting discussion of the hypothesis that the G-spot may have a pain-blocking effect during childbirth.
Plenary Symposium: The Adult Film Industry (2-9823)
This symposium, moderated by Dr. Clive Davis, included Asia Carrera, Nina Hartley, and Mike Horner. Both Ms. Hartley and Mr. Horner are shifting their careers from acting to directing, and so were also able to offer a director's perspective on adult films. Asia Carrera, who no longer acts in adult films, now manages her web site full time. I was struck, in particular, by Ms. Hartley; she is obviously exceptionally intelligent and was one of the two or three most articulate and dynamic speakers I encountered at the conference. In no particular order, here are some things I learned from this symposium:
All in all, though, my favorite quote from this plenary came from Nina Hartley, who said, "I make movies because I'm too chickenshit to be a whore."
- Fans DO respond positively to real-life portrayals of their favorite stars; Ms. Carrera, for example, has discovered that her fans definitely appreciate candid pictures of herself around her house (without makeup, etc.)
- It is exceptionally difficult to capture and convey real passion in adult films. Mr. Horner and Ms. Hartley both expressed their frustration with filming scenes that had definite erotic spark and passion, but when viewing the tape made of the scene discovering that none of that spark seemed to come across.
- The adult film industry is probably the only consumer-products industry of its size which doesn't hold customer focus groups. The mainstream adult film makers literally have no idea what their audience likes except through sales, and since they're still making money producing the same stuff year after year they have no incentive to try anything different. Hearing this helped me understand the "external come shot" nonsense a bit better: the vast majority of producers aren't making adult films out of a love for (or even genuine appreciation of) the erotic, and so nothing will change unless it's clear that change will increase their profits. The only way I can think of for this to happen is for the adult film market to become more sophisticated, and to rent and purchase films on the basis of positive third-party reviews rather than just the box art.
Workshop: STD's - Get the Picture (41A,B-9823)
This workshop consisted of a presentation by Sue Moore and Barbara Goodman, from the Oklahoma State Department of Public Health, on their new set of slides (and other classroom materials) for STD education and prevention. I found their slides to be quite clear on the signs and symptoms of STDs, and I'm hoping these slides will eventually be made available on the internet for others to see and use. Their slides emphasised the fact that the strains of HPV which appear to increase the risk of cervical cancer often don't produce visible warts, so getting an annual pap smear which checks might be wise.
Plenary Symposium: Viagra and Beyond - The New Sexual Pharmacology (3-9823)
This was an exceptionally informative presentation by specialists who clearly know Viagra inside and out (including Dr. Pierre Wicker and Dr. Harin Padma-Narthan). To be honest, I hadn't researched Viagra very carefully before coming to the conference, and so some of these ideas were new to me:
- Viagra does not affect sexual desire, and does not produce erections in the absence of sexual stimulation.
- Anecdotally, Viagra appears to be effective in counteracting the erection-hindering effects of some SSRI anti-depressants (it was speculated - I believe by an audience member - that the fact that Pfizer also makes Zoloft may have something to do with the lack of formal studies on this subject). Anecdotal evidence also suggests that women with anorgasmia due to SSRI anti-depressants may also regain their orgasmic capability with Viagra.
- For men who do not have difficulties obtaining erections, the only effect of Viagra seems to be slightly decreasing latency time (i.e. the period of time that must pass between erections).
- A new drug, trade name "Vasomax," should be available for sale in the United States quite shortly (it is already being produced and prescribed in Mexico). Vasomax is like Viagra, but reaches peak levels in 30 minutes rather than 60 minutes.
- It is important for health care providers to prescribe Viagra with attention to other factors in their patient's life; quitting smoking or cutting back on alcohol use could have as much positive (and long-term) impact on erectile dysfunction as Viagra could. Lifestyle changes, for some patients, could take the place of or simply augment Viagra therapy.
- Some interesting issues are coming up for therapists because of Viagra and the fact that men tend to view erections as the most important element of sexuality. Specifically, therapists are encountering men who believe all of their sexual problems with their spouse will be cured if they can only obtain erections; obviously, if their spouse still doesn't want to have sex with them because their relationship is unhealthy, the Viagra won't do them much good.
- Some physicians have started prescribing Paxil (a SSRI anti-depressant) to help their male patients "last longer" via Paxil's erection-inhibiting effect. Many educators and therapists in the audience were less than pleased with this announcement, as was I. It does strike me as akin to puncturing the tire of your car to slow it down, rather than just backing off on the accelerator.
- The placebo effect for sex-related medications is between 20% and 40%. This should be no big surprise, given the role of the mind in the sexual response cycle.
Symposium: Sex on the Net - An Overview of Help Websites and Implications for Sexology (27A,B-9823)
This symposium (which included Isadora Alman, Dr. Marianne Beck, Dr. Jack Haffercamp,
Dr. Patti Britton, and Dr. Sandor Gardos) was largely aimed at people unfamiliar with the internet. The panelists emphasized that it is difficult for people to find good sex information on the net (the sense I got was that "good" was largely being defined as that material which comes from AASECT-certified educators - but that's perhaps an understandable perspective for a professional organization to have), this despite the fact that "sex" is the single most popular search keyword on the net. Most of the panelists have found that most online sex-information seekers are looking for basic, "Sex 101" information. One panelist mentioned that people tend to respond better to your web site's advice if you describe yourself as a "coach" rather than as a "therapist."
Plenary Symposium: Portrayals of Sexuality in the Mass Media (4-9823)
For the most part, this symposium focused on an examination of sexuality in soap operas. Among other things, we learned that there is generally little-to-no discussion of safer sex in these shows, that half of all the pregnancies on them are unwanted, and that most of the sex occurs between unmarried people.
Workshop: Clinical Aspects of Anal Sexuality (35A,B-9823)
This workshop by Dr. Jack Morin (probably the world's foremost authority on anal sexuality) was one of the highlights of the conference for me. I spoke to Dr. Morin after his presentation, and he kindly agreed to let me transcribe his presentation for our web site, and even scan in the illustrations from his set of handouts. We are very pleased to be able to make this excellent presentation available to researchers and enthusiasts around the world.
Plenary: Explicit Content on the Internet (5-9823)
Among other interesting things, I learned in this talk that 87% of the people who seek out sex-related material on the internet never feel guilty or ashamed about it.
Workshop: Integrating New Approaches to Anxiety, PTSD, and Personality Disorders with Intimacy Focused Surrogate Partner Treatment of Sexual Dysfunction in Men Without Partners (41A,B-9823)
This presentation by Dr. Barry Reynolds and Vena Blanchard was an excellent introduction to the potential of sex surrogate therapy. Dr. Reynolds, a psychotherapist in private practice, and Vena Blanchard, a surrogate partner and president of the International Professional Surrogates Association, have worked together for a number of years. They have clearly devoted serious thought to how surrogate therapy can be structured for maximum therapeutic benefit.
Dr. Reynolds' portion of this talk accompanied his handout Treating Sexual Dysfunction in Men Without Partners. I do not believe you can get copies of the presentation handouts from the people who supply the conference audiotapes, but Dr. Reynolds does offer (apparently) a set of audiotapes of his own which "embrace and extend" the outline in his handout. Much of his presentation concerned the development of sexual dysfunction, techniques for combatting sex-hindering cognitive distortions and "automatic thoughts," communication and dating skills, erectile and ejaculation concerns, etc.
Ms. Blanchard discussed the structure of the surrogate-client relationship, from her perspective as a surrogate. She shared information about intimacy-building techniques and exercises that she has found to be of particular therapeutic benefit with her clients, as well as several informative anecdotes and case-studies from her practice. I feel this portion of the session could be of considerable value to people in many different sexuality-related professions.
The International Professional Surrogates Association (IPSA) is now offering a referral program for therapists who are looking for qualified surrogate partners to include in their practice, as well as consultations with therapists on how to best make this transition (in their view, surrogacy work should always be done with both a therapist and a surrogate, rather than with one person who tries to fulfill both roles). One treatment option (since surrogacy work is most common in in California and New York) is for people to fly to one of the areas where it exists - typically California - for two-week intensive sessions. This is obviously expensive, but the idea is that it might be a viable alternative to fumbling around for years in pure "talk" therapy when surrogate therapy might be more appropriate.
In general, I was so impressed with what Ms. Blanchard had to say that I decided to ask her if she would agree to an interview, which she did. Feel free to read the complete transcript if you like.
Workshop: Sexual Pleasure-Enhancement Therapy - A Somatic Approach to Learning to Sustain Pleasure
I'm SO glad I chose to attend this workshop as my final session of the
conference! The workshop presentor, Dr. Stella Resnick, is the author of
Pleasure Zone (which I had not read), and her workshop consisted largely of ideas and exercises from her book. I was struck again and again by how little emphasis is placed on pleasure in sex education, and felt renewed from having listened to Dr. Resnick's perspective on the subject. Her book, though it certainly addresses sex, has much broader applicability in helping people remove the blocks in their life that prevent them from fully enjoying themselves. Her approach reminded me of Dr. Jack Morin's philosophy in The Erotic Mind, in that it emphasizes focusing on and expanding what works rather than dwelling on what doesn't work.
The exhibitors' area of the conference featured a variety of well-known companies in the area of sex education, predominantly book publishers and educational videotape producers.
Aside from having had the chance to look at a very promising new undergraduate sexuality textbook (Our
Sexuality, by Robert Crooks and Karla Baur), I am pleased to report that:
- SSSS is offering a new 33 page guide titled Educational Opportunities in Human Sexuality. This guide summarizes graduate and professional training programs, nationwide and worldwide, providing contact information for and details on what sort of degree or certification each program offers. It could be important reading for anyone interested in professional training or higher education in sexuality.
- Along the same lines, AASECT's recent issue of Journal of Sex Education and Therapy (Vol. 23, No. 1, ISSN 0161-4576) was a special issue on "Educating the Sexuality Professional."
- Planned Parenthood continues to impress me with the quality of their publications. I picked up a copy of their revised brochure Sex - Safer and Satisfying at the conference and found that it covered a lot of the basics very well. Of course, I have yet to see an organization put out a brochure that talks about how to make sex feel better, or which gives direct advice on how to enjoy sex more, but this is not a criticism of Planned Parenthood: their role is clearly defined and they serve it well.
- Along the same lines, I was also impressed with the SIECUS Sexuality Information Catalog. This publication could be of significant value to people who are considering various sexuality education curricula for their schools. I was also very impressed with the SIECUS Reports; their August/September 1998 issue on "Sexuality and the Law" contained another useful set of reviews of sexuality education curricula.
- Aspen Publishers has produced a new book, Sexual Function in People with Disability and Chronic Illness, which they claim is "the first-ever practical handbook [on this subject] for all members of the multidisciplinary team."
- Glyde Dams (previously known as "Lolly"s) are available again, now with permission from the FDA to include the statement "may help reduce the risk of catching or spreading many sexually transmitted diseases" on their package. The purpose of Glyde Dams is to allow cunnilingus and analingus while reducing the potential risk of picking up certain STDs (most commonly, Herpes and Hep A).
- A new electronic journal of human sexuality has been formed. It is titled, appropriately enough, The Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality.
- The Intersex Society of North America has put out a video documentary of the world's first intersex retreat. Showing some or all of this tape (which is titled Hermaphrodites Speak!) might be a valuable addition to the "intersex conditions" portion of a college-level sexuality course.
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