Posts Tagged ‘events’

2010 2 Oct

Available lectures, workshops and events from Clarisse Thorn

I recently told everyone that I’m back in America and available for lectures or events, but it’s come to my attention that it’s hard to know exactly what kind of sex-positive events I offer without going through my entire blog archive. Sorry about that! I’m fixing it right now by giving you a short list of what I’ve done.

* Leadership in the Bedroom: A Sexual Communication Workshop. Down-to-earth tips and ideas on how to communicate clearly about sex. This workshop was originally requested by the University of Illinois at Chicago, but I’ve given versions of it at other venues as well. It was one of the first workshops I ever designed, and I’m currently working on streamlining it and making it more interactive. I can do it in an hour, but prefer longer.

* BDSM Overview. Imagery deriving from bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, and sadomasochism (BDSM) is becoming commonplace — and we all know (or think we know) what a dominatrix is — but most people don’t have much idea of what BDSM actually involves. Although it is increasingly accepted as an alternative sexual orientation, BDSM remains surrounded by stigma, scandal and occasional legal action. This presentation covers the basics of BDSM (however, it’s not a how-to lecture — you aren’t going to learn how to use a whip, though you’ll learn where to go to find out!). I prefer to poll the audience to see what they want to cover on top of that — BDSM history? cultural landmarks? BDSM & feminism? legal issues? I’ve got it all! I have given this lecture at New York’s Museum of Sex and Chicago’s Northwestern University; it was actually the subject of my first-ever blog post. It can be squished into an hour, but I prefer two hours, or even longer.

* Sex-Positivity for Everyone! Including the Mens! What is masculinity or male advocacy as a movement, and how is it in dialogue with contemporary feminism? Can it be incorporated into feminism, or can the values of the sex-positive feminist community speak to its concerns? What does positive, productive talk about masculinity sound like? I talk about all this in a short lecturette and then facilitate small discussions on kinky male sexuality, men in the pickup artist community, and men who buy sex. This workshop was originally requested by the University of Chicago, and based on feedback from that experience, I have been adapting it slightly for my upcoming Reed College appearance on October 5. It should take about 90 minutes.

* The Sex+++ Film Series at Jane Addams Hull-House Museum and related film screenings. I have now overseen many many screenings of sex-positive documentaries, and facilitated followup discussions afterwards. In the past I have done this primarily to accomplish my own activist educational goals or to raise funds for deserving institutions, but I’d be happy to run a screening or two upon request. Please note, however, that I don’t own the rights to all the films I’ve screened, and so if you want me to run a screening for you, you may need to budget extra in order to cover the rights. Here’s a list of the original film line-up for Sex+++.

I would certainly be willing to design a new workshop or lecture upon request — in fact, two of the above events were created at the request of the institutions that invited me. If you ask me to create a new event, though, please keep in mind that it will be an event I’ve never field-tested before! Still, feedback on my events has generally been good, even on the brand-new ones. And I am planning to start handing out feedback forms to everyone who attends one of my workshops, so I can get ever-more-precise input.

UPDATE: Right, my location! Currently I’m in San Francisco (and about to travel to Portland to give this talk at Reed, obviously). I will probably be here for about another month. If you’re anywhere near California and want me to travel to you, then it would be in your interest to schedule now, since my travel costs would be lower. I will return to Chicago in about a month, probably, after which I’m more available to the midwestish area. And I have family in New York, so I’ll head out that way by late December if not before.

If you represent a super-deserving group, like for example a domestic abuse organization that wants advice on differentiating abuse from BDSM or on being alternative-sexuality friendly, then we can definitely negotiate my honorarium.

2010 6 Apr

How to start your own local sex-positive meetup

I’ve been reminded that tonight is the one-year anniversary of Pleasure Salon, the sex-positive meetup I co-started in Chicago; a reporter from Columbia College Chicago called me (all the way in Africa!) to chat about it. And over the last few months, I’ve received a number of inquiries about how people can start their own Pleasure Salons in their own cities. Which means it’s time for a blog FAQ!

I obviously haven’t been to Pleasure Salon in quite some time. It sounds like it’s still going strong, at least from what people tell me, but I don’t really know. Still, I remember the process of starting it pretty well ….

* * *


(Readers may also be interested in the FAQ I wrote about Sex+++, my sex-positive film series, which gives advice about how to start your own!)

On the very night that I first announced my sex-positive film series, Serpent Libertine of the Sex Workers Outreach Project got in touch. Serpent is really passionate and outspoken; it was delightful to talk with her about how we could collaborate. One idea that we began tossing around was, in her words, a low-key “bar night”. She fondly remembered sex-positive socials privately conducted by past community leaders; for my part, over the next few months I really got into the community discussions at my film series, and it always seemed a shame that we had to wrap them up within an hour or two.

On a trip to New York a couple of months later, one of my film contacts invited me out to Pleasure Salon NYC. Pleasure Salon was exactly like what I’d been picturing — and the name was pretty cool too — so I requested permission to use it and start a Pleasure Salon Chicago! (Note: I have edited the last sentence because it said that I requested permission to “license” the Pleasure Salon name, which confused some people. I did not need to get a license to use the name. I just asked Selina Fire for permission.)

The two big steps were:

1) Getting together a good group of hosts.
2) Finding a good venue.

* * *


We wanted to recruit sex-positive leaders who would encourage their followers to attend the Salon. Selina Fire from Pleasure Salon NYC advised, in fact, that we at first promote the Salon entirely through our co-hosts and let it grow organically via word-of-mouth — the fear being that otherwise it could get out of control, fast.

In the end, we did do most of our promoting via the community leaders telling their friends; but we also posted the Pleasure Salon announcement to listhosts (for example, I sent it around some BDSM community listhosts, and I also posted it to the Sex+++ listhost), created a Pleasure Salon Facebook page using the Sex+++ icon (you are invited to become a fan!), and promoted the event in various other public online venues (for example, my favoritest swinger couple, The Ultimates, put an announcement on And just recently, Serpent emailed to let me know that Pleasure Salon has an exciting new website and blog.

I think this approach should work fine if your area already has a bunch of different sex communities or sexuality discussions, but if it doesn’t — if it’s hard to get a lot of sex-positive community leaders — then you should choose a few hosts based solely on how well they can conduct discussions or get a group to gel. Then I guess you can just promote in alternative communities, liberal spaces, or whatever: odd bookstores, hipster coffeeshops, your local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, your local Unitarian church, your local Gender Studies university department — all good examples! You might consider having discussion topics, too, though this is something we never bothered with at Pleasure Salon Chicago.

* * *


Pleasure Salon NYC takes place in a really cool speakeasy-style space, with a nice little reception podium in front of a long corridor that widens out into a big room with booths and a bar. The hosts, including Selina Fire, chill out in front to receive new people, hand out nametags to everyone, and help confused new people figure out what’s up. Every night they pass around a jar for donations, and then use those donations to buy snacks and stuff (I think people pay for their own drinks at the bar). I don’t actually know the details of how they arranged this, so maybe Selina can leave a comment explaining.

In Chicago, our primary concern was that the venue be central — Chicago is pretty spread out, and we wanted the place easily reached by folks on the South Side, the North Side, whatever. We also didn’t want the organizers to end up responsible for details like snacks (we did intend to have nametags, but we kinda forgot …), so we wanted a venue that served food. And drinks too; some people have told me that they don’t attend Pleasure Salon because alcohol is served, but certainly when I was around it never got crazy or anything. (The time slot being 6 PM-10 PM helps with that, I think.)

Also important: the venue should have at least one night per month that’s quiet. That way they’ll be really glad to have you around, and — while a few non-Pleasure Salon people will probably show up (unless you can manage a setup like Pleasure Salon NYC) — it’ll still make a good safe space for pro-sex talk. And on that note, the venue should know what Pleasure Salon is and be cool with it. This is really key: don’t hide the subject matter from the venue. That could cause a world of trouble later. Chances are high that the venue really won’t care that you want a group of people to come around and chat about sex once a month as long as they know what to expect (that, for example, an attendee might accidentally leave her copy of Flogging For Beginners behind at the end of the night).

In Chicago, Villains Bar & Grill was great because it was super-quiet on Tuesday evenings from 6-10; it’s in the South Loop, right in the middle of the city; and they were already hosting a swinger meetup once a month, so they didn’t bat an eye when we told them what Pleasure Salon is all about.

It’s a good idea to have one or two backup venues in mind at all times, though. You never know when an awesome venue will suddenly start getting busier, or change management, or close its doors, or whatever — best to be prepared to move on, rather than panicking or (even worse!) having to shut down your Pleasure Salon!

* * *

That’s it!

On the night of Pleasure Salon, be sure that your hosts are ready and willing to stick around for the whole span of the event so that they can greet new people, introduce them around and help them integrate into the group, oversee the vibe, and (of course) get in some time relaxing with their friends.

When people come in the venue door and stand around awkwardly, they’re probably looking for you.

* * *

What’s next for Pleasure Salon?

The reporter who called me today asked an interesting question — So this is the one-year anniversary. What’s next? Obviously I no longer consider myself to have much power over Pleasure Salon, being as I live in Africa and all, and I won’t be back in Chicago for a while. But I do have opinions that I will, as always, happily share.

I’m a pro-sex activist — I obviously think it’s important to destigmatize sexuality in as many ways as possible. Pleasure Salon does a bit of that, I think. But I’ve also said before that I think it would be cool if the sex-positive community had more of a group consciousness; if BDSMers and sex workers and polyamorists and swingers and LGBTQ and, well, all of us pro-sex people saw ourselves as being on the same side. If Pleasure Salon fosters that kind of community attitude, I think that’d be awesome. If Pleasure Salon creates a kind of grassroots political will, I think that’d be cool too. I know that Pleasure Salon NYC has done very limited sponsorship-type stuff — for instance, I do believe they’re a sponsor of CineKink, the Really Alternative Film Festival. I would hope that Pleasure Salon could be the kind of place that doesn’t just sponsor events but politically supports sex-positive change, et cetera.

But (as I emphasized on the phone with the reporter today) I also think that if Pleasure Salon becomes political at the cost of being friendly and approachable, then the cost is too high. Because the biggest strength of Pleasure Salon, to my mind, is the fact that it not only networks and connects different sex-related community members but creates a safe space for hesitant new folks to come learn more. It works best as a low-key conversational space that’s open to everyone, where people who wouldn’t feel comfortable going to a sex club or a BDSM workshop — or even a sex toy store — can just show up and chat (or listen) about sexuality.

For the same reason, I don’t think it’s a good idea for Pleasure Salon to start offering sex-related demos or sex parties — at least not as part of Pleasure Salon itself. If people promote, say, upcoming bondage demonstrations at Pleasure Salon then that sounds good to me; even if there’s a string of Pleasure-Salon-sponsored bondage demonstrations, that’d be awesome (though Chicago already has a fair number of BDSM events); but I think that if people conduct bondage demonstrations there, that stands a good chance of wrecking the approachable-to-newbies vibe.

* * *

Read the comments!

I’ve asked Serpent, Selina, and the rest of the Pleasure Salon crew to leave comments here if they think of anything I didn’t cover — and if you’ve started a similar sex-positive meetup group in your area, please feel free to leave a comment as well! Even if you don’t have any advice to give, I’d love to hear about your group and how it’s going — or any questions you may have. If you’d prefer to ask questions via email, I’m always available at [ clarisse dot thorn at gmail dot com ].

2010 7 Feb

Chicago-area pro-BDSM, sex-positive events this week!

Now that I have successfully ambushed my good friends in their home, I can break my semi-secrecy and announce that I am home in Chicago! This week only! (My favorite part was when I dashed into a close friend’s room, threw my arms around him from behind and was already squeaking with joy by the time he realized it was me and shouted “Holy shit holy shit!”)

Because I am me, I have arranged a host of sex-positive, pro-BDSM events for your pleasure even though I am only here for a week. Note that all these events are free and open to the public (though one comes with a suggested donation)! Check it out:

* * *

Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, 800 S Halsted

Every town has one. She was notorious in your high school. The girls harassed her; the guys had her. Or did they? Who is the slut? Can one be both virgin and whore? What does the word actually mean and why is it often shrouded with invention and intrigue? And should “slut” be added to the ban on “7 dirty words” from radio and television broadcast? Come out and join us at the ongoing Sex+++ Film Series for delicious documentary and discussion, and also some fascinating snacks! Chicago’s own sex-positive activist Clarisse Thorn, the original Sex+++ curator, is visiting from her work in Africa and will facilitate the post-film discussion.

* * *

Wednesday, February 10, 3.20-4.20 PM
Northwestern University, Ryan Auditorium, Tech Building (near corner of Noyes & Sheridan)

Imagery deriving from bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, and sadomasochism (BDSM) is becoming commonplace — and we all know (or think we know) what a dominatrix is — but most people don’t have much idea of what BDSM actually involves.  Although it is increasingly accepted as an alternative sexual orientation, BDSM remains surrounded by stigma, scandal and occasional legal action.  In this presentation, pro-BDSM activist Clarisse Thorn will describe the basics of BDSM (however, it’s not a how-to lecture — you aren’t going to learn how to use a whip, though you’ll learn where to go if you want to find out!).  She’ll also poll the audience to see what else they want to cover — BDSM history? cultural landmarks? BDSM & feminism? legal issues? we’ll have to see!  This event is generously hosted by the Northwestern University Department of Psychology.

* * *

Thursday, February 11, 7-9 PM
University of Chicago, 5710 S Woodlawn Meeting Room

What is masculinity or male advocacy as a movement, and how is it in dialogue with contemporary feminism? Can it be incorporated into feminism, or can the values of the sex-positive feminist community speak to its concerns? What does positive, productive talk about masculinity sound like? Feminist, pro-BDSM activist Clarisse Thorn — currently on vacation from working in Africa — will discuss the above questions in a short lecturette and then facilitate small discussions on kinky male sexuality, men in the pickup artist community, and men who buy sex. This event is generously hosted by University of Chicago student group The Feminist Majority.

* * *

Friday, February 12, 7.30 PM
LA&M, 6418 N Greenview Ave

Graphic Sexual Horror” takes a peek behind the facade of, a notorious bondage website, exploring the mind of its artistic creator and asking hard questions about personal responsibility. Original Insex footage, behind-the-scenes interactions, and interviews with website creator PD, models, members, and staff reveal deep fascinations with bondage and sadomasochism that run parallel, and in fact become irreversibly entwined with the lure of money. InSex was shut down by federal prosecutors, but its story asks questions that are still relevant. Can paying a BDSM partner distort his or her consent? Why were prosecutors so easily able to force a legal business to fold? Director Barbara Bell is coming to town for the post-film discussion, which will be moderated by pro-BDSM activist Clarisse Thorn. This event is a fundraiser for the Leather Archives & Museum, and we are requesting a $5-10 donation from attendees. Special thanks to our sponsors: Sex+++ Film Series at Jane Addams Hull-House Museum; and ShibariCon, Chicago’s own rope bondage convention, coming up in May!

* * *

And just in case you were directed to this page by a friend or something and have no idea who I am, here’s my adorable small bio:

Clarisse Thorn is a feminist, sex-positive educator who has delivered workshops on both sexual communication and BDSM to a variety of audiences, including New York’s Museum of Sex, San Francisco’s Center for Sex and Culture, and several Chicago universities. She created and curated the original Sex+++ sex-positive documentary film series at Chicago’s Jane Addams Hull-House Museum; she has also volunteered as an archivist, curator and fundraiser for that venerable BDSM institution, the Leather Archives & Museum. Currently, Clarisse is working on HIV mitigation in southern Africa. She blogs at and Twitters @clarissethorn.

2009 9 Dec

Manliness and Feminism: the followup

In late October I posted a three-part series under the title “Questions I’d Like To Ask Entitled Cis Het Men” (Part 1: Who Cares?; Part 2: Men’s Rights; Part 3: Space For Men). These posts kicked up more of a furor than I anticipated, with a bunch of cross-postings and responses on other blogs.* It all gave me a huge number of new perspectives to synthesize, which is part of why it took me so long to post this followup … but here I am!

I really want this followup to be readable to people who didn’t bother with the initial three posts, so please let me know if I fail!

* * *

Introducing myself, and One Correction

Please allow me to introduce myself. I think those posts probably make more sense (as will large swaths of this one) if you know who I am, and they got linked around to so many non-regular readers that most of the audience now doesn’t.

I go by Clarisse. It is not my real name, because I am a sex-positive and, in particular, pro-BDSM** activist, and being all-the-way-out-of-the-closet about kink can have serious, long-term repercussions for someone’s life (the most pressing for me, right now, being employability: my immediate superiors here in Africa know about my BDSM identity, but the larger rather conservative organization sure as hell doesn’t). Identifying as feminist and pro-BDSM can be really fraught territory — many avowed feminists regard BDSM with suspicion and some, on the more extreme end, with outright hatred. (Famous German feminist Alice Schwarzer once said, “Female masochism is collaboration.” Many feminist spaces have a long tradition of excluding or marginalizing BDSM, like the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, which incidentally has a similar history with trans people. Nine Deuce, a popular radical feminist blogger, has been known to assert that sadists are morally obligated to either repress their sadistic desires or kill themselves. For example.) In her post “Healing My Broken Feminist Heart”, Audacia Ray talks about how much it hurts to identify as a feminist and yet be told, often, that the way you realize your personal sexuality is unfeminist; I’ve been meaning to write a response to that post for ages, because boy do I know how that feels. (I swear, I have the biggest crush on Audacia Ray. I want to be her when I grow up.)

I am Chicago-based in that I lived there for years before I moved here to Africa in order to work in HIV/AIDS mitigation, and I suspect I’ll move back there when my contract ends. In Chicago, I lectured on BDSM and sexual communication, and I created and curated a fabulous sex-positive film series and discussion group that it broke my heart to leave. (The film series was so successful that a group of loyalists gathered, formed a committee, and have continued it without me! Yes!)

My feminist history isn’t very “official”, though I was raised by two very feminist people. For instance, I haven’t read most of the classic feminist authors. My degree is in Philosophy, Religious Studies and Studio Art, not anything gender-related — and when I was in college I remember that I often viewed hard-line feminist assertions with suspicion. I would irritably characterize them as “conspiracy theories”: these people seemed to think there was some secret society of evil men sitting around and plotting to ruin their lives, which clearly was not the case! Ah, youth … :grin: The problem is, of course, exacerbated by the fact that definitions of feminism have become so varied and so many different issues have been attached to feminism by different people.***

In other words, almost my entire gender/sex background is idiosyncratic and self-trained. I certainly can’t hope to match the massive theoretical background that many Internet gender commentators have. And I am very familiar with having my experience discounted and dismissed in a feminist context (“Sorry, BDSM is abuse. Period. If you enjoy BDSM, you’re mentally ill or you have Patriarchy Stockholm Syndrome”). These are some of the reasons I tried to spend my entire Entitled Cis Het Men post series asking questions, rather than making assertions.

The posts weren’t intended to be prescriptive — I don’t have much of an agenda beyond “create more conversations around sex and gender”. There is of course my agenda (shared by almost every human alive) of “convincing people to agree with me” and “getting people to join my cool club or at least admire it from afar”, but I don’t personally have any pressing Grand Policy Goals. One commenter who went by Sailorman over at Alas said, on the third post: I read this thread with interest, but it is of course basically a very extended and well written TPHMT argument? I don’t know what the acronym means, but I’m honestly sort of annoyed by any attempt to boil those three posts down to a single argument, because I tried so hard to make it clear that a single argument was not my intent, with that series. I really am just interested in exploring various and often very discrete masculinity-related questions. No, really, I am. No, really, I am.


2009 9 Nov

Sex+++, Best Sex-Positive Documentary Series Ever, Will Continue!

Although it kills me that I’m not there to see it, I am thrilled to announce that Sex+++ — the Chicago sex-positive documentary film series that I poured my soul into creating — will continue past the last film I chose!

My partner in crime, amazing Hull-House liaison Lisa Junkin, is now coordinating a Sex+++ committee that includes activists, sex workers, scholars, and kinksters. This committee will curate Sex+++ for the foreseeable future, and films will now screen on the second Tuesday of each month, 7PM as always, at Jane Addams Hull-House Museum.

To recommend a film to Lisa, email ljunkin at uic dot edu.

To receive invitations to each upcoming film, email Lisa or just join the Sex+++ Google Group yourself!

If you want to help out with Sex+++, email Lisa or just join the Sex+++ Assistance Google Group yourself!

The next film — which is tomorrow, Tuesday, November 10th at 7PM — is called “Petals”. From the invitation:
This documentary follows the journey of photographer Nick Karras in producing his artistic book Petals, about the beauty of female anatomy, examining the many unspoken beliefs and myths that affect women’s sexual self-esteem. The movie records the reactions of sex educators, women’s health professionals, art critics, and female participants in the project, as well as the man/woman-in-the-street as they confront the mystery of womanhood.

(In the interests of full disclosure, I’d just like to note that what the invitation so delicately terms “anatomy” is in fact “vaginas”.)

So, my friends, I fully expect you all to keep the faith and keep attending Sex+++!

Now 2nd Tuesdays at 7PM

originally curated by Clarisse Thorn

Jane Addams Hull-House Museum
800 South Halsted
All are welcome!
Hull-House Museum is wheelchair accessible. To request accessibility accommodations, please call the museum two weeks prior to the event.

2009 11 Jul

The Long-Awaited Sex Positive Film Series FAQ!

[Edit!] Thrillingly, Sex+++ is now slated to continue past the last film I chose! It’s now on second Tuesdays, still at Hull-House and still at 7PM. Attend it! Love it! Keep the faith! [end of edit]

* * *

Here it is at last ….


Wherein I will answer all the questions I have received about my sex-positive film series and, most importantly, tell you how to start your own!

If you’ve got a question that isn’t answered here, then feel free to email me — [ clarisse.thorn at gmail dot com ] — but I’m in Africa and my email access is very limited, so it will take me a while to respond.

* * *

1) How did you start Sex+++?

Read this! The short version is: my friend Lisa and I came up with a good idea at a lucky time, and put in lots of work to materialize that idea.

* * *

2) Can I still sponsor Sex+++? What does that get me? Can I donate as an individual to Sex+++?

I am so glad you asked! Sex+++ is still under budget and could use your help. In exchange for their money, sponsors get promotional shoutouts at every screening; hyperlinks on the film list and both official press releases; plus listings on the fliers at every screening, the Facebook group, every film invitation, the Sex+++ posters and fliers. If you’re interested in helping Sex+++, please email Lisa [ ljunkin at uic dot edu ].

If you would like to donate to Sex+++ as an individual, then we are very grateful … you can be anonymous or publicly thanked, as you choose. For that, you can also contact Lisa [ ljunkin at uic dot edu ].

* * *

3) When will Sex+++ be traveling to my town, or showing on TV, or coming out in a DVD box set?

It’s flattering how much you overestimate our resources! Sex+++ is a Chicago-local, activist, grassroots operation. There is no Sex+++ corporation or entity (although, it should be noted, “Sex+++” and the sex+++ icon are copyright Clarisse Thorn & Lisa Junkin). The film series has been generously hosted by Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, and an assortment of amazing sponsors have helped us scrape by.

What this means is that we have very limited rights to the films we screen — we only secured the rights to screen each documentary once each. If you miss any of our screenings, then some of the films are available for purchase through their own websites, etc; if you look at the archive page for the Sex+++ mailing list, you will see that we have emailed out purchase information for some of the films. But we certainly don’t have the resources to produce a box set, put the series on TV, or send it on tour. Still, we obviously want the word to spread far and wide, so the second half of this FAQ is all about how to start your own Sex+++ film series … keep reading!

If we get enough money to complete the budget, then Hull-House will purchase library copies of all the films that sponsored Sex+++. That will mean that Chicago locals will be able to borrow the films and the Hull-House or its parent entity, the University of Illinois at Chicago, will even be able to screen them again if they choose to do so. Again, though, this depends on the completion of the Sex+++ budget, which means we need more sponsors to make it happen.

* * *

4) If you’re doing all this with sponsors, and you’re under budget, then what’s your business model? How are you making money?

Sex+++ is a free, activist event intended to educate the public. It is not a profit-making entity.

The Hull-House offered me an honorarium, but I didn’t feel comfortable accepting it while the series was still under budget, so I donated the money back to Sex+++. If the series meets its budget, then I will accept the honorarium. If the series doesn’t meet its budget, then there are simply some things we won’t be able to do. For instance, like I said above, we’d like to reward the distributors and filmmakers by buying library copies of all their films. Then Chicago locals could borrow the films, and Hull-House could screen them anytime. But we’d need another couple thousand dollars to make that happen.

* * *

5) Why isn’t X, Y or Z covered in the film series?

It may be because I felt it wasn’t relevant — it wasn’t about positive sexuality, alternative sexuality, or sexual identity. For instance, I didn’t include sex work in the film series — not because I don’t think sex work can be sex-positive, but because documentaries about sex work tend to cover the laws around sex work or the bad things about sex work. I haven’t heard of any that try to discuss how sex workers negotiate, explore and own their sexuality and sexual identity in a positive way.

It may also be because I was unable to find any films about it that aren’t offensive and exoticizing. For example, there are some documentaries about swingers out there, but they take a rather shocked and scandalized approach to the whole thing. The filmmakers clearly weren’t interested in exploring the swing lifestyle in a positive or understanding way; they just wanted to make the audience gasp and giggle. Hence, there are no documentaries about swing on the Sex+++ list. The polyamory documentary “When Two Won’t Do” mentions swing, but it unfortunately doesn’t portray swinging even-handedly, and I’m sorry for that.

Still, there were some things that I was able to cover in the end, even though I wasn’t sure I could in the beginning! I had a really hard time finding anything about masculine sexuality, but after a few months of searching I succeeded (“Private Dicks: Men Exposed”). I also let people convince me to include documentaries I didn’t initially plan to include — for instance, one of Tony Comstock’s films about real people’s actual sex lives is screening on July 28, though I didn’t originally plan for it.

Here’s my list of bookmarks related to sexuality documentaries. There’s a lot in there that I didn’t include, but I thought they all looked interesting in their own right.

* * *

6) What’s happening to Sex+++ given that Clarisse has gone to Africa?

I’ve been gone long enough that you probably already know the answer to this question, if you care. But here it is anyway: I took care of as many details as I could before I left; Lisa took over a few of the things I’d been doing; and we spread the rest of the work out among a committee formed of awesome people who have been attending Sex+++. The series will continue through its projected conclusion in October.

* * *

7) How can I start Sex+++ in my area?

I would be positively thrilled if you screened our films (or even just some of them), and I have provided advice below! Also, if you email me or Lisa [ ljunkin at uic dot edu ], then we can send you a list with contact information for the distributor of every documentary we screened. In return, all I ask is that you do the following:

a) On your materials, please state Based on the original Sex+++ Film Series curated by Clarisse Thorn. Check out her blog at [ ]. “Sex+++” and the sex+++ icon are copyright © Clarisse Thorn and Lisa Junkin.

b) Please do not charge admission to the films, and please make the series open to the public.

c) Let us know it’s happening! I want to hear all about it, and I’ll definitely help spread the word if I have Internet access at the time.

In short, please DO start Sex+++ in your area — just make sure that Lisa and I get some credit, make sure you link back to my blog, and make it free! Obviously, I can’t force you to do any of these things, but I would really appreciate it if you did. I want to be sure that if someone else starts a similar film series, that it’s wide open to the public — all the public, even people who can’t pay — and that viewers know who created it so they can read about the process here.

Now for ADVICE! Clearly, I’m writing this from my perspective — i.e. that of an independent, grassroots activist. If you’re coming from a different place (for instance, if you represent a major organization such as a university), then your concerns will be different from mine … but hopefully this will still give you a good place to start.

To run Sex+++ in your area, you will need:

1) a passion for getting out information about sexuality,

2) a cell phone with lots of minutes,

3) a large amount of spare time,

4) decent writing and speaking skills.

It’s a lot easier to organize one or two screenings than it is to run an 18-night series. That would probably only make you crazy for a few weeks, rather than for months on end; you wouldn’t have to find nearly as many sponsors (if any), and your venue wouldn’t have to deal with 18 separate events.

The Beginning. My first step was to spend many hours researching documentaries about sexuality. I found a lot! I didn’t select most of the documentaries I found, but I did bookmark their websites; if you’re interested, you can review my documentary bookmarks on (click here!).

After that, Lisa and I wrote a proposal talking about why we started the series, what we hoped to accomplish, and why anyone would ever want to sponsor such a thing. We showed the proposal to the executive director at the Hull-House Museum, and they generously agreed to host the series. (If you’re interested in seeing the original Sex+++ proposal, just go ahead and email me or Lisa — we’ll send you a copy.)

If you don’t already have a venue for your series in mind, then you should start thinking now, because this is a make-or-break question. You obviously can’t do the series at all if you don’t have a place to screen films. Also, a really good venue could help you in a huge number of ways, including:

a) Lending legitimacy to your efforts. Filmmakers and film distributors are more likely to deal with you, sponsors are more likely to give you money, and viewers are more likely to attend if you’re screening your films at a well-known venue.

b) Helping spread the word. Established venues will have their own contacts in news outlets around the area, and they’ll also have their own established, loyal audience.

c) If your venue is a nonprofit organization, then that makes getting sponsors and donors a lot easier! Donors can take a tax write-off if they donate to a nonprofit, and nonprofit organizations cannot donate money to for-profit organizations. In other words — if you aren’t backed by some kind of nonprofit organization, then other nonprofits probably won’t be able to sponsor you, which will put a serious dent in your fundraising efforts.

d) Random other assistance. For instance, after Lisa and I created the Sex+++ icon, the Hull-House designer used it as a springboard to making our gorgeous posters and fliers.

You might find a venue that will let you screen films there, but won’t give you much other support. That’s okay, but you’ll want to find another nonprofit organization that’s willing to work closely with you — maybe in exchange for being a sponsor — so that you can take advantage of Benefit (c) above, and maybe get some more of Benefits (a), (b) and (d). In a pinch, I guess you could try to create a new nonprofit organization yourself, but that would take a long time and a lot of paperwork.

After we received approval from Hull-House Museum, I began securing the films, spreading the word about the series and looking for sponsors. Films are usually made by a team of people headed by one or more filmmakers — but if a film achieves any degree of success, then it will be acquired by a media distributor. Distributors usually own all the rights to a film, and charge fees (usually around $100-300) to people who want to screen it. So, securing the films meant that I called and/or emailed all the filmmakers and distributors, and begged them to let me screen their films for free. First I told them all about the project and emailed them the proposal; once they were convinced that Sex+++ is the greatest thing ever, I explained that we had practically no money — that Sex+++ is an activist education project, that we don’t charge admission, and that I myself wasn’t paid. If they were willing to screen for free, I offered to tell everyone on our mailing list where to buy the documentary after we screened it — and also to put their names on the Sex+++ press releases, the film list, and the Facebook group.

To spread the word and find sponsors, I called or emailed every sex-positive person and organization I could think of. I scoured Chicago for professors who teach about gender studies or sexuality, like the Center for Gender Studies at the University of Illinois; alternative film outlets and organizations, like the Reeling Film Festival; sex toy stores, like Early to Bed; sex education groups, like the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health; museums and other nonprofit organizations with an interest in sexuality or gender studies, like the Leather Archives and the Center on Halsted; womyn-centered spaces, like the Chicago Women’s Health Center; hip news sources, like Flavorpill; and sex-friendly hotspots, like the feminist bookstore Women and Children First. Since I’m a BDSM activist, I obviously asked for advice among local BDSM groups such as Galleria Domain, and I sought out other sexuality communities as well like the Polyamory Weekly folks. I also tried some places that seemed tangentially related — examples: free speech activist groups like the American Civil Liberties Union; open and affirming churches like the Unitarians; AIDS-related organizations. (Whoa, I really did call a huge number of people, didn’t I?)

I didn’t ask everyone to sponsor — some people I just asked for advice, some people I just invited to attend. And — awesomely enough — after a while, people started getting in touch with me! For instance, Serpent over at the Sex Workers Outreach Project emailed me the day I posted the film list on my blog. And the people at EdenFantasys SexIs online magazine got in touch just a few weeks ago.

With groups I did think would make good sponsors, I told them all about Sex+++ and how amazing it was going to be. Then I told them I’d put their names on all our materials (just like the filmmakers); I also said that they’d get a thank-you shoutout at every screening, and that we’d announce their events to our audience. At the end of the conversation, I emailed them the proposal and I followed up a few days later if they didn’t get back to me. I asked way more people to sponsor than I successfully convinced, but I did succeed sometimes, thank goodness!

Soon after that, Lisa and I wrote a press release. She sent it to the Hull-House publicity contacts, and I sent it to everyone who had expressed interest when I called them.

In case it wasn’t obvious, the key with a project like this is contacts. Clearly, it helped that I had one important contact from the beginning: Lisa, who works at the Hull-House. I also knew a few other people around the city in sexuality-relevant circles. But I don’t think that starting Sex+++, or creating something like it, would be impossible even if you started with very few contacts. I truly believe that as long as you’re willing to spend enough time on the phone being polite and friendly and enthusiastic, you’ll get the contacts you need. I didn’t know that many Chicago sex people when I started … and in the end, truly, the friends I’ve made with this project are at least as wonderful to me as the project itself.

How It Went! Sex+++ was a huge success, and I know it’s continuing to succeed even though I’m gone. (Alas, I am not indispensable.)

At each screening, we did the following:

1) Serve snacks!

2) Explain what sex-positive means: that among consenting adults, there is no “should”. That being sex-positive means we don’t judge people for having sex in any way they want — with one person, with multiple people, in strange positions, with people of the same gender, for money, on videotape, or with no one at all … as long as it’s among consenting adults.

3) Promote our sponsors.

4) Pose three questions for the discussion group to consider after the film.

5) Facilitate a discussion after the film.

6) Have an excellent time talking about sex and gender with our wonderful attendees.

That’s it!

… Of course, it’s not quite that simple. I continued to call new people for advice, find new sponsors, and promote in new places long after the film series was up and running. We kept distributing fliers and we dealt with logistical issues as they arose. But those are the basics; your mileage may vary but I’m sure that with enough ingenuity and persistence you can make it work – and if you do, the feedback will be incredible. People love this film series in Chicago! I’m sure they’d love it in your area too.

Whoa, that took a while … it’s late and it’s chilly here in Africa (June-August is winter in the southern hemisphere!). My feet are cold and I’m going to bed. I’ll post this the next time I pass an Internet café. Again, if any of your questions weren’t answered, you can email me — [ clarisse.thorn at gmail dot com ] — but it’ll take me a while to get back to you. If you have a pressing question (like, “How can I give money to the series?”), email Lisa instead — [ ljunkin at uic dot edu ].

Take care, and enjoy the films!

2009 10 Jun

“Happy Endings?” Asian massage parlor documentary :: Friday, June 12, 7PM :: Benefit screening for Sex Workers Outreach Project

an intriguing exploration of the Asian massage parlor industry in Providence, RI

documentary and discussion

in support of SWOP-Chicago
presented by Clarisse Thorn
and hosted by the Leather Archives & Museum

Friday, June 12, 7PM
Leather Archives & Museum

6418 N. Greenview
Chicago, IL 60626
(773) 761-9200
$5-10 suggested donation to SWOP-Chicago

Rhode Island: the only state where prostitution is decriminalized. It had been over 25 years since five prostitutes sued the state of Rhode Island for selective prosecution and prostitution laws were removed from the books when documentarians Tara Hurley and Nick Marcoux turned their cameras on the underbelly of “The Renaissance City”.

Watch the drama unfold in Asian massage parlors across Providence as Mayor David Ciccilline pushes to close the prostitution “loophole”. Follow Heather, a Korean immigrant, over two years as she manages the massage parlor. Learn about the women who work in the spas. Hear from the police who arrest them. Watch the fight for and against the legislation. The film includes subtitled interviews with Korean women who work in the spas, clients who frequent the spas, police, politicians from 1980 and today, local news footage, local radio call-in shows, and “voiced” reviews from internet escort review boards. Read more, watch the trailer, and see clips from the film at the “Happy Endings?” official website.

Just recently — May 2009 — prostitution is in the process of being criminalized again in Rhode Island. Come out, watch the documentary, and talk about it afterwards. What do you think about sex work? Is the change in Rhode Island law fair or unfair? Delicious snacks will be served, and discussion will follow!

This is a benefit for the Sex Workers Outreach Project, and we’re requesting a $5-10 donation from attendees.

To learn more about the Chicago chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, visit their website!

Thanks to our host the Leather Archives and Museum: preserving the history of alternative sexuality!

Screening facilitated by Clarisse Thorn, sex-positive activist and curator of the Sex+++ Film Series.

Official Website

Friday, June 12, 7PM
6418 N. Greenview
$5-10 suggested donation

2009 20 May

One split in the BDSM subculture: the desire for transgression vs. the dislike of stigma

I’ve said before, and I say as often as I can, that BDSM communities are filled with many different voices — plus, there are many BDSM communities out there, not just one. I hope no one ever takes me as “speaking for BDSM” or accurately describing every possible BDSM community out there. But there are some elements common in the BDSM subculture, and some very general splits that I often find myself noticing within it. (I do welcome other voices, ideas, additions, or disagreements with what I’m about to say! Feel free to leave comments! Especially disagreements — I relish getting different perspectives on the BDSM scene and questioning my own assumptions. Absolutely relish it. Delicious.)

Right now I’m thinking about the split between people who are attracted (or partly attracted) to BDSM because it feels wicked and transgressive — and people who are attracted to BDSM entirely for other reasons. That is, some kinksters are really excited by the very fact that BDSM is illicit and hush-hush … while some aren’t.

On the face of it, I have no problem with this difference — I really don’t care what draws people to their sexuality, as long as they’re doing it consensually! But a consequence of the split is that it creates tension around the question of whether or not we should seek wider social acceptance for BDSM. Arrayed on one side of that tension are kinksters (such as myself) who think it would be totally awesome if BDSM were more widely socially acceptable, so that we wouldn’t have to worry about coming out (or involuntarily being outed) to our parents or friends or employers. We don’t want BDSM to be seen as illicit! But the divide’s other side includes kinksters who feel as though bringing BDSM into the light means disenfranchising their sexual needs, because they want BDSM to seem transgressive and scary …

… and I’m just not sure what to say to that. I had a conversation with a friend today in which he pointed out that for people who are attracted to certain forms of sexuality because they’re illicit, there will always be further horizons to explore. His argument is essentially, “Well, if someone wants illicit sexuality, they’ll always be able to find something that feels illicit. Society will simply never get over most of its boundaries around sexuality, at least not in our lifetimes; we can just move those boundaries around a little. But it’s not fair to expect BDSM-identified people who don’t want BDSM to be illicit to silence ourselves in order to preserve a transgressive quality that attracts others to BDSM.”

I think I agree with him. And more fundamentally, I really don’t like being unable to talk about BDSM with people I respect for fear of their reactions and judgments. I don’t like cloaking a large part of my life. I do not enjoy living with that stigma. And I’m not willing to compromise my efforts to work against that stigma for the sake of other kinksters who want BDSM to be stigmatized because that’s hot for them.

(As a side note: I do recognize that some kinksters feel nervous about BDSM advocacy, or oppose trying to make BDSM more socially acceptable, not because they’re actively attracted to the illicit image of BDSM but for other reasons — for instance, concerns about backlash against the community. I don’t mean to imply that everyone who resists the idea of raising the BDSM public profile is doing it because they really enjoy feeling transgressive and illicit. But I think a lot of kinksters do, and are.)

2009 30 Mar

Introducing … Chicago Pleasure Salon!

edit, April 2010: I’ve written up a guideline on how to start your own sex-positive meetup group — so if that’s what you want to do, click here! Otherwise keep reading …. end of edit

* * *

Introducing ….

presented by
SEX+++ and SWOP-Chicago

1st Tuesdays, 6-10pm

+ Become a fan on Facebook — here’s the Pleasure Salon Facebook Page! Invite all your friends!

* * *

Announcing the very first night of Chicago’s new sex-positive meetup! On Tuesday, April 7th between 6 and 10 P.M., come out to Villains — buy a sandwich or a drink — and hang out with Chicago’s sex-positive community. Pleasure Salon, every first Tuesday, will be the place to talk about sex, culture and sexual fun! This event is modeled on New York’s Pleasure Salon, “A Gathering of Sex-Positive Activists”. We want to build networks among all kinds of sex-positive people and create an open exchange of ideas about sex. All are welcome.

Pleasure Salon is hosted by Clarisse Thorn, Serpent Libertine, The Ultimates and Ken Melvoin-Berg, and co-organized with the awesome Pleasure Salon Committee: Cunning Minx, Aspasia Bonasera, Arvan Reese, Ben, and Robyn. We all want you to attend Pleasure Salon — whether you identify as

+ a sexuality activist,
+ a sex worker,
+ a pornographer,
+ a swinger,
+ a polyamory practitioner,
+ a tantric practitioner,
+ a sex educator,
+ a free speech advocate,
+ a progressive pastor,
+ an AIDS worker,
+ a radical feminist,
+ a student,
+ not at all studious,
+ skeptical about our politics and aims,
+ or just someone who likes talking about sex!

* * *

Help us create a more sex-positive world!

1st Tuesdays, 6-10pm
beginning April 7th, 2009

Villains Bar & Grill
649 S. Clark Street

Under 21 welcome, but they obviously cannot drink.

2009 26 Mar

Latest sex-positive links and Chicago events

Oh man, so much to do!

Firstly: Awesome upcoming Chicago events! All events are totally free and open to the public unless otherwise noted.

+ Sunday March 29, 7.30pm: Sunday Night Sex Show sex-positive reading at the Burlington

+ March 31-April 1: How 2 Get Down Training/Youth Lobby with the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health in Springfield

+ Tuesday April 7, 12-1.30pm: RePROductive Choice? soup and discussion at Jane Addams Hull-House Museum

+ Tuesday April 7, 6-10pm: Sex+++ introduces Pleasure Salon: New Sex-Positive Meetup at Villains! This is going to be awesome — I’m working on it with a bunch of really amazing Chicago sex activists. More soon!

+ Tuesday April 7, 7pm: “Straightlaced” high school gender and sex documentary at Oak Park River Forest High School — $20 adults, $10 youth

+ Tuesday April 7, 7.30pm: Butt Sex workshop at Early to Bed — $15, $10 for students/low-income

+ Saturday April 11, 6pm-8pm: BDSM Education Event at Galleria Domain Two — 21+ only

+ Tuesday April 14, 7pm: “Bi The Way” bisexuality documentary at Sex+++

+ Tuesday April 14, 7.30pm: Sex for Survivors at Early to Bed

+ Wednesday April 15, 6-8pm: Who Framed Sex Ed? speed-dating-style chitchat at Jane Addams Hull-House Museum

+ Ongoing: “All My Love” polyamory play at Theatre Building Chicago — $25, $18 for students or seniors, $10 off for groups of 10 or more with POLY GROUPS promo code

Secondly: Sugasm #161!

The best of this week’s sex blogs by the bloggers who blog them. Highlighting the top 3 posts as chosen by Sugasm participants.

This Week’s Picks
+ The Balance of Power “A wave of lust coursed through her body at his words”
+ Betrayal “What’s this? Evidence of pleasure?”
+ Secret signals “I will adore him for it”

Sugasm Editor
+ Not An Overnight

Editor’s Choice
+ The Ghost of Abuse

Sex News, Reviews, and Interviews
+ 20 Questions with Jiz Lee
+ Blowjob FAIL – the Blowguard
+ Hysteria and the Hitachi Magic Wand
+ Industrial Pleasures – the Hitachi Wand
+ My post, Interview with Daniel Bergner, author of “The Other Side of Desire”
+ LELO Liv (And Hot Hunk Hugh Jackman Pix)
+ Sex Toy Review: Go Ringo Cock Ring

BDSM & Fetish
+ Diary of a Futa (part 6)
+ Dream (100 words)
+ An Enigmatic Angel Returns
+ On display — Moroccan fantasy 2
+ Passion
+ So where’s the missus?
+ To be or not to be
+ A weekend with Miss Susan — My version

+ More Sugasm
+ Join the Sugasm
+ See also: Fleshbot’s Sex Blog Roundup each Tuesday and Friday.