While a number of local organizations and support groups regularly discuss the sexuality and sexual needs of gay and bisexual men, from having safer sex to achieving sexual satisfaction, comparatively little discussion happens around the needs of lesbian and bisexual cisgender (non-transgender) women, and transgender people of all sexual orientations.
Enter sWerve and the Utah Pride Center to change that.
On April 17, the Center and the lesbian-focused civic and social group will team up to present Queer Sex Ed, a day of four presentations on topics relating to transgender and queer female sexuality.
“It sprung out of a lot of anecdotal evidence of women who have questions about their sex life, and a lot of people asking, ‘How do lesbians have safer sex, and what am I supposed to be doing if I’m wanting to have sex with more than one person?’” said Jennifer Nuttall, the Center’s Adult Programs Director. “We wanted to have a conversation with the community to talk about women and sex and how that plays out as single people, and in our couples and our long-term relationships. Are we getting what we need and what we want?”
The day’s first panel will address that question. Presented by Jordan Rullo, a candidate in the University of Utah’s Clinical Psychology doctoral program, “Sexual Satisfaction: What is it? How do we get it?” will cover the different ways in which women can achieve that nebulous thing known as sexual satisfaction.
“[The presentation] is going to be a combination of the research on sexual satisfaction and clinical applications on how to increase your satisfaction — what it is, why it’s important that we have it, and how we get it,” said Rullo, who specializes in sex research and sex therapy. A large part of the presentation, she added, will cover what researchers call an exchange model theory of sexual satisfaction, “which basically says to be sexually satisfied, you need to have more rewards than costs” in your sex life.
“If you like to be touched a certain way and your partner does that for you, that’s a reward,” she explained. “When you’re not in the mood and your partner doesn’t’ care and wants to have sex anyway, that’s a cost.”
The presentation, which Rullo hopes will be equal parts question and answer, will also focus on breaking down myths about sex — for example, that it needs to be spontaneous to be good — and having realistic expectations about sexuality.
“Sex isn’t going to be great every time we do it. Sometimes it will be silly and sloppy and that’s OK,” she said.
The second presentation will cover something that Nuttall said many women in relationships with women experience, but are often ashamed to talk about: lesbian bed death, or the idea that long term female couples often stop having sex together.
“I’ve had a lot of couples tell me confidentially, ‘We’re not having sex and it’s horrible, what’s going on?’” said Nuttall. “They’re needing some support that way but they don’t know how to talk about that within the context of a relationship or anything else.”
“Lesbian Bed Death: Myth or Reality?” will be lead by Lisa Diamond, an associate professor of psychology and gender studies at the University of Utah whose work has focused on the sexuality of queer women.
“I think the important thing to clarify is I’m not a clinical psychologist or therapist so I’m going to be approach [this topic] from a sex research perspective, in terms of what do we know about this mythical phenomenon,” said Diamond.
Among researchers, the topic of ‘lesbian bed death’ is as controversial as it is among individual lesbians and bisexual women, Diamond added. Some researchers, she said, contend that the phenomenon arises out of applying a male model to female sexuality and then expecting “women to have sex as often as male researchers expect us to.” Other issues that complicate the matter are forms of sex that don’t involve genital contact, and feminist contentions that the idea of ‘lesbian bed death’ reinforces stereotypes that women as a group don’t enjoy sex.
“It’s raised among researchers some of the same debates as in the [lesbian, bisexual and transgender] community,” she said.
While the presentation will involve an update on research about this phenomenon, Diamond also hopes that attendees will bring questions.
“I think it’s much more fun if it can be back and forth,” she said. “I want to try and get folks to talk about what they’d like to see sex researchers looking at. I’m totally excited if I can go to sex research meetings and say, ‘these are topics that people in the community would like you to look at,’ rather than having them in the ivory tower deciding how to discuss this phenomenon.”
Another important component of queer female and transgender sexuality is safer sex. Although limited research has suggested that HIV transmission rates are the lowest among women who have sex with women, there are still a number of sexually transmitted diseases that lesbians and bisexual women in relationships with women can get.
“Just because the lesbian and [female] bisexual community is at the lowest [risk for getting HIV], that doesn’t mean we’re at zero risk,” said Lillian Rodriguez, the Utah Pride Center’s HIV Prevention Coordinator. Along with Transgender Youth Program Coordinator Rose Ellen Epstein she will present “Uncensored: This Ain’t Your Mama’s Sex!”, a no-holds-barred look at safer sex for lesbians, bisexual women and transgender people. This workshop will cover the four bodily fluids that can be encountered during sex and the basics of STDs that effect queer women the most, like chlamydia and the human papillomavirus. The two will also discuss a reality that can be difficult to broach: the fact that many queer women, even lesbians, have sex with men or will have sex with men at some point in their lives.
“We want to emphasize how important it is to get your checkups,” said Rodriguez. “You may be a gold star lesbian, but by no means are you free from any transmission.”
The two will also cover the basics of safer sex devices, such as dental dams, external and insertive (or female) condoms, and the importance of using these on sex toys, many of which cannot be cleaned easily or at all.
The two will also go over some alternative barriers that many women don’t know about.
“Using non-microwavable saran wrap [in oral sex] is actually really great because you have so much to work with,” said Rodriguez. “It’s also super thin and it’s transparent, unlike a dental dam, so you can actually see the person, which can be a deterrent to using dental dams.”
Like the other workshops, Rodriguez stressed that her presentation will be interactive and that questions are encouraged.
“We want people to have fun,” she said. “We’re talking about sex which I understand can be uncomfortable at times, but the whole point is for women to come and hopefully learn something they didn’t know.”
The day will conclude with an explicit workshop about sexual play and sex toys conducted by Trei Herd of the environmentally-friendly adult boutique Earth Erotics. The conference will also be followed by the popular sWerve social event Tie One On, a women’s social event where attendees are encouraged to wear ties. The evening will include dancing, a tie contest, speed dating for women of all ages including women 50 and over, and a performance by burlesque troupe The Slippery Kittens.
Tie One On will be held at Zanzibar, 679 S. 200 West on April 17 from 6:30–11 p.m., and the entry fee is $10. Queer Sex Ed will be held from 1–5:00 p.m. at the Sorenson Unity Center auditorium, 1383 S. 900 West. The fee is $20, though fee waivers are available and students can get in free with a valid student ID. Preregistration is required and can be made by contacting Jennifer Nuttall at [email protected]