When I was living in San Francisco a few years ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a workshop at Good Vibrations (link not safe for work) taught by Madame Cleo Dubois. Good Vibrations, incidentally, is a business I really like. They’ve got multiple locations in the Bay Area and they are all pleasant, fun, and safe to be in for me. The staff are very knowledgeable and very inclusive, and they’ve got supplies and references for all sorts of people. They are maybe not quite as thorough on disability as some other establishments, but they are at least aware of accommodation needs, and of the fact that, you know, some disabled folks like to have sex. Yes, there’s some room for improvement, but I’ve generally had very positive interactions with their staff.
Especially in the case of this workshop, “Radical Touch,” which focused on consensual sensory play. Madame Cleo Dubois is a dominatrix, and she’s got rather a lot of experience with sensory play of all sorts. The class started with a brief talk, and then interaction (at personal comfort levels) with the things Madame Cleo brought and with other class attendees. She had a table at the front of the room with a number of different things laid out on it, and one of the things that she stressed is that human skin and the human body are very sensitive, and that there are a lot of ways to explore that sensation; just lightly brushing someone’s arm with a hand can be a form of sensory play, for example, and lots of textures (sandpaper, velvet, feathers, etc) can be utilized to stimulate the sense of touch, in addition to things which people might more traditionally think of in the context of sensory play (such as BDSM activities). Sensory play is also not just about touch, but about all the senses, and that was discussed as well.
What I loved about this class, beyond the content, which was delightful, was the inclusive nature. There was a very mixed crowd in attendance, and Madame Cleo made sure that everyone was included at their own personal comfort level. She stressed the fact that sensory play can come in a lot of forms, and that everyone’s sensitivity is different, that there’s no “good” and “bad” involved in different sensitivities and comfort levels. She also stressed the importance of bodily autonomy in sensory play, that in any context, you always have the right to decide what happens, and when, and how, and took the time to discuss negotiation of any sensual interaction in any context. She made opportunities to talk and work with everyone in the room, and there were several people with disabilities in attendance whom she made sure were included. Not in a showy “ah yes, the wheelchair user!” sort of way, but in a quiet way; she didn’t make assumptions about what they were/were not interested in, what they were/were not capable of, what sort of people they were. In part, I’m sure this comes from her professional experience, because she works with a really broad spectrum of humanity.
I could tell that some of the able folk were a little bit uncomfortable at first, especially with the wheelchair user, and Madame Cleo would have none of that. By the end of the class, everyone was connecting and interacting and having fun, regardless of gender, disability status, or any other factor. It was deeply enjoyable for me to attend a sexuality workshop in which everyone was respected and included, in which assumptions were not made about people, in which it was assumed that everyone was unique and had something different to bring to the room. I think that some of the people in that room learned something about assumptions, and took that message away with them, even though the class wasn’t about a Very Special Diversity Hour in the slightest.
I haven’t attended sexuality workshops at other establishments, so I don’t know if inclusivity is the norm or the deviation. I’d be curious to know. I feel like the inclusive environment was an excellent experience for all the attendees, from the people who are often excluded to the people who often do the excluding. An accessible space is useless without inclusion, and offering sexuality workshops which only cater to one experience is pretty useless too, in my opinion. It heartened me to see inclusion normalized and expected at Good Vibrations workshops I attended, although I do wish that they also specifically offered workshops on sexuality and disability.
Anna mentioned Venus Envy in Halifax as a disability-friendly establishment, and Toys in Babeland (which has a sex toy guide specifically for people with disabilities) is another excellent resource. For those who attend/have attended them, what kind of experiences have you had in sex shops and sexuality workshops? Do you have any establishments you’d recommend (or advise against)? What kinds of topics would you like to see covered?