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?
4 thoughts on “Sex Workshops Can Be For Everyone”
I’m required to plug Come As You Are again 🙂 They have substantial disability content and run an awesome sex shop. I’ve only been in one brick-and-mortar sex store in my life, so I can’t speak to that experience, but their web shop is top notch.
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When I lived in Seattle Toys in Babeland was one of my favorite places in the world to spend time in. It’s a very good store.
The BDSM community (the queer/leather-oriented parts that I mostly hang out in anyway) in Dallas does a pretty good job of being accessible to people with disabilities. National Leather Association Dallas does workshops on sex and BDSM play for disabled folk — and not just from the disabled-person-as-bottom perspective. Local weekend events usually have workshops along those lines.
Sometimes the venues for weekend events aren’t the most accessible but it’s because of discrimination against freaky people in leather by other hotels that don’t want our money. I’ve been part of the venue selection process and accessibility to people with mobility impairments was part of the discussion and brought up by folk without mobility impairments. We’ve wound up having to hold events in less than optimal places because no one else would take us. Sign interpreters work all the opening/closing/keynote things at the events and are available to accompany people to workshops.
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Thanks for the post. I run the workshop program at Good Vibrations and I’m always glad to get feedback about it. Cleo is an amazing presenter and I’m glad that you enjoyed the workshop.
I’ve tried to book classes about sex and disability a few times and they’ve never gotten much of a response. I know that that’s partially due to various challenges in promoting them within disability communities. But even when we were able to get the word out (or when the presenter was very connected to those circles and did a fair amount of promotion), the number of people who actually came was pretty low.
Making it a bit more complex is that many of the presenters who I was able to find certainly knew a lot about various disabilities, but they didn’t know as much about sexuality. I’ve been asking around, looking for someone who is knowledgeable in both arenas, with little success. Do you have any suggestions? Is there anyone who you think I should contact? If you prefer, feel free to pass my name and email along to anyone who might be suitable, or who might have recommendations.
Hi! I’m just another voice saying that I think the BDSM community is good about this stuff. I mean, I’m biased — I’m a pro-BDSM activist, in fact — but I really think that the fact that the BDSM community (generally speaking, of course) has spent such a huge amount of time discussing and analyzing different types of desires, and in making space for the many many different kinks that fit under our wide umbrella, has driven us in exactly the direction you’re seeking. Actual BDSM workshops may not be for you, but on the other hand, why not check around and see what your local BDSM community offers?
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