Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit: #BlogSquad Finds a Home

Watercolor on paper, illustration by the author. 

Watercolor on paper, illustration by the author. 

On the last day of Woodhull's Sexual Freedom Summit 2016, a little over a month ago now, one of Woodhull's board members stopped to personally thank a group of bloggers. We had stalled in the hotel lobby, wanting to soak up a few more minutes with one another before having to depart. He told us that our presence was greatly appreciated, citing increased online visibility which had skyrocketed due to the social media clout of the approximately two dozen sex bloggers in attendance. 


Sex bloggers, reviewers, sex writers, #blogsquad, whatever you'd like to call us--have not always been universally accepted or respected in our communities. There have been incidents of individuals amongst us singled out by people in positions of power at events, we've also been singled out and ridiculed as a group. People have been berated, told their work was meaningless, people have lost jobs or had the threat of job loss foisted on them, people have been denied accessibility, all because on the belief of a few that the work sex bloggers do is unimportant. 

Sex bloggers often do not get the respect beauty bloggers, for example, get in their industry as influencers, though I'd argue that many of my fellow reviewers and bloggers have courageously influenced massive changes within our industries and communities. Our words of advice and critique are heard by select few retailers and manufacturers and droves of consumers. Despite that, sex bloggers have not always been celebrated or even appreciated at industry and community events. Until Woodhull. 


I first attended Woodhull's Sexual Freedom Summit in 2014 as part of a consulting job. That I can remember, not many bloggers were in attendance; it was Bex of BexTalksSex and I only who were purely bloggers, not public speakers or educators. Earlier that same year, we and other bloggers had attended an event that was unpleasant, to say the least, for many of us. Woodhull had this aura of serious scholarship and activism that many bloggers felt would be unwelcoming of our work, which is seen by many as anything but serious activism though some of us treat it that way. Though I was concerned, I found a welcoming space at Woodhull with a potential to be an event where bloggers could congregate and spend time together in person, a rare occurrence. 

Later in 2014, I spoke with Ricci Levy, who was at that point helming the Sexual Freedom Summit. I told her that I wanted to welcome and encourage more bloggers to attend because I thought it would be a more welcoming space for sex bloggers, with a lot of potential after feeling like other event spaces were not open to us. 

I told Ricci that many bloggers seemed to feel that the serious activism they were doing would mean we wouldn't be welcome to the event, based on our previous experiences. She asked me how we could make more bloggers feel welcome; I said we needed better WiFi, mostly, alongside as little as neutral acceptance of our presence. I said that with those things, I'd be willing to help get the word out to encourage bloggers to submit proposals to teach so there would be more programming applicable to us, and encourage bloggers to attend.

Ricci went further, and in 2015 we had a lounge exclusively for use by bloggers (sponsored by Tantus), our own "Blogger" ribbons to add to our badges, and she went out of her way to thank the dozen or so bloggers in attendance personally and publicly throughout the event. I remember Artemesia speaking at one point with me about how validating the experience was; our work was important. Our contributions were important. We were important and welcomed with open arms. 

Woodhull 2015 is where we became #BlogSquad, a title bequeathed on us by one of our friends, Calvin, a former employee of the much-loved Smitten Kitten

Finally, bloggers had found a space where our work, our activism, and our words were taken seriously; somewhere we could feel comfortable and even welcome congregating and spending rare time in person with one another, collaborating amongst one another and speaking with some of our favorite companies and industry professionals. It was amazing, but what was in store for us this past August went above and beyond. 

Beyond that, bloggers were welcomed to have our voices heard; I moderated a panel featuring Metic Black of Tantus, Jennifer Pritchett of the Smitten Kitten, and Dangerous Lilly of dildo-flame-testing fame (amongst other feats), about the necessity of sex education in our industry. JoEllen Notte and Crista were on a panel about sex and depression. There is a good chance other bloggers taught, but my memory is spotty. We were not just welcomed to attend, we were welcomed to teach about issues we care about dealing with sexuality and human rights. Our voices were elevated to a respected and "legitimate" space. 

Woodhull's Sexual Freedom Summit has become my home, and the home of many other sex bloggers, for a few days each year. Somewhere I can see people I know and adore but usually only get to see online due to our distance from one another. Woodhull is now somewhere we can gather, and also somewhere where we can learn and interact with other people from all strata of our communities and industry, and teach one another and others who care to hear. 


This year, we had by my estimate two dozen or more sex bloggers and reviewers in attendance; we organized on a private slack channel, spent as much time as possible together in private and public events, and got to spend time with some of our favorite companies, including the Smitten Kitten, SheVibe, Tantus, nJoy, and Doxy.

JoEllen Notte organized a quiet night, the Sex Geek Salon, in collaboration with Woodhull. There were lots of comfy places to relax and quiet talk and games great for many of us who are prone to introversion. SheVibe organized a private event in association with Woodhull to show appreciation to bloggers, a Pajama Party, based on suggestions from 2015 (after bloggers on multiple occasions tried to cram all together into hotel rooms for bonding time). We had a great time with readings from various attendees and amazing goody bags. We also had our blogger lounge, sponsored by Tantus, where we could decompress and write or tweet between sessions and meet up with one another before meals. Where we could organize and do what we do best. 

All of this was done to show bloggers that they're not only welcome, they're valued. Valued for the unique perspectives we bring, the activism work we do to call out companies and attempts to help consumers be more informed in their choices.

Some of us mostly review or write personal posts (valuable acts within themselves), others among us do extensive and groundbreaking research (ahem, Dangerous Lilly), consult with companies to make them more accessible to everyone, and we all provide judgement-free advice to countless people.

Bloggers are not frivolous little girls (many of us don't identify as women at all, whether non-binary, trans, or male) who get free sex toys and jerk off for fun like some would tell us; our value is so much beyond that. Even if we do get some pleasure out of what we do--we don't always, and many of us are committed to changing our industry for the better and providing sex education to people who may not have access to it otherwise.

That is valuable, and that is something Woodhull actively works to show they value. 

It also helps that bloggers, when appreciated, will show up. That's how we doubled or maybe even more than doubled our numbers from last year to this. It's why we encouraged other bloggers and readers and colleagues to attend, and feverishly promoted the event leading up to, during, and after those days at the beginning of August.  

That's also what drove things like Ninja Lunabelle's drive to sell toys she didn't want or need anymore in private to other bloggers, all the proceeds (over $500, to my knowledge) being donated to the Woodhull Foundation. That's why Dangerous Lilly is currently working on gathering items to raffle, in order to donate those proceeds to Woodhull (I'll post links when it's live!). 

We also encouraged companies to sponsor the event or just attend, wanting to support the work this event and organization do. I can't claim we're entirely responsible for it, but a variety of new adult industry sponsors showed up, and many new faces attended the event as well. Woodhull, at least with some help from sex bloggers, went from an event seen as one mostly for activists, policy influencers, non-profits, medical professionals and scholars to one that's all of that plus people who are doing grassroots work around sexuality in the adult industry and in online spaces. Though there were certainly retailers and manufacturers in attendance my first year at Woodhull, there are definitely more as word has spread that it's a place for us and our work, too. 


Sex bloggers didn't ask for much; just a space and an event where we could feel welcome to gather and spend time with each other and other industry professionals. Woodhull went above and beyond that desire, and in doing so have won themselves valuable allies in their work who will continue to show up, to make session hashtags trend on twitter like we did with #SFSMonster this year, and talk ceaselessly of how valuable this event is. That's how we'll continue to grow their online visibility, with the help of our know-how and extensive readerships. We are strong-- and as Crista says, Mighty--as individuals, but as a group we are a formidable force. 

This event is valuable beyond their good treatment of bloggers, with amazing sessions all tying back to human rights. This is extraordinary and so needed; however, it is difficult not to scream from the rooftops when finally, finally, the work of bloggers is being recognized for what it is in this industry and community: something to be nourished and encouraged. 


I want to name the many bloggers I loved to see again and meet for the very first time, but there are too many to put here. I do, however, have to mention my great excitement at being able to room with one of my most enduring #blogsquad friends, Sarah of Marvelous Darling, who came all the way from Germany for the event. I had not seen her since before she went expat, all the way back in 2013. 

I also have to thank the generosity of the amazing people at Crystal Delights, Shellie and Andrew, for sponsoring my trip to the event. Dangerous Lilly and Elle Chase both facilitated that matchup when I wasn't sure if I'd be able to attend right after (just days after) returning from out of country. I was delighted not only to be able to attend the event, but to proudly proclaim my sponsors, who make some of the best and most beautiful glass products on the market--and I don't say that because they sponsored me, but because I have always truly believed it.