Q&A: CatalystCon Founder Dee Dennis Discusses Value of Sex-Positive Education
Dee Dennis is the founder of the sexuality conference CatalystCon, which returns to Los Angeles next month with sessions on sex work, polyamory, sex-positive parenting and more. Attended by therapists, educators, media specialists, bloggers, activists, women’s rights advocates, health professionals and more, CatalystCon has established itself as a sex-positive, judgement-free event covering a wide spectrum of sexuality-related topics.
In this exclusive Q&A, Dennis reveals why she does it, and how the general public, as well as the sex industry, benefits from sexuality conferences.
XBIZ: Did you become an activist for sexual freedom because you yourself felt a lack of freedom?
Dee Dennis: Not so much myself personally, but I certainly felt a lack of sexual freedom in society, especially toward women and sexual minorities. We refuse to give proper sex education to our children because we think they’ll have sex if we tell them about it.
I saw politicians trying to legislate love, women being told what to do with their bodies, gay and transgender individuals being denied the right to live as themselves. It was enough to motivate me to get involved and help create an open discussion about sexuality.
XBIZ: Why do you recommend that CatalystCon attendees go to a workshop that they would not normally think to go to?
Dennis: I believe that as human beings, we have a natural trepidation towards the unfamiliar. At CatalystCon, I want people to step outside their comfort zone and learn about something new. I believe that knowledge is power, and our diverse workshops allow attendees to educate themselves in a multitude of topics pertaining to sexuality. The idea is to learn one new thing to take home and share with others. Through education and discovery, we can remove the stigma that ignorance and misinformation has created.
XBIZ: When you say you want to promote open dialogue and advance conversations on a global scale, what do you mean?
Dennis:CatalystCon has featured speakers from Ireland, Sweden, the Netherlands and more. They have shared their experiences and expertise pertaining to sexuality in their countries, and we at CatalystCon have learned a great deal from them. The Internet has brought all of us much closer and gives us the opportunity to share information around the world. We use specific hashtags for each of our sessions so those who are unable to attend due to distance can follow along at home.
XBIZ: What specifically has your attendees learned from these educators?
Dennis: Our attendees have learned about sex education, stigmas and sexuality in other parts of the world. More importantly, however, they get the opportunity to network and make connections with people who work in their fields around the globe. After each conference, I see speakers and attendees working on projects that came about at the conference. Each person becomes a catalyst for creating change.
XBIZ: What has surprised you most about CatalystCon?
Dennis: CatalystCon will be five years old, and it’s surprised me how it has grown and how life-changing it’s been for people. For instance, we have had attendees who first discovered their interest in sexuality at CatalystCon. Many have made connections through CatalystCon that have helped them pursue a career in their newly discovered interest. I see people who attended CatalystCon as their first intro in the field of sexuality and are now writing about sex, recording podcasts and working as sex educators. The other thing that surprised me about CatalystCon was how much many of us needed a weekend together. Sexuality is not an easy field to work in or be an advocate for. Spending a weekend with others who face the same issues energizes us to keep going.
XBIZ: How has CatalystCon benefitted the business of sex? How can toy companies specifically benefit?
Dennis: Toy companies can benefit because there is such a diverse group of people who attend. In addition, they are able to get one-on-one feedback from therapists, sex educators and other professionals who can prove invaluable to their business. Six or seven years ago you didn’t see many manufacturers interacting with sex educators, therapists and consumers like we do today. This year we are launching the CatalystCon Pleasure Products Symposium at CatalystCon West. The full day event is targeted to retailers, manufacturers, sex educators and therapists. I feel that it is more important than ever that these groups come together for a day of conversation and networking.
XBIZ: What does CatalystCon mean to you?
Dennis: CatalystCon is a labor of passion. This isn’t a job for me; it’s what I do with my free time (I have an actual day job in addition to CatalystCon). I love bringing people together, creating a dialogue, and helping to facilitate a safe space for people to share and spread information. I want to see a day when there is no stigma surrounding sex, where young adults are free to express their sexuality and every child receives a proper sex education.
XBIZ: How have you seen things change in the sex industry since you created CatalystCon?
Dennis: I have seen businesses use feedback they have obtained at CatalystCon to improve their product, service, or marketing. For example, one of our sponsors heard from potential customers at CatalystCon that their catalog offered little in the way of diversity. Later, while attending a different event, I was given one of their new catalogs, and I was pleasantly surprised to see they’d taken the feedback to heart, and featured models from more walks of life. Sex education is now the norm for many retailers and manufacturers.
XBIZ: Where do you see CatalystCon in five years?
Dennis: I see CatalystCon growing from a weekend event to four or five days. Starting in 2017, we will be going to one conference a year that will be held in September in Los Angeles. This will allow us more planning time, and we will be expanding to have special topic days such as the Pleasure Products Symposium and a Sex Worker Summit day. I also see us hosting smaller conferences every couple of years in other cities. We have done the East Coast and the Midwest and I very much would like to continue visiting those cities in the future.
Lynn Brown Rosenberg is a sexuality speaker, and the author of “My Sexual Awakening at 70.” She can be contacted at LynnBrownRosenberg.com. Her memoir can be found on Amazon.com.