Catalyst for Change, Past and Future

Ariana Rodriguez

Coming up on its one-year anniversary, biannual sexuality conference CatalystCon has established itself as the must-attend event for professionals, activists and anyone with an interest in exploring sex-positive topics in a judgment-free environment.

With more than 50 speakers and 40 sessions scheduled throughout the three-day conference, CatalystCon is designed to spark open “communication about sexuality, activism and acceptance.” The next CatalystCon conference is slated for September in Woodland Hills, Calif., on Sept. 27–29.

Here’s the difference between industry events and Catalyst — people come to me with their own panel submissions, whereas with a lot of industry events it’s the organizers putting people on panels.

Prior to the formation of CatalystCon, there was no event that covered as wide of a spectrum of sexuality-related topics, CatalystCon founder Dee Dennis told XBIZ.

“I wanted to go to a conference but there wasn’t one,” Dennis said. “I was looking for a conference that dealt with sexuality and education, so I started one [Momentum] with a business partner in 2010. We parted ways in 2012, and then CatalystCon followed.

“I’m really excited about CatalystCon West 2013,” Dennis said. “I consider Catalyst a West Coast conference because I started it there. I want L.A. to be a bigger conference because of all the sponsors there and the industry there. I’ve gotten a phenomenal response so far. I had inquiries from Egypt and Australia about speaking. To have the worldwide exposure is exciting. I think it took me a while to realize how much it has evolved…. I’ve never had international interest and now I do.”

Attended by therapists, educators, media specialists, bloggers, activists, women’s rights advocates, health professionals, and anyone with a passion for creating change, Dennis welcomes all interested individuals to participate as panelists.

“At CatalystCon, everyone is welcome, everyone is respected, and everyone is encouraged to share their knowledge and experiences,” said Dennis. “Everyone has something to offer, and the more participants, the better the experience — for everybody.”

Dennis doesn’t single-handedly organize CatalystCon, however. Social media mavens ESC Forever Media’s Lilith and Jezebel use their skills to promote CatalystCon as well as offer input into the organization of the conference.

“They keep me sane,” Dennis said. “They handle all of the social media, they understand the product, and during CatalystCon we have fun and work the whole weekend. It set the tone for how the weekend goes, and the concept of working together and meeting new people.”

ESC Forever Media began as the blog Evil Slutopia.

“We launched ESC Forever Media in 2009 when we branched out from the blog and started to do consulting and other work,” Lilith and Jezebel said. “We wanted to keep some separation between the blog and the business. Also, our mothers kept telling us that nobody would ever take us seriously with a name like Evil Slutopia.

“We do a little bit of everything [for CatalystCon],” they said. “We handle all of CatalystCon’s social media, but we also help Dee with whatever she needs — updating the website, helping her sort through endless piles of session proposals, writing press releases, working the registration desk at the conference, shopping for snacks, kicking out conference crashers — if Dee needs help with it, we’re probably involved.”

According to ESC, they’ve been on board with CatalystCon since its launch.

“She told us she was launching a new conference on the West Coast and asked us if we wanted to be a part of it,” Lilith and Jezebel said. “Of course we said yes, and the rest is history. Dee has put together a really incredible staff that we affectionately refer to as the Girl Gang, and we’re proud to be a part of it.

“We’re so excited about how fast CatalystCon is growing and the overwhelmingly positive response that we’ve gotten to the first two events. We have some great things in the works for the next CatalystCon West in September, and our expectation is that we’ll continue to grow and innovate and hopefully keep inspiring people to create change.”

CatalystCon West 2013 will feature the closing keynote — Afternoon Tea with Dr. Joycelyn Elders — which will feature remarks from the former Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service under President Clinton, followed by an informal interview of Elders by Lynn Comella.

“I think Elders’ participation at CatalystCon gives it mainstream and national attention because of her former position,” Dennis said. “She adds inspiration and re-energizes the conference — it will be the perfect way to end the event. Right now Catalyst Con is the largest West Coast conference — almost tied with AASECT. We expect 400 attendees at CatalystCon, and that’s within a year of launching.”

According to Dennis, CatalystCon differs tremendously than anything currently part of the adult industry’s trade show circuit.

“Here’s the difference between industry events and Catalyst — people come to me with their own panel submissions, whereas with a lot of industry events it’s the organizers putting people on panels. There’s a big difference when you create it versus have topics sent in. CatalystCon always gives opportunities to new speakers — it’s not all big names, everyone has a voice.”

Dennis says her interest in sexuality began in 2007 following a divorce.

“Before that, I was married, had a white picket fence — I didn’t own a toy or porn before that and so I decided to start blogging about sex,” Dennis said. “My activism was sparked by having a child with special needs.”

Dennis said that she was inspired to stand up against the injustice of shame and stigma associated with sex. According to Dennis, she identifies herself as a feminist primarily based on the label’s association with standing up for equality, acceptance and openness.

“CatalystCon is about acceptance across the board,” Dennis said. “We haven’t had any porn sponsors although those attending support porn, I don’t think mainstream porn industry sees the benefit of CatalystCon. Feminist porn however is very involved. They have different opinions and values — mainstream porn is more concerned about profit. I don’t have sponsors who don’t share my passion — it would lose the mission of what Catalyst is all about. Everyone can come and be who they are — it’s really empowering to them.”