A Look Inside The Securing Sexuality Conference
November 14, 2023 by Bethany Lumsdaine
Last month, the inaugural Securing Sexuality conference took place in Detroit, Michigan. Possibly the first conference of its kind, Securing Sexuality brought together experts from various fields to delve into topics of sexuality, technology, and navigating our increasingly digital world. The Securing Sexuality conference was organized by author, sex therapist, and regular guest on the show Dr. Stefani Goerlich and cyber security specialist Wolfgang Goerlich. Stefani and Wolfgang host a podcast of the same name where they explore emerging dilemmas and practical solutions at the intersection of sex and technology.
At first glance, the idea of gathering self-proclaimed hackers, cybersecurity professionals, and sexuality experts for professional networking might seem unconventional. However, as the conference progressed, the similarities and crossover between everyone’s work seemed more and more apparent. The internet is becoming an inevitable part of our romantic, sexual, and personal lives these days, and often in ways we may not even think twice about. People meet potential partners on dating apps, send nudes over social media platforms, watch porn across the internet, use Bluetooth-enabled sex toys, and engage in numerous other online-based sexual activities. Considering all of this, understanding how digital safety practices interact with one’s sex life is actually of great importance!
The conference hosted 160 attendees across a wide range of professions – psychologists, social workers, counselors, hackers, lawyers, philosophers, and many others. Stefani stated that this was just slightly over their projected turnout, as the organizers aimed to “keep [the conference] intentionally small & intimate, to really encourage relationship-building across disciplines.”
Presentations covered a broad spectrum of topics ranging from using the internet for connecting with sexuality-based communities to offering security tips for online professionals. There were sessions that addressed digital security for individuals, as well as helping professionals and their clients, creating an atmosphere of both self-care and care for others. Each presentation felt accessible, understandable, and adaptable to each person’s needs. Rather than merely presenting possible dangers of online engagement, presenters often gave practical solutions and ways to navigate the digital space with more awareness.
The conference featured two keynote speakers at the event, Dr. Nicole Prause and Eva Galperin. Prause, a neuroscientist at Indiana University, presented “Manosphere For Sale,” covering the rising movements of incels, men’s rights activists, and the way businesses are profiting off of the men engaged in these groups. On the second day, Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, spoke on proposed legislation that may hinder digital security and personal safety for vulnerable populations.
Galperin opened her keynote presentation stating “Usually when I give a keynote … I say, ‘I’m here to radicalize you’… I’m not here to radicalize you, this work is already done … you are my people. So instead, we’re going to talk about what’s next.” This sentiment held true throughout the conference; the Securing Sexuality conference genuinely felt like an interdisciplinary convergence of minds, addressing issues related to bodily autonomy, personal safety, anti-surveillance, and the promotion of empathy and understanding in the face of oppressive systems. Everyone there was ready to talk about what’s next.
A GATHERING OF KINK-AWARE PROFESSIONALS
The conference’s overarching ethos encouraged a shift away from fear-based models of sexuality education and cybersecurity risk assessment, promoting an empowered and informed decision-making process instead. In a lot of ways, this approach felt philosophically parallel to Risk-Aware Consensual Kink (RACK). Whether talking about internet-connected sex toys, online dating spaces, digital sex work, or another topic at the intersection of sex and tech, each speaker gave a straightforward presentation of potential risks and implementable safeguards that one could use in their own life. Instead of saying, “Don’t do this,” the message was typically, “Here are some risks to be aware of, and here are some ways to promote safety if you choose to engage with this.”
There is something profoundly special about connecting with a community when feeling like an outlier. This sentiment is common among sexual minorities, kink practitioners, polyamorous individuals, and more. A sense of relief often accompanies the opportunity to join a community of like-minded individuals with shared and relatable experiences. The securing sexuality conference created this for a different niche of outliers, professionals across disciplines who focus on sexuality in their work. It can often feel isolating to specialize in sex, an overly taboo and stigmatized topic. Having the opportunity to connect with others over this shared experience can both affirming and empowering.
This conference exhibited a beautiful example of what happens when people who normally feel on the outside get to come together and share knowledge with each other. There was a baseline of knowledge and camaraderie that people may not often get to experience in their day-to-day work life, or even their day-to-day personal life. Stefani shared that this was an experience felt by many participants, writing that a surprising number of people reached out to tell her and Wolfgang that “Securing Sexuality was a space in which they could just relax and be their most authentic selves, without worrying about judgment, harassment, or stigma,” and that the conference “offered an incredibly unique experience for them in that respect.”
During meals and over drinks in the evenings, the room buzzed with people discussing highlights from the days or sharing about sessions that others might have missed. Whether it was laughter over Midori’s presentation on “pro-social sadism” to combat online trolls or deep philosophical discussions on the ethics of AI and sex, there was always a sense of eagerness and curiosity in the air. Looking around, there were people in shirts touting the decriminalization of sex work sitting next to others wearing slogans about hacking. There was a true blend of interests and professions present, and the intermingling of them all showed the beauty of interdisciplinary practice and how much we can learn from one another.
If you want to learn more about some of the highlights of the event, Stefani and Wolfgang recorded a live podcast episode during the conference where attendees recounted some of their main takeaways and Stefani and Wolfgang told a story about how they almost became victims of cybercrime during the conference.
“We’re incredibly passionate about this project, the importance of this information and the impact sharing it can have,” Stefani wrote to us about the Securing Sexuality conference. She said that they are currently working toward hosting the event again, but that it will depend on partners and sponsors, “We’d encourage anyone who believes in what we’re doing or who would like the chance to do it again to reach out to us.”
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Image provided by Stefani Goerlich
Dr. Justin LehmillerFounder & Owner of Sex and Psychology
Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.Read full bio >