Scene from a Sex Conference

The Second Annual NOW Sexuality Conference

 October 1, 1974

SCENE ONE: Saturday morning. The Women's Speak-Out. Thirteen women take the stage, one by one, in a darkened auditorium, and discuss their sexuality. They range from a Viv, a slim, dark-haired woman in her 30s, who describes herself as a heterosexual monogamist ("I am a token, here to let you know we still exist."), to Pauline, an earthy, forceful woman who says she has tried everything, including sadomasochism (her description of taking a bullwhip to a man in his suite at the Plaza brings cheers from the audience) and urolania. An urolaniac, according to Pauline, is someone who likes to be pissed on, preferably about the face and in the mouth. She says she met one last year and obliged him. Later, out of curiosity, she took a swig from her urine sample the next time she was at her doctor's. ("It tasted like Gatorade, but then I know a lot of people who say that Gatorade tastes just like piss.") Urolaniacs call being pissed on "golden showers," for which they should get Euphemism of the Year Prize.

The audience at the Speak-Out, several hundred women, is extremely enthusiastic. They cheer Viv, for example, but they also cheer Pauline and everyone else in between. Everyone else in between covers a wide range. There is Robin, who has an open marriage, has taken Betty Dodson's Advanced Workshop in masturbation, is currently working on a series of photographs of erections for Viva, and has recently participated in an orgy, which, she said, didn't turn her on bit was "an interesting experience." And Margaret, black, lesbian, and amused, who remarks that "everyone thinks lesbians know what they're doing" and adds that they don't always, pointing out that she didn't learn to masturbate successful until eight months ago. And Madeleine, who tells a scarifying tale of incest with her father, whose insistent fondling frightened and pleased her as a child, who tried to fuck her when she was nine years old and who finally left the house when she was 12. The audience applauds at this point. "Well, you can applaud," says Margaret in a strained voice, "but in some mixed-up way, I felt a great sense of loss." And for one moment the audience is still, confronted with the unanswerable complexity of sex.

As the Women's Speak-Out goes on, men gather at the entrance to the auditorium. Two men, then three, then 10, cluster in the hall like curious, solemn locusts. Some angry women chase them away. "Go to your own speak-out," one woman says to a middle-aged long-haired man who keeps coming into the hall. "This is for women only." "I'm for women only," he says, irritably, and finally leaves.

Just as well. He misses the conclusion of the Speak-Out, which features Andrea Dworkin, the author of a new book called "Woman Hating." Dworkin begins her talk with dictionary definitions of quality, freedom, and justice. she argues that for women to achieve quality with men is this society "is to become the richer instead of the poor, the raper instead of the rapee, the murderer instead of the murdered." She then says men must give up "the phallocentric" mentality," must give up erections, in fact, learn to "make love as women do" and abandon everything they think of as distinctly male. And the audience, which has cheered heterosexual monogamy, lesbianism, celibacy, controlled open marriage, uncontrolled open marriage, group sex, group masturbation, individual masturbation with or without mechanical aids, and autourolania, now cheers Dworkin's call for what sounds to this boggled mind, at least, like a severe case of self-imposed blue balls on the part of the male populace. My only conclusion is that large groups pf people who are being talked to about sex tend to cheer a lot.

SCENE TWO. Saturday afternoon. A women's workshop entitled "Intimacy, Friendship, and Sexuality," which includes the following trialogue:

First woman: A woman wanted to sleep with me. I didn't want to.

Second woman: Are you sure you weren't sending her double messages?

First woman: I wasn't attracted to her.

Third woman: How do you know? Maybe you were.

First woman: I wasn't.

Second woman: Well, what do you want?

First woman: A friend.

SCENE THREE. A women's workshop entitled "The Double Standard and Romantic Love," in which the following remark is made: "I feel more alive when I'm in love."

SCENE FOUR. A women's workshop entitled "Rape and Child Molestation." All but two of the 30 women in the room have been raped, or molested as children, or both. The other two are mothers concerned about their children. We exchange horror stories, while a men's workshop goes on boisterously in a room above our heads. This creates some weird effects, as when one young woman is describing a gang rape in Mexico, and her story is punctuated by loud bursts of male laughter.

"I went to this house where there was supposed to be a party; these men locked me in a room" . . . HA HA HA! "They individually came in and raped me" . . . HOOO!

I tell my story, startled to discover that, after years of women's-group intimacy, I feel self-conscious because, I realize, it is a story I have told almost no one. Five years old. My grandmother's kitchen. Alone with the family friend who babysat for me that night. A sweet, quiet man, who usually took me to the park. Not that day. That day, the red face, the stertorous breath, the hands lifting me up. Hands suddenly huge and strong and inexorable as I chattered like a parakeet. "Please don't. This isn't any fun, please. Put me down, please, down, please . . . And then screamed, so loud it didn't seem to come from me. It seemed the walls of my grandmother's kitchen screamed, filling the room. He dropped me, and I ran out into the front yard, where I waited in the cold all afternoon until my grandmother came home. I didn't tell her, told no one, in fact, until I was 15 and told my mother, who went quite pale with shock.

Next Page »