Six Days of Grinding

Running a sex-positive camp is no picnic

I just got back from sex camp and I am worn out. "Sex camp" is the nickname of an annual six-day retreat I co-produce that brings together people interested in gender, sexuality, BDSM, relationships, and spirituality. Running the camp is not as fun or as sexy as it sounds. Sure, I was surrounded by fun and sex, but I didn't get to have any of it.

I had 37 presenters, 78 classes, and 17 events to keep track of. Every morning, while participants woke up with hard-ons, I'd rise with thoughts like: "Where the fuck did I pack the dental dams for the safe-sex supply stations? What size gloves does Felice need for her vaginal-fisting class? Will the barn be warm enough for the people in the Fucking Machines Show tonight? God knows it would suck to be cold while getting rammed with a Sawz-All dildo." There's a lot to do at sex camp! That sling you fucked your brains out in? Someone assembled it and made sure it was sturdy enough to withstand the ride you gave it. When you strolled into the orgy room, you saw fresh sheets and clean floors. That's because someone did the laundry, someone else made the beds, and I personally picked up used condoms from off the floor so you wouldn't have to step on them.

Let me tell you a secret about people at sex camp: They are vibrant, alive, immersed in the unique experience, and have very high expectations. Not all of them, but enough to keep us staffers busy. Sometimes, they have needs that are petty ("I don't like my cabin, why can't I be closer to the dungeon?") and minor ("The food for vegetarians sucks!"). Other times, their needs are serious or complicated. It is an intense, emotionally-charged event for many people, and the environment is a double-edged sword: It can be thrilling and life-changing for some and overwhelming and button-pushing for others (or, in some cases, both for the same person). There are complaints and crises, a lot of them come my way, and some of them stress me out.

Don't get me wrong, there are always highlights. This year, we had the largest number of queer and genderqueer attendees ever. There are few places on earth with such a broad spectrum of gender expression and confusion (which has its pluses and minuses). I watched as Susan B. and Barbara Carrellas set people's entire naked bodies on fire before tossing them into the pool. One presenter who sat next to me in the audience that cool, dark night decided on the spot to try it, and off she went to be coated in rubbing alcohol—surrounded by flames, she then plunged into cold water.

We're always creating specially themed sex spaces, and this year a new one had its debut: The Peep Show Room. Campers danced and stripped and fucked in curtained booths behind Plexiglas windows suspended from the ceiling. Onlookers slipped fake paper cash through the curtains. We built it, they came.

But there are lowlights, too. While we design unique mixers, parties, and rituals, we also encourage folks to create the spaces they want and need. It requires respect, tolerance, and compassion; you've got to be prepared to see stuff that doesn't float your boat but support others for embracing their particular kink. The downside of this policy glared at me this year when I was confronted with a tasteless, sexist event, one I think should have no place within a sex-positive community. When you give people the freedom to do whatever they want, sometimes they do things you don't want them to.

Creating a sex-positive space and community is one of the most challenging things I have ever tried to accomplish. There is the minutia of an open-admission policy (How does one filter out the creepy guys from the mix?) and balancing the population (Why is it so hard to recruit gay guys to come?). More significant are the meta questions the process raises. Could such a diverse group of people agree on basic, fundamental tenets, and more importantly, honor and practice them? Is there a way for one place to both welcome newcomers and challenge veterans? What can leatherfolk, swingers, and Pagans learn from one another? Can a mixed-gender, mixed-orientation space be truly safe and positive for everyone?

This was the camp's fifth year, and every year, it gets a little bigger. The mix of people evolves, the classes change, the vibe shifts. But one thing seems to happen no matter what: Dozens of people approach me with worry and concern over my enjoyment. They ask questions like:

"Do you ever stop working?" (Yes, when I go to sleep.)

"When will you be able to have some fun?" (Next week.)

"Will you and Colten get a chance to play some time this weekend?" (Probably not.)

When people see me at camp, I probably seem busy, distracted, or on a mission. It's meant to be a vacation for them, so maybe my stress level makes them uncomfortable. Camp is physically and emotionally exhausting for me. But I know that going into it, and it's OK. I can multi-task and fix problems, but there's one thing people want that I can't give them: They want me to tell them that camp is fun for me. When I don't, they seem disappointed. On top of that, I feel a certain amount of pressure to be Tristan Taormino, writer, sex expert, pornographer extraordinaire. I cannot be a competent producer, facilitate other people's transformational experiences, be a flirty sex goddess, and fulfill my own fantasies simultaneously. So at camp, I'm content to settle for the first two.

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