From the President
"How do we center creation and desire as integral to liberation? That is a question we’re going to have to keep asking ourselves . . . this world begs . . .[us to] move out of scarcity, move out of fear, move out of crisis, . . [that we be] powerful, fully living beings.”
Adrienne Marée Brown. Pleasure Activism
Adrienne Marée Brown’s new book, Pleasure Activism, urges centering creation and desire in lives and work. Pleasure activism, according to Brown, is “living not just to the point of survival, but to the point of pleasure.” Brown further affirms, “I am certain that pleasure is the missing piece in our movement(s) for a new world,” (The return of the pleasure activist).
In the nine months I have served as AASECT’s President, I have become increasingly aware of the degree to which AASECT members generate and demand pleasure, fullness, and connection in their work. So many bring extraordinary grace, warmth, and affirmation into relationships and excitement and creativity into collaborations. Despite the waning of civility in today’s public sphere, people who call AASECT their professional home regularly express pleasure in practicing collegiality generously with each other and enthusiastically support new people entering the field. While conflicts, of course, occur, our expectation is to enjoy treating and being treated by each other warmly and well. Many explicitly express gratitude for working with sex-positive colleagues who imbue work with meaning, care, safety, and belonging. Their pleasure helps fuel both individual and group growth and success.
GROWING GAINS AND PAINS
In the past 9 months, AASECT has gained 503 new members, 116 new certifications, and 16 new training providers of AASECT CEs. Membership has grown 132% over the past 15 years, from 1291 in 2002 (Contemporary Sexuality, June 2004) to almost 3,000 today.
Despite the press of numbers, Sally Valentine, LCSW, PhD, CST, CSTS and members of the Certification Committee take enormous care to help applicants through the certification process. One fatality of AASECT’s growth has been retiring the category of certification by special circumstances, a favored but time-intensive arrangement the organization can no longer afford. Today, as AASECT enters a period of expansion of both membership and diversity, the organization needs to move to more easily administered and less costly certification application review arrangements. Special circumstances was thought to support increasing applications from people of color and people living with disabilities. That turned out to be not the case. Rather, its extra cost meant that it acted to divert funds away from direct support of members challenged by expenses of certification. We need economies of scale not higher costs of individualized methods if we are to increase the number of certification applications we review.
AASECT's certification process needs to enter the digital world. We have stretched demands on volunteers who review certification applications beyond what is fair to ask of them. We are actively searching for affordable software that can simplify completion and review of certification and supervision applications quickly, uniformly, and effectively.
These are growing pains of a flourishing organization.
MAKING CONFERENCE NEWS
Certainly, AASECT’s Annual Conference communicates the organization is flourishing. For the second year in a row, the conference sold out this year before expiration of its early bird period of registration. Over 750 are coming to “Let the Body Rejoice: the Interplay of Sexuality Education, Counseling and Therapy,” to be held June 13-16, in Philadelphia.
Thoughtfully chaired by Juan Camarena, LMFT, CST, and Jane Fleischman, PhD, MEd, MS, CSE, the Conference Planning Committee has completed all but a few details needed to make “Let the Body Rejoice” a reality and “Interplay” more than a rhetorical flourish in our conference’s title. The interplay of our values and actions will be an important topic of discussion as we focus on how our three disciplines, education, counseling, and therapy, interplay synergistically to enrich the sexuality field, as well as consider how well we are integrating early career professionals into a fifty-year old institution.
At the end of a recent Conference Committee Planning Meeting, I heard Jane Fleishman express a relevant hope: “Let’s think how we can make this conference the most welcoming ever.” Dinner meetups, special attention for nursing mothers, consent enhancement messages, providing comfortable spaces for workshops, and meetings to discuss currently challenging issues.
Juan and Jane are planning an innovation this year, which will be repeated going forward. They will report at this year’s conference Business Meeting results of a Cultural Climate Survey distributed with the 2018 Conference Evaluation. This Survey aims to take feedback on attendees’ conference experiences and to use that information to improve subsequent conference planning and attendee satisfaction. The survey asks about safety, courtesy, consent, civility, friendliness, and respect shown for each other and each other’s different needs and expectations. Plans are being developed to make the Cultural Climate Survey a regular feature of conference evaluation and to share results yearly in various ways with membership, as well as discuss them at our Annual Business Meeting.
AASECT’s conference, which falls under the responsibility of AASECT Board’s Professional Education Steering Committee, aims to bring not only AASECT's three disciplines together in dialogue during this conference, but also themes whose interconnections can provoke curiosity, spark engagement, and foster community.
Useful precons, relevant plenaries, needed meetings, cutting-edge workshops promise a gathering of, in some ways, like-minded, and, in other ways, excitingly diverse sexuality professionals wanting to learn what’s new in the field, what’s new within AASECT, and what’s new with each other. Don’t forget that Regional meetings, SIG meetings, and AASECT’s Business Meeting invite you to weigh in on current issues.
AASECT ANNOUNCES NOVEMBER 1-3 INSTITUTE, “The Body Whisperers: Understanding Body Work in the Sexuality Realm.”
The Professional Education Steering Committee also creates AASECT’s Institutes. Our next one, entitled “The Body Whisperers: Understanding Body Work in the Sexuality Realm,” will take place in a new, exciting venue—New Orleans’ French Quarter, November 1-3. Designing and directing “The Body Whisperers” is Roz Dischiavo, EdD, MA, CSE, CST, CSES.
Roz points out that although AASECT Certified members do not practice hands-on touch in their work, many others do, and it is important for us to know about them. The weekend will feature Brian Gibney, a professional Surrogate Partner; Caffyn Jesse, a Certified Somatic Sex Educator; Mehdi Darvish Yahya, a Certified Sexological Bodyworker/Somatic Sex Educator; Joanne Porzio, a Sacred Intimate and President of The Body Sacred, a sacred sexuality retreat community; and Rich Walkden, a Facilitator for the Human Awareness Institute, a sexuality and intimacy retreat organization. Presenters will be offering detailed information about their work, demonstrations of certain aspects of their work, the ways in which their clients and participants benefit, and the ethical codes by which they live.
For those who can travel a bit early, New Orleans is a great place to be on Halloween, and on the Day of the Dead! The Institute can only accommodate 60 people, so watch your emails for details, and please register early! It is almost sure to sell out.
BUILDING ON GROWTH IN SEXUALITY FIELD
Our sell-out conferences and Institutes are part of growth in our organization and in the sexuality field as a whole. The graph below from a study of the US sexual wellness market shows accelerating growth from $2.41 billion today to $8.8 billion in 2025 and a 12.9% growth in the sexual wellness industry over the next five years (Grand View Research Inc.).
This exceeds US economic growth predictions, which are estimated at around 10% for the next 5 years.
Closer inspection of the sexual wellness segment and US demographics reveals other positive signs. Significantly, demand for sex toys is growing much faster than demand for condoms and lubricants. This prediction suggests stigma against sex positivity may be abating and appreciation for benefits of sexual pleasure growing-- a favorable outlook for an organization based on a vision of sexual health and committed to pleasure-focused sex therapy, counseling and sexuality education.
BUILDING ON STRENGTHS OF GROWING DIVERSITY
Finally, predictions of significant change in national demographics may foreshadow greater diversity, equity, and inclusion at AASECT. As minoritized populations increase in size in a society or organization, their social and political power typically increase. Shifts in demographics are harbingers of shifts in social justice and organizational equity.
These promising indicators call us to ramp up our game and get ready for positive transformations ahead.
While growth brings opportunities, it also brings challenges. AASECT can benefit from huge bonuses in individual and organizational productivity, creativity, and satisfaction that a larger and more diverse membership can deliver (Scott Page, Earl Lewis, Nancy Cantor, Katherine Phillips. 2017. The Diversity Bonus). To do so, our organization needs to adapt in two ways: managing growth and centering diversity. One, we need to create a strategic plan and update policies and procedures to reflect priorities for building stability on emerging strengths. Two, we need to increase transparency in governance and improve members’ accessibility to full participation in the organization, including certification and leadership.
A Strategic Planning Task Force, formed in 2018, is currently translating into goals, objectives, and action steps priorities for diversity, equity, and inclusion and greater financial stability, which Board members set as priorities in an all-day planning session last June. The Task Force, chaired by Eli Green, PhD., CSE, Chair, Communications Committee, will then gather members’ feedback and integrate their priorities into the plan. The Task Force includes Tameca Harris-Jackson, LCSW, PhD, CST, Chair, Outreach Committee; Melissa Novak, LCSW, CST, Secretary; Chris Fariello, PhD, CST, CSTS, President-elect, and myself.
Currently the Bylaws Committee, chaired by Neil Cannon, LMFT, PhD, CST, CSTS, is reviewing and updating Policies and Procedures looking through the twin lenses of financial stability and diversity, inclusion and equity. An organization’s governance, expressed in bylaws and supported by Board approved policies and procedures, is the organization’s structure of consent. It sets out agreed upon guidelines for how we will work together. Updating and fleshing out these guidelines aims to help members in leadership and other volunteer positions understand responsibilities and relationships better and to enable newer members see paths to leadership and greater engagement more clearly. AASECT’s Board recognizes that increasing the consistency and accessibility of its documents will enhance member involvement and leadership opportunities.
LET’S TALK (MORE) ABOUT SEX, BABY.
We can’t help but grumble when we are left to wonder what’s going on at AASECT and what kinds of changes might be around the corner. To improve communication across the organization, AASECT staff is currently searching for affordable website solutions and Board communication software. AASECT's BOD wants to emphasize accountability, transparency, solidarity, advocacy, resource-sharing, and work on creating a stronger culture of consent. We are actively working on this.
Promoting Member Engagement
This year’s election slate was posted at the end of April. Thank you to AASECT’s Nomination Committee, chaired by Debby Herbenick, PhD, MPH, CSE. Elections can stimulate membership engagement and contribute to greater organizational vibrancy. Political scientists agree that even conflict and disagreement are good for organizational cultures, as apathy undermines democratic processes, growth and continuing development. Please vote….and think about running for a leadership position yourself!
AWARDING EQUITY SCHOLARSHIPS
To help certification be more affordable, AASECT’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, Chaired by Jane Brito, awarded eight SAR scholarships out of AASECT’s BOD-created Equity Fund this spring. These scholarships support two AASECT Board priorities.
1. As an educational health care organization, AASECT shares a commonly accepted perspective that people seeking services from sexual health practitioners should be able to choose professionals from their own cultural groups. The DEI Committee and AASECT’s Board are committed to making this standard attainable. Because the field of sexual health is in need of more practitioners of color if many are to exercise this right, AASECT’s Board is prioritizing certifications of candidates most likely to help reduce greatest practitioner gaps.
2. Moderating financial constraints to certification also facilitates full participation in AASECT’s organizational life, including leadership. Without scholarships and reduced charges, affordability of certification and so of leadership in AASECT can be a longshot for too many. Leadership that requires certification is an expensive process, and AASECT’s DEI Committee and Board are committed to addressing greatest needs in this area.
Currently, advocacy happens when members perceive AASECT needs to take a stand and start a process aiming at BOD approved position statements. This ground up process dates back to 2004 and adoption of AASECT’s Vision of Sexual Health during Jean Kohler’s Presidency. The process is designed to involve ground up, maximum feasible participation of members.
Meanwhile our Advocacy Committee, part of the Public Relations, Media and Advocacy Steering Committee, Chaired by Margie Nichols, PhD, CST, formed various position statement committees to draft three position statements. A position statement on FOSTA-SESTA has been adopted by the Board. Still being drafted and revised are position statements addressing sexuality education in the US, and addressing sexual harassment, abuse, assault, and #me too.
Four AASECT members have accepted an invitation to present a panel at the 2019 WAS Conference in Mexico City in October and to pay their own expenses. Panelists Doug Braun-Harvey, LMFT, CST, CSTS; Chris Fariello, LMFT, CST, PhD; Lucie Fielding, MA, and myself will trace the growth of advocacy at AASECT and describe specific highlights in this history. The panel is entitled “AASECT: Sexual science and advocacy in the United States.”
REACH OUT. REACH IN.
To add to AASECT opportunities and your own pleasure, please volunteer!
We have an election taking place:
EXERCISE YOUR RIGHT TO SELECT LEADERSHIP: PLEASE ENJOY THE PLEASURE OF VOTING NOW AND CONSIDER RUNNING FOR ELECTION IN THE FUTURE!
Do you have ideas, questions, or offers to volunteer? I like to hear from you. Please email staff and/or leadership at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking forward to seeing many of you in June!
Associate Professor of Practice
The Brown School
Washington University in St. Louis