Sweet tea, Southern drawls, and… kinky sex???
Well, if Marla Stewart and Tia Marie, the founders of the of 3-day sex conference “Sex Down South” have their way, open dialogues about Black sex & sexuality would be very much a part of the Southern tradition. EBONY sat down with the ladies to learn all about the conference and their goals to make sex in the south far less taboo.
EBONY: How on earth did you come up with “Sex Down South?!” What was your inspiration?
Marla Stewart: I think our inspiration definitely comes from our own sex and sexuality interests. I’m a sexuality educator. We worked together because Tia had recruited me for a talk at a magazine event. So I spoke there and we just sort of clicked. We had a good time and wanted to do another event together. I wanted to do something big, maybe a one-day event or something and then I thought, “What about a conference?” And we just kind of agreed that it would be cool. We talked through it and Tia came up with the name, “Sex Down South,” and I thought, “Oh my gosh, that’s perfect!”
EBONY: One of your goals is to create a safe space for people of color regarding sexuality. Is such a space missing from Black Southern Culture?
Tia Marie: Oh absolutely! Some of the people who will come to the conference have probably grown up in the south. I’m originally from Houston and I’ve lived in Atlanta for 16 years. There was definitely a void in the collective space where people could freely explore sexuality. We have a lot of stuff in Atlanta. You have your swinging community, your BDSMs (Bondage and Discipline, Domination and Submission, Sadism and Masochism); they meet but they’re very clandestine, very quiet.
Marla Stewart: I think because of all of the work that I do here in the South, I see a lot of repression and trauma among Black people, and seeing that really saddens me. I feel like part of our responsibility of being here—I’m originally from California—is to take on the task of helping people become educated, empowered (and move away) from the repression and religious trauma they’ve been dealing with their whole lives. With our first conference, we focused on sexuality and spirituality. I thought that was a great first conference to show people that we recognize that there’s this thing in the South that everybody’s afraid of and we’re taking the bull by the horns and let’s talk about it, let’s be about it and educate folks about it.
EBONY: At this year’s conference, you plan to explore politics and sexuality. How are you going to connect those two ideas?
Marla Stewart: Yes, our theme is “Politics and Pleasure.” It’s really thinking about how laws and policies affect us. We’re thinking about our different political platforms, who we have representing us here in Georgia and how these different policies affect what we can do with our sexual lives.
Tia Marie: Certain laws or political views around issues like abortion would lead (society) to believe that the people who have made those particular choices or live those lifestyles are shameful. We want to separate your personal politics from the government and remove the shame that may surround those issues. We’ll also discuss how to share your personal politics with your partner or people you may be engaging with confidently. Because what’s OK for us may not be OK for other people, so we should be able to discuss and negotiate (our desires) prior to getting into intimate spaces and build our confidence around those issues.
EBONY: One of the conference’s focuses is to make sure “the voices, feelings and experiences of people of color should be priorities.” How do you think society at large marginalizes the sexual experiences of Black people? How will this conference change that?
Marla Stewart: I think society marginalizes us through media. We have the same sort of racial/gender stereotypes in the media that keep getting repeated over and over again and so therefore we get locked in these boxes of Black women being hyper-sexualized. We don’t make room for Black women who are not as sexual. Maybe they’re asexual or they have disabilities or they could live alternative sexual lifestyles, you know? Maybe they’re polyamorous or kinky and we don’t have enough of those women who are represented in the media. I think that’s how we get marginalized. When it comes into the forefront people are like, “Wait a minute, I didn’t even know these sort of people exist.” So I think a large part of the conference is to show that hey, we exist. We’re here and not only are we people of color, but we are engaged in all sorts of different lifestyles and sexualities. And I think it’s really important to be visible in society at large.
EBONY: Tell us more about the conference. What can attendees expect to experience?
Tia Marie: Attendees should expect to experience the numerous workshops we have; we have over 60. They should expect to experience vendors of all kinds, not just sexuality vendors, but book vendors, food vendors, and we’ll even have a tattoo artist which I’m super excited about! There will also be music, entertainment, and poets, singing and dancing.
Marla Stewart: There are workshops around sexual healing, being kinky and poly and how the law affects you. There’s stuff around white people serving as allies for people of color and alternative sexual communities. There’s stuff around building up intimacy, empowerment, how to navigate open relationships, how to be a sex positive parent. There’s also stuff around consent and the pornography industry for people of color. There will be things around sex workers and kissing also.
EBONY: Lastly, I see that you’ll be offering attendees a “healing room.” What do you think we need to heal from sexually?
Tia Marie: The thing about coming to a conference that deals with sexuality is even if we’re conducting a simple workshop on something like polyamory, it can trigger something in you. It may trigger feelings of joy, but it can also trigger counter emotions of trauma. There could be a number of different things like rejection or dealing with sexual trauma from childhood; it depends. I believe in muscle memory, or pain that you may experience in your body. So whatever a person may be dealing with may come up in the workshop, and we want to offer additional support. We don’t want to leave our participants in a state of shock or trauma. We want to provide additional support, so they can begin the healing process. We have a counselor on call, we have aromatherapy, there will be message therapy, and there will be a lot of healing modalities available.
The Sex Down South Conference will be held from Thursday, October 13 through Saturday October 15 at the Hilton in Atlanta, GA. For more information visit, www.sexdownsouth.com.
Keep up with Sylvia Snowden at www.trulysylvia.com.