Science, Gender, Sexuality. The „Uncensored“ Conference

Report

On May 18–19, 2019 in Moscow took place the second research-to-practice conference about sexuality and intimacy for specialists, such as psychologists, doctors, sociologists, activists, entrepreneurship and journalists, supported by the Heinrich Boll Foundation. The conference was organised by psychologists Marina Travkova and Polina Soldatova and attracted so much attention at once that the hosts had even to look for a new audience to place all the guests in. All in all, 350 people came.

The highly topical two-day programme drew a full house and included all you can imagine relevant (but also unexpected) about sexuality and gender: from the role of pets in a family to the sexuality after 60 and kinky culture; all that with a professional, scientific and evidence-based approach.

“Our mission is to build an environment where we could talk about sex and sexuality as a normal and crucial part of life. Where the facts are of importance, and not fears or stereotypes; evidence and not speculations", the conference hosts say

Going by the interest aroused and the atmosphere at the event, it looks like the goal has been achieved. The talks came meaningful, and the environment was open-minded and friendly. The taboos have finally stopped to be taboos.

The first day started with a round-table discussion called “Architecture of Sexuality” held with the participation of sociologists, doctors and psychologists. The interdisciplinarity was quite appropriate: the discussion came vivid yet a compromise could be achieved. It turned out that men and women are not so different in their deep endeavours or fears. You should only let the imposed and the stereotypes go.

After the round-table discussion, there was a lecture by Emily Nagoski, the invited US expert on sexual health and education, a PhD and author of the bestseller “Come as You Are”, who analysed female sexuality and satisfaction. At the parallel sessions the audience divided according to their interests. It was talked about feminist optic in psychotherapy, queer and ethical polygamous relationships, how to stay partners after a gender transitioning despite all the changes, whether biology is as objective as we are used to think, and whether feminism is only useful for women.

Especially meaningful was the roundtable “Sex Work vs Women Prostitution?”, not least because of invited guests’ various perspectives. Researchers of different background and practical activists giving direct assistance to women involved into prostitution discussed why and how women get into the business and under what conditions they are placed in Russia and abroad. Psychotherapists told what serious consequences prostitution often has for one’s psychic health and discussed the extremely widespread problem of violence. It was also talked about various models regulating prostitution that exist in different countries. In particular, it was the Sweden model of criminalizing the customer and not the sex-worker that came under criticism for leaving out of account the economic reasons of prostitution and not offering women or men an alternative way to survive.  

Further information can be found in the article “60+: What is Going on With Sexuality in Older Age”, published on the web-portal Snob following the conference. 

Анна Шадрина, докторантка университета Лондона (Великобритания), социолог и журналистка

The topic of the next discussion was sexuality of people with disabilities which seems even more suppressed today than prostitution. What sexual needs do people with disabilities have? How should we organize their sexual education? Who should be responsible for that and what does the law say? What should be done not to cross one’s own and other people’s personal boundaries and stay ethical? And the most important, how should we bring these questions into the public discourse? You can find all the answers provided by experts working with people with disabilities and their families in the conference recording.  

Further discussions, lectures and workshops were held in a more chamberlike setting where such topics as surrogate maternity and reproductive donating (by the Higher School of Economics professor Olga Isupova), sex toys (by the blogger Tatiana Nokonova) and especially first-aid to victims of sexual abuse (by the crisis psychologist Svetlana Yablokova) were brought up.

A significant interest was aroused by the lecture “That What Must Not be Named” of Irina Kosterina, a programme coordinator at the Heinrich Boll Foundation, which consisted in the discussion of a report about sex in the North Caucasus based on fieldwork research. The topic seems forbidden, yet the research has shown a growing demand on sexual emancipation and education among both men and women.

A significant part of the conference was about analysing the development of long-term partnerships. “It was good at the beginning, got worse after”: practicing psychologists and psychotherapists told how to save one’s sexual life “after 10 years and 2 kids together”, how to build up a healthy affection and what tricks do capitalism and pop psychology play with us these days.

Both days ended with evening film shows. Thus, on May 18, a first public screening of the director’s cut of “Ten a Penny” (“Vidimo-nevidimo”) film about gender-based violence took place, with some scenes never shown before. The director of the film Kseniia Chrabrykh introduced a broad variety of the interactive forms of art and some successful projects at the confluence of new media and social activism, from virtual and augmented reality to interactive movies and computer games. A report about the film can be found on the web-portal “Takiye dela” (in  Russian).

You can find more information about the conference events and speakers on the hosts’ website. You can also get recordings of all parts of the conference with the hosts. We hope it to be continued next year! 

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