The Durango Telegraph- "Let's Talk about Sex" February 12, 2015

Let’s talk about sex

Powerhouse’s Pub Science lays it all out on the table

by Jennaye Derge

The domain of children by day, the Powerhouse Science Center takes on a decidedly adult tone come most Friday nights. That’s when parents and adults are encouraged to ditch work, the kids and other responsibilities and gather in the name of science.

Always with adult libations, the event known as “Pub Science” is free. Likewise, its participants are free to play, explore, socialize, learn and drink – well, it’s a cash bar – and have fun.

And with Valentine’s Day around the corner and love in the air, the Powerhouse took a twist on the usual theme at its Feb. 6 Pub Science. Instead of a typical sit-down lecture, the Powerhouse held a forum to bring “sexperts,” “sextologists” and “curious students of sex” together in one place to discuss “The Science of Sex.”

Sexy!

Instead of the typical format, where one keynote speaker addresses the group, this event included multiple presenters for guests to meander through and gravitate toward; to bring two parties together to share knowledge, experience and conversation.

“I love this, where people can go wherever interests them and talk to whomever they please, drink a little bit, socialize, and ask questions,” Programs Coordinator Leisha Lawson said.

Lawson brought together at least eight different “sexperts” including a Fort Lewis College psychology professor, educators from Planned Parenthood and the folks over at Fallen Angel. The goal was to not only offer eye-popping displays but engage the brain as well.

Lawson was hoping to give a “purposeful, provocative look” at how our inherent biological drive to procreate manifests in culture, cuisine and even medicine. “I wanted to make this more of an introduction for how science really does apply to every avenue of your life,” she said. “Everything you love and everything you do and everything you know has some sort of scientific base to it.”

So what exactly is the “science of sex?”

Turns out, guests attending Pub Science believe it is less about chemistry, neurons, protons, beakers and goggles, and more about the social aspects.

Ashley Fife, a psychology student at Fort Lewis College, is basing her senior seminar on how people feel about taboo sex practices (masturbation, pornography and fetishes to name a few) and see how that correlates to feelings of disgust. Through a short survey she handed out that evening, she hopes to find a correlation between non-acceptance of sex practices and the feelings of disgust towards them. 

Science!

Social acceptance of sex seemed to be the conversational priority amongst most everyone, and most agreed that having an open forum to discuss sex was pretty cool.

“I’ve seen a lot of my friends here that I didn’t expect to see,” Elise Goplerud, sex student of the night, said.

Fife said she was excited to see such a large turnout. “It’s cool that other people are interested in coming to this,” she said.

Predictably, the Fallen Angel, Durango’s lingerie and novelty shop, was a popular attraction. Although it did include an interesting history of adult “entertainment,” the intent was also more altruistic. According to Fallen Angel representative Erika Kinder, the goal was to “liberate” people from societal constraints. “People still have that old-fashioned shame about sex, and I think it’s ridiculous,” she said. “(Sex) is all over our advertising, it’s all over everything, yet it’s something you’re not supposed to talk about and not supposed to show. And that’s kind of a contradiction. So we want to get the word out that, ‘You know what? Sex is ok!’”

In addition to hopes of opening dialogue about sex, others stressed the point of just making the time for safe and responsible sex in our day-to-day lives.

“I spent 45 minutes today fighting with the printer,” FLC Professor of Psychology Betty Door said. “I think about the time I’ve spent thinking about my sexual relationship this week, not even probably 45 minutes ... because we take it for granted that it will all be taken care of without a lot of effort.”

Door reminded people to slow down and not take their sex life for granted. “I think if people take the time to be mindful about their relationship, there are more long term benefits,” she said.

But maybe there’s time for a quickie.

“Wall or table?” Devin Wilkinson read off a truth or dare card being passed around a group. “A high table, or a low table?” Wilkinson inquired further to the group for clarity.

Debate was sparked.

Planned Parenthood brought plenty to the table with many hot topics – all puns intended.

Interactive participation was key to its teaching, with diagrams of reproductive organs as well as anatomically correct models for practice putting on and taking off condoms.

“Never use your teeth to open a condom, because you could puncture the condom, and it might just be your last one,” Education Program Specialist Rachael Carlevale advised. 

But beyond the basics, Planned Parenthood served both food and facts for thought, with its key ingredient being open dialogue.

Often, the group presents statistics to get the lines of communication open between parents and teens. “(Communication) actually promotes teens to make healthier choices for themselves in their lives,” she said. “We have such a black and white social dichotomy of, ‘Oh we’re not going to talk about sex’ to ‘Oh, we’re going to be so inappropriate.’” However, because of that dichotomy, the United States tends to have higher teen pregnancy rates and higher std rates than most European countries, according to fellow Planned Parenthood educator Melissa DeNardo.

And speaking of dichotomies, Japan has a very interesting one. Because of traditional taboos surrounding women’s birth control, the country strictly hands out condoms. As a result, the country has among the lowest std rates in the world.

Science!

While not all future Pub Sciences will be this steamy, Lawson assures us they will be at least as entertaining.

“What we’re doing at the Powerhouse is trying to open up a place for people to come and learn about things that they’re interested in, including sexuality,” she said.

She also said the session was meant as an introduction to the new Pub Science format.

“It’s not so much lecture based as interactive, demonstrative, visual and social,” she said, adding,  “I’m really, really happy with the turn out.” 

As for next month’s Pub Science, Lawson says it will be the science of snow. “It’s not quite as sexy, but it will get you just as wet.”