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Sex Down South hits ATL

Two women are changing up the conversation on sexuality with a new conference

Perhaps all of us can remember our sorely lacking sex education in a Southern classroom: How the gym coach/de facto sex educator recited the line, straight from the Georgia code, "Abstinence is the only sure way," before popping Too Young To Be a Dad into the VCR and settling back to plan the next day's lesson on personal hygiene. Anyone who was taught sex education in a Southern classroom should be angry, but no one should be angrier than those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, polyamorous, queer, genderqueer, female, or trans, because it's likely fundamental elements of their identity and sexual health were overlooked.

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Well, Marla Renee Stewart, aka "the Sex Architect," and Tia Marie "the Vixen Voyager" Mosley are, by all appearances, not getting angry. In fact, they're doing the opposite. With a crew of dynamic, devoted people, these two women are issuing an open invitation to join them for a three-day sex education adventure at a conference they're calling Sex Down South.

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Like any other conference, Sex Down South has workshops, presenters, and experts in the field. Unlike any other conference, Sex Down South's workshops have titles such as "Become a Sexual Communication Ninja" and "Masturbation Will Save the World." The presenters are genuine "sex celebs" and the local experts will be delivering SEXxATL Talks (you know, like TED Talks, but sexy!). There will even be education stations where participants can learn and practice sexy skills, and we're not just talking about "put-the-condom-on-the-banana." Stewart and Mosley, the cheerful, dynamic duo behind this conference, are pretty sure that what they're doing is something that hasn't been done before; maybe ever.

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"This is definitely the first of its kind," says Stewart, a professional sexologist, sex and intimacy coach, and sexuality educator. "Not only in the South, but in the world." Stewart's studied human sexuality for over 14 years, and now runs her own sexuality education company called Velvet Lips. "This is some real shit," Mosley, a media strategist by day, and by night, a self-described "creature ... at the cross-sections of eroticism, sensuality, and social limits," says in agreement.

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She and Stewart are certain that Sex Down South stands alone. As the marketing mind of the pair, Mosley knows what it sounds like to most people when they hear the words, "the first of its kind," tossed around, but, she contends, "When we say it, we mean it. This is the only conference of its kind that we know of in existence."

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That bold claim doesn't seem to be far from the truth. Whereas their conference has elements of things we recognize — the rigor and insights of academic conferences on sex and sexuality attended by researchers in women's and LGBTQ studies, as well as the playful, teach-me practices of sex workshops put on by organizations like Stewart's own Velvet Lips — Sex Down South is, in the end, a mish-mash of both. It also joins a growing number of other organizations and fests (Ladyfest, Atlanta Poly Weekend, and Atlanta Pride come to mind) in the South and in Atlanta in particular that seek to address the needs of a diverse community finding its voice.

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"There's so many alternative sexual communities in the South," says Stewart, who hails from Sacramento, Calif. "It's fascinating to me that we have this dynamic of explosive social communities that are expressing their sexualities in so many different ways and yet the repression cloud hangs over everything."

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That repression cloud, even if it doesn't loom so heavily over Atlanta as it may over other regions, is the reason Sex Down South exists. According to a 2015 study by the Guttmacher Institute, sex education in the South is sorely lacking, especially when it comes to addressing the needs of alternative sexual identities. The list of "not requirements" on Georgia's own sex ed laws are extensive. For instance, schools are not required to provide information on contraception, the actual medical accuracy of their claims, or on alternative sexualities and lifestyles. And, of course, when even the barest minimum of information on sexual health is not provided, you can bet that desire is left totally out of the equation. Stewart and Mosley are tenderly, pointedly attempting to repair the damage.

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"This conference is a gateway to enhance your knowledge of your sexuality and to get rid of that repression, that stigma or shame that comes with it," Stewart says. "It's a way to jack up your relationship, to explore other possibilities in sex and sexuality, and to learn something new about your body and the way that it works."

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For Stewart and Mosley, that means creating an environment where education and desire can co-exist with one another. To that end, the tone of Sex Down South is alternately playful and serious. Whereas the "Dirty Talk for the Shy" workshop advertises that it will help you, "flirt your way into a memorable predicament at this year's event," there are many serious panels that attempt to address the intersections between sexuality and oppression —s ome of them centering exclusively on the experiences of queer people, non-monogamous people, and people of color.

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The key to all of this, according to Stewart and Mosley, is fostering acceptance.

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"If you don't accept yourself or you're carrying around shame, you need to be around people who are accepting of themselves," Mosley says. "To be around someone who likes what you like, or likes something you've never heard of, and they accept themselves — I think that will catch fire."

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Stewart agrees, adding that there should be more importance placed on sex and sexuality education, and that it should be accessible to everyone.

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"There is something about having freedom in your sexuality that translates beyond the bedroom," she says. "When you feel sexy and powerful, everything comes into order. So for me the power of sexual energy is something that every single person can embrace and enjoy and use to their advantage to make themselves better and the world a better place."



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