Guide: What to Expect at #SFS17 (and Other Conferences)

Woodhull's Sexual Freedom Summit Logo


This year Carrie and I will be making our third trek to Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit (SFS or Woodhull, for short). We thought it would be helpful to write about what to expect and some conference tips for first-timers. This post is specifically geared towards SFS newbies, but some information applies to sexuality conferences in general, and may include things you didn’t think of before. Big thanks to Woodhull for allowing me to use their images!

This is long, so I’ve divided it into the following sections:

Prioritizing Self Care

There will be precious little time to sleep between social events and morning sessions. If you’re like me and need extra wind-down time or sleep, plan to leave nighttime social events early.

Bring a refillable water bottle to keep hydrated. Just make sure it’s empty before flying with it!

Prioritize comfortable shoes over aesthetics, if you walk. There will be a lot of standing and walking for non-wheelchair users, and rooms tend to be on the opposite sides of hotels from conference areas. If you use a device for mobility assistance, allow yourself extra time and don’t feel bad for arriving to a session late.

Remember to eat. Learning on an empty stomach is hard! Eat breakfast. Bring snacks if you think you’ll need them.

If there’s a problem, talk to the volunteers. Woodhull works hard to ensure a safe, accessible space. They will want to know if there’s an issue.

If you are a person of size (like me) or disabled, feel free to move the chairs around. Ask for help from volunteers if you need to. I was embarrassed to do this my first year, but by last year I was a seasoned pro at spacing out seats.

If you imbibe, partake in alcohol and other substances in moderation.

If you’re sober, tell others your boundaries and ask for support if you need to (e.g. “I’m okay with bottles being out, but if someone pressures me to drink, can you advocate for me since it’s your room?” or “I’d like to hang out with you, but I’m uncomfortable with others drinking around me. Is it possible to make this a sober hangout?”). Don’t feel bad for leaving if your boundary lines are crossed.

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Being Considerate of Others


Keep your hands to yourself. I shouldn’t have to say this. Unfortunately, I know someone whose ass was firmly grabbed while walking out of a session one year. It doesn’t matter that this is a sexual freedom summit. It doesn’t matter that adult stars attend. It doesn’t matter how someone is dressed. None of that even implies consent. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get caught. Don’t. Do. It.

If you see someone engage in non-consensual touching or any other inappropriate behavior against someone else, try to get a look at their badge or at least their face and let volunteers know immediately!

Even if you’re familiar with someone, ask before touching them or hugging them. Take “No” gracefully.

There will be “no photos please” lanyards of a different color. Don’t take photos of those wearing them, and definitely do not post those photos online. Let the official event photographer take pictures of people. Take pictures of your food instead.

If you’re at a private gathering in a hotel room and it looks like alcohol is about to mix with sex, say something. Don’t let the consent lines blur.

Look out for folks that have had too much, especially if they are marginalized. Cut people off if they’re starting to get uncoordinated or upset, if you can. Walk a drunk friend back to their room to make sure they make it inside safely. Have them drink water instead of caffeine.

Accessibility Considerations

There is a no-fragrance policy in effect during Woodhull. Fragrance allergies are rare, but they can be life-threatening. This is an accessibility and safety issue. Don’t wear perfume, cologne, body spritz, or anything with lavender or other fragrances (including essential oils, which are not always allergen-free). Get your nails done in advance rather than bringing nail polish.  If you use hair products, pick some up that don’t have fragrance for the trip.

If you even think you’re sick, stay in your hotel room. I know, you paid a lot of money for conference registration & travel, and you want to see your friends and colleagues, but it’s not worth it. I made this mistake last year. While I spent most of my time in my room once I realized I had a cold, I still made it to some blogger hang-outs, and ended up getting someone I care about sick. She has a chronic illness, so that cold wasn’t so minor for her.

If you’re able-bodied, be aware of and make room for mobility device users, especially if you’re stopped at a vendor table in the main hallway.

If you don’t have eyesight or hearing difficulties, sit back a few rows in sessions.

If you don’t have accessibility needs, sit in the middle of a row of seats and scoot over so you’re not leaving a single empty seat in the middle of a row. If you’re able-bodied and/or thin, offer your seat to disabled or people of size looking for one, especially if you’re in the aisle.

General Etiquette

Wear your name badge and make sure your name faces outwards. Write your pronouns large enough, dark enough, and clearly enough for others to see, even if you are cis and think people should just assume. Put your business card in the opposite side of the badge window in case it flips over.

Don’t assume others’ pronouns or titles (Mx., Ms., etc.) based on their appearance. Check their badge or ask politely.

If you have privilege, pull back from discussions to avoid unintentionally dominating them. Allow others to participate.

Make an effort to include people. This can be hard, especially if you’re socially anxious, but try to notice others that seem to be on their own. This is one bloggers often forget as an introverted, socially anxious group.

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Construct a general plan for the sessions you want to see and events you want to attend in advance, but know that you’ll probably miss a few. It’s okay. No one is expecting you to be everywhere.

Scope out the conference area of the hotel beforehand. The SFS website lists the names of the conference rooms for each session, and the hotel website has handy maps (at the bottom). Before things start, go to where these areas are so you can be familiar with them and the distance. Note where the restrooms are – there are only 15 minutes between sessions!

Luckily, at SFS, the restrooms in the conference area are made to be gender-neutral, so don’t worry about a long line for one specific bathroom. If you’ve never shared a restroom with someone of another gender, it’s pretty easy: do your business, wash your hands, and leave.

You’ll get a tote bag when you check in to the conference. Use it instead of a purse. I’ve carried my iPad in it. Don’t put your money in the outer pocket, though.

If you’ll be attending a room hangout, especially if there will be alcohol or sex, toss an extra set of clothes in your tote bag and bring it with you, in case you spend the night in another room. Just make sure you don’t forget it the next morning!

We usually arrive a day or two early. This allows for us to stage our hotel room, meet up with blogger friends, and get a feel for the place. Washington, DC has a lot of tourist attractions, and arriving early is also a great opportunity to do some sight-seeing.

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Staying at the Hotel

Staying at the conference hotel makes it easier to make it to earlier sessions. It also makes it easy to take a midday nap if you need one, or go back for something you’ve forgotten. The hotel restaurant is a popular place to mingle and network during lunch.

One of the downsides of staying at the hotel is the food options can be pricey. Last year, we found it cheaper to order delivery than eat in the hotel restaurant. The front desk concierge had menus from local spots that delivered, and there are services like Grub Hub that deliver to hotels.

If you’re flying in, grab food to go at the airport and take it with you, so you can have your next meal without extra effort.

Take a Lyft to nearby eating spots or a grocery store to break up the monotony of hotel eating options.

Another downside of this year’s hotel is the hotel pool has the over-side ladders instead of steps down into the water, and there are steep steps up to to the pool deck. This is out of Woodhull’s control, and they had to choose meeting room accessibility over amenity accessibility. Although, I did call the hotel and there is a lift for wheelchair users. To advocate for a pool remodel, the hotel is a Sheraton, a Starwood property, so e-mail

The hotel rooms have small refrigerators, but not all have microwaves. There’s usually a microwave in the lobby somewhere (just ask hotel staff). If you need one for special dietary needs, be sure to ask about it when you check in to the hotel. Don’t ask just because it would be nice to have one – there are folks who genuinely need them.

If you’re looking for a roommate to reduce costs, there’s an official roommate seekers’ list.

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Making Connections

First, assume good intent. No one is intentionally excluding you unless you’re actively creepy or abusive in your approach. Sometimes, we internalize not being invited as not being wanted, and that doesn’t match up with reality.

In all your interactions, make sure you’re privilege-aware. If the circle you’re wanting to be a part of is an oppressed group, do wait to be included rather than insert yourself in conversation.

If you have a colleague who’s going, ask them to introduce you to other attendees.

If you’re sharing a room, make friends with roommates and ask them to introduce you to others.

If the circle you want to be a part of is a group of your peers (e.g. you’re a blogger and you want to hang out with bloggers), it’s safe to insert yourself and ask to be included. I learned this the hard way my first year, when everyone went to Lilly’s room to talk toxic toys. I didn’t think I was invited, but if I’d asked if I could join, I would have been welcome. The next night, I asked if I could go when everyone went to hang out in another room, and they were happy to have me. They just hadn’t thought I needed an invitation.

If you’re a blogger, there are specific spaces and events for you, and you can consider this your invitation! Register for the free Digital Creators Meet & Greet. Make use of the Blogger Lounge. Take up space. It’s okay!

Don’t be afraid to ask “Would you like to share a table at lunch?” I much prefer “share a table” than “eat together” because it’s more clear it’s platonic. Be as okay with a no as you would whenever you ask consent for anything else, and be prepared to ask multiple people in case someone says no.

Meeting your sex positive heroes can be intimidating, but they’re people just like you.

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What to Bring

Bring business cards. Even if you’re just a grad student, networking is a big part of SFS. If you plan to add people on social media later, business cards will help you find the people you met so you can connect. If you can’t afford them, blank business cards will be available at the Digital Content Creators Meet & Greet and in the Blogger Lounge afterwards.

If you’re a blogger, bring your laptop/tablet and your charging cord. The Blogger Lounge will have outlets for charging and a table to set up and write about what you just learned.

Bring an extra portable charger for your cell phone.

Bring your social media A-game. Sessions will have individual hashtags, on top of the general #SFS17 hashtag, for tweeting notable points from presentations. Presenters often Storify the tweets with their session hashtag, which I’ve found helpful in decompressing what I’ve learned.

Conference rooms tend to run chilly. You may want to bring a sweater and/or dress in layers.

Dress for conferences is generally business casual, but Woodhull tends to eschew pretense and lean more casual.

Bring cash for tipping your shuttle driver, the bellhop if you need to have your bags held until check-in or after check-out, cash bars, and incidentals.

Bring something small specifically for your room key and cash, and keep it close. If your room key gets too close to your phone, it can erase your room information from the key. If you damage your room key or lose it, the front desk can make a new one for you (you may need an ID or to give additional identifying information to get a replacement).

Bring your sex toys, lube, and safer sex supplies! You’ll receive condom and lube samples in your free tote bag, but it doesn’t hurt to bring extras of your favorites. Bloggers often show off unique toys from our most memorable reviews or indie toy makers. Epiphora and Lunabelle have great tips for traveling with sex toys!

If you menstruate, bring extra pads & tampons, and bring them with you to sessions. Someone else might need it!

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Con Drop

Con drop is the depression, loneliness, and sluggishness that occurs after a conference. You’re in an uplifting, welcoming space that’s fast-paced with lots of social buzz, and suddenly your coach is a pumpkin again. Con drop doesn’t hit everyone, or hit everyone equally, but be ready for it. It hits us hard every year.

Plan an extra day or two off from working, if you can, to fully unpack and process the conference.

Writing down your thoughts helps, even if it never becomes a blog post, or even if that blog post is a long, jumbled mess of emotions.

Drink lots of water and eat well.

Sleep if you need to, but don’t let your regular sleep schedule get out of whack.

Connect with people you met, and commiserate together. Don’t isolate yourself.

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Finally, if you have any questions at all, don’t be afraid to ask Woodhull volunteers or hotel staff. They are there to help you. Hopefully it helps you prepare for the educational, enlightening, fun conference that is Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit. Have you been before? Leave your tips in the comments!

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