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This week I was interviewed by Dr. Richard Wagner, a fantastically fabulous sexologist based in Seattle,Washington. This man is smart, has a tongue on him and speaks his mind. All of which I love! We’ve been wanting to chat together on line for months now, and finally, the worlds came together and it happened!
Taken from Dr. Dick’s own website (which you should check out), here’s the skinny on what we chat about.
Dr. Dick and I discuss:
The medical-centric model and the pleasure-centric model of human sexuality.
Oh Megan attended the Stop Porn Conference in Boston, Ma this past May (2010). Here her thoughts on the anti-porn conference her experiences being a sex positive individual attending and the next steps and rhetoric being used to create a “war on pornography.
Other guests included on this show are Diva, Deirdre and Aida, all of whom also attended the conference.
Sexologist Megan Andelloux with plush vulva puppet.
Voice Vixen here, reporting on the Female Orgasm Seminar which took place this past Friday night. Content warning, the following does acknowledge the existence of sex and is textually NSFW.
6:45 So this thing hasn’t started yet and already Science Center C is a writing mass of hot bodies, packed front to back with Harvard Students who apparently want to know the ins and outs of the female orgasm. There is a table up front arrayed with various sex toys ranging from purple to pink to… pinker. I’ve picked up a raffle ticket, wish me luck!
6:46: A group of guys sitting behind me can’t seem to say the word clitoris without whispering. One of them says he hopes to hear about some “serious technique.”I suppress judgement, it seems clear that boys of Harvard could really use the help.
6:55 It IS SO LOUD IN HERE. It’s almost like every person in the room is having a really intelligibly vocal orgasm. Rabble rabble rabble!
A capture of Lingford’s stop motion animation.
6:00 Ruth Lingford (VES Professor, Department Head) has started talking about her videos interviewing people to describe their orgasms. Her film is a minimalist stop motion animation with voiceover’s of said descriptions. It is notably replete with phrases like “chocolate mousse”, “volcanic”, “like icing”, “I thought of broccoli”. All this food talk really makes me want a cupcake. Everyone laughs at a software update popup, but the video is otherwise really interesting and captivatingly animated.
7:05 I begin to tally the number of times people say “orgasm.”
7:08 I don’t know whether to be encouraged by the number of people in the room or really, really saddened by the balls-to-the-wall, people-standing-in-the-aisles attendance.
7:16 To describe the scene, on the table in the front is a VAST array of sex toys, apparently $1000 worth of swag. Apparently the Voice’s good blogging sista, Lena Chen of Sex and The Ivy, graciously supplied the sex toys to be given away. We love you Lena!
Note: The men here are definitely, the loudest, brashest people in the audience. Voice Vixen does not like. The sex educator/sexologist however, is extremely cool and sexy. Just sayin’. High waisted skirt, white blouse, librarian glasses. A Harvard gal might steal this look.
7:21 Surprisingly, the “orgasm” iteration count is only at 8 – I think we can do better than this.
7:22 So cute/gross, everyone in the audience just said ‘Pap Smears’ altogether, like a three-year old says “Good Morning Mr. Rogers!”
FML Celebrity Sighting! Gov20 Italian guy.
7:23: Highlight of the event: women referred to as “vaginal owners”, because not everyone who has a vagina identifies as female. Thank you! This is a vast improvement upon the utterly heteronormative seminars of yesteryear.
The sexologist lays it down for us, figuratively. Some great quotes:
“Everyone has an asshole, everyone has a mouth. Those are the great equalizers.”
In reference to always using lube for anal sex: “My job is to make sure you don’t rip your butthole.”
“This is one of my vulva puppets.”
“For the love of god masturbation is good for you.”
“There are no absolutes in human sexuality.”
HOLY CRAP COOL FACT: Greatest number of orgasms had by a woman in a sexual study: 134 in one hour. Everyone feels inadequate.
7:30 There is way too much hooting and hollering from the men in here. You dogs you.
MORE TECHNIQUE/HELPFUL FACTS:
The average female orgasm takes: 10-20 min
Imbibing anything over an ounce of alcohol decreases the ability to orgasm, but less than an ounce makes one a little more receptive.
Working out helps you have better orgasms, as it improves the circulatory system.
Direct clitoral stimulation is needed for most vaginal owners to get off. “Trying to orgasm without clitoral stimulation is like a man trying to orgasm without touching his penis.”
Orgasm isn’t the goal, there’s other fun stuff (aka goal-focused sex, a no-no).
Super Helpful Relaxation Tip: try to make the jaw muscles slack.
Politics do not belong in the bedroom.
7:47 “Orgasm” count now way up to 49.
7:57 We’re about to watch a clip from “Viva La Vulva.” Oh, yes, you really should have come to this. So. many. vulvas. Everyone is rapt with attention though; half the guys in the room have their hands near their mouth or their chins. A woman with really, really strong PC muscles is displaying herself COMPLETELY. I can’t help but wonder how many Harvard boys have even seen this before, let alone projected 6 feet tall in a on a screen. Vaginal show and tell.
The sexologist mentioned genital shaving and every girl groaned.
8:12 We’ve moved onto the clitoris!
Tip: If you “split the clitoris into four quadrants” the upper left is the most sensitive. Who knew?
Fact: You cannot stretch out the vagina lips.
Facts: If someone is physically responding to sex their outer lips will open up. the The clitoris is actually 4-6 inches long, the exposed part being just a tiny tip of it. Is it sad that this comes as incredible information to everyone in the audience?
8:22 We’re onto vibrators and toys:
Fact: vibrators were created for the medical community, as a treatment for hysteria.
Fact: You can’t “break” your vagina by using your vibrator too much.
Butt lessons: make sure your anal toy has a flange (a wide part at the base of the toy that prevents it from being sucked up into your body). The image that accompanies this advice is horrifying.
8:41: final “orgasm” word count at 67.
Final Thoughts: While Voice Vixen did not snag a cupcake, she assumes they could only have been magnificent. In any case the talk was incredibly informative. It’s amazing how mis/uneducated individuals can be about their own bodies. Voice Vixen came away cringingly refreshed as did many of the others in attendance. If anything can be surmised from the incredibly participatory, enraptured, and VOCAL student responses, it’s that the event was an incredible success. Alas, we did not win a sex toy (there was a Hello Kitty vibrator… NOOOO!) but we definitely give kudos to The Radcliffe Union of Students for their work putting this together. Look forward to it next year, and get there EARLY because there wasn’t an empty seat in the house! Harvard kids might be sexually frustrated, but sh*t if they aren’t willing to educate themselves. The main advice of the night: Relax, be safe , learn more, read more, masturbate more, and remember to relax that jaw!
Megan Andelloux sits in row three of the Pawtucket City Council Chambers, awaiting a verdict. Beautifully poised in a navy blue, tailored vintage dress, her red hair lovely and tidy, her hands in her lap, her pumps set squarely on the floor, she looks like a young real estate professional requesting a zoning variance.
In my mind, she transforms into the heroine of her own comic book series. Her pumps become stacked spike-heeled boots, her demure fifties dress evaporates into a corset blazing with the colors of the American flag. Her red hair let loose and wild, she leaps from her chair, a rolled up copy of the Bill of Rights in one hand, a vibrator in the other.
This is about sex, she admonishes the cowering panel. You know it is! My center will open! People will come! Men and women will have, finally, a safe place to talk about orgasms and erectile dysfunction, safe lubricants and spanking. And it will be in downtown Pawtucket!
But tonight is not the night for super heroine triumphs. Tonight is just another night for battling the grinding bureaucratic machine that Andelloux, thirty-three, encountered last fall when she attempted to open her nonprofit Center for Sexual Pleasure & Health in Pawtucket’s Grant Building. It turns out that educational organizations may not do business in this building, and so the city’s zoning office shut her down. Her appeal of that decision, tonight, will be denied. This is not about sex, the panel will assert. This is about zoning.
She will not transform into an erotic, pen-and-ink protagonist. She’ll nod, knowingly, at the denial she suspected was coming her way. She’ll sit through the rest of the evening’s decisions, then powwow with her lawyer Michael Horan in the cold, clattery hallway outside the Chambers. They’ll plan her next attack, not with sex toys, but with paperwork. She’ll tell local press that she’ll continue to assert her right to do business in Pawtucket. She’ll assure friends that she’s not ready to give up. Not by a long shot. It’s not comic book behavior, but it’s a fight all right.
“Two things,” Andelloux says, tucked into the circa-1960s black vinyl sectional sofa in her CSPH offices, the 500-square-foot Ground Zero of her battle. The center is for counseling and classes, as well as distribution of literature ranging from safe sex to pleasure-related practices between (she constantly emphasizes) consenting adults. No sex takes place here and nothing is for sale. It’s Planned Parenthood with a little Lady Gaga thrown in; shame gets checked at the threshold while candor and humor make any question reasonable, any aspect of sex fair game. Andelloux says she loves the space because it’s an interior storefront. Patrons of any of the Grant Building’s tenants, from Flying Shuttles Studio and Blackstone Chess Academy to graphic design studios and Kafe Lila, enter through a central outer doorway to find individual businesses lining an interior gallery. From Andelloux’s point of view, this brightly lit, friendly vestibule provides privacy for anyone who might feel uncomfortable entering an organization dealing with sex, from the street. “Plus,” she says, “the building has its own cat. How homey is that?”
Andelloux embraces homey. She’s painted the center’s walls a cheery yellow and robin’s egg blue, colors more at home in a farmhouse kitchen than an office, and hung ephemera that reveal her collector’s mentality as well as her saucy take on sex. A vintage magazine ad for Lysol douches on one wall plays ironically against an oversized, pillow-like vulva puppet she uses for teaching, on a shelf below. On a nearby coffee table, four chunky pieces of stainless steel sit on a mirrored pedestal cake plate. They resemble oversize punctuation marks (they’re G-spot and prostate toys). She settles in to talk about the center with the warmth of a girlfriend dishing last night’s “Project Runway” over coffee.
She considers those “two things” — the two mistakes that brought her into the spotlight of the city of Pawtucket and onto the wrong side of narrowly interpreted zoning. She purses her lips, sighs. “I shouldn’t have testified about sex workers’ rights,” she says. “That got a lot of people angry. And I probably shouldn’t have put the word ‘pleasure’ in the title of the Center.”
She may be right. After signing a lease for her fledgling nonprofit in May, Andelloux, a proponent of sex workers’ rights, decided to testify at a June State Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on eliminating Rhode Island’s statewide law allowing indoor prostitution. “I was terrified to testify,” she says. “But I felt some advocates were confusing trafficking with sex work, so I went.” Andelloux signed up to speak, lost her nerve and scratched off her name. “Then this woman stood up and said, ‘We need to stop sex…no…we need to stop sex trafficking.’ I thought this is a complete fear of sexuality. So I put my name back on. I thought, even if my voice shakes, I can go up.”
So up she went, but was dumbfounded when Donna M. Hughes, a professor of women’s studies at the University of Rhode Island well known for her activism on sex trafficking issues (and a proponent of eliminating indoor prostitution), took her to task afterward in a series of public forums. First, on June 24, Hughes described (but did not name) Andelloux in a Providence Journal editorial as a “tattooed woman calling herself a ‘sexologist and sex educator.’” Hughes also wrote that Andelloux was “a reporter for a prostitutes’ magazine called $pread,” adding, “I couldn’t make this stuff up!”
The next day, Andelloux penned her own letter to the Journal. “Let me introduce myself,” she wrote. “I’m the nationally certified sex-educator and derogatorily labeled ‘tattooed lady’ mentioned by Donna Hughes in her June 24 opinion piece.
“Putting quotation marks around my profession was insulting,” Andelloux continued, “and yes, I am a contributor to the sex-workers magazine $pread. Is it so shocking that sex workers can read?”
The heroine, suddenly, had a nemesis. “As an alum of URI (’97),” Andelloux wrote, “I would have expected faculty to develop a reputation for science and truth. Instead, it seems that Ms. Hughes would rather resort to right-wing scare tactics. Perhaps if ‘the Professor’ really cared about women, she wouldn’t attack us for the way that we look.”
Things got nastier. In a September 23 issue of Citizens Against Trafficking, an online newsletter published by Hughes and Melanie Shapiro, a student at Roger Williams University School of Law, an unsigned article titled “Sex Radicals’ Vision for Rhode Island” said:
“But the advocates for prostitution are still active in Rhode Island. In fact, a new center to campaign for sexual rights is trying to open in Pawtucket. The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health calls itself the ‘Dormitory for Armatory.’ The proprietor, Megan Andelloux, is a member of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, which is a subsidiary of COYOTE, the group that originally sued for decriminalization of prostitution in the 1970s. It too advocates for the decriminalization of prostitution. To date, the city of Pawtucket has prevented the center from opening, saying it violates their zoning ordinances.
“The sex radicals are entitled to free speech, but citizens of Rhode Island are entitled to resist their advocacy of prostitution and violence. The proprietor of the proposed center is a prostitute (she calls herself a ‘foot fetish model’) and a dominatrix. She is also on the ‘faculty’ of the Kink Academy in Boston, which holds ‘classes’ to demonstrate sexual sadism, masochism and torture. The classes often include live models. (The images are too obscene to include here.) One of the students at the Academy claims she became a ‘sex slave’ to one of the instructors and was ordered to prepare to be a prostitute. Andelloux claims to be a speaker on college campuses where she demonstrates whipping and has the students try on sex gear.”
Is this a fair portrait of Andelloux, or someone else’s comic book rendering?
Andelloux went to Mitchell College, a two-year institution in New London, Connecticut, for kids needing a creative approach. She quickly realized that “sucking at math” was not part of a career in marine biology. Meanwhile, she happened to take a quiz on facts about sex, reading that 80 percent of Americans failed it. She got one question wrong. A human sexuality course she took fit her passions. She changed majors and planned a dinner out with her parents to give them the news.
“Right before my mother put the hamburger in her mouth,” Andelloux recalls, “I said, ‘I’m going to be a sex educator.’ ” She cracks up at the memory. “My mother said, ‘Megan, girls can’t do that.’ My father shook his head. But I told them that’s what I decided I was going to do.”
Andelloux got herself into URI from Mitchell, graduating in 1997 with a major in Human Development and Family Studies and a minor in Human Sexuality. She moved to northern New Jersey and worked for Planned Parenthood as a sex educator. Developing a reputation as a “spitfire,” in her words, Andelloux got herself in occasional trouble for a little too much candor. “I had a mouth on me,” she says. Once, after finishing a Planned Parenthood presentation at a high school, Andelloux was approached by a student. “She told me she’d been having sex with her partner with no birth control. She was freaked out. We had this long conversation and then I told her I’d send her some condoms. I told her I’d address the package as [though] for a school project.” But when the girl’s moth-er opened the package, freaked out herself, and called Planned Parenthood, Andelloux was in trouble. “Oh yeah. I got in trouble. I kept my job, but I was in trouble.”
Andelloux continued to butt heads with Planned Parenthood, so she leapt at the chance in 2001 to work at Miko, a well-known sex-toy shop in Providence, where she ran educational workshops full-time and worked the sales floor. When Miko closed in 2008, Andelloux reached her crossroads. “People kept telling me I should open a new store,” she says, “but I knew I didn’t have business sense. I know how to teach, how to make people feel comfortable, and I know how to talk about difficult concepts. [But] I knew my name, at this point, was too risque even for liberal organizations, so I started doing my own workshops.” One day last spring, as Andelloux was hanging posters for The Vagina Monologues, a passerby recognized her from Miko, and told her about a great place in Pawtucket that was looking for tenants.
On September 14, twelve days before the scheduled grand opening of the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, Donna Hughes sent an email from her Blackberry to the nine members of Pawtucket’s City Council:
A center for “sexual rights” and “sexual pleasure” is opening in Pawtucket.
Twenty-six hours later, Andelloux got a call from the Pawtucket Police Department. Her opening needed permits, Major Bruce Moreau told her, and there were concerns based on activities advertised on her website (including burlesque dancing and a raffle of sex toys) that required special permitting. He shared the contents of Hughes’ email with her. Andelloux picked up her husband, Derek, a family medicine resident at Brown, and the couple walked up the squat, broad steps of Pawtucket City Hall into a confusing gauntlet of special event permits that led, ultimately, to having to describe the Center’s primary purpose to secure overall zoning approval — something Andelloux had never been informed by her landlords that she needed to obtain. She rushed through meetings in hallways and offices; she called city councilors to explain her mission.
Mostly, though, Andelloux worried that the words “sexual” and “pleasure,” pitched by an adversary directly to a council representing a famously Catholic city, might ignite further opposition beyond the inertia her paperwork seemed to be generating. She settled on stating the Center’s primary purpose as “education.” What she didn’t realize is that within the minutiae of the Pawtucket zoning codes lies the fact that a special use permit obtained by the developers of the Grant Building does not support educational facilities like schools. Andelloux never said she ran a school.
But it was that sole word, education, that prompted zoning official Ronald Travers to rule against the Center, and gave the Zoning Board reason to uphold his verdict.
Andelloux was caught in a knot of nomenclature, as binding as a corset, but nowhere near as fun. She prepared a new motion with Horan, this one to request a special use permit for her space, much like a yoga studio in downtown Pawtucket had obtained. They returned to the council chambers in late January, filing their motion and hastening to point out that she will engage in education, but on a scale that is consistent with the overall mixed use espoused by the city’s downtown plan. No one argued. No one challenged. Only one member asked one thing:
“So, you won’t be selling any sexual paraphernalia?”
No. No. Andelloux said, shaking her head.
Meanwhile, she rejected ongoing counsel from well-wishers to leave Pawtucket for more liberal and accepting (not to mention properly zoned) locations. She paid rent on her unoccupied space. She paid heat. She paid legal fees. She turned away paying clients. And waited for one more fight. The next step was going to be court.
Then, finally, it’s decision time again. Andelloux perches in her chair, her bright pink dress shifting under her nervously clenched hands. Her husband pats her knee from time to time. The zoning board rolls through decision announcements like a boss spins a Rolodex; it’s easy to lose track. Then Andelloux’s name pops through the bureaucratic fog. And, in a series of comments as mild and conciliatory as her previous hearing had been spiky and adversarial, the men who control her zoning destiny say yes.
Yes, they say, to Megan Andelloux, and several lean forward to their microphones to say, for the record, that they regret that things got off to a bad start. They mouth words of support, absolving their municipality of anything other than administrative vigor. They regret the tangle. They grant her permit. It’s almost, if you imagine an erotic comic book, like a bit of sex play. Yes? Yes? No, No… Yes!
It was just that easy?
Megan Andelloux nods and smiles.
She looks unthreatening enough, perched on the edge of a table in a large classroom at Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Connecticut. Andelloux is indeed speaking on a college campus and receiving $500 for the two hours she’ll spend with 100 young men and women packing this room on a chilly fall evening. She has, indeed, allowed her feet to be looked at, photographed, and massaged by paying clients as a foot fetish model — although this never has involved genital exposure or contact, much less touching above her knee, she says. Yes, she has been paid to create educational videos for “Kink Academy,” a website that celebrates every aspect of consensual sex. And right now, yes, she’s tugging a strap-on harness up over her clothing to demonstrate for her audience what she describes as one of her favorite lube tricks.
“This one is great,” she says as she yanks the harness, complete with large synthetic phallus, into place around her hips. She grabs a plunger-bottle of lubricant; it looks like a hand soap dispenser that sits near a powder room sink. She tucks it into the harness — where a gun would sit in a holster.
“Okay!” she calls out, her rigging complete. Her voice reminds me of a home ec teacher’s — both perky and bossy. If it weren’t for the subject matter, she could just as easily be demonstrating how to sew a wrap-around skirt.
“So when you’re having sex with a strap-on, and your partner is getting really hot, here’s an amazing finish,” she says, and gives the bottle a couple of swift plunges that release spurts of viscous liquid. The audience knows exactly what this simulates and loves it. The kids cheer. Andelloux opens her eyes wide, nodding at their response. “See? See? Isn’t that cool?”
In these two hours, Andelloux’s workshop will range from this kind of taboo-busting demonstration to ardent discussion of safe ingredients in lubricants and sex toys (“If that dildo has a smell, it’s made overseas with dangerous synthetics. Don’t buy it.”) She’ll take dozens of questions penned on index cards, some of them endearingly naïve. She’ll give advice that is bumper-sticker outrageous, but gets to serious healthy practice. “Don’t put anything smaller than six inches up your butt,” she orders, reminding her audience that the anatomy of this part of the body is not equipped to expel items. “Once something gets lost up there,” she continues, “the only way you’re gonna get it out is at the emergency room.” As the kids hoot, she eyes them. “And trust me, you don’t want to be that patient.” Her mix of medical terminology and slang, sometimes folksy, sometimes colorfully current, makes her advice easy to embrace. It’s a remarkable marriage of tone and content. If Rachael Ray and the Marquis de Sade had a lovechild, it’d be Megan Andelloux.
After she finishes up by — yes — taking volunteers for a fully clothed spanking demonstration that raises the roof, students surround her and linger for nearly an hour, asking questions and inspecting the few vibrators and lubricants for sale. The fun and safety of sex takes her on the road like this nearly weekly, speaking to groups large and small, running sex toy parties for private clients, doing events at sex toy shops, attending and presenting at conferences. She creates “Tearin’ It Off,” a weekly podcast with WBRU at Brown University, and writes numerous columns for online sexual and feminist health and advocacy sites. She will appear, unpaid, in an annual production of The Vagina Monologues in Providence. For a sexologist, this cobbled-together assortment of education and entertainment keeps rent money coming in, and for Andelloux it is also, she admits, a bit of a calling.
“My parents were 1950s WASPs,” she says, describing her traditional upbringing in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts. “I was totally raised in that environment.” The youngest of three kids (but fourteen and eighteen years younger than her sister and brother, respectively), Andelloux watered her activist seed with an issue embraced by many girls: animal rights. She became a vegetarian at fifteen.
A year later, Andelloux developed a quirky obsession. “I had a thing for memorizing sex facts,” she says, “you know, statistics. When people masturbate, average breast sizes…I would spout these off to my friends during supper.” Still passionate about animals (and specifically about orcas), Andelloux planned to study marine biology at the University of Rhode Island. Then she was date-raped. “I had a series of sexual assaults take place in the summer before my senior year, including the very first date I ever went on,” she says. “I was seventeen. I’d gotten good grades up to that point. After that summer, my grades plummeted, I had nightmares, I reverted to wearing baggy clothes, and I hung out with the ‘bad girls.’ My grades were nowhere good enough to get into URI.”
A sexologist in Rhode Island is trying to open an adult-ed center focused in part on the female pleasure principle. Her battle has been complicated by the recent passage of a ban on indoor prostitution, which she opposed.
PAWTUCKET, R. I. (WOMENSENEWS)–Megan Andelloux’s clash with authorities in this heavily Catholic city of about 73,000 began two months ago.
After 12 years of teaching sex education at colleges, nonprofits, churches, schools and the Providence sex store Miko Exoticwear, Andelloux, a certified sexologist who frequently speaks at Brown University, wanted to create a “safe space for adults to be able to come in and access information about sexuality.”
Andelloux’s classes cover everything from female orgasms to fellatio and expound on an intimate connection between health and pleasure.
A few days before the planned Sept. 26 opening of the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health in downtown Pawtucket, a policeman called to say she couldn’t hold her event. He cited her lack of zoning approval and objected to plans for a sex toy raffle.
A zoning official then informed Andelloux that she couldn’t teach classes either because the area was zoned for residential and commercial use. Since Andelloux’s battle began, a chess center and a weaving workshop have also come under scrutiny by the city.
Andelloux moved the opening event to a club in Providence, while she geared up to fight for the right to provide education and other resources in the building.
“This is really a straightforward zoning issue,” said Ronald Travers, Pawtucket’s zoning director. Travers said the owners of a downtown karate studio faced a similar battle a few years ago and were eventually granted permission to open.
Andelloux appealed Travers’s decision, appearing before the zoning appeals board with 20 of her supporters on Nov. 30. The board will vote Dec. 7 on whether she can operate her center.
Andelloux’s efforts to open the center coincided with the run-up to the state legislature’s decision to ban indoor prostitution.
Before the ban was signed into law by Gov. Don Carcieri in early November, Rhode Island was the only state–besides parts of Nevada–where indoor prostitution was legal.
Andelloux voiced opposition to an indoor prostitution ban at a state legislative hearing in June, saying it would hurt victims of sexual trafficking by criminalizing their behavior, making it harder for them to get jobs and traumatizing them through interactions with police.
Her stance may have been what led local professor and renowned anti-trafficking activist Donna M. Hughes to denounce Andelloux on the radio, calling her a “prostitute” and a “sex radical.” Hughes admitted on the same radio program that she wrote an email tipping off city officials about Andelloux’s plans to open the center. Andelloux was told she could not hold her opening event days after the email was sent.
Harvey E. Goulet, Jr., director of administration for the city, said he and some other city officials take special exception to Andelloux’s plans. “I would prefer that it not be in Pawtucket. That’s my opinion and that’s the mayor’s opinion . . . I think some of these things would be better off in an office somewhere than a storefront,” he told Women’s eNews.
If the zoning appeals board votes against her, Andelloux will have 20 days to appeal her case in Rhode Island Superior Court.
“They’re trying to discredit me because I’m talking about pleasure,” said Andelloux. “I was very deliberate in putting the (word) pleasure in there and I think it’s very important that we talk about (health and pleasure) together, because they’re connected.”
“The title freaked everybody out,” said City Councilor-At-Large Albert J. Vitali, Jr., who supports Andelloux. “The ‘sexual pleasure’ end of the title flipped a few people on their heads. They didn’t know what she was talking about. They assumed it was a strip club or something.”
“It would be neat to have a Dr. Ruth in the city of Pawtucket,” said Vitali, who added that he would want his 20-year-old daughter to be able to access such resources if she needed them.
Andelloux cited a recent Indiana University study that showed women who feel positively about female genitalia not only find it easier to experience orgasm, but are more likely to seek gynecological exams and engage in other health-promoting behaviors.
Her opponents, however, are uneasy about the self-pleasuring aids–dildos, vibrators, and lubricants–that she keeps as learning tools.
Andelloux said a city official recently asked her if she would be “inserting” the teaching devices or using them on students during class.
“People don’t often frame sex education in terms of sexual pleasure,” said Lynn Comella, assistant professor of women’s studies at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “I really think that you end up with some confused people who don’t understand what that might really be about.”
Comella sees the center as a continuation of over three decades of “feminist work around creating cultural spaces where the issue of women’s sexual pleasure and empowerment could be taken seriously.”
Supporters Rally Behind Andelloux
Sex educators, activists and local supporters have rallied behind Andelloux by sending petitions to the City Council and speaking out about the connection between her work and the larger struggle for open discussion about female sexuality.
“If what she did was called the Center for Health and Education, no one would have blinked,” said Brian Flaherty, director of development for the Boston-based nonprofit sex education group Partners in Sex Education. He added that some people become upset over the issue of women taking control of their sexuality.
If the zoning board approves Andelloux’s right to operate, she will also need the City Council’s blessing.
The all-male, nine-member council is about evenly split over whether to issue a license to Andelloux’s center.
“It’s not a sex shop, it’s a place to go to talk about problems,” said City Councilor James F. Chadwick, Jr., who supports Andelloux. Chadwick said “untruths” were circulating about Andelloux’s intentions to open a sex shop instead of a teaching center that offers classes on female sexual pleasure, safety and achieving sexual satisfaction.
As Andelloux waits for the council’s decision, books with titles such as “Women’s Orgasm” and “America’s War on Sex” pack two bookshelves in the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health. A stand near the entrance has pamphlets called “Correct Use of the Male Condom” and “Love.”
A few couches circle a coffee table and colorful dildos and other teaching aids litter the shelves. In the corner is a glass cabinet covered with a heavy blue curtain. If you pull back the curtain, you find a display of sex toys.
Andelloux has covered the case to tamp down on the public controversy, which has focused on the toys themselves. One day, she hopes to remove it. But for now the curtain is drawn and the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health stays closed.
Amy Littlefield is a freelance reporter who lives in Providence, R.I.
I recently met an incredible feminist, Megan Andelloux, on campus at Brandeis University when she did a workshop on sexual pleasure and awareness as part of our annual Vagina Week, leading up to the Vagina Monologues.
As an FMLA member, this was a great feminist event – 1 – Megan is insanely empowering! 2 – we were able to pull in a lot of student’s that wouldn’t necessarily come to a FMLA meeting/event because her workshops are about improving one’s sexual awareness and skills .
Campus clubs were able to collaborate on bringing Megan to campus because she is both health and pleasure focused and fantastically entertaining.
To give you a chance to get to know her better and an opportunity to come to the Grand Opening where there will be lots of food, fun, give-aways and famous sex-positive feminist activists, here is an exerpt of my interview with Megan:
E: So Megan, what do you do?
M: I work as a sexuality educator in many different formats. The majority of my time is spent providing workshops at colleges and universities on topics relating to sexual pleasure and health (the focus being more on the pleasure and intertwining health in). [...] I work within the medical community, teaching medical students and providers how to be sex positive doctor’s, educating them on common concerns/questions and topics the public holds (but that they aren’t taught in med school) and finally, how to provide safe, non-threatening, empowering pelvic exams. And I do that with the use of my body (vagina, brain and mouth). [...and] I work within the media as a public policy analyst regarding sexual rights challenges to our freedoms.
E: What does being a feminist mean to you?
M: A feminist is something I would most identify myself as. My passion, my life work’s, all of my reading materials and a day to day way of life for me. To me, being a feminist is all about giving people options. The option to do this or that, go into one field vs. another, to become a sex worker, to be monogamous to one person only, choose one type of birth control over another, etc. Being a feminist means challenging others and yourself. When you feel uncomfortable, ask yourself why? When someone says something you don’t agree with or don’t understand, ask them why? It’s only through the option of challenging others, which is a right we have fought for and won, that we grow and change the world for the better. We can’t just accept what we have, we have to want to build upon it.
That’s what being a feminist and a sex educator is to me. Options. Challenging. When people go to my workshops, yes I want them to have fun and learn, but I also want them to ask questions with the information I provide! I want to push people! Because really, those questions are going to spark a change in the future. New research, new standards of roles one can possess, totally new concepts can occur when you don’t accept what is laid before you.
E: How did you get involved in the world of sexuality?
M: There are three answers I give to this question. The fun and easy answer is I had a knack for memorizing sex facts, don’t ask me why. I had a knack for memorizing sexual issues and it was a social issue, a perfect fit for me. At first I wanted to be a sex therapist, but I quickly found out that I wanted to help people BEFORE they ended up with sexual issues, so I went into education.
Secondly, being a Sexuality Educator was a way for me to rebel against the way a girl was supposed to behave. My parents subscribed to strict gender role behaviors and “good girls don’t talk about sex”. When I decided this was going to be my career path, I choose to tell my parents in a restaurant so they couldn’t freak out on me. The first thing that was said was Oh! Megan! Girls can’t do that! Typical. but that’s also why I choose to name my company Oh Megan! because my mother was always saying that to me for talking about sexually related topics. Oh Megan! That’s inappropriate.
Thirdly, I think I became involved in the world of sexuality because after I was raped, no one would talk to me about it. I didn’t have a space where I could fully disclose because people were uncomfortable and didn’t know how to handle the conversation. It seemed strange to me, and I was angry that our culture talks so much about sex, but we don’t provide answers when people have questions and concerns. I think becoming a sex educator was a way for me to work out some of my issues, get answers to my questions and to provide a space so others wouldn’t feel alone or ashamed for what they were thinking or had experienced.
E: The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health sounds incredible. Can you talk about the relationship between the sex-positive world and the medical world?
M: My work’s mission is to join these two world together so I had to create The Center!
Too often the medical world turns it’s back on the pleasure-focused side of sex and the pleasure-focused world is totally bored by the medical world. But they need each other to survive! The Center will be a respectable entity for medical providers to work with and is already developing ties with Boston University, Brown University, Mass General Hospital and the Robert Wood Johnson Medical Schools.
Working with professionals in the medical field, and most importantly, with medical students, we can create change within the medical school curriculum. Some medical students are starting to chime in that they want more sexuality information. (The majority of med students have 12 hours of sex education composed of birth control, pregnancy, STD’s and sometimes, pregnancy terminations.) I am working closely with Boston University Medical School and the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School to develop sexuality curriculum with fundamental structural changes.
Outside of the medical world, it’s important to remember that most people want to understand their body; what’s taking place within them. Traditionally, that information has been withheld from the public, but the feminist and pro-sex communities have some of the best documentations and discussions on sex and sexual health data.
The Center’s focus will be education and advocacy work. The CSPH will be the perfect blend of health, pleasure and advocacy. There will be written & visual resources, medical journals pertaining to sexual issues available, toys (with education on what we would/wouldn’t recommend), kink-friendly resources, sexual health and rights speakers, medical and pro-sex positive resources available for loan right from the start, and in the spring, offer a certification series for sex education classes with C.E. credits.
E: Are there any opportunities to get involved with the center either as an individual or as a campus organization?
M: Yes! The best way to get involved would be to attend the grand opening on Sept 26th in Pawtucket, RI. The grand opening will be a fund raising event and feature some of the best and brightest individuals in the field! Sex educators, sex therapists, sex worker advocates, authors, and sexual right advocates will be speaking and you can schmooze with them after they speak. (Scheduled speakers include Carol Queen, Bill Taverner, Betty Dodson, Gina Ogden, oh yeah, and me!) Tables with community and national resources will be throughout the location so people can learn more about resources they might not have known about.
You can also attend classes and workshops which will start in the fall and in the spring, apply to be an intern! As a campus organization, if you can’t come to us, we can come to you and talk about sexual advocacy issues, starting a nonprofit, getting into the field, etc.