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Sex Expo New York in the Time of Trump

RealClearLife's Jill Di Donato takes you through the real and virtual worlds of modern sex.

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To celebrate sex positivity, the third annual Sex Expo New York hosted throngs of sex experts, sex toy vendors, sex educators and crowds of sexually curious New Yorkers last weekend. “It’s a crash course in understanding modern sexual relationships from the many illustrious sexperts that participate with engaging workshops on a wide variety of topics,” says event organizer Ariana Rodriguez.

But what does it mean to have sex in the time of President Donald Trump? Furthermore, how have influences like technology and the mainstreaming of porn culture changed the way people are sexual with themselves and with others?

When Kate Millett, who coined the term sexual politics in 1970 with her book by the same name, argued that patriarchy invaded the bedroom, the political aspects of sexuality was a new topic of discourse. Today, at a time when leaked tapes of then-presidential candidate Trump bragging about “grabbing women by the p-ssy” makes headlines, the intersection of politics and sex is not groundbreaking.

Nevertheless, grassroots events like the Sex Expo bring people together to play with dildos and discuss virtual reality sex. And in doing so, these events offer more than a fun way to unwind on the weekend: They provide a safe space for people to think critically about sex positivity. Here’s what I discovered at the Sex Expo:

Sex and technology

Sex Expo at the Brooklyn Expo Center
Chakrubs pure crystal dildos to create harmony in mind, body, and spirit. (Ariele Max)

From dating apps to virtual sex, technology has been changing the landscape of sex for a while now. So what’s new? Advocates of technology in the bedroom, like clinical sexologist Chris Donaghue and brand ambassador for sex-toy company TENGA, says that because “the current administration perpetuates patriarchal culture and the laws [around sexulaity] are so male-driven, technology gives a platform of community to people who are in a sexual or body minority.”

Community available through shared technology “is vital in building self-esteem. Not everybody in this country has access to [see themselves represented as sexual beings],” Donaghue says. Certain apps can allow people to “have a sex-positive experience anywhere at any time,” he says. “That’s pretty wild.” He does concede that the one drawback of technology in the bedroom includes the “tyranny of too many options [like on dating sites].”

Sex Expo at the Brooklyn Expo Center
Clinical sexologist Chris Donaghue and TENGA brand ambassador speaks with  Jill Di Donato during the third annual Sex Expo New York . (Ariele Max)

This translates into people engaging less deeply in what Donaghue says is the “beautiful work of relationships.” He predicts that the bounty of what’s out there will lead to shorter, faster relationships, not unlike other aspects of millennial culture characterized as occurring in “short bursts.” However,  Donaghue argues that this isn’t necessarily de facto a bad thing. “Different isn’t always worse,” he says. “It is what it is.”

Are webcam girls feminist?

Sex Expo at the Brooklyn Expo Center
Chaturbate Web Cam girls perform live at the Sex Expo New York. (Ariele Max)

One of the more engaging booths of the Sex Expo was put on by the webcam company Chaturbate, an online sex chat with a webcam girl, although anyone can cam, according to the company, including men, couples, and transgender people. The average cam model makes approximately $500 per week and sets the boundaries for what she’s willing to do on camera for tokens—the currency that members buy to tip.

At the Sex Expo, the crowds were privy to what goes on in a webcam encounter, both the live and on-screen version. At one point, one of the webcam girls broke down in tears and was consoled by her colleague. Whether or not you think webcamming is feminist, what was apparent in my limited time observing the webcam girls, was the camaraderie between them.

As a male participant in the crowd ordered one girl to “spank yourself for Daddy!” the webcam girl requested tokens for the act. I may have been a bit put off by the bruteness of the interaction, but the webcam girl remained unfazed. When I asked her if she was offended by the ask, she replies, “Not really. You get used to things people say. Plus, here I feel totally safe because we have so many people looking out for us.”

Laughing about sex

Not everything at the Sex Expo was serious. In fact, novelty items, like the Emojibator — vibrators fashioned after the eggplant, hot chilli pepper, and banana emojis — added to an air of humor for anyone who loves emojis and self-pleasure. Emojis, the playful language people use to convey their innermost thoughts and feelings, translate well into a millennial sex toy. Why? Because sometimes you need to have a good laugh; isn’t the freedom to express yourself at the heart of sex-positivity?

Indeed, another company on-site at the Sex Expo having a laugh, this time at the current state of political oppression was Dicture, a company that makes art of of penises dressed up as like Trump and Kim Jong-un.

If sex, as well as the habits and rituals people use in the bedroom can offer a bit of release in times of turmoil, why not indulge? Or so seemed to be the most on-trend message about sex in the time of Trump.