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What Is Sexual Freedom?

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You may not know that your sexual rights are at risk. In this day and age, we can text naked photos of ourselves, we can marry who we want and we can freely express our sexuality in the privacy of our homes, so it might seem like our personal sexual freedom is safe. Isn't sexual freedom something we already have? Do we need an organization in this country to protect and fight for our sexual rights? Apparently, several hundred people in downtown Washington D.C. think we do.

Recently, I was invited to be a guest on an Authors Panel at the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit, held in Washington D.C.; an organized conference with speakers from all over the country who were gathered to talk about, share and discuss ways to protect our sexual rights.

On the panel, I got to talk with four other acclaimed writers to an audience of sex writers, porn stars, erotic toy distributors, civil rights attorneys, doctors, psychotherapists, sex educators and politicians. In the discussion, we talked about the sexual freedom movement and shared our visions for the future -- one where sexual freedom is recognized and affirmed as a fundamental human right. The 2013 Authors' Roundtable was an all-female panel focused on the role of women in the sexual freedom movement and the future of our sexual rights.

My focus on the panel as the expert on monogamy was to talk about how the shifting sands of marriage and the high rates of infidelity affect both men and women in our ultra new age of technology. The Internet and it's easy-to-access methods of cheating may mean a future where the contract of marriage is built not on a one-time vow, but an ongoing agreement where couples negotiate new rules; ones that include texting, Facebook friends and how to make eye contact instead of emailing in your sexual desires.

Other authors talked about the erotic dance industry, sexual abuse and minority families and even the differences between being in a male body as a child versus being in a female body. A goal of the Summit was to present as much diversity around the topic of sexual human rights and sexual civil rights and why we need political and cultural change as soon as possible. The conference focused on reproductive rights, comprehensive sexuality education, laws around adult entertainment and the many varieties of relationships and erotic expression in our country. The wide range of human rights and sexual freedom issues includes shackling of incarcerated women in labor to the need for prostitution-free zones, marriage equality and the right to family, freedom of speech and all forms of sexual expression.

The Woodhull Foundation is named for Victoria Woodhull, a feminist from the 19th century, who fought for sexual freedom for women at a time of sexism and Victorian prudence. Women who committed adultery in the mid-1800s were put in prison, orgasms were for men alone and sex was rarely talked about, much less by a woman in public. Victoria Woodhull lectured both men and women against the sexual double standard for women. She preached "Free Love," which encouraged women to marry for love, and helped women increase their awareness of divorce and their own sexual rights.

She said,

Women are entirely unaware of their power. Like an elephant led by a string, they are subordinated by just those who are most interested in holding them in slavery... Sexual freedom means the abolition of prostitution both in and out of marriage, means the emancipation of woman and her coming into control of her own body, means the end of her pecuniary dependence upon man... means the abrogation of forced pregnancy, of anti-natal murder of undesired children and the birth of love children only.

At the Woodhull Summit, I realized how far we have come since Victoria Woodhull encouraged women to break the chains of their own sexual slavery. I sat in on a panel of cross-dressers and transvestites. Some had transitioned from male to female, having had surgery to correct their sexual identity. Some were clearly identified as male, but dressed as women to express their desire to be free to be themselves in public. Each person on the panel was articulate, intelligent, expressive and, frankly, disagreed with one another about the benefit of cross-dressing. The medical doctor disagreed with the politician who disagreed with the blogger, who all had strong opinions about how transvestites and male to female and gender bending should be presented to the world. One panelist said,

"There are many successful and well-known business people in our culture like us that the media should concentrate on instead of those who merely use cross-dressing as a performance art, which might give the general public unclear ideas about gender, identity, sexuality and theater.

The panel was clearly well-versed in their rights, their frustrations and the work that still needs to be done.

Ricci Levy, the Executive Director and President of the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance, says that one of the greatest challenges in the work of sexual freedom is to communicate that there is a need to affirm sexual freedom as a fundamental human right. Levy has testified before Congress and in partnership with The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and has been a driving force in establishing sexual freedom in this country.

Now in its fourth year, Woodhull's Sexual Freedom Summit brings together hundreds of scholars, activists and advocates for sexual rights. Levy said,

"The event provides opportunities for collaborative work and conversation in support of human rights and sexual freedom, and against the denial of our identities, relationships; and families; criminalization of our pleasure; and the stigmatization of our sexual expression."

It is people like Ricci Levy and others at the Woodhull Summit who have worked tirelessly to guarantee all of our sexual rights including the right to expression, the right to sexual pleasure and the right to talk openly about our sex lives. Sexual freedom does not only include the right for gay couples to marry or the right to cross dress in public, but our right to have the kind of sex we want in our private bedrooms, the freedom to express our ideas online and in the media and the freedom to be who we are without threat or imprisonment. Next time you pull out a sex toy or go online to download a sexy movie, or even pick up a copy Fifty Shades of Gray, thank Victoria Woodhull and Ricci Levy for fighting for your sexual right to do so.

Tammy Nelson, PhD is a sex and relationship expert and the author of Getting the Sex You Want; Shed Your Inhibitions and Reach New Heights of Passion Together, as well as the upcoming book The New Monogamy; Erotic Recovery after Infidelity. She travels worldwide lecturing, teaching and working for global relational change.