Nylon’s “10 Things We Learned at an Alt Sex Conference”

by Sophie Saint Thomas for Nylon

Last month in Manhattan’s Theater District, two seemingly mismatched worlds met—academia and alternative sex—at the first Annual Alt Sex Conference. While I was expecting an audience of furries, perhaps an exuberant attendee dressed up as a unicorn with a dildo strapped to their head, it was truly more of an academic conference than a furry convention, stuffier than fluffier if we must. 

While sitting all day can feel tedious, the information presented was not. In full force were self-proclaimed “sex nerds,” simultaneously showing off their science chops and love for getting it on. In a small, dark theater, the event’s organizers and speakers took turns holding court over the audience, sharing the latest research on everything from polyamory and kink to how role-playing is being used to treat illicit sexual desires that could otherwise be dangerous to society. Of the fact-filled day, here are 10 things we learned.

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The Elephant in the Hot Tub

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by Russell J Stambaugh

The First New York City AltSex Conference, April 22, 2016

The First NYC AltSex Conference was held at the Jerry Orbach Theater in Midtown Manhattan on Friday April 20, 2016.   It was the work of AASECT Certified Sex Therapist Michael Aaron, PhD and Dulcinea Pitagora, MA, LMSW.  About 150 mental health professionals and kink and poly community members attended in person, and about a dozen participated electronically.   Your intrepid reporter made the trip to the Big Apple to attend in person following favorable medical testing in Houston earlier that week.  It was difficult to tell just how many professionals vs community members attended.  Only one person attended in a business suit, looking like he had wandered in off of Wall Street. Embarrassing, really! However a number of prominent AASECT Members presented or were in attendance including Joe Winn, PhD, DST, Lori Michaels, LMFT, CST, and AASECT AltSex Special Interest Group Chair, Kate Bornstein, Chris Farrington from the Community-Academic Consortium for Alternative Sexualities (CARAS), Carol Meeker from National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF), Sabitha Pillai, PhD, CST from Widener University with a group of her students, Jassy Timberlake, LMFT, CSSP, Director of Northampton Sex Therapy Associates, and other luminaries I missed in the rather dark venue.  Sorry if I missed you!

This is, to my knowledge, the first professional event devoted entirely to Alt Sex Since AASECT’s 2006 Conference on BDSM put on by Richard Sprott in San Francisco.  It was extremely encouraging to see that, in the age of social media, the event had been well publicized and was so well attended.  Proceeds were donated to CARAS, and at the end of the meeting Chris announced a $1500 award for a research project investigating swinging, even as he disclosed that CARAS meetings were moving to a biannual schedule coordinated with the International Mister Leather event in Chicago.  That means the meeting in San Francisco scheduled the day before the Folsom Street Fair this year has been cancelled.

I will proceed to provide brief summaries of the presentations.  The event had no break outs, so we plowed through six presentations and a closing Q&A session together.

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Psychology Today’s Standard Deviations

by Michael Aaron, PhD for Psychology Today

We have just wrapped up the 1st Annual AltSex NYC Conference, which was held last Fri April 22, and after a week of reflection, I think it is appropriate to start off this new blog with a bang, by going over the highlights and implications of this historic event. 

For those who may be unfamiliar, the AltSex NYC Conference is a one-day event (which I created and co-produced with my colleague Dulcinea Pitagora) that provides a platform for leading academics, clinicians, and community activists to present their ground-breaking work in the realm of alternative sexualities. The words ‘alternative sexualities’ is an umbrella term, under which any non-normative sexual expression may be filed, including BDSM and kink, polyamory and other forms of consensual nonmonogamy (CNM), as well as non-binary expressions of gender and orientation. 

In my view this is not a niche subject area, since our sexuality is so embedded in our personal identity, and because as research shows, (such as this study on the fetishistic interests of Quebeckers) many (perhaps most?) people practice at least one form of “alternative” sexual behavior or another. Indeed, because of both its prevalence and its stigma, the study of alternative sexuality is at the frontier of the intersection of psychology, sociology, sexology, and social justice work. 

New York Magazine’s The Science of Us

3 Insights About Kinky and Nonmonogamous Sex

by Debra Soh for New York Magazine’s Science of Us

The following is an excerpt from the full article:

Kinky sex has been around for eons, since long before Richard von Krafft-Ebing popularized the terms “sadism” and “masochism” in 1886 with his seminal work, Psychopathia Sexualis. But for a long time, it hasn’t really been spoken about in polite company. Only recently, with the wildly popular Fifty Shades of Grey franchise, has kink — generally defined asBDSM, which includes bondage, dominance and submission, and the consensual use of pain and humiliation for pleasure — earned a sort of mainstream acceptance. People are now willing to test the waters more than ever before.

Naturally, this is an area rife with misinformation and stigma. That’s part of why the Alt Sex NYC Conference, held last week in New York, was so important. The conference allowed researchers, clinicians, sex educators, and community members to discuss the most up-to-date research on what is known in the field as alternative sexuality (a term which encompasses kink, consensual non-monogamy, polyamory, and non-traditional relationship structures). For a population that has long been misunderstood and marginalized, the sharing of this information was much needed. Presentations ranged from myths about non-monogamy to best clinical practices when working with individuals from the community…

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Press Release


First Annual AltSex NYC Conference 2016

November 9, 2015

Michael Aaron, PhD 646.580.8640
Dulcinea Pitagora, MA, LMSW 917.675.3446

New York, NY—The organizers of the AltSex NYC Conference have announced that the first annual conference will be held in April of 2016 in midtown Manhattan, where clinicians, academics, and alt lifestyle community members will come together for a full day of sex-positive, alternative lifestyle affirmative, cutting edge research-based, and current practice-informed seminars and discussions presented by a stellar collection of New York City educators and mental health providers.

New York City prides itself on being a place that fosters diversity and intensity. Because there has not yet been a local conference organized around the needs of those who live in the alternative sexuality communities that thrive here, the AltSex NYC Conference will provide an arena to fill the gap in the clinical and educational discourse around alternative sexual practices and lifestyles.

The conference is pleased to host six distinguished speakers: Michael Aaron, Phd; Rosalyn Dischiavo, PhD; Margaret Nichols, PhD; David Ortmann, LCSW; Dulcinea Pitagora, MA, LMSW; and Zhana Vrangalova, PhD. The conference organizers and presenters are experts and professionals currently working clinically, teaching and conducting seminars, and/or conducting much needed research on the populations that have historically had access to minimal support and understanding of their lifestyles, behaviors, and relationship structures.

The phrase “alternative sexuality” is purposefully broad, and inclusive of non-conforming gender identifications and sexual orientations and an intersectionality of gender and sexual expressions. The AltSex NYC Conference is a forum designed to disseminate information in a respectful, sex positive, and affirmative manner, including but not limited to kink and BDSM, polyamory and consensual non-monogamy, non-binary identifications, and non-traditional relationship and kinship structures.

Conference organizer and sex therapist Dr. Michael Aaron’s mission is to: “empower individuals to enhance their sexual functioning through the expansion of sexual knowledge, emotional and relational awareness, and comfort and confidence in their own relationship to their sexuality.” He asserts, “Sexuality is at the core of our human identity. Being able to experience pleasure, creativity and fulfillment through sexual expression lies at the heart of our human existence.”

Conference organizer and therapist Dulcinea Pitagora adds, “I work with people in alternative lifestyles communities that have previously encountered biased care that has—in worst-case scenarios—pathologized them and reinforced internalized stigmatization and heterosexism, and—in best-case scenarios—missed opportunities for culturally competent care unrelated to their sexual practices. It’s time for New York City to become a place where every individual is recognized with respect and empowered to live their lives with dignity.

The AltSex NYC Conference welcomes clinicians and educators both in and outside of these communities, and provides an environment in which to address personal biases around and lack of awareness of alternative lifestyles in order to create a strong local community of culturally competent providers of mental health support and education.

A portion of the AltSex NYC Conference proceeds will be donated to the Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities (CARAS) in appreciation of their continued dedication to supporting and promoting excellence in the study of alternative sexualities.

Program Approved:  The AltSexNYC Conference has been approved by the New York State Education Department’s State Board for Social Work as a continuing education provider (# 0314) for licensed social workers.

Program Approved: This program meets the requirements of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) and is approved for 6.5 AASECT CE Credits. These CE Credits may be applied toward AASECT certification and renewal of certification.

For more information and to register for the conference, visit

to Register

December 15, 2020 –
January 31, 2021

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