There’s no conference like Sex Down South (SDS). Literally.
Held in September, SDS is an Atlanta-based sex conference founded and fueled by two Black women: Marla Renee Stewart, a certified sexologist, author, speaker and educator, and Tia Marie, a certified sexologist. The idea for the conference was born from a casual conversation between the two women where they decided to escalate their local sex positivity events into a full-fledged opportunity for people to teach, to learn and to be open about sex and sexuality. At Sex Down South, pleasure is the focus, and marginalized groups, such as queer individuals, people of color, the transgender, non-binary, and sex workers, are all prioritized. Additionally, SDS is unique in that it combines aspects of kink conferences, sex conferences, and academic conferences all into one with a myriad of events and workshops.
“Body Love” was the theme this year. Attendees were encouraged to embrace themselves without apology while reaping the benefits of self-compassion. Stewart describes it as a “sex-positive family reunion,” believing it provides a space for self-expression and acceptance. Attending SDS, as I’ve done for years, has created something of a sanctuary for me. As a Black woman, it’s provided a way to embrace the fullness of my identity, including my sexuality. To learn more about why other people attended, I interviewed a few women present about their experiences.
“My experience has been so vast,” says Ebony Q., the owner of Womb Love, LLC, who was attending Sex Down South for the first time. “It’s been healing. It’s been very educational.” While she did not attend the panels, she took part in a touch therapy session, which she described as more intuitive than a regular massage. In this practice, the therapist physically comes into contact with a subject in a specific way in order to facilitate a therapeutic effect. Ebony strongly recommends the conference to others, describing it as a place to gain knowledge, collaborate, connect, and fulfill various needs. She emphasizes that the conference is suitable for “all bodies.”
For a woman named Saundra, 55, also attending Sex Down South for the first time at 55, she had a unique and mind-blowing experience. She was surprised at the unusual costumes and activities of the conference attendees. But despite her initial shock, she returned the next day with interest in learning about being a dominatrix, a desire she’s quietly held for 20 years. After learning about important aspects like the spiritual part of sex, she looks forward to diving deeper into such topics.
I also spoke with Lady Luscious, the owner of Lady Kiss Entertainment LLC, who was vending at the conference. She described her experience as an incredibly informative one. “It is amazing and fulfilling,” she says. “I do feel fulfilled from being educated to even vending here. I’ve met so many people, connected with so many wonderful spirits.” She specifically appreciated learning the ins and outs of polyamory and even flogging.
As a repeat attendee of Sex Down South, a woman named Maia also mentioned the outpouring of love, freedom, and acceptance that she experienced during her first appearance was one of the reasons for returning for the second time. “At this conference I feel safe. I trust them,” she says. “I feel safe in this space. They have set the parameters and boundaries that everybody has to uphold in order for everybody to have a good time and to be able to explore their freedom without stepping on anyone else’s toes, if you will.” People who are skeptical about attending a conference like this should embrace the experience Maia says, assuring that the event will adhere to safety, boundaries, and will uphold a fun environment for all guests.
“I would say go and try it out,” she says. “You can just watch and not really participate if you wanted to your first year, just so you can feel it out. There’s nothing that’s saying you have to do everything and you have to walk around naked or anything like that. Nothing is giving you that vibe at all. And you’ll see people being happy and free and loving the experience to be able to be their authentic self because that’s how I feel. And my eyes were wide open and my grin just got wider and wider that first year. So I would say come on. Let me hold your hand. I’ve got with you. I’ll skip through the corridors with you.”
If you’re looking to attend SDS, their 10th anniversary will take place in 2024 with the theme “Red Light Special.” And from what Marie and Stewart tell me, it will once again be a safe space, an opportunity for thorough instruction, and as usual, a blast.