While you were sleeping, and most likely having sex dreams about people other than your partner, the world's most well-known john signed the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act into law.
The bill, a companion to the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, is aimed at stopping sex trafficking. However, the overall effect impinges on consensual sex workers' ability to make a living safely and institutes blanket censorship of web content that can be construed as promoting prostitution. This legislation is behind Craigslist recently taking down its personals section. (Sorry, married men, but it just got harder for you to find a "discreet arrangement.") In the weeks prior, the Justice Department shut down Backpage.com. (Welp, Christian senators who follow sex workers on Twitter, you just made it more complicated to actualize your hypocrisy.)
"How we view sex workers is how we view sexuality as a whole," Seattle Erotic Art Festival director Sophia Iannicelli said when I asked about how this legislation might impact the show. The day I talked with her, festival employees were reviewing their website to ensure it wasn't at risk of being shut down.
Now in its 14th year, the festival originally started at Town Hall, then moved to Consolidated Works, and then found its home at Seattle Center Exhibition Hall, where it's been shown since 2008. With more than 400 works of 2-D and 3-D art, live performances, panels discussions, and literary events, work included runs the erotic spectrum from the more vanilla body painting and sensual nude photography to the heavier impact play and live temporary piercing.
"We can never fully answer the question 'What is erotic?' But anyone can find at least one piece of art that they connect with and that connects them with their sexuality. Art allows us to experience something emotionally and intellectually without the risk of actually doing it," said Iannicelli, who started volunteering for the festival in 2005 and moved into the director role in 2013.
Iannicelli acknowledges the festival can be an intense environment that pushes people into uncomfortable emotional and mental spaces, especially for newcomers. Like the kink community it operates in, the festival is focused first and foremost on your pleasure and enjoyment. The basic tenets of safe, sane, and consensual apply, and the space is set up so if something isn't working for you, you can step away to something less challenging. A project of the Foundation for Sex Positive Culture, festivalgoers will also have access to trained consent advocates to help process difficult feelings that might come up.
Puritanism being actively legislated contrasted with a growing acceptance of sexuality in all its many-splendored forms makes for some serious cultural cognitive dissonance. While the focus of the festival is the erotic, it is mostly about what we do or do not allow ourselves to embrace within us and what we do or do not consent to with each other.
Given where things are headed, it may not be a stretch to say attendance at this year's Seattle Erotic Art Festival is as important a political act as the next march. Do it for yourself, for your loved ones, and for the future of this great country.