Sextravaganza | 5 Spot | Salt Lake City Weekly


Conference @ U explores religion & sex

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click to enlarge Adam Isom - RACHEL PIPER
  • Rachel Piper
  • Adam Isom

Adam Isom is a psychology student at the University of Utah and president of the student group Secular Humanism, Inquiry and Freethought (SHIFT), which is organizing Sextravaganza at the U on Saturday, Sept. 15 (2:30 p.m., Orson Spencer Hall, 260 S. Central Campus Drive, Salt Lake City). The event will explore religion and how it relates to sexuality, and will feature three speakers and a panel discussion. Visit for more information.

What’s Sextravaganza?

It’s a sex-positive extravaganza. Sex positive means that you don’t really feel restrictions on sexuality except that you have safe sex. There’s no guilt, there’s no apprehension. It’s going to have three speakers who are experts on related subjects. It came about because we had one of these speakers—Greta Christina—come last year, and she was really enthusiastic. She kind of co-planned the event.

There have been quite a few events about sex or religion or both in recent months. What sets this one apart to make it worth attending?

I think what you’re seeing with these other movements is that people are becoming more willing to speak out for what they think is natural and normal. Religion is having less of a sway. Religion determines the script for sexuality and romance in relationships, and you see more people coming out against that, because it’s opposed to gay marriage—and you find that young people are in support of gay marriage. So what this conference does that’s separate is it looks at secularism and atheism versus religion, and what religious leaders tell you about sex. Most of the other events don’t look specifically at religion. This one does. Do people’s sex lives get better without religion?

Does sex-positive mean anything and everything—polyamory, polygamy?

I’m not an expert on sex-positive. But they’re both related—polyamory is definitely more accepted by people who describe themselves as sex positive. The idea is that you should have open sexuality with few limits beyond consent and safety.

How did you pick your speakers?

Greta Christina is a prominent atheist blogger and speaker, author of Why Are Atheists So Angry?, and also writes on sexuality.

Lisa Diamond was chosen because she’s internationally known for her work on sexual fluidity. She challenges what you’d call I think hetero-normative sexuality. She discovers that young women in particular do not have a fixed sexual identity. It changes over time, and that goes against conventional wisdom.

Darrel Ray was chosen because he’s written the book for what religion means for sex—it’s called Sex and God. He was a psychologist for 30 years and ran one of the biggest online surveys ever distributed about sexuality, called Sex & Secularism: What Happens When You Leave Religion, which was published in 2011. What he found is that secular people who grew up and were religious for most of their life, there’s a lot of guilt associated with it. There’s a lot of empirical evidence that there’s a lot of guilt and apprehension. It doesn’t apply to all religions—like liberal religions—but it applies to most.

There are a lot of stories right now about how 50 Shades of Gray has liberated conservative women to experiment with and make their sex lives more adventurous. Is that a good tactic for getting rid of the guilt?

I guess 50 Shades of Gray does represent the increasing sex positivity across the nation. As we become more secular, we’re also becoming a lot more open. It’s related in that sense, but there’s still a lot of unnecessary guilt for not every religious person, but a lot.

How did you become a part of SHIFT?

I joined in January. I knew it was the right club for me, because I grew up secular and atheist in a 97 percent Mormon high school, so that was pretty tough. It sort of exaggerated the teenage angst everyone feels about being different. I really liked this club, I volunteered right away. There weren’t that many people interested in leading it, so that’s how I came to lead it.

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