Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality meets in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — It was all khakis and blazers and notepads inside the bayfront Hilton on Friday.

They gathered for a conference.

You wouldn't guess what.

The Business of Sex.

"I don't think anyone would know," said Eric Buhi, an assistant professor at the University of South Florida. "Maybe if they got on the elevator and started talking to someone about it."

Members from the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality held a regional gathering of about 80 professors, therapists, nurses, historians — even an Episcopal priest.

Everyone had one thing in common — a belief in scientific research of sexuality. The SSSS was founded in 1957 on those principles and now has more than 1,000 members.

The conference continues today and Sunday. Some session titles from Friday:

Freeing the Sexy Beast: The effect of religiosity on arousal.

How swingers find other swingers: The commercialization of the swinging lifestyle.

Consequences of casual online sexual activities on committed relationships.

They weren't meant to titillate, but to educate. In fact, in most sessions, you'd hear things like "qualitative question," and "homogeneity of variance" and "hierarchical regression analyses."

"Our conference is very scientific," said Buhi, a conference organizer. "That's what we focus on."

One presenter discussed religion and arousal. He put electrical monitors on people of different faiths and showed them images such as Victoria's Secret model Adriana Lima.

Another presenter talked about our "sexual script" — you know, in middle school when it's all first base, second base, third base. Posters displayed around the conference discussed abstinence-only education and the notion of "gaydar."

Mons Venus owner Joe Redner, First Amendment attorney Luke Lirot and University of Central Florida professor Randy Fisher spoke on a panel about the history of nude dancing in Tampa.

Redner recapped his colorful history. He admitted that he's not actually gay — a coy assertion he made when he sued Hillsborough County for banning sponsorship of gay pride events in 2005. He compared policies against homosexuals to Nazi Germany.

"I'm not gay," he said. "I amended my lawsuit and said I was bisexual and nobody could dispute that. How were they going to dispute that?"

He talked of his rise from a shy kid nervous around girls, to employee at a go-go club, to an icon arrested more than 150 times while defending his business. His first dance club, Night Gallery, opened in 1976.

"Right away, the city of Tampa started raiding us," said Redner, who would put three dancers on stage and leave three in the shadows. "When they took them, I'd put three more up. By the time we had the first three bonded out, we started all over again. The police would come in five, six times a day. It was a round robin."

Nude dancing has been around forever, said Lirot. In the Wild West, it was called a "bawdy house." In the 1860s, belly dancers appeared at carnivals beside space monkeys and two-headed boys. In the 1920s, it was follies and burlesque.

"It was well-tolerated as a fact of life," he said.

He talked of bad research and historic legal cases and the state of adult businesses in Tampa today.

At the end, Lirot praised the room of scientists.

"Scientific study is the core of the essence of what we need to see to try and get our due process back."

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality meets in St. Petersburg 06/05/09 [Last modified: Friday, June 5, 2009 11:19pm]

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