[Edit!] Thrillingly, Sex+++ is now slated to continue past the last film I chose! It’s now on second Tuesdays, still at Hull-House and still at 7PM. Attend it! Love it! Keep the faith! [end of edit]

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Here it is at last ….

SEX+++: FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Wherein I will answer all the questions I have received about my sex-positive film series and, most importantly, tell you how to start your own!

If you’ve got a question that isn’t answered here, then feel free to email me — [ clarisse.thorn at gmail dot com ] — but I’m in Africa and my email access is very limited, so it will take me a while to respond.

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1) How did you start Sex+++?

Read this! The short version is: my friend Lisa and I came up with a good idea at a lucky time, and put in lots of work to materialize that idea.

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2) Can I still sponsor Sex+++? What does that get me? Can I donate as an individual to Sex+++?

I am so glad you asked! Sex+++ is still under budget and could use your help. In exchange for their money, sponsors get promotional shoutouts at every screening; hyperlinks on the film list and both official press releases; plus listings on the fliers at every screening, the Facebook group, every film invitation, the Sex+++ posters and fliers. If you’re interested in helping Sex+++, please email Lisa [ ljunkin at uic dot edu ].

If you would like to donate to Sex+++ as an individual, then we are very grateful … you can be anonymous or publicly thanked, as you choose. For that, you can also contact Lisa [ ljunkin at uic dot edu ].

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3) When will Sex+++ be traveling to my town, or showing on TV, or coming out in a DVD box set?

It’s flattering how much you overestimate our resources! Sex+++ is a Chicago-local, activist, grassroots operation. There is no Sex+++ corporation or entity (although, it should be noted, “Sex+++” and the sex+++ icon are copyright Clarisse Thorn & Lisa Junkin). The film series has been generously hosted by Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, and an assortment of amazing sponsors have helped us scrape by.

What this means is that we have very limited rights to the films we screen — we only secured the rights to screen each documentary once each. If you miss any of our screenings, then some of the films are available for purchase through their own websites, etc; if you look at the archive page for the Sex+++ mailing list, you will see that we have emailed out purchase information for some of the films. But we certainly don’t have the resources to produce a box set, put the series on TV, or send it on tour. Still, we obviously want the word to spread far and wide, so the second half of this FAQ is all about how to start your own Sex+++ film series … keep reading!

If we get enough money to complete the budget, then Hull-House will purchase library copies of all the films that sponsored Sex+++. That will mean that Chicago locals will be able to borrow the films and the Hull-House or its parent entity, the University of Illinois at Chicago, will even be able to screen them again if they choose to do so. Again, though, this depends on the completion of the Sex+++ budget, which means we need more sponsors to make it happen.

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4) If you’re doing all this with sponsors, and you’re under budget, then what’s your business model? How are you making money?

Sex+++ is a free, activist event intended to educate the public. It is not a profit-making entity.

The Hull-House offered me an honorarium, but I didn’t feel comfortable accepting it while the series was still under budget, so I donated the money back to Sex+++. If the series meets its budget, then I will accept the honorarium. If the series doesn’t meet its budget, then there are simply some things we won’t be able to do. For instance, like I said above, we’d like to reward the distributors and filmmakers by buying library copies of all their films. Then Chicago locals could borrow the films, and Hull-House could screen them anytime. But we’d need another couple thousand dollars to make that happen.

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5) Why isn’t X, Y or Z covered in the film series?

It may be because I felt it wasn’t relevant — it wasn’t about positive sexuality, alternative sexuality, or sexual identity. For instance, I didn’t include sex work in the film series — not because I don’t think sex work can be sex-positive, but because documentaries about sex work tend to cover the laws around sex work or the bad things about sex work. I haven’t heard of any that try to discuss how sex workers negotiate, explore and own their sexuality and sexual identity in a positive way.

It may also be because I was unable to find any films about it that aren’t offensive and exoticizing. For example, there are some documentaries about swingers out there, but they take a rather shocked and scandalized approach to the whole thing. The filmmakers clearly weren’t interested in exploring the swing lifestyle in a positive or understanding way; they just wanted to make the audience gasp and giggle. Hence, there are no documentaries about swing on the Sex+++ list. The polyamory documentary “When Two Won’t Do” mentions swing, but it unfortunately doesn’t portray swinging even-handedly, and I’m sorry for that.

Still, there were some things that I was able to cover in the end, even though I wasn’t sure I could in the beginning! I had a really hard time finding anything about masculine sexuality, but after a few months of searching I succeeded (“Private Dicks: Men Exposed”). I also let people convince me to include documentaries I didn’t initially plan to include — for instance, one of Tony Comstock’s films about real people’s actual sex lives is screening on July 28, though I didn’t originally plan for it.

Here’s my list of bookmarks related to sexuality documentaries. There’s a lot in there that I didn’t include, but I thought they all looked interesting in their own right.

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6) What’s happening to Sex+++ given that Clarisse has gone to Africa?

I’ve been gone long enough that you probably already know the answer to this question, if you care. But here it is anyway: I took care of as many details as I could before I left; Lisa took over a few of the things I’d been doing; and we spread the rest of the work out among a committee formed of awesome people who have been attending Sex+++. The series will continue through its projected conclusion in October.

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7) How can I start Sex+++ in my area?

I would be positively thrilled if you screened our films (or even just some of them), and I have provided advice below! Also, if you email me or Lisa [ ljunkin at uic dot edu ], then we can send you a list with contact information for the distributor of every documentary we screened. In return, all I ask is that you do the following:

a) On your materials, please state Based on the original Sex+++ Film Series curated by Clarisse Thorn. Check out her blog at [ clarissethorn.com/blog ]. “Sex+++” and the sex+++ icon are copyright © Clarisse Thorn and Lisa Junkin.

b) Please do not charge admission to the films, and please make the series open to the public.

c) Let us know it’s happening! I want to hear all about it, and I’ll definitely help spread the word if I have Internet access at the time.

In short, please DO start Sex+++ in your area — just make sure that Lisa and I get some credit, make sure you link back to my blog, and make it free! Obviously, I can’t force you to do any of these things, but I would really appreciate it if you did. I want to be sure that if someone else starts a similar film series, that it’s wide open to the public — all the public, even people who can’t pay — and that viewers know who created it so they can read about the process here.

Now for ADVICE! Clearly, I’m writing this from my perspective — i.e. that of an independent, grassroots activist. If you’re coming from a different place (for instance, if you represent a major organization such as a university), then your concerns will be different from mine … but hopefully this will still give you a good place to start.

To run Sex+++ in your area, you will need:

1) a passion for getting out information about sexuality,

2) a cell phone with lots of minutes,

3) a large amount of spare time,

4) decent writing and speaking skills.

It’s a lot easier to organize one or two screenings than it is to run an 18-night series. That would probably only make you crazy for a few weeks, rather than for months on end; you wouldn’t have to find nearly as many sponsors (if any), and your venue wouldn’t have to deal with 18 separate events.

The Beginning. My first step was to spend many hours researching documentaries about sexuality. I found a lot! I didn’t select most of the documentaries I found, but I did bookmark their websites; if you’re interested, you can review my documentary bookmarks on Delicious.com (click here!).

After that, Lisa and I wrote a proposal talking about why we started the series, what we hoped to accomplish, and why anyone would ever want to sponsor such a thing. We showed the proposal to the executive director at the Hull-House Museum, and they generously agreed to host the series. (If you’re interested in seeing the original Sex+++ proposal, just go ahead and email me or Lisa — we’ll send you a copy.)

If you don’t already have a venue for your series in mind, then you should start thinking now, because this is a make-or-break question. You obviously can’t do the series at all if you don’t have a place to screen films. Also, a really good venue could help you in a huge number of ways, including:

a) Lending legitimacy to your efforts. Filmmakers and film distributors are more likely to deal with you, sponsors are more likely to give you money, and viewers are more likely to attend if you’re screening your films at a well-known venue.

b) Helping spread the word. Established venues will have their own contacts in news outlets around the area, and they’ll also have their own established, loyal audience.

c) If your venue is a nonprofit organization, then that makes getting sponsors and donors a lot easier! Donors can take a tax write-off if they donate to a nonprofit, and nonprofit organizations cannot donate money to for-profit organizations. In other words — if you aren’t backed by some kind of nonprofit organization, then other nonprofits probably won’t be able to sponsor you, which will put a serious dent in your fundraising efforts.

d) Random other assistance. For instance, after Lisa and I created the Sex+++ icon, the Hull-House designer used it as a springboard to making our gorgeous posters and fliers.

You might find a venue that will let you screen films there, but won’t give you much other support. That’s okay, but you’ll want to find another nonprofit organization that’s willing to work closely with you — maybe in exchange for being a sponsor — so that you can take advantage of Benefit (c) above, and maybe get some more of Benefits (a), (b) and (d). In a pinch, I guess you could try to create a new nonprofit organization yourself, but that would take a long time and a lot of paperwork.

After we received approval from Hull-House Museum, I began securing the films, spreading the word about the series and looking for sponsors. Films are usually made by a team of people headed by one or more filmmakers — but if a film achieves any degree of success, then it will be acquired by a media distributor. Distributors usually own all the rights to a film, and charge fees (usually around $100-300) to people who want to screen it. So, securing the films meant that I called and/or emailed all the filmmakers and distributors, and begged them to let me screen their films for free. First I told them all about the project and emailed them the proposal; once they were convinced that Sex+++ is the greatest thing ever, I explained that we had practically no money — that Sex+++ is an activist education project, that we don’t charge admission, and that I myself wasn’t paid. If they were willing to screen for free, I offered to tell everyone on our mailing list where to buy the documentary after we screened it — and also to put their names on the Sex+++ press releases, the film list, and the Facebook group.

To spread the word and find sponsors, I called or emailed every sex-positive person and organization I could think of. I scoured Chicago for professors who teach about gender studies or sexuality, like the Center for Gender Studies at the University of Illinois; alternative film outlets and organizations, like the Reeling Film Festival; sex toy stores, like Early to Bed; sex education groups, like the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health; museums and other nonprofit organizations with an interest in sexuality or gender studies, like the Leather Archives and the Center on Halsted; womyn-centered spaces, like the Chicago Women’s Health Center; hip news sources, like Flavorpill; and sex-friendly hotspots, like the feminist bookstore Women and Children First. Since I’m a BDSM activist, I obviously asked for advice among local BDSM groups such as Galleria Domain, and I sought out other sexuality communities as well like the Polyamory Weekly folks. I also tried some places that seemed tangentially related — examples: free speech activist groups like the American Civil Liberties Union; open and affirming churches like the Unitarians; AIDS-related organizations. (Whoa, I really did call a huge number of people, didn’t I?)

I didn’t ask everyone to sponsor — some people I just asked for advice, some people I just invited to attend. And — awesomely enough — after a while, people started getting in touch with me! For instance, Serpent over at the Sex Workers Outreach Project emailed me the day I posted the film list on my blog. And the people at EdenFantasys SexIs online magazine got in touch just a few weeks ago.

With groups I did think would make good sponsors, I told them all about Sex+++ and how amazing it was going to be. Then I told them I’d put their names on all our materials (just like the filmmakers); I also said that they’d get a thank-you shoutout at every screening, and that we’d announce their events to our audience. At the end of the conversation, I emailed them the proposal and I followed up a few days later if they didn’t get back to me. I asked way more people to sponsor than I successfully convinced, but I did succeed sometimes, thank goodness!

Soon after that, Lisa and I wrote a press release. She sent it to the Hull-House publicity contacts, and I sent it to everyone who had expressed interest when I called them.

In case it wasn’t obvious, the key with a project like this is contacts. Clearly, it helped that I had one important contact from the beginning: Lisa, who works at the Hull-House. I also knew a few other people around the city in sexuality-relevant circles. But I don’t think that starting Sex+++, or creating something like it, would be impossible even if you started with very few contacts. I truly believe that as long as you’re willing to spend enough time on the phone being polite and friendly and enthusiastic, you’ll get the contacts you need. I didn’t know that many Chicago sex people when I started … and in the end, truly, the friends I’ve made with this project are at least as wonderful to me as the project itself.

How It Went! Sex+++ was a huge success, and I know it’s continuing to succeed even though I’m gone. (Alas, I am not indispensable.)

At each screening, we did the following:

1) Serve snacks!

2) Explain what sex-positive means: that among consenting adults, there is no “should”. That being sex-positive means we don’t judge people for having sex in any way they want — with one person, with multiple people, in strange positions, with people of the same gender, for money, on videotape, or with no one at all … as long as it’s among consenting adults.

3) Promote our sponsors.

4) Pose three questions for the discussion group to consider after the film.

5) Facilitate a discussion after the film.

6) Have an excellent time talking about sex and gender with our wonderful attendees.

That’s it!

… Of course, it’s not quite that simple. I continued to call new people for advice, find new sponsors, and promote in new places long after the film series was up and running. We kept distributing fliers and we dealt with logistical issues as they arose. But those are the basics; your mileage may vary but I’m sure that with enough ingenuity and persistence you can make it work – and if you do, the feedback will be incredible. People love this film series in Chicago! I’m sure they’d love it in your area too.

Whoa, that took a while … it’s late and it’s chilly here in Africa (June-August is winter in the southern hemisphere!). My feet are cold and I’m going to bed. I’ll post this the next time I pass an Internet café. Again, if any of your questions weren’t answered, you can email me — [ clarisse.thorn at gmail dot com ] — but it’ll take me a while to get back to you. If you have a pressing question (like, “How can I give money to the series?”), email Lisa instead — [ ljunkin at uic dot edu ].

Take care, and enjoy the films!