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June 4, 2014

The Rainbow Times: CSPH provides venue for community to share “Sticky Stories” by Lauren Walleser

In May, CSPH held one of its events, “Sticky Stories,” a night of community members coming together to share their experiences. According to its description, it was designed “to create a space for community members to come together to share funny stories, especially from childhood or adolescence, about wet dreams, strange crushes, embarrassing love letters, coming out, sexual debuts, awkward locker room incidents, menstruation disasters, furtive first kisses, sexual awakenings, or what you thought sex was before you knew what sex was.”

“Participants shared diary entries about junior high crushes, stories of first porn shopping experiences, Catholic college sexual adventures, and life growing up on the nudist ranch,” said Kayla Wingert, former intern and current event and outreach coordinator for CSPH.

Attendees also had the opportunity to browse a raffle table, anonymously share tidbits of their stories by texting in answers to questions, and participate in contests and games.

 

 

May 7, 2014

The Providence Phoenix: Sex minus the sexy: introducing ‘Sticky Stories’ by Fallon Masterson
Bad poetry. Teeth-smashing makeout sessions. Bra strap snafus.

Most people relegate memories of hormonally-charged agonies to diary entries tucked into sticker-covered boxes hidden under a bed. On Friday, May 9, however, the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health (CSPH) has found a group of locals willing to not only dust off those memories, but stand in front of a roomful of strangers and share them out loud.

The first-ever “Sticky Stories: Sexual Confessions and Awkward Adventures,” serves as a fundraiser for the CSPH, the Pawtucket-based grassroots nonprofit dedicated to fighting misinformation by elevating the field of sexual education. “Sexual shame has direct consequences on health,” says Aida E. Manduley, programming director and coordinator of the CSPH. “People who are ashamed are less likely to get the healthcare or support they need. Once you feel marginalized in society, you can be afraid to say what you want.”

Creating an atmosphere in which people can say anything was a direct impetus for launching Sticky Stories, Manduley explains. In March, CSPH put out an open call for true-life stories of “wet dreams, strange crushes, embarrassing love letters, coming out, sexual debuts, awkward locker room incidents, menstruation disasters, furtive first kisses, sexual awakenings, or what you thought sex was before you knew what sex was.” CSPH staff then selected 12 performers to share their stories and they have spent the weeks since working with participants to practice.

Read more: http://providence.thephoenix.com/news/158235-sex-minus-the-sexy-introducing-sticky-stories/#ixzz34H5cDMEL

September 30, 2011

digBoston: The Little Sex Center That Could by Carol Queen

Sex-positive Bostonians ought to hop a train down to Providence on Sunday to celebrate the Little Sex Center that Could, also known as the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, run by the lovely and tenacious Megan Andelloux. When Megan, long a sex educator working with Good Vibrations and other Eastern Seaboard entities, decided to open her center in Pawtucket, RI, she heard from plenty of the anti-sex activists in that neck of the woods — and stood up to them, garnered tons of support and admiration from sex educators, therapists, and other professionals near and far, and opened the doors of her quirky, homey center in 2010.

Now, I run a center in San Francisco, in addition to my responsibilities at Good Vibrations, and can I just tell you — it’s not like there are lots of role models for these places. People who make them happen do it because they have a dream, not because there’s a franchise to buy into. Megan is a fiery and simultaneously sensible activist who deserves big support. I can’t be there this year (because I’m in Berlin at Venus, the Euro-sex show comparable to the one we have in Las Vegas in January). But my colleague Dr. Charlie Glickman will represent Good Vibrations and the San Francisco contingent. Get on down there and meet him!

And if you’re a collegiate type, keep an eye out for Megan’s fall Study Sex college tour. Good Vibrations is proud to be her original retailer this year. If you’re not on her 2011 itinerary, you can still surf over to YouTube and get in on the sexpertise.

 

April 2010

RI Monthly: The SexEd Warrior-Queen by Tracey Minkin

Her Center for Sexual Pleasure & Health has opened in Pawtucket. So who is Megan Andelloux, what’s the story with that long zoning battle, and why does she care whether anyone else is having fun between the sheets?

Megan Andelloux sits in row three of the Pawtucket City Council Chambers, awaiting a verdict. Beautifully poised in a navy blue, tailored vintage dress, her red hair lovely and tidy, her hands in her lap, her pumps set squarely on the floor, she looks like a young real estate professional requesting a zoning variance.

She isn’t.

In my mind, she transforms into the heroine of her own comic book series. Her pumps become stacked spike-heeled boots, her demure fifties dress evaporates into a corset blazing with the colors of the American flag. Her red hair let loose and wild, she leaps from her chair, a rolled up copy of the Bill of Rights in one hand, a vibrator in the other.

This is about sex, she admonishes the cowering panel. You know it is! My center will open! People will come! Men and women will have, finally, a safe place to talk about orgasms and erectile dysfunction, safe lubricants and spanking. And it will be in downtown Pawtucket!

But tonight is not the night for super heroine triumphs. Tonight is just another night for battling the grinding bureaucratic machine that Andelloux, thirty-three, encountered last fall when she attempted to open her nonprofit Center for Sexual Pleasure & Health in Pawtucket’s Grant Building. It turns out that educational organizations may not do business in this building, and so the city’s zoning office shut her down. Her appeal of that decision, tonight, will be denied. This is not about sex, the panel will assert. This is about zoning.

She will not transform into an erotic, pen-and-ink protagonist. She’ll nod, knowingly, at the denial she suspected was coming her way. She’ll sit through the rest of the evening’s decisions, then powwow with her lawyer Michael Horan in the cold, clattery hallway outside the Chambers. They’ll plan her next attack, not with sex toys, but with paperwork. She’ll tell local press that she’ll continue to assert her right to do business in Pawtucket. She’ll assure friends that she’s not ready to give up. Not by a long shot. It’s not comic book behavior, but it’s a fight all right.

“Two things,” Andelloux says, tucked into the circa-1960s black vinyl sectional sofa in her CSPH offices, the 500-square-foot Ground Zero of her battle. The center is for counseling and classes, as well as distribution of literature ranging from safe sex to pleasure-related practices between (she constantly emphasizes) consenting adults. No sex takes place here and nothing is for sale. It’s Planned Parenthood with a little Lady Gaga thrown in; shame gets checked at the threshold while candor and humor make any question reasonable, any aspect of sex fair game. Andelloux says she loves the space because it’s an interior storefront. Patrons of any of the Grant Building’s tenants, from Flying Shuttles Studio and Blackstone Chess Academy to graphic design studios and Kafe Lila, enter through a central outer doorway to find individual businesses lining an interior gallery. From Andelloux’s point of view, this brightly lit, friendly vestibule provides privacy for anyone who might feel uncomfortable entering an organization dealing with sex, from the street. “Plus,” she says, “the building has its own cat. How homey is that?”

Andelloux embraces homey. She’s painted the center’s walls a cheery yellow and robin’s egg blue, colors more at home in a farmhouse kitchen than an office, and hung ephemera that reveal her collector’s mentality as well as her saucy take on sex. A vintage magazine ad for Lysol douches on one wall plays ironically against an oversized, pillow-like vulva puppet she uses for teaching, on a shelf below. On a nearby coffee table, four chunky pieces of stainless steel sit on a mirrored pedestal cake plate. They resemble oversize punctuation marks (they’re G-spot and prostate toys). She settles in to talk about the center with the warmth of a girlfriend dishing last night’s “Project Runway” over coffee.

She considers those “two things” — the two mistakes that brought her into the spotlight of the city of Pawtucket and onto the wrong side of narrowly interpreted zoning. She purses her lips, sighs. “I shouldn’t have testified about sex workers’ rights,” she says. “That got a lot of people angry. And I probably shouldn’t have put the word ‘pleasure’ in the title of the Center.”

She may be right. After signing a lease for her fledgling nonprofit in May, Andelloux, a proponent of sex workers’ rights, decided to testify at a June State Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on eliminating Rhode Island’s statewide law allowing indoor prostitution. “I was terrified to testify,” she says. “But I felt some advocates were confusing trafficking with sex work, so I went.” Andelloux signed up to speak, lost her nerve and scratched off her name. “Then this woman stood up and said, ‘We need to stop sex…no…we need to stop sex trafficking.’ I thought this is a complete fear of sexuality. So I put my name back on. I thought, even if my voice shakes, I can go up.”

So up she went, but was dumbfounded when Donna M. Hughes, a professor of women’s studies at the University of Rhode Island well known for her activism on sex trafficking issues (and a proponent of eliminating indoor prostitution), took her to task afterward in a series of public forums. First, on June 24, Hughes described (but did not name) Andelloux in a Providence Journal editorial as a “tattooed woman calling herself a ‘sexologist and sex educator.’” Hughes also wrote that Andelloux was “a reporter for a prostitutes’ magazine called $pread,” adding, “I couldn’t make this stuff up!”

The next day, Andelloux penned her own letter to the Journal. “Let me introduce myself,” she wrote. “I’m the nationally certified sex-educator and derogatorily labeled ‘tattooed lady’ mentioned by Donna Hughes in her June 24 opinion piece.

“Putting quotation marks around my profession was insulting,” Andelloux continued, “and yes, I am a contributor to the sex-workers magazine $pread. Is it so shocking that sex workers can read?”

The heroine, suddenly, had a nemesis. “As an alum of URI (’97),” Andelloux wrote, “I would have expected faculty to develop a reputation for science and truth. Instead, it seems that Ms. Hughes would rather resort to right-wing scare tactics. Perhaps if ‘the Professor’ really cared about women, she wouldn’t attack us for the way that we look.”

Things got nastier. In a September 23 issue of Citizens Against Trafficking, an online newsletter published by Hughes and Melanie Shapiro, a student at Roger Williams University School of Law, an unsigned article titled “Sex Radicals’ Vision for Rhode Island” said:
“But the advocates for prostitution are still active in Rhode Island. In fact, a new center to campaign for sexual rights is trying to open in Pawtucket. The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health calls itself the ‘Dormitory for Armatory.’ The proprietor, Megan Andelloux, is a member of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, which is a subsidiary of COYOTE, the group that originally sued for decriminalization of prostitution in the 1970s. It too advocates for the decriminalization of prostitution. To date, the city of Pawtucket has prevented the center from opening, saying it violates their zoning ordinances.

“The sex radicals are entitled to free speech, but citizens of Rhode Island are entitled to resist their advocacy of prostitution and violence. The proprietor of the proposed center is a prostitute (she calls herself a ‘foot fetish model’) and a dominatrix. She is also on the ‘faculty’ of the Kink Academy in 
Boston, which holds ‘classes’ to demonstrate sexual sadism, masochism and torture. The classes often include live models. (The images are too obscene to include here.) One of the students at the Academy claims she became a ‘sex slave’ to one of the instructors and was ordered to prepare to be a prostitute. Andelloux claims to be a speaker on college campuses where she demonstrates whipping and has the students try on sex gear.”

***

Is this a fair portrait of Andelloux, or someone else’s comic book rendering?

She looks unthreatening enough, perched on the edge of a table in a large classroom at Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Connecticut. Andelloux is indeed speaking on a college campus and receiving $500 for the two hours she’ll spend with 100 young men and women packing this room on a chilly fall evening. She has, indeed, allowed her feet to be looked at, photographed, and massaged by paying clients as a foot fetish model — although this never has involved genital exposure or contact, much less touching above her knee, she says. Yes, she has been paid to create educational videos for “Kink Academy,” a website that celebrates every aspect of consensual sex. And right now, yes, she’s tugging a strap-on harness up over her clothing to demonstrate for her audience what she describes as one of her favorite lube tricks.

“This one is great,” she says as she yanks the harness, complete with large synthetic phallus, into place around her hips. She grabs a plunger-bottle of lubricant; it looks like a hand soap dispenser that sits near a powder room sink. She tucks it into the harness — where a gun would sit in a holster.
“Okay!” she calls out, her rigging complete. Her voice reminds me of a home ec teacher’s — both perky and bossy. If it weren’t for the subject matter, she could just as easily be demonstrating how to sew a wrap-around skirt.

“So when you’re having sex with a strap-on, and your partner is getting really hot, here’s an amazing finish,” she says, and gives the bottle a couple of swift plunges that release spurts of viscous liquid. The audience knows exactly what this simulates and loves it. The kids cheer. Andelloux opens her eyes wide, nodding at their response. “See? See? Isn’t that cool?”

In these two hours, Andelloux’s workshop will range from this kind of taboo-busting demonstration to ardent discussion of safe ingredients in lubricants and sex toys (“If that dildo has a smell, it’s made overseas with dangerous synthetics. Don’t buy it.”) She’ll take dozens of questions penned on index cards, some of them endearingly naïve. She’ll give advice that is bumper-sticker outrageous, but gets to serious healthy practice. “Don’t put anything smaller than six inches up your butt,” she orders, reminding her audience that the anatomy of this part of the body is not equipped to expel items. “Once something gets lost up there,” she continues, “the only way you’re gonna get it out is at the emergency room.” As the kids hoot, she eyes them. “And trust me, you don’t want to be that patient.” Her mix of medical terminology and slang, sometimes folksy, sometimes colorfully current, makes her advice easy to embrace. It’s a remarkable marriage of tone and content. If Rachael Ray and the Marquis de Sade had a lovechild, it’d be Megan Andelloux.

After she finishes up by — yes — taking volunteers for a fully clothed spanking demonstration that raises the roof, students surround her and linger for nearly an hour, asking questions and inspecting the few vibrators and lubricants for sale. The fun and safety of sex takes her on the road like this nearly weekly, speaking to groups large and small, running sex toy parties for private clients, doing events at sex toy shops, attending and presenting at conferences. She creates “Tearin’ It Off,” a weekly podcast with WBRU at Brown University, and writes numerous columns for online sexual and feminist health and advocacy sites. She will appear, unpaid, in an annual production of The Vagina Monologues in Providence. For a sexologist, this cobbled-together assortment of education and entertainment keeps rent money coming in, and for Andelloux it is also, she admits, a bit of a calling.

“My parents were 1950s WASPs,” she says, describing her traditional upbringing in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts. “I was totally raised in that environment.” The youngest of three kids (but fourteen and eighteen years younger than her sister and brother, respectively), Andelloux watered her activist seed with an issue embraced by many girls: animal rights. She became a vegetarian at fifteen.

A year later, Andelloux developed a quirky obsession. “I had a thing for memorizing sex facts,” she says, “you know, statistics. When people masturbate, average breast sizes…I would spout these off to my friends during supper.” Still passionate about animals (and specifically about orcas), Andelloux planned to study marine biology at the University of Rhode Island. Then she was date-raped. “I had a series of sexual assaults take place in the summer before my senior year, including the very first date I ever went on,” she says. “I was seventeen. I’d gotten good grades up to that point. After that summer, my grades plummeted, I had nightmares, I reverted to wearing baggy clothes, and I hung out with the ‘bad girls.’ My grades were nowhere good enough to get into URI.”

Andelloux went to Mitchell College, a two-year institution in New London, Connecticut, for kids needing a creative approach. She quickly realized that “sucking at math” was not part of a career in marine biology. Meanwhile, she happened to take a quiz on facts about sex, reading that 80 percent of Americans failed it. She got one question wrong. A human sexuality course she took fit her passions. She changed majors and planned a dinner out with her parents to give them the news.

“Right before my mother put the hamburger in her mouth,” Andelloux recalls, “I said, ‘I’m going to be a sex educator.’ ” She cracks up at the memory. “My mother said, ‘Megan, girls can’t do that.’ My father shook his head. But I told them that’s what I decided I was going to do.”

Andelloux got herself into URI from Mitchell, graduating in 1997 with a major in Human Development and Family Studies and a minor in Human Sexuality. She moved to northern New Jersey and worked for Planned Parenthood as a sex educator. Developing a reputation as a “spitfire,” in her words, Andelloux got herself in occasional trouble for a little too much candor. “I had a mouth on me,” she says. Once, after finishing a Planned Parenthood presentation at a high school, Andelloux was approached by a student. “She told me she’d been having sex with her partner with no birth control. She was freaked out. We had this long conversation and then I told her I’d send her some condoms. I told her I’d address the package as [though] for a school project.” But when the girl’s moth-er opened the package, freaked out herself, and called Planned Parenthood, Andelloux was in trouble. “Oh yeah. I got in trouble. I kept my job, but I was in trouble.”

Andelloux continued to butt heads with Planned Parenthood, so she leapt at the chance in 2001 to work at Miko, a well-known sex-toy shop in Providence, where she ran educational workshops full-time and worked the sales floor. When Miko closed in 2008, Andelloux reached her crossroads. “People kept telling me I should open a new store,” she says, “but I knew I didn’t have business sense. I know how to teach, how to make people feel comfortable, and I know how to talk about difficult concepts. [But] I knew my name, at this point, was too risque even for liberal organizations, so I started doing my own workshops.” One day last spring, as Andelloux was hanging posters for The Vagina Monologues, a passerby recognized her from Miko, and told her about a great place in Pawtucket that was looking for tenants.

***

On September 14, twelve days before the scheduled grand opening of the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, Donna Hughes sent an email from her Blackberry to the nine members of Pawtucket’s City Council:

Hello,

A center for “sexual rights” and “sexual pleasure” is opening in Pawtucket.

http://thecsph.org

Donna Hughes

Twenty-six hours later, Andelloux got a call from the Pawtucket Police Department. Her opening needed permits, Major Bruce Moreau told her, and there were concerns based on activities advertised on her website (including burlesque dancing and a raffle of sex toys) that required special permitting. He shared the contents of Hughes’ email with her. Andelloux picked up her husband, Derek, a family medicine resident at Brown, and the couple walked up the squat, broad steps of Pawtucket City Hall into a confusing gauntlet of special event permits that led, ultimately, to having to describe the Center’s primary purpose to secure overall zoning approval — something Andelloux had never been informed by her landlords that she needed to obtain. She rushed through meetings in hallways and offices; she called city councilors to explain her mission.

Mostly, though, Andelloux worried that the words “sexual” and “pleasure,” pitched by an adversary directly to a council representing a famously Catholic city, might ignite further opposition beyond the inertia her paperwork seemed to be generating. She settled on stating the Center’s primary purpose as “education.” What she didn’t realize is that within the minutiae of the Pawtucket zoning codes lies the fact that a special use permit obtained by the developers of the Grant Building does not support educational facilities like schools. Andelloux never said she ran a school.

But it was that sole word, education, that prompted zoning official Ronald Travers to rule against the Center, and gave the Zoning Board reason to uphold his verdict.

Andelloux was caught in a knot of nomenclature, as binding as a corset, but nowhere near as fun. She prepared a new motion with Horan, this one to request a special use permit for her space, much like a yoga studio in downtown Pawtucket had obtained. They returned to the council chambers in late January, filing their motion and hastening to point out that she will engage in education, but on a scale that is consistent with the overall mixed use espoused by the city’s downtown plan. No one argued. No one challenged. Only one member asked one thing:
“So, you won’t be selling any sexual paraphernalia?”

No. No. Andelloux said, shaking her head.

Meanwhile, she rejected ongoing counsel from well-wishers to leave Pawtucket for more liberal and accepting (not to mention properly zoned) locations. She paid rent on her unoccupied space. She paid heat. She paid legal fees. She turned away paying clients. And waited for one more fight. The next step was going to be court.

Then, finally, it’s decision time again. Andelloux perches in her chair, her bright pink dress shifting under her nervously clenched hands. Her husband pats her knee from time to time. The zoning board rolls through decision announcements like a boss spins a Rolodex; it’s easy to lose track. Then Andelloux’s name pops through the bureaucratic fog. And, in a series of comments as mild and conciliatory as her previous hearing had been spiky and adversarial, the men who control her zoning destiny say yes.

Yes, they say, to Megan Andelloux, and several lean forward to their microphones to say, for the record, that they regret that things got off to a bad start. They mouth words of support, absolving their municipality of anything other than administrative vigor. They regret the tangle. They grant her permit. It’s almost, if you imagine an erotic comic book, like a bit of sex play. Yes? Yes? No, No… Yes!

It was just that easy?

Megan Andelloux nods and smiles.

 

November 4, 2009

ACLU Calls On Pawtucket To Allow Sexuality Education Center To Open

Saying that the City’s action “raises serious constitutional concerns,” the Rhode Island ACLU has called on Pawtucket Mayor James Doyle to rescind a decision that has prevented a sexuality education center from opening in the city. In a letter to the Mayor released today, Rhode Island ACLU executive director Steven Brown labeled as “pretextual” the city’s purported reasons for barring the center from operating in Pawtucket.

The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health (CSPH) intends to provide sexuality education to adults and consultation services to institutions of higher learning. However, in September, shortly before the Center’s planned opening, city officials received an inflammatory email insinuating that sexual activity would be taking place at the Center. The ACLU letter claims that city officials “reacted to this misinformation reflexively, and inappropriately,” with zoning officials quickly advising the Center’s director, Megan Andelloux, that its location was not zoned for “educational” use and that it therefore could not open as planned.

Questioning that rationale, the ACLU letter points out that there are other educational businesses, including a chess academy, operating in the same building. In addition, the letter points to comments from the City’s director of administration, Harvey Goulet, who was quoted as objecting to “this type of business” as “not really something we feel is appropriate for our city.” Those comments, said the ACLU’s Brown, further make clear that the city’s zoning arguments are “pretextual,” and that “the city’s intent is to suppress the speech that would otherwise occur at the Center. Such content-based discrimination raises serious constitutional concerns.”

Brown also called the city’s actions “particularly unfortunate because it is very rare for women to be able to obtain feminist perspectives on human sexuality and objective information regarding sex in a women-friendly environment.” The letter concluded by urging the Mayor to reconsider the city’s actions and “permit the Center to open in the very near future.”

Andelloux is presently administratively appealing the zoning denial. A copy of the RI ACLU’s letter can be found here.

 

October 14, 2009

Good Vibrations Magazine: Sex Panic in Pawtucket by Dr. Lynn Comella

The sex police are on patrol in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

Megan Andelloux, a professionally certified sex educator with 8 years experience working as a sex educator for Planned Parenthood affiliates, was looking forward to the grand opening of her not-for-profit Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health in Pawtucket when she suddenly found herself in the middle of a firestorm. On the morning of September 15 she received a phone call from the Pawtucket Police Department telling her that a “concerned citizen” had emailed members of the Pawtucket City Council, alerting them that a “sex center” was coming to Pawtucket, a city of 72,000 located just outside of Providence.“Hello,” the email began, “A center for “sexual rights” and “sexual pleasure” is opening in Pawtucket.” Included in the email was a link to the center’s website. Short, sweet, and intentionally vague, the email was enough to set off alarms among the city’s elected officials.

The police officer who called Andelloux that morning informed her that without proper zoning approval, the grand opening event, which included noted experts on human sexuality and a short burlesque performance, could not take place and the center itself could not legally operate in the city of Pawtucket.

As soon as Andelloux saw a copy of the email, which was forwarded to her at her request, she knew that the issue at hand was much bigger than her small, not-for-profit health and education center. Andelloux’s center, it seemed, was caught in a broader political maelstrom surrounding the regulation of prostitution and commercialized sexuality in Rhode Island.

The “concerned citizen” behind the email to city councilors was Donna M. Hughes, a professor of women’s studies at the University of Rhode Island and a leading anti-prostitution and anti-sex trafficking advocate. Over the spring and summer months, Hughes was at the forefront of efforts to convince Rhode Island legislators to enact harsher laws aimed at combating sex trafficking and outlawing prostitution, including indoor prostitution, which was decriminalized in Rhode Island in 1980.

Andelloux testified in front of the Rhode Island Legislature in June to speak out against efforts to criminalize prostitution, which many opponents feared would lead to more arrests of women yet do little to address the issue of trafficking. In an op-ed piece published in the Providence Journal following the hearing, Hughes openly disparaged those who had shown up to oppose the legislation. Describing the hearing as a “sordid circus” and a “carnival,” she attacked speakers based on their appearance, the smell of cigarette smoke, and “other odors” allegedly emanating from their bodies, successfully invoking a specter of disgust. She also deployed her penchant for using quotation marks to discredit those whom she perceives as her adversaries, referring to Andelloux as “a tattooed woman, calling herself a ‘sexologist and sex educator.’”

Perhaps it felt like political payback to Hughes when she fired off the email to members of the Pawtucket City Council. Whatever her motivation—genuine concern or something more nefarious—she is an experienced enough political player (by her own account she has testified at hearings in the State House on a number of occasions) to realize that her email would likely result in an alarmist response sure to cause a headache, if not larger problems, for Andelloux and her center.

For those who lived through, or who are familiar with, the feminist sex wars of the 1970s and 80s, Hughes’ strategy of throwing the “enemy” under the bus will ring eerily familiar. Indeed, there are elements of this story that resemble the unsavory tactics employed by anti-pornography feminists at the infamous Barnard Conference on female sexuality in 1982, where ideological divisions resulted in personal attacks on individual women whose positions on pornography, sex work, and other forms of so-called “deviant” sexuality were at odds with the anti-pornography feminist platform, resulting in sharp divisions between supposedly “good” and “bad” feminists.

For Andelloux, the immediate issue was zoning. Zoning ordinances have become an effective strategy for regulating the location of adult businesses and policing public expressions of commercialized sexuality. In New York City, zoning was the lynchpin in the city’s efforts to “clean up” the “seedier” elements of Times Square in preparation for family-friendly Disney’s commercial occupation in the mid-1990s. Zoning ordinances typically require that adult arcades, bookstores, and video stores, for example, cannot be located within several hundred feet of schools, places of worship, or other adult businesses. In many locales, this means that adult businesses are exiled to the most desolate, and very often the most dangerous, fringes of cities and towns.

Unlike typical adult businesses, however, Andelloux’s center is not a retail venture; it is a not-for-profit sexuality education center that she describes as a cross between Planned Parenthood and a feminist sex toy store, a place where she plans to hold educational workshops and maintain a library of sexuality resources. But in contrast to feminist sex toy businesses, such as Good Vibrations and Babeland, which have longstanding missions of sexual education combined with a commercial imperative, Andelloux is not planning on selling any products. As a result, her center falls into a nebulous, gray area when it comes to zoning. If it is not an “adult business,” what is it?

It was precisely this gray area that Andelloux found herself navigating in the days following the phone call from the Pawtucket Police Department. She met with zoning officials and city council members, several of whom toured her space, and she clarified for them that she would not be selling any adult products; she also cancelled the burlesque performance that was to be part of the grand opening, hoping that in doing so she might allay some of the city councilors’ concerns about the kind of establishment she was opening. Despite this, it was unclear to both Andelloux and those working in the zoning office what legal code her enterprise should be zoned under. Many visits to City Hall and many phone calls later, Andelloux was told she should apply for zoning as an “individual educator.” She did. On September 18 she was informed by an official letter from the City of Pawtucket’s Zoning Department that her application had been denied because the building in downtown Pawtucket where she had leased her space was not zoned for “education.”

It remains unclear what will happen next. In a meeting that took place in late September with Mayor James E. Doyle, which was also attended by the head of the Pawtucket’s Zoning Department, Ronald Travers, the Mayor made it clear that he did not think the city of Pawtucket would accept Andelloux’s center. But it is precisely because Andelloux has received so many requests from people in the community for a sexual education and resource center that she moved forward with her plans for the center in the first place.

Andelloux held her grand opening fete on September 26 as planned – albeit at an alternative location. According to her, the event was a success: it was attended by approximately 200 people and there were no protesters. The event also raised $1,000, which will go toward offsetting her legal expenses. Andelloux has retained a lawyer who plans to challenge the city’s zoning decision. It is also highly probable that a public hearing will take place where members of the community can weigh in on how they feel about the center’s presence in their neighborhood.

The irony of all of this is that if Andelloux was in fact opening a feminist sex toy business, or even a more traditional adult business, this brouhaha may have been avoided. For it would have been clear from the outset what kind of zoning she would have needed to move forward with her venture and the city could have responded accordingly. There are few models, however, for what she is attempting to do: a not-for-profit enterprise dedicated to adult sexuality education and health. According to Andelloux, “The city has said to me that they don’t know what to do with me. If I was a retail store, they could zone me or not zone me, but because there is nothing on the books [that reflects the kind of business I am proposing], they don’t know what to do.”

In an era overwhelmingly defined by abstinence-only education, which has created a generation of sexually illiterate adults, there is more need than ever for places like Andelloux’s Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health. But sex education, especially when it addresses questions of sexual pleasure, clearly remains an embattled issue, a cause for concern, and a source of moral panic for many – even, in this case, when the target population is adults.

My hope is that once the powers that be in Pawtucket, and “concerned citizens” such as Professor Hughes, realize that Andelloux’s center is exactly what she says it is – a not-for-profit sexuality resource center with an educational mission – and not a haven for child prostitutes and pimps, this ruckus will be put to rest and Andelloux can get on with the business of educating adults about how to get off in safe, consensual, and pleasurable ways.

 

October 2, 2009

Feeling good’s a tough sell in Pawtucket by Bob Kerr
The little sex shop on Main Street, Pawtucket, one floor up from the chess club, appears ready to help people find what they’ve been missing.

The books are there, the educational aids, the videos. Megan Andelloux’s two degrees — one from the American College of Sexologists, the other from the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists — hang on the wall.

Megan herself is in residence, ready to put her training to work to help people deal with those things that never happen or happen at the wrong time. She offers counseling, instruction, reading material, a place to drop in and try to explain.

“Think of Planned Parenthood meets feminist sex toy shop,” says Megan.

She is sitting with her husband, Derek, whom she met at the University of Rhode Island, in the coffee shop across the hall from her Center For Sexual Pleasure and Health in the Grant Building in the heart of downtown Pawtucket.

Derek, a resident in family medicine at Brown, sees the center as the beginning of an ever-expanding business that will eventually include medical services.

“But it might not be in Pawtucket,” he says.

Ya think? The city of Pawtucket is not hailing Megan Andelloux for her entrepreneurial spirit, nor her personal approach to small business. City officials apparently see no civic boost in being home to a one-of-a-kind shop that is devoted to making people feel really, really good.

Megan thought she’d be OK when she rented space in the Grant Building. It’s a commercial building. She likes the other tenants and she likes Pawtucket’s appeal to artists. But when she started putting the word out on what she had to offer, she found she had a municipal hurdle or two in front of her.

She had planned to hold her grand opening two weeks ago. It never happened, at least not in the Grant Building, where she had planned for the celebration to spill all over the place. She had to move the event to Thayer Street in Providence.

The space she is in, she’s been told, is not zoned for education. She needs a zoning variance to teach people how to have better sex.

She and her husband went to City Hall. They met with Mayor James Doyle and his chief of staff Harvey Goulet. Goulet says they seem like very nice people. He just doesn’t like what they want to do.

“You have elderly living near there,” says Goulet. “And, usually, the elderly are not too much in favor of stuff like that.”

Actually, I know some elderly folk who are very much in favor of stuff like that. But maybe they haven’t been included in the opinion survey.

Asked whether someone teaching arts and crafts in the same space would have a problem with local zoning laws, Goulet said he didn’t think so.

So it’s about the sex, about the pleasure. Darn near everyone wants both, but when the words go up on a shop window, it sets off alarms in City Hall. Imaginations run wild. Rumors feed on rumors …

“It’s not porn, which is where most people learn,” says Megan.

She and her husband have hired a lawyer. They plan to challenge the city’s use of zoning laws to keep the center from opening.

“I’m a feisty girl,” she says. “I think adults should be free to seek information.”

No one would argue with that. It’s just a question of whether the world, or at least Pawtucket, is ready to put sexual pleasure right there on Main Street with art galleries and restaurants as part of the downtown shopping experience.

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