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Monthly sexuality professional meetup promotes connection

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Seattle Sexuality Professionals first ever meet-up at Gasworks park in August 2022 — Photo courtesy of Naomi Price-Lazarus
Seattle Sexuality Professionals first ever meet-up at Gasworks park in August 2022 — Photo courtesy of Naomi Price-Lazarus

When Naomi Price-Lazarus entered her field as a sex educator, she knew Seattle had sexuality professionals but didn't find spaces where she could connect to them. After founding her nonprofit, Papaya Project, which focuses on sexuality education and events for all ages, she created a free monthly meetup for people in similar professions.

The event is held in various locations each month and welcomes a broad mix of sex, BDSM, and kink educators; sex therapists; pleasure activists; and other sexuality professionals. The meeting typically sees a turnout of 10 to 25 people, and has gathered around 75 on its email list since its start in August 2022.

"In a space where I as a sex educator don't have to explain what I do, don't have to provide any context for the need, or [can] hear people just start sharing their own experiences of their own sex ed," Price-Lazarus said, "we can share this common ground where can talk about ways to collaborate with and support each other."

Making connections
She wasn't the only one feeling disconnected from the professional community. Claire Appelmans, a sexuality educator, has been attending the meetings since it started. She moved to Seattle in 2020, and says it was hard to know who was teaching sex ed, or who had specific expertise. Developing a relationship between other practices and hers has proven difficult.

"A lot of the sexuality education that is happening right now is really separated. Educators are isolated, on their own," Appelmans said. "The challenge that I would love to try to help resolve is solidifying relationships between all these entities."

Rev. Justin Almeida, a chaplain at the Swedish Cherry Hill hospital, says the group is the only one of its kind they know. New faces are what keep Almeida, who has attended since the meetup first started, coming back.

"It's about the networking, it's about the different people and different perspectives. Some of it is just the collegiality, meeting other people who are working in human health and services," Almeida said. "Especially now... post-pandemic. There's a sense of 'we're in this together.'"

The most recent meetup at Ada's bookstore on Capitol Hill — Photo courtesy of Naomi Price-Lazarus  

Few in the field
There's a mix of reasons for the disconnection Price-Lazarus and Appelmans felt. First, the field is still up-and-coming, Price-Lazarus said.

When the event first started, it garnered a lot of attention from students at Antioch University, who were taking classes online at the time.

"They hadn't really gotten to meet each other in person, and wanted to get to know people who've been doing the work a little bit longer," Price-Lazarus said. "There's not as many role models out there, because there's just not as many people in this field."

In the process of starting the group, Price-Lazarus also found that people who are new to the field didn't know others because they were in private practices.

"Especially with the way that a lot of us in these fields end up running our own businesses and ... feeling pretty isolated in our homes and sending emails all day, making online content, or whatever that might look like, it's nice to meet up in person," she said.

Resources and fun
The group has created a spreadsheet with a list of resources, including other local groups, community organizations, books, online articles, and podcasts.

"These are collected and collated by the people who attend, and I found some really great resources just by networking," Almeida said. "The hope is that this group can not only connect professionals but be a source of information for people to find health and healing."

Appelmans says the group is fun to be a part of, as well.

"It's not boring. Some of the meetups that I've been to in the small business world or in the education world, they don't feel as human."