Sexapalooza is not just about sex

The seventh annual edition of Sexapalooza will hopefully bring some heat to Ottawa Feb. 6-8.

More than 50 vendors and exhibitors will be in attendance for the annual Sexapalooza weekend, held downtown at the Shaw Centre, the new name of the former Ottawa Convention Centre. 

The three-day event will feature booths from various businesses and organizations, a main stage with shows all weekend, sexual health and pleasure seminars and a swath of Ottawa’s sex positivity community. The convention combines sexual-based entertainment with education. Sexapalooza started in Ottawa in 2008 and has been growing ever since.

New this year is an appearance by an adult film star, Tori Black, says show co-ordinator Liz Lewis Woosey. Black will sign autographs and answer questions from fans on Feb. 6 and 7. 

“This is the first time we’re bringing an adult film star, we’ve never done anything like that before,” Woosey says. 

Sexapalooza offers a different experience to everyone who attends, Woosey says. Displays include sex shops, health-based initiatives such as Planned Parenthood, and lingerie retailers, among others. Several performances will also take place over the weekend, including burlesque shows, bondage demonstrations, and pole dancing performances. 

Sexapalooza offers a crossroads where entertainment and awareness meet. Corinne Brodthagen, owner of 3Sixty Dance and Fitness in Ottawa, says her business has been participating in Sexapalooza since it began, offering pole dancing demonstrations for patrons at its booth. She says she wants to spread awareness about pole dancing, and how it’s about a lot more than it’s perceived.

“A lot of people see a pole and think stripper, or strip club,” Brodthagen says. “Pole dancing is like gymnastics and ballet together, there’s a lot of strength required.”

Brodthagen says that anything Ottawa can do to break the stereotype of “the city that fun forgot” is positive. 

Also among the participants is Ottawa’s Venus Envy, a local feminist and LGBTQ positive sex shop in Centretown. The shop is celebrating its 14th anniversary in Ottawa this year at the end of January, says owner Shelley Taylor. 

There needs to be an increased focus on pleasure-based sexual education, Taylor says, but it won’t come without a huge cultural shift. 

“I think we live in a very sex-negative world. We lack even the most basic lessons around consent and pleasure,” she says. “It’s good that Sexapalooza is a very sex positive and body positive event.” 

At Sexapalooza, it’s not uncommon to find both men and women topless, with intricate artwork painted on their bodies. 

 “Cultural shame around sex is often underwritten by religion and parents, anyone who is scared at the idea of pleasure-focused sex education,” Taylor says. 

“You have to show people that the more sex-positive a culture is, and the more that parents and schools talk about sex, how that lowers the age people start having sex, it lowers STI transmission, and it lowers unintended pregnancy rates,” Taylor says.