“Even if just a handful of people show up, that’s okay. Whoever needs to be here will be,” I assured the women I was preparing to interview as we geared up to present on the Society track at Psychedelic Science 2023.
Dubbed the world’s largest psychedelic conference, hosted by the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) in collaboration with Momentum Events from June 19-23 in Downtown Denver, an estimated 13,000 attendees took over the Denver Convention Center, exceeding earlier projections of 8,000. Spanning five days, the conference showcased over 500 voices in more than 400 panels, workshops, and cultural events. These sessions delved deep into the intersections of psychedelics and science, culture, harm reduction, policy, and personal growth. With the amount of talent and panels to choose from, I had my own insecurities that our talk would get lost in the shuffle of the massive conference.
To our surprise (especially since Jaden Smith’s largely anticipated talk was happening at the same time on the Main Stage), Sex & Psychedelics was one of the largest attended talks of the week. Though the room was designed to accommodate 550, it swelled beyond its capacity to a staggering 750 attendees. People flocked every available space: they lined the walls when chairs ran out and packed the aisles, sitting elbow-to-elbow on the floor. MAPS staff informed us they had to turn away an additional 350 attendees at the door, as the room’s overwhelming crowd posed a potential fire hazard.
“This talk is important because sexuality is intricately linked with personal power,” said Laura Mae Northrup, a panelist and creator of the Inside Eyes podcast, an audio series about people using entheogens & psychedelics to heal from sexual trauma. She was joined by Leticia Brown, a sex and psychedelic-assisted therapist specializing in BIPOC and queer communities, and Britta Love, a certified somatic sex educator through the Institute for the Study of Somatic Sex Education. “We live within systems that harm our sexualities, resulting in loss of personal and, ultimately, our collective power. I think the talk was so popular because people are hungry for the expansiveness and liberation that not only psychedelics can offer, but also that which is available when reclaiming our pleasure.”
In the annals of human history, long before industry touted psychedelic conferences and double-blind studies, Indigenous cultures across the globe acknowledged the sacred connection between psychedelics and sexuality. These sacred plants, amphibians, and fungi—psychoactive substances intended to induce spiritual or mystical experiences—have been crucial in numerous rites of passage, ceremonies, and healing rituals. The Aztecs, for example, associated cacao with Xochiquetzal, the goddess of fertility, and believed it to have aphrodisiac properties, occasionally consumed to enhance sexual pleasure and performance; while Egyptian hieroglyphics allude to cosmic brews used during sex rituals. These entheogens were not merely substances to these cultures; they were seen as spiritual entities with the profound power to enhance human connectivity, intimacy, and sensuality. Fast-forward to the present, where our society is experiencing a resurgence in interest in psychedelics such as MDMA, psilocybin, and LSD.
“Sex and psychedelics are two of the most powerful, immediate, and easily accessible ways to alter our consciousness and reach towards something bigger and more meaningful—and yet in Western cultures, they have been heavily repressed,” expressed Love. “There is such a cultural and spiritual hunger for deeper and more embodied conversations about sexual healing that includes expanding our capacity for pleasure and connection. Psychedelics can be powerfully catalytic in that process—and the transformations that follow ripple out, making a social impact far outside the bedroom.”
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“Access to sexual health is a right,” said Brown. “This includes expression of sexuality, free of judgment and shame, and centers pleasure. As queer folx, especially queer folx of color, we’ve been told that our sexuality is wrong in so many ways. Conversations like these counter that narrative. I believe that we all deserve the right to heal and that we all have the tools within ourselves to do so.”
As the echoes of Psychedelic Science 2023 fade, the ripples of its discussions continue to spread. The surging attendance at our panel underscores an undeniable zeitgeist: there’s a hunger for deeper understanding, a desire to reclaim lost connections, and a thirst for the liberation of suppressed truths.
Monica Cadena is a psychedelic journalist, digital strategist, and the creator of the Sex & Psychedelics Conference, the first in-person gathering centering the intersections of Sex and Psychedelics.
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