Seattle is a national leader in supporting all areas of sexuality. Through the 1980s, the leather community laid the groundwork for other sex positive groups to seek a space here. However, despite Seattle’s sexually progressive spirit, there has generally been a lack of space for non-mainstream lifestyles.
In the mid 1990s, Allena Gabosch, Executive Director of the Center, was a co-owner of Beyond the Edge Cafe, providing a modest space for parties and workshops. The Cafe closed its doors in 1999, creating a void in the community. A town hall meeting was called, during which two of the organization’s founders, Russell B. and Michael Gilbert, began passing notes, and the idea of the Center for Sex Positive Culture was born.
The core tenets of the Center were to be a nonprofit, since the goals of the Center are not primarily financial; to be a community center, because there is more to the culture than just play; and to focus on sex positive culture at large, to have a further reaching impact. They remain the same today.
As proponents of sex positive culture, the Center believes that the appropriate uses of sex extend beyond reproduction. They include creating personal pleasure, bonding intimate relationships, promoting spiritual growth, and enhancing emotional and physical health. In a sex positive world, everyone has the freedom and resources to pursue a fulfilling and empowering sex life.
Founding president Michael Gilbert commented on the clear, “tremendous community energy building for some time. We saw that something could happen and felt tired of people being taught to be ashamed of their bodies and sexualities.”
The original founders – Russell B., Michael Gilbert, Jim Duvall, Jane Duvall, Laurie Miller, Sol Michaels and Allena Gabosch – initially envisioned a weekend party place. Jim Duvall explained, “we felt we were going to attract other clubs to use the space as a rental space, more like a kinky hotel ballroom” and were “surprised that most events came through the membership and were put on by us.”
Russell B. suggested a large, community center space for more than just play: now workshops, social events and more are offered. In May 2000, early board member Russell Harmon took on Thursday nights with special programming including dance and club-like music, and now, 11 years later, the Center hosts events every day of the week, and more than 100 social, support and educational events each month.
At first, “we were just a bunch of people fumbling in the dark, doing something completely unheard of,” Allena explained. Now, “we’re a leader. We’ve been one of the few places out front in the sex positive movement, setting an example for others to make centers, have conversations, and spread the sex positive message in and outside of Seattle.”
Allena believes we are in the midst of a “sex positive renaissance” as the world is shifting and seeing how different orientations, genders and sexualities can all co-exist. The Center is one of the leaders in this renaissance.
The Center inspires and assists its volunteers to produce experiential events where members can explore their sexual interests in a physically and emotionally safe environment. To better advance sex positive culture, the Center evolved into two organizations in 2007.
The Foundation for Sex Positive Culture promotes the many ways sex is beneficial through education, outreach, the arts, advocacy, and research programs that serve the public. It provides social and support group meetings, averages more than 16 workshops per month and offers extensive informational resources and research opportunities. Its Pacific Northwest Library for Sex Positive Culture has a broad collection of over 10,000 pieces – many rare and unusual – and is one of the largest of its kind. As a 501(c)(3), the Foundation is eligible for tax benefits, matching contributions and grant funding, and donations may be tax deductible.
Growth continued with the addition of the Annex space in 2008, and with an expansion to over 10,000 square feet of additional space July 1, 2009. With more space, the Center increases programming and outreach to different groups. Membership is over 11,500, and June 5, 2009 was the landmark 10th anniversary.
The Center was a one-of-a-kind organization 12 years ago, and remains unique given its nonprofit status and community center architecture. “I’m in awe,” says Allena, “We’re bigger, better, bolder and brassier!”
From its beginnings as a dirty, cement-floored room with only one working bathroom affectionately know as “the throne”, the Center has come a long way. Perhaps the greatest marker of the Center’s success is the now internationally recognized Seattle Erotic Art Festival, founded in 2002 to promote freedom of sexuality, speech and creativity through the erotic expression of fine art. Through the Festival, now managed by the Foundation, the Center is able to reach beyond its typical community to the general public and world.
Goals for the next ten years include continuing outreach in Seattle, nationally and eventually internationally. The Center and Foundation will become more of an educational force. The founders envision hosting an international sex positive conference and discuss the inevitability of similar centers spreading across the nation. The Center serves as a model and has incredible potential to change a culture and propel the sex positive renaissance forward.