OSU cancels visit from sex-positive speaker Tristan Taormino

Tristan Taormino

Well known sex writer, columnist, and pornographic film director Tristan Taormino was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at Oregon State University’s upcoming Modern Sex Conference in February. Taormino is the well known author of such books as The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women and the series editor for fourteen volumes of Best Lesbian Erotica.  She is also an advocate of non-monogamy and has written the book Opening Up: Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships.

However, just last week OSU cancelled Taormino’s visit to the school because the school administration said it wouldn’t pay Taormino to come speak because she is a pornographer.

Money to pay for Taormino’s visit, (about 3,000 dollars) came from the school’s general fund which is public money paid into by statewide taxpayers.

In a letter to the many concerned students who wrote on behalf of Taormino, Steven Leider, the Director of LGBT Outreach and Services at OSU wrote, “It has been decided that OSU cannot pay Ms. Taormino with general fee dollars because of the content of her resume and website.” University spokesman Todd Simmons says the school is committed to free speech and open discussion but that the higher up administration did not have a clear understanding of Taormino’s work when the contract was approved. OSU decided it wasn’t appropriate to, “…use taxpayer funds to bring in a speaker who is a self described pornographer and has a significant online business selling pornography.”

Even if that statement were true (only ten percent of Taormino’s income is through her online sales) what OSU doesn’t seem to acknowledge is that pornography is a legal business, which is pointed out in a press release on Taormino’s blog. Despite OSU’s anti-porn stance, they seem to have embraced porn before by allowing Playboy to recruit at OSU. Yes, that really happened.

The letter that Taormino received from OSU notifying her of their cancellation of her presentation said

As an institution of higher education, OSU is committed to free speech and open discussion of ideas on our campuses. However, as a public university, OSU and its representatives must be careful and judicious stewards of how we allow taxpayer monies allocated to the university to be spent in service of such discussions…

In response Taormino says the general funds were allocated to the conference and if funds are so sensitive she questions why they were given in the first place to a conference on sex.  “The organizers were empowered to spend that money, then disempowered when restrictions were place on it after the fact.”

Taormino says that organizers are not to be blamed and that they had approval from Intercultural Student Services (ISS) who had the opportunity to look into her credentials since October, before she was confirmed the keynote.  In addition, there is no policy about controversial speakers on the General University Policies website, Procurement and Contract Services Policies website or the ISS website.

What is especially disheartening is that Taormino’s appearance was cancelled before anyone even complained.  Taormino’s manager Colten Tognazzini spoke with an anonymous source at OSU who says they speculate that OSU was probably afraid the legislature would cut their funding if they knew that money was going to fund a said “pornographer.” The source also speculated that OSU didn’t want to defend Taormino’s appearance to conservative legislators.   By canceling Taormino’s appearance, it seems the university is saying they believe in free speech, but only to the extent that it won’t interfere with potential funding from conservative legislators. When universities can’t afford to offend legislators, I think this is cause for the public to be concerned, no matter what the issue.

I’m extremely disappointed that OSU has decided to cancel my appearance. I’ve been protested before, but never uninvited. I have never misrepresented who I am or what I do. I am proud of all the work I do, including the sex education films and feminist pornography I make,” says Taormino. “The talk I planned to give at this conference, titled “Claiming Your Sexual Power” has nothing to do with porn, but porn is such an easy target for anti-sex conservatives and censors. I find it ironic that one of the missions of the conference is to understand diverse perspectives of sexuality. Apparently, my perspective—one of educating and empowering people around their sexuality—isn’t welcome at OSU.

Taormino has given talks on sexuality at such esteemed colleges and universities as Harvard, Yale, Brown, Columbia, Princeton and Rutgers. Tognazzini, Taormino’s manager says that in the ten years that Taormino has been speaking at colleges and universities, there has been controversy but a university has never canceled at the last minute.

Although Taormino’s appearance was canceled due to her being a said “pornographer” there are others at the conference that also have porn connections. Other talks at the conference include such topics as Porn as a Feminist Tool by Tobi Hill-Meyer who won the Feminist Porn Award for Emerging Filmmaker 2010 for her film Doing It Ourselves: The Trans Women Porn Project.  Sources say that other speakers were not cut from the conference because they were not being paid as much as Taormino.

Charlie Glickman

The new keynote speaker chosen to replace Taormino is Charlie Glickman, sexuality educator and staff member at Good Vibrations in Berkeley whose talk will be called “Act Like a Man: Sexuality and Masculinity in the 21st Century.” On Glickman’s blog site, he recently wrote a blog about his thoughts on OSU’s cancellation of Taormino. He says, “It’s an unfortunate situation that highlights many of the effects of sexual shame… The irony of my still being on the schedule while Tristan was removed isn’t lost on me.  As Toby Hill-Meyer points out, I also have porn connections. They’re not as direct as Tristan’s, but I work at Good Vibrations and we sell porn… We also make porn…”

Glickman says the issue is about sexual shame and the university being worried that they will be “…punished for starting a discussion about sex.  Silencing a conversation that makes you uncomfortable or that you think is ‘inappropriate’ is usually about shame…”

The reason he thinks he is still on the schedule is because he has not ever been in a porn or produced one and has a doctorate degree.  However, he says he doesn’t see why that makes him the more eligible keynote.  “As I recently wrote, one of the rules of shame is that the rules don’t apply to everyone equally. That certainly seems to be what’s going on here… To an extent, these sorts of credentials are shorthand for ‘respectability’, at least for some people.”

Glickman is also curious as to what extent gender roles played into OSU’s choice to cancel Taormino. “Women who talk about sex, especially their own sexual experiences, are likely to be slut-shamed or seen as less important than men.”

OSU may still bring Taormino to speak and this time is leaving the choice up to the students.  In a press release this week from the ASOSU stated:

The Associated Students of Oregon State University would like to give students an opportunity to utilize student fees in bringing her to campus for the conference.  As it is our mission to represent students, we will not take any action until we have gathered student responses…Students with concerns, opinions, and ideas on the issue may visit ASOSU representatives in Snell 149 or email or

On Taormino’s blog she says:

If you support free speech and my mission of sexual empowerment, please voice your opinion about OSU’s decision to cancel my appearance at the last minute to the following people. I would really appreciate your support

Larry Roper
Vice Provost for Student Affairs
632 Kerr Administration Building
Corvallis, OR 97331-2154
541-737-3626 (phone)
541-737-3033 (fax)

Dr. Mamta Motwani Accapadi
Dean of Student Life
A200 Kerr Administration Building
Corvallis, OR 97331-2133
541-737-8748 (phone)
541-737-9160 (fax)
twitter: @deanmamta

Dr. Edward J. Ray
600 Kerr Administration Building
Corvallis, OR 97331-2128
541-737-4133 (phone)
541-737-3033 (fax)

For those of us in Portland wishing to see Taormino, she will be teaching two workshops at feminist sex toy shop SheBop on Mississippi on February 13th and 14th.  “She Bop supports a healthy perspective on sex and sexuality and we are proud to have Tristan Taormino present two years in a row at our shop in Portland. Tristan is a leading educator paving the way for others to help break down the stigma around sex in this country. It is part of our mission as a female friendly adult shop to support sexual empowerment and growth,” say co-owners Jeneen Doumitt and Evy Cowan.

Rival school University of Oregon has also invited Taormino to speak at their campus instead. Taormino will lecture on feminist porn at the Eugene campus on Wednesday, February 16th at 7:30.

8 comments to OSU cancels visit from sex-positive speaker Tristan Taormino

  • Lyska

    Yeah! That’s MESSED up! I laughed and then got angry when I read about the Playboy thing. I mean, clearly “protecting” students from exploitation is not the goal here. This is just more boring discrimination from boring people that clearly need to attend this conference.

    There should be mandatory attendance for legislators… I bet the refreshments would be better if there were.

  • And, of course, they cancel a sex-positive woman in favor of a sex-positive man…

  • Dylan

    This is so outrageous. It seems OSU has created their own sex scandal, huh. I’m at least relieved that Portland is still embracing Tristan Taormino in sex positive spaces. Her book on “Opening Up” is on my bookshelf right now.

  • Diana

    Great post Nicole! Keep it up! I love Taormino, her writings on anal sex are a must have for anyone interested in backdoor play.

  • Cindy

    As a tax payer I’m glad they cancelled her. If you want to hear about her smut and “be free” with your sexual ideas do it on your own dollar. I think they should cancel the entire thing. What does this have to do with getting a degree?

    • Lyska

      Well “Cindyxxx”, not everyone is getting their degree in being a senseless prude with a hyper-sexual screen name. I don’t know how many of your dollars has funded my open minded education, but I only hope… the next young lesbian educated on fisting.. gets a dollar directly from you.

      For people getting degrees that do involve human sexuality, a workshop of this sort is invaluable. What the body wants, the mind explores.

  • […] Young feminist Amy Richards will guide participants from ideas to action, and nighttime homo-cabaret favorites from Homomentum will also take stage. It will be a genderific synthesis of intellect, activism and fun not to be missed. (Now if only they would have invited Tristan Taormino…) […]

  • […] are known for pushing the envelope in regards to academics and conference subjects so sex-positive speaker Tristan Taormino seemed like a natural choice for Oregon State’s Modern Sex conference last January. But the university cancelled her visit and refused to pay her […]