The Rochester Erotic Arts Festival is far from subtle.

Approaching the Radisson Riverside Hotel this past Friday, April 10, it was clear my friend and I were in the right place from the increasing number of people wearing revealing clothing and corsets. Then it was even more clear that we took the right entrance to the event from the fetish-wear, toplessness and body paint abound. Throughout the festival space, there were individuals, groups of friends and partners leading each other around by the hand; or by a leash.

Through displays of erotic artwork, an expansive room full of vendors, a variety of workshops presented and after parties hosted throughout the weekend, attendees were able to learn about, purchase or simply view artistic expressions of sexuality. This is part of the beauty of the event; sexuality is not shamed nor masked by more modest clothing and innuendos, but instead encouraged, expressed and discussed openly with a range of items and experiences, from the tame to the explicit.

Walking around the festival area, the artwork on display included simply nude figures to bound figures, resting genitalia to ejaculating penises. One interesting piece by Katelyn Liepins consisted of three pairs of panties with screen shots of erotic iMessages printed inside them.

The featured artist Carolyn Weltman’s work was particularly admirable for its range. Her work’s distinct, soft-edged style achieved through the use of watercolor remains consistent throughout her work, but it also displays subjects of varying sexual orientations and genders (including transgender and transitioning) kissing, masturbating, sitting on another’s lap or bound.

Some prints of artists’ work were also for sale, but additional vendors were set up to sell a wide range of goods. Naturist Rochester was there to recruit naturists and nudists for their swims. There were vendors selling dildos, vibrators and “unique impact toys”, but also vendors simply selling jewelry and applying henna to their subjects’ skin.

The workshops had a similar range. One of the first workshops on Friday was Burlesque 101, taught by Bethany Swank and the Pretty Kitties Burlesque Company.  During this workshop, Swank taught the audience different burlesque moves while some chose to participate and some chose to observe. During the presentation she reminded, “Burlesque is not about being naked; it’s about getting naked.”

The Canes, Rods and Sticks presentation was far less subtle. The course was taught by StrongJohn, “a ‘Daddy’ dominant and equal opportunity sadist” according to his bio, and Tyger, ‘StrongJohn’s babygirl and partner in kinky fun,’ according to her’s. When the workshop first started, I was surprised by StongJohn’s long grey poney tail and Tyger’s short, white hair; however, these two’s experience was obvious. They opened the event with a demonstration through a brief punishment scene in which Tyger played a school girl and StrongJohn spanked her a few times with one of their many rods and sticks. One of her yelps came with the narrow containment of a curse word at the end of “Oh, mother...” When an audience member commented saying, “That’s my safe word,” StrongJohn suggested that it might not be the best idea.

After showing the audience different rods and sticks and explaining the difference in material to an audience that at times was overflowing the room, StongJohn started demonstrating the differences between them through their use on an underwear clad model lying on a padded table in the center of the room. After each strike and as her skin reddened, she described the sensations that came with each material.

Tyger then went on to demonstrate a more sensual use of canes. She asked the model to remove her underwear as she had a man from the front row of the audience help her demonstrate on what she was about to do. As she explained the technique, the man’s face lit up and Tyger teased him about using this method when he got home.

Tyger then took two canes a few inches in diameter, stuck one between the model’s legs and labia, against her clitoris, and then gently struck this cane with the other to induce vibrations. Twice, Tyger almost brought the model to climax. The reasoning behind the 18+ restriction on the festival seemed fairly clear.

But it was clear from audience reaction that the workshop was appropriate for those present. One dominatrix holding the end of her sub’s leash asked precise questions, looking for specific information missing from her repertoire.

There were many more workshops covering electro play, fire play, creating written erotica, figure drawing, bondage, cutting, orgasmic meditation, pole dancing and more. Carmen, an RIT student, attended the event, a few of these workshops and participated in one of the demonstrations.

“It was great to be in an environment where people were like, ‘Hell yeah I want to do this!’ Takes my pants off. ‘Do it!’ … [I]t’s just silly, fun, try it out, see how it is. It’s good if you just want to watch other people do stuff, to check it out. It’s more convention-y, less sex party.”

While there are people she knows that like to participate in every demo, she reminded that “you can walk around the entire time like a fly on the wall and not have to engage in anything.”

This is one of the most important aspects of the event to remember: you only have to participate to the level that you are comfortable. The event organizers and many of the participants also heavily emphasize consent and want to make sure that everyone is safe and comfortable.

“What I love about that whole community is that everybody is about very explicit consent,” said Carmen. “I mean there’s some people that give off a kind of creepy vibe but there’s those people everywhere.”

The wide variety of events, workshops, artwork and items available at the Rochester Erotic Arts Festival and the focus on consent make the festival safe and interesting no matter someone’s erotic preferences.

“If you want to check it out, check it out, bring a friend and just be like, ‘These people are crazy!’” suggested Carmen. “But don’t be mean about it cause you’re in their space so don’t be a dick basically.”

Just look at the images of them hanging around.