In April of 2009, Ms. Andelloux found herself walking into The Grant Building, a charming old indoor mall in Pawtucket, RI. She learned that The Grant Building was renting out a smaller sized office space. As she entered into the area that would soon become “The Center of Sexual Pleasure and Health,” her excitement grew. She could foresee wonderful things taking place: a physical location for people to learn about sexuality, without the pressure to buy anything, in a safe environment. She signed the lease and worked through the summer with the help of her friends and parents to create the perfect aesthetic of The CSPH: charm, style, and comfort mixed with historical artifacts and oddities, all devoted to sexual education.
Three days before The CSPH was slated to open (on September 26, 2009), the city of Pawtucket notified Ms. Andelloux that a concerned citizen had sent an email to city councillors and city officials. The email read: “Hello, A center for ‘sexual rights’ and ‘sexual pleasure’ is opening in Pawtucket”. This email was sent from University of Rhode Island Professor Donna M. Hughes, who, in some circles, is considered to be a national expert on sex trafficking. The town took notice of this email and slammed on the brakes for the scheduled opening of The CSPH.
The city of Pawtucket implied that they could not permit The CSPH from opening its doors due to limited zoning codes. Despite the building being zoned for multi-use purposes, Pawtucket’s Zoning Director, Ronald Travers, said the allowed uses only applied to business, entertainment, eateries, office or personal use. The zoning director stated that “There is no provision for educational use, so I had to deny the applicant.” It seemed that education was not permitted .
Harvey E. Goulet, Jr., director of administration for the city, said he and some other city officials had taken special exception to Andelloux’s plans to open The CSPH. “I would prefer that it not be in Pawtucket. That’s my opinion and that’s the mayor’s opinion . . . I think some of these things would be better off in an office somewhere than a storefront.” Rumors started circulating that The CSPH would actually function as a brothel, a havenhouse for sex trafficking, and an abortion clinic. Andelloux said the CSPH would be a place where adults can talk openly about sex, and that opposition was founded on “a basic fear of talking openly about sexuality.”
Andelloux contested the decision due to the fact that The Grant Building housed other “educational” businesses, including a chess academy. The CSPH formally appealed the city decision and was again denied occupancy. This denial drew criticism from Rhode Island ACLU executive director Steven Brown who was quoted in a press release stating, “The city’s intent is to suppress the speech that would otherwise occur at the Center. Such content-based discrimination raises serious constitutional concerns.”
After threatening court action, Ms. Andelloux and her lawyer decided to apply for a special use permit in January 2010. After the Pawtucket appeal board listened to her intent for the space–providing education for the adult population–The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health was given a special use permit and cleared to open on February 2, 2010.
Ms. Andelloux met with her first client on February 3rd, 2010 and has been a welcomed member of Pawtucket since. The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health greatly thanks the support that was issued by the Pawtucket Visitor’s Center, The Rotary Club, Albert Vitali, Planned Parenthood of Greater Northern New Jersey, Sex in The Public Square, The ACLU, The Center for Sex and Culture, Tara Hurley, Matthew Coolidge and Jef Nickerson, RI Future, RI Crisis Assistance Center, Self Serve, Good Vibrations, Sex Work Awareness, and the many, many other individuals from across the country who spoke up for the right of adults to access sex information.
Truly, sex education is a lifelong process. Without the protests, individuals may have remained unaware regarding the legitimacy and professionalism of sex educators. The difficulties The CSPH encountered showcased the challenges Americans face in the right to access sexual health, pleasure, research and reproductive justice information.