On Tuesday, Jan. 16, the Committee on Diversity Affairs (CODA) held a discussion in partnership with Student Alliance Against Sexual Harassment and Assault (SAASHA) and Colores titled “Let’s Talk About Sex on Campus.” The conversation took place in the Mead Witter room on the second floor of Warch. Around 30 people were present over the course of the two hours, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Index cards were available for anonymous questions as a way to increase participation, since many questions about sex on campus are personal or embarrassing. A list of resources in Appleton was also available.
The discussion was lead by junior Rebecca Burnheimer, sophomore Amy DeGraff-Castro and senior chair of SAASHA Mallory Bryan. They started out with basic ground rules: be courteous to others, be good listeners and address ideas, not people. They also issued a trigger warning, due to the issue of rape being part of the discussion.
The first topic they covered was consent. The audience supplied that consent was an overt, active intent of “yes,” although it’s not always with the word “yes” itself. Any word or action that provides unequivocal permission is a form of consent. They suggested thinking about it as permission, since the word “consent” with the issues surrounding it can scare people, and is at its core giving or denying permission.
The Lawrence policy on the definition of consent is ‘freely and ongoing-ly given by word or action in a clear manner, while the person is knowing.’
“How do you ask for consent?” they asked the audience. Someone suggested combining asking for consent with asking about getting a condom as a practical, natural way to incorporate it.
The discussion of consent moved into ways to say no. It’s not always easy to do. According to an audience member, “there have been times when, in romantic situations, a friend has said ‘yes’ when they wanted to say ‘no’ because they felt that they needed to in order to keep their partner. That they needed to pay this price for the man’s affection.” Remember, not saying no when you feel you need to can hurt much more than begrudgingly giving consent. You have the right to withhold consent at any time.
The discussion moved to the issue of Rape Culture, and the victim blaming that is part of it. They showed a short video of a poem on rape and its widespread reference in songs, as far back as the 40s. The conversation then split into small group discussions to allow people to more comfortably share their thoughts and stories while talking about the video.
The conversation moved to the opposite, the Consent Culture. Again in small groups, it was explained as a culture where people feel comfortable asking for consent and saying no. It is the ideal, the normalization of asking for consent and respecting the answer.
The leaders showed a short written piece by a woman who works with sex workers. She said, “consent is about power. Less power means less ability to establish meaningful consent.” The discussion then touched on how we can replace rape culture with consent culture, without reaching a definitive policy answer. The question will continue to be asked.
They then showed a video about being transgender. According to the video, being attracted to someone just because they’re trans is fetishizing, while someone being trans shouldn’t be a reason on its own to not date someone. Every trans person has a different situation, and a different body. The goal is for each of us to be as wholly ourselves as possible, trans or not.
The topic moved to a brief definition of gender and sexual orientation. Gender is how you relate to yourself, while sexual orientation is who you’re attracted to.
They next showed a video of a doctor, in which she promoted the importance of having good sexual communication, since there is research that shows having sexual communication leads to more satisfaction. She also explained that orgasming isn’t the only benefit of sex, since sex itself has benefits even before the orgasm.
The discussion ended with an overview of safe sex. They went over sexually transmitted infections (STIs). They’re viral or bacterial infections transmitted through any sexual contact. Common examples are HIV and herpes. They noted that STIs can be transmitted through oral sex. Methods of prevention include condoms, dental dams, vaccinations and pre-exposure prophylaxis. Getting tested regularly is vital to keeping both yourself and your partner healthy. Open communication about sexual health between partners is key to keeping everyone safe. Planned Parenthood gives testing, along with other places. Full lists can be found online.
They wrapped up with the different options for birth control, including condoms and birth control pills along with many others. Planned Parenthood has a full list online. The takeaways were that safe sex is good sex, and communication in every aspect of sexual intimacy is vital for safe and fulfilling relationships.