Let’s Talk About Sex, Hooking Up and Consent

By Alex Edel

This week’s commemorative event for Sexual Assault Awareness month will take place tonight at 6:30-8 p.m. in Crossroads Café. While in recent months on both a national and local level here on the campus, there has been a tremendous influx in dialogue surrounding sexual violence, the event Sex, Hooking Up, and Consent: What You Need To Know sets itself apart from other opportunities that work towards awareness and solutions. The poster asserts that it will be, “A Workshop and discussion about sex, relationships, communication and violence prevention for students of all genders.” This advertisement promises an interactive discussion aimed at equipping students with knowledge and necessary rhetoric to navigate the complex nexus of emotions, gender politics and potential for violence, infused in the hook-up culture.

The College is using funds awarded from the grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, which the college has won due to the combination of students and the administrations unabashed readiness to confront sexual violence on our campus.

Facilitating the discussion is University of Vermont’s Men’s Outreach Coordinator, Keith Smith. Since 2006, Smith has worked as both a counselor and workshop leader with the goal of, “Fostering healthy masculine identity development and non-violence.” It is essential to have a well-versed and thoughtful facilitator, like Smith, when it comes to such a complex topic, “Especially when it comes to sex,” Professor of Creative Writing and Gender Sexuality and Feminist Studies Catharine Wright said.

“Where so many aspects of our humanness are involved: our body, our identities, our emotional development, our spirituality, even,” she said.

From extensive interviews with community members at the College, it is clear that many feel that in an intense academic climate, with various pressures threatening to asphyxiate many students’ well-being, students use sex as a way to escape their anxieties and release pressure.

“Sex can be a healthy way to release pressure, [but] the combination of substances and sex and no social accountability is deeply problematic,” Wright said. “Add to that the fact that there are so many aspects of social identity and emotional development that never get adequately addressed on campus. And the fact that students, like everyone, inherit larger histories of gender, sex and power that most of them never unpack.”

Sex gets complicated faster than we consciously comprehend. Of course, there are undeniable moments of respect and connection that arise from the College’s prominent hook up culture, but there are still unavoidable instances of violence and dishonesty that arise from the more shallow, abusive and opportunistic facets.

When asked why a discussion about sex and consent are part of the event, Director of Health and Wellness Barbara McCall said, “These topics are now interfacing with the discourse around sexual violence on campus which I think is an important combination. To focus only on stopping violence in a “now” moment is short-sided because we know that giving students tools to create and explore healthy and consensual relationships is a foundational prevention strategy.”

Raising awareness about sexual assault is a hugely important first step, but a critical next step is to provide students with the necessary communication skills to cultivate a lasting, safe and vibrant sexual environment for all.

Alex Potter ’16.5 expresses that he feels pride when both Middlebury students and administration come together to foster a dialogue about such a prevalent issue because it, “is an issue that affects all members of community regardless of sexual orientation. It affects the health and well-being of all, and being open about sexual violence and sexual health is the first step towards improving it.”

Fortunately, these conversations are being bolstered by amazing work done by Middlebury students to speak out against sexual violence. It Happens Here, MiddSafe, and The Red Tent Event run student forums on sexual health and sexuality. Discourse surrounding sex and consent is clearly gaining momentum on campus.

If issues of sexual violence are to be overcome as they need to be, breaking patterns of silence and censorship are necessary. Silence supports ignorance. It is imperative that people talk about the issues and the patterns, and try and tease out the various factors inhibiting Middlebury from being a completely sexual violence free campus. Events like the Sex, Hooking Up, and Consent are a big, necessary step towards evaluating the oppression that can occur in a hook up culture like that of the College. They give students the communication skills to foster a healthier sexual dialogue when it comes to hooking up. Whenever sexual violence is happening, a change is necessary, and as Wright argues, “That’s what dialogue, in concert with policy, can do.”

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