When I first heard about Sex and Gender Wellness Week, I was extremely pleased. A week designed to make sure that people have accurate information about a myriad of issues — consent, gender fluidity, porn, safe sex, pleasurable sex, sexual health — is exactly the kind of event I would expect at a large, public university full of young students who are likely sexually active. But while I was happy to see this kind of information presented in a friendly and informative format, this entire week is going to make me deeply uncomfortable.
“Personal is political” has been a rallying cry of social justice activists for the past 50 years, but in this case, the personal couldn’t be farther from the political. A combination of religion, upbringing and cultural background means that many students will find the frank and occasionally explicit discussions of sex that take place on campus disconcerting, myself included. But we’re all adults here, and hopefully we can realize that our lived experience is not everyone else’s. Maybe talking about sex makes you feel uncomfortable or you flat out hate it — yet it’s fundamentally necessary to grow up healthily.
Part of living and going to school on a diverse campus in a diverse city is being confronted by different opinions. Freedom of expression doesn’t mean that people are allowed to have controversial opinions so long as they keep them to themselves. These notions should be presented in the public sphere, and while the carnival game of “hit the clit” might make some students uncomfortable, it isn’t breaking any laws.
In the much-needed push towards a culture of sexual liberation and openness, particularly amongst women, a less desirable side effect has attached itself to certain parts of the movement. This is the idea that sex positivity is mandatory for liberation, and that’s just not true. You don’t have to be a sexual person and you don’t have to discuss sexuality if it makes you uncomfortable. On the flip side, if you want to discuss or enjoy sex on a regular basis, it shouldn’t come with any kind of value judgment. But if we don’t allow people to abstain shamelessly, we’re only allowing half of the picture.
There’s an unspoken expectation that everyone should act comfortable with their sexuality. Many university students are in their late teens or 20s and there is a certain assumption that we’ll all be participating in some Hollywood-inspired hookup culture where we’re all suddenly much more attractive and sex doesn’t come with any emotional or physical baggage, from apprehension to health concerns. This particular assumption might suggest an over-sexualisation of society, but that criticism often enters the territory of slut-shaming, when there’s nothing wrong with enjoying sex or candidly talking about it. Real issues only come up when we don’t allow vulnerability, discomfort and worries to be included in our discussions. Sometimes it feels like we’re told to express our sexuality in the same old specific ways, especially for women — too sexy, not sexy enough, too uptight, too loose. But the truth of the matter is that it’s OK to be uncomfortable with your sexuality. It’s OK for the topic to make you feel discomforted and anxious and it’s OK to not want to participate in discussions about it.
As far as Sex Week goes, I might spend most of it avoiding eye contact, happily learning new information about gender identities and cringing inwardly at the proposed ‘dildo ring toss,’ but I’m still glad it’s happening. The U of C has a lot of the information you would want about sex and sexuality in a frank conversation, and that’s important.Let’s not judge people for whether they want to participate in that conversation or not.