Sex Week at Emory, sponsored by the Office of Health Promotion, is Feb. 8-14. Sex should not be something we tiptoe around and whisper about. There are real physical and mental health consequences to not talking about sex. Sex is about more than contraception. Making free condoms available is a significant, yet one-dimensional, representation of a more comprehensive initiative to promote healthy sexuality.
Healthy sexuality is neither synonymous with “hookup culture” nor does it constitute any one flavor of sex; rather, it refers to a sense of personal freedom, a capacity to make well-informed decisions about one’s body and sexuality. Sexuality looks strikingly different for everyone, the common thread being a sense of agency and security to authentically explore one’s likes and dislikes. This could mean choosing to abstain from sex or choosing to engage in sexual activity with multiple partners. The goal of Sex Week is to safely promote awareness on our campus about a spectrum of personal values, gender identities and expressions, sexualities and body images.
Through the Sex Week programs, student groups and sponsors intend to showcase contraceptive and safer sex options so that discourse is possible and resources are made visible. No one experience is prioritized over another; healthy sexuality is about discovering what is meaningful for you as an individual in a supportive environment. Emory’s healthy sexuality initiative endeavors to celebrate the diversity of experience and systems of belief; Sex Week will be a platform through which to learn and respectfully converse.
We tend to internalize as normal what we are exposed to growing up, what we learn in the classroom and what we see on TV. Oftentimes, this is a mere snapshot of someone else’s version of reality: sexual intercourse will lead to pregnancy and/or disease, heterosexuality is the only sexuality, girls wear pink, boys wear blue and then they get married.
Ideas such as these seamlessly become our truths, informing our lived experiences. To be truly liberated, to live authentically and fully, it is important to experience what I like to call an “Aha moment;” that is, the moment you feel like your world has been turned upside down for the better. For the first time, you can see clearly. From that moment on, you can’t help but think critically; it’s empowering. A single conversation, a film screening, reading Gayle Rubin’s “Thinking Sex,” listening to a lecture, finding the right resource – all seemingly trivial experiences, can be transformative beyond belief.
The Sex Week programs are intended to inspire students to engage with new ideas and identities, to safely explore uncharted territory without judgment and to reflect, with the necessary support, on the diversity that is reality. The fact that so many student organizations, such as Student Health Advocacy Group (SHAG), Sexual Assault Peer Advocates (SAPA) and Feminists in Action (FIA), and campus divisions like Emory University’s Office of Health Promotion (OHP), have pledged their support to this initiative is a testament to the significance of having these conversations that are too often dismissed as taboo.
OHP, in partnership with SHAG, recognizes that some college students will choose to engage in sexual activity during the time they spend at Emory. The office supports students to make decisions about sexual behavior that are consistent with the student’s values. OHP’s Respect Program also engages the Emory community to prevent and respond to sexual assault and intimate partner violence. OHP not only seeks to prepare students for formative years at the university, but they also seek to provide support for students who will one day be Emory graduates, navigating a lifetime of experiences, experiences that for many will include sex. OHP provides students with access to information about healthy sexuality and safer sex that they can choose to utilize.
Lauren (LB) Bernstein, coordinator of the Respect Program, elaborates on its meaningful mandate, “The Respect Program’s mission is to engage the Emory community to prevent and respond to sexual assault and relationship violence. Sexual assault and rape are not about sex but are about power and control. However, teaching sexual communication and supporting students to make decisions about sexuality that are consistent with their values help us foster healthy behavior and recognize unhealthy experiences. In the Respect Program, we support students in making decisions consistent with their values and engaging in sexual respect and open communication.” Thankfully, silencing well-informed sex-positive dialogue is not the approach taken in health promotion at Emory. Stifling such conversation is counterintuitive to helping students achieve wellness, academic success and social justice.
I’ll be at Sex Week – will you?
Rachel Ezrol is a College junior from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.