Editorial: Sex Health Week brings essential dialogue to campus

Content warning: This article contains discussions of sexual assault.

Last week, the Florida House of Representatives declared porn a public health risk. This week, Tufts is bringing a gay porn star to campus.

Tonight’s talk with activist and pornographic film actor Conner Habib, discussing intersectionality and consent, is just one of the many highlights in Tufts’ first annual Sex Health Week. The events throughout the week, organized by Tufts Sex Health Reps in partnership with the Center for Awareness, Resources and Education (CARE), incorporate a wide scope of activities. Some integrate serious themes of race, religion and gender, while others are more lighthearted (check out “Sex Toy vs. Dog Toy” tomorrow in Miller Hall). On Friday alone, you can go from “sexy kickboxing” to a conversation with Muslim Chaplain Celene Ibrahim about female sexuality in the Quran.

Creating a safe, sex-positive environment on college campuses is crucial. A recent Harvard study estimated 60 percent of its undergraduate population is sexually active, while only 59 percent of those students are using protection for vaginal sex and even fewer for anal and oral sex. National estimates show that 15 percent of college students report never using any protection at all. With this many sexually active students, a fair amount of whom are not engaging in sex safely, promoting a dialogue around sexual enjoyment and protection is critical on our campus.

In the past year’s onslaught of sexual assault allegations, we have seen that words alone can create tangible change. For what seems like the first time in history, hugely successful men are being toppled by a range of accusations, courtesy of the brave survivors willing to tell them. Tufts students, too, have engaged in discussion of #MeToo, sharing their own personal accounts as well as weighing in on the movement as a whole. Unfortunately, as these stories fade from the headlines, there is a lurking danger that this disgusting culture could creep back up. Sex Health Week succeeds in reinvigorating campus concern around this national conversation, while still celebrating sexuality in an uplifting manner.

In all of this discussion of sexual responsibility, it is hard to ignore Tufts’ own murky history with sexual misconduct. The university has been found in violation of Title IX in the past, as the Boston Globe reported, for issues involving “a number of Tufts’ policies on handling sexual assault complaints.” Tufts policies around consent and sexual harassment have been called into question time and time again. We must remember, amidst this celebration of sexual pleasure, the dark underbelly of sexual harassment on our campus and the real toll it has taken on our peers.

Of course, sexual misconduct at Tufts is not limited to the instances that make headlines. Nearly 25 percent of surveyed Tufts students reported experiences of non-consensual sexual contact and intercourse. Perhaps what’s most daunting about these statistics is that most of us aren’t shocked by them; we understand this to be the reality of social life in college, even at a college like Tufts. These gross statistics, and the insidious nature of sexual assault on our campus in general, make conversations around safe, consensual sex that much more important.

Sex Health Week serves not only as a celebration of sexuality, but also signals the importance of communication and mutual enjoyment of sex. It adds a much-needed levity to conversations around sex; when so much of the recent news is littered with sexual worst-case scenarios, these events underscore all of the amazing things sex can do for you as well. It brings a useful, intellectual lens to the labyrinth of college hookup culture and is a reminder that Tufts has the resources — from condoms and STI tests to training workshops and counseling — to build a community engaged in sex that is healthy, enjoyable and most importantly, consensual.

Let’s use Sex Health Week as a jumpstart to reshape the way college students interact with sex and further these dialogues of sexual health, positivity and consent far past this one week.

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