Student organization hosts discussion about sexuality

SHAG brought sex educators and professors alike to W&L to promote a campus-wide conversation about sex and sexuality

Lucie Fielding speaks about sexual communication. Photo courtesy of Hannah Powell.

Lucie Fielding speaks about sexual communication. Photo courtesy of Hannah Powell.

Hannah Powell

Washington and Lee’s Sexual Health Awareness Group (SHAG) hosted “Sex Week” last week to bring students, faculty and professional sex educators together to have an open dialogue about sex.

Founded in 2013, SHAG started Sex Week in the winter of 2014 in the hopes that “the other O-Week” would “promote a week of programming that is interdisciplinary, thought-provoking, scholastic, innovative, and applicable to student experiences in order to promote a holistic understanding of sex and sexuality,” according to their website.

At a talk Tuesday night called “Let’s Talk About Sex (No really!): A New Speaking Tradition,” clini- cal intern Lucie Fielding of the W&L Counseling Center introduced attendees to sexual communication. When asked what came to mind upon hearing the term “sexual communication,” students answered with“consent.” Fielding said consent is an important part of the process, but pressed students to consider how communication (or lack thereof) can enhance or ruin a consensual sexual experience.

Much of the rest of Fielding’s discussion focused on these details. She identified three important steps of sexual communication for the group to explore and reflect upon: negotiation, check-ins and aftercare.

Negotiation entails the honest exchange of expectations and boundaries between partners prior to a sexual act. Fielding said this often-overlooked step of sexual communication can lead to a more pleasurable experience for all parties, and avoid the awkwardness of saying no to an action in the moment. Even though these conversations can be intimidating with new partners, Fielding said, it should be a nonstarter if the other person is unwilling to participate.

Check-Ins, the act of confirming comfort and satisfaction levels during sex, are useful for maintaining communication throughout an experience. Fielding gave students tips to make check-ins easier and prevent them from distracting from a pleasurable experience.

After-care, Fielding said, is what will make the difference in future sexual encounters with a partner. Asking how a partner feels and requesting feedback following sex, she said, can lead to a closer, more trusting connection between partners as well as more fulfilling sex later on.

Wednesday evening featured an annual Sex Week event called “The F-Word Panel,” during which a group of students and professors gathered to discuss the meaning of feminism in their lives.

English professor Taylor Walle opened by explaining that she grew up labor- ing over her appearance, feeling that others would judge her primarily based on whether she looked put-together, thin, etc. Feminism offered an escape from this mindset, but also a lens through which she learned to recognize systemic dis- crimination across a number of spectrums.

Students followed with varying ac- counts of how their personal experiences shaped their under- standing of the F- word. Mohini Tangri, ’19, said she wanted to lead by example in the realm of feminism, to prove that her intelligence is not to be overlooked.

Zach Taylor , ’17, wrapped up the panel by providing a male perspective on feminism. To him, feminism means acknowledging a system which has benefitted him and being able to address these issues with female counterparts.

“Here I am,” Taylor offered. “How can I help?”

Sex Week concluded with the keynote event, “I Heart Female Orgasm,” a program conducted by nationally renowned sex educators to enhance education and improve comfort levels regarding female sexuality.

Kate Weinberg and Marshall Miller, who both identify as bisexual and queer, opened by introducing the audience to the reasons for studying the female orgasm. They emphasized that the information they provided would be helpful both for women and their partners, and followed by explaining that their definition of “female” was an inclusive one, covering anyone who chooses to identify as a woman regardless of the sexual organs they were born with.

They also said the educational gap regarding female sexuality leads to unrealistic expectations both for women and their partners. Many young women receive no education at all in this area, or are encouraged to sup- press their sexuality for religious or social reasons.

Simultaneously, media like Men’s Fitness, Cosmopolitan and Hollywood productions depict female pleasure as simple and easy to master, which is confusing to young women who want to learn about and embrace their own sexuality.

The audience was divided by gender at one point , and the women’s group discussed stigmas surrounding female masturbation that they learned growing up. Weinberg listened patiently as participants described how they were taught to think about sex as women, and encouraged everyone to embrace the more open and informative approach she and Miller were advocating.

Her advice was well received by a cheering audience.

Sierra Noland, ’17, head of SHAG and a coordinator of the week’s events, explained via email that she is most proud of Sex Week when people come to the events and learn something new about themselves.

“Ultimately that is the biggest success for SHAG,” she said, “when we are able to facilitate sexual learning and open dialogue for people who wouldn’t otherwise have it.”