V-Feb events focus on sex-positivity

by Joyce Lee | 2/21/17 2:05am

Dialogues about gender equity and combating gender-based violence through exploration of sexuality and relationships were publicized this month through events associated with V-February. V-Feb is Dartmouth’s take on V-Day, a global movement against violence towards girls and women. Events held this month as part of V-Feb included Sexpo: A Sex Positive Fair, “The Vagina Monologues” and a workshop and lunch with Jan Lloyd and Kelly Arbor of Rocket Erotic, who offer performance-based education about sexuality.

Member of the V-Feb programming team Alice Hsu ’19 said that part of her work with Sexpo and Rocket Erotic included relating events back to the mission of V-Feb — promoting gender equity and ending gender-based violence. The Sexpo included activities such as Valentine’s Day card-making, which centered not only around romance, but also around platonic and familial relationships, Hsu said.

“We wanted to encourage people to explore the relationships they had in their lives and to explore the more positive aspects of interacting with people socially and on a more intimate levels,” she said.

Dartmouth healthy relationships and sexual health specialist Tong Fei said that she is trying to promote the idea that she is not only talking about sexual relationships, but also looking into meaningful friendships and relationships that are not necessarily sexual. One example of doing so was the collaboration with the Tucker Center, which participated in the Sexpo by providing poems that could be erotic but also talked about friendships. The Tucker Center also hosted a dinner with students of various religious backgrounds on Valentine’s Day, she said.

“For some of our students who have strong religious backgrounds or are within multi-faith communities, it can be a barrier to talk about sex, and we’re trying to include as [many] communities as possible,” Fei said. “There’s a lot of opportunities to talk about this topic in different communities during this month. We have an element of diversity.”

Informational resources and booths that explored contraceptives and sexually transmitted infections were also available at the Sexpo, and Rocket Erotic shared its mission in spreading sex positivity with the Dartmouth community

Fei said that she is hoping to normalize conversations about healthy sexuality and sex positivity as well as find what being sex-positive means for students.

The Sexpo was a positive environment for people, even for people who were wondering if they could approach the event, she said.

“It’s our goal to normalize and to say it is okay to talk about sex, and it’s okay to talk about sexual positivity and it’s okay to talk about healthy sexuality,” Fei said. “We’re hoping through these events, we’re getting the idea out there that it’s okay and that we have people and resources available if you [are confused].”

One way of normalizing such conversations was to show different aspects of sexuality as unintimidating procedures. For example, the fair featured a table for STI testing, where students realized that they could have results back the next day or within 20 minutes if they were testing through an oral test for HIV, Fei said.

“They were really visual ways for students to see,” she said. “Sometimes they shy away from asking those questions, but by being really friendly and positive, we tried to show them that they didn’t need to shy away.”

Movement Against Violence also hosted an activity with a wall where participants could stick Post-it notes that answered the prompt, “I get excited when...,” Hsu said.

“It’s a way to explore small gestures and aspects of sexuality that are not inherently sexual or explicit in nature [and] allow people to interact with you in both intimate and platonic levels,” she said. “It’s also a way to explore the multiple ways in how people can interact with you.”

Hsu said that the focus of V-Feb is to explore gender equity as a whole and not to limit people to platonic or romantic relationships. She said that it was important to explore relationships that are not limited by societal gender roles that are created by cultural perceptions of sexual and gender identity.

“It’s part of the greater mission to create an egalitarian society where people don’t feel endangered by how they express themselves,” she said. “We want to encourage people to explore the way they can express themselves ... and create a space and a culture where they feel safe doing so.”

Karina Korsh ’19, who is involved in both MAV and the Sexpert program, said that anytime people have had to advertise sexual positivity, people have also had to work against stigmas against it.

“I think [the Sexpo] was successful in that we are trying to raise awareness to a lot of ideas, which a lot of people are not exposed to,” she said. “Having events like this allows people to see a positive environment, and it was positive in helping normalize the variety of sexual experiences.”

Korsh said that communication and consent are elements of sexual positivity that relate back to the movement against gender-based violence, as well as advocating for healthy sexuality for women and working against double standards, as well as fighting society stigmas.

Hsu said that through the events, she wanted to bring to the forefront questions that people may be afraid to ask, and to create events around these questions that would answer them and be engaging.

“For our fairly polarized culture, we often fall into the trap of engaging those who are already engaged and not engaging those who are not but would like to be,” she said. “So I really wanted to create events that were accessible to everyone, with all types of experiences, that answered or at least started discussions for questions that everyone is wondering about but haven’t been able to bring up.”

Fei said that in tying healthy sexuality and sex positivity back to the mission for V-Feb, one could observe gender-based violence in the ways it exists with topics such as the use of contraceptives. She said that some students said that they did not feel comfortable having conversations about using contraceptives, and that this was rooted in gender-based violence. STI testing is also a topic of conversation that can be difficult for students to confront, Fei said.

“How do we normalize having these conversations that could lead to gender-based violence?” she said. “We’re trying to equip students to be able to counteract that kind of gender based violence.”