On Wednesday, April 13, Student Affairs and Women’s and Gender Studies hosted an event called, “SexPectations: Healthy Relationships and Sexuality for College Students.” Psychology graduate student Jennifer Steward, M.A., led the discussion, which focused on why we need to be comfortable talking about sex — regardless of whether or not we actually want to have sex. The presentation was compiled by Steward and Dr. Michael McClendon, Psy. D., of the Alexander Health Center.
The primary point of the discussion was that the inability to have healthy communication about relationships and sex can lead to violence.
Steward suggested not talking about sex can lead to miscommunications which can lead to either intentional or relatively unintentional sexual violence.
Audience members were asked where they got most of their information regarding what is and is not a healthy romantic relationship. They generally indicated that this information comes from family (particularly parents), the media and peers.
The audience was shown a series of three advertisements to show how the media affects our perceptions of healthy relationships. Two of the three were by Axe and the third was a burger restaurant.
The first ad depicted a man washing his body with soap alongside a parallel picture of a woman covering her body in whipped cream. The copy read, “The cleaner you are, the dirtier you get.”
The general consensus in the room was that the ad implied sex is something that can be earned, that partners are objects and that all men want to have sex with women.
The copy of the second Axe ad read, “Stop being a friend and start being a man.” Some members of the audience suggested that this ad demonized femininity and reinforced the “friend zone” trope.
Steward spoke about the messages we receive about sex — concepts like “spontaneous,” “thrill of the chase,” and “playing hard to get,” each of which are thought to be the fundamental concepts of rape culture. Steward argued that sex and physical relationships should not be spontaneous — partners should talk to each other and come to an agreement about what each one wants.
Concepts like “playing hard to get” subtly suggest that “no” does not really mean “no” —that sometimes, “no” means “yes.” She stated, “That’s why we don’t talk about it. Because we keep getting these messages that we don’t have to.”
The final slide of the presentation summed up the entire discussion, “wanting to + wanting to = sex.” Mutual consent, which can only come through discussion and question-asking, is the only condition under which it is acceptable for people to have sex.
Steward emphasized the importance of discussion for learning. Determining what works and does not work in a person’s relationships enables that person to have better, healthier relationships in the future. Steward said, “If you have a bad relationship…then we want you to learn from that. These things can and will change over time.”