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Let’s talk about sex

Posted April 29, 2013, at 8:37 a.m.
Last modified May 06, 2013, at 12:50 p.m.
The cast of Speak About It, an hour-long show that talks about healthy sex. Back row, left to right: Erik Moody, Benjamin Row and Director David Surkin. In front, Ellen Almirol, Emma Verrill and Shana Natelson.
Courtesy of Speak About It
The cast of Speak About It, an hour-long show that talks about healthy sex. Back row, left to right: Erik Moody, Benjamin Row and Director David Surkin. In front, Ellen Almirol, Emma Verrill and Shana Natelson.

While April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, it isn’t the only month that gets a lot of attention for sexual assault awareness and prevention. August and September see an influx of college freshmen flooding onto campus, eager to meet new roommates, study for exams and avoid a curfew.

That’s where we – Speak About It – come in.

One in five college-aged women will experience attempted or completed sexual assault. This puts women age 18-22 as one of the highest at risk for sexual assault, and freshmen and sophomores are at a greater risk than juniors or seniors.

“Speak About It” is an hour-long show that includes humorous yet provocative skits, interactive dialogue and monologues that help spark a conversation about what healthy sex can and should look like. The performance is educational, entertaining and empowering, and this combination keeps our talk about consent and sexual assault prevention relatable.

We often perform during orientation when students are new to campus and have yet to settle into the campus party culture. This fall will mark our fourth season of touring and traveling to different colleges and universities across the country, and to-date, we have started conversations with more than 10,000 students at more than a dozen different colleges.

Great, so what does performance-based education with 10,000 students mean, exactly? What makes that approach unique?

We use humor, familiar language, and we remove the kid gloves to talk to students about sex and sexual assault like they are adults. We use honesty. We want to have a conversation about sexual assault prevention by talking about the good side of sex. A lot of our work addresses sexual assault with primary prevention in mind. This means we’re talking about what consent is, instead of about what consent isn’t.

We want to explain that “yes means yes” and encourage students to use this language with peers and partners. We want to give students permission to ask for and give consent, to encourage and promote dialogue as a preventative measure against sexual assault. By starting a conversation about preventing sexual assault, we actively encourage social and cultural change in regard to healthy sexuality.

Preventing sexual violence also includes the active bystander — a bystander who encourages students to speak up if they see something uncomfortable at a party or see someone who might be too intoxicated to make informed decisions. On college campuses, the majority of sexual assaults happen between two people who know each other, and they overwhelmingly involve alcohol. This shouldn’t be surprising, considering that many social settings on college campuses involve alcohol, and there are rampant cultural and social expectations to have sex while in college (“ American Pie” or “ Spring Breakers,” anyone?).

When we visit different college campuses and meet people outside of the performance, we get a lot of questions about consent and alcohol, namely: How drunk is too drunk?

We aren’t lawyers, we don’t know the law in each state, but we do know respect. We encourage students to check in with their partners and be respectful. But if you have to ask yourself if you or you partner have had too much to drink, maybe it’s time to pump the brakes and say, “Hey, I just met you. And this is crazy. But here’s my number, let’s wait until we’re sober.”

Our goal is not to scare anyone away from having sex but to provide information about the interaction between alcohol and sex, ways to negotiate that interaction and stay safe, and how to encourage students to help protect their friends.

We’re not trying to change the world. We’re not even trying to change greater college campus culture. We’re trying to change one person. If one person leaves our performance and feels comfortable talking to their partner, their roommate, their sibling, about sex or consent or sexual assault or sharing an experience they had, we call that a success.

If one person leaves and takes the conversation with them, or steps in at a party, maybe we’ve prevented an assault. Or maybe we’ve given someone permission to use language and have a great sexual experience. Our hope is that the discussion doesn’t end when the performance ends.

But don’t ask us, ask a college student.

Shana Natelson is a producer, writer and actor for Speak About It, a nationally-touring educational performance about consent, boundaries and healthy relationships primarily for a college audience. Connect with her and Speak About It at www.SpeakAboutItOnline.com.

 

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