Sex Carnival set to encourage healthy sexual dialogue on campus

“Relax, it’s just sex,” Janet Jackson famously murmured at the end of her 2004 hit, “Sexhibition.” Of course, Jackson’s statement garnered media attention. But what the media didn’t capture was Jackson’s obvious attempt to reduce the stigma surrounding sex in our often-conservative social culture.

A group of University of Maine students is trying to do the same. The Student Alliance for Sexual Health (SASH) will be hosting its annual Sex Carnival on Monday, Feb. 29 at 6 p.m. in the Innovative Media, Research and Commercialization (IMRC) Center. The event, held in conjunction with the UMaine Student Wellness Resource Center (SWRC), will feature a number of activities ranging from consent education, safe sex demonstrations and a sex toy table hosted by a representative from Athena’s Home Novelties.

Samantha Saucier, a second-year sociology and women’s gender and sexuality studies student, and President of SASH, said the event aims to encourage a healthy discussion around sex in the UMaine campus community.

“Our goal with the Sex Carnival is mostly just to be creating an environment for students to feel comfortable discussing sex because it’s sort of a ‘taboo’ thing, but we want to normalize it and equalize it, and have a space where [students] can learn things they probably don’t have the opportunity to learn or discuss, and also have access to different resources,” Saucier said.  

According to Saucier, the SWRC works to promote wellness to UMaine students on all levels: physical, mental, emotional and sexual. Hosting an event like this allows for a larger conversation around sex to develop on campus, thereby promoting sexual health.

“If there’s a greater dialogue around sex then there’s going to be less stigma for victims, survivors of sexual assault and people who might be experiencing sexual problems or are maybe having sex for the first time coming to college,” Saucier said.

“In our society, [sex] is not something that’s talked about,” Saucier added. “It’s often shamed, especially for women. There’s a huge fear around sex and sexual activity … and that leads to abstinence-only education, which deprives people the information that they need about their bodies in order to live sexually healthy, fulfilling lives.”

Kirsten Daley, a second-year anthropology student and public relations chair for SASH, agrees.

“There are all these problems that sex education is not getting to in our schools,” Daley said. Among the problems Daley noted are incorrect condom use, inadequate information pertaining to masturbation — including the shame surrounding it — and any kind of sexual activity that deviates from the “norm,” such as male prostate stimulation.

“There’s this big stigma about anything that differs from the norm, and how many sexual partners you’ve had, and nobody’s talking to [students] about things that are important,” Daley said. “I can’t tell you how many young men at these carnivals put condoms on backwards.”

Here’s where Janet Jackson’s sentiment doesn’t always ring true: sex isn’t always, “just sex.” Among the general consensus: consent is key. Unfortunately, according to Daley, consent is one of the basic components of sex education that isn’t taught to students.

“These events really educate students and it really educates them on things that are important, like consent. It’s important you don’t want to hurt other people, and I think that is a massively important part of our carnival. Sex education is massively important, and it’s not comprehensive enough right now,” Daley said.

“We work hard to make sure we emphasize consent and safer sex in our events. People will become very uncomfortable when you ask them if they want a condom, and that’s sort of pretelling of different stigmas that are probably prevalent among kids here,” Saucier, who aspires to be a sex educator, added.

Daley discussed that in conversations she engaged with women in her first year, many women felt ashamed for enjoying sex or, worse, when they didn’t enjoy sex. For her, seeing these women open up to her upon learning more about sex and how natural it is showed her the importance of events like the Sex Carnival.

“A lot of the girls I had talked to … had never even seen a sex toy. I talked to a lot of girls who had never been taught that masturbation is healthy and normal and something that should be completely normalized in society … It was frustrating to me,” Daley said.

“I think that I play a role that makes people uncomfortable,” Daley said of her role in SASH, which puts her in charge of contacting sex toy distributors for the Sex Carnival. “I think I play a role that other people don’t feel that I should be playing, but I do feel that I play a role that’s massively important on this campus.”

The overall message, according to Saucier, is that it is always better to join the conversation late than to not join at all. It’s all in the pursuit of reducing the stigma.

“Even if you’re just learning this stuff now coming to college, it’s better late than never,” Saucier said. “I think people want to talk about [sex] … All of our members of SASH are just so open and excited to spread this information. It allows students to see sex and sexuality as positive things instead of things that have to be hushed up or kept secret.”

The Sex Carnival will take place in the IMRC in Stewart Commons on Monday, Feb. 29, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. For more information on SASH, visit https://umaine.edu/womensgenderandsexualitystudies/student-organizations/.  

Alan Bennett is a fourth-year journalism student at the University of Maine and Culture Editor at The Maine Campus. His personal interests include food and dining, music, and health and fitness.

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