Do you have questions about safe sex and contraception, sexual identity, or sexual pleasure, but feel uncomfortable raising them in public? Then head over to the School of Law tonight for the fifth annual Sex in the Dark event.
Sponsored by BU Student Health Services Wellness & Prevention Services, a panel of “sexperts” from the BU community will answer students’ anonymous questions about sex in a casual, fun setting. The evening is designed to “normalize discussions about both sexual health and consent in relationships,” says Wellness & Prevention Services director Katharine Mooney (SPH’12).
As in previous years, tonight’s Q&A will take place in the dark. Students are encouraged to arrive an hour before the event starts so they can write their questions out. After the lights are turned down (neon swag will provide some glow), the panelists will address as many questions as possible during the 90-minute event. Guests arriving early can also visit tables manned by on- and off-campus organizations, including BU’s Center for Gender, Sexuality & Activism, the Sexual Assault Response & Prevention Center (SARP), and Fenway Health, to learn about sexual health resources in the community.
This year’s panelists are Sophie Godley (SPH’15), a School of Public Health clinical assistant professor, Nathan Brewer, a SARP crisis intervention counselor, Fenway Health registered nurse Sylvia Phipps, a Fenway Health Trans Health Program member, and social worker, sexual health educator, and activist Aida Manduley (SSW’16), who is with the Women of Color Sexual Health Network.
“So much of society’s discussions about sex are solely about the negative. Most students probably have never had a true opportunity to ask questions of professionals who can answer their questions without judgment,” says Brewer. “The anonymity of the questions affords students a chance to get important information they otherwise may have never had a chance to ask of health-care professionals.”
Brewer says the evening is also a way for students to feel reassured that their concerns are shared by many others. “Many of the things they have wondered about, or have asked, are the same as other students have. Last year we had many different people asking the same question,” he says. “It just shows that in many cases, students are not alone in their questions about sex.”
During breaks in the Q&A, SARP student ambassadors will perform original skits on topics like consent, communication, and disclosure. Melody Eaton (CAS’17), this year’s lead student health ambassador, says that many students have insufficient knowledge about sex. Past years’ skits have touched on topics like how to discuss one’s STI status with an intimate partner, she says.
“Sex in the Dark has really been a great opportunity for students to learn a little bit more about sexual health, because sex education is not standardized across the United States or international borders, so a lot of students come to BU and have no idea,” Eaton says. “I have friends from Venezuela, and they never really had any formal education about it. They come here and say, ‘I can’t believe you can say something like that.’”
Panelists say that despite the fun atmosphere, the evening serves a critical function.
“We hold this event because we know that sexual health education nationwide is certainly inconsistent and often not comprehensive,” Mooney says. “Students often come to our campus with questions that are very basic, that we feel are important for them to have answered in order to lead healthy and fulfilling sexual lives. Part of our goal is to communicate medically accurate information to students in a way that is framed for a student audience. We want to familiarize them with resources on campus and in the larger community, so that they know where they can get tested for sexually transmitted infections, where they can have an appointment with a provider to get access to birth control, and much more information.”
Since its debut five years ago, Sex in the Dark has become enormously popular. Program evaluations have shown that 91 percent of students who attend feel more informed about their sexual health, 81 percent feel better prepared to talk about sexual issues with a partner, and 75 percent feel more comfortable accessing sexual health resources on campus.
“Every year I have been involved in this event we have received troubling, sometimes heartbreaking questions from students who have not had access to shame-free information about their bodies and sexuality,” Godley says. “I feel like every year we help at least one, if not more, students to feel acceptance and support.”
Sex in the Dark: A Glow-in-the-Dark Sexpert Panel is tonight from 7 to 9 p.m. in the School of Law Auditorium, 765 Commonwealth Ave. Doors open at 6 p.m., and students can visit different tables to learn about sexual health resources on and off campus and get glow in the dark giveaways like bracelets, necklaces, and eyeglasses. The event is free and open to BU students, faculty, and staff.
Kyler Sumter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.