Lessons taken from the Narratives
Most of us know that sex involves risk. Many of us sat through awkward sex education courses in junior high or high school, where we giggled at pictures of the human body, learned about how babies are really made and shuddered at pictures of genital herpes. Most people would probably say, however, that neither these memories, nor the STD statistics that our teachers spewed at us, are what come to mind when we decide to have sex.
When I discussed what we wanted to focus on for October’s Sexual Health Awareness Month with other members of Student Health on Campus (SHOC), we agreed that we wanted to include issues beyond safe sex. At SHOC, we focus also on mental health, so we thought it made sense to consider the emotional risks tied to sex. And although sexual assault is a serious problem that deserves awareness at Colby, we wanted to focus on a topic that many students can easily identify with. So we began discussing Colby’s “hookup” culture. Many of us have personal experiences or have heard stories about bad hookups—a behavior that often revolves around weekend parties and late night text messages. One of our supervisors, Patti Newmen from Counseling Services, confirmed that more and more students who seek counseling are discussing issues with the hookup culture.
Through our initial discussions about the norms surrounding Colby’s hookup and relationship culture, it became evident right away what we wanted to promote. Deciding “how” we would educate the student body, however, became the difficult question.
I realized that SHOC’s role could not be to “educate” our peers about issues with hooking up, but instead to start a discussion on campus about these issues and to spread awareness about the potential effects of these lifestyle choices. Since it takes an entire community to shape a campus’ culture, we wanted all students to be able to participate in the dialogue.
Among other activities, such as Speed Dating and the Green Dot Campaign, the feature event of the month was the Sex Narratives Night. We collected and read anonymous narratives from students about their experiences with the hookup and relationship culture on campus. Through the collaborative efforts of the Pugh Community Board, Male Athletes Against Violence and the Student Government Association, the event was well run and publicized.
At first, collecting a sufficient number of narratives for the event was a struggle. Many students love to sit around at brunch in Dana and discuss their own or others’ sexual encounters from the night before. Whether proud or embarrassed, we less often hear about a person’s regret, or perhaps disappointment that the relationship ended in the morning and that further communication would be discontinued or at least halted until the following weekend. We kept the topic for the narratives completely open, yet those who I knew to be so comfortable with sharing weekend experiences with me suddenly froze when I asked them to submit a story. Others felt confused and asked me to clarify time and time again what I was looking for; but we were not looking for anything specific. Fortunately, the stories we received displayed a wide variety of experiences and opinions told by both genders. While working on this project, I realized that whether or not people want to write about their experiences and have them publicly exposed, people do want to talk about these issues. In the past month, more people expressed to me their thoughts about the complexities of the hookup culture, what we value in it and the paradoxes that confuse us. I realized that there is a wide range of perspectives on hooking up, and none are exclusive to men or women.
There are problems, however, when people are not honest. Either they are not completely honest with themselves in what they want from an experience, or they are not open with the other person in communicating what they expect. Conflict arises when two people are not on the same page. We need to make it okay and acceptable to explicitly express what we want or do not want, whatever that may be. This requires not only respect for our peers but also an absence of judgment of others’ decisions. As a community, if we continue these candid discussions on campus, we can eliminate some of these issues and genuinely make this relationship culture more enjoyable for everyone.