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Let’s talk about sex-[ed], baby

Presentation teaches the importance of remembering that “consent is sexy”

Onstage%2C+an+actor+from+Speak+About+It+%22saves+the+day%22+as+an+active+bystander.
Onstage, an actor from Speak About It

Onstage, an actor from Speak About It "saves the day" as an active bystander.

Photo Credit: Arman Azad

Photo Credit: Arman Azad

Onstage, an actor from Speak About It "saves the day" as an active bystander.

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As Lonely Island’s “I Just Had Sex” played in the background, five members of the sexual education group Speak About It ran into Flint Hill’s gym to begin their comical and edgy presentation on the importance of practicing healthy sexual relationships. Organized by the Flint Hill Counseling Department, the show was meant to educate FHS students on the importance of consent, boundaries, and safe sex.

According to Shana Natelson, an actress and the executive director of Speak About It Inc., the nonprofit that travels around the country to put on the roughly hour-long show, the presentation is meant to promote the idea that “consent is sexy.”

“Everyone is talking about sex, and most people are doing it, so how do make spreading the message of consent into something fun, positive, and enjoyable for everyone,” she said in an interview.

The presentation was comical, often eliciting laughs from both students and faculty members, but had a clear underlying message: at every point in a sexual relationship, verbal consent – saying “yes” – is just as important as respecting “no.” Failing to do so, according to Natelson, opens the door for sexual assault and harassment, often with legal consequences.

“I think, for the most part, people are good people,” said Natelson. “Obviously there are bad apples in every bunch, but the problem is that we lack the language to talk about consent and bystander intervention and we lack the confidence to be able to use that language. Now, we are trying to give people the language and confidence to do so so that we can have good sex and not hurt each other.”

Members of the group Speak About It have fun as they run onstage for the show.

Photo Credit: Arman Azad
Members of the group Speak About It have fun as they run onstage for the show.

The performance was a frank portrayal of the sexual realities facing today’s youth. It offered depictions of alcohol-infused parties and hookups, often portrayed in a surprisingly candid manner, but also reenacted solemn real-life stories of rape, assault, and sexual violence.

Following the show, Zak Stevens, another actor, said that “it’s nice to talk about things that should be talked about. I feel like people are hungry for these conversations, and nobody is talking about it, even though everyone knows it’s happening. Even acknowledging that it’s happening is the first step toward fixing a problem.”

That problem stems from a “rape culture” wherein one in four women will experience sexual assault on college campuses. That frightening statistic has remained constant since studies began tracking rapes on college campuses in the 1950s, but Speak About It hopes to change that through blunt portrayals of sex.

When asked to describe the presentation in one word, Kathleen Fletcher, another actress in the show, chose “empowering.”

“Empowering is the word that I can’t say enough,” she said in a post-presentation interview. “What’s so exciting isn’t that we’re just talking about these things that are so rarely talked about, but instead that we’re giving you the tools going forward to have safe sex. We want you to be passionate and excited and we want you to feel like you have control in a situation where one can often feel out of control.”

Those tools range from verbal consent to bystander prevention tactics, whereby peers are able to identify and stop potentially dangerous situations – such as excessive impairment due to alcohol. Following the hour-long presentation, students divided into advisory groups to discuss the show with the actors in a private setting – free from the eyes and ears of faculty or teachers.

Students engage in a post-presentation discussion with facilitators from Speak About It.

Photo Credit: Arman Azad
Students engage in a post-presentation discussion with facilitators from Speak About It.

“We were able to talk about important issues with people whom we knew wouldn’t judge, and we all felt like we could be completely open and honest about any questions we may have had,” said junior Lauren Simons about the discussion session.

The program taught the importance of saying “yes” at every point in a sexual experience – from removing clothing to performing various erotic acts – but was not intended to scare or intimidate students. Instead, it portrayed safe sex in an outspoken light, something that Fletcher described as “sex-positivity.”

“The sex positivity aspect of it teaches that sex should be something that we’re excited about,” she said. “It’s that sex should be something that we love, because it really is best when it’s something that all of us can enjoy.”

But while the presentation showed sex in a positive light, according to Stevens, the program “is not telling you whether to have sex or not, but it’s just teaching that whatever you would like to do, whatever you would choose to do, do it in a safe way.”

“It’s only a taboo if we don’t want to talk about it,” said Stevens. “But we all know how we got here. You wouldn’t be here if it weren’t happening, but for some reason, acknowledging that it’s there is some sort of evil thing. Being okay with your sexuality, whatever that may be, even if it means not having sex at all, is something that you should be okay with yourself and be able to spread that to those around you.”

See more photos from the presentation:

Photo Credit: Arman Azad

Richard Curtis and Lindsey Bowling – the two Upper School counselors – introduce the show

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Let’s talk about sex-[ed], baby