Students should not forgo discussions about sex with their partner before actually making the decision to do it, a counselor from Counseling and Psychological Services said in a talk on Friday.
“Enriching Relationships: Thinking About Considering a Sexual Relationship,” was conducted by Gary Glass, assistant director for outreach and developmental programming at CAPS, and functioned as a part of the “One Sexy Week” forums hosted by the Women’s Center. The week-long programming was dedicated to instigating student discussion around sex and sexual culture on campus. In his talk, Glass said students must consider their personal values and what sex means to them beyond the obvious physical components.
Often, discussions on campus surrounding sex do not address individuals’ concerns, but rather focus on the larger problems surrounding sexual culture and norms on campus, he said.
“My work often deals with sex in a very negative way,” said junior Frank Lee, a gender violence prevention intern at the Women’s Center. “[The Women’s Center] wanted to portray the talks about sex in a more positive way.”
Glass said it is important that students talk about sex with their partners in an open and positive manner before making sexual decisions. These conversations can largely be looked over because students may feel insecure about voicing personal concerns in a culture that does not always deem sex to be a serious matter, he added.
“Invariably, the discussion around sex ends up being complaints about hook up culture and describing it as something that is inevitable and defining the campus experience,” he said.
Glass’s talk took a different approach, however, focusing on how these stereotypes can influence daily conversations about students’ sexual decisions. Beliefs about what a person “should” be experiencing sexually in college can often interfere with what someone actually wants or values in a relationship, he noted. This notion of what a student “should” be doing can be a dangerous driving force in sexual behavior.
“‘Should’ is one of the most toxic words these days, especially in terms of sex,” he said. “I’m often telling people to stop ‘shoulding’ all over themselves.”
Although the discussion was sparsely attended, students in attendance said they were eager to discuss how to change the way Duke students engage in conversations about sex.
“[The talk] was a lot about staying true to yourself, more than conforming to any type of prescribed behavior,” said sophomore Jaclyn Dobies, a gender justice intern at the Women’s Center who helped organize “One Sexy Week.” “I’ve never thought about entitlement in regards to sex, and the connection between expecting things in certain situations—or feeling entitled because you have done certain things or haven’t done certain things.”
Glass added that, for some students, sex can satisfy a variety of different needs—among those are a need for power, intimacy, fun, recovery or belonging. These complexities can be difficult to uncover in one conversation.
He encouraged students to think about not only if, but why, they are considering sex in a particular context, highlighting four words that should be considered in this thought process: entitlement, or when sex is considered a “given;” conformity, having sex to abide by a social norm; integrity, adhering to one’s own personal values; and intimacy, the emotional closeness between sexual partners. He noted that entitlement and conformity in regard to sexuality often accentuate each other in social settings.
Whenever there is a general assumption of sexual entitlement across campus, students who believe they are sexually entitled will have social power to create the perception that their expectations are the norm, Glass said. Unraveling concepts such as sexual entitlement, social conformity and personal integrity can deepen campus conversations surrounding sex and work towards correcting preconceived notions about what sex is on Duke’s campus.
These topics will continue to be discussed in the “How to BE in LOVE” workshop series from CAPS, which begins this week and will focus on many issues accompanied by pursuing romantic relationships on campus.