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Introducing PASH: Let's talk about 'it'

let's talk about 'it'

My sex ed was bad.

OK, it could have been worse. It wasn’t completely abstinence-based, and I learned the names of some STIs. But my few-weeks-long course on sexual health in high school was really lacking in substance. If I had to guess, I’d say yours probably was too.

Even in many of the more comprehensive sexual health curricula I’ve seen, the focus is often on prevention practices. “Don’t want an STI or pregnancy? Use a condom.” Talking about prevention, depending on the framework of the approach, can be healthy and informative, but it really only scratches the surface of sexual wellness. Even really sex positive teachers sometimes avoid opening meaningful conversations on consent, on pleasure, on relationships, instead opting for the seemingly positive but extremely vague “if you’re gonna have sex, be responsible” or “be safe.” 

But what does it mean to be “responsible” or “safe” in our sexual, romantic and platonic endeavors if we’ve never had a space for real and vulnerable conversations about these things? Is it just about using contraceptives to prevent pregnancies and STIs? For some people, sure. For many of us, there’s a lot more to it.

We are Peer Advocacy for Sexual Health (PASH). In this column, we intend to make space for the conversations around sex, relationships and wellness that many of us have been missing.

You might be thinking that at Duke, these conversations already happen plenty enough. That we’re all competent in the “facts” about our sexual health. That I’m exaggerating when I say many of us have never had a space to talk openly about their sexual health. I think making those assumptions is what often keeps us silent on these topics. Even if Duke is an open-minded space, many of us arrive here with deeply negative socializations around sex. I grew up in a religious, conservative environment, and like many of you, I have been socialized to see sex as something “dirty” or “sinful,” and, at best, off limits for discussion. Unlearning this socialization of sex is not easy, and doing it in the dark is probably impossible. 

With PASH, we’re trying to break down those barriers around sex, making healthy conversations around sex and relationships an accessible and normal aspect of our lives. And this semester, we hope to do so publicly in this column.

PASH is an organization made up exclusively of Duke students. In many ways, we’re just like you—we walk this campus, we mine through its relationship and hookup culture, we have lots of questions about sexual health and relationships, and we don’t have all the answers to those questions. In fact, nobody has all the answers. As PASH members, we’re determined to work through those questions together, to learn from each other in open-minded dialogue and challenge the notion that sex ought not be a discussion. And as students, we’re in a unique position to do so. Our experiences on this campus lend themselves to different perspectives than you’ll get from Student Health, DuWell and CAPS, and we think there’s tremendous value in using our voices in conversations around our wellness.

Just as PASH is a community of students, so is this column. Throughout the semester, each piece will be a product of collaboration between members of PASH. Some of us will get real about personal experiences. Some will have more to say than others on certain topics. Beyond the creativity that can come through this collaboration, we think it will show how there are often not absolute truths to sexual wellness. For example, my boundaries when experimenting with kinks with my partner may differ a ton from those of my peers. We want to acknowledge and validate experiences that differ from our own, because, at the end of the day, we’re in this together.

For years now, PASH has received anonymous questions from Duke undergraduates, and we’ve done our best to answer them on our blog. We’re bringing that format to this column. Do you have questions that you’d prefer to ask anonymously? If so, fill out this form with as many questions as you’d like. In the case that it’s inspiring, here are some questions we’ve gotten in the past, interspersed with some of my own:

· What are the boundaries when you want to try something new with your sexual partner but they are hesitant?

· Where can I buy vegan condoms? And strawberry flavored lube?

· What kinds of lube are compatible with sex toys of different materials?

· I hate confrontation—does that make ghosting OK?    

As some of these questions reflect, while PASH has a lot of conversations focused on sex, we’re much more than your high school sex education refresher course. Yes, we talk about consent- and pleasure-based sex. We also talk about relationships—after all, from a long-term partner to a spur-of-the-moment hookup, we have a relationship with each of our sexual and romantic partners. In each column, we’re going to build up communities that have been excluded and stigmatized from mainstream conversation around sex. As PASH members, we are inclusive of people of all genders and sexualities. We do not shame people with kinks. We believe that everyone deserves access to respect, recognition and pleasure.

We won’t be able to tear down every barrier around sexual health conversations in this column, and that’s OK. We are going to try our best, and we’re glad y’all are here to join us.

PASH is a student-run organization providing resources for sexual health and relationship-building. Their column, “let’s talk about ‘it,’” runs on alternate Monday. To ask them a question about sex or relationships, submit to this form. This column was written by Tyler Kopp, a Trinity senior and President of PASH.

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