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Rigid gender roles, not the sex fair, facilitate rape

Published: Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Updated: Sunday, August 17, 2008 13:08

This letter is in response to the Feb. 26 Viewpoint "Sex fair sends the wrong message," written by Ashley Samelson.

On Feb. 14th, Ashley Samelson did not like what she found in the campus center. Expecting to find flowers, candy hearts and other Hallmark signs that the established social hierarchy was intact on Valentine's Day, she was disgusted and disgraced to find that women, too, have sexual appetites.

Before jumping ahead of myself, I would like to make clear what information, resources and activities were made readily available at the Sex Fair two weeks ago. Every table was advertised in the exact same way, with a poster in front made either by VOX members or other organizations invited to the fair, along with individuals working the booths, trying to draw participants to their activities.

However, some activities were inevitably more eye-catching than others. The cookie-decorating table, for instance, was an obvious attention grabber because the cookies were free and sample penis and vagina-shaped cookies were displayed. Other tables, like the popular "Where do you get off?" booth asking students to mark where in the world and at Tufts they have masturbated, were a bit shocking to some due to the practically nonexistent discussion and celebration of masturbation, especially women's masturbation.

This may be why Ms. Samelson felt like this was the only information presented at the fair. However, her claim that the fair had "little or no relation to education" is a tremendous misrepresentation of the event and a disservice to the participating organizations.

At the Sex Fair, the Women's Center had a bingo consent game along with pamphlets outlining the resources available at the Center. The Planned Parenthood League of Mass. had a great deal of information about STIs, the services offered at their clinics, current legislation for which they are lobbying, and a representative offering to answer any questions, no matter how uncomfortable, pertaining to sex or related topics.

The Tufts Feminist Alliance offered a flyer featuring innovative sexual positions and stressing respect and consent. The Student Health Advisory Board had info about what's available at Health Services relating to sex, and the AIDS Collaborative had red awareness ribbons, HIV testing information, and sold "fight AIDS" t-shirts.

VOX, the organizing group, sold condom roses, each attached with a gift card listing the (800) AIDS and STI hotline numbers. The one activity that was advertised more than the others was the table sponsored by Hubba Hubba, a sex shop in Central Square, and this was simply to draw attention to a new aspect of the fair.

Other cosponsoring groups were the Queer Straight Alliance and the Anthro Collective, each of which represented both their missions and that of the fair with interesting and pertinent information about sex.

In addition to these tables and many others stocked with condoms, free stuff and candy, VOX displayed photos taken for an awareness raising campaign about the Global Gag Rule, an international Women's Health issue.

It is clear from this list that the Sex Fair was a melting pot of information about consent, contraceptives, STIs, sexual methods and techniques, and resources relating to sex. The goal of the fair was to provide the real and sometimes scary facts about sex, but also to maintain and celebrate the idea that sex can and should be fun.

If we can't openly and freely discuss sex and masturbation, how will we make informed sexual choices? People typically have underhanded discussions about sex as if it is dirty and shameful, or they don't talk about sex at all.

The purpose of the Sex Fair and a big part of VOX's mission is to help give people the tools they need to negotiate sexual experiences on their own terms and make choices that are right for them.

Ms. Samelson makes the serious accusation that events like the Sex Fair facilitate rape because they supposedly support a flippant attitude towards sex.

She suggests that any ease of discussion surrounding sex or open honesty about the experiences we've had or want to have will unleash the uncontrollable urge inside us all (and by us she means men) to go out and get pleasure any way we can, even if this means taking advantage of someone else.

Ms. Samelson implies that a man's sexual appetite is so tremendous and unstoppable that meeting a woman who feels comfortable discussing sex in an open manner will certainly send him over the edge, turning him into a sexual predator. This sounds disturbingly like the same logic that blames certain victims of rape because "they asked for it."

I am by no means satisfied with the sexual and romantic culture at Tufts and beyond the university, but the return to chivalry that Ms. Samelson calls for is really just a return to rigid gender roles that are far more dangerous than the Sex Fair. Suggesting that men "need to learn how to recognize [a woman's] limits" implies that men should recognize a woman's limits because she can't recognize them herself.

Instead, why don't we give women and men as much information as we can and let them make empowering decisions for themselves? I bet we'll discover that safe sex can be fun, uninhibited sex can be intimate, a vibrator can be better than any random, casual sexual encounter at a Tufts party, and countless pleasurable, respectful variations exist in between.

We'll find that just like a man, a woman is a person capable of learning, knowing, thinking and wanting. Like a woman, a man is a person capable of controlling his desires regardless of how many women he meets who are comfortable and open about their sexual decisions.

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