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Tufts Kink contributes to dialogue surrounding sex on campus

Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 07:11


Annie Wermiel / Tufts Daily Archives

Tufts Kink aims to provide a safe space for students to discuss sexual preferences. Above, sex toys from a recent sex fair on campus.

The sex discussion on campus often tip−toes around the dirty details, whether it be during the Undergraduate Orientation program, within groups such as Action for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) or in the Disorientation Guide published this year. These efforts have tackled concepts like consent and sexual assault, and try to drive home to students the pressing need for a conversation.

But the dialogue tends to stop there, and some students have found that there campus lacks a comfortable and positive space where students can voice their opinions about and preferences for sex.

“I think it’s better in a college setting than it is elsewhere, but there’s still a lot of resorting to uncomfortable laughter when topics are brought up, which partially is to do with the fact that we ... don’t have a larger cultural conversation about it,” sophomore Kumar Ramanathan, a member of ASAP and a contributing writer at the Daily, said. “Part of it is just because people are uncomfortable talking about sex, because they’ve been taught never to talk about sex.”

Ramanathan stressed the need for a shared vocabulary and an environment in which students can feel comfortable discussing sexual encounters, for the sake of safety.

“Cultures of silence can have a detrimental effect on people who are struggling with sexual identity, or survivors of sexual assault and violence. [In] day−to−day conversation, I think there are a lot of things that are really taboo at least in the communities I’m involved in at Tufts,” he said. “ ... If people aren’t comfortable talking about what they’re doing, then people find it very difficult to ask for consent just because they don’t know how to use the words right.”

Sophomore Ruby Vail is the president of Tufts VOX, the affiliate group of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, which is active in promoting reproductive health and pro−choice activism. She echoed Ramanathan’s concerns.

“[If people aren’t able to talk openly about sex], they aren’t safe,” Vail said. “I’m maybe thinking of safety more as having protection and using birth control, but also if you were going to experiment with kinky sex, doing it in a safe way and not getting hurt, or putting yourself in a bad situation.”

Tufts Kink, a new group for students on campus, provides an outlet for this often silenced discussion. The group’s intent is to provide a safe social space for students who identify as kinky or interested in BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, Masochism).

Sophomore Anschel Schaffer−Cohen and another Tufts student had talked about a shared interest in kink. Because there was no outlet for this interest, they decided to initiate a group themselves.

Tufts Kink drew in interested students through posters and announcements throughout various social spaces. According to Schaffer−Cohen, students were first asked to email to express their interest in joining the discussion.

“I think that as part of making it a safe space, one aspect of that is not to not let anyone in, but to limit the people who come to just kind of gawk,” he said. “I feel like if there is any significant number of people who are doing that, people who are legitimately interested will find it harder to voice that [interest]. Rather than if you come to a place and you know that everyone who is there has responded to one of these emails and I think it’s easier for people to open it.”

Although Tufts Kink is still in its infant stages, the emergence of the group has not seen any negative reactions on campus, but rather a mild curiosity, according to Schaffer−Cohen.

“There [have] been a few people who have definitely been really excited and really glad that this is happening. The Boston kink community is very vibrant, but has a surprisingly small online presence. So there are definitely people who looked for it and didn’t find it,” he said. “There’s been people like ‘Wow, I had no idea this existed,’ so I’m really glad that that [connection] has [been made].”

Tufts offers groups such as VOX and ASAP that deal with sexual health and consent, as well as resources in Health Services and the Counseling and Mental Health Service (CMHS). However, Tufts Kink’s emergence fills a void in the dialogue on sex and strives to create an inclusive and healthy sexual community.

“First, I think there’s a number of students who feel sort of isolated and alienated, and I think it’s very powerful for them to have just a place where they can express themselves and a place where they can make friends,” Schaffer−Cohen said. “[On the] other side of it is, I think, that as a community, we have something to contribute about consent, about various kinds of discrimination and about gender roles and gender issues.”

An anonymous sophomore female noted that she appreciated the group for the open and accepting atmosphere it cultivated around sex.

“I definitely think that there is not another group on campus that could fill this space because I feel like there are not groups on campus where you can discuss pretty explicit sexual behaviors and still feel safe about it and not criticized,” she said. “I feel like sex is something that’s talked about in a very impersonal way on campus, in that yes, there’s a lot of dialogue about consent and power dynamics and relationships and relationship violence, but there is not a lot of room, until this group, for discussion about something that’s typically not normative.”

Both Ramanathan and Vail stressed the importance of Tufts Kink as focusing on the experiences of peers as opposed to being a top−down educational program. They see it as a significant opportunity to de−stigmatize alternative forms of sex.

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