Chris Heermann/The Observer
Last week, over three hundred students rose to the occasion to have open conversations about sex and sexuality at the annual SEXPOpalooza event. Co-hosted by Sexual Assault and Violence Educators (SAVE) and Greek Life, the convention fostered discussions about safe and consensual sex through partnerships with a variety of organizations from Northeast Ohio. Present among the tables were Planned Parenthood, the on-campus LGBT center, NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, Period., Ohio Smart and the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center.
Each table engaged students with discussions and demonstrations about safe ways to be sexually active, while distributing free condoms, lube and stickers, and entering students in raffles to win sex toys. This year, after reviewing feedback, the organizers invited drag queens and started selling T-shirts.
Kat Taylor, a fourth-year student on the Interfraternity Congress-Panhellenic Council (IFC-PHC) and a volunteer at the event, said she hopes students “learn more about how to have these challenging conversations [about sex].” Especially, she said, because conversations about sex and sexuality are “things that our society says are taboo.” Taylor believes the event is an opportunity for students to educate themselves and carry what they have learned with them, acting as “future catalysts” for similar discussions.
All of the organization representatives hoped to encourage sex-positivity while prioritizing offering services to ensure students are being safe.
A representative from Ohio Smart, Northeast Ohio’s longest running social and educational Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, and Masochism (BDSM) organization, was at the event with a variety of toys, some available at grocery stores, and others requiring custom orders from kink vendors. Answering questions and offering brochures of information, Ohio Smart let students know that they offer events and classes as well as having a physical space to “do BDSM safely and as informed as possible.”
The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center (CRCC), represented by Marissa Pappas and CWRU fourth-year, Guatham Chitturu, fostered discussions around consent. “Consent is the foundation of all things sexual,” Pappas said, “Today we are talking about what consent means and especially what it means to individual people.” CRCC offers services—including a 24/7 hotline and counseling services—for both survivors of sexual violence and the people who support them; all of these services are free of charge. Chitturu added that it is important for people, students included, to be aware that sexual violence happens and is a prevalent issue here. “People think that if it doesn’t affect them, then it’s not important,” he said, encouraging people to be more aware, have empathy and be sympathetic to the issues of people around us. Pappas reminded students, “We are here for you, no matter what. We believe you.”
In a similar vein, there were representatives from NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio and Planned Parenthood. The latter organization demonstrated contraceptive options and shared information overviewing comprehensive sexual health. NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, a nonprofit organization working throughout northern Ohio, focuses on grassroots advocacy to protect a person’s right to choose. Organizer Hannah Servedio shared that sometimes college campuses can be very secluded from the community, but that many students want to have important conversations and ask questions about healthcare, contraception, family leave and abortion access.
Servedio’s comment was emblematic of the climate erected by all of the representatives and volunteers, and emboldened by the students in attendance. All of the tables sought to be resources for students to join, discuss, question and understand how to have safe, consensual and pleasurable sexual lives. They firmly promoted a sense of community and offered spaces where people of all different identities and sexual preferences can feel comfortable and have a safe environment.
“The only way to make sex and sexuality more accepted in society is to continue talking about it and normalize it,” said Eileah Pye, assistant vice president of citizenship for the IFC-PHC and co-chair of SEXPOpalooza, reminding students that “just because SEXPO[palooza] is over, doesn’t mean that the conversations should stop.”