Imagine someone opening a discussion in one of your classes with this: How did you first learn about sexuality?
For some, talking about sexuality is an awkward and foreign subject. For others, talking about it brings a sense of empowerment. In general, not a lot of genuine dialogue is exchanged about sexuality, AS Sexual Awareness Center Assistant Coordinator Grace Wischerth said.
Wischerth is the creator and main facilitator of Sexploration, a student run, discussion-based group at Western. Wischerth created Sexploration for students, male or female identified, to have an outlet to voice their thoughts, experiences and feelings about sexuality in a comfortable and safe setting.
Two years ago Wischerth created Sexploration based on two reasons. First, Wischerth was inspired by a performance of the Vagina Memoirs. When one of the women who had written a memoir was asked why she had participated, the woman said “to speak what we usually keep silent.” We normally keep silent because of social norms, Wischerth said. For Wischerth, this quote epitomized the reason why sexuality should be a part of open discussions. Wischerth's second inspiration was when she heard Christa Bell's “CoochieMagik” while attending the Vagina Monologues put on by the AS Women's Center.
“I wanted to create a safe space for people to know whatever they think or feel or do is okay,” Wischerth said.
Sex is not a topic typically explored in our courses and sometimes not even in our conversations between friends and in intimate relationships. How important sexuality is and how integral it is to who we are is often overlooked, Western senior Hannah Leimback said.
“Anything with sex in it is just a black hole of scary a lot of times,” Leimback said.
Leimback first attended the women's discussion group last year while living on campus as a way to pass the time. After attending, she found that the discussion had piqued an interest and made her feel empowered.
Sexploration is a chance for students to gather and talk about topics such as where people learn about sex, societal norms, expectations, media and personal experiences, Leimback said. Even after the first discussion, Leimback said she felt friendships and trust forming because of the connections of similar experiences and thoughts.
Men also have the opportunity to participate in Sexploration discussions. Western junior Joe Homes is a facilitator of the discussions for the men's group. Homes became involved with the group because of his interest in self-discovery and wanted to give people a chance to understand themselves through safe and insightful discussions.
“Sexploration is important to me because men don't have the chance to talk about sex in a normal, healthy way without worrying what other people will think,” Homes said.
Men often do not feel enabled to talk about sexuality, Joe Iadanza, senior said. It is important that people recognize talking about sexuality is not confined to just a space such as Sexploration. Sexploration is about breaking down taboos and bringing discussions of sexuality into the open, Iadanza said.
This progression toward a healthier attitude about sexuality is important to junior Cameron Murphey, who facilitates the discussions with Homes. For Murphey, talking about male sexuality is not about empowering himself. It is more about removing social constructs placed around men and the way they should act concerning sexuality.
If people are encouraged to have honest and critical dialogue about sexuality, Wischerth said, then they can recognize social norms, imagine alternatives and be intentional about their actions. Often people don't get to talk about sex because of taboos, Wischerth said.
Laine Keniston, junior, said the discussion allowed for a safe place to share their thoughts about one of society's most unnaturally taboo subjects.
“Even though the eleven or so of us met that night, we left feeling so much more comfortable with our self-expression because we trusted the validity of everyone's contributions and opinions,” Keniston said.
Separate discussions are held for men and women to discuss sexuality in a safe place. The men's group meets every other Tuesday at 4 p.m. in VU 464 and the women's group meets every other Tuesday at 6 p.m. in HU 102.