Concordia College and Minnesota State University Moorhead hosted a collaborative “Sex in the Dark” panel Monday night to promote positive and inclusive conversations around sexual education.
The panel, which was originally proposed to the Concordia Women’s and Gender Studies program by MSUM WGS student Jean Renslow, was hosted at MSUM and featured five speakers with a variety of backgrounds and expertise on the topic of sexual education.
“When you’re talking about sex education, it doesn’t help to approach it from only one perspective,” said Anna Bushy, an intern at Concordia’s WGS program. “It helps to have input from people well-versed in feminist and queer theory like Tess Varner and Laurie Blunsom (speakers on the panel). It helps to have someone like the pastor there, who can offer more of a religious perspective or ethical perspective if that’s helpful for people. That was our idea for reaching out to different kinds of people and having them on the panel,” said Bushy.
The panel also featured registered nurse Meredith Power and sex ed advocate Katherine Christensen.
Concordia’s WGS interns worked to promote the panel as an inclusive event to discuss sex for all communities “without shame or guilt.”
“Removing the stigma surrounding sex and reproductive health is essential,” said Bushy. “We’re broadening what people think of when they think of sex education. It’s so many topics – it’s about what healthy relationships look like, what consent looks like, what different contraceptive technologies are, it’s about reproductive justice. There are so many different stereotypes and assumptions made about people involved in conversations about sexual health, so it’s important to combat those stereotypes to reduce that stigma,” Bushy said.
This sentiment was echoed by Karla Knutson, a WGS professor at Concordia.
“Issues of sexuality are things we don’t need to be ashamed of,” Knutson said.
The efforts to remove such stigma were one of the highlights of the panel. The room was softly lit to create a relaxed atmosphere, and questions were submitted anonymously to make students feel more comfortable about seeking out answers to problems they might be facing.
The speakers discussed topics that carry uncomfortable connotations with assurance and ease. Body anatomy, personal preferences and accurate sex terminology were all used freely in the answers provided by the speakers.
Each woman was confident in how they approached topics – smiling, joking and laughing with the other speakers – something which had a positive effect on the audience. While the panel was promoted as anonymous, students also asked questions directly from their seats. Some offered answers and resources to one another if they felt they shared similar experiences.
The panel also discussed where sex ed had been flawed in the past. Often focusing on either an abstinence-based approach, or a lack of inclusive and important information, sex ed has not provided the answers it needs to for many.
“You need to have a firm sex education – have a firm stance on you and your sexual identity,” said Christensen during the panel. Christensen said sex education can be more open, and a good sex ed class can successfully teach people what they need to know regarding healthy relationships – both with others and with yourself.
The sex education students are exposed to in school is also typically taught through a heterosexual and cisgender lens, leaving out whole communities of people who do not identify that way and feel unrepresented. To combat this stereotype, “Sex in the Dark” actively advertised itself as an event for the LGBTQIA+ community.
Knutson said it is important that the discussions include the LGBTQIA+ community because people need to know that their feelings and desires are shared and valid. There is a lot of damage that can be done with assumptions, and people deserve to feel seen and heard in a world where what they want is common, acceptable and valued.
The panel did just that, the speakers covering topics of sexual orientation, consent, coming out, communication and healthy relationships and access to resources to look to for guidance. While each speaker approached the topics from different perspectives, each acknowledged that there was no one right approach to sex education.
“Not everything has to fit quite nicely into some perfect ideal relationship,” Varner said.
This sentiment was later repeated by Blunsom, who said, “There is no normal. There’s normal for you.”
The panel also referenced several resources in the community available to people struggling or seeking guidance. Pastor Dominique McFall Buchholz said she was available to provide help from a religious standpoint and to recommend resources, while both Varner and Blunsom said their campuses’ libraries contained literature that could benefit students as well as personnel they could talk to.
Katie Nystuen (email@example.com) is the health services coordinator at Concordia and can help with questions about insurance or resources in the area.