Student aims to start conversations about sex positivity in IFC chapters


Daniel Tian/Daily Senior Staffer

Weinberg senior Jess Guenzl stands in the fraternity quad. Guenzl has given presentations to spark sex-positive conversations in fraternity chapters.

Shane McKeon, Campus Editor

Standing in front of roughly 90 men in a fraternity house chapter room, Jess Guenzl gives her usual presentation. But her presentation is anything but usual.

For one, unlike most workshops like this — often sponsored by groups such as Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators or Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault — Guenzl is on her own: The Weinberg senior designed, piloted and presented the session by herself.

Guenzl, who has presented to most of NU’s Interfraternity Council chapters, estimates she’s reached roughly 400 men since her first presentation Feb. 14. In the presentation, she rarely discussed rape or sexual assault explicitly, instead focusing on data on sexual activity and survey results — namely, results from a survey she conducted about what women in Northwestern Panhellenic Association chapters think about sex in the Greek community.

That got guys’ attention, she said.

“20-year-old guys didn’t want to hear me drone on about sex,” she said at the Campus Coalition on Sexual Violence meeting Tuesday.

Guenzl conducted surveys with both men in IFC fraternities and women in PHA sororities. During her presentation, she circulated handouts with a few quotes from the surveys, conveying what women who responded said men have said to them.

“I won’t give you the wifi password unless you make out with me,” one women relayed. Another: “I’m actually like really good at pulling out.”

Guenzl said her presentation focuses mostly on sex positivity, which she defined as “understanding what good, safe, respectful, consensual sex is.”

“It’s a lot easier to learn the good things about something than avoid the bad things,” she said. “I think it’s important to know the pros of sex and not just the cons.”

Erin Clark, assistant director of the Center for Awareness, Response and Education, acted as a “sounding board” for Guenzl.

Clark said CARE approaches sexual health from two main angles: combatting sexual violence and promoting positive, healthy sex. She said workshops for students often focus on the former but that Guenzl’s discussion of the latter is also essential.

Clark said she thinks the two approaches “need to go hand-in-hand or else neither really works.”

“Jess chose one pretty powerful way, which is really meeting people where they’re at,” said Clark, who is also SHAPE’s adviser. “That’s a great way to approach it, to have conversations about consent in a really positive way.”

McCormick senior Scott Sandler, a member of Sigma Nu, said he appreciated that Guenzl’s presentation “felt like a conversation, rather than being lectured to.”

Sandler was one of roughly 80 men who attended Guenzl’s presentation during a Sigma Nu chapter meeting. He said he appreciated Guenzl’s coming to speak at the house.

“People have a connotation that this is where most of these things happen, so having it in the house is nice,” Sandler said. “Whenever you’re in the room, you can think about that talk.”

IFC announced earlier this month a new four-year sexual assault education program for all its members, following controversy surrounding banners that were hung from its chapters’ houses for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Some students found the banners in poor taste due to the prevalence of sexual violence within fraternities.

Will Altabef, IFC’s president, said Guenzl’s presentation lines up with some of the other topics IFC educates its members on.

“What does being an IFC man mean? Part of it is not viewing sex as some sort of conquest or something that you go talk about and brag about,” Altabef said. “Sex is supposed to be in the context of healthy relationships with other people. Her message helps move that forward.”

Guenzl said the presentation seems to have made an impact. She said sometimes men will approach her and ask if she is the “sex and consent girl.”

For better or worse, that nickname might not last long: Guenzl is graduating after this quarter, and she said there are no plans for a successor. Still, she said she hopes men in the IFC community will continue these conversations about sexual health after she graduates.

“I preach communication, because there are a lot of negative things that can happen during sex,” she said. “The only way to navigate that is with communication, and respectful communication.”

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Twitter: @Shane_McKeon