NU Sex Week teaches inclusive, safe and pleasurable practices


Illustration by Lily Ogburn

Weinberg junior Maia Smith, an organizer of Sex Week, said the NU College Feminists will have raffled around 110 sex toys by the end of the week.

Kristen Axtman, Assistant Campus Editor

Northwestern Sex Week, organized by NU College Feminists, launched their eight-part programming Monday with a sex toy giveaway at Norris University Center. 

The NUCF planning committee began working on the week in April, collaborating with Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators, Menstrual Equity Activists and The Women’s Center to coordinate the series of events. 

Weinberg junior Maia Smith, a sex week organizer, said programming aims to promote sex positivity and safe sex through discussions, workshops and other events. Being a feminist requires rejecting societal narratives pushed onto female identifying people, she said.

“The whole point of feminism is to be comfortable in the body that you have and the feelings that you have for everything,” Smith said.

She added the week highlights voices often left out of conversations about sex, including people with physical disabilities and queer people. Organizers will be screening “The Last Taboo,” a documentary about six people with physical disabilities and their relationships, on Thursday in Harris Hall. 

Anthropology Prof. Noelle Sullivan will present Friday’s event, her “Guide to Having Mind-Blowing Sex.” She teaches a class on sexual pleasure in the Gender Studies Department, and said almost all messaging about sex from popular culture, movies and pornography is “a lie.” Only about 20% of women achieve orgasm through solely penetrative sex, which is the most common portrayal of sex in the media, she said. 

“It’s great for creating business for sex therapists and couple’s therapists, but not very good for helping you achieve a satisfying sex life,” Sullivan said. 

Sex Week should encourage students to have honest conversations about creating satisfying sexual experiences, she said. While the Illinois education system teaches sexual health, she said it does not teach sexual pleasure. Sex Week aims to remedy that.

In Sullivan’s class on sexual pleasure, she said she anonymously polls her students, asking if they would like honest feedback about their partners’ sexual preferences. Across all the classes she’s taught, between 87-95% of students surveyed respond yes, but only 20-30% say they feel comfortable sharing that information. 

Sullivan encouraged students who want to learn about sex to take her class; go to minority, LGBTQ or women owned sex shops oriented towards higher quality items; or listen to sex positive podcasts. The show “Sex Education,” which follows high schoolers who have open conversations about sex and consent, depicts sex realistically and is “somewhere in sexual utopia minus the awkwardness,” she said. 

Communication sophomore Simone Spalding said she attended Monday’s Kink 101 workshop after hearing about it from a friend. She had seen representations of kinks in the media but didn’t have a complete idea of what it entailed, she added. 

At the workshop, Spalding said she learned that kinks are not inherently sexual. 

“I didn’t really understand the nuances of what a kink was or that world, so I was happy to go to the workshop,” Spalding said. 

She added social spaces on campus discussing sex exist, but the conversations are not always “open-minded.” Spalding said she almost never discusses sex in structured spaces like class or extracurriculars. And, she doesn’t usually find herself discussing more specific aspects of sex, like kinks, in general.  

For people curious about sex, Smith said the Women’s Center has a lot of sexual health resources and offers counseling. 

“I don’t think anybody can tell you how to navigate your own sex life, but I definitely think we can start the conversation,” Smith said. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @KristenAxtman1

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