As students trickled into the WSU Women’s Center — some with looks of trepidation on their faces — members of Students United for Reproductive Freedom, or SURF, offered jokes, smiles, food and naughty name tags to lighten the mood.
SURF hosted its “Pillow Talk” event on the evening of Feb. 28 to create a space where students could openly and candidly talk about everything from auto-erotic activities to sex toys.
SURF invited two professionals to talk about sex and address questions from the attendees.
Kolleen Marchand, a physician assistant from Tanner Clinic, and Jamie Checketts, a sexual health and romance coach, both shared their experiences in helping patients and clients overcome problems with sexual health and wellness.
Both Marchand and Checketts used bluntness and humor to spark dialogue.
“Laughter helps to confront tough matters,” Checketts said.
Checketts also emphasized the need for organizations to create a sex-positive attitude and safe space where young people can seek advice from health and wellness experts.
Marchand acknowledged that talking about sex in a predominantly religious and conservative place like Utah can be challenging, but that comprehensive sex education is important for everybody. Marchand embraces a matter-of-fact approach to sex education.
“Imagine if we taught driver’s ed like we taught sex ed here in Utah…I would not want to be anywhere near the streets,” Marchand said. “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
Checketts asked the attendees to describe their sexual education experience. A few audience members commented about how they learned about sex through church or pornography. Other attendees expressed their frustration about their religion’s teachings regarding pre-marital sex or sexual “purity.”
“Parents and religious leaders have good intentions, but they often pass on bad habits or bad information,” Checketts said.
Both Checketts and Marchand did not recommend pornography as a healthy sex education tool. While they did not say that adults should avoid porn, they did acknowledge that it can cause unrealistic expectations and feelings about sex in the minds of inexperienced viewers. They also claimed porn can cause negative body image issues in both men and women.
Marchand also emphasized that strict religious teachings about sex can also be damaging to a person’s sexual health.
“It is normal to have sexual urges,” Marchand said. “Nobody should feel ashamed about it.”
Checketts recounted several experiences of having to coach young brides-to-be about their own anatomy and what to expect from their first sexual experience. She mentioned that many of these women feel scared or guilty about what they are about to experience. While she commended them for their adherence to their faith’s teachings, she did have some advice.
“For virgin and even non-virgin brides, good communication is key,” Checketts said. “The wedding night needs to have some planned make-out sessions, just to judge each person’s comfort level. You don’t need to consummate the marriage immediately.”
Checketts believes partners should be openly communicating with each other, especially during sex.
Checketts also argued that parents need to become comfortable with using correct terminology — such as “penis” or “vagina” as opposed to “turtle” or “cookie” — with children. According to Checketts, teaching children the correct terms for anatomy can go a long way to help identify and prevent the sexual abuse of children.
“One word can help to stop abuse,” Checketts said.
Marchand added that even adults need to get over the fear of using the correct words.
“I have adult patients who are still afraid to say ‘vagina,’” Marchand said.
Madeline Gassman of the WSU Women’s Center took time towards the end of the event to emphasize the importance of consent in sexual relationships.
Gassman hopes all WSU students will turn to the Women’s Center or Counseling Center if they have questions about sex, consent or need to report rape or abuse. The Title IX Office and WSUPD are also available if victims of sexual abuse wish to press charges.
Upon the conclusion of the event, some of the students who attended won prizes such as personal lubricants and vibrators for their participation in the discussion.
Madison Nielson, the president of SURF, hopes students will attend future events and approach sex in a fun, safe way.
Checketts agreed with Nielson.
“Sex positivity is ultimately about finding the beauty and magic that can happen between two people,” Checketts said.