‘Speaking of Sex,’ what is sex?

By: Mary Kate Dorr – A&E Editor

On Wednesday, Oct. 28 University of Dayton students filed into the north gym of the RecPlex for what was assumed to be a standard presentation on sexual relationships and violence, a topic college students have grown accustomed to discussing. However, minutes into the presentation, it became evident that this program was by no means typical.

The program ‘Speaking of Sex…,’ presented by GTC Dramatic Dialogues, is an interactive event used to spark discussion and visually depict scenarios college students may find themselves in when socializing or dating. It utilizes actors who perform a skit, then, at the climax of the scene, an emcee interferes and allows the audience to ask the actors questions, while they are still in character.

But before the skits even began, the emcee, an energetic and humorous host from GTC Dramatic Dialogues named Ben, began probing the audience to answer basic questions.

“What is communication?” Ben asked the audience. He passed the microphone to multiple students, each defining communication in their own terms. Some focused on verbal confirmation, while others stressed the importance of body language. Sounds normal, right? Ben moved on. “What’s sex?” He asked the audience.

Silence. Giggles. Finally, students began raising their hands.

This is when the program took a serious turn. No student could agree on a clear definition of sex.  A range of definitions were given, focusing on both the emotional and physical aspects of sex. Yet, there was never a collective agreement among the student body on what sex really is.

No student could agree on a clear definition of sex.

If the audience members had a variety of definitions for both communication and sex, how can we be expected to draw lines or set limits? What if we communicate differently than our partner? What if we have a different definition of sex than our partner?

“Sexual communication is a critical life skill, yet very challenging for most people.  It requires a vulnerability of ourselves and our conversation with another person that can be uncomfortable,” said Kristen Altenau Keen, sexual violence prevention education coordinator.

Before transitioning to the skits, Ben left the audience with a final question. “What do you want?” he asked.

As the actors took the stage, scenes that may be familiar to college students began to unfold: mutual flirtatious behavior influenced by alcohol, the uncertainty of commitment after casually dating and when to draw limits with your partner. The uniqueness of the program is that some of the scenarios portrayed did not always identify a clear “right” and “wrong” reaction.

One scene specifically evoked an array of responses from the students. In the scene, the actors took on the roles of Jessica and Nick, two acquaintances meeting at a party. They had both been drinking, and after flirtatious banter, Nick asked Jessica to go back upstairs to the balcony where the party was continuing. This is when Ben paused the scene and allowed the audience to engage with Jessica and Nick, questioning Nick’s intentions and whether or not he had put drugs in Jessica’s drink.

“One thing that bothered me was that some of the [audience members] thought Nick actually raped Jessica. They told him to shut up and spoke in a mean tone,” junior Steve Sarky said. But there are many times we watch our friends flirt in social situations and rarely think to interfere—or that the conversation could escalate to one of violence.

“When people think of ‘sexual violence,’ they tend to think of the extreme. I think that the seminar really shed some light on situations that people see every weekend and never think twice about, never the less categorize as sexual violence,” junior Sree Brahmamdam said.

The program also touched on the confusion and miscommunication that occurs in the world of dating for college students. Another scenario depicted students Ken and Ben confronting their relationship: They were friends who had a sexual relationship and occasionally went to dinner together. While Ben thought this made Ken his boyfriend, Ken had a different definition of their relationship, considering himself single. The miscommunication in their relationship led to the demise of their relationship, a result neither wanted.

The “what are we?” conversation is not easy. What if your partner feels differently? Does getting dinner or kissing goodbye or introducing them to your friends make this person your significant other? Does beginning a sexual relationship mean you are in a committed relationship? Dating in college is confusing. If we don’t have these conversations and don’t define relationships—or even sex—to our partner, unhealthy consequences can follow.

“Programs like ‘Speaking of Sex…’ help us understand how sexual miscommunication can so easily happen and what we can do to prevent it,” Altenau Keen said. “These discussions can also help us better understand our own values and beliefs around sexual relationships and what we want and don’t want.”

Ultimately, this is the most important conversation we can have with a partner. If you can understand and communicate what you want, you are on the path to a strong and respectful relationship.

If you need support, the University of Dayton’s Counseling Center website can be found here, and the National Sexual Assault Hotline website can be found here.