Warning: This story features content around sexual violence that could be traumatic for survivors. 

Due to the nature of this event, names of the panelists have been excluded.

In a darkened University Center Ballroom on the night of Sept. 10th, more than 30 students and community attendees sat facing the stage, eagerly listening to six panelists taking turns discussing a topic of great interest to many college students: sex. 

if students needed further encouragement to attend, they received it in the form of free sex toys awarded to the first 25 attendees, which some students began unwrapping, examining, and generally pondering as the event got underway. 

The night’s event, entitled Sex in the Dark, began by promoting its mission statement plastered onscreen behind the panel, encouraging attendees to “normalize conversations about sex, sexual health, and healthy relationships” and to “ask questions that support and empower their sexual choices.”

How to ask for consent, what kinds of toys are available for bedroom usage (and how to use them), what exactly is BDSM, and dozens of other sex-related questions were all asked and answered over the course of the two hour event. The event was co-hosted by Residence Life, the Title IX Office, and Project Hope, Gunnison Valley’s resource to prevent sexual violence and abuse, and to provide support for survivors. 

Students asked questions via an anonymous online question portal available to students before the event and although it was clear that some questions were student’s attempts at humor, many of the unfiltered student questions appeared to be asked in earnest. 

The questions were fielded by a panel of six “sexperts”, as well as a student emcee. The sexperts’ backgrounds ranged widely, and included a practicing nurse with experience working in the field of sexual health and family planning, a Western psychology professor, a consultant for the Grand Junction-based Pure Romance, a sex and pleasure provision and women’s party company, a Gunnison-based pastor, a disability rights advocate, and a representative from Project Hope. 

Topics raised ranged widely from health issues, to questions about disclosing gender identity, “pegging”, and sexual liberation, and were met with equally wide-ranging responses and anecdotes from panelists that referenced the onset of sexual science in the 1950’s, Barry White’s erotic discography, personal marital tales, and struggles with porn addiction. 

Additionally, the panelists had lots of personalized advice for students, including the importance of being open and honest during sex, as well as maintaining constant communication around sex, especially regarding obtaining affirmative consent. 

Panelists also stressed the need to establish mutually understood safe words for rough or kinky sex play, the importance of getting tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and continously hammered the concept that sexual desire and attraction should not be considered shameful or wrong, so long as consent is maintained throughout and all parties are fully informed and of age. 

Questions also steered into the topic of sex after a history of sexual violence, with one panelist telling the predominantly student audience that “your healing is yours” and that survivors of sexual harassment or assault are in no way “damaged goods”, and never to let anyone ever tell you how or when to go about healing from past trauma. 

Another panelist added that women with disabilities are ten percent more likely than the average woman to experience sexual assault, most before the age of 25. Considering that the National Sexual Violence Resource Center estimates that roughly a third of U.S. women will experience sexual violence within their lifetime, oftentimes at a young age or in college, this stat becomes even more horrifying. 

Abstinence and sexual education were another frequent topic, with panelists lamenting the state of “sex ed” in the U.S. and offering advice on how to prepare for and maintain a healthy sex life despite a dearth of appropriate sexual education for teenagers that often leads to unplanned preganancies and high STI infection rates. 

The pastor on the panel asserted that he had to advocate for waiting for sex until marriage, as that was the view proscribed in the Bible, and plus, his boss at the church was in attendance. 

Other panelists pushed back a bit on that notion, and simply encouraged students to have conversations with potential partners around sex, and to try to remove the taboo that often plagues sexual conversations, but agreed that there is no perfect barometer for sexual readiness. 

The sexperts shared some sex pro-tips and trivia as well, like the need to use lubricants and soaps that are ph-balanced to reduce risk of vaginal issues, the proper maintenance and care recommended for sex toys, like using specialized antimicrobial and antibacterial cleaners designed for that specific purpose, and the fact that c-rings actually stand for “constriction” rings, not cock rings.

Panelists also encouraged students to start small in the bedroom with toys like butt plugs and strap-ons (you can always work your way up), and to explore various modes of pleasure safely and responsibly, but not feel pressure to try to experiment with the vast world of sex toys all at once.

All in all, the event was filled with a mix of useful sex tips, shared laughter accompanying the open discussion of a “taboo” topic, and a relaxed, anonymized Friday night atmosphere that facilitated honest discussion between panelists. 

Note: If you or someone you know is in need of assistance following an incident of sexual assault, violence, abuse, or harassment, you can access the resources below for safe care: 

Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) phone #: 800.656.HOPE (4673)

RAINN website: RAINN | The nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization

Project Hope in Gunnison website: Project Hope of Gunnison Valley – Home (hope4gv.org)

Project Hope phone #: 970-275-1193

And if you need to tell a sexual partner they should get tested for an STI, and wish to do so anonymously, you can do that here: https://tellyourpartner.org/