Shannon O'Reilly

With the funds from the Young Visionaries contest, I would set up a sex education/sex-positive coalition in Iowa City, Iowa. The University of Iowa is a large public institution, with a student body of over 30,000 individuals. The vast majority of students are from Midwestern states, in which abstinence-only education is common. Additionally, the primary sexual and drinking culture on campus encourages double standards, sexism, slut-shaming, and rape that often involves alcohol. An “Overheard at Iowa” column in the university newspaper included a girl mentioning that she hadn’t planned on having sex with a guy– she’d just wanted a backrub; common “texts from last night” include the phenomenon of students getting drunk so that they can have regretful sex without triggering the label of “slut”.

This culture is unacceptable. Iowa City has great institutions such as the Emma Goldman clinic, a wonderful queer-friendly reproductive services center, but there is no body yet that is aimed at supporting and encouraging a healthy sexual culture across all genders and orientations. I define sex positivity as this: the freedom to define one’s own sexual narrative, no matter how “normal” the sexual behavior is. Everything is permitted, as long as it harms no one.

This is the plan: a sex-positive, intentionally inclusive group that meets weekly, with events held at least monthly, discussions, educational workshops, and a sex education phone hotline.

The hotline would require the grant the most; it would be modeled after such services available in larger cities, but would serve the predominantly student community of Iowa City. People could call in with any questions– whether their fetish is normal, how to use contraception effectively, what they could do in a certain situation, advice for a first sexual encounter– and a staff of volunteers would provide positive, friendly advice, with referrals to area resources (like the Emma Goldman clinic, the Rape Victims Advocacy Project, and the Women’s Resource and Action Center) if necessary.

Ultimately, this setup would serve to educate people about the wide variety of sexual experiences and possibilities, opening it up beyond the trite, harmful ideas of sex-as-commodity. Other activities of the organization, which I will start whether or not I win this contest, would serve to support the framework of an enthusiastic consent model, in which passivity is not oversexualized and sex is something people create together, not something one person does to another. They would work to deconstruct power differentials that make it difficult to have loving relationships, and open up forums for people to share their own experiences and discuss individual visions for sexual freedom.



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