On March 2, the Sykes Theater was filled with students who were eager to experience a unique but positively progressive experience. Brought to WCU by the Center of Women and Gender Equity, the Office of Wellness Promotion, and the Center for Trans and Queer Advocacy, the university hosted its first-ever “Ask The Sexperts” panel at 7 p.m. on Monday night. Described as an “interactive and educational experience,” the event was created to give students a chance to anonymously ask any questions they have about sexual health to a panel of experts.
The “sexperts” included Antar T. Bush, a double alumnus of WCU and a public health advocate, educator, leader and author specializing in HIV prevention and social justice; Erica Smith, a sexuality educator from Philadephia; Deja Lynn Alvarez, an award-winning transgender advocate, and activist; Michelle Kensey, a Perinatal Clinical Nurse Specialist with a Doctor of Nursing Practice; and Tess Benser, the Assistant Director of Outreach and Engagement for the Center of Women and Gender Equity here at WCU.
Though seated at a long table on a stage with name cards in front of them and a sea of students staring back at them, both the sexperts and the ambiance of the room were casual and relaxed — it was a safe space. For an event involving young adults and the uncensored topics of sex and relationships, the room was decently filled — the first few rows of the theater were occupied by men, women, non-binaries and couples alike, and the Q&A session went overtime at the request of the audience.
The way that the event operated was through the PollEverywhere app and the use of physical notecards in the aisles — the questions were written anonymously throughout the course of the night and were later answered by the panelists. Starting promptly at 7:10 p.m., the “Ask The Sexperts” panel began with a trigger warning and the introduction of the panelists: names, positions, and pronouns. Almost immediately following the introductions, Bush dove into the event by asking the audience a question: what’s your favorite sex term? There was a brief pause of uncertainty before Bush ventured his own answer, and the room then shifted into an atmosphere of laughter and safe-space realization; people were giggling and shouting out their answers, anonymity be damned.
Taking to heart the concept of a safe and open space, the questions asked by the audience ranged everywhere from inquiries about sex practices and relationships, to the day-to-day how-to’s of political correctness. The panelists would answer when they felt that they had something to contribute, and they truly lived up to their “sexpert” titles — all professional and beyond knowledgeable individuals, the experts gave great answers that were both immediate and personal.
Is a person still asexual if they get into a relationship? What can I do if my partner has never made me orgasm? What are some trusted websites or forums to visit for advice? The questions asked throughout the night made the room stop and think — you could see the gears turning in heads as everyone awaited the answers. Some of the most highlighted aspects of the evening came when the panelists relayed personal anecdotes; they were honest, open and relatable, despite sitting answering on-the-spot questions from curious young adults.
The overall takeaway from the night was communication: a foundation to both multi-personal and personal relationships; it lays the groundwork for better understanding. The “Meet The Sexperts” panel was, in itself, a form of communication that created a safe place for students to gain a better and healthier understanding of sex in the 21st century.
Emma Bickerstaffe is a third-year English major with minors in journalism and antrhopology. EB891492@wcupa.edu