SIC Alums Break Down Sex Politics
This past weekend, a group of Oberlin alumni returned to campus to talk about sex — or, rather, about “Sexuality and Sexual Health in Our Political Climate.”
This three-day conference marks the first event of its kind since 1990. The conference brought 15 graduates to Craig Auditorium and West Lecture Hall to give talks on issues ranging from abortion rights to sex toys.
The Sexual Information Center was the conference’s primary sponsor and the three co-chairs Rachel Lindy, Rebecca Meiksin and Sarah Steinfeld, all seniors and SIC peer educators, took on the bulk of the responsibilities.
“Two things led to [the conference’s] conception,” said Steinfeld. “Rebecca started tracking down SIC alums and found that everyone wanted to keep in touch.”
The other influence was the law conference of 2003, which drew 160 alumni to campus to speak about law, liberal arts and social change in the 21st century.
“We thought it would be cool to do our own conference on sex and sexual health,” Steinfeld said.
While the initial plan was to base the conference on the myriad careers in the field of sexual health, the focus shifted to the tumultuous political climate.
“We decided it would be useful to have a dialogue about the intersection of sex and politics,” Steinfeld said. “With the threat of a federal abortion ban, the FDA emergency contraception debate, [etc.] At some level [these concerns have] always been there, but recently these issues have really come to a head.”
One lecture that shed light on such an intersection was given by Jenna Allen, OC ’01, an outreach educator and volunteer coordinator at Planned Parenthood of Summit, Portage and Medina Counties in Ohio. Her talk focused on the shortcomings of and misinformation inherent in abstinence-only education in America’s schools.
“One of the biggest evils of abstinence-only education is the idea that condoms don’t work,” said Allen. She also expressed concern that “many of the curricula present moral messages as scientific fact.”
In her talk on “Birth as a Feminist Issue,” midwife Susan Spring, OC ’92, spoke about the history and politics of childbirth in America and its impact on women. She argued that male-run hospitals perform procedures on women that “place them in a passive role” and interrupt the “natural experience” of childbirth with gratuitous caesarian-sections.
“The birthing experience affects the rest of a woman’s life as a mother in many cases,” Sprigg said. “Birth is a feminist issue.”
In a very different presentation, Sandor Gardos, OC ’90, led a workshop on sex toys. These toys are featured on the website he founded, www.mypleasure.com. While the talk was informative, it had a more lighthearted spirit than some of the other lectures as he passed around everything from vibrators and dildos to penis pumps and body chocolate.
“We stay in the fantasy, sort of ‘slap and tickle’ realm,” said Gardos, when asked about bondage-domination-sadomasochism merchandise.
At the end of the lecture, these toys were raffled off to members of the audience.
The conference featured what was only a small sampling of the hundreds of other SIC graduates who have gone on to pursue careers in the field of sexuality and sexual health.
“The way that SIC is run and structured really breeds people who are committed to sexual education,” Lindy said. “Students run an office with a library, teach the SexCo and sell condoms...this creates a fire inside a lot of people. Alums talked about this experience making them want to give back.”
This sentiment was echoed by Harper Jean Tobin, OC ’03, who presented “Transgender Sexuality and Sexual Health.”
“My experience with SIC — from the ExCo to teaching role-plays to giving dorm raps to putting on Safer Sex Night — prompted me to do a lot of learning and thinking about the important connections between sexual pleasure, sexual health, sexual rights and other personal and political rights,” said Tobin, who is pursuing a career in law to promote sexual freedom and lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender civil rights.
Judging from the high student turnout at the lectures, those involved with the SIC aren’t the only ones with enthusiasm for exploring these issues.
“There were really devoted people who came to almost every speaker. They were really psyched about it,” Lindy said. “I personally would have been psyched if even ten people showed up, but no event had less than 20 people. It was really nice to know how much support we got from the school.”
Based on the conference’s success, Lindy and Steinfeld said that they hope that SIC peer educators-to-come will use this year’s lecture series as a template with which to organize future events. Lindy emphasized, however, that these events do not have to be driven by fierce political conflict.
“I still think this conference would have been successful [even if it]
had it not been such a politically charged one,” Lindy said. “Joani
Blank [OC ’59 and founder of Good Vibrations] gave the keynote address, a
50-year retrospective on sexuality, and she showed that sex has always been
something on people’s minds.”