The sexual energy was palpable at Sexapalooza Thursday as Emerson students visited different stations to taste flavored lubricant, participate in “condom races,” play The Wheel of (Sexual Health) Misfortune, and post confessions on the Sex PostSecret wall.
Student volunteers encouraged over 100 visitors to take some of the free condoms that were scattered in colorful mosaics on tables as pop music pumped through speakers in the Cabaret.
While some students were there to eagerly take free penis-shaped sugar cookies and condom keychains, Christopher Chernicki, coordinator of wellness education, said Sexapalooza is an opportunity for learning.
“It’s a really important event because of the sexual stigma that’s out there,” said Chernicki. “It causes a lot of people to not talk to their health care providers or not talk to their partners, more importantly, about important subjects.”
Chernicki said a lack of communication leads to ignorance.
“There’s a lot of people with misinformation,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who don’t know their partner’s status, or don’t even know how to put on a condom properly.”
The event was sponsored by The Center for Health and Wellness, Colonial Residence Life, Emerson’s Alliance for Gays, Lesbians, and Everyone (EAGLE), and the Counseling Center. Fenway Health — a healthcare facility targeted at the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community — promoted its sexual health services and provided free condoms and information.
Sophomore journalism major and Class of 2015 President Nicholas de la Canal said events like Sexapalooza are important for students whose high school curriculums left out vital sexual health information.
“I grew up in North Carolina. We don’t have a very good sex ed system down there,” he said. “I actually remember last year having a conversation with one of my friends who is from California. I had no idea what STDs [sexually transmitted diseases] were or what certain sexual acts were, so an event like this is good because not everyone has had the same sex education in high school.”
De la Canal added that there are misconceptions about sex when it comes to the LGBT community.
“Someone just asked me why I need to get condoms because I can’t get anyone pregnant,” said De la Canal, an openly gay student. “And I told him, ‘Well, gays can get diseases too.’ Sometimes people don’t know.”
Chris Largent, a student volunteer and resident assistant in the Colonial Building, said that while Emerson does push for safe sex in other ways, Sexapalooza is particularly effective because it puts students at ease.
“A lot of people see this as a way for [the school] to reach out to the students,” said the senior performing arts major. “It’s on our turf, and we can conveniently come down to the Cab and just check it out.”
Largent worked at the Sex PostSecret table. There, students could write their sexual confessions on a sticky note and put it in a bag; volunteers later posted them on the wall behind the table for all attendees to read.
“Someone said that they’ve had sex 67 times. Like, that’s a really specific number, which is great,” Largent said. “Then there’s other ones that are like, ‘I’m scared of penises or ‘I’m still a virgin.’ Then someone else wrote, ‘I’m a virgin too!.’”
Chernicki said that the use of peer educators at the different tables was a practical method for teaching attendees.
“We can do it one-on-one [at the Center for Health and Wellness], but it helps to have peer educators doing it as well,” Chernicki said. “Right now we have RAs ... [and] members of EAGLE that are actually doing a lot of the education. They’re teaching people how to put the condoms on properly, so there’s a lot less fear when they’re hearing it from their peers, in a group environment. We also have a lot more fun doing it.”
For some students, like sophomore performing arts major Emily Simon, Sexapalooza wasn’t so much a first-time education as a reminder.
“A lot of times, the whole issue of getting tested for HIV and [having] safe sex isn’t really on your mind,” Simon said. “Most people who come here already know, but you just come and have fun and you remember.”
Simon said that while she found the event successful it could have been advertised more.
Chernicki said that he plans to improve and expand Sexapalooza every semester to attract more students.
“So far, they seem to be loving it.” Chernicki said. “Again, it pushes the envelope for some people, so it is a little nerve wracking to come in at first because it’s sex, and there’s definitely stigma. But once they let loose a little bit, they can learn a lot. It’s not really PG, but you’re in college now. I think you can handle that.”