Safer Sex Without Alcohol
by Tobias Smith

This was the first year in history that alcohol was not served at Safer Sex Night. The event, which took place on Thursday at the ’Sco, is a yearly tradition hosted by the Sexual Information Center intended to educate Oberlin students about safer sexual practices.
Between 800 and 1,000 Oberlin students gathered in the basement of Wilder, ready to dance and flaunt their costumes, or lack thereof. Many were dressed in underwear or lingerie, while others were less conservative. Passing through usually shut doors, students stood in line to enter an alcove in the corner of what is usually the Decafé, which had been transformed into the Tent of Consent. Educational, sexually explicit videos played on TV screens, and students sat in booths in g-strings and halter-tops.
Safer Sex Night began in 1984, a decade after the SIC became an independent organization, in response to what was felt to be an insufficient response to AIDS which began appearing in the early 1980s. It has been an annual event since then and has recently come under fire because of what some perceive as mixed messages concerning issues of alcohol use and consent.
“Safer Sex Night and Drag Ball are two of our peak call nights for the sexual assault line,” junior Brianna Cayo-Cotter, a member of the Sexual Assault Prevention Team, said.
The decision not to serve alcohol was ultimately made by the Student Union, which operates the ’Sco. “If indeed the purpose of the event is educational then the serving of alcohol, juxtaposed, with sexual positive image, is complicating and confusing at best,” Dean of Students Peter Goldsmith said.
SIC and SAST supported the decision. “It is something that we debated every year. This year it was a mutual decision,” junior Laura Grossman, a member of SIC, said.
“We think that healthy drinking is great, it just impairs people’s ability to give consent,” Cayo-Cotter added.
“One of the things we are trying to promote is consent. Our definition of consent is that if you are drunk you can’t consent,” sophomore Maria Diaz, another member of SIC said.
Following the recent string of sexual assaults on campus, consent has been a major issue. “The reported assaults have tempered our thinking about the events of all kinds that can leave students more vulnerable,” Goldsmith said.

To combat this, SAST will be sponsoring a dozen peacekeepers at the event. It is hoped that the presence of student peacekeepers, who wear distinctive shirts and work in pairs, could be reassuring to those who might feel threatened. “I think that especially with an event of this nature, it’s important that everyone can feel comfortable,” Emma Sloan, a first- year peace keeper, said.
Another issue that has been raised is the “Tent of Consent.” Located in the Decafé and organized by SAST, the tent offers people a chance to put the idea of consent into practice. Individuals, after mutually consenting, may enter the tent for two minutes. Some members of the Oberlin community have mixed feelings about it, however.
“I am concerned about the context in which this [tent of consent] happens and the way it happens, and certainly, it happening on College property. And the liability that we share in that, I am concerned about it, knowing that there is a bar right beside the tent,” Associate Dean of Students Bill Stackman said.
“Some of the administration feel like the tent of consent encourages sexual behavior. I think what’s really going on is they’re just embarrassed about it,” Cayo-Cotter added.
There has also been concern in the past about the content of signs for Safer Sex Night. “In the past we’ve been criticized for our risque posters,” senior Nedra Lee, a member of SIC, said. This year, the SIC has made an effort to tone the posters down.
Many people feel that Safer Sex Night is a first year rite of passage. “I’ve heard a lot about it and wanted to see what it was like in person,” first -year Laura Shummers said.
Others found that it conflicted with their lives. “It’s a focus thing ... we have a game Saturday,” Ryan Silakoski, a member of the football team, said. Many coaches are also against it. “[The football coaches] don’t recommend it” he said.

Some questioned why Safer Sex Night existed at all. “What purpose does it serve? It definitely doesn’t beautify sex; it degrades it,” senior Miguel Villafana said.


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