Let's Talk About Sex, Baby
by Cydney Livingston
Although the season of love is coming to a close, people will continue to f*ck long after February is over. This is no secret, yet we refrain from talking about crucial aspects of sex as if they are meant to be kept confidential. As if it’s healthy to sleep with someone without knowing if they have a clean bill of health. As if it’s healthy to not know your own bill of health. As if contraception and protection are optional at best and as if coercion and pressure mean consent. This isn’t aimed at shaming anyone – there is no judgement here – but perhaps we should all take a minute to consider if the sexual practices we are engaging in are safe and beneficial for us.
There is an unsettling trend in the way we talk about sex and sexual acts. The words we use, the topics we focus on, and the unspoken truths of the things we fail to say are not acceptable and should no longer be accepted. I, for one, want us to reimagine and reconstruct the way we discuss sex and what it is that we set out to talk about.
On Duke’s campus alone, there are so many resources for people who have questions about sexual health, for those who need advice or guidance in regard to sexual activities, and for people who simply want to learn more about themselves and others. Serious conversation on the tougher topics of sex are not always easy to start with friends which is why groups like Peer Advocacy for Sexual Health (PASH) exist. This is a group run by students, for students. Their mission is to create a safe and judgement-free space that fosters open discussion about sexuality, sexual relations, and sexual health. To learn more about them, check out their website:
The Wellness Center also serves as a beneficial resource for Duke students. They offer sexual health workshops and an anonymous blog ( that students can send questions into in order to get reliable answers from professionals. DuWell also provides sex supplies such as condoms and lubricants around campus – for free. This means there is no reason to not be stocked up for the act or to at least be prepared in the case that you do ever find yourself in a sexual situation. Proactivity is healthier and safer than reactivity, and by going to locations that offer these supplies such as the Center for Multicultural Affairs, the Women’s Center or the Mary Lou Williams Center with friends, safe sex can become more normalized and conversations about protection and health can become more prevalent.
Lots of groups on campus either offer or host free, confidential testing for common sexually transmitted diseases. Know Your Status is a group who routinely offers HIV testing, and other groups such as Duke NAACP provide regular opportunities for STD testing as well. One of the best ways to destigmatize STD testing is to talk about it with friends and planning to go together to provide support and comfort. The results of testing may not always be easily dealt with, but it is important to figure out and understand your sexual health so that you can treat issues if and when necessary. CAPS, Counseling and Psychological Services, may be a good option to talk through emotions and problems regarding testing in addition to simply being a good resource for working through your headspace on any given topic. Although it can be scary to get tested, it is important to get tested regularly and to get tested as soon as possible after engaging with new sexual partners. STDs and infections don’t have to show symptoms and are often more easily treatable when identified and diagnosed sooner if treatments are available. Thus, keeping a regular gauge on your sexual health status and figuring it out as soon as it may have changed is vital for ensuring you are being the most healthy you can be.
Additionally, it is important to note that there are many things that we weren’t taught in sex ed that we should seek to learn now. I didn’t hear about consent and what that truly entailed until I was 17 and I bet that plenty of other people didn’t learn it at an early age either. It is important to take the time to understand consent. Consensual sexual activities do not mean the absence of a no, pressuring, coercing, or blackmailing someone into finally resigning to a sexual act, or forcing yourself onto someone else and violating their autonomy and body. Consent means clear communication and understanding between two or more partners, a continual agreement to activities, and respect for each partner’s wishes throughout a sexual engagement, and thus their decision to stop activities at any point in time. Normalizing conversations about consent and clearly helping uninformed peers about what that means is extremely necessary on our campus and beyond.
It’s easy to see that there are resources aplenty, yet these tools are pointless if 1) people don’t know about them and 2) people don’t talk about why they are so important. These resources are crucial because they push sexual health and awareness to the forefront and normalize conversations about topics of sexual health. We need to talk about routine testing and understanding consent. We need to become more comfortable talking about the things that are societally uncomfortable to talk about. We need to talk about the non-fun aspects of sex, the issues we’ve had, and the things that I am failing to mention here. To do this, we need to flip the conversations and talk about sex in a new way, taking advantage of the resources that Duke offers to do this and to guide our conversations. Open conversation is the key to de-stigmatization and to a new era of sexual health and understanding.
So, let’s talk about sex, baby. Let’s talk about sex like we never have before.