Refining a promising service

This fall, the Multicultural Center (MCC) launched a new online forum, Sexpert, that answers student-submitted questions about sex. We appreciate the MCC’s initiative in beginning a conversation on campus about sex – something often considered too taboo to discuss – but are unsure that Sexpert is the best place to begin this discussion and whether Sexpert as it currently stands is the most appropriate way to address students’ sexual health.

Currently, a committee that includes students, staff and registered nurses from the Health Center convenes to answer questions that are submitted to Sexpert. However, individual posts are not signed by a primary author, despite the political tone of multiple responses. As an informational forum, Sexpert responses should not take a political or moral stance on issues of sex and sexuality. This is complicated by the fact that answers posted to Sexpert carry an implication that the author’s view is an expert one. As these posts are anonymous, it allows the author to make powerful statements with limited responsibility for their own viewpoints. Perhaps attaching a primary author’s name to each post, even if it has been reviewed by other members of the committee, would serve to demystify the source of these answers and views.

While it is reassuring that answers originally drafted by students are then checked for accuracy by licensed professionals, we at the Record believe that students should not be involved in answering questions submitted to Sexpert. While the forum’s name implies an expertise, students are doubtfully experts on all matters sexual, especially considering the emotional, physical and mental health-related issues that inherently are present in discussions of sex. Further, the names of the students who respond to Sexpert questions are not public despite their prominent role in addressing serious questions of sexuality.

While we would prefer that students are not involved in answering questions, we also recognize that the task of answering Sexpert questions should not fall entirely on the shoulders of Health Center or MCC employees. Regardless, as a resource bearing the College’s name and with the connotation of expert knowledge, we feel strongly that Sexpert should be lent a degree of professionalism that it cannot achieve in being partly student-run. Having a certified sex therapist, for example, address students’ questions and concerns about their sex lives from a professional perspective is one way that the College could lend Sexpert more credibility.

Ensuring that Sexpert is in fact run by a licensed expert would add a professionalism to Sexpert befitting the College’s image. Sex and sexuality can be divisive issues, and as Sexpert is an open webpage attached to the College’s official website, its content and presentation will naturally serve as a reflection on the values of the College as a whole.Whether or not we believe Sexpert and its message of sex positivity are important values here on campus is part of a larger conversation, but we at the Record do believe that any College resource should hold itself to the standard of professionalism and excellence on which the College prides itself.

In its current form, Sexpert is provocative – and this is not necessarily a negative quality. The discussion regarding sex and sexuality that Sexpert is initiating is important, particularly on a campus that emphasizes having difficult conversations. However, it is precisely because of the importance and weight of the issue that this discussion should be carried out conscientiously and thoughtfully. In launching Sexpert, the MCC has successfully brought questions of campus culture surrounding sex and sexuality to students’ attention, but if we as a campus are invested in having an open discussion about these topics, it should consist of more than the few isolated questions and answers presented in one public forum.

We encourage the MCC and students passionate about these topics to continue the conversation on sex by following up with facilitated, educational events on campus. If this is a conversation that we at the College are going to take seriously, then it is worthwhile to consider ways in which we can host events that will serve to educate the community and to encourage respectful discussion and further thought among its members.

It is also important to note that in terms of sexual experience, preference and values, everybody is unique. With that in mind, perhaps the MCC should focus on encouraging students to reach out to specific individuals, either via e-mail, through an online contact form or in-person. Having these conversations one-on-one would go further in advancing students’ awareness and understanding of sexual health than a one-size-fits-all answer to an individual’s question. If just one general answer to students’ questions is provided by the staff of Sexpert, students who feel that this answer does not apply to them may feel alienated by the response – a result that is certainly counter to Sexpert’s aim.

We at the Record want to be sure to applaud the drivers behind the launch of Sexpert. Encouraging open discussion about sex, sexuality and sexual health on campus is a worthy goal, as is ensuring that students have access to the information they need to be healthy and safe. In further examining how the implementation of Sexpert achieves these goals, however, we do see room for improvement – improvement that will help us as a campus to continue to work to promote the sex-positive culture advocated through Sexpert, while doing so on a level that adequately and fully meets students’ needs.

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