About 50 people attended back-to-back interactive lectures on sexual health Wednesday evening as part of the annual Sexpertise conference on sexual health, hosted by the University Health Service. The events, titled “Seeing Other People: Open Relationships, Polyamory, and More” and “Kink Outside the Box,” took place in the Michigan League.
Public Health graduate student Tahiya Alam coordinated the Sexpertise conference this year. She heads the Sexpertise committee, which is a part of Sexperteam, a group that promotes sexual health through various campus events. She said the conference is largely based on student recommendations from last year.
“We look at what the students are looking for in terms of sexual education and what’s available in terms of resources in our community,” Alam said.
Amy Jacobs, a clinical social worker at the University of Michigan Health System, presented “Seeing Other People: Open Relationships, Polyamory and More.” She discussed different types of consensually non-monogamous relationships and discussed her own experiences with open relationships.
Jacobs emphasized that consensual non-monogamy is not cheating because these relationships are based on communication and honesty.
“You’re negotiating those kinds of things with your partner to find out what’s important to you,” Jacobs said. “What do you need out of our relationship so that I make sure that I’m respecting that relationship when I’m with other people?”
Jacobs provided responses she often got when she told people she was non-monogamous, such as questions about how open relationships work and why she had gotten married. Overall, she said the decision to be non-monogamous is dependent on an individual’s definition of a relationship.
“What is your definition of a relationship that works? Is it being together for a long time? Or is it being happy?” Jacobs said. “To me that’s not a great marriage, just staying together.”
Jacobs also said being honest about her relationships is a positive for her daughter, in that she gets to experience alternative family styles and know she has options for future relationships.
Public Health graduate student Emma Sell-Goodhand and local sex educator Tori Renaud presented “Kink Outside the Box.”
“Kink,” according to presenters, is defined as non-normative sexual activity, like bondage or role-play.
Sell-Goodhand and Renaud incorporated various cell phone polls for the audience with questions about kink, misconceptions concerning kink, different roles and implements in sex play and areas to avoid in a more hands-on style presentation.
They cited studies that expressed the physiological and psychological benefits of kink, including having a more open perspective on sex and other aspects of life. Renaud said she believed communication among partners may lead to benefits from kink.
“These activities require a lot of communication,” she said. “A lot of psychological problems stem from suppressing things — whether those be your emotions, your desires. If you are communicating with your partner, you have better lines of communication to talk about what your needs are in other areas as well.”
The presenters also discussed safety in these situations. Renaud emphasized the importance of awareness and safe sex.
“Keeping in mind all of those things, talking with your partner about STI statuses, being aware of risks and what risks you want to take,” Renaud said.
At both presentations, resource sheets were handed out to provide books, websites and local resources for additional information.
In organizing these events, Alam also said she worked to include a large variety of experiences to account for diverse interests in the student body.
“I’ve tried to diversify the types of talks, have both skill-based conversations and also education-based, in terms of the research that’s happening or some of the hard-hitting issues or advocacy that needs to happen around sexual health topics,” she said.
Laura McAndrew, a sexual health educator at the Wolverine Wellness division of University Health Service, also advised the students who put on Sexpertise. She has participated in Sexpertise conferences since the first one eight years ago, and said the conference community has evolved and spread based on student feedback.
“I know more students are becoming interested in the intersections of justice and health, and wanting to see sessions that reflect the needs of a wide variety of students on campus and representing a wide variety of identities,” McAndrew said. “I expect in the future we will continue to highlight diverse experiences and needs.”