- Collegian staff
"Don't yuck other people's yum": Ericka Hart's sex positivity talk attended by over 70
Updated: Oct 22, 2021
Sex and intimacy are integral parts of the college experience. Regardless of whether or not a student chooses to engage in sex, they will be impacted by campus culture surrounding sexual activity. While conversations surrounding sex are embarrassing or daunting for many, they can help foster a safe and positive campus environment for students. Helping to facilitate this school-wide conversation on Friday, Oct. 23 was a Willamette Events Board Zoom event featuring guest lecturer Ericka Hart (she/they), a Black queer femme activist, writer, sex educator and highly acclaimed speaker. Zooming in from Brooklyn, Hart shared their wisdom with Willamette students through a question and answer style lecture.
According to attendee Bryleigh O’Neil (‘23), one of the most valuable parts of Hart’s lecture was their framing of sex positivity, explaining that their analysis went beyond preaching confidence and freedom to safely sexually engage with multiple people. “She went deeper by saying sex positivity is about taking the blockages away that keep people from being able to have the sexual experiences they want,” she said.
WEB general event planner Alanna Kelly (‘21) emphasized this point from a host’s point of view, saying “I could see in the questions there were a lot of sentiments that people felt like they owed people their bodies, and that isn’t something I thought we were going to talk about as much because with sex positivity I guess I was just thinking about being confident, and people who do want to have sex being comfortable with saying that they want to have sex. But there were a lot of questions from people saying how they feel when they don’t and how they feel like they should. So I thought we covered the opposite ends of the spectrum.”
Another point that Hart emphasized throughout the lecture was the influence of white supremacy and colonial ideals on societal attitudes towards sexual behaviors and the value that is placed on certain bodies. “We are all living on stolen land, and the energy of the fact that a particular group of people were pushed out and mass genocide happened to their bodies such that certain people could be here because their bodies were honored and more important than these other bodies, specifically indigenous and African indigenous people… you’re already living in a society which values certain bodies over others, and it’s going to show up in everything,” she explained during the talk.
Kelly said this point really resonated with her, saying “What I really liked about Ericka was talking about how a lot of things like body shaming, all of these really toxic aspects of culture are parts of capitalism, and racism, and colonialism. So looking at it from that really intersectional lens, because it affects white students as well, I thought that was really insightful.”
When responding to a question regarding how people with conservative values can integrate sex positivity into their lives, Hart conveyed that “Sex positivity doesn’t mean that you are down for everything… and that every aspect of sex you are digging. It literally means that you do not yuck other people’s yum. Further than that, it’s also anti racist, it’s anti classist, it’s decolonizing, it’s anti fatphobic, it’s the affirming of sex workers, it’s affirming of asexual and aromantic people. It is the absence of so much such that you can actually have pleasurable, accessible pleasure… It looks like demolishing or dismantling a lot of the systems of oppression that actually keep us from pleasure.”
Kelly shared her experience with planning and co-hosting the event, explaining that “[Hart’s] prepared lecture on radical
sex positivity is about two hours, or two and a half hours. And we didn’t have that much time. So she thought, cut out the stuff that might not be relevant to Willamette and we decided on the Q&A style.” Kelly went on to explain WEB’s process for gathering questions to present to Hart prior to the lecture. “We reached out to Women’s and Gender Studies professors, Sociology professors, people like that, to ask their students for questions. We posted something on the WEB instagram to DM us questions… We compiled about eight questions for before the event. Some of the topics were asexuality, conservatism, identity, sex in general and in Willamette culture specifically. During the event, we got those questions answered in about 30-40 minutes so we opened it up to the people there to ask questions live, and people DMd me and Kristin some questions that we read out loud.”
O’Neil emphasized Hart’s notability when speaking about her decision to attend the event. “I actually follow Ericka on instagram, and when I saw the email from WEB I was actually really excited because they’re someone who I think has so many amazing ideas and things they’re pushing for,” she explained.
Kelly spoke about how the impressive attendance and engagement of Hart’s lecture indicates a continuing interest and need for more education and engagement surrounding these ideas from the Willamette community, saying “62 people logged into zoom, but at least 10 rooms had multiple people in front of the computer. So I’d say maybe like seventy five. That’s definitely the best WEB event we’ve had since going online… This is definitely what people want to hear more of and what we’re going to try to do more of.”
“I think it was really comfortable and inclusive.” said O’Neil. “I really enjoyed the fact that WEB contacted someone who was going to be very open and honest.”
Discussing the present and future of sex positivity at Willamette, Kelly said “I think Willamette wants to be a sex positive community. I think there’s a lot of traditional white upper class feminism at Willamette, and a lot of people that claim to be sex positive in theory. When it comes to relationships or jealousy or things on this campus and it gets personal, then people are not acting in a very sex positive or kind way.”
O’Neil shared similar sentiments about slutshaming and negativity surrounding sex and relationships at Willamette. “It’s still prevalent,” she explained.“At Willamette it might not be quite as negative as I experienced in high school or in my hometown, [but] it’s definitely not what it could be or should be.”