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UMN workshop brings inclusivity, positivity to sex ed

Organizers aim to eliminate stigma and offer support to students ready to talk about sex.
Image by Ava Weinreis

With sessions titled “Pleasure,” “Boundaries and Consent” and “Kink Week,” the new workshop, “The Sex Ed Class You Wish You Had,” provides an inclusive and sex-positive space for students to talk about sex.

The University of Minnesota’s Student Counseling Services (SCS) and the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence (MCAE) partnered to host weekly sessions over Zoom Fridays at 1 p.m., starting Oct. 7 and ending on Friday. Nina Hernandez Beithon and Dan Piñon of SCS and Mick Castro of MCAE are the facilitators who run the sessions.

The goal of the series is to offer more inclusive, sex-positive and empowering sex education to students than they may have received in the past, Piñon said in an email statement to the Minnesota Daily.

Sex education throughout the U.S. is often abstinence-based and centered around heterosexual and cisgender relationships, Piñon said. The facilitators said they want the workshop to provide a place where students, no matter their identity, background or sexuality, feel represented as they can gain new knowledge. while also being represented.

“It is our hope that we can create a safe space for students to come with their questions, and engage in rich conversation,” Piñon said in the statement.

Organizers said they want to provide a space where queer and transgender students feel represented and where everyone feels comfortable asking questions.

“I hope that folks see themselves reflected in the information we share,” Castro said in an email statement to the Daily. “And/or gain a new perspective to add to their repertoire of knowledge to empower them to explore ways to understand their bodies, relationships, and pleasure.”

Each week focuses on a different theme, which allows students to decide which topics they want to discuss, Beithon said in an email statement to the Daily.

Each session starts with a review of community guidelines, which include confidentiality, respect and inclusivity, before diving into the main content for the week.

The sessions are interactive, with discussion questions that students can answer anonymously. Students have the option to email the facilitators with specific questions in advance.

The facilitators are looking into running the workshop again in the spring due to the positive response they have received from students, Beithon.

“We encourage students who want to learn more about sex from a sex-positive, trauma-informed, queer/trans-friendly lens to come check it out,” Beithon said.

In Minnesota, each school district must develop its own high school sex education curriculum, according to the Minnesota Legislature. Minnesota schools are required to teach sex education and the prevention of STIs. Their curricula must include abstinence but are not required to teach other forms of birth control, according to state policy.

Students, such as first-year Claire Sazama, said the sex education they received in middle school or high school lacked depth regarding birth control, anatomy and relationships. Sazama said her school did not go beyond what state standards require.

“At the end of the day, I don’t think I learned any more from that class than I would from the internet,” Sazama said.

First-year student Lily Leadbetter, who also attended high school in Minnesota, had a different experience from Sazama.

Leadbetter said she received a comprehensive sex education, which included education about abstinence, other forms of birth control, anatomy and consent. She said she thinks all students should have a similar experience.

“I think it’s very important that everyone learns about all birth control,” Leadbetter said. “Sex is extremely normal, there’s nothing wrong with it. Might as well teach people to be safe with it than just say don’t have it at all.”

Bill HF358, which has been pending in the Minnesota State House since 2021, looks to expand the requirements for sex education to make the standard more comprehensive across the state.

When the bill passed through the House committee in 2021, all Republicans on the committee said they opposed it because parents wanted more oversight over what materials the sex education course covers and to ensure that it is age appropriate.

When asked about sex education programs at the University, some students, like second-year Anthony Krenek, said University students would benefit from taking a required sex ed class as a refresher on the basics, like birth control methods and STI prevention.

“For Freshmen, it should maybe be a requirement within like the CLA class, Carlson class, CSE class,” Krenek said. “I think maybe that’s kind of valuable just [to] keep everyone safe on campus.”

Leadbetter had similar thoughts, saying most University students are young adults who are beginning to make decisions for themselves regarding sex and their relationships.

“I think it would just be good to have a refresher,” Leadbetter said. “Not every single person that is in college remembers what proper consent and health and sexual relationships are.”

Students can register for the final session of “The Sex Ed Class You Wish You Had” and other educational workshops on the SCS website. Students can also access free safer sex supplies through Boynton Health’s Safer Sex Supply Program.

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