Students document College sex lives

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April 24, 2009

5:56 AM

There are few topics more popular for conversation on a college campus than sex. Sometimes it’s only discussed in whispers, other times it’s written about in a column. Either way, sex is present at the College of William and Mary, whether you’re doing it or just talking about it.

As part of a community-action project for an introductory women’s studies course, five students produced a 15-minute documentary entitled, “SEXperience,” which profiles certain sexual experiences of students at the College.

“There’s a lot written about college students’ sexuality,” Tessa Raebeck ’11, a producer of the documentary, said. “But there is not much research from the perspective of college students themselves.”

The documentary producers — Raebeck, Ellie Chessen ’12, Audrey Glasebrook ’12, Zachary Koon ’11 and Anna Pettyjohn ’12 — wanted to create a safe and anonymous environment for students to talk about sex. They created notices in student happenings, posted fliers around campus and solicited Dupont Hall for people willing to be interviewed or to write anonymous e-mail submissions. A frank discussion on student sexuality that covered a diverse range of sexual experiences — from heterosexual to homosexual, consensual to nonconsensual — resulted from the search.

The interviewed students discussed a variety of issues, such as hookups, sexual identity, individual first times, ridiculous sexcapades and other uncomfortable experiences.

The most startling part of SEXperience was the candor of the participants. Although individuals’ names were not divulged, their faces were clearly visible as they talked openly about their humorous, embarrassing or tragic sexual experiences.

“A lot of it was heavy stuff, though,” Chessen said. “Maybe it was too heavy.”

One student admitted to being sexually assaulted by a brother as a child. Another anonymous participant related the experience of being raped at a family reunion. A particularly profound part of the documentary was an anonymously submitted poem addressing a student’s first sexual partner:

“It’s hard to find the words (the words that have been pent up inside me for the past four months that will never reach your ears).
It’s hard to find the words (the words that will express my feelings of hatred, anger, sadness and loss).
It’s hard to find the words (the words I hope will bring me strength to keep living my days as if you never existed).
It’s hard to find the words (the words that will never be powerful enough to erase your actions).”

The documentary creators read the anonymous submissions on camera.

During a question-and-answer session that followed the documentary screening, one audience member expressed surprise at the number of negative sexual experiences shown in the video.

The creators said they believe that individuals with negative experiences were perhaps more willing to share their stories. Chessen said that they were surprised by some of the responses they received during their solicitations for interviews. The students’ responses were particularly notable when asked about their overall feelings concerning their sexual experiences, according to Chessen.

“When we asked whether someone would classify their sexual experiences as negative or positive as a whole, they would always pause, and then they would say positive,” Chessen said. “That hesitation was very interesting.”

Glasebrook said that not all of the collected interviews were included in the film.

“We still have a lot of interviews left over,” Glasebrook said. “And the interviews you see in the video were cut up for the sake of time. There was some footage that we didn’t include that members of the group disagreed upon.”

The creators expressed an interest in adding music to the documentary if given a chance to re-edit. According to the group, the difficulty lay in finding music that was particularly appropriate, given the content and nature of the film.

“I suggested stuff like ‘Sexual Healing’ and ‘Let’s get it on’,” Koon said jokingly. “But the rest of the group didn’t like that.”

The creators also said they would like to include more diversity in their interviews. Particularly, they wanted more upperclassmen since most of their interviews were of freshman. Also, they expressed a desire to include more minorities, lesbians and transgendered individuals in the film.

“Our goal was to encompass a wide spectrum of sexual experiences,” Chessen said.

Chessen made it clear that this documentary is not the end of the discussion on college student sexuality. The creators said they wanted to facilitate and promote open discussion about sex on campus and to make it more commonplace.

“This film is what we hope to be just a starting point,” Chessen said.

The scheduled screening of the documentary was April 22. Those who missed the screening and are interested in seeing the film are invited to contact one of the creators who will arrange a viewing time.

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