University News

Show urges students to ‘speak about’ sex

Contributing Writer
Thursday, November 29, 2012


Through a mixture of short monologues, anecdotes and skits, the cast of “Speak About It” engaged students and faculty in conversations about relationships, sex, consent, boundaries and sexual assault in Salomon 101 Tuesday night.

Led by producer Shana Natelson, the five-member cast has traveled around the country, using humor to address often-taboo issues surrounding sex on a college campus. The show opened with the Lonely Island’s song “I Just Had Sex,” which appeared in December 2010 as a Saturday Night Live digital short.

Cast member Erik Moody joked that they were all “passionate about sex,” further clarifying that they were “passionate about talking about sex.”

After the introduction, cast members read and performed true stories submitted by students across the country. In order to maintain authenticity, the cast read from notecards and referred to each other by their real names during sketches.

In one skit, cast members Ellen Almirol and Benjamin Row portrayed classmates who spend the night together after a party. While enacting a bedroom scene behind a curtain, Row asks permission before each move, and the couple communicates effectively. When Almirol declines to have sex, Row respects her boundaries.

Reflecting on the scene afterward, Almirol and Row said setting boundaries makes a relationship stronger.

The performance also sought to correct myths surrounding sexual assault on college campuses. Contrary to the archetype of sexual assault perpetrated by a stranger in a dark alley, nine out of 10 survivors of sexual assault know their assailants, the cast said.

Sexual assault is not the victim’s fault, cast members reminded the audience, adding that most cases of sexual assault also involve the consumption of alcohol.

The cast urged audience members to help prevent sexual assault by being “active bystanders.” An active bystander does not need to be a superhero, the cast said – though for the sake of hyperbole, Natelson donned a cape to stop a pair from leaving a party together.

Natelson demonstrated how to be an active bystander by checking whether both partners were comfortable and sober enough to give consent before leaving a party together.

When Natelson determined that one potential partner was not comfortable or clearly intoxicated, she attempted to stop a potential sexual assault by pulling the person aside. Strategies used included suggesting they go to Josiah’s for a late-night snack, stay on the dance floor or walk back together.

“Speak About It” began as part of the first-year orientation program at Bowdoin College in 2009. Natelson acted in the original performance.

After graduating from Bowdoin in 2010, Natelson acquired the rights to the show and organized productions for college students across the country.

By Natelson’s own count, “Speak About It” has reached 10,000 students.

“We hope that all students can relate to a part of the show,” Natelson said. “We want the conversation to continue after we leave campus. If students are discussing (sexual assault prevention) in the dining hall after we leave, then we are doing something right.”

Members of the audience reacted positively to the presentation, laughing easily at the lighter moments of the program.

Ryan Din ’14 said the show “did a good job of mixing humor into the presentation while getting the message across.”

Nicole Chen ’14 said the performance gave a balanced perspective on relationships and sexual assault. “I liked how they presented healthy relationships and bad ones,” Chen said.

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