The Collegian
Saturday, June 25, 2022

'Sexpert' educates UR students

"If it's wet and it's not yours, don't touch it," was the advice given to University of Richmond students on Feb. 10, not from the latest issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine, but from a local "Sexpert."

Rachel "Sweetness," a local sex educator, came to the Whitehurst Living Room to speak at a program called "UR Sexed," hosted by Women Involved in Living and Learning. Rachel chooses not to release her last name in order to protect herself because, "many people who have worked in sex work have become targets of violence."

Rachel began her career in the sex world working as a hostess at a local strip club while supporting herself through college at Virginia Commonwealth University.

"I found it much easier to work one night a week making $300 to $400 and have extra time for my studies than to keep my work-study position at the fashion department where I made $6.25 an hour."

After earning a bachelor's degree in women's studies, Rachel went on to get her master's in social work and program planning with an emphasis on social justice at VCU. While there, she worked for the Wellness Resource Center as a health educator graduate assistant, but it was at the suggestion of her friends that she began conducting her own workshops.

Although Rachel does not consider herself an expert on all things sex, she does refer to herself as an educator who has now led more than 20 workshops in the Richmond area.

At her workshops, she covers topics including street harassment, HIV and AIDS, pornography, sex toys and health disparity, among many other often controversial subjects.

"I believe that everyone is entitled to accurate sexual education and access to sexual pleasure," Rachel said. At the workshop on Richmond's campus, she spoke of her own education when it came to sex growing up, saying she had never learned much about the actual act of sex, but rather just her own body's changes. The rest, she said, she picked up from the media. She said she had learned for men, sex is expected to be a pleasurable experience, but most of the time for women, it comes with repercussions.

"Women shouldn't be ashamed of their sexuality," Rachel said to a crowd of roughly 100 students. "The more you learn about it, the more fun it becomes."

The event organizers were a group of six WILL members who are part of the UR Sex Committee, planning multiple events surrounding the topic throughout the semester.

"We want to take the campus from the Vagina Monologues in February to Take Back the Night in April," said Jessi Thaller, vice president of WILL.

With this plan, WILL members hope to break down the taboo of talking about sex -- their goal in bringing Rachel to campus -- and then educate students about sexual violence with the potential of hosting a women's self-defense session. Many of these ideas stemmed from a fraternity e-mail last semester, Thaller said, along with frustration with a general lack of sexual and gender awareness on campus.

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"The general premise for her coming to speak is to capitalize on the momentum of sex and gender from last semester in a way that will hopefully capture a pretty wide audience and focus on 'sex positivity,'" Thaller said.

Emily Miller, secretary of WILL, agreed.

"We saw the response that came out after the incident and we realized that's what we do," she said. "We don't want the same old STD discussion. It's about being more comfortable with your own sexuality."

With the intention of branching out to the mainstream student body population, WILL members knew Rachel would be an excellent choice as a speaker.

"She's very young and approachable," Miller said. "She's never had a problem soliciting questions from the audience because people listen to her and take her more seriously since she's like a peer."

Because the crowd usually starts off nervous and shy, Rachel explained that her presentation style encouraged participation and discouraged judgment.

"This, in short, is sex positivity," she said, "and it's usually contagious."

Organizers left pencils and index cards on every chair for people to submit anonymous questions, which Rachel answered at the end of her talk. Even if a student did not have a question, he or she was told to fold cards in half and pass them down the aisle with all the others so that no one knew who had asked a question and who hadn't.

During the session, students were educated on condom options, how to try new things with their partners and even how to find the right sex toy. Other important advice she offered students was to talk to their doctors and communicate with their partners when it came to sex.

"I'm not sex positive because I'm horny," she told the audience. "I'm sex positive because it's the school of thought that best meshes with my stance on sexual culture."

Student questions ranged from "How do I initiate dirty talk with my partner?" to "What is the best way to reach an orgasm?"

Rachel kept her responses short and simple, saying, "Reading is how you learn to do everything. Read erotica, Google dirty talk and see what comes up and make sure your partner is dirty talking with you."

In response to reaching climax, she emphasized that everyone is different but that, "If you try too hard, it probably won't come," which elicited laughter from the audience.

"There really is no commonly asked question," Rachel said.

When asked about the most outrageous one she had ever been asked during a presentation, she explained it was at a local high school when a student asked if she could get pregnant from ear sex, which required a great deal of clarification.

After a long description, Rachel attempted to give her the best possible advice, "Do not put anything in your ear that is smaller than your elbow."

"The biggest issue is that for most, this is the first time they are getting any type of sexual education," she said.

She continued to explain that this was a problem when students were sent to live on their own at college. They live in close quarters with other young adults who are not only clueless, but horny, she said.

"I think people, not just college students, want to talk about sex, but in most situations, they feel awkward or it's just inappropriate," she said. "This is the place to ask all those questions you want to know the answer to and not be judged or laughed at."

Although no one was laughed at or ridiculed, laughter certainly was common during the presentation.

"She was funny," said senior Angelo DiBello, who attended the event for a class. "Also her using words like 'cunt' and 'clit' and words like that I thought were interesting because I felt like she was doing it in an effort to desensitize us. I felt like she wanted to dispel the negatives associated with them."

"I try to be very approachable and try to use my humor to do so," Rachel said. "I think men tend to come less because there are a lot of avenues for men to talk about their sexuality, but women have real desires too, and want to talk about them."

She said her way of making audiences feel comfortable talking about sex helped her draw large crowds. The WILL students had told her to expect a group of roughly 30 to 50 students, but twice as many showed up.

"I think it was successful and the fact that a conversation like that was able to happen was awesome," DiBello said.

For students who wanted to learn more about what Rachel had to say or for those who couldn't make it, she recommended two useful resources: goodvibes.com and babeland.com.

Said Rachel of sex: "Be creative, be safe, be hygienic."

Contact staff writer Allie Artur at allie.artur@richmond.edu

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