Questions and chill: The Festival of Sex's discussion panel allowed students to ask questions and learn more about protecting themselves and their partners in sexual relationships. Photo courtesy of Joy Powell/Connect.
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Festival of Sex Panel discusses BDSM, STIs and male sexual assault

Content warning: this article discusses sexual assault.

“I hear a male voice,” said a member of the audience just a few minutes before 7 p.m., the starting time of the Festival of Sex’s Discussion Panel.

“Please men, we need you as a part of the conversation,” said panelist Victoria Beltran, the assistant director of prevention services at the Wellness Center of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

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The discussion panel was held in the University Student Center (USC) Coral Room, a room the size of a small classroom on the second floor of the USC. There were enough chairs for an audience of about 15 or 20 people. About five people had appeared at 7 p.m., the panel’s intended starting time.

The panelists, Victoria Beltran and Lacey Healy, a Sexual Assault Victim Examinations (SAVE) advocate specialist for the Suncoast Center, decided to wait a few more minutes before formally starting to allow more audience members to show up. When they did start, there was an audience of around 10 people. There was one male student. He left the panel early.

For the first part of the panel, dean of students ambassadors Grace Leah and Natalie Smiley read questions that students had anonymously written for the panel earlier in the day during the Festival of Sex. Questions included how to deal with having a BDSM kink in a patriarchal society, why HIV transmission was more common in male to male sexual activity than between female to female activity, and whether or not someone should feel bad for still being a virgin in college.

After the questions submitted from the Festival of Sex, the panel opened up to questions from the audience. The audience asked only one question, but it was a big one. Why are cases of male sexual assault less likely to be reported and discussed?

“Culturally, we don’t really want them to,” Beltran said.

In addition to her work in prevention services at the Wellness Center, Beltran has taught a health class for adults titled “Health for Life.” In all the times she has taught the class, there were never more than four male students.

“It’s a problem because they’re not a part of the conversation,” Beltran said.

If men don’t show up to these conversations, they can’t participate. Beltran acknowledged that some men might not want to because they might not feel welcome. But that still perpetuates the problem, she argued. If they don’t participate, they aren’t saying what they need to say in the conversation, which makes them feel like it doesn’t pertain to them.

This is especially a problem when the topic of sex shifts to the topic of sexual assault.

Beltran said that men who are on the receiving end of sexual assault are often seen as inferior, or “not a man.” According to Beltran, toxic masculinity dictates that men perpetrate violence, not receive it. These harmful stereotypes lead to false beliefs that men can’t be raped, Beltran said.

Beltran says being able to have conversations about male sexual assault will make men feel more comfortable reporting instances of their assaults.

Healy added that the process of reporting can be humiliating for male victims. Because of the harmful beliefs and stereotypes surrounding male sexual assault, it might take male sexual assault victims time to come to terms with the fact that they were sexually assaulted in the first place.

USFSP students who have further questions about their sexual health can make an appointment with the USFSP Wellness Center. The Wellness Center offers victim advocacy, one-on-one and group counseling, and medical appointments to USFSP students. Their 24-hour line is 727 873 4422.

Click here for the Suncoast Trauma Services website.

Suncoast Center 24 hour Sexual Assault Helpline: 727 530 7273

 

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