From the roars of laughter bellowing from the Travers/Wolfe main lounge April 1, passing students would have never guessed that the lecture taking place dealt with HIV, sexual assault and body image.
River Huston, an AIDS activist, poet, author and performer, came to the College to give her lecture “Sex 101: Surviving the Weekend,” an event sponsored by Voices of Planned Parenthood (Vox), Bodsquad, Student Anti-Violence Educators (SAVE) and the office of Residential Education & Housing. The lecture was meant to deliver a positive message of self-image and love to students, and to teach them how to deal with the images of sex thrown at them by the media.
The night began with a trivia game in which Huston rewarded answers to questions like “Who here masturbated today?” with prizes like condoms, lubricant and panties.
Huston went on to discuss stigmas surrounding sex in our society and the two opposing messages young people face every day. She spoke of how our country is extremely sexualized, but many high schools in America preach abstinence and fail to teach students how to make sex safe.
Huston said the absence of sex education in high schools is dangerous because there are many movies and shows today portraying sex, but no one teaching young people how to have sex safely.
In her lecture, Huston offered alternative methods, like experimentation with sex toys and masturbation, to dangerous sexual practices like oral and anal sex. These alternative were also offered as solutions to unprotected sex.
Although the night started off on a more comedic note, the lecture took a serious turn toward the end. Huston, an active member of the New Jersey Women and AIDS Network and the National Association of People living with AIDS, shared her personal story of being raped as a teen and how she struggled with the pain for years after.
When she was a senior in college she discovered she was HIV positive, and her life changed forever. Huston described living with HIV as “an emotional, physical and spiritual struggle,” but also as “a gift to make (her) life immediate.”
After being diagnosed with the virus, Huston became an activist. She visited Planned Parenthood clinics, prisons and halfway houses to educate people about HIV and safe sex practices.
“I live 99 percent of my life in a state of grace or a state of joy,” Huston said. She believes that instead of feeling sorry for herself, it is her responsibility to “take the experience and help any human being.”
To Huston, the best way to educate people about safe sex is to teach them to develop positive self-images. She believes that confidence and a positive body image are the only things that will lead to great and safe sex.
“Cherish your body, love yourself because if you don’t it will put a wall between you and yourself, and you and others,” Huston said.
The general reaction from the audience was positive.
“I feel like every person on campus should have been at Sex 101,” Shelley Snyder, freshman interactive multimedia major, said. “Not only did it teach me a lot about the stigma of sex, but I also learned that there are people, like the strong-willed and hilarious River Huston, who live through experiences like rape and HIV and can come out swinging.”