A trail of Hershey kisses line a table where brightly colored flyers and pamphlets are on display. Handouts from the counseling center are stacked neatly in a row. Bold letters splashed across a display board present the question “how sexy are you?”
But perhaps most importantly, there are condoms wrapped with a note bearing a simple message: “ask first”.
Towson student Brittany Anthony sits behind the table and greets passing students brightly. She’s wearing a t-shirt bearing the phrase “consent is sexy” and patiently explains the message to intrigued passerby.
The table is a part of a campus-wide event known as Consent Is Sexy Week, Brittany said. The event includes tabling and games done by a group of student sexual assault peer educators to promote consensual sex and prevent sexual assault.
Brittany explained that the event is important because sexual assault is a problem faced by women not just at Towson, but on college campuses everywhere.
“Obviously it’s a huge pervasive issue on college campuses. One in three college women will be assaulted by the time they graduate,” she said. “This culture on college campuses, especially when alcohol is involved, a lot of students don’t understand what consent really looks like and what it is.”
That’s where she and her fellow sexual assault peer educators come in. They travel around campus giving presentations about sexual assault and workshops designed to inform students about consent and its importance.
During Consent Is Sexy Week, the peer educators work at tabling sessions and have interactive consent trivia games to involve students and get them listening. This helps students learn what consent is in confusing situations, like those involving alcohol, in which consent falls into a gray area.
“This particular [trivia] game gives [students] a whole barrage of scenarios where consent can be kind of tricky,” she said. “They really need to understand what is okay and what isn’t.”
Brittany said the game and the event as a whole is popular and successful on Towson’s campus. Consent Is Sexy focuses on consent and sexual assault prevention, but the event also ties in with other events on campus.
SexOUTLoud, a sex positive student group aimed at educating students about sexuality and sexual health, has a similar event known as Sexfest. SexFest is focused on the enjoyable aspects of and approaches to sex rather than on sexual assault prevention and consent, but the theme of positivity and communication links the purpose of both events.
Consent Is Sexy Week and all of the work that the sexual assault peer educators do is made even more important by the disparities between the very definitions of rape and consent, not just between individuals, but between states and institutions.
Lilia Farmanara, another sexual assault peer educator, explains that these differences are important for people to know about.
“Towson’s definition [of rape] is if [it’s] nonverbal refusal, like putting your clothes back on or pushing away, that’s considered rape to them,” Lilia said. “But that’s not Maryland law.”
With the event’s popularity, sex is definitely a topic of interest among students at Towson. The event also ties into alternative facets of student life, including relationships, boundaries, and communication.
The sexual assault peer educators also spread the word about healthy relationships, providing workshops and programs about communication in relationships, establishing healthy boundaries and positivity. For many students, these topics are crucial to creating and maintaining relationships with others.
Sophomore Rachel Bell says that even though communicating consent may seem awkward and unsexy sometimes, each person involved needs to be perfectly clear in terms of intentions.
“Even if it may be awkward I think it’s important to take a step back and check on the other person. Just because they ‘seemed fine’,” she said, “doesn’t mean they are. Sometimes people are too embarrassed to admit that they’re uncomfortable because they want to please or impress the other person.”
Communication seems to be the overarching theme in healthy relationships and college social life according to Consent Is Sexy educators and other students. Communicating clearly allows students to make decisions they won’t regret.
“It’s nice when you’re asked, ‘are you sure you want to do this?’ because then they’re giving you a moment to step back and ask yourself if you’re really comfortable with everything,” Rachel said. “Communication is everything.”
Consent Is Sexy Week is popular with Towson students for the free t-shirts and free kisses, but also for the event’s relevance to daily student life. With all of the pressure and stress of college demands, students rely on positive relationships to balance their social lives.
At the Consent Is Sexy table, brightly colored flyers and pamphlets are spread for students to pick up. The display board with the question “how sexy are you?” is being studied by curious students. Hershey kisses are lined up and ready to be given out to those with the correct answers.
At the edge of the table there are condoms wrapped in index cards bearing a simple but powerful call for communication: ask first.