Always Worth the Awkward

Photo by Juliana Berube, UMass Amherst.

By Erica Gilman

Photo by Juliana Berube, UMass Amherst.
Photo by Juliana Berube, UMass Amherst.

Last Thursday, Sullivan Auditorium was filled with countless freshmen, all asking the same thing: why do we have to be here? But when the lights went down, Anne Dufault and Anthony Dinicola leapt out onto the stage, immediately cracking jokes, and students knew this was not going to be a dull performance.

Dufault and Dinicola are two educators from Catharsis Productions who put on the performance called “Sex Signals,” a humor-filled series of improvised skits which requires participation of students ranging from giving various pick-up lines to answering questions about consent. “Sex Signals” has served as part of Worcester State’s consent education for incoming freshmen for over twenty years.

The performance not only provides consent education, but also explores topics like sex while under the influence of alcohol, bystander intervention, gender roles, and support for survivors of rape and sexual assault. However, it’s not all serious talk–there are Star Wars pick up lines, references to “Netflix and chill,” and by the end of the performance, you have heard countless penis jokes and even, at one point, seen Dinicola twerking. The ideas of polyamory, STIs, gender identity, and the pressures of college are all rolled into one ninety-minute-long performance.

Dufault and Dinicola make it clear they are in it for real social change. They both have backgrounds in acting, yet felt drawn to be a part of “Sex Signals” to create awareness of sexual assault and rape and to help start conversations that are generally regarded to be uncomfortable and awkward. Both said they strive to make the idea of asking consent to be fun, sexy, and necessary. Unlike other artists, they said someday they want to be put out of a job.

“One in five, one in 33 is not the legacy I want to leave behind,” Dinicola said, referring to the numbers of women and men who are raped over the course of their lifetimes.

Yana Tallon-Hicks, a sex educator based out of Northampton, MA, teaches sexuality and consent workshops as well, and writes “The V-Spot” column in the Valley Advocate, along with other publications. She said she approaches the subjects of sex and consent much like Dufault and Dinicola, looking for ways to break down the walls of propriety and comfort, and finding strategies that make the idea of asking consent not only important, but a skill to be proud of.

Hicks said she finds the importance of teaching sex education in that “most youth and older teens are heading off to college without much education about consent – how to ask for it, how to give it, how to revoke it, or why it’s so important in the first place.”

“Actively practicing consent so that all people involved feel their most enthusiastically YES about a sexual or intimate situation is always always always worth the awkward,” she said. “Plus, the more you practice, the less awkward it will be!”

These sex educators all value getting real information out to students as they enter college, or, as Dufault puts it, “a new era” in which students need this information on how to conduct themselves in classrooms, at parties, and in the bedroom. According to the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, there were four reported rapes on WSU’s campus and on nearby and internal public property in 2015.

Laura Murphy, the Director of Counseling, portrays consent education as an example of the school’s dedication to the protection and education of its students. Sarah Valois, a counselor and Sexual Assault Prevention and Response at Worcester State, describes this education as “essential” since sex and health education are not thoroughly conveyed to incoming students before they get to college.

“They’ve [freshmen] never been talked to about sex in terms of consent,” Murphy points out. “‘Sex Signals’ relates well to the thought process of college students.”

To Murphy, the production is effective because it provides a clear definition of consent as well as accurate depictions of what asking for consent looks like. Worcester State also discusses consent education at its freshman and transfer orientations, and requires that incoming students take an online known as “Haven.” Judging from the boisterous laughter in that auditorium Thursday, these efforts seem to be paying off.

“There is no stupid thing to say, except to say nothing at all,” Dinicola concluded.

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