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Sunday, November 27, 2022

Action Project: Respect sexuality by moving past stigmas and shaming

We all have individual desires, concerns (fears even) and spectrum of sexuality goes beyond the gay/straight/bi triptych. Each of us arguably has an unique sexuality. Religion, class, gender identity, cultural and racial identities and life experiences all play unique roles in shaping sexuality and how it blossoms. There are two things that many students may struggle with while on campus within the context of sexuality: stigma and shame.

What I refer to puts undue burdens and stress on our sex lives and that does little good. Unfortunately, all sorts of sexual stigmas still exist on the UW-Madison campus. It is up to Badgers to create a culture on campus that is open to diverse forms of sexuality and foster an environment that respects them.

We must recognize as a community that removing sexual stigma from our lives is a freeing experience for us all. It allows us to remove the pressures and angst that can sometimes accompany sex. And that’s pretty darn tootin’!

Sexual stigmas show up in many forms. Many subjects related to sex is usually accompanied by a stigma. Yet many of these stigmas are socially constructed and exist only because sex remains a taboo subject.

Then there is shame surrounding STIs; many STIs are curable and the rest are treatable. Yet many other illnesses are not stigmatized nor shamed. Even getting STI screenings can be a difficult experience. For some people it’s fear of being seen at a clinic, while regular STI screenings (one to three per year depending on our habits) are actually incredibly mature and responsible moves. It shows we care about our health and want to responsibly keep our partners informed and healthy too.

Fear of the results is also a hindrance, yet many sexually active people may have already had an STI: HPV, which is also known as the common cold of STIs, is very common and usually runs its cycle unnoticed, with no side effects. One in four of us will have an STI before we’re 25 years old. While that is concerning for some, it isn’t a justification for shaming. If we find out we have chlamydia it’s actually a super quick and easy trip to the pharmacist for some medication and we’re good (ok, we can’t have sex for seven to 10 days, which is a total bummer, but hey, we can get through that)! No need for shame.

This brings me to another point: Shame and stigma about what kind of sex or how much sex we chose to have or not have. There shouldn’t be any shame or stigma as long as the sex is consensual between all parties involved, and hopefully enjoyable too. Most importantly, if we’re making informed decisions, we should be celebrating people taking the initiative to do so: more power to us. Whether we abstain from sex or go for BDSM, whether we like monogamous relationships or seven partners at a time, respecting peoples’ individual choices is important in lessening shame and stigma. It’s not important what we do or how we do it, but that we do it with respect for our partners, get consent and have fun!

There are solutions available to minimize the shame and stigma that surround sexuality. We can make these a part of our everyday lives—they’re that simple. It all starts with our mouths. Vocabulary is a huge source of power. We know that slurs hurt and that’s why we don’t use them, but describing sex acts as gross, weird or messed up, we are potentially hurting and discouraging somebody from exploring their sexuality to the fullest. It’s called not yucking people’s yums. On the flip side, we should also be aware not to force people to yum their yucks. So easy, right? There is no reason to stigmatize STIs. They’re often just like any other infection. We go to the doctors, get our treatment and move on. Why is it not the same with an STI?

It’s important to keep an open discourse about sex and work to lower the stigma and shame often associated with it. The discourse ultimately comes down to mutual respect and knowing its okay to enjoy what gets us hot and bothered.

If you're interested in learning more about how shaming and stigmatization affect the UW-Madison campus, email Michael at 

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