Yes Means Yes & Normalizing Conversations About Sex

The seven week long wellness program, Yes Means Yes, gives Colgate students the unique opportunity to explore topics related to fostering healthy relationships with both sex and sexual health. 

Over a decade ago in 2009, Yes Means Yes was borne out of a student’s thesis idea to offer other students an opportunity to meet and discuss Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti’s book, “Yes Means Yes.” The book aims to analyze the way sexual relationships are viewed in modern American culture and presents ways to dismantle “rape culture.” However, since then, the Yes Means Yes course has evolved into a broader program analyzing similar themes, introducing new concepts about surrounding these themes and facilitating conversations otherwise known as taboo conversations in our own community here at Colgate. 

Yes means Yes meets once a week for two hours over the course of seven weeks. While technically housed and supported by Haven, the sexual violence resource center at Colgate, the program is entirely student-run. Seniors J.P. Morgan and Lauren Garvey are two current facilitators who both got involved in leadership positions after completing Yes Means Yes themselves as first-year students. 

“I kind of had a basic interest; I identify as a queer man, and so I was interested in having conversations around gender and sexuality. And I thought it would be really fun. I’d heard a lot of great things about it from my Link and older students on campus at the time who I know had taken it,” Morgan said. “I had an absolutely fantastic time. I didn’t plan on becoming a facilitator until my [own] facilitator sort of pushed me to do it and said, ‘We think you’d be great at it.’”

“Similarly, my Link was also the one who recommended it to me,” Garvey added. “And for me, I did not have any prior experience. I actually came from a high school that was religiously more conservative and so I didn’t have a lot of experience talking about these topics — which is what really sparked my interest.” 

Yes means Yes falls under a more general campus-wide movement to improve students’ relationships with healthy sex practices and awareness of sexual assault issues across the country, and here on campus. Haven and the Medusa Movement, a student-led activist group committed to supporting survivors of sexual assault, are just two other examples. 

While Haven and the Medusa Movement facilitate sex-positive discussions and provide resources, Yes Means Yes has clearly carved out its own niche within the general movement. The program manages to expose students to difficult, and often ignored, topics, while still allowing for a generally lighthearted approach to the work. 

“The most important thing is it really pushes people to become more comfortable talking about topics that might otherwise be taboo, like pleasure and identity. It’s really a space that provides that level of comfortability for people to start engaging in those topics,” said Garvey. 

The goal for student facilitators like Garvey and Morgan is to make Yes Means Yes a starting point for important conversations on the Colgate campus. If students gain exposure to and begin to destigmatize these sensitive topics, they may feel more inclined to begin conversations outside the space with students not directly involved in the program. 

“Our hope is that people bring those sorts of conversations and awareness elsewhere in their lives and specifically on campus,” Garvey continued. “I know students who have said, ‘You know, I’ve never had conversations about masturbation or something like that with my friends, but now I feel a little more comfortable starting that conversation.’” 

“It’s really about helping students develop the mental muscles that they had never had a chance to in order to have these sorts of conversations,” said Morgan. “We’re giving them the vocabulary. We’re giving them the ability to sort of explore and develop that language in a very non-judgmental space,” 

Morgan noted that enrollment in the Yes Means Yes program currently skews slightly towards students identifying as cis straight white women. However, over the course of their time as participants and facilitators, both Garvey and Morgan have worked with students from a diverse range of backgrounds and identities. They hope to continue to attract students of all backgrounds, as a way to foster conversations which are inclusive and applicable to all students — regardless of their identity. 

A typical day at Yes Means Yes involves catered food, introductions, icebreakers, discussions on assigned readings or activities and finishing with a snap circle, which is essentially a time to express appreciation for others in the space and their contributions to the session. Each week has a distinct theme to help guide conversations. 

Sophomore Anna Donovan is taking the course this spring. 

“I’ve found that Yes Means Yes is a course every student at Colgate should take. It has expanded my perspective on taboo topics and has become one of my favorite parts of the week because of the welcoming community the class fosters,” she said.

The course offers P.E. credit, but many students enroll outside of this option. More information can be found under Campus Resources and Services on the Colgate website or by reaching out to the interns at [email protected].