Though the Vagina Monologues have come and gone, students are working to make sure its message is here to stay.
Last night, 1993 School of Education graduate Al Vernacchio gave a debut lecture titled “Sex, Social Justice and Pleasure.” A sexuality educator and consultant, Vernacchio spoke about applying principles of social justice to sex by generating questions and ideas rather than giving instruction.
Vernacchio framed his talk around a unique metaphor — a “sex footprint.” He began by asking the audience, “What’s your sex footprint?”
He encouraged the audience to consider whether “the sex footprint that we’re leaving is one that makes the world a more pleasure-filled, orgasmic, fun, together place, or … more afraid, more rigid, more unhappy and less together?”
The event was organized by College senior Isabel Friedman, producer of The Vagina Monologues, and a former student of Vernacchio’s in high school. All proceeds of the event went directly to Women Organized Against Rape and the V-Day International Campaign, the same groups for which The Vagina Monologues raised money.
To Vernacchio, sex is not something to be overlooked or objectified. He approaches it from what he calls the “nourishment model,” an idea that “sex is necessary for who we are as human beings,” he said. “Sex is … the best thing we have, and we can really use it to change the world.”
To help make his audience more conscious of their own “sex footprints” and how they align with personal beliefs and values, Vernacchio asked pointed questions. “Do we see our hook-ups and sweethearts as people or objects?” “Do we see our own bodies as worthy of dignity?” “Who are the poor and vulnerable in the world of sexuality?”
Regarding Penn’s “hook-up culture,” College sophomore and The Vagina Monologues cast member Kay Lu said, “Guys are always trying to sleep with girls regardless of how it feels for both of them, and I feel like after hearing [Vernacchio], sex should always be more pleasure-oriented and there should always be a lot of communication. With drugs and alcohol involved, a lot of times it’s not pleasant for everyone.”
Vernacchio continuously returned to the rights and dignity of every human being throughout his lecture.
He stressed taking responsibility for one’s own sexuality, acknowledging that justice is different from equality, and supporting organizations that offer sexual education and counseling and considering personal identity when engaging in any sort of relationship.
The lecture ended with Vernacchio’s talking about his belief in early sex education that was sparked by an audience member’s question. “I don’t see any reason why we’re not starting in nursery school or Pre-K,” he said. “You say to them, ‘Everybody has a sweetheart. Love is important’…If you can do that, think about how you can build on those very simple messages as kids get older and older.”
College sophomore Ashleigh Seely enjoyed the talk but thought it was “more geared towards how we should encourage younger people and bring them up in a healthy, sexual environment” and suggested it be delivered to parents and parents-to-be.
According to Friedman, one of Vernacchio’s overarching messages was to be a better partner and treat others well. “If you start with one-on-one interaction, that has a multiplier effect. Treating a single person better [and] treating yourself better creates a socially just world, and that’s the message Al is trying to emphasize,” Friedman said.