By Daniela Dominguez
JOHN JAY COLLEGE–Danielle Vanderlinden signed up for the Spectra Club in the beginning of this semester because she liked how the club’s Instagram page created a welcoming space to talk about sex within the LGBTQ+ community.
“Spectra allows comfortable and open relationships with peers,” said Vanderlinden, a junior at John Jay. “Everyone is accepting of others, which allows individuals to be able to be open and ask questions.”
Recognizing the importance of openness, the Spectra social media team created Safe Sex Tips–a series of LGBTQ+ inclusive sex education Instagram posts.
During the pandemic, social media took on a bigger role in helping students build relationships and understand them. “Online sex education could provide a more interactive space where young people could anonymously discuss experiences and questions about sexuality and relationships that they face in real life,” according to a study published by the Institute of Development Studies.
Social media platforms can essentially allow students to feel comfortable having vulnerable discussions about sex education, rather than having a teacher explain to them topics around sexual health which may only apply to the heteronormative agenda.
“Our main goals as a community for the Spectra club are to provide a safer space at John Jay for students, to help educate students on LGBTQ+ related topics and issues, and to provide necessary resources for LGBTQ+ students,” says Lex R. Wasniewski, the vice president and social media coordinator of Spectra. They said this is necessary because sex education in schools focuses more on abstinence rather than safe practices for all identities.
“The absence of information relevant to sexual minorities in sex education programs can result in negative consequences, such as discrimination and higher incidences of unsafe sexual practices,” wrote the scholar Sage Burdge.
Since LGBTQ+ identifying members are left out of sex education, it is likely that these individuals have a lack of resources. Social media can be a vital tool for students to continue to engage with the club especially during the pandemic, Wasniewski said.
“A common misconception about sex education and safe sex is that you can take a ‘one size fits all’ approach to teaching about it,” Wasniewski said. “Many sex education and safe sex lessons are focused on cisgender and heterosexual individuals so what is taught will not apply to everyone.”
One of their many Safe Sex Tips posts focuses on “Transfeminine,” which speaks about gender dysphoria and self-pleasure for transfemmes. The post specifically says that “For most post-vaginoplasty and/or labiaplasty trans femmes, sexual results vary. Your new vagina will likely be raw and sensitive at first.” This series of posts can be beneficial to trans individuals who are looking for inclusive advice on safe sex.
Joan Borio, a member of Spectra doesn’t feel included in sex ed. taught at schools and shows gratitude towards the club’s effort to challenge basic sex education.
“It is funny how people fetishize sex, but when it comes to talking about it, the subject is seen as a taboo,” she said.
However, Spectra isn’t afraid to tackle these conversations whether it is digitally or in person. “Spectra makes those conversations more inclusive through simplified terms while also making it comfortable to talk about through these posts,” Borio said.
In addition to the Safe Sex Tips post, Spectra hosts events where safe sex and other important LGBTQ+ topics are talked about with occasional guest speakers Wasniewski said.
“Spectra has definitely been like a family for me that I’ve grown up with. A lot of the students call me dad because I basically adopted a lot of people who may not have families,” said Sam Ascencio, the founder of Spectra. “I take that role very seriously for all of my students.”
In terms of engagement, Wasniewksi said the club’s meetings and events have now expanded to in-person and Zoom events.
“We still want these students to be able to have the opportunity to be an active part of the community despite not being able to be physically there with us,” they said.
Vanderlinden realized that ever since she joined Spectra, she is constantly learning through the social media handles and club meetings. “Spectra allows everyone to join the group through the Instagram account and is essentially an open door.”