An Inside Look into Seattle U’s Lesser-known Sex Sub-culture

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VANESSA BRIMHALL • THE SPECTATOR

The hallmark of holidays is here at our doorstep. From freshly delivered roses to polishing handcuffs, the intimacy of Valentine’s Day is expressed in a multitude of ways. Romantic gestures on this holiday mean more than getting lucky.

For some Seattle U students, intimacy encapsulates much more than sex. To Isabella Rivera, a sophomore theater and psychology major, intimacy is about building relationships through one-on-one bonding and shared experiences.

Students’ thoughts about intimacy fell along the lines of “being fully present with another person.” Some students talked about valuing open, honest communication and exploring connections more so than they valued sexual intimacy alone. “Intimacy also strikes me as wanting the best for another person and standing with them through all of their paths to that best self, ” said Emma, a student at Seattle U.

Other Seattle U students—who also asked not to be named— mentioned the role of kink in intimacy. Though they laughed it off when trying to exactly define their sexuality as it related to kink, they said that kink does play a central role in their relationships.

Kink does not always mean sex for these students. There are a lot of reasons people find it necessary to separate the two. Doing so makes space for people who do not experience sexual attraction to engage intimately with partners, without being pressured to engage in sexual activity as well. One individual, who identifies as demi-sexual—a person who does not feel a sexual connection until a strong emotional connection is made—said kink was their way of exploring and amplifying intense connections with partners.


VANESSA BRIMHALL • THE SPECTATOR
VANESSA BRIMHALL • THE SPECTATOR

One of these students said that they were able to work through some dark experiences with the use of a consensual dynamic. They acknowledged this is not a recommended method for working through trauma, but an important part of the conversation is that, “Every relationship has elements of dominance and submission,” they said. “Mine are just negotiated.”

Relationship structures are something that gure into the understanding of intimacy at this time. Monogamy is not the default relationship dynamic for all Seattle U students. Some students say they do not have a relationship dynamic that they adhere to because there is not always time for anything beyond casual encounters in college.

Polyamory—while not at all a modern concept—is experiencing a cultural resurgence and becoming more accepted as a relationship model. Some students use “ethical non- monogamy” to describe their dynamic. This type of relationship is on a wide spectrum, but generally involves intimacy with multiple consenting partners rather than just one. For these relationships, linked Google calendars are often a must- have tool to maintain healthy communication and dynamics. Those who are involved in these relationships say it can be hard and might not be for everyone, but can also be rewarding for the right individual.

Sexual identity is an important component of intimacy for some students. They find that Seattle, despite the identity shift the city is undergoing, still reflects some of its storied reputation for offering acceptance and a safe haven to LGBTQ+ people.

“Coming here and being able to talk openly about myself is something I never could have imagined five years ago,” Rivera said. Another student remarked how their sexuality serves as a framework for understanding themself and their experience.

Being involved at a university can prompt one to consider what sexuality and intimacy really means to them, and in doing so, spark a greater conversation about what sexuality means to society.

Some of these conversations at Seattle U have brought up intersection as it plays into the public understanding of sexuality. Rivera remarked that a question she encounters at Seattle U is, “What is your most salient identity? What do you hold above all others?” This is a complex question for her, as “Being a queer person versus a person of color versus a queer person of color are all such different experiences.”

Her identity has an impact on her life in a variety of ways. She was concerned how the people she had bonded with over welcome week would react to her coming out. Her experiences growing up in a conservative Mexican community and watching the experiences of her older LGBTQ+ relatives also affected her life. Rivera explained that she cannot separate her sexuality from her cultural identity, and that these experiences are not a product of one identity or the other, but influenced by both.

A common contrast to our supposedly sexually-liberated times is the Victorian period, which is usually depicted as intensely puritanical. Other, less known aspects of Victorian culture cast a different light on 19th century sexuality.

Mass market photography and printing met erotica—Victorian porn was the product. With no societal guidelines for how sexuality was supposed to look on camera, those photographed appeared to be enthusiastic and curious participants. These images depict authentic interaction between people of all genders. However, it is primarily depictions of white, cisgendered able-bodied people. The presence of these images indicates that human sexuality itself in its modern iteration is modern in the way we talk about it alone. The content of those conversations, positive and negative, is old news.


VANESSA BRIMHALL • THE SPECTATOR
VANESSA BRIMHALL • THE SPECTATOR

Castle Essentials for Lovers has a wide variety of adult entertainment within their store that has been said to be popular among all ages of our community.


Though Capitol Hill has a historical reputation for radical promotions of sexuality, people are more comfortable exploring it under the cover of darkness or with the disinhibition of alcohol. Jonathan, an employee at the Castle Toys, a sex shop that has existed on Capitol Hill for decades, explained that they remain open until two o’clock in the morning as those that visit Broadway to party are ready to “come in and have fun,” late at night, but also because this is when a lot of their customers are comfortable coming in and exploring something that they want to keep a private part of their lives.

On the changing attitudes about what intimacy is, Vita, another Castle employee, recommends books before hardware, saying that “education can be valuable far longer than any toy.” So in a culture that lacks venues for sexual exploration when it is not actively suppressing it, this store and ones like it can provide crucial resources for those who do not know where to start.

Vita also remarked that the variety of people that frequent the historical location reflect what is going on in concerns of sexuality and intimacy in Seattle and beyond. She encounters many people well versed in the knowledge and language used in the store. She also encounters older people exploring this aspect of their lives for the first time.

Intimacy and sexuality are powerful concepts in that they can be sources of great joy, but also can be corrupted by marginalization and oppression.

Sexual violence has played a role in human lives and communities, and consequently plays into our common understanding of sexuality. The discussion sparked by #MeToo, in particular the controversy surrounding Aziz Ansari, resonated at a very base level for a lot of students. Some people were prompted by the article to consider what their interactions with sexual partners look like, and how comfortable they were with that answer.

As Tarana Burke for The Guardian reported, “Sexual violence happens on a spectrum so accountability has to happen on a spectrum. I don’t think that every single case of sexual harassment has to result in someone being fired; the consequences should vary. But we need a shift in culture so that every single instance of sexual harassment is investigated and dealt with.”

This conversation is at the forefront of changing some toxic aspects of human sexuality as it focuses on how sexual violence permeates human interaction at many levels, not all of them worthy of legal attention. It changes the conversation from combatting individual bad actors to combatting a culture that enables and encourages everyday people to carry out violence as a basic component of sexual interaction.

It is important for everyone to reconcile the way sexual violence has shown up in their own relationships.

When talking about sexual violence, it is understanding that the conversation can be exhausting. Sexuality, despite it’s complex makeup, has positive aspects and impacts on life that run in tandem to the very necessary conversations about how sexual violence affects the minutiae of daily life. This has made for positive and healing conversations about sexuality, intimacy and identity.

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