Forty-five seconds to meet, 45 seconds to make a move. Eyes close, hearts race, lips touch — a first kiss, caught on film.
Although Northwestern’s First Kiss video may look like an awkward shot at five minutes of sloppy fame, the video, intended to promote NU Sex Week and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, offered students a window into a more serious topic: sexuality and inclusivity on campus.
Sex Week co-director and Communication senior Kyra Jones wanted the Northwestern version to be more inclusive than the original viral "First Kiss" video, and to draw all types of students to the Sex Week events.
More than 100 students of a mix of majors, races, body types and genders applied through a Google Document to kiss a complete stranger.
“We immediately made a Facebook event and started recruiting people. We thought that it would get a pretty big response, but it was a lot larger than we thought it would be,” says Jones.
Of these applicants, Communication junior Bea Sullivan-Knoff was particularly moved by the format of the video application. She identifies as a “translady” and considers herself “transfeminine.”
“There wasn’t a drop down box, it was fill in the blank, which I appreciated,” she says. “I hate those fucking drop down boxes.”
In a sophomore year Spanish class, Bea, then Benj, explained that wasn’t exactly a name in Spanish, so she and her teacher decided on the nickname Benja. When Sullivan-Knoff decided to study abroad in Buenos Aires, she brought the nickname with her. The gendered language brought the femininity of this nickname into light, and Sullivan-Knoff liked it.
“There was a weird moment where I thought about my old name and I could feel a coldness, an absence of anything, I didn’t feel any attachment – it felt completely distant and that’s when I started exploring other options,” she says.
The video's recruitment team tried to put no boundaries on a participant’s gender identification and allowed students to voice whom they would be most comfortable kissing. Willing participants were organized into separate categories so they could be paired with whomever they felt most comfortable.
This method allowed the recruitment team to not only effectively match participants, but to acknowledge that sexuality exists beyond homosexual and heterosexual.
“It’s a very human desire to put people in boxes so we can easily understand and rationalize,” says Sullivan-Knoff, who finds a sexuality spectrum more comforting than the binary of homosexual or heterosexual.
Beyond a variety of gender identifications and sexual preferences, the video included students with different body types, races and physical ability levels, making it even more diverse and all-encompassing than the original video.
“We didn’t want everyone that looked the same,” Jones says. “We wanted to show that sex is something that affects everybody, regardless of who you are or what your background is."
The First Kiss video plays into Sex Week’s goal of creating a safe and receptive environment for Northwestern students to talk about sex, sexuality, gender and everything they entail.
“Sex is something important for us to discuss in our culture and by having a video where people can see a diverse array of people, we thought that people may be more inclined to come to Sex Week,” Jones says. “It would be a safe space, and it wouldn’t matter what you look like, who you are or what your gender is.”