Her bedroom is filled with bottles of lubricant, erotica novels, sex toys and more than 1,000 condoms of all shapes, sizes, colors and flavors. Emails from people with usernames like “Juicy Justine” and instant messages from lustful students seeking counsel fill her online inbox. She has even met the former CEO of Planned Parenthood. But Weinberg senior Nicole Collins sometimes worries about the stigma associated with being the director of the Sex Week committee.
“I’m no Ann Landers,” Collins says, comparing herself to the famed syndicated advice columnist. “There are people more knowledgeable about sex and sexuality than me.”
Collins says she hopes to make a “discernible difference within Northwestern culture and the way people view sex and sexuality,” and that people should view Sex Week as a source of education and discourse rather than entertainment and debauchery.
She says that she loves when people feel like they can open up to her about their sex issues, but she realizes that not everyone is willing to do so. This obstacle has created challenges for Collins as a member of College Feminists (which sponsors Sex Week) and a member of SHAPE (Sexual Health & Assault Peer Educators).
“We’re not about pushing sex in your face,” Collins says. “We’re not trying to get people to have sex. We’re just trying to get people to talk about it.”
Collins became involved in Sex Week in the fall of her freshman year, mostly because she felt she was not involved in enough campus organizations. She joined a listserv in November of her freshman year and eventually worked her way up through College Feminists. Though she says she started with very little knowledge of sexual health, she is now a Gender Studies and Sociology double major after taking classes that complemented her work with Sex Week.
“There are so many sex classes at Northwestern, it’s wonderful,” Collins says. “You learn the most interesting parts of stuff you read in Glamour, Cosmo and Seventeen.”
Although some of the university’s course offerings inspired Collins to initiate dialogue about sex, the controversy surrounding the Human Sexuality sex toy demonstration has caused Sex Week 2011 to be more conservative and careful than in past years. Cognizant of the risks of media scrutiny, Collins met with Burgwell Howard, dean of students, to forewarn him of her concerns. Also, for the first time, counselors will be on hand during some of the week’s events to speak with students, and Collins says her committee has been careful to design posters that are not offensive.
“This whole debacle has put sex at Northwestern under a microscope,” Collins says. “This does speak to the fact that there are still people totally uncomfortable with nudity and sex.”
Around the time of the incident, Collins received an email from a Japanese sex toy company, asking her to help them put a vending machine in Norris in order to sell their products. She declined the offer.
Collins hopes that people, despite their moral or religious beliefs, will try to understand the purpose of Sex Week and its events. But she fears that they will not understand her.
“In terms of the Sex Week committee in general, there are two trains of thought: one, ‘they must have a lot of sex,’ or two, ‘they’re probably not getting any,’” Collins says. “On the committee, there are people of different sexualities, males, females, virgins and people who have been sexually active for quite some time.”
Collins also does not want people to think she is sex-obsessed; she admits that she does not have an active sex life, and she emphasizes the fact that she is involved in other activities, such as Marching Band and The Daily Northwestern (as a cartoonist). She also says her heavy involvement in Sex Week has not helped her in building long-term relationships, because it usually turns guys on a little too much, or completely turns them off.
“In the long run, I don’t think I could be with a guy who isn’t comfortable talking about sex,” Collins says. “My personal view is that in talking about sex and learning about sex you’re able to better gauge your own private decisions about what exactly you do with your body in your own free time.”
In the fall, Collins plans to be a Teach for America Corps Member in South Dakota, where she will take a break from sex education and teach a sixth grade science class. But she says she hopes to have a career pertaining to sex and sexuality, and she wishes to someday donate money to organizations with missions similar to her own.
“There’s work to be done,” Collins says. “All anyone can hope to do in college is find something that’s they’re passionate about and good at.”