Hoping for an evolving definition of sex


Fallon Repeta

Kaitlyn Prest

On Mar. 4, Kaitlin Prest came to NVU to talk to with students, staff, faculty, and community members about the complexities of relationships and consent.

Prest, an audio artist of 10 years, played tapes from her Brooklyn-based podcast, “The Heart,” which appears on Radiotopia.

Her podcast “tries to show what healthy relationships actually look and sound like,” said Prest, “We tell love stories that challenge our ideas of what being a woman, or a man looks like.”

Coordinator of First Year Events/Experience Emily Neilsen helped guide the tapes, also leading a discussion with Prest on the realities of relationship miscommunication.

Before the event started, Neilsen set the stage for an open, safe environment—leading with a trigger warning about its contents. “You’re welcome to leave at any point without receiving any judgment,” said Neilsen, “We also have some resources here for you. The counseling center will be open tomorrow morning. We also have the Clarina Howard Nichols Center here who works to combat sexual assault and domestic violence.”

The opening tape started by introducing Prest’s own initial experiences with sex and relationships. The tape talked about the contents of her teen diaries, and that “being desired was the one idea that accompanied the most space,” said Prest. It introduced to the listeners that being socialized as a woman ingrains in you from a young age that being pretty or desirable to men is your main source of power. It teaches young girls that by attracting men, that’s how you were going to be secure for the rest of your life—rather than teaching them that they could be secure on their own.

By starting the presentation with the initial idea that being attractive is important, Prest then explored the experiences she’s had with men, and the things she’s done (as well as many other women) in an effort to preserve men’s perspective of her, regardless of her own feelings.

In almost every story Prest struggled to say no—to affirm her own desire of ending the situation—while the men would ask over and over until she’d eventually relent. This faux acceptance of the situation came from a desire either to make her counterpart(s) stop asking, or to preserve their feelings. “You made it very clear what your boundaries were and he just kept trying to steer it [the situation] towards what he wanted to do,” said Neilsen after pausing the tape.

In the next tape Prest talked to some of the men she trusts most about their experiences with crossing sexual lines, with or without protesting from their counterpart. “All I was thinking about was how I felt,” said Prest’s first love. “That was what made these experiences so scary,” said Prest, “because the whole time I was with these men I never thought about how I felt. I was only thinking about how they felt. I even did this thing I didn’t want to do just to make them feel better.”

After pausing this tape Neilsen and Prest started a conversation that dissects power dynamics in sexual relationships, and how these dynamics affect every other power structure in our society. “If you are asked by your boss to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable you’re going to say yes, because you don’t want to make them upset. The same can be said for sexual partners,” said Prest. This shouldn’t be confused with BDSM related power-plays, which are born from consensual sex rather than a sense of entitlement over someone else’s body. “Today, there’s still no one definition of what sex is, and that’s why there’s this idea that sex is a negotiation.” said Prest.

According to Prest, the problem with confusion surrounding consent doesn’t stem so much from men as it stems from the way we [society] perceive power.

“If power is to be dominant, and to be dominant is to be masculine, and to be masculine is to be strong, and to be strong means having your way be the way—that is some shit that we really need to start looking at,” said Prest, who noted that New York state law states that “consent is not the absence of a no, it is the presence of a yes,” meaning that you can give it, take it back, give it again, and so on. This law encourages people to constantly be checking in with their partners to ensure consensual sex.
“I don’t want to hear ‘be careful,’”said Prest. “I don’t want to constantly be doing this calculus in my head of, ‘am I safe?’ I want to be able to walk down the street and know that I’m safe, and that’s what having privilege is.”

By opening the floor for people’s feelings on this matter, Prest hopes that the definition of sex will eventually evolve into both people involved in actively wanting to make each other feel good.
Anyone wanting more information on consent, is encouraged to visit the Wellness Center.