Authors of “Sexual Citizens” speak to Simpson and Drake students

by Paul Hyatt, Staff Reporter

On Wednesday, March 17, authors Shamus Khan and Jennifer Hirsch spoke to both Simpson students and Drake students about their book, “Sexual Citizens.”  

The event was held over Zoom. Simpson College counselor Ellie Olson and Drake University’s Dean of Students, Lynne Cornelius, conducted the event.   

Both took turns asking the two authors questions about their book. To begin, Olson asked them to share more about their book.  

To give an example of what the book is about, Hirsch and Khan explained sexual citizenship, which means that everyone has the same rights regarding sexual experiences. 

“Young people have the right to have sex,” Hirsch said. “Sex education that induces fear towards sex does not work and is part of the problem.” 

Hirsch refers to the common “abstinence-only” approach to sex education that most students receive in high school.   

Another large topic discussed within Sexual Citizens is the idea of “sexual projects,” which Cornelius asked the authors to explain.   

Khan explained that sexual projects refer to the answer to the simple question, what is sex for? It is often a question that goes unanswered, Khan believes.   

“Sex is for a lot of things,” Khan said. “The obvious sexual project is pleasure, but sex is not always pleasure-driven, some people have sex to define themselves and better understand identity.”  

To reaffirm his point, Khan describes a story written about in the book. 

During an apartment party, a woman was hanging out with the “clear alpha male” of his social group. Soon, he gave a sign for all his friends to leave. After his friends left, he instructed her to take her clothes off, and then they had sex.  

Afterward, she realized that she did not find the experience to be pleasurable. However, the next morning, she showed her social group the man she slept with, who had a large social presence, which fulfilled a different type of sexual project for her.  

Delving further into the topic of sexual projects, Olson asked the authors how sexual projects relate to sexual assault, which is the main topic of the book.  

The authors said that it is clear to them that sex and sexual assault are two different things. However, when discussing the assault with students, the two terms were often used interchangeably. The authors said that when people do not think about other’s sexual projects, assault tends to happen. 

“A sexual project that determines other humans as a means of pleasure for themselves leads to sexual assault,” Hirsch said.   

The term “sexual harm” was also used throughout the conversation, leading to the question, what is the difference between sexual assault and sexual harm?  

The authors explained that some people have experiences with sexual assault that they did not find harmful. Other times, people may have consensual sex that they find harmful. They emphasized that harm from sexual experiences does not always come from assault.  

Anyone interested in learning more about Hirsch’s and Khan’s approach to sexual assault on campus can pick up a copy of the book to read at Dunn Library.