Words by Smiley Team
In the Netflix series, Sex Education, when the son of a sex therapist takes up therapising his peers, he realises there’s a substantial demand. Likewise, students at the University of Sussex, felt their peers were in urgent need of sexual advice. This led them to create a campaign promoting sexual and emotional wellbeing.
Under the Sheets, as the campaign is called, started out with organisers holding events and collaborating with sexual health organisations to share resources and information with students. But it soon grew into something much more.
During the lockdown of 2021, around the time drink spiking became more talked-about, the group launched a referendum to transform the university for the better. “We put forward some actions that we wanted the university to take in order to make the campus a safer space sexually for students moving around and socialising,” Natasha May Jenks of Under the Sheets tells Smiley News.
Their demands included better lighting for buildings and pathways, training for new students, societies and sports committees, sexual health and safety leaflets in all student accommodation, resources for residential supporters for students to go to for advice.
The campaigners worked diligently to bring attention to the referendum on social media while people were mainly studying from home because of Covid. And their efforts paid off. Already the university has started to consider their demands and several have already been met.
Following a survey conducted by Under the Sheets last year, the university appointed a sexual health and violence response officer. They believe this decision was greatly influenced by issues revealed by their survey, such as the widespread underreporting of sexual harassment.
Meanwhile, they are organising events to build sex positivity throughout student life and sharing information on social media. They promote a student-led safe space called Pillow Talk, where students discuss concerns around their bodies and sex as well as a number of other events. Across campus, students can also seek support from a live-in advisor and mediator, offering valuable help that Under the Sheets hopes to reinforce.
Natasha volunteers in this role alongside her work for Under the Sheets. She explains: “If students need mediation for their flat or signposting to professional support, then they can come to me. We do this because want to equip everyone to deal with issues around sexual relationships effectively.”
For students such as Natasha, the campaign offers a vital steering tool towards a better student experience.
“I was in my second year when I joined Under the Sheets, and to be honest, I didn't have the best first year,” she says, “so the campaign inspired me to create change based on my own experiences of what I saw was wrong with the university. They were open to volunteers and I just thought it was a brilliant initiative.”
She’s aware that it is an important part of student life for many others too. “People seem to really look to us for support and are really glad that we're here. So Under the Sheets feels like a powerful force for good in the university.”
KEEP UPDATED: To get the latest on how Sussex students are building sex positivity on campus, follow Under the Sheets on Instagram.
DONATE: To help young people across the UK access support and resources, donate to sexual health charity Brook.