Vox Changes Its Tone

You may know Tufts Vox for handing out condoms around campus. But now, the Planned Parenthood-affiliated group wants to de-emphasize its sex-positive image of glittery dildos and flavored lube and focus instead on its mission to promote reproductive justice.

Reproductive justice, Tufts Vox Social Media Chair Joyce Harduval says, is “the belief that everyone has the right to make their own reproductive, personal and sexual decisions without interference from the government or society.”

In the past, however, Tufts Vox has not been entirely successful in making this idea of reproductive justice its central focus. Past initiatives sponsored by Vox have been geared heavily towards sex-positivity. Some of these include last year’s Frisky Food Night, which featured an array of genitalia-themed foods and a personal-lubricant tasting, as well as speakers such as Megan Andelloux—also known as OhMegan—who packed Cohen Auditorium with Tufts students eager to learn from her tutorials on sexual pleasure.

Hand puppet vaginas at OhMegan's presentation in 2012.
Hand puppet vaginas at OhMegan’s presentation in 2012. (Courtesy)

But critics have said that the group creates a less-than-inclusive space, catering mostly to heterosexual, white, cisgendered women. Additionally, some have worried that Vox often blurs the lines between being sex-positive and sex-compulsory.

“Often in trying to promote sex positive attitudes, people can wind up pushing people into spaces where they’re not comfortable with the kinds of conversations about sex or talking about sex at all,” Audrey Chu, Tufts Vox treasurer and senate liaison, explains. “In a way, being sex positive is about empowering others to choose their conversations about sex and being sex compulsory actually takes that power away.”

Chu also notes that Vox’s past focus on sex-positivity, though flawed in its approach, did have a place on campus. “Previously, there weren’t as many sex-positive voices on campus, so VOX served a much needed function,” she says.

Vox members attend the Planned Parenthood Power Tour in 2014. (Courtesy)
Vox members attend the Planned Parenthood Power Tour in 2014. (Courtesy)

Since Vox’s creation, however, several other sex-positivity and consent-oriented groups have gained traction on campus, including Tufts Kink, Tufts Burlesque, Consent Culture Network, Students Acting for Gender Equality, and Action for Sexual Assault Prevention. Because of the roles that these groups have adopted, Chu says Tufts Vox can now “return to [its] politically grounded roots in an effort to promote reproductive health.”

But rather than simply revise its conversation around reproductive justice, Vox also plans to emphasize its intersection with other issues of social justice on campus.

“Reproductive injustice is the love child of the white supremacist heteropatriarchy and all other systems of oppression,” says Tufts Vox President Rachel Thomas. “So it is impossible to effectively combat this oppression while simultaneously ignoring the plurality of identities that affect our reproductive health.”

Vagina cupcakes at Vox's 2013 Sex Fair. (Photo by Leah Muskin-Pierret)
Vagina cupcakes at Vox’s 2013 Sex Fair. (Photo by Leah Muskin-Pierret)

As Thomas notes, the list of ways in which reproductive justice intersects with other social justice issues is extensive.

“What does sex positivity imply for survivors or for bodies that have been exoticized because of their race?” she asks. “What does access to abortion mean for uterus owners who don’t identify as women? What does pregnancy mean for those trapped in the prison industrial complex? What does access to STI testing mean in an occupied territory?”

These are just some of the questions that Vox hopes to address in its refocused conversation. While maintaining that the concept of intersectionality in social justice discourse is essential, Thomas notes that intersectionality “can effectively shift the narrative and create change because it re-centers bodily autonomy and agency.”

In addition to emphasizing the intersectionality of reproductive justice, Vox also plans to change the language it uses in order to create a more inclusive and comfortable space for all students, including those who may not necessarily be comfortable in a highly sexualized environment. And while Vox plans to continue sponsoring the speakers and events that have been most popular in the past, the group wants students to see Vox not simply as a university-sponsored sex-positive party, but as an open and diverse group of people united by a drive to address the many issues associated with reproductive justice.

VOX members participate in a May 2014 rally encouraging Tufts to revise its sexual assault policy in May 2014. (Photo by Briana Moody)
VOX members participate in a May 2014 rally encouraging Tufts to revise its sexual assault policy. (Photo by Briana Moody)

Will Tufts Vox, however, be able to successfully focalize reproductive justice without completely marginalizing its belief in sex positivity, which has been such an inherent and valuable part of the club’s identity?

It remains to be seen, but Community Outreach Coordinator Bridget Kernan thinks it’s possible.

“I think that sex positivity can fit within the framework of reproductive justice,” she says, “because it means making a space where each of us has the autonomy to define and express our own sexual identities.”

Cover image by Leah Muskin-Pierret.

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