Creating a Safe ‘SPACE’ for Students

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    Aaron White, a UCSC student, has worked with alumnus Elias Martinez to create SPACES. The organization, Sex Positive Autonomous Coalition for Environmental Sustainability, promotes sex positivity through environmentally sustainable initiatives like up-cycled sex toys. Photo by Prescott Watson.

    SPACES: Sex Positive Autonomous Coalition for Environmental Sustainability. The wordy acronym may not roll off the tongue, but with this project, former Slug Elias Martinez and current UCSC student Aaron White hope to create a buzz and get people talking.

    The work-in-progress is a multipronged project focused on promoting not only sex positivity but practices that are environmentally sustainable. For example, by making — and teaching how to make — vegan, “upcycled” (a term meaning repurposed from other objects) sex toys, SPACES is showing support for sexual freedom and eco-friendly practices with leather-free products.

    “We decided to create an organization that addressed more of the needs and issues that we saw needed [to be] addressed,” White said. “When you have sex positivity, you are more open to the idea of sex. It doesn’t necessarily mean you engage in it, but you support people who are having it.”

    Martinez and White make their products, including floggers, whips and harnesses, from extensively sterilized used bike parts, like inner tubes.

    “It’s something that I’m really good at, and I really like making vegan alternatives,” Martinez said. “Our products are as good or better than the leather products in the market now.”

    White said their products are user-tested and improvements are made based on feedback. They are not currently making products for penetration and have no plans to begin making them.

    In the past Martinez and White have worked both independently and collaboratively on various workshops on topics such as queer anarchy and BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism). White said he’d like to see these workshops continued.

    Both Martinez and White said they hope to see several large-scale projects come to fruition, including a database identifying what businesses are queer-friendly “safe spaces.” White said while there are regional networks of queer-friendly businesses, there is nothing on the national level.

    “Creating a national registry insures businesses are staying true to their word and remaining queer-friendly,” White said.

    SPACES is also planning on working with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) to create an index of queer-friendly farms.

    When looking at the overarching goals of SPACES, the one continuous thread is the call for sex positivity and further restructuring of ingrained ideas of sexuality in American culture.

    “Sex positivity for us means giving consenting adults autonomy over their own bodies,” Martinez said. “The media and other institutions perpetuate ‘vanilla sex’ as being the standard, the expectation of our sexual desires.”

    Martinez explained that what he defines as “vanilla sex” is “normative sex acts that are non-kinky and generally accepted as being standard.”

    Tam Welch, program coordinator for the UCSC Lionel Cantù GLBTI, said sex positivity exists in varying degrees in different communities, but overall it is important to further push cultural discussions of sex in order to remove shame that may be socially applied to non-normative sex acts.

    “Sex positivity in itself celebrates [sex and] flips the sense of shame,” Welch said. “It brings the conversation to an edge that a lot of people potentially blush at, and I think that the more we can bring it to the center — meaning the mainstream — then sex positivity will create healthier and safer behaviors.”

    Not talking about sex — whether it is heteronormative or otherwise — does not erase the existence of the act itself, Welch said.

    “People don’t talk about sex. There’s … a shame in enjoying your body,” she said. “There’s a lot of taboo-ness that happens around sex. You don’t have to talk about sex, but it happens … You don’t have to talk about this, that or the other, but it happens.”

    The main goal of SPACES is to promote three things: sex positivity, queer justice and environmental sustainability. It’s a project fueled by a passion for social justice and community empowerment.

    “Our focus is going to be making people more comfortable with their bodies. That’s the most simple way to put it,” White said. “We want to let people know that you can have fun with who they are. And you don’t necessarily need to have sex to have fun.”

     

    SPACES plans on launching their official website on Oct. 24. They will be tabling at Practical Activism Conference on Oct. 22, at the Colleges Nine and Ten Multipurpose Room.