No doubt the “sex-talk” has been traditionally, more or less, awkward — maybe your parents sat you down after dinner one night or pulled you aside before you asked out a love interest. Such conversations may have missed a few important details or failed to address certain areas you were curious about.
Of course, not everyone is knowledgeable about sex to a substantially informative or accurate degree. That’s where Sexi Sami comes into play, the new androgynous slug mascot for the Cantú Queer Center’s latest project, “Ask Sexi Sami,” who will address the questions you may not feel comfortable asking your mother.
“Ask Sexi Sami” is a collaborative project formed by Deborah Abbott, director of the Cantú Queer Center, as well as Alison Hayes, the senior health educator at Student Health Outreach and Promotion (SHOP). SHOP offers a safe space for students to seek information and support on sex-related issues, among other things.
Published weekly, “Ask Sexi Sami” will answer questions related to queer sex and relationships every Monday as a part of the Cantú’s already established QConnect E-Newsletter. Students can subscribe to QConnect through the Cantú’s website to receive the column directly in their UC Santa Cruz inbox, making it easier for UCSC’s queer community to become sexually informed.
“It’s important to have another venue for folks to ask questions,” Hayes said. “Not just to get information to protect themselves, but to also institutionalize that it’s awesome, normal and wonderful to be talking about sex and sexuality.”
Abbott emphasized that some people have difficulty not only seeking sex health education, but also seeking accurate sex health education, especially when the information is sought online to avoid face-to-face conversation with a specialist at places like SHOP or the Cantú.
Information online can often be vague or even fictionalized, preventing people of all sexual orientations from being completely sex-healthy. Abbott and Hayes wanted to create an informative outlet for those too shy to approach a sex specialist in person.
“If you walk into SHOP or go to CAPS, you’re having to identify yourself for the most part,” Abbott said. “We wanted a completely anonymous avenue.”
What began as a conversation between Abbott and Hayes at the start of the year is now ready to launch within the next couple of weeks. Links on the QConnect newsletter will direct students to the tinyurl website, where they will be able to submit their questions or concerns completely anonymously.
Abbott explained a committee of sex specialists are already on board to answer questions according to the subject and their expertise. As of now, the committee includes student representatives and sexologists from both SHOP and CAPS who specialize in queer sex. Connections with consultants outside of the university have also been established.
When questions are posed on QConnect, they won’t disappear after being answered. Instead, responses will be archived in a database students can access for future reference. Hayes is also particularly excited about the addition of relevant links with each answer, which will refer students to additional online information or sources they may find beneficial.
“In addition to giving some good advice or good thinking, I want to attach some really nice resources for folks to take it further,” Hayes said. “There’s only so much you can do with a paragraph or two. Folks will get a good answer and maybe get some more layers to the onion.”
Hayes wants to incorporate Sexi Sami into future plans in hopes of making the slug a “household name” and an accessible resource.
Cantú and SHOP worked together before in hosting an array of activities across campus, from educating the public on sex toys to demonstrating safe sex with bananas. Student collaborator Jamie Epstein helped the two resource centers organize similar events in the past, such as fall quarter’s Queer Sex 101.
“The good turnout showed there was this need on campus for queer students to understand their bodies and how to be in their body with someone else’s body and what goes where and how to be safe about it,” Epstein said. “There’s not enough information out there for queer students like ourselves.”
Other students collaborated in kickstarting “Ask Sexi Sami.” Alphonso Ramirez, one of the Cantú’s graphic design interns, created the image of Sexy Sami with the condition it be a gender-neutral slug. Because banana slugs are scientifically considered hermaphroditic, or intersex, Abbott thought it perfect to represent the queer-specific column — its flirty look and sex appeal was something extra.
“We kind of liked playing with an image that could express the wide, beautiful range of expression within queer communities,” Abbott said. “Sami goes by ze or they, but not he or she.”
Sami’s name was also carefully looked at. Traditionally spelled Sammy, the spelling changed when Abbott researched the word and found it used across cultures in varied ways.
In Finland, for example, the name is primarily used on males, while in our own country, it’s often seen as an abbreviation for Samantha. The name also comes to mean elevated, sublime or supreme in Arabic, something Abbott found especially appealing.
“I just liked that when I researched Sami, [I found] it’s a word used around the world and is kind of androgynously used — all-gendered,” Abbott said.
Sex-oriented questions and concerns will always be raised as new generations of college students continue to develop their sexualities. Programs like “Ask Sexi Sami” are a step forward for future students to address such concerns in a comfortable and secure manner.
“My excitement is having a truly anonymous way for students to ask the questions they might not feel they can ask in any other setting, or trust the answers they get in an online setting,” Abbott said. “I’m all about breaking down taboos and really making sure people have the broadest sense of information so they can fully enjoy their beautiful, sexual selves.”