Rachel Hills is changing the way we talk about sex. Through her writing and workshops, she strives to examine cultural narratives about sexuality and how they affect individuals.

On Tuesday night, students gathered in the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity to participate in a workshop led by Hills, a writer and journalist specializing in issues of gender and sexuality. The event, part of Bowdoin Queer Straight Alliance’s (BQSA) Out Week, was organized by BQSA president Rayne Sampson ’18.

According to Hills, who is based in New York City, the social implications of sexuality are not often discussed in a meaningful way. Having conversations about sex can break the “sex myth,” or disrupt the idea that there are only a few acceptable ways to experience sexuality.

“We have quite a few conversations on this campus around issues of sexuality ... but a lot of those conversations take place from a very heterosexual and sometimes heterosexist frame of mind and from a very cisgender-focused [frame] of mind,” said Sampson. “We talked a lot with Rachel about how we could work to make this particular event really explicitly inclusive for people who don’t identify as heterosexual and cisgender because that’s a demographic that statistically isn’t represented as much as straight, cisgender people are.”

At the workshop, Hills discussed her recently published book, “The Sex Myth,” which explores what she describes as the “invisible norms and unspoken assumptions” surrounding sex.

“My project ... was to write a book that would look at sexuality not just as a biological phenomenon, but as a sociological phenomenon and a political phenomenon,” said Hills. “The aim of this particular workshop is ... giving people a space to think critically about the messages that they’re hearing about sexuality in their lives and in their communities.”

During the workshop, Hills prompted students to write down the messages they receive in their daily lives about the ways they should and should not engage with sex. The group then discussed these messages and the ways in which they are affected by them.

“Not every person I interviewed felt abnormal or undesirable or defective when it came to their sex lives, but quite a lot of the people I interviewed had felt that way at some point in their lives,” said Hills. “And that’s not just because we live in a society that ... gives us a kind of narrow set of parameters of how we’re supposed to engage with sex. It’s also because we live in a society that tells us that conforming to those parameters is really, really important—that it’s something that makes or breaks our identity or our value as people.”

The goal of Hills’ workshop was two-fold. She hoped that students would leave with a greater sense of peace concerning their own sexual histories and an understanding that they are not alone, even when they perceive their experiences as abnormal. She also hoped to leave students with a greater sense of compassion for people whose experiences are different from their own.

After participating in Hills’ workshop, Maxx Byron ’19 expressed a desire to apply what he had learned to his leadership of The Sex Project. In the future, he hopes to discuss sex from a sociological perspective rather than a solely biological one.

Hills stressed the importance of ongoing conversation. 

“I think that [continuing conversations about sex is] important because there is so much misinformation out there around sex,” she said. “I think that having those conversations and having them on an ongoing basis can disrupt that idea that there is one or just a small handful of acceptable ways to engage with sexuality.”