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Sexplanations: Questions on Title IX and body parts

Sexplanations is an anonymous Q&A column to increase access to information regarding sex, sexual health, sexuality, relationships, and the promotion of sexual respect at Grinnell College. Questions are answered collaboratively by the Sexual Health Information Center (SHIC), the Stonewall Resource Center (SRC) and the Office of Wellness and Prevention. Submit questions at

Are my Title IX rights gone now that Betsy DeVos has rescinded the Obama Era Title IX guidance? 


— Lost to DeVos

Hi Lost to DeVos, This is a complicated question. Technically, Title IX itself has not changed, but its interpretation has altered somewhat over the years. As students, you are still entitled to an education free of discrimination on the basis of sex. This includes sexual and gender-based harassment, stalking, intimate partner abuse and other forms of sexual violence and exploitation.

During the Obama administration, the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) was published, pushing educational institutions that receive federal funding to widen their net to include a number of other practices to help strengthen Title IX. The guidelines recommended in the DCL include publishing policies related to Title IX, having a Title IX coordinator, training employees about their reporting responsibilities, having prompt and equitable processes and avoiding mediation in cases of sexual assault. Two of the most impactful guidelines recommended by the DCL were about equitable complaint processes and retaliation. Equitable complaint processes ensure that both the victim/survivor and the respondent have rights to a support person of their choice (including attorneys), equal and timely access to all information and the opportunity to appeal. Further, interim remedies such as a no contact order or moving dorms help the parties avoid one another during the process. This section also states that schools must utilize a preponderance of evidence or evidence that presents the event as “more likely than not” (51 percent chance of) having happened. Guidelines around retaliation protect all those involved in a proceeding from any adverse action.

Although the federal government has rescinded the 2011 DCL and 2014 Questions and Answers guidance, Grinnell will continue to abide by the Obama Era Title IX guidance to the greatest degree possible. To clarify, the new guidance does not increase the evidence standard but allows for an institution to choose between preponderance of evidence and clear and convincing evidence. The new guidance states that the standard used should be consistent with the standard used to adjudicate other forms of misconduct across campus.

This means that Grinnell maintains its standard of using a preponderance of evidence in Title IX cases. For full conduct cases, Grinnell will continue to use external investigators and adjudicators. As always, a number of interim remedies are available, and many Grinnell students who choose to meet with the Title IX office decide they would only like to utilize interim remedies. A person does not need to pursue or participate in any conduct proceeding to access interim remedies.

For more information, please see The S&B interview with the Title IX office in the article “College to Uphold Most Obama-Era Title IX Guidelines, Reconsider ‘Mediation’ Approach” from September 2017 or check out If you continue to have questions about Title IX on campus or are interested in having more conversations about improving the Title IX process here at Grinnell, please reach out to [titleix] or a member or the Title IX team.

I’ve never had sex with a person with this set of genitalia! Ah! What do I do?!

— Perplexed about privates

Hey Perplexed about Privates! 

Let’s first talk about how we talk about people’s sexual places. Especially when you’re referring to the bits of a partner who is trans/gender non-conforming, you cannot assume what language they use to describe their chest and crotchy bits. And being able to refer to body parts is important in physically intimate sex, so everyone can know what they’re consenting to when you ask to touch their body. 

Of course, asking how people refer to their bodies can feel awkward if you’ve never done it before, and if you’ve been with a partner for a long time it might feel different. For example, when I’m really in the groove with someone and we’re having open conversation, I’ll ask if they have any specific ways they like to refer to their chest and crotch, and then offer my own preferences: “Hey, do you have any ways you like to refer to your body parts? I myself don’t like being referred to by my “dick” or “cock,” but I don’t know if I have a preferred set of language … just not those.” If we’re not so close, I’ll usually hold-off and be attentive to ways they talk about their own body, and in the meantime refer to their “chest” and “crotch.” Sometimes, I don’t even have to use the word “crotch” where specific actions like “giving head” already specify where the action is headed. I also start off by asking: “Are there any places you don’t like to be touched?” We all have a right to establish red zones — areas off limits to any kind of touch — so making space to acknowledge that before any touching happens is such a nice and necessary thing.

And now a gripe: I do not appreciate people telling me — warning, really — that this is the first time they’ve been with a male-bodied/AMAB (assigned male at birth)/trans person. It makes me feel on-edge and alien and it feels like this person is preemptively asking for compassion for their inevitable shittiness. Instead of voicing novelty, I think it’s a better practice to reflect on what this means for sexual communication and comfort. Should I check-in more about what feels good and how much pressure I should be applying? Should I be explicit about discomforts I’m feeling? Should I ask for more instruction about how they like to be touched? 

The answers to these questions are always YES, especially with new partners. Excusing one’s responsibility to communicate with new partners by drawing attention to how my body is novel to them not only alienates me and makes me feel bad, but it also directs us away from good informative communication (and therefore, good sex). This approach is all about abandoning that dusty sexual script and talking openly about you and your partner(s)’ pleasures and discomforts! Talk about actions for pleasure when you’re uncertain. Talk less about how one’s gender/sex/disability/physicality is exotic for you.

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