Squirm carves out space for exploration of sex, sexuality

Squirm is known for its risqué photo spreads and literary pieces. This content aligns with the magazine’s mission to explore the spectrum of gender and sexuality in a sex-positive forum. Photo By: Squirm
Squirm is known for its risqué photo spreads and literary pieces. This content aligns with the magazine’s mission to explore the spectrum of gender and sexuality in a sex-positive forum. Photo By: Squirm
Squirm is known for its risqué photo spreads and literary pieces. This content aligns with the
magazine’s mission to explore the spectrum of gender and sexuality in a sex-positive forum. Photo By: Squirm

“People think that we sell porn,” said Rachael Johnson ’15, president of Squirm. “But it’s not pornographic—we have rules.” Squirm’s members implemented rules, which include no visible erect penises, no spread labia, and no penis-vagina intercourse. “But you can draw it,” said Brennan McDaniel ’17.

Squirm was founded in 1999 in response to the Homo Hop, a campus-wide party that became a hotbed for drug and alcohol-related student hospitalizations, being shut down indefinitely.

Although Squirm is now in its 16th year of publication, there are many misconceptions—from students and alumnae/i alike—regarding the submissions-based erotica.

The magazine’s goal is to explore sex and sexuality in an inclusive and intellectual manner. “It’s a really academic and intellectual place,” Johnson said. “In the past, there have been some long essays submitted to Squirm. It’s not only a fun place but a place where people who want to talk about these things but don’t have the venue in class or other organizations to can.”

The magazine features photo spreads, essays and poetry that explore sex and sexuality—some are kinky and others are not. “There are really awesome things, like the Barefoot Monkeys running through the woods, and then there are really weird things, like someone cutting up a chicken. But it’s dispelling the myth that this is a campus porno,” said Morgan Williams ’17.

The magazine may be known for publishing provocative photo shoots and essays, but this is not an attempt to raise the magazine’s shock-value. Instead, the magazine’s signature kinky photo spreads and risqué essays are tools to raise awareness of safe sexual practices of Bondage and Discipline, Domination and Submission and Sadism and Masochism (BDSM). “A reason that we often display kinkier things and a lot of the photo shoots involve BDSM is because we are trying to spread a message about safe BDSM practices,” said Morgan Williams ’17. “Squirm is a great way to educate people about that because there are so many misconceptions.”

The magazine also seeks to act as a sex-positive as well as queer-friendly forum. “I think it’s helping people think about sex as something that’s not just centered around penetration and the process of procreation,” said Squirm member Brennan McDaniel ’17. “Sex is so many different things for so many different people. We are very queer-oriented, very kinky, and we display things that encompass a variety of [sexual preferences].”

Further dispelling the myth that Squirm is pornographic, many of the magazine’s photo spreads and literary pieces explore sexuality and sexual identity rather than sex. “What I appreciate is that if you pick up our magazine, there is so much about exploring gender and sexuality, which is really cool,” agreed Sarah Ragan ’17. “In last year’s issue, for instance, there was this amazing photo shoot of a trans-masculine person who dresses and then undresses into drag, but it makes you question and think, ‘Is this drag? Or is this a gender fluid person?’ But it doesn’t even matter. It was incredible. It gave me chills.”

The magazine also features comedic poems and light-hearted essays, all having to do with sex—including everything leading up to and following the deed—and sexuality. “For instance, we may have poems about awkward things that happen during sex. We’ve had haikus that are absolutely hysterical,” said Ragan. “These things are important because it takes the taboo away from sex and talks about it in a fun way and in a way that people can relate to. At the end of the day, it’s not just boobs.”

Misconceptions regarding Squirm are not limited to current Vassar students. As one may surmise, many alumnae/i who hear of the magazine are confused or shocked at the magazine’s content or even at the publication’s name.

Johnson recalled, “I’ve been tabling in past years and the funniest thing is having an alumna visit and say something like, ‘Is this a new gay thing at Vassar? This wasn’t around when I went here.’ That has happened three times now.”

Squirm’s content is shocking to many, and this comes as no surprise to Squirm’s staff. “About two years ago, the leader of the organization sent a huge survey to Psychology Professor Randy Cornelius, who teaches a class called ‘Sex on the Brain,’ and we got a lot of feedback for this magazine via the survey,” Johnson said.

The group received a variety of responses to the survey. “We got pretty mixed reviews,” continued Johnson. “Some people said they didn’t feel included in the magazine because it’s too queer or it’s too kinky, while other people said that they didn’t feel included because it wasn’t kinky or queer enough. It was interesting though because it is a submission-based magazine, so it is up to the students to decide what they put in the magazine. We just help them along the way,” she said, alluding to a kind of ironic dichotomy.

Vassar students are among those who are confused or critical of the magazine, yet they are also the ones who have the ability to control the magazine’s content.

Many students feel squeamish when it comes to contributing to Squirm, but those who are not includes Paul Younger ’17, who recently modeled for the magazine. “I found the shoot to be extremely liberating,” Younger said. “In a school where the term ‘social construct’ is thrown around loosely, a nude photography session is an experience that frees you from the most basic of society’s trappings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.