Sex Week stirs attention, debate

Students both praised and criticized the third biennial Sex Week at Yale — a six-day series of events addressing issues of sexual awareness, intimacy and pleasure — which ended Saturday with a panel on pornography featuring “Pirates” porn star Jesse Jane.

The week’s well-attended events, which drew coverage from numerous local, collegiate and national media outlets, included a dating workshop for Yale men, a striptease lesson from a former Playboy hostess and conversations with dating experts and sex therapists. While many students said they enjoyed the program, others said they thought the official Sex Week magazine and some of the events reinforced stereotypical gender roles.

Sex Week Director Dain Lewis ’07 said he thinks the reaction to this year’s expanded Sex Week — hailed as “one of the most provocative campus events in the country” by the Associated Press — has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Every year, the event gets bigger,” he said. “We’ve already been contacted by other campuses that are interested in planning sex weeks off of the Yale model.”

The Sex Week magazine, a new addition this year, was especially successful, and several of the 18 colleges to which the magazine was distributed have already asked for more copies, Lewis said.

On campus, Sex Week and its magazine have garnered mixed reactions from Yale students.

Kristen Windmuller ’08, who modeled for both the magazine and Friday’s lingerie show in Commons Dining Hall, said she thinks that in addition to entertaining, the program also prompted substantial discussion about issues of sexuality on campus.

“Despite what people might think about a sex week on a college campus, it wasn’t trashy at all,” she said. “The fact that Sex Week could provide something so fun and informative at the same time was great.”

But some students criticized Sex Week for reflecting a heteronormative sexual paradigm instead of adopting a more critical approach.

Della Sentilles ’06, co-author of broadrecognition.com, a feminist blog at Yale, said that although she appreciated some of the discussion about female sexuality, the ratio of scantily-clad women to men pictured in the magazine and events like “The College Striptease” served to reinforce rather than question society’s treatment of sex.

“There is objectification of women going on, and I don’t think that’s critically evaluated,” Sentilles said. “This is setting up specific gender roles and gender performances that are required of both men and women.”

Lewis said Sex Week organizers wanted to be “a little risque” in order to generate interest in the week’s events and the issues they hoped to address. He said he welcomes criticism as part of the dialogue that Sex Week was meant to elicit.

“We will always stand by our statement that those who criticize the most are often the best ambassadors in that they are the ones that show that the week is achieving its mission,” Lewis said.

On Saturday, Jane, along with “Pirates” director Joone, Digital Playground President Samantha Lewis, and first amendment attorney Gregory A. Piccionelli, answered questions about various aspects of the pornography industry and about their personal lives from a standing-room-only audience comprised mostly of male students.

Jane spoke enthusiastically about sex as both her career and her passion. She said she is glad she does not have to hide her profession from friends and family, although she said there is a social stigma attached to working in the pornography industry. The “Pirates” star said she hopes to inspire women to take pride in their sexuality.

“I love my job,” Jane said. “I’m not going to let anyone change me. … I like going everywhere and meeting people and just getting to live out my fantasies.”

Many who attended the panel discussion said they were surprised by how interesting they found the topics, which ranged from the relationship between porn and technology to the legal dangers associated with producing and distributing adult entertainment.

Eytan Debbi ’08 said he came primarily to see Jane but left impressed by the thought-provoking exchange. He said that although he was not surprised by the overwhelmingly male turnout, he thinks the event appealed to men and women alike.

“Forget just the expected fun of it,” Debbi said. “It was actually really serious and really interesting. I think that if more women knew what this talk was going to be about, they would have been here.”

Another Sex Week event on Thursday featuring Patty Brisben, CEO of Pure Romance, Inc., drew a similarly crowded audience, more than half of which was female. The boisterous and open Brisben showed students how to use several of her company’s products in a presentation called “Everything You’ve Been Too Embarrassed to Ask About Sex.”

Her suggestions covered topics from types of lubricants to safety maneuvers during foreplay, often eliciting smiles and laughter from the full audience.

“You do not want to get poked in the eye with anything that may be saluting you at this point,” Brisben said during her presentation.

During the past several days, Sex Week at Yale has garnered considerable media attention, appearing in periodicals ranging from the Daily Princetonian and the New Haven Advocate to the Chicago Sun-Times and the Houston Chronicle.

“It’s generated a significant national buzz,” Lewis said. “Combine two things like sex and Yale, and it’s going to get people’s attention.”

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