Schwartz GRD ’74 aims to debunk sexual myths

Porn stars, sex-toy connoisseurs and condom manufacturers are among the characters descending on the Elm City for an unorthodox Valentine’s Day celebration.

Following Sex Week at Yale’s kick-off comedy show on Sunday, students delved deeper into the eight-day series of events Monday afternoon when Pepper Schwartz GRD ’74 mixed comedy and counseling to address common mistakes in beliefs about sex and love.

Kicking off Sex Week, sociologist and author Pepper Schwartz GRD ’74 discusses 13 common misunderstandings about sex and love.
Blair Benham-Pyle
Kicking off Sex Week, sociologist and author Pepper Schwartz GRD ’74 discusses 13 common misunderstandings about sex and love.

Over 100 students attended the event “Myths & Misconceptions about Sex and Relationships,” during which sociologist, professor, author and former Glamour magazine columnist Schwartz informed and entertained the crowd by discussing 13 common misunderstandings about sex. The topics ranged from female anatomy to sexual orientation to marital sex and were addressed from both biological and cultural perspectives.

Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle, is the author of 14 books and over 40 articles on sex, love and relationships and creator of the Personality Profiler test used by Perfectmatch.com.

She began her lecture by declaring that sex “is not a natural act” but rather one based on complex cultural pressures and individual beliefs and preferences. Her goal, she said, is to address those parts of human sexuality and interaction that are commonly misunderstood.

Schwartz started with the basics, advocating a less simplistic view of human anatomy than is commonly-held.

“You may have seen this thing going around the Internet — an engineer’s view of male and female sexuality,” she said. “The male is an on/off switch. The female is an airplane cockpit.”

This view is inherently unfair to both genders, she said, proceeding to outline the rudiments of male and female anatomy and arousal. She explained that both sets of organs have their own subtleties and a complex relationship with the brain.

Schwartz then launched into a discussion of pleasure — in sexual relations between partners, with oneself or with the aid of sex toys. She argued against the societal stigma surrounding masturbation, the one topic she said she still cannot discuss on television, citing studies that correlated masturbation with more sex with others, better body image and increased ability to achieve orgasm.

She also advocated the use of vibrators for both men and women, pointing out the sexism inherent in the fact that the devices are currently illegal in some states, including Alabama and Mississippi, while Viagra is easily available.

“Men get scared because their penises can’t do that — none that I’ve seen anyway,” she said. “What I say to men when they think the vibrator will replace them is ‘This is not your competition, it’s your colleague.’ As long as it is not physically dangerous or goes against core values, why not use all of the ways available to make each other feel good?”

During the second part of the program, Schwartz focused on common relationship myths such as “You will always know when you meet ‘The One’ ” and “It is natural to be monogamous.” She said that believing these cultural misconceptions is often harmful when people stay in unhealthy relationships with the people they believe are their soul mates or feel guilty for the evolutionary ability to connect with more than one person.

Sex Week event coordinator Colin Adamo ’10 said the event was a great start to the week, echoing general audience enthusiasm. Many students participated in the question-and-answer segment, asking questions about sex toys for men and women, the sexual orientation continuum and how to stay focused on the act while with a partner.

Govind Rangrass ’08 said he thinks the event and its coordinators did a good job creating a space for discussion.

“I personally don’t think that a lot of the substance was terribly profound,” Rangrass said. “The important thing in Sex Week is to break down the barriers and allow people to discuss what they know but keep hidden.”

Elise Taylor ’08 agreed, saying that while she wished Schwartz had put certain scientific findings in more context, the event fulfilled its function in bringing taboo issues to light.

“I was a little disappointed in the lack of scientific rigor — there were a lot of studies cited but not looked at in depth,” Taylor said. “But I think she had some important things to say, especially about being able to talk about things like the clitoris and the complexity of the penis.”

Sex Week, sponsored by the romance-counseling party planning company Pure Romance and organized by Yale undergraduates, is a biannual event featuring speakers, workshops and social events aiming to explore “love, sex, intimacy and relationships.” This year’s speakers — who are visiting campus between Feb. 10 and 18 — include sex therapist Dr. Ruth, porn star Ron Jeremy and stars from VH1’s “The Pick-up Artist.” The series of events will culminate with safe sex presentations by Peer Health Educators and Trojan Condoms representative David Johnson.

“Sex Week is a new form, an innovative form, of sexual awareness,” said Sex Week Director Joseph Citarrella ’08. “It brings to campus a variety of people students never get to talk to but who have a big impact on them, romance- and sex-wise. These are the people who shape or want to shape how we see things, and we should get to ask them questions.”

Sex Week at Yale continues today with appearances by sexologist Logan Levkoff and Pure Romance founder and CEO Patty Brisben.

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