According to the Sex Week At Yale Web site, one purpose of the week is “to challenge students’ conceptions of sex and sexuality and question the way sex is presented in our society.” This is a worthy goal, and it deserves a week’s worth of attention. However, we question the way Sex Week at Yale chooses to do so.
Take, for example, the table tents that were distributed throughout the college dining halls. They featured a provocative silhouette of a slim, model-like figure, supposedly tossing her head back in the passion of the moment. Behind this image was the schedule of events, which included “The Female Orgasm” and “Mating Intelligence.”
Given the goal of broadening the conversation, we assume the SWAY coordinators would want all of Yale College to feel comfortable attending panels like these. But by mimicking the “flawless” figures of Victoria’s Secret models, Sex Week implicitly promotes the exclusivity of sex to a single body type.
These images send a message: Sex belongs to hot, skinny girls. They are having lots of great sex. If you aren’t, it’s probably because you don’t look like they do. Rather than questioning the way sex is presented in our society, Sex Week’s advertising seems to propagate this stereotypical presentation.
Midway through the Sex Week magazine is a seven-page spread of heavily made up, nearly naked Yale models. The magazine’s editors clearly attempted to incorporate diversity into the photo shoot by including models of many races, but ignored a larger picture of what diversity means, especially with regards to sexuality.
The pictures capture a non-variety of slim bodies in suggestive poses. The photo shoot pointedly suggests that sex at Yale happens just like sex in the movies. The girls are thin, provocatively dressed, and spend enough time putting on makeup that it warrants capturing on film. Even the male couple needs a cowboy hat to make the cut — does gay sex only happen on Brokeback Mountain?
There are substantive, valuable articles buried in the magazine, but the mindless, over-glossed presentation overwhelms whatever interesting pieces the publication might contain. And this is pretty much how Sex Week’s entire marketing plan works.
The coordinators seem to be so obsessed by the goal of getting attention that they ignore their own professed goals and dumb down an incredibly rich and multi-faceted topic. This is not to say that the week shouldn’t be fun. Debates about pornography and forums on sex toys both have places in the wider circles of sexuality that Yalies should be discussing.
Unfortunately, Sex Week at Yale misses its prime opportunity by failing to challenge contemporary depictions of sex in the media and entertainment industries. SWAY organizers have written, “We strive to get beyond … the discomfort … of conventional sex education programs by treating sexual behavior as the reality it is, not as it has been portrayed.”
But the coordinators seem uncomfortable with the idea that non-models are engaged in sexual activities, so much so that their marketing totally ignores this reality. In doing so, they promote discomfort in the wider, more diverse range of sexual individuals that make up our community. There is no reason that Sex Week’s advertising couldn’t incorporate a more realistic portrayal of what sexuality means. SWAY coordinators have expressed concern that fewer students would attend events if they were under the header of a less attention grabbing “Sexual Awareness Week.” This misses the point entirely. It is not the name of the event that causes problems, but the image it tries to cultivate.
Sex Week at Yale puts so much energy into grabbing student attention that it sacrifices the underlying themes and goals it professes for itself.
We hope and expect that in the future, Sex Week at Yale will paint a broader portrait of sexual reality, because, in doing so, it has the power to open a more mature and frank discussion about the important issue of sexuality.
Virginia Calkins is a sophomore in Pierson College. Callie Lowenstein is a sophomore in Davenport College.