Bringing sexy back

Two years ago, coordinators of the biennial Sex Week at Yale invited Paul Thomas, a director who screened clips from his porn film featuring sadomasochism. Colin Adamo ’10 said the event surprised and startled organizers, who had not screened the film and did not plan the event to address the issue of sexual violence. This year, the coordinators are better prepared, Adamo said, after thinking ahead about the discussions that will arise from events they put on.

Sex Week at Yale, a student-run series of discussions and workshops about sex, love and relationships, kicks off today with events ranging from today’s appointment-free testing for sexually-transmitted infections at Yale University Health Services to Tuesday’s workshop on how to give oral sex. Started in 2002 by Eric Rubenstein ’04, the campuswide event has received mixed reactions from the student body in the past, with some in favor of the increased awareness of issues of sexuality and others criticizing Sex Week for letting corporate sponsors run the events.

Austin Baik ’11 gets up close and personal with a string of anal beads at the Pure Romance presentation during 2009's Sex Week at Yale.
Kate Hawkins
Austin Baik ’11 gets up close and personal with a string of anal beads at the Pure Romance presentation during 2009's Sex Week at Yale.

Sex Week at Yale began in 2002 at a Hillel Leadership Conference, where Rubenstein half-jokingly proposed the idea of a “Kosher Sex Week” as a way to get more Jewish youth involved in Hillel events.

“I wanted to draw in people that had similar interests to me,” Rubenstein said.

Eventually, with the help of Jacque Farber ’03, head coordinator of the Peer Health Educators at Yale, and molecular biophysics and biochemistry professor Bill Summers, Rubenstein transformed the concept into a more inclusive, campuswide event.

The first “Campuswide Sex Week” was held at Yale during the week of Valentine’s Day in 2002, and it featured only four or five outside speakers and a few faculty lecturers. In 2003, Sex Week at Yale in its current form, which emphasizes bringing outsiders to campus, was born. Rubenstein, who currently acts as a consultant for the Sex Week coordinators, said that both the number of events and the extent of student involvement have increased over the years.

Adamo, who first helped out with Sex Week during his sophomore year, described this year’s Sex Week as more inclusive than it has been in past years, involving a variety of different media, including a radio show, blog and magazine, all of which will address issues of sex and relationships.

Adamo saidthe purpose is primarily educational.

“We want to make sure students can discuss love, relationships and sex in a conversational way,” he said, “and that they’ve had a chance to interact with leaders in those fields as well.”

Some of this year’s events include a speed dating event, a discussion about masturbation and a Pierson College Master’s Tea with transsexual porn star Buck Angel. Additionally, a WYBC radio show called “Sex Talk” will premiere Feb. 6, hosted by Sex Week coordinators Willi Rechler ’12 and George Norberg ’11.

This year’s Sex Week is entirely student-run and funded mostly by sponsors and partly by the Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee. Pure Romance, a company that sells sex toys, is the biggest financial contributor, Adamo said, and will be running a workshop Thursday, Feb. 11 about how to use their toys.

Adamo said the sponsors are important because they not only host educational workshops but also provide financial support for other educational workshops.

But Adrian Ryan ’11, who entered Yale with the class of 2009 and has seen two different manifestations of Sex Week, said he thinks having the sponsors run some of the events dilutes the week’s overall message.

“[Sex Week of 2008] was very corporate,” he said. “Their goal seemed to be, if anything, to make money and advertise products.”

Callie Lowenstein ’10 and Virginia Calkins ’10 also criticized Sex Week 2008 in a guest column in the News (“Sex Week at Yale promotes hypocritical image” Feb. 13, 2008), in which they said they thought the design of the advertisements for the events promoted the wrong image to students.

“We just thought the advertisement for it was totally Victoria Secret-normative,” Lowenstein said in an interview Tuesday. “It was just women with these enormous boobs and tiny waists.”

Lowenstein said she supported Sex Week’s goals but felt that the advertisements were hypocritical.

Adamo said one of the first things organizers did this year was to rethink the look of the Sex Week advertisements, which this year feature a pair of men’s and women’s legs intertwined with bedsheets. Event coordinator Alice Buttrick ’10, an art major who studies graphic design , helped the team to “bring Sex Week into the future,” he said, and they tried to address the criticism from previous years.

Other students said they appreciate the goals of Sex Week.

Jordan Hastie ’13 said she thinks the coordinators of Sex Week are trying to educate the community about sex in an entertaining way. Scott Simpson ’13 said he thinks the event is a good opportunity to have discussions on topics generally considered taboo.

“Where else do you get to hear presentations by a porn star?” he said.

Ryan said that although there were no events during the past two Sex Weeks that he can remember specifically liking, he plans to attend a few events this year.

“It’s cool that they’re offering STD testing,” he said. “That’s the sort of thing we should be talking about.”

This year’s Sex Week at Yale features over 30 different events and runs from Feb. 6 through Feb. 14.

Correction: Feb. 7, 2010

An earlier version of this article misreported the hosts of WYBC’s “Sex Talk.” The hosts are Willi Rechler ’12 and George Norberg ’11, not Dr. Harvey Kliman.


  • Joe W. ’91

    When I was a student, I didn’t like cranky old alums writing comments like this, but the time comes when one becomes a cranky old alum, I guess: this sort of thing at Yale is exactly why I don’t read the alumni magazine any more, I don’t respond to class dues requests, I don’t come to reunions, and I am half ashamed to even admit that I graduated from Yale. Obviously, I still check the YDN on line from time to time, since I’m posting here. It’s hard to give up something you once loved completely. I’m not angry, I’m simply a person who has slowly and calmly realized over the years that though I can appreciate the great offerings Yale has, it has moved farther and farther away from the values that I hold for my life. So I have exercised my choice to move slowly away as well. If I were a multimillionaire, perhaps some Yale development officer would care more. But with every step that Yale slouches toward libertine relativism, I move that much farther away.

  • Amy

    This sounds awesome! I go to U of I, and I wish we had a sex week. It sounds extremely interesting and fun. Who doesn’t love sex?

    One thing I thought of, though, was making the event more inclusive for all sexual orientations. The poster of a man’s and woman’s legs intertwined in bedsheets is all very well and steamy, but If the event really wants to be informative in all levels of sex, love, and relationships, it should include gay and lesbian relationships, too.

    Just a thought. Have fun!

  • alabama

    A lesson on blow jobs? Sure — but there’s a way greater need for one on cunnilinguis. Taught by a woman, needless to say.

  • MJG

    Bringing in a porn star to speak at sex week is like bring mark mcgwire to speak at a diet and exercise conference – that is unless the more legitimate reasons for sw are really just a cover for perpetuating the systems of dominance and image manufacting purveyed by the commercial sex industry.

  • outraged

    No wonder Yale’s endowment is heading south. Who is paying the porn star? I can not believe what is happening to Yale!

  • thank you

    Thank you Joe W.! That is exactly how I feel.

  • Skeptical of sex week

    Workshops, education, STD testing, etc. all sound good. People are certainly interested in sex!

    But every time I hear about this “Sex Week at Yale,” it just sounds like yet another way to reinforce the toxic dominant cultural message that sex = porn, and especially, heterosexual porn. So many of the problems undergrads have now with sex and relationships are due to weird expectations and norms that are shaped by exactly the companies that take over campus every week for “Sex Week.” It’s depressing to me. In general, porn companies (and porn stars) are part of the problem, not part of the the solution. What we need is freedom FROM all that stuff — so that we can explore and enjoy sex and relationships without these massive corporate/cultural forces ruining it.

  • Sex week needs some tweaks

    Joe, MJG, Skeptical, I concur. As someone hailing from one of the nation’s liberal bastions, I grew up in an environment that was as sex-positive as they come. However, I feel as if the liberty that was granted by past generations’ agitating for less rigid thinking has itself fostered a new attitude of rigidity. That is, I can’t help feeling that the university’s stamp of approval, students are being pressured to accept Sex Week events as normal, since said events are condoned and endorsed by the university: if one doesn’t feel enthused about bj seminars and porn stars holding forth at podiums in L-C on Yale’s dime, the insinuation is, one is a prude mired in unenlightened attitudes. Why doesn’t the course on being a better lover include a segment not only on better pajama gymnastics, but also on better communication? The events of the Week are not sufficiently leavened by less physically-fixated programming; for every workshop focusing on ethics, there are three “guest star” appearances. Inordinate viewing of online porn is harming a lot of relationships between married couples, from anecdotal accounts I’ve heard. Someone from the psychology department should do a study on this… Porn exploits many of the women and men who participate in the industry, exposing them to physical and emotional risks. I guess the “Sex Week” name is symptomatic of the problem: it’s not “Love Week” or “Relationship Week” or “Intimacy Week.”

  • @ skeptical

    I think if you look a bit closer at the schedule you’ll realize you won’t have to be such a cynic.

  • Holden’s Doppleganger

    All of us, but especially college kids, need to find more ways to talk openly about sex. date rape, stds, unwanted pregancies, and hate crimes stem from an inability to express, communicate and negotiate one’s desires and needs around sex and attraction. Even at yale!

    I haven’t seen the schedule but, judging by the comments, i think the porn industry is being painted with very broad (and ignorant) brushstrokes–i.e. i’m sure whomever is coming, can teach yale audiences some really important lessons on safe, erotic sex. relationship week sounds great, but clearly sex is so taboo at yale and needs attention for that reason alone.

  • Benito

    Yo, I think “sex week” is a good opportunity to learn, but a Porn Star? C’mon guys, it’s time to grow up! -Mr. Addicted to Porn

  • Henry J.

    I really believe sex is good–maybe I am one of the only Yale grads in the last few decades with 7 kids. But where in “Sex Week” is anything about the sacredness of sex? It seems that it is all about “if it feels good do it.” I’d like to see a more balanced approach to sex, including ideas which embrace human dignity, self control, the nature of marriage, theological and philosophical notions regarding sex. Sex Week at the moment seems to be rather shallow and immature.

  • TD ’10

    On the subject of porn stars bringing an interesting perspective, my favorite moment from last SWAY was when someone asked a porn director whether what he did constituted sexual labor, and he responded, “Oh yeah, it’s definitely hard work.”

  • SM ’10

    Colin! You are baller. An extensive beautiful inclusive line up of events that explore the spectrum of societal desire. ::snaps::

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