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.

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