Stern: For a safer sex week

No caption.
No caption. Photo by Rebecca Stern.

Sex week at Yale: the student-run, biennial marathon of fetishes, “Defiant Desires” and love. A week for Yalies to talk porn, to speed date, to pick up some tips and some “relationship enhancement products.” The SWAYers twitter; they blog; they’ve made their own movie. In 2004, the event won the Collegiate Network’s Campus Outrage Award and it continues to attract attention nationwide. By the end of this week, nearly 40 sponsored events will include fashion shows and Toad’s parties.

But only two are dedicated solely to safe sex education.

It seems like SWAY is concentrated more on maintaining Yale’s sexually liberal and open reputation than disseminating relevant, factual sex health data. While its enticing programming includes some information pertinent to sexual health and, this year, they’ve finally started to push students to get tested for sexually transmitted infections, Yalies seem too caught up in the sexy subjects to pick up on the meaningful facts.

I mean which would you rather go to Babeland’s “Lip Tricks: Blowjobs and Going Down” or Maryann Abbott’s “Developments in Safer Sex?”

Considering the amount of time, effort, money and resources put into this week, we should focus more energy on being sexually safe, than on making our sexuality conspicuous.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that there are 19 million new cases of STIs in the U.S. each year and half of them occur in people between the ages of 15 and 24. And not everyone gets tested — many STIs have long incubation periods (up to six months) and some, like Human Papillomavirus or Chlamydia, can be asymptomatic. The CDC estimates that for every case of Gonorrhea reported, there are two undiagnosed. As the News revealed yesterday, only 42.4 percent of sexually-active Yale students have been tested for STIs.

In addition, though nearly everyone knows how STIs are transmitted, many still put themselves at risk. For instance, some consider an exclusive relationship a shield against STIs. And an exclusive relationship with an uninfected partner is. But apparently college students put too much faith in the faithfulness of their partners. A study conducted across 31 universities just found that 74 percent of college students self-reported cheating on their partner.

And infection and pregnancy should not be our only concern. A 2002 study found that 10 percent of young women aged 18 to 24 who had sex before age 20 reported that they first had sex involuntarily. Last year, the News reported that sexual assault at Yale occurs more frequently than our records show — of the 24 cases during the 2007-’08 academic year, only one in three instances were reported.

These figures suggest that there needs to be more emphasis placed on making sexual health concerns a greater reality for students and make clear the resources available to those who need help. The 2008 Trojan Sexual Health Report found that a third of students said they would not contact their health centers with questions about sexual health. The same survey ranked Yale 41st out of 139 schools. While Yale rebounded to 15 in 2009, the school is far from its first place finish in 2006.

SWAY could also focus more of its resources towards instilling an understanding about the bigger challenges of sexual health faced by those not on this campus. As of January 2010, only 21 states and the District of Columbia allowed all minors to consent to contraceptive services without a parent’s involvement. Condom advertisements are still banned on primetime television. SWAY should be commended for including information on sex-trafficking and the sex industry, but the political battles related to safe sex should make an appearance as well.

But the onus to change Sex Week shouldn’t be on the amazing group that’s running the program, but rather on the student body. We’re college students — of course we like to talk about sex. Of course, we’d rather go to hear Dr. Suzy’s lecture on “Sexual Fantasies” than think about some more pressing sexual health issues.

But we should also be willing to get tested without the promise of tickets to a fashion show.

Rebecca Stern is a sophomore in Berkeley College.


  • yeah

    i like your style, Becca.

  • PK

    “A study conducted across 31 universities just found that 74 percent of college students self-reported cheating on their partner.”

    We are shocked.

    President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
    President John F. Kennedy
    President Bill Clinton
    Vice President Nelson Rockefeller
    Gov. Eliot Spitzer
    Gov. Mark Sanford
    Gov. Jim McGreevey
    Senator Larry Craig
    Senator John Edwards
    Magic Johnson
    Tiger Wood

  • Comment

    Sex Week has the name “sex” in it sure but it’s mission is to create dialogue on sex, love, intimacy, and relationships. Safe sex isn’t just about putting on a condom. It’s about making sure you have the skills required for open communication with you partner so that both of you are getting the pleasure you want and protecting yourselves in the process. it is about EMOTIONALLY safe sex so that you ensure the well-being of your own feelings in the process of finding some that is special to you and that you want to sleep with. It is about breaking down the taboo about sex and making us feel more comfortable discussing it so that when the time arises to take the steps to be safe it is no big deal to tell a partner that you want to be safe.

    If you would attend more events you’d see that many guests are speaking to these issues and making sure students leave with the confidence to have safer healthier sexual interactions – not just use a condom. Sex Week at Yale goes above and beyond.


    In three days, the Get Tested campaign got more than 300 people tested. This does not include people who chose to go on their own, not during the hours of Get Tested Events. The campaign came into being for the reasons this article mentions. Let us celebrate the success and encourage further sexual health awareness. Condemning SWAY is not the way to go.

    Having worked the Get Tested “booth” as depicted in the picture, I can tell you…we were smiling, not frowning.

  • done your research?

    Agreed. Which is why RALY (the reproductive rights action league at yale) launched what is anticipated be the first annual GET TESTED campaign during Sex Week 2010. In collaboration with YUHS, RALY organized three separate events where students could get tested without an appointment. The attendance at these one-hour events was overwhelming — over 300 students were tested, and this is excluding students, encouraged by the publicity surrounding the campaign, who are making appointments on their own. While I agree that there needs to be a greater emphasis on sexual health concerns and the resources available to address them at Yale, this article completely fails to acknowledge the significant progress that has already been made: GET TESTED was a huge success, and the efforts that both RALY and SWAY took to make it such deserve recognition.