Students discuss sexual climate

Through Facebook invites, posters and table tents, organizers of a workshop tried to promote further discussion of Yale’s sexual climate Sunday with a single question: “Do You Want To Have Sex?”

For about two hours, about 70 students participated in two rounds of discussions in peer-led groups throughout William L. Harkness Hall — first, in four to six groups of straight men, four to five groups of straight women and one group of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students, and then in mixed groups. While several attendees interviewed said they thought the workshop was a good first step in educating the community about unwanted consensual sex, some facilitators raised concerns about whether the first phase of the discussion was productive.

In an interview Sunday, Sally Walstrom ’12, the public relations coordinator for the Women’s Center said the workshop — co-sponsored by the Women’s Center and Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity — had already been in the works before the Oct. 13 Delta Kappa Epsilon inflammatory initiation ritual. Bradley Pough ’12, Sig Ep’s vice president for community service, said the flow of conversation was limited in the session for straight males he facilitated. Pough said this low participation could be linked to Yale’s overall sexual culture and the decreased attention paid to sexual climate a month after the DKE incident.

“The sense of urgency has fizzled,” he said. “It’s hard to recreate it, and that’s a problem.”

Melanie Boyd ’90, special advisor to the dean of Yale College on gender issues, started the day’s events with a brief address. Boyd said the students’ conversations about unwanted consensual sex were meant to deepen campus dialogue on Yale’s sexual climate, adding that research has shown that consenting to unwanted sexual activity correlates with experiences of sexual violence. After both phases of discussion, students reconvened in Sudler Hall to compare the results of their discussions. Students in the audience said increased dialogue before and after sexual intercourse, maintaining communication throughout the act and encouraging partners to make mutually satisfying decisions about their activities could contribute to a healthier sexual culture.

Two students and three facilitators interviewed said their sessions had positive outcomes. Group participant Chloe Zale ’12 said the workshop helped her reflect on unwanted consensual sex, a subject she said she has not thought about much before. Still, Zale said she does not know how useful the workshop will be, but added that it is “potentially a good start” to dialogue on a topic that people do not often consider.

Like Pough, Ryan Mendías ’13, a facilitator in the LGBT student group, raised specific concerns about the first discussion phase. Mendías said it was helpful to divide students by sexual orientation for the first session. But, he said he thinks it would have been more productive to divide gays and lesbians at first, even though about ten LGBT students attended the workshop in all. Elizabeth Deutsch ’11, business coordinator for the Women’s Center, said in an e-mail Sunday that the event attracted a broad range of participants.

“A diverse group of Yale students came out to participate,” Deutsch said, “and many individuals felt the discussions they had were important and made them think about sex in a new way.”

The Yale College Council, the Intercultural Affairs Council, Peer Health Educators, Kappa Alpha Theta and Pi Beta Phi sororities and sex@yale also contributed support to the event.


  • grdgrd

    what is unwanted consensual sex?

  • JacksonJackson

    It’s sex you say yes to but with reservations, or because you do not want to disappoint the other person. Like a lot of things we humans do. But part of the agenda today is to fold that into the category of “rape.”

  • ohno

    No, on the contrary, I don’t think it was to try to “fold it into the category of rape.” I saw it as just something to talk about – like, just a discussion about why is it that in a collegiate sexual climate we often agree to go ahead with sexual encounters we don’t want or aren’t excited about? Not “this is evil too!”

  • River Tam

    > why is it that in a collegiate sexual climate we often agree to go ahead with sexual encounters we don’t want or aren’t excited about

    Short answer: it’s encouraged

    Long answer: we’re told to “make mistakes” in college. We’re told that it’s acceptable – and downright expected – for us to “experiment” and “push boundaries”. The 70s created a culture – passed down by parents – that deified the outlandish, extreme, and the deviant. Yale, during my time here, has reified these pressures into actual policy. Sex Week at Yale, Masters’ teas with pornographic actors, initiatives to encourage student writing about sexual experience — the message is that everyone is having sex and you should too.

    It’s not just Yale, obviously. This is a societal problem, one that’s amplified by the tone-deaf, ham-handed nature of Yale administrators. It’s more subtle on TV shows, where people react in horror at the idea that someone’s gone months (months!) without sex, or people react astonished that Joe Everyman has only slept with two (only four!) women in his life. But that’s excusable – sitcoms are there for entertainment, not for education.

    Yale, however, with malice-less forethought, seeks to foster a sexually active culture. It’s a conscious decision on the part of administrators, one that makes many students uncomfortable. When we start to ask questions like “why are we sleeping with people we don’t want to sleep with?”, the only answer is “there is some external pressure being placed upon my decisions”

    That external pressure is environmental – it’s the result of both a society that discourages erring on the side of caution (rule of thumb – if you’re unsure of whether or not to sleep with someone, don’t) and a campus environment that creates an expectation that sex is a method of self-expression and, more importantly, a measure of self-worth.

    Sex is not about the self. It is about a pairing (or more) of people.

  • JacksonJackson

    Ohno: I don’t you think you have been following this discussion. If you look at many claims about the prevalence of rape on college campuses, you will see that the numbers are shockingly large ONLY because they include sex the the participants feel ambivalent about. So yes, this is part of the agenda to expand the definition of rape to include a lot of things most folks do not think of as amounting to rape.

  • River Tam

    > If you look at many claims about the prevalence of rape on college campuses, you will see that the numbers are shockingly large ONLY because they include sex the the participants feel ambivalent about.

    Unfortunately (fortunately) true.