On Easter Sunday, I opened my inbox to two emails announcing events for the following evening: one was Take Back the Night, an annual event to show support for victims of sexual violence; the other was an invitation to the annual senior event “Exotic Erotic.” Tagline: “Less is more.”
When it comes to issues of sexuality, I’d have to argue, “More is more.” More sex is fantastic when it is in the context of more active decision-making and more clear communication with partners. These two emails follow a chain of official administration remarks aimed at assuring us that Yale is addressing concerns about its sexual environment highlighted by the DKE chant and Title IX complaint. But the problem is as much cultural and individual as it is institutional: by creating and participating in an atmosphere that encourages us to view ourselves as sexual objects and others to do the same, Exotic Erotic showcases not just a lot of sweaty undergraduate flesh, but also some of the problems of how our campus and generation think about sex.
I am not implying that there is a direct relationship between an event where people are wearing lingerie and incidents of sexual harassment. Nor am I a prude. In fact, I’d consider myself a very active advocate of sexual liberation, both in my ideology and my actions. Sexual liberation means a change in social thought, codes of behavior and traditional gender roles. It means, to me, doing what you want with conscious choice and with the consent and enthusiasm of your partners.
Dressing in the attire that the porn industry tells us is sexy and ogling and fondling each other in a dark sweaty room, especially a dark sweaty room with Toad’s’ reputation as a place to pick up a random hook-up buddy, is not a sexual revolution. It might not inherently increase incidents of sexual harassment or make all participants uncomfortable – they’ve chosen to come – but it certainly does not increase the chances of smart sex. And it doesn’t sit well with me as a woman. While the gender dynamic is not as simple as men preying on scantily-clad women (they’ll be lots of men and women preying on scantily-clad men), the event caters to the classic male fantasy, one that objectifies and subjugates women. Exotic Erotic is an outrageous manifestation of the worst aspects of the current system, one that too often makes sex a commodity, an issue of power, and a source of anxiety.
To help illustrate what turns me off about the event, let me tell you what turns me on, and what Exotic Erotic is not.
Exotic Erotic is not a naked party. In fact, it may be the anti-naked party. Naked party protocol is specific and generally well enforced – it requires all participants to don the same level of dress (nothing), touch and stare minimally, participate in conversation, and basically “not make a big deal of it.” A boner is taboo. So is making out. The party is egalitarian and de-sexualized as much as possible, not only by the visual reality (“Oh wow, boobs come in many colors, shapes and sizes and look kind of weird. Ditto, penises.”), but also by the code of conduct. Not so at Exotic Erotic – the atmosphere is one of barely-repressed desire, competition and certainly not conversation.
Exotic Erotic is also not a naked library run. Both involve gazing – a lot of my flabbergasted footies got to see all of my parts this past winter, and many readers were probably staring along with them. But anyone who has seen 50+ nudies running down the SML-Bass corridor knows it’s not about sex… that, and there’s a reason God invented the sports bra. The naked run is about challenging convention playfully, giving out candy and going clothes-free in the library at a time of high stress. Like Exotic Erotic, it encourages voyeurism, but it does so within certain limits and without an explicit sexual element.
Exotic Erotic is also not a social taboo-breaking, sex positive experience. Sexual experimentation is great: it means ignoring cultural norms and instead respecting the desires and boundaries we determine for ourselves and share with each other. Whatever the activity, it should involve active decision-making and communication. Exotic Erotic severely inhibits these: once you make the choice to walk in the door, anyone can watch you, touch you, try to take you home. I think a well-planned, kinky, respectful threesome is sexier and healthier than being packed into Toad’s in my underwear with a bunch of random section schmucks.
Which leads to a minor and sort of mean point: Exotic Erotic is wimpy. I understand that it can take a lot of guts to go out in nothing but a pair of tiny spandex booty shorts. But I think it takes more guts to ask someone out on a date, to experiment with someone of your gender, to speak up at an open session to the Advisory Committee on Campus Climate, or to say no, whether it is to sex or to a chant. And these are the more important kind of guts, the ones we need to encourage a positive sexual culture. Exotic Erotic isn’t inherently “wrong.” But it is extremely troubling as an official senior class event and the high-profile sexual outlet on a campus that is currently questioning the validity of its norms.
I want to live at a Yale that is comfortable, safe and sexually liberated. To me, that means avoiding events designed to make me a sexual object and seeking situations where I can choose how I display my body and sexuality. I look really good in a corset – but you should have to earn it.