ABOUTORABI, ANDINO AND MARIN: Change the climate, end Sex Week

Last spring, the editors of the News wrote that “the project of reforming Yale’s sexual culture is a formidable one.” This challenge followed upon an academic year punctuated by a number of events that drew attention to Yale’s sexual culture and the problems that mar it: rape, harassment, objectification of women and the ways in which the expectation of sexual gratification easily boils over into ugly disrespect and denigration. The formidable project has yet to find an adequate vision.

In the fall, frat pledges marched around Old Campus shouting chants that openly glorified rape and graphically joked about necrophilia. In response, this op-ed page was flooded with commentary on the incident, which, for the most part, condemned the pledges’ mentality but shied away from asking what underlying cultural deficiencies made it possible.

A few days before Halloween, Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry emailed the student body to emphasize the wonders of “glorious consensual sex,” subtly but unmistakably assuming that the hook-up enriches students’ lives provided only that the right verbal signs are given. The comfortable consensus opinion was that the fundamentals of Yale’s sexual culture were sound. All that was lacking was their proper implementation in a few specific cases, and that chasm could be bridged in a few relatively simple steps. As then-YCC President Jeff Gordon ’12 advised: “Ask someone to dance before grabbing her hips.”

It was several months later that a group of students filed a complaint against the University under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, citing a “sexually hostile environment” for women. If Yale had hit the snooze button following the first alarm, here was the second one to wake us up. By the end of the year, attentive observers could not deny that Yale had a failed culture; nevertheless, the basis of the University’s reaction was not much different. Once again, it was assumed that the response should be more of the same: bureaucratic bodies to dissect the “campus climate,” recruiting students to act as “communication and consent educators,” and tasking freshman counselors with imparting a legalistic and unwieldy definition of “consent.”

We, as members of Undergraduates for a Better Yale College, would like to propose an alternative approach. Loving our University and recognizing that her culture is in need of renewal, we seek to look behind the surface and strike at the root causes of our sexual maladies. We believe that these maladies are at once simpler and yet more profound than has been hitherto acknowledged. Simply put, we believe that the heart of the problem is the very attitude toward sexuality that prevails on campus, a paradoxical attitude that both trivializes sex and is obsessed with it. It is trivializing to treat sex as nothing more than a casual weekend pastime. It is obsessive — and pathetic — to be as consumed with sexual curiosity as our campus so frequently is.

We believe that the hook-up culture is fertile ground for acts of sexual selfishness, insensitivity, cruelty and malice, for the simple reason that selfishness provides the whole premise of that culture. The individual search for pleasure is all. Other human beings exist as fellow-seekers and potential outlets for our desires. Rarely is it acknowledged that the human person is intrinsically deserving of respect — respect that demands we never use one another as objects, not even with consent. In such a climate of self-indulgence, is it any wonder that the worst aspects of our nature come to the fore? A culture of promiscuity has no right to be surprised by objectification, sexual disrespect and all that comes along with them.

Yesterday, we ran an advertisement in the News announcing our cause and publicizing our petition to the Yale administration requesting that Sex Week at Yale — an event that takes to extremes the selfish, hedonistic mentality we believe to be so deleterious to a healthy culture — be denied university support, particularly the use of university facilities such as classrooms. We are aware that this is a bold request. Yet we believe that the formidable task of reforming Yale’s sexual culture requires a hard look at the attitudes we have taken for granted. We ask you as members of the Yale community — students, faculty, alumni and parents — to visit our website, BetterYale.org, and read the text of the petition. There, you will also find more information on our cause, a longer essay expounding the case against Sex Week, and the email addresses at which you can send us your thoughts. We look forward to an ongoing dialogue.

Bijan Aboutorabi and Eduardo Andino are juniors and Isabel Marin is a senior in Trumbull College.

Comments

  • alsoanon

    So let me get this straight — you think that the best way to deal with sexual assault at Yale is to stop talking about sex? Or is it that you think a culture of sexual freedom is what leads to sexual assault? Wait, so if people had less “meaningless” sex all the time, there would be less sexual harassment? Gosh, that’s dangerously close to just flat-out saying “she asked for it!”

    You think that rather than learn about consent, we should stop thinking and talking about sex so much. How about this, instead — if you don’t want to have meaningless sex, then don’t. I’ll be enjoying the (consensual) orgasms-on-demand that your recent ad so hilariously suggested I have access to.

    • River_Tam

      > Wait, so if people had less “meaningless” sex all the time, there would be less sexual harassment? Gosh, that’s dangerously close to just flat-out saying “she asked for it!”

      Yalies are always trying to stifle discourse by declaring arguments beyond the pale.

      Let’s be clear – it’s not morally repugnant (and in fact, it’s pretty well-tread sociological ground) to suggest that an environment typified by casual sex leads to more sexual aggression (and thus, more unwanted sexual aggression).

      Let’s also send one more strawman up in smoke – the opposite of promiscuity is not repression. It’s modesty and moderation. No one wants to make sex a Victorian taboo here. By casting the authors’ arguments as such, you are being incredibly intellectually dishonest.

      If you are going to argue that an environment where Yalies were less sex-obsessed and had a more respectful attitude towards sex as something beyond just a physical act would cause more sexual assault, go ahead and make that argument. But at least make it honestly.

      • theAvenger

        I’m pretty sure you graduated. Can you stop? Or go to grad school? Or make a tumblr?

        • River_Tam

          Hey, I have no proof that you *ever* attended Yale.

  • The Anti-Yale

    As Thornton Wilder observed: “Nature has one goal and one goal only—to cover the planet with as much protoplasm* as it can as fast as it can.”

    There’s only one way for Nature to accomplish this processs and it’s a three letter word beginning with “s” and ending with “x”.

    Nature is not interested in what epoch you happen to live in (pre-pill/post-pill) or what social conventions, religious observances, or food preferences you have.

    One psychologist once estimated that teenagers think about sex ***sub-consciously*** once every nine seconds.

    Another tool in Nature’s arsenal.

    Sex “Week”?

    Nature has Sex Second every minute of the year.

    PK

    *(‘protoplasm’ was the word used before the discovery of the genetic code)*

    • uncommons

      “There’s only one way for Nature to accomplish this processs and it’s a three letter word beginning with “s” and ending with “x”.”

      …sox?

      • River_Tam

        six!

  • The Anti-Yale

    PS

    Change SEX WEEK to SAFE-SEX WEEK.

    • ShaveTheWhales

      It’s obvious, no?
      What kind of group would be promoting the opposite: UNSAFE-SEX WEEK?
      “Sex Week” it should stay.

  • ldffly

    The Yale administration needs to support a sex week like the average undergraduate needs an unnecessary appendectomy. Does Yale need an administrator to send out emails describing the glories of consensual sex? Excuse me, but what puke.

  • RexMottram08

    Agreed!

  • River_Tam

    > It is obsessive — and pathetic — to be as consumed with sexual curiosity as our campus so frequently is.

    Yes. Few topics make mas angry as Sex Week at Yale.

    I have said it before. Sex Week at Yale reveals the Yale student body to be composed largely of pathetically sex-obsessed children and adolescent Carrie Bradshaw-wannabes.

    I’ve comforted numerous friends after they got drunk and slept with some guy who didn’t talk to them past the following morning. I’ve talked down deeply depressed friends who almost had breakdowns over the fact that they surrendered their intimacy to a guy just because they didn’t want to be a prude.

    Sex Week at Yale is a lie – it’s a lie that tells young women at Yale that giving it up is good, normal, and psychologically healthy. Some women are comfortable with it – some are comfortable with anything – but Sex Week normalizes the extremes and pressures women to be more like their effed-up version of the Modern Feminist.

    Straw poll of 10 friends (all women) upon exiting Yale – six said they wished they’d “hooked up” less. Only one said she hadn’t done enough. Every third girl I know was in therapy at Yale, and most of them experienced serious sexual crises during their four years. And it’s not really mens’ faults. In the moment, the woman is willing – it’s only afterwards (or in the moment!) when she starts to feel the regrets. We are doing this to ourselves – women are telling other women that they won’t wind up crying the next morning in my room, wondering why she had sex with three guys in the same night. Sex Week tells women that if they go get double-teamed in a SigEp bedroom – hey, that’s a normal part of maturation, when it’s not. I’ve had friends tell me the next morning – or a month later when he stops returning their calls – that they wish they hadn’t slept with him. I’ve had male friends have women start crying in their bed and go into drunken hysterics. I one time had to bodily pull a friend out of the shower because she was literally trying to scrub off the memory of the previous night. Sex at Yale is effed up.

    Sex is *not* just an act – it’s a lot more than that. It’s incredibly intimate, which is why we consider rapists and sexual offenders the lowest of the low. Yes, Sex Week trivializes sex – it tells you that when you’re in the moment you won’t feel the intimacy crushing down around you. But Sex Week doesn’t only trivialize – it seduces us into thinking that when we DON’T like the casual sexual culture of Yale (and many won’t – some will – but many won’t) there’s something wrong with US, not with Yale.

    Let me assure you – there’s something wrong with Yale.

    • SY

      That’s a sad report. Agreed, Sex Week now is odd social history. Porn stars and sex toys no longer are curiosities, even for freshmen or sophomores. Yale should not use student fees or endowment to finance it. Sex Week will fade, or just pull the plug.

      As you write, informal polls show about a third of Ivy women are depressed, lonely and in therapy for a time. It was not always that way. The therapist is the new high priest. Feminism may be a cause, if that label includes all sorts of social, heartfelt/spiritual, and family (daddy) issues.

      The hook-up culture is smaller than it seems. When a guys knows about a few of the hook-up stories you tell, he assumes 85% of girls are doing it. Almost all Yalies graduate with 0,1, or 2 sexual partners (see 2010 YDN survey). That doesn’t allow for many hook-ups.

      But two questions of the women you write about: 1. Why do women have sex (outside of a LT or real relationship) that does not give them physical pleasure? (First night sex does not give many women physical pleasure, but gives some drunk men sexual pleasure, briefly.) As one women has commented, how great can it be if you have to get blasted to do it? And 2. Why do even those few women do frivilous sex after they prove it does not work for them? Or after their friends’ Sunday morning sobfests? Most drunk guys will not say that I would rather not have sex than have sex with you. But it wouldn’t hurt guys if women said no to it. Men wouldn’t have to forget them, avoid them or not return their calls and texts.

      • River_Tam

        SY – as I said, they’re bombarded with constant propaganda telling them that when they don’t enjoy casual sex, there’s something defective or broken with them. They go out and do it again because they’re promised a glorious experience filled with meaning and empowerment. Some people learn after the first time. Others don’t.

    • penny_lane

      To be fair, there are better explanations for why rates of mood disorders are higher at Ivy League schools than the sexual culture. I’d be more inclined to suggest that depression leads to unhealthy sexual habits than vice versa.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “Let me assure you – there’s something wrong with Yale.”

    And televison. And Hollywood. Let’s not lay it all on Yale.

    And BTW women still have all the power (they just dont use it strategically). No male can gestate a baby. (Yet.)

    PK

    • River_Tam

      Agreed on both accounts, although I think pregnancy is a red herring in this discussion.

  • The Anti-Yale

    The MIRACLE OF MIRACLES and ONLY a WOMAN can accomplish it is a red herring in a discussion of women feeling helpless because they give their power away too easily?

    • River_Tam

      The most important fact is that women are the gatekeepers to sexual interaction in our society and every society (even in male-dominated societies – it’s the men who need to coerce the women into sex, not the other way around).

      Tangentially, women do derive their power from childbirth, because evolutionarily, gestational periods demand that they are selective with their mating partners to optimize fitness of offspring (whereas men can impregnate many women in the same time frame). But I doubt that is what you meant.

  • ldffly

    Am I stretching things when i speculate that the dominance of deconstruction at Yale is at the root of all this sex trouble? Nah, can’t be. Oh well, I get a dumb idea every so often. I can’t help it.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Too complicated for me. Women have all the power, they just don’t use it.

  • ShaveTheWhales

    One of the goals of Sex Week, and of the administration, is to try and promote consensual sex. It’s to make sure that partners don’t take advantage of each other even when their judgments are clouded by alcohol. To say that women have all the power (and men have none) absolves men from non-consensual sex and can promote a blameless, non-barred sex culture for men.

    I personally believe that sex is more than a physical act, and like River_Tam has said, it does have heavy emotional implications. But I also think that being open with this sexual dialogue and educating the Yale community does more good than harm in an era where sex is trivialized. Students, administrators hope, will understand some of the heavier (legal?) repercussions of non-consensual sex, and the different workshops Sex Week offers allows for a more comfortable exploration with a partner. The emotional aspects of sex should be considered individually by students, and Sex Week, administrators, and different health and emotional resources and counselors already try to educate the student body. I am of the opinion that since emotional responses to casual sex are very subjective, students need to consider this before and remove themselves from these situations if they can’t handle it.

    I really detest the author’s claim that “A culture of promiscuity has no right to be surprised by objectification, sexual disrespect and all that comes along with them.” I change my mind. I’m saddened by this claim that so closely mirrors that of claims against rape victims. *She was asking for it. What did you expect?* Sexual exploration does not beget sexual disrespect, and to think otherwise is wrong, in my opinion.

    Sexual disrespect often causes deep emotional problems, which Sex Week at Yale does not, and is not mean to, deal with.

  • River_Tam

    > But I also think that being open with this sexual dialogue and educating the Yale community does more good than harm in an era where sex is trivialized.

    It would, if the sexual dialogue at Yale was not one consumed with trivializing sex.

    > I really detest the author’s claim that “A culture of promiscuity has no right to be surprised by objectification, sexual disrespect and all that comes along with them.” … Sexual exploration does not beget sexual disrespect, and to think otherwise is wrong, in my opinion.

    You are so very very wrong. Individuals who are raped, murdered, or assaulted deserve nothing but our sympathy – regardless of their individual acts, they did not ask to become victims – they did not ask for someone else to do evil unto them.

    However, it is incontrovertible that the sexual climate on campus *matters* when considering the incidence of rape, sexual assault, objectification, and sexual disrespect. A culture of promiscuity is one that treats sex more trivially. The trivializing of sex is precisely what causes sexual disrespect. “Sexual exploration” is a convenient euphemism – people have been exploring their sexuality for thousands of years but only recently have decided that one-night stands should be labelled as “empowering” and that young women should be lied to and told that men will respect them more, rather than less, for putting out.

    • ShaveTheWhales

      I’m stupid. I meant to write what you said: “Individuals who are raped, murdered, or assaulted deserve nothing but our sympathy…” Sorry about that.

      While I agree that “sexual exploration” is a convenient phrase, I still think that it allows people in general to “physically vent” in a more healthy way, to know of their limits, and to become more comfortable with sex, rather than treat it as a hush hush topic.

      Or is that too naive?

      • River_Tam

        I think it’s a misguided belief that sexual exploration is healthy when undertaken in the manner that many Yale students approach it. Exploration of sex within healthy relationships is far far different psychologically and emotionally than random, casual sex with strangers and semi-acquaintances. One of these two things is responsible for a third of my friends being in therapy, and it’s not sex with their loving boyfriends.

        • penny_lane

          I really wouldn’t blame the sexual culture for your friends’ being in therapy. People with depressive tendencies and/or low self-esteem are prone to making bad sexual decisions and they are also (independently) prone to ending up in therapy. Bad sexual experiences and therapy may be correlated, yes, but you’re missing the third variable, which is the temperament of the individual who ended up in both situations. Don’t get all wrapped up in post hoc ergo propter hoc.

          That being said, I think you’re absolutely right that sexist media such as Sex and the City have trained women to think that they will find empowerment through sex. That is absolutely not true, and the misconception has allowed many a predatory male to take advantage of a confused female. It’s a real problem that is rampant at Yale–and everywhere.

          My problem with UBYC is that they seem to think that if we stop talking about sex within the Yale community, all the problems associated it will go away. It’s not really logical, because SATC and Gossip Girl and whatever the kids are watching these days will all still exist, and the frat culture of having a kill list will still exist, and everyone will still make mistakes and hurt each other and be sad. I’d much rather keep sex week, and make room for events that address the hard questions of what sex means in our culture and whether or not it’s healthy.

          • River_Tam

            I’m not clear as to why you think the UBYC wants to stop talking about sex.

            Re: blaming the sexual culture for psychological issues – I think you’re very naive if you don’t think it causes a lot of these issues. Sure, women with low self-esteem are the most likely to seek out empowerment through sex. But there’s a big difference between low-self esteem and emotional issues that need professional help and intervention. There is a culture at Yale that takes vulnerable individuals and tells them to jump into the wringer. That is a problem.

  • The Anti-Yale

    *sexual climate*

    God Almighty!

    Is there a meteorlogist? Can I sign up for weather alerts? Can they text (or sext?) me? Our culture is a mushrooming mush of fragmented DATA DERIVATIVES.

    Humbug, tommyrot, balderdash and more.

    • River_Tam

      Paul:

      The English word “climate” is from the Latin (by way of the French) *clima* in turn from the Greek *klima* (κλίμα), in turn derived from a term meaning “tendencies” or “wanderings”. Were the Romans and Ancient Greeks also obsessed with DATA DERIVATIVES and whatever else stirs your quantiphobia? Or can you just accept that I am using the word “climate” in the abstract, non-meteorological sense?

  • The Anti-Yale

    Just playing with words —-(a kind of cerebral foreplay)

    • River_Tam

      sex on the mind from all these op-eds?

  • The Anti-Yale

    Sex? What’s that?

  • The Anti-Yale

    PS:

    Is that how they make babies? I thought sex was for fun.