CHO AND HOLMES: Let’s talk about sex

After campus incidents of misogyny, public intimidation and complaints of inadequate responses to rape and sexual assault, recent reports have shown that Yale has room for growth when it comes to sex. Last Thursday evening, the four-person committee tasked with investigating a hostile environment toward women under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act released its recommendations to the Yale administration and Yale Corporation. President Levin responded with a letter to the Yale community.

As Executive Directors of Sex Week 2012, we hope to help the administration to work with students in seeking answers to uncomfortable and challenging questions about sex and sexuality on campus.

The committee’s report, amid some helpful responses to serious allegations, characterizes Sex Week at Yale as “highly problematic,” having “over time … lost the focus of its stated intention” by “prominently [featuring] titillating displays, ‘adult’ film stars, and commercial sponsors of such material.” The committee recommended that Sex Week be “prohibited from using Yale’s name and any Yale facilities.”

We fear that the committee’s report confuses the root causes of rape and harassment, attributing violence to expression. One of the primary reasons the Title IX complainants filed a suit against Yale was the inadequate policies and disconnected bureaucracy that led to the institutionalized silencing of victims of sexual assault and harassment.

President Levin announced in his response that because he has no desire to impede free speech, he will “give the current student organizers the opportunity to propose a program for next semester that might warrant the continuation of this event on campus.”

While exercising rights of free speech that Levin has reaffirmed, we hope to continue a positive and productive discourse. We will enthusiastically fulfill Levin’s request for a proposal for Sex Week 2012. We will also provide our justifications for the planned events and a history of Sex Weeks at Yale to the public to spark even further discussion on what constitutes effective and forward-looking sexual education. We note it was inappropriate and defamatory to for Levin to implicitly accuse past student organizers of working for their own “private inurement,” but we hope to proceed with mutual respect.

The committee’s report offered few specific objections, but it notably pointed to the presence of “adult film stars.” Yes, Sex Week at Yale 2010 addressed the existence of porn among a wide array of topics on sex and sexuality, with free sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing at every event. The events in question focused on the state of the industry, gender and race roles in pornography and the use of condoms in adult films.

Buck Angel spoke in his role as a transgender rights activist and chastised the adult film industry for failing to promote safe sex. Sasha Grey explained why she demands even more timely STI testing for her co-stars than current industry standards. It is counterproductive for the committee and the rest of us to categorically reduce an industry to its stereotype or believe that “titillation” makes for subject matter not worth investigating deeper.

However, Sex Week 2012 accepts that students hold diverse beliefs, and our first responsibility is to the well-being of the student body. Sex Week 2012 events will not be intended for shock value, and we will draw parameters accordingly, but we also believe that excitement and education are not mutually exclusive.

Yale should take steps to promote an understanding of positive relationships and a positive sexual climate. Sexual openness invites sexual understanding. It equips us to talk about sex out loud. Discussing what can make sex fulfilling will reveal damaging patterns and power dynamics. It can be used to let your partner (or partners) know what you like or what your boundaries are — and feel empowered to voice them. It can lend strength to members of our community facing true horrors, and it can allow us to treat criminal activity as criminal activity. Suppressing dialogue and inquiry reinforces a hostile environment in which students cannot articulate their desires.

Challenge yourself to express your beliefs about sex in positive language. We are all ears for peer commentary and critique. As Sex Week and Yale move further into the public sphere of discussion, we are responsible for ensuring that discussions of sexuality remain rooted in concrete and relevant terms. Help us make Sex Week 2012 worthwhile by sharing your views and listening to others.

Connie Cho and Paul Holmes are juniors in Silliman College and Pierson College, respectively. They are two of the eight Executive Directors for Sex Week 2012.

Comments

  • WoodhullSFA

    Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance (http://www.woodhullalliance.org) is in full support of your efforts and we would like to chat with the organizers as this plan develops. We have a number of educators, advocates and students who would very much enjoy the opportunity to get involved with your efforts. Your goals reflect many of the goals of Woodhull, particularly facilitating the shifts in the national discourse around sex and sexuality.

    There is no contact information provided for any of you, so we will provide you with the information of our Executive Director, Ricci Levy, in the hope that you will reach out to her. ricci@woodhullalliance.org

  • penny_lane

    My problem with Sex Week is that it has glorified some aspects of American sexual culture that are inherently misogynistic, even using a mudflap girl as part of the advertising campaign. I agree with you that the answer isn’t simply to ban Sex Week, but you just wrote off the concerns many campus feminists have about Sex Week with a quip about “confusing expression with violence.” If you really want Sex Week to be as productive as it has the potential to be, you have to admit to past failings of the event and strive to correct them.

  • River_Tam

    > My problem with Sex Week is that it has glorified some aspects of American sexual culture that are inherently misogynistic

    Well said.

    > even using a mudflap girl as part of the advertising campaign.

    That’s the *least* of the problems with their advertising, unfortunately. Consider the corpus of the porn stars that they bring to campus every year.

  • anon

    A very well argued article. My experience with Sex Week has been that the aspects of it that go beyond safety (both dealing with STIs and dealing with consensuality), are far from superfluous. There are enormous benefits to be gained from a University that not only admits that sex happens and that porn exists, but that gives its students an opportunity to have dialogues about both of those without the preachiness that is typical of the average sex education program. A community where a person can be open and safe discussing his or her sexuality, wherever on the multi-dimensional spectrum it is, is inherently safer. I don’t mean to say that openness is the solution to the deep problems with Yale’s sexual culture, but it certainly helps. I don’t know what the solution to the large scale problem is, but the solution to the problems of sex week isn’t less dialogue, but more. Just as Sex Week promotes the expression of professionals in the adult industry, so too should it promote opinions from people on the other side. Bring in religious figures who support abstinence, and condemn pornography. Let the students who agree with those opinions feel as comfortable talking about their sexuality as Sex Week makes the people with more liberal sexualities feel.