Sex Week develops proposal

The 2010 Sex Week featured a Master’s Tea with porn star Buck Angel.
The 2010 Sex Week featured a Master’s Tea with porn star Buck Angel. Photo by Charlie Croom.

The organizers of Sex Week 2012 are developing a proposal that they hope will earn administrators’ approval and allow them to hold the biennial event on campus next semester.

After the Advisory Committee on Campus Climate recommended last Thursday that Sex Week be prohibited from using the Yale name or Yale facilities, University President Richard Levin gave its organizers a chance to draw up a proposal that “might warrant continuation” of Sex Week on campus, he wrote in a seven-page response to the report. The organizers of Sex Week, which is scheduled to take place between Feb. 4-14, have already made some concessions in response to administrators’ concerns, but they said they will not shy away from controversial issues in their proposal.

“I think that we’re looking at the balance of events really hard to make sure that the events are relevant to Yale students,” Connie Cho ’13, one of Sex Week’s organizers, said. “Does this mean we’re going to touch on the issue of porn? Yes, because it’s relevant to Yale students.”

Sex Week, founded in 2002 by Jacqueline Farber ’03 and Eric Rubenstein ’04, is a event that “seeks to cultivate a forum for engaging and meaningful discussions about sexuality, intimacy and relationships,” according to its mission statement. In 2010, Sex Week included events such as a Master’s Tea with transgender porn star Buck Angel, a “Sexual Fantasies” talk by sexologist Dr. Susan Block and a sexually transmitted infection test drive.

The Advisory Committee’s 42-page report criticized Sex Week for having strayed from its original mission, stating that “in recent years it has prominently featured titillating displays, ‘adult’ film starts, and commercial sponsors of such material.”

“The Marshall Committee found that it undermined the climate of healthy sexual relationships on our campus and they recommended banning it all together,” Levin said.

Though Levin gave Sex Week’s organizers an opportunity to propose the event in an alternative form, he declined to comment on what type of program the administration would approve.

Kimberly Goff-Crews ’83 LAW ’86, a member of the four-person committee that drew up the report, said in a Sunday email that the Committee believed that “immediately banning” Sex Week would be the best way for Yale to uphold its commitment to a safe campus environment.

“The committee did hear from students, faculty and administrators that Sex Week at Yale may contribute to some of the problems with the climate on campus that they described,” Goff-Crews said. “Few talked about the benefits of the programs in much detail.”

Cho disputed that Sex Week had deviated from its original purpose. She said Sex Week plays an important role in promoting discourse about sex and sexuality on campus and giving people “agency” over their sexuality, adding that she is confident that Sex Week “is going to happen.”

Still, organizers have changed the name of this year’s event to “Sex Week 2012” rather than “Sex Week at Yale,” Cho said, and have decided to launch a fundraising campaign instead of using corporate sponsors to fund Sex Week’s events. The Advisory Committee’s report suggested that the administration prevent Sex Week from using the Yale name or relying on commercial sponsors.

The report described a “new sexual climate” present both at Yale and other universities that promotes casual sexual encounters over long-term relationships, which can “blur boundaries of what consent means” and make it difficult to identify and combat sexual misconduct.

Cho said she and the other organizers want to consider criticisms of Sex Week and provide a balance of events that are “inclusive” and “relevant to Yale students.” The organizers do not want to host events purely for “shock value,” Cho said, and they will seek feedback from students about whether certain events would be perceived as “voyeuristic.” As part of their effort to be inclusive, Cho said coordinators are reaching out to student organizations — including religious and advocacy groups — across campus to co-sponsor events, with the hope of having each event for the program be co-sponsored.

Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd ’90, who has met with the organizers of Sex Week this fall, said in a Sunday email that the event has the potential to be a forum to discuss serious questions about sexuality.

“If the organizers pull off the aims they articulate in their mission statement, that Sex Week is a well-curated and thoughtful series of events about sexuality, intimacy and relationships, then I think it will be a positive contribution to campus climate,” she wrote in the email.

Alexandra Brodsky ’12, one of the 16 students and alumni who filed a Title IX complaint on March 15 alleging that the University has a hostile sexual climate, said she thought that the open dialogue that Sex Week promoted was important for individuals to “claim [their] sexual autonomy.” She called it “a shame” that University is not showing more support of a program she said displays “a new understanding of sex culture on this campus.”

But Eduardo Andino ’13, co-founder of Undergraduates for a Better Yale College, has circulated a petition asking administrators to end Sex Week because he said many of the events promote objectification of sexuality.

“[Sex Week events] always promoted or proceeded on the assumption that casual sex or pornography is a normal part of life and therefore an unquestionable good,” he said, adding that over 200 students have signed his petition since it first began circulating in September.

All 13 other students interviewed said they think that Sex Week should be allowed to continue on campus. Alison Greenberg ’14, who attended Sex Week in 2010 before taking a year off, said she thinks the Committee’s recommendation to remove the Yale name from Sex Week’s title sends a negative message about the importance of discussions about sexual culture.

“I think Sex Week is pivotal in maintaining a healthy sexual culture,” Greenberg said. “It allows people to ask the questions they want to ask all year, but only get to ask once.”

Several students pointed out that attending Sex Week events is optional, and those who do not approve of certain activities can easily avoid them.

Sex Week is a project of the Sexual Literacy Coalition at Yale, a registered undergraduate organization run by Sex Week organizer Courtney Peters ’12.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    Change title: Safe-Sex Week

  • bt

    I’m still puzzled by the fact that this UNIVERSITY hosts an annual sex week but no Shakespeare week. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not set on Shakespeare. I’d be equally happy with a Beowulf week, a Mozart week, an annual Goethe festival, a Moliere week, or what have you.

    • PiersonThirteen

      Forget Shakespeare Week. Here’s an entire semester: http://shakespeare.yale.edu/

      Now are we allowed to talk about sex – and the countless examples of sex and seduction in Shakespeare’s own canon?

  • River_Tam

    Proposal:

    * Stop bringing “porn stars” on campus. I know you think it’s “hip” and “cool”, but it’s just tawdry and disgusting and exacerbates Yale’s cultural problems. EVERY “porn star” that Yale has brought in the past 5+ years has acted in violent and disgustingly misogynistic films that degrade women. Read Susannah Breslin’s excellent expose: http://theyshootstars.com (NSFW)

    * Partner with Yale Relay for Life / Colleges Against Cancer / AIDS Walk and focus on issues of sexual health including Breast Cancer, Prostate/Testicular Cancer, HIV, Herpes, HPV, etc

    * Drop the sex toy demonstrations. Stop telling Yalies how to have sex. People have figured it out for hundreds of thousands of years on their own. These “demonstration” are basically trade fairs for these companies. It’s disgustingly commercialized.

    * Drop the porn screenings. Are you kidding me? Porn does not HAVE to be disgustingly misogynistic, but all the porn that they screen IS this way.

    * Invite speakers like Susannah Breslin and Ross Douthat to campus to give an alternative viewpoint (ie: one that is not simply “porn is great, sex is great”). Have panels on the death of intimacy or on the negative consequences of the “hook-up culture” that leaves many young Yale women in therapy for years. Don’t simply turn sex week into an echo chamber.

    * Put your marketing where your mouth is. Sex Week can talk all it wants about safe-sex and intimacy and diverse viewpoints, but its marketing belies that. Bombarding students with posters of porn stars and pictures of sex toys and promises of free lube (yes, really!) is not a way to prove to the administration (or skeptical students) that you’re actually interested in anything than a collective campus circlejerk about how awesome sex is.

    * End sex week. There’s a reason that, for instance, Big Ten universities (which are far more sexually active than Yale) don’t have sex week. That’s because they weren’t all a bunch of unattractive sexually-repressed nerds in high school. Sex Week is a way for a bunch of kids who’d never seen a penis or boob before coming to Yale (often because mommy didn’t let them) to revel in how “mature” they are now.

    • ihaveahammer

      Trying to find anything disgustingly—or ever vaguely—misogynistic in Buck Angel’s videography. Haven’t had any success. Care to point it out, River Tam?

  • ohno

    Agreeing with River Tam, crazily enough. Sex Week has the potential to be great, but let’s be completely honest, no one really learned anything from the screening of the adult film “Pirates,” and anyone who wanted to watch it could have done so online on their own time without using Yale facilities or funds. I think there is plenty of benefit to inviting people from the adult industry to speak to students, but I’d be more interested in hearing from, say, sex worker advocates, writers of erotic literature, or people who (similar to Buck Angel) have done work in activism or visibility for a particular community, rather than just straight up porn stars.

    You want to get people to think about sex, the business surrounding sex, and their own beliefs and feelings about sex in ways they might not have before, and a lot of the most prominent or heavily billed programming doesn’t exactly line up with that. I think the point of Sex Week should be to encourage people to be sex-positive, NOT to encourage them to have sex, and while that might be the original objective of previous planning committees, it gets kind of lost behind the porn screenings and free lube handouts and “sexologists” plugging their books every five minutes in their talks.

  • ohno

    “Invite speakers like Susannah Breslin and Ross Douthat to campus to give an alternative viewpoint (ie: one that is not simply “porn is great, sex is great”)”

    Also seconding this. And get some feminist speakers with conflicting views on porn in there, not just the echo chamber of “if you’re a woman who’s uncomfortable with porn you’re not sex-positive.”

    • ihaveahammer

      I think the second point is fair, with the caveat that many anti-porn “feminists” have a lot of other issues—erasing sex workers’ agency, to start. Good alternative views exist, but they are not the most obvious voices.

  • River_Tam

    Agree with a lot of what ohno wrote, but one quick note:

    The term “sex-positive” does not mean “is not afraid to talk about sex”. The “sex-positive” movement is *synonymous* with “encouraging people to have sex”. “Sex-positive” ideology promotes the belief that all consensual sexual activities are healthy and fundamentally encourages hedonism. The “sex-positive” movement does not recognize that there can be *ex post facto* psychological ramifications to consensual activity. It *rejects* ascetism and modesty. It denies the cultural pressure that young women at Yale now feel to engage in sex when they’re not ready. 22 year old virgins get treated like they’re extraterrestrials. If they’re male, they’re laughed at. If they’re female, they’re frigid prudes (unless they’re ugly, in which case they’re pitied). There is immense pressure to have sex. This is what “sex positive” gets you.

    Walter Johannson called “sex-positive” a utopian fantasy and wrote: “Even if a future society adopts a wholly positive attitude toward sexual pleasure, the need to shield both the individual and the collective from the negative consequences of unregulated sexual practice poses a problem that cannot be wished away.”

  • bt

    I just realized what a poor argument the current sex week organizers put forward in defense of including porn-related events:
    “Does this mean we’re going to touch on the issue of porn? Yes, because it’s relevant to Yale students.”
    Note to organizers: one does not have to spend money on everything that is relevant to Yale students. “Being relevant to Yale students” might be necessary but not sufficient to warrant offering some event to Yale students.