Salt ‘n’ Pepa: They sang “Let’s Talk About Sex (Baby),” which might have been one of the most hummed songs on the Yale campus this past week. Actually, there’s a high probability that no one was humming that song at all — because nobody ever hums that song. But it would have been appropriate, in a glory-of-the-early-90s kind of way, to hum such a subtly crafted piece of music during Yale’s Sex Week.
But with all the talk about sex, has anyone stopped to question where sexual intimacy has gone?
“I’m so glad to know that they have sex at Yale,” said Dr. Betty Dodson, one of the guest speakers invited to Sex Week, as she began her talk on Tuesday afternoon. Dodson spoke about masturbation and sexual exploration to a group of about 65 people at the Women’s Center, and her talk set the tone for the rest of the week’s discussions. Speaking candidly about sex, she encouraged students to explore their sexuality and experience different sexual partners before they committed to a long-term relationship.
Dodson — who answered questions for 45 minutes after she had concluded her talk — began the open dialogue about sex that various guests, including a rabbi and a pornography star, continued to encourage during the week. Sex Week at Yale was an opportunity for the University’s community to explore and discuss its conceptions about sex and sexuality and the way in which the two are connected to love and relationships. While the event certainly inspired exploration of the former two, it is difficult to say whether Yalies looking to explore sex as it relates to intimacy got a chance to do so. The week’s events allowed students to discuss the more superficial and broader aspects of sex — everything from the variety of sex toys that exist on the market to how sex relates to international relations — but not to reflect on how sex affects them and their relationships, or on the role that sex can play in establishing intimacy and deepening emotional connections.
“Sex is something that everyone is interested in,” Dr. Susan Block ’77 said, as she drank a beer at the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity house and a pornographic film was shown in the adjoining room. The film’s star, Devinn Lane, was standing next to the television, fielding questions about the pornographic film industry and her experience acting in and producing pornographic films. Both Lane and Block answered questions from a group that consisted of approximately 60 men and about nine women — the group of women included the two speakers themselves, a friend of Lane’s and two female reporters. Eric Rubenstein ’04, the primary organizer of Sex Week, had e-mailed approximately 800 women with an invitation to attend the event.
The “private event” at Sigma Phi Epsilon on Wednesday night was not the only Sex Week event that was characterized by a sharp gender divide. Dodson’s talk, for example, drew only a handful of men but a roomful of women, many of whom were members of Yale’s female ultimate Frisbee team, “Ramona”: Their captains had made attendance at the event part of that day’s required practice because they thought it would be a good bonding experience. While the males there seemed to have the right idea — Ben Siegel ’07 shared that he was attending the event because he thought that “a healthy exploration of human sexuality [was] vital to a thriving university” — all but one left before Dodson’s talk ended.
“I had asked myself, ‘Where are the girls in this town?'” Devinn Lane said at dinner the night after Dodson’s talk. Lane shared that she had been picked up by a male Yale student who had been taciturn when asked questions about women at Yale, and that she was feeling worried about the fact that most of the events she would be hosting would be held at fraternities. However, the reporters and editors of the Yale Herald and the Yale Daily News who interviewed the actress on Wednesday were all females.
The problem isn’t really the division between male and female attendees at events. The problem is the fact that, though Rubenstein and his fellow organizers were seeking to “explore both the basic details of sex and sexuality activity with loftier ideals of love and how to make a romantic relationship work” and were actively seeking to “encourage the exploration of how sex and intimacy interact,” Yalies did not approach Sex Week as an exploration and celebration of intimacy. Events such as Dodson’s, which sought to explore issues of intimacy and instruct students on how to understand their partners sexually, drew many people but few couples, who would presumably be the people on campus most concerned with intimacy and how sexual relationships relate to love and understanding between two people.
Professor Seth Silberman, a visiting professor for the Larry Kramer initiative who currently teaches a “Sexuality and Popular Culture” class on campus, pointed out that “even in a university setting, it’s not always common to have forums for open and honest discussion about sex and sexuality. People too often have an unhealthy relationship with their sexuality.”
He’s right, but while Sex Week is definitely allowing people to open those forums of discussion and speak frankly about sex and sexual exploration, it is falling short of fulfilling its second goal, the exploration of intimacy. How does an event where 60 men are watching pornography relate to how those men in turn relate to their sexual and romantic partners?
“[In pornography,] you cannot recreate true intimacy,” Devinn Lane said. “True intimacy is in the small things, not in the sexual act. It’s in the way you share head space with another individual.”
It’s true that intimacy cannot be recreated by two actors in a pornographic film, but it is also true that in real life, sex and intimacy are not the two severed personalities of a highly schizophrenic individual — the two do in fact know each other, and relate in various and varied ways. While the organizers of Sex Week obviously realize this and strove to share the message with Yale students during the past week, it may be accurate to say that this message did not get through to everyone.
Recognizing sex as a healthy, natural and intrinsically human enterprise is the first step to understanding intimacy and applying our knowledge of sex and sexuality to improving our relationships with our partners. But when we approach discussion about sex as something that we do not with our partners but alone, we are understanding only an intimate act — not intimacy. Maybe to do that, we must remove from our minds the taboo that leads only women to attend a talk about female masturbation and only males to attend a discussion of pornography with a porn star, for surely in an intimate relationship, it is only females who must understand female pleasure and males who must be willing to explore sexual material. Maybe then we can truly accept sex as part of, and not separate from, our romantic relationships. We can talk about sex, baby — we can talk about it a lot. But until we understand it differently, talk will continue to fail at connecting sex with other aspects of our romantic lives in our minds.
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”1133″ ]