Last week the Yale campus was abuzz with discussion about sex. The student initiative, Sex Week at Yale, has alleviated what many students consider a dearth of open communication on the subject. Yet I believe that the various forums and seminars offered by the Sex Week have made implicit statements about sexuality that are questionable. Specifically, there are three ways in which I think Sex Week has missed the mark.
First, Sex Week seems to promote the celebration of individual sexuality rather than sexuality enjoyed in a loving relationship. Although most people individually come to recognize their sexuality before entering into a sexual relationship, I think most would agree that as humans mature the most beneficial expression of sexuality takes place within a long-term relationship based on mutual love and respect. Although a couple events of Sex Week concern fulfilling sexual relationships, many more relate to specifically individual expressions of sexuality, such as pornography and masturbation. Some may say that these expressions can be healthy in adults (a proposition with which I disagree), but surely they are not the best we can hope for.
It seems obvious to me that continued individualistic sexual activity is a perversion of the intimacy and pleasure to which sexuality aspires as a human phenomenon. Victims of such expression could include the individual him/herself and his/her present and future sexual partners. The problem is that self-oriented sexual activity conditions people to experience gratification exactly how and when they desire, potentially creating a strong impediment to mutual sexual fulfillment in a relationship. The idea of sex as a way of giving oneself in love is almost entirely lost, replaced with an aspiration for individual gain.
Second, inasmuch as the events of Sex Week promote relational sexuality, they give the impression that such activity is a form of entertainment or a game. For instance, the exhibition of “sex toys” is an invitation to explore sex as little more than a playground of pleasures. Of course, experimentation should be a part of the sexual experience, yet the events of Sex Week seem to emphasize fun over commitment. Though a sexual relationship requires both of these elements, commitment is certainly more foundational to a rewarding relationship than is entertainment.
Sex Week offered at least one event focused on sustaining a romantic relationship, Nancy Slotnick’s “Mr. Right vs. Mr. Right Now,” but this was overshadowed by the many events, such as the “Porn Party!” and “History of the Vibrator,” that were intended to excite and entertain.
Finally, Sex Week presents an unbalanced picture of sexuality by failing to consider the benefits of abstinence. I have been unable to find any mention of abstinence on Sex Week’s Web site, and even if there were a token forum on abstinence, the overall tone would still be one of ignorance of the subject.
Abstinence is obviously the best way to prevent unintended pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, but aside from the physical health issue, abstaining from sex (until marriage, for instance) is a good way to ensure one’s emotional readiness for shared sexuality. Since sex is the most intimate interpersonal expression available to humans, engaging in it without confidence in one’s self or in one’s partner can result in emotionally scarring experiences. The leaders of Sex Week will probably claim that their discussions help ready people for sex by presenting a variety of viewpoints on the matter. This may be true, but I wonder what help they offer to those who are not yet ready or who are still undecided about their readiness for sex.
In my opinion, the implicit message of Sex Week at Yale has undermined its attempt to present a balanced collection of opinions regarding sexuality. Engaging in sexuality as essentially about individual gratification and entertainment is a choice available to all Yale students, but it is far from clear that this is the best approach to take. Hopefully the leaders of Sex Week will be able to add more balance to the tone of their initiative in the future.