I’ve never been to a Sex Week event.
That’s sort of a lie. I once signed up to get tested in exchange for a pair of bright orange American Apparel briefs. (It was laundry day, and I was feeling lazy. And getting tested is never a bad idea.) But the idea of attending a workshop on oral sex techniques made me personally uncomfortable, so I didn’t go.
But as someone unattached to Sex Week and peripheral to the debate splashing across this editorial page and its online comment boards, I want to offer an opinion that I hope brings some nuance to the discussion.
As far as I can tell, Undergraduates for a Better Yale College (UBYC) is advocating the position that it is wrong to instrumentalize your partner to satisfy your sexual needs. The consequences of this action include hurting the romantic culture at Yale by degrading the emotional intimacy this organization prizes. The leaders of this group propose ending Sex Week to help prevent any of this from occurring.
The four authors of the original editorial opposing UBYC’s position contend that it is important to maintain dialogue about sexual intimacy, as a means of both promoting healthy sexual culture and encouraging all students to take control of their own sexual expression. They want to protect Sex Week. It’s important to note that nobody is advocating we use our partners for the sole purpose of sexual gratification.
My concern is that the moral basis of these two arguments, on some level, might not be incompatible, though the goals of the groups who expound them differ. Both sides oppose depriving others of their agency — the right to be treated as a person with choices, beliefs and emotional needs.
To follow UBYC’s logic, however, requires some sort of separation between the mind and body. My experience suggests emotional and physical intimacy are inextricably linked. If we want to improve Yale culture, we must improve discourse about both kinds of intimacy and investigate how they connect, not stifle conversation about one of them. Perhaps UBYC is unhappy with the influence physical intimacy can hold in that duality. But as in any healthy modern relationship, both partners need to be heard, their concerns aired.
Until the counter-culture of only a few generations ago, sex played a bit role in the human drama of the intimate relationship. But lack of sexual discussion did not make relationships more loving, nor did it ensure consent between all concerned parties. This dearth of dialogue merely insisted that sexual strictures be maintained, that the dominant culture condemn people for the ways they expressed their sexuality and intimacy.
We now recognize the validity of a wide range of goals and as many routes to achieve those goals. The culture of censure, one that recognizes a single model of the good life, has faded. So as individual actors, people now have choices: whether to attend Sex Week events; whether to keep physical intimacy only within emotionally committed relationships; even whether to ignore consent during a sexual encounter.
But there’s more at stake than the ability to choose to attend or not attend a porn star’s seminar in SSS. As members of this community, we also have a choice. We can promote a culture that balances sex and love, understands that everyone weighs them differently and recognizes the importance of both in making human beings feel beautiful, cared for and valued.
Or we can deny a major component of our being, privilege the emotional over the physical, and forgo the diversity upon which this university bases its education by claiming that everyone must follow a single conception of relationships, a single model of love, life and partnership.
Ted Lee is a senior in Saybrook College.