‘Sex Week' attracts controversy

by Tom Owen | 2/14/12 11:00pm

Yale University's "Sex Week," an event held every other year in the week leading up to Valentine's Day and dedicated to sexual education and exploration, has inspired similar events at Brown University and Harvard University, but Dartmouth's sexual health peer advisors have no plans to bring comparable programming to the College, according to Sexpert Kate Taylor '13.

Taylor said the Sexperts have mostly avoided heavy criticisms that Yale's Sex Week directors weathered this year from a group called Undergraduates for a Better Yale College, which opposes Sex Week's emphasis on the "unbridled pursuit of pleasure," according to UBYC co-founder Eduardo Andino. The group unsuccessfully petitioned Yale to withdraw its support for Sex Week.

Dartmouth's sexual education programming is not built around one large event, but instead focuses on events held throughout the year in order to promote continuous dialogue, according to Taylor. Programs include the annual Sex Fest, which was held last week in Collis Common Ground, three themed "Sex Talks" per term and the "Hump Day Gazette" newsletter, which is coming out later this month.

"Sex Talks, V-Week, Get Yourself Tested' in the spring they all help us keep the discussion going throughout the year," Taylor said.

To be more cognizant of potential criticisms, Dartmouth's Sexperts recently met with the Multi-Faith Council, and Taylor said that council representatives wanted to "keep the dialogue going" and have students "feel empowered in decisions about sexuality."

Taylor emphasized that informing students about ways to increase sexual pleasure does not detract from the Sexperts' efforts to educate students about sexual health.

"Sex is about connections, and discussion helps make those connections deeper," Taylor said.

Allie Bauer, executive director of Yale's Sex Week and a Yale student, said one of the event's most important goals is promoting education about sexual health and safe sex practices. She also said that the event emphasizes the importance of communication in intimate relationships and that because the program is run by students, it is more effective than external educational programs like Sex Signals.

"We're not for or against the hook-up culture, but it exists, and it needs to be healthy," Bauer said. "Sex Week provides a forum to have this kind of dialogue on these issues."

Sex Week's schedule includes events such as "Tantra 101: A Tantric Toolbox of Personal Enlightenment, Interpersonal Intimacy and Humanitarian Aid," "Consent Workshop for Your Personal Life" and "BDSM and Alternative Sexualities 101," according to the Sex Week website.

To oppose Yale's Sex Week, UBYC organized an alternative event called "True Love Week" during the same time period, according to Andino. True Love Week's website lists presentations titled "The Person as a Gift," "Chastity and Human Goods" and "Sexual Bliss: Satisfaction and Marital Happiness for Today's Couples."

Bauer said that Sex Week's executive directors strove to make sure that this year's event focused more on education than entertainment and that the schedule included diverse viewpoints. These decisions were partly in response to concerns voiced by UBYC, which was especially critical of the 2010 Sex Week's lineup of speakers and sponsors involved in the pornography industry, according to Bauer.

Other efforts to cooperate with UBYC included a panel with religious leaders from different faiths and a dinner meeting with directors from both groups. Bauer said, however, that Sex Week and UBYC leaders still disagreed on many points.

"They think that sex-positive programming is a detriment to what they believe is the ideal scenario," Bauer said. "But I think that juxtaposing True Love Week with Sex Week has created a lot of mutual exclusivity between sex and love that really shouldn't exist."

Andino said that UBYC, contrary to popular belief, is not necessarily "puritanical" or against sex itself, but the group disagrees with Sex Week's approach to sexuality.

"Under the guise of being a fairly innocuous and informational program, it is actually propagating a promiscuous culture whose goal is the objectification of others," Andino said.

Andino said that last year's Title IX complaints against the University following misogynistic and graphic public chants by members of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity are a response to Yale's dysfunctional attitude toward sexuality.

"Essentially, what is behind these instances of disrespect or miscommunication is this problem of an obsession with sex," Andino said. "We have to respond to this culture that denigrates human beings and erodes respect for one another."

Andino said that True Love Week, unlike Sex Week, emphasized that sexuality should be part of a committed and loving relationship. He acknowledged that this year's Sex Week incorporated a broader perspective but said that the overall tone was still not supportive of UBYC's goals. Nevertheless, Andino was satisfied with his group's efforts this year and hopes to continue making an impact on campus.

"It's hard to quantify those things in terms of measuring the effect, but it certainly helps in terms of mood and culture," Andino said. "I think we'd be happy when we see a more universal acknowledgment at Yale that there is something wrong with the hook-up culture. We're getting there, but we're not quite there."

Since 2009, the first year that Brown held a Sex Week, the University has tried to increase the level of student involvement in the event, according to Aida Manduley, co-organizer of Brown's 2011 Sex Week. In anticipation of the 2012 Sex Week this coming March, organizers of the event conducted an online survey to determine what students wanted to explore in the upcoming program.

While Yale's Sex Week organizers are limited to one event, Brown's Sex Week is run by a group called the Sexual Health Education and Empowerment Council that conducts programming throughout the year, Manduley said.

"The advantage of having a comprehensive event like Sex Week is that it brings more awareness to dialogue around sexuality, because a lot of smaller events slip through cracks of campus organizing," Manduley said. "At the same time, we think that smaller events throughout entire year are equally important for fostering knowledge."

Abby Sun and Sam Meier, co-presidents of Harvard's Sex Week, said they were inspired to start Harvard's first Sex Week in March through their work as Peer Contraceptive Counselors at the university. They observed that many students were not taking advantage of wellness resources on campus and that educational opportunities were scattered and haphazard.

"We saw through our positions as leaders of the student organization that there are a lot of groups doing events on sexuality, but they're isolated, and they're only for their groups," Sun said. "We wanted to bridge those gaps and bring them together."