Sex weeks address gender and health issues
EDITORIAL | Campaign spreads to other college campuses
Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Updated: Friday, April 27, 2012 02:04
Inevitably, college students begin their university experiences with varying degrees of information and experience. While middle and high school experiences are often peppered with awkward talks in health class about puberty and STDs, sex education is oddly enough not stipulated during an undergraduate education.
Unfortunately, though topics of sex and sexuality are more common, college culture does not necessarily encourage wide-eyed questions about sex, particularly as students are becoming more and more sexually active. Sexual education has ceased at a time when issues pertaining to love, sex, intimacy and relationships have become a more crucial part of our lives. However, student-run efforts such as Sex Week at different college campuses suggest that there are thoughtful and creative alternatives for sex education.
The concern has recently surfaced on college campuses that college students are misinformed and, worse still, uncomfortable asking questions pertaining to sexual topics. In the past ten years, college students across the United States have put forth a variety of positive initiatives to handle sex-related discomfort and lack of information. Assuming that students enter college with different levels of sexual knowledge and experience, groups of students have begun to organize a campus-wide Sex Week, a program of events dedicated to the education and discussion of sexual matters in a comfortable, non-judgmental atmosphere.
Ever since Yale University held its first Sex Week in 2002, the tradition has been spreading throughout universities such as Brown University, Northeastern University, the University of Kentucky, Indiana University and Washington University. From March 26 to March 30, Wellesley College celebrated our very first Sex Week, organized by Wellesley’s Sexual Health Educators (the SHEs) to promote safe space discussion among students on topics ranging from love and sex to sexuality, gender and other related issues.
Although various on-campus groups host a variety of sex-related events throughout the semester, Wellesley’s Sex Week promoted a comprehensive discussion of students’ concerns, encouraging the student community to discuss the often tenuous topics of gender, sexuality, consent and abstinence. The SHEs and Feminists for Reproductive Justice kicked off Wellesley’s Sex Week by hosting the feminist writer and activist Jaclyn Friedman, author of “What You Really Really Want: A Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety,” who is a big advocate of sexual education as prevention of date rape. This event was followed by lectures such as “Lying to Get Laid: The Ethics of Deception in Seduction” and “Hormones, the Brain and Sexual Orientation.” The two lectures were held, respectively, by Professor Corinne Gartner of the philosophy department and Professor Marc Tetel of the neuroscience department. These lectures introduce fresh perspectives with which to approach sexuality from highly academic and thought-provoking angles.
In addition to promoting discussions about sex, Sex Weeks have also striven to gauge general sexual trends on different college campuses. In this process, the organizers of Harvard University’s Sex Week uncovered an interesting social trend pertaining to sex on college campuses. Although sexuality is more and more pronounced in media and everyday life, our generation is actually having less sex than past generations. The information extracted from Harvard’s surveys reaffirms the need for campus-wide sex education, a void that is being filled by students through Sex Weeks.
Nonetheless, this initiative has endured heavy criticism. Although the student feedback at most schools has generally been positive, Sex Weeks have had varying degrees of backlash from administration, students and alumni of the different colleges. Some people do not agree that university resources should be spent on promoting sexual activity, particularly since some hold that Sex Weeks essentially trivialize sex. The effects of this criticism are apparent in the fact that Sex Weeks across different college campuses have all been student-run campaigns, although various professors and college administrators have participated extraneously.
The aim of a Sex Week is not only to educate students on sexual health and safety, but also to ignite fun-filled and blush-free discussions on different aspects of sexuality. By discussing HIV/AIDS, rape prevention and sexually transmitted diseases, on-campus sexual educators strive to prevent misinformation. Not discussing themes of sexuality can lead to internalizing the notion that discussing sex openly is in some way unacceptable. Helping students feel more comfortable seeking their peers’ support in these issues is a key contribution of Sex Weeks to college students’ sexual education.
Sex Weeks undoubtedly help fill the void left by differing degrees of sexual information, but organizers of Sex Weeks have had trouble reaching across partisan, gender and religious lines to incorporate all members of their college communities into this discussion and not merely a select few.
At Yale University, for instance, a group of students named Undergraduates for a Better Yale College hosted True Love Week simultaneously as the independently-run Sex Week. True Love Week, which fiercely advocated fidelity and love, is one example of the various approaches that students of different backgrounds may have when it comes to sex.
Of course, criticisms of a conservative nature are to be expected, considering the novelty of campus-wide Sex Weeks and, for that matter, of sexual openness in general. But Sex Week organizers must strive to convey that approaching sex lightly does not belittle matters of the heart. On the contrary, openness and empowerment serves as a major form of sexual education that encourages a safe, fun and pensive approach to sex by reserving the right to question and explore. By balancing the serious health aspects of a healthy sexual life with the fun that can accompany discussions on sex, Sex Weeks improve the knowledge of the general college student and create greater awareness and more accepting atmospheres on college campuses.