Why Say “No” to Sex Week?
For those who are unfamiliar with Sex Week at Yale, the first question our petition raises might justly be “What’s the big deal?” or “Why is it worth saying no to Sex Week at Yale?” Sex Week, in its current form, takes place every two years on Yale’s campus during the week of February leading up to Valentine’s Day. The timing is no coincidence. Sex Week sells itself as an integrated educational program on the subjects of sex and romance: “We aim to push students to think about sex, love, intimacy, and relationships in ways they never have before with a week full of guest lectures, panel discussions, hands on workshops, parties, presentations, and student productions.”
At first glance, the goals of Sex Week seem admirable. The world of love and relationships is difficult for any age group, and college is an especially turbulent time, when many students are exposed to their first romantic experiences or experiences deeper than those they knew before: from the happiness of falling in love to the frustration and sadness of heartbreak. What better time than the week leading up to the holiday of romantic love to provide students with educational resources for love and relationships?
But, as with any other educational program, the merits of Sex Week must be judged by its content. What exactly is Sex Week bringing to Yale’s campus? What kind of student culture does Sex Week promote, and what exactly does it mean to “push students to think about sex, love, intimacy, and relationships in ways they never have before”? In what ways are students pushed, and how hard? What is the Yale administration endorsing by giving a nod to Sex Week activities and allowing them to take place in Yale classrooms and facilities?
Sex Week’s website answers all these questions. The schedule of events for Sex Week 2010, still available online, gives us an indication of the sorts of things we can expect in 2012. The keynote speaker of Sex Week 2010 was Lux Alptraum, “editor of Fleshbot, the web’s foremost blog about sexuality, pornography, and erotic entertainment,” and a woman who describes herself as “obsessed with sex since 1982” —the year of her birth. The short description of her address, titled “The Internet . . . simultaneously destroying and saving the porn industry,” tells us that “She’s here to kick off SWAY with a discussion of a reoccurring theme throughout Sex Week.” That “reoccurring theme,” naturally, was pornography. SWAY’s online schedule helpfully provides a link to Ms. Alptraum’s blog, the front page of which is plastered with pornographic images, in keeping with her own description of her online work: “I sit in front of my laptop and scan the Internet for anything and everything fapworthy—from hard-core porn to sexy celebrity shots.” 
Sex Week keeps its promises; about one-third of the events were hosted or facilitated by pornographic film actors or people intimately involved with the pornography industry. Pierson College held a Master’s Tea with Buck Angel, a “female-to-male” transgender pornographer whom SWAY approvingly deemed “an internationally recognized pioneer in the adult film industry.” That evening, no fewer than five pornographers teamed up for a “Sex, Gender, and Pornography” panel, which Ms. Alptraum moderated. Finally, on Valentine’s Day, Sex Week’s final and culminating event saw “Sasha Grey, one of the biggest names in porn … [close] out Sex Week with a discussion on why sex doesn’t have to be a guilty pleasure at all.”
Other speakers and events, while not explicitly or exclusively focused on pornography, displayed a similar attitude toward sexuality. Sex Week 2010 featured four events devoted to various “kinks” and fetishes, ranging from YCouture, the “SWAY Fetish Fashion Show,” to “BDSM 101,” in which pornographic film actress Madison Young played movie clips of violent, sadomasochistic sex and spent a portion of her lesson topless. And that’s saying nothing of Elayne Angel’s “Erotic Piercing” seminar or the “interactive workshop on sexual self-realization” offered by Diana Adams, a “polyamory activist.” Nor was Ms. Adams the only speaker to voice support for polyamorous relationships. Also on Valentine’s Day, pornography director Tristan Taormino urged students to “question the fairy tales and challenge the myths we’ve been taught about love, sex, intimacy, and commitment”—namely, the fairy tale that monogamy and exclusivity are the hallmarks of love and healthy sexuality.
Also noteworthy were three events dedicated to the mechanics of physical pleasure. One speaker’s talk was devoted “to shedding light on that old ‘M’ word, masturbation.” Another event, put on by the sex toy boutique Babeland, offered “never-fail oral sex tips and hand and tongue techniques.” Lastly, Madison Young taught students “the anatomy of the vagina and how to please it with your mouth, tongue and everything in between.” By contrast, dialogue about the emotional, mental, and interpersonal dimensions of romance was conspicuously absent. Only one speaker, who went by the name “Your Royal Flyness,” went so far as to discuss dating. Meanwhile, Sex Week’s “Speed Date for Charity” event was given the sexually suggestive name of “Give Some, Get Some,” underscoring SWAY’s sexual ideology.
What is most startling about the 2010 schedule is its sheer excess and redundancy: the enormous number of events honing in on the same topics from the same invariable perspective. Sex Week 2010 saw only two events that ran counter to the prevailing message. The first was a presentation by David Schaengold, an alumnus of Princeton’s Anscombe Society, entitled “A Philosophical Defense of the Sexual Counterrevolution,” in which he argued that some sexual acts are below human dignity and offered a defense of traditional conceptions of marriage, the family, and premarital abstinence. The second was a Yale Political Union debate on the topic “Resolved: Reject Hookup Culture.” During the debate, in the middle of a student’s speech, a group of about thirty students in the audience paired up and began to kiss and caress each other violently; one couple leaped onto the stage and began to tear off one another’s clothes. This interruption was planned and pulled off by Yale’s Pundits, a society of pranksters whom no standards of decency or respect could deter from going for the cheap laugh.
The fact that one of two events that dared to question Sex Week’s pervasive message was infiltrated and hijacked in such a manner is indicative of the way in which Sex Week enforces an ideological orthodoxy of its own upon Yale’s campus culture. We began by asking what message about sexuality and relationships Sex Week’s programming conveyed. The answer is clear enough. Sex Week reflects and reinforces students’ assumptions that the physical pleasure of sex is its most important purpose, with its interpersonal aspect coming a distant second; that there is no intrinsic difference between the solitary pursuit of pleasure embodied in pornography and masturbation, and the sex that expresses a couple’s mutual love; that the body is only raw material that we can legitimately use however and whenever we feel like it; that it is natural and healthy to be obsessed with sex; and that transgression is synonymous with progress.
As we approach and prepare ourselves for Sex Week 2012, we ought to ask ourselves if these are really the messages we want to reinforce, and if these are the “experts” and role models we want to seek out for advice and instruction on the preciously important questions of love, intimacy, relationships, and our sexual nature. We invite you to be brave and speak out by joining our petition. Tell Yale that a pornographic culture does not create respect but degrades, does not build up relationships but undermines them, promotes not consent but the ugliest form of pressure, does not stop sexual harassment and the objectification of one another’s bodies but makes us numb, blind, and indifferent to how we actually look at and treat others. Tell Yale that you want a campus marked by respect and love, full of flourishing friendships based on the acknowledgment of each person’s integral value, relationships based on true love between partners—not transient lust—and a sense of familial trust between all students. Tell Yale to say “No” to Sex Week and all it stands for, because Yale can do so much better.
We are asking students, alumni, and parents to sign our petition concerning Sex Week at Yale.
Each group has a unique petition.