Archive for May, 2013

Keep Dirty Books Rarely Dusty

Examining Sex Weeks & Hook-Ups

By: Noah Hibiscus Eaton

In recent times, we have been witnessing the emergence of a new phenomenon that has engulfed university campuses nationwide known as “Sex Week.”

Founded in 2002 by Yale College students Eric Rubenstein (Class 2004) and Jacqueline Farber (Class 2003), Sex Week at Yale was formed as a biennial event; with its official web-site describing it as “an interdisciplinary sex education program designed to pique students’ interest through creative, interactive, and exciting programming.”

According to a feature article by The Atlantic’s Ron Rosenbaum in January 2003, the inaugural Sex Week at Yale circulated a press release; which promised the following:

             The week involves a faculty lecture series with topics such as transgender issues: where does one gender end and the other begin, the history of romance, and the history of the vibrator. Student talks on the secrets of great sex, hooking up, and how to be a better lover and a student panel on abstainance. A Valentine’s Dinner at the Jewish Center with an afro/cuban band and a debate after the dinner between Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (author of Kosher Sex) and Dr. Judy Kuriansky (radio show host of [Love Phones] and author of [The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Tantric Sex]). A faculty panel on sex in college with four professors. a movie film festival (sex fest 2002) and a concert with local bands and yale bands. and lastly, a celebrity panel with Al Goldstein (screw magazine), Dr. Gilda Carle (sex therapist), Nancy Slotnick (Harvard graduate and owner/operator of the Drip Cafe in NYC), and lastly Dr. Susan Block [also a sex-therapist radio host, and a Yale graduate].

“Sex Week at Yale” resonated and became an immediate success. Shortly after, Harvard, Brown and other prestigious universities latched onto this bandwagon and formed Sex Weeks of their own. And in 2006, nearly 25,000 copies of “Sex Week at Yale: The Magazine” were distributed among eighteen of the country’s best-known universities, including every school in the Ivy League. Featured commentators included Jim Griffiths (President of the Playboy Entertainment Group), John Gray, Ph.D. (author of “Men Are From Mars Women Are From Venus”) and columnists from such popular publications as Cosmopolitan, Men’s Health and Maxim.


 Yet, as the “Sex Week” movement has captivated the imagination of much of collegiate America, I couldn’t help but note in my research that many universities that have since decided to ride the coattails of this trend have, essentially, adopted mollified versions of “Sex Week” which, more specifically, are branded “Safer Sex Weeks”.

Oberlin University, notably, observes a “Safer Sex Week” in mid-November annually and in 2005, under pressure from the College administration, discontinued an event called the Tent of Consent: where sober students completed a short dialogue to exemplify the process of finding a partner consensually, and were then allowed to go into a tent together for two minutes. The University of Minnesota, which observes its Safe Sex Week in early February each year, schedules countless events including “Bowling for Condoms,” “Safer Sex Carnival” and “Sexual Health Game Night”…….with nary a trace of talk about the emotional and cultural celebration of sex itself. And Duke’s Student Health Center organized its annual “Safer Sex Week” to “give students a chance to ask important questions about how to make their sexual experiences safer and more enjoyable.” according to organizers.

Conspicuously absent from each of these “Sex Weeks”, among countless others, are mentions of hooking up, talk of how to be a better lover and sex movie fests. Could it be that “Sex Week” isn’t necessary all it’s…….you know…….sexed up to be?

Mince no words. I believe safer-sex practices and communication are an important, essential part of negotiating any consensual sexual activity, and I am not by any stretch advocating anything short of this. But what good does a banner as loaded as “Sex Week” serve if it is intrinsically and exclusively concerned with the prevention and knowledge of sexually-transmitted diseases and “Bowling For Condoms”, and abjures most anything that sings the praises of sexuality; whether it be workshops on sacred sexuality, to the emerging discipline of ecosexuality, to social studies centered around intersexuality/hermaphroditic identities, and so forth.

Also, regrettably absent from countless “Sex Week” curriculums is an honest dialogue and overview of the collegiate “hook-up culture. “ Numerous recent publications, including the Atlantic, have complained that college hook-up culture breeds “boring, lifeless, and dull sexuality that dominates the lives of too many young Americans.” And in an editorial published in late March of this year by religion and sexuality scholar Donna Freitas of The Washington Post titled Time to stop hooking up. (You know you want to.), Freitas argues: “Today, sexual experimentation might be getting to know someone before having sex, holding out for dates and courtship focused on romance rather than sex,” She adds that “taking a step back from being sexually active for even a weekend—or as long as a semester, as one of my students did—can be extraordinarily empowering.”

Aside from sets of statistics published by Sociological Images researcher Lisa Wald that reveal college students are not hooking up nearly as often as Freita would lead us to believe, Freitas’ central argument is misguided in that it is heavily influenced by this long-standing assumption that romance is absent of heartbreak and disappointment, and that regardless of how sexually active you will be at any given point in your life…….it remains an inevitable truth that achieving intimacy will always have its share of tests and challenges.

Indeed, it should be noted that during the second of seven days of the original “Sex Week at Yale”, Professor Linda-Anne Rebhun taught a lecture titled The History and Theory of Romantic Love in European Culture. According to the aforementioned article by Rosenbaum, her central argument (to which she credits C.S. Lewis’s “The Allegory of Love” as a chief resource) was that the long-standing notion of romantic love was something abruptly “invented” by troubadours in eleventh-century Provence, who she claims “created the rituals and rules of courtly love and embodied them in their poems; it was, in effect, the poems that created love. Love was a literary convention that became an emotion.”

 Consequentially, each and every one of us have been affected by this convention: which is echoed and reinforced at the core of Freitas’s editorial. The idea that “saving it up” for that one special someone will ensure a “dream come true” and “happily ever after”, and that any gratification in advance will set us up for heartache and disappointment at best, to being viewed as lecherous and shameful at worst. Yet, college has demonstrably proven a time of discovery, of experiential unfolding to so many, and it is in my view that “hook-ups” can prove to be positive, constructive, self-affirming experiences that help us to see more of ourselves in the eyes of others, and open us up to what we want most of all as we continue to grow. Why place all that “happiness ever after” in one basket when you can disperse that happiness across many smaller chapters of your life that can each prove most satisfying in their own special ways?


 It is my firm belief that we must dispense with this shaming of “hook-up culture”, and rather tap into the broader potential and beauty college “Sex Weeks” can most potentially inspire by actively reveling in topics situated around the more emotionally, spiritually and culturally satisfying facets of sexuality; in part by shedding light on the contemporary issues revolving around both romance and sexuality in the academic realm.

Luckily, there are signs we are slowly but surely making progress. In 2005, Paula England, professor of sociology at Stanford University, began teaching a class titled “SOC123: Sex and Love in Modern Society”: with the purpose of researching the college hookup culture. After England transferred to New York University in 2011, and the class was discontinued for two years after no one opted to pick up where she had left off over the course of two years, England’s former research assistant Alison Fogarty has since revived the course this quarter, and has become a hit at Stanford University.

Why is this? Many of Fogarty’s students, as well as her predecessor, have stated that the “interesting” and “relatable” material has drawn them in. Many students have also openly admitted they had never even heard the term “sex-positivity” until having taken the class. Others have lauded the class for expanding their knowledge about sexuality, as well as making them more knowledgeable and respectful of other people.

Topics Fogarty’s class touches upon include sex positivity versus sex negativity, pornography and the college hookup culture, alongside “more widely accepted and often common elements of contemporary sexuality, including homosexual relationships and same-sex families, as well as the effects of cohabitation on childbirth.” Fogarty added in an interview last month: “Gender, sexuality, relationships, and love are topics that impact all of us in our lives. Getting to understand the social processes that are involved in structuring the way that these things operate is hugely important, both on a personal level and on a sociological level.”

Now THAT’S more like it!

What it all comes down to (not to mention comes onto) is that, with sexuality being the single most variegated, expansive and enticing field of focus of all, anything short of the initial promise posited by Yale University in their inaugural Sex Week manifesto in piquing “students’ interest through creative, interactive, and exciting programming.”……is both unfulfilling and unacceptable.


There is an old anonymous proverb that reads, “A dirty book is rarely dusty.” The time has come to pick up that book and invent something new to reflect the true, broader potential of “Sex Week” and beyond. Shall I say: “Something creative, interactive, exciting…and, yes, juicy!” THAT’S what we ought to truly be bowling for, right?

Scratch that! Make that sensually flogging for! 😉

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