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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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Sex, reproductive rights, gay marriage and pornography have been at the center of an often heated 2012 campaign season, which makes this conference especially timely.” says Lynn Comella, who will moderate the keynote plenary session at the inaugural CatalystCon sexuality conference making its debut in Long Beach, California September 14-16.

CatalystCon: Sparking Communication in Sexuality, Activism & Acceptance will be held at the Hilton Long Beach & Executive Meeting Center, and is being organized by Dee Dennis, who also founded CatalystCon’s East Coast predecessor, the popular MOMENTUM conference in Washington, DC.

“Knowledge is power, and sharing that knowledge is the first spark in igniting change,” Dennis says.

This week Dennis and the promoters of CatalystCon released the full schedule and speakers list, designed to “inspire exceptional conversations about sexuality,” beginning with a Pre-Conference CE Seminar on Friday, September 14 titled When Sex Gets Complicated: Working With Couples Around Affairs, Pornography, & Cybersex lead by Dr. Marty Klein, author of the recent bestseller Sexual Intelligence: What We Really Want From Sex and How to Get It.

Comella — Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies and Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and a popular sex columnist for the Las Vegas Weekly — will moderate the opening keynote plenary session on Saturday September 15, Sparking Communication in Sexuality, Activism and Acceptance, with Klein, The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health founder Megan Andelloux, adult film star Maggie Mayhem, and sexual health expert Francisco Ramirez as panelists.

Dozens of other speakers are featured on the schedule, including The Center for Sex & Culture founder Carol Queen, Sex With the Lights On author Ducky Doolittle, erotica writer/editor extraordinaire Rachel Kramer Bussel, adult film star Jessica Drake (of Jessica Drake’s Guide to Wicked Sex fame), Good Vibrations’ Education Program manager Charlie Glickman, Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty author Joan Price, Smitten Kitten and Coalitiona Against Toxic Toys founder Jennifer Pritchett, ReidAboutSex.com editor Reid Mihalk, Evil Angel founder John Stagliano, Faith Aloud executive director Reverend Rebecca Turner, Pink Visual founder Allison Vivas, Sex Workers Outreach Project Bay Area director Patricia West, and many others.

Here’s more, via CatalystCon.com:

CatalystCon is a conference created to inspire exceptional conversations about sexuality. It is about reaching out and stimulating those who attend to create those important conversations in their own communities, changing how we as a society talk about and treat sexuality. It is about stimulating the activist that is within all of us and sparking transformation in the way our friends, neighbors, children and even politicians discuss one of the most important aspects of humanity.

This is a conference meant to energize, enlighten and exhilarate. It is a conference where everyone is welcome, everyone is respected, and everyone is encouraged to share their knowledge and experiences. With the most current attacks on women’s rights such as birth control, mandatory transvagainal ultrasounds as well as sex education being pulled from our schools, it is more important than ever to come together and have these important conversations on all areas of sexuality.

Registration for CatalystCon is open now, starting at $100 for Saturday and Sunday’s events or a full weekend pass for $125.

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What does sex positive mean to you and why is it important to your life? This is a question I ask those wanting to join my Sex Positive Meetup.com groups in Los Angeles and Portland, OR, and the answers have delighted me and given me hope. As a longtime advocate for a sex positive world, I can answer that question without even thinking, but to find so many others who understand what it means, people from walks of life as diverse as physicians and plumbers, full-time mothers and bankers, lawyers and yoga teachers is inspiring and satisfying. That they took the time and gave truly considered answers does even more to warm the cockles of my heart. (I love saying “cockles”)

I know how many men and women carry wounds from living in a sex-negative culture: I work with them as a sex educator and intimacy coach, I talk to them when they attend the workshops I lead and the events I coordinate, and I hear from them when they write asking for help. From countless pulpits and various media, one would think that sex itself is the culprit—if only people could stop being sexual these problems would go away they say. But this could not be farther from the truth. To paraphrase a tired “new-age”ism, we are sexual beings having a human experience. We were sexual long before we could be called human and according to many evolutionary biologists, it is precisely our sexuality that has given us much of our humanity, including our massive cerebral cortex and much of our limbic system; in other words, our ability to think rationally, and much of our ability to empathize.

The wounding comes from the co-option of sexuality by dominator culture, in conjunction with religion, (religion was also co-opted by dominator culture) as it uses shame, guilt, and fear to control sexuality. It also limits sexual expression while keeping sexual desire, primarily male sexual desire, at a heated frenzy. And the reason for the co-option is not about sex, it is about power and control.

First, we need to address what sexual wounding is. Most think of it in terms of rape, incest, and harassment, which it is. But it is also experienced by those who have been slut-shamed (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXH2K7OC37s) and those who feel shut out and rejected, objectified, denied, controlled, and disrespected. Almost everyone alive has experienced some or all of this at some point.

Next, let’s take a look at dominator culture. Dominator culture is best described in the Old Testament, where stories of conquest and violence exemplify the methods used to instill control: pain and death. Now one might not think that we, nor most of us in the west, live in a dominator culture, but we do, only the violence that we fear is no longer that our village will be destroyed or that we will be hung in the public square or burned at the stake, but that memory lingers in our evolutionary consciousness.

Of course, one can still see dominator culture alive and well and in its full manifestation in many parts of the world, for example some Muslim countries and parts of Africa. And where one sees it, one sees that the incidence of sexual violence goes hand in hand with sexual oppression and you see alienated, frustrated, and angry young men willing to commit the worst atrocities. Why? Because they are not allowed to do, what nature put them here to do: give and receive pleasure and love and nurture a woman (or a man!). Of course, homosexuality, though widely practiced in dominator culture is forbidden as a form of love and is only permitted as domination – penetrator, and submission – penetrated.

Check out this compare and contrast box.

Sex Negative

Sex Positive

Someone else “owns” and controls your sexuality, your father, your brother, your spouse, your church, your village (Afghanistan for instance).

You own your sexuality.

Strip clubs treat women like meat and men like marks.

Clubs would feature men and women dancing sensually, artistically, as a joyful expression. They would get paid hourly, not hustling for tips.

Prostitution is illegal but rampant: women are victimized, sold into slavery, pimped, and arrested.

Prostitution is legal, but hardly needed since sex is readily available from friends, lovers, husbands, and wives, and casual encounters.

You are called a slut because you like sex.

You are called friendly and a “sex aficionado.”

Pornography is rife and a multi-billion dollar industry, often depicting very young women being treated in a degrading and violent manner.

Erotic art is appreciated and valued as a representation of how beautiful the sexual act is.

Rape is used as a weapon in war and in prisons as a way to show superiority, and is used against women by angry and frustrated men.

Rape is inconceivable and only happens in rare instances where insanity is present.

Sex is used to sell everything from cars to alcohol.

Sex can’t be used to sell anything, because there is no pent up demand.

Desire for sex drives people into marriages and relationships they don’t want and can’t get out of. (Since, you shouldn’t give away the milk when you can sell the cow!)

People choose relationships wisely.


As promised, here are the words from everyday folks.

                “It means that I enjoy a robust life-affirming respect for sexuality, sexual diversity, and the complex ways we all try to get sexual needs met without screwing up other areas of our lives or other people. Sex is a way of connecting to other people, but also exploring oneself; inhabiting the body, but also feeling one’s way beyond it in a sort of spiritual seeking; reconnecting with one’s own youthful energies, but also learning to grow into new phases of life. It’s all fascinating, even the difficult bits.”

Male 41, Los Angeles

                “Sex-positive is a belief and understanding that sensuality and sexuality should be embraced and explored in a safe and consensual manner. I’ve always considered myself sex-positive individual long before I heard the actual term. I’ve always known that sex and my sexuality are normal and healthy facets of life.

Female 35, Los Angeles

                “Sex-positive, to me means a happy, healthy, playful approach to our sexual selves, & not just fucking either. It’s about PASSION; connecting to other people on a different level that is so intimate & personal. And it’s about finding things erotic & sensual that most people don’t even notice in everyday life. Also being tolerant & understanding of other peoples choices…”

Female 53, Portland

Sex-positive culture is coming to a neighborhood near you (it is actually already in your neighborhood, your neighbors just haven’t come out yet) in the very near future. It is the real sexual revolution, the grown up sexual revolution. And this one is not going away any time soon, because like Dr. King’s and Gandhi’s non-violence resistance movements, you can’t argue with it, there are no victims, only winners. And there is nothing to lose, accept for five thousand year old system of brutal control and suppression, a war on sex that never worked to suppress sex, but ultimately suppressed humanity’s evolution toward love, connection, and compassion. 

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GGG: Dominatrix for Dummies

Comes to Portland, OR!

Sex, Love & Spirit would like to draw your attention to coalition mention Eleanor O’Brien’s upcoming sexy one woman show. Do not hesitate, get tickets HERE: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/223565

The Self-Help Domme is back and taking all comers!  Struggling with self-esteem?  Wrestling with doubt?  Failing to reach orgasm?  She’s back to help you learn how to worship yourself!

Eleanor O’Brien’s one-woman show Good Girls’ Guide: Dominatrix for Dummies dances with the desire we all have to be wanted.  From junior high proms to NYC nightclubs,  O’Brien weaves a story of waiting to be picked, and discovers the ultimate antidote to shame and rejection.  A would-be actress in the Big Apple, O’Brien attempts to become a professional dominatrix. Through facile characterization and rich description – she brings to life the inner-workings of The Jewel Box, a dungeon on the upper East Side.

By turns raunchy, hilarious and heartbreaking – GGG:D4D is the original creation of  Dance Naked Productions artistic director, Eleanor O’Brien.    Like the highly acclaimed series Inviting Desire, O’Brien’s solo show shares the hallmark traits of this sex-positive theater company – well crafted, authentic, and highly entertaining.

This “quite remarkable bit of theatre” (Edmonton Sun) has played to sold out houses and standing ovations across Canada.  The 3-night run during the Portland mini-fringe festival was standing room only. Now GGG: D4D is about to launch an international tour.

Portland native Eleanor O’Brien returned to her hometown to make the kind of theater she wanted to make – edgy, relevant, and often erotic.   Dance Naked Productions was born out of the desire to explore and illuminate human sexuality.  The Self-Help Domme, O’Brien’s alter-ego and star of GGG: D4D, both intimidates and celebrates the audience with a unique blend of discipline, humor, and unconditional love.

Whether it’s a spanking or a hug, the Self-Help Dominatrix knows just what you need!

This event starts Friday, February 10th and ends Sunday, February 26th so get your tickets now: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/223565

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We filled the Bagdad and laughed together as we learned about bonobos and paleo love styles.  Couldn’t have asked for a better night!  Thanks Chris!  Enjoy the photos everyone!



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Hear the interview at http://kboo.fm/node/31820

Excerpt from the KBOO site:
“The standard narrative of modern human sexuality features a male-dominated ruling class supported by nuclear families each founded on monogamous mating.
Jetha and Ryan show that the monogamy model is very different from how humans lived before agriculture and from our genetic – preconscious expectations.
This conflict between how we evolved to behave and what society has come to expect of us, argue the  man and woman co-authors, is destructive to individuals, families, society as a whole and even the robustness of our offspring.
Dr Ryan discusses the evidence against the standard narrative of human sexuality and the evidence for a  more humane myth of what we have evolved to be.
Hear the interview at http://kboo.fm/node/31820

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Cristopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha Win Prestigious Award

See the following letter:

Dear Christopher,

As the President of The Foundation for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, I am pleased to confirm that you and Cacilda Jetha are the recipients of the Harriet and Ira Reis Theory Award in Sexology for 2011.
Your book, “Sex at Dawn” was selected by the Review Committee for this Award particularly for its integration of social and sexual behavior into evolutionary theory. It is believed that the resulting socially-based
view of the development of human sexual behavior adds significantly to the understanding and appreciation of the role and impact of social factors in the long-term evolution of sexual behavior.

As the recipient of this Award, we would like to invite you or Dr. Jetha to present the Reis Plenary Address at the Annual Meeting of The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality being held in Tampa, Florida (USA),
November 8-11, 2012. Your address would be scheduled on either Friday, Nov. 9th or Saturday, Nov. 10th. As the Reis Theory Awardee, you would receive a plaque, a $500 check, and an additional $500 to cover
your travel expenses. The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality will also cover the cost of one night’s stay at the conference hotel and offers free registration to you for the conference.

Once again, I offer my congratulations to you and look forward to meeting you at the SSSS conference next year.

With Best Regards,

Patricia Barthalow Koch, Ph.D.
Professor of Biobehavioral Health, The Pennsylvania State University
Adjunct Professor of Human Sexuality, Widener University
President of The Foundation for the Scientific Study of Sexuality

Congratulations Chris and Cacilda!

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