February 17, 2004,
Last week, every Yale undergraduate received an e-mail heralding "Sex Week: A Celebration and Exploration of Sex and Sexuality at Yale University."
Imagine a modest student's reaction to "Grandmother of Masturbation" Betty Dodson's impending lecture on the topic, "One Woman's Illustrated Sexual Revolution." Yale sophomore David O'Leary, upon returning from five o'clock mass, found in his inbox the promise of a "Porn Party! sponsored by Wicked Pictures with porn star Devinn Lane."
According to event organizer and Yale senior Eric Rubenstein, Sex Week was supposed to open discussion about issues of love, intimacy, and romance, and was timed to coincide with Valentine's Day, to distract the many unattached Yalies who, Rubenstein says, are made lonely and depressed by the holiday. In truth, however, it was little more than a week-long bacchanal.
It was all under the guise of education, of course: Take, for example, the talk with "Rebecca and Claire from Toys in Babeland: 'Sex Toys 101.'" Or the lecture by professor yes, that's right, a Yale professor Naomi Rogers, on the "History of the Vibrator."
Sex Week was run by Students for a Sexually Aware Campus, an officially registered and university-approved "student organization," which (along with Sex Week) got a green light from Yale College Assistant Dean Edgar Letriz, who oversees administrative matters for student organizations (registration, funding, etc.). According to Rubenstein, Letriz knew what Sex Week was about when he approved it, and was "fine with it."
But how, exactly, does Sex Week enrich the quality of campus activity and education? David O'Leary wanted to know; after overcoming the initial revulsion he felt upon receiving the Sex Week e-mail, he was overcome by curiosity. "I went to a Sex Week event to see how offensive it might actually be," he explains. "On my way in, people attempted to hand me condoms and literature about sex-toy cleaning, vaginal and anal-sex tips, and safer-sex tips. When the speaker asked who in the room had never used a sex toy, I raised my hand. When she began to throw miniature vibrators to the people who had their hands raised, I quickly put my hand down and hoped she wouldn't throw one my way."
"Shortly thereafter, she began asking people why and how they masturbate, and read an explicit story about a boy and his mother's vibrator. I left with face red, directly after... I have never been more embarrassed in my life."
O'Leary may have been mortified, but Rubenstein doesn't really care. When asked whether he was worried that people might take offense at the vulgarity of Sex Week, especially as it invaded their inboxes, Rubenstein responded: "No, not really. People might be offended, but they won't openly reprimand me." And about this kind of sexual activity: "People need to accept the fact that it's here, because it is here. And the response I've gotten has been overwhelmingly positive there were only three people who sent me e-mails back saying 'don't send me any more of this.'" Besides, "If Bush can handle most of the country voting for his opponent and his still being in office, I can handle a few people not liking my emails."
It's not just that Sex Week was in bad taste: It went beyond vulgarity to promote downright pernicious behaviors, and sometimes with odd allies. Take, for example, the seeming obsession with pornography. Strangely enough, Sex Week was put on with the help of Yale's Women's Center, the locus of radical feminism on campus. Feminists are always decrying the objectification of women, and yet pornography is one of the most demeaning and widespread means of objectifying women available.
Or consider that the proceeds from Sex Week's concluding party will go to Planned Parenthood. Or think about Sex Week's promotion of inappropriate relationships: On its website, it has a photograph captioned "Detention will be served in my bed," with an image of a young girl writing over and over on a chalk board, "I will not suck d*** in class." Having sex with a student, at least at most serious academic institutions, is grounds for dismissal; if the student is a teenager, as this girl appears to be, it's grounds for arrest and jail time for statutory rape.
In Rubenstein's eyes, though, nothing depicted on his website was "inappropriate." And again, it's probably true that most people agree with him.
But just because they do, doesn't mean everyone does. And just because people could put on Sex Week, doesn't mean they ought to have. And certainly Yale insofar as it is a respected institution of higher learning and a supposedly serious environment for a supposedly serious education didn't need to put its seal of approval on it.
In the e-mail and on its site, Sex Week was touted as "the only event of its kind on any college campus." That's a relief there are at least a few Sex Weeks to go before Yale introduces the Janet Jackson Chair in Cultural Studies.
Meghan Clyne is an NR associate editor and a 2003 graduate of Yale College.