(U-WIRE) NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Sex defeated war at Yale this year.
Before embarking on an overview of pro-slavery literature, one Yale professor had to inform his “Civil War and Reconstruction Era” lecture that, after a heated battle in the Registrar’s office, “Biology of Gender and Sexuality,” more commonly known as “Porn in the Morn,” had won the Law School Auditorium because of its larger enrollment.
The Civil War course would henceforth have to rekindle great moments of American history within the dark confines of a lesser room.
While the fact that the class fulfills the science requirement and does not have a cumulative final exam may have attracted some, every year, hundreds flock to this class in a display of driving curiosity among Yalies — to study sexuality in a non-bedroom context.
Though the class may satisfy the subject academically, every other year, Yalies have the option of studying sex in an entirely different manner — from the industries with which it is associated.
This obsession is exactly what the organizers behind the famous Sex Week at Yale hope will once again lure masses out of their dorm rooms and into lecture halls filled with sex toys, dating gurus, and porn producers.
Sex Week is about to begin its fourth incarnation, and promises to bring with it a media frenzy similar to those of years past.
The 2006 edition resulted in Associated Press stories that found their way into newspapers all over the world. Sex Week At Yale magazine caused a stir on college campuses all over the country.
This year, with Dateline NBC broadcasting the Great Porn Debate and articles appearing on Bloomberg News and in Play magazine, all eyes will be on New Haven as Yale brings sexy back to the Ivy League, along with a fair amount of controversy.
Sex Week blossomed nine years ago out of a proposed “Kosher Sex Day” at Slifka. After organizers found the initial event to be too focused and short, the affair expanded into its current week-long form, albeit somewhat awkwardly.
Ron Rosenbaum, a Yale alumnus, wrote an article on the nascent Sex Week [“Sex Week at Yale,” Atlantic Monthly January/February 2003], where he described a lecture whose negligible audience had to be moved to three different rooms as technicians tried to get the audiovisual technology working for a showing of Hermaphrodites Now!, “the first documentary about hermaphrodites made by hermaphrodites.”
Over the years, Sex Week has moved away from an academic approach to sexuality, instead focusing on discussions of the interaction of sex and culture and the manifestation of sex in America. Although not the only purpose of Sex Week, this focus has given the event national notoriety by pleasantly shocking some and deeply offending others.
“I think that a common misconception is that Sex Week is just a flagrant display of collegiate bacchanalia,” assistant director of Sex Week Jacquie Coe, SY ’09, said. “That’s not true at all. We’re merely laying things out on the table for people; that [is] our job — providing the most comprehensive, extensive, and balanced presentation of different ideas that challenge people to come to their own conclusions about modern sexuality.”
Yale in particular might not necessarily scream out for a sexual re-education like Sex Week, but Colin Adamo, PC ’10, the Sex Week Events Coordinator, thinks there is good reason for its existence.
“The fact that we have Toads on campus,” he said, “that there are half-naked girls in January dancing with some guy for half an hour then going home with him to me seriously screams that we need some help when it comes to the subject.”
This year, help will come in many forms over the course of what Sex Week Director Joe Citarrella calls a “Beatles-style” eight-day week. Sunday night opens with monologues and the possibility of go-go dancing in comedian and speaker Stevie Jay’s “Life Love Sex Death… and Other Works in Progress.”
The rest of the week will feature lectures by Dr. Ruth and other sex therapists from around the country and a talk with Steve Hirsh, CEO of Vivid Entertainment.
“He is credited as single-handedly bringing porn into the mainstream,” Coe said, “This guy is a huge deal.”
There will also be a fashion show and various giveaways courtesy of the event’s sponsor, Pure Romance. All of these events aim to discuss sex beyond its traditional sex-ed confines.
“How can you be safe properly? How do you go on a date? We want to answer these questions with fun, cool, and controversial speakers,” Citarella said.
Although Sex Week events cover a lot of ground, featuring such wide-ranging topics as dating advice from VH1 pick-up artists Matador and Mystery and a panel discussion on sex and spirituality, LGBTQ groups on campus have expressed concern that the event pays too little attention to homosexual relations. Although the directors of Sex Week did communicate with leaders of the LGBTQ coop, Ya!Lesbians coordinator Rachel Schiff, SM ’10, feels that the events did not fulfill their promises.
“Through my participation in the LGBTQ co-op I did end up emailing them, with the rest of the board, suggestions that could make the event more inclusive,” Schiff said. “I was shocked to see very little taken from our extensive list. From the fliers to the events, very little can be seen as inclusive for all. They put the onus on us to ‘queer things up’ by coming to the events and asking questions that would push the speakers to talk about things outside the hetero-normative box.”
Even the advertising, Schiff believes, was skewed towards a heterosexual audience. “The fliers for sex week, which the organizers produced, have no queer erotic images, which saddens me. I think it would have been nice to have at least one event that hosted a speaker known for his/her queer expertise.”
Qualms about Sex Week also come from the conservative side. The Chaplain at the St. Thomas More Catholic Center, Father Robert Beloin, has encouraged his parishioners to consider attending an event featuring Christopher West, author of Theology of the Body as an alternative to Sex Week at Yale. While several conservative groups contacted declined to comment, Citarella says he has gotten hate mail from people offended at the idea of having porn stars on campus.
“Porn is a multi-billion dollar industry,” Citarella said. “Someone is watching it. This way students can ask questions and have fun in the process.”
Citarrella also said that selecting events is not quite as simple as it may seem.
“We started with ideas, tried to decide what we want to cover: gay rights, safe sex, love?” he said. “You can’t cover it all. We come up with ideas for speakers, and work with agents to see who is available.”
This limited availability, he said, often defines the focus of Sex Week events.
“A common misconception is people asking, ‘Why don’t you do this? Why didn’t you cover that?’ Things don’t always work out, it’s a process of thousands of phone calls and emails,” he said.
Organizers also have to balance events that are educational with events that will attract large crowds.
“We put together so many huge whopping events, sometimes we wonder if we aren’t diluting the whole thing,” said Adamo.
Indeed, some might criticize that a day featuring Matador and Mystery sacrifices too much strict education, but Citarella disagrees.
“Matador and Mystery are having a big effect on how people interact at clubs,” he said. “When else are you going to have the opportunity to talk with them about their approach?”
With most of the large-scale events taking place off campus, many students may not encounter any of the activity. However, organizers hope that people will take a look at the Sex Week at Yale magazine or simply go online to check out the trailer for the Sex Week documentary.
As to the critics, Sex Wee
k hopes they come too: “Many critics do not even bother to come to our events,” public relations coordinator Victoria Wild, TD ’08, said, “Otherwise, criticism doesn’t bother me, as long as people are talking about the issues, in whatever capacity that may be. That is our goal — get people talking and thinking.”