Harvard Overachievers Fail to Make Sex Week Sexy

Ever wonder what sort of sexual depravity ensues during Harvard's "Sex Week"? Is there a uterus-themed moon bounce? A ring toss with penises rigged to go flaccid the moment something touches them? Clowns that pull neverending tampons out of their comically oversized pants?

Sadly, at least according to the New York Times, the craziest thing that happened during the student-run week of sex talks was that some people batted a condom balloon back and forth, reminding onlookers that you're never too mature to have a good giggle about latex contraception.

Though "Sex Week" in Cambridge isn't a country fair of genital-themed amusements, it does offer students the opportunity to attend lectures and discussion groups about, as the Times puts it, "all things sexual." All things, that is, except the really dirty stuff, which seems to still cause some discomfort in the puritanical brainstems of many participants. A seminar called "Dirty Talk," for example, proved to be pretty clean, which came as something of a disappointment to freshman attendee Brenda Serpas, who told the Times, "A lot of people just thought it was going to be tips on how to talk dirty, but really it wasn't. It was just like, being consensual and comfortable in expressing yourself with your partner."

Discussions also steered away from the ongoing political debate about contraception and financing for reproductive health, as students were far more interested in talking about popular misconceptions about campus hookups, and the ongoing adventures of Lena Dunham's vagina on the new HBO series Girls. The "Hooking Up on Campus" event presented participants with the paradoxical fact that, at a time when sex seems to pervade pop culture, less Harvard students are having casual sex than their more recent predecessors in the swing 90s. Sex Week, over the course of its evolution from a Yale Hillel event back in 2002 to a multi-campus event across the country, has tried to balance educating participants on a range of topics, from the sobering (rape and STD prevention) to the more diverting (having good orgasms). The thrust of this approach, explained Samantha Meier, one of the Harvard version's organizers, is to create an environment where all manner of sexuality can be discussed frankly. "I think that what our generation is doing," said Meier, "is really trying to address these issues in a way that respects individual experiences and beliefs and identities."

Some of the stodgier professors and administrators — at least those who don't participate in Sex Week themselves — don't like the idea of Harvard's ample resources being wasted to, as they see it, "promote" sex on campus. Other critics feel Sex Week has adopted a "pleasure-first" approach and that organized sex talk should be limited exclusively to topics that are so dry that, not only will no one want to attend Sex Week ever again, but no one will want to have sex because it will inevitably kill or impregnate them. Such academic sex discussions, according to Brown's chairwoman of Sex Week Aida Manduley undoubtedly fail to "reflect peoples' personal experiences."

While it's important to discuss the biological and statistical realities that shape our sex culture, something called "Sex Week" ought to really emphasize the key characteristic that entices people to have consensual sex in the modern world: fun. Criticizing Sex Week for being too pleasure-oriented would be like criticizing a car expo for having too many flashy concept vehicles — the whole reason people, especially young people, have sex is because it's pleasurable. If anything, campus sex weeks should be as explicit as possible because the more comfortable young people are having truly frank discussions about the whims of their reproductive organs, — discussions that don't suddenly turn modest when they revolve around dirty talk — the more likely they are to grow up into the sorts of old swingers that flaunt their wrinkled bodies confidently on HBO's Real Sex. And, for all the weird shit those people can be into, you've got to admit that they all seem really happy.

On Campus, Opening Up Conversations About Sex [NY Times]