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'Sex Week' On College Campuses Promotes Healthy Discussion About Sex

Amanda Kantor |
March 1, 2013 | 11:12 a.m. PST


Sex Week is happening at USC next week. (Screenshot)
Sex Week is happening at USC next week. (Screenshot)
We belong to a liberated age, but are we really comfortable talking about sex?

When we were in middle school, our teachers and administrators told our parents: get your kids comfortable with talking about sex now (and drugs for that matter), so that they can enter inevitable situations with the confidence to “make the right decision.” If we were supposed to be comfortable talking about sex in middle school, then why is it shocking for 20-year-olds to talk about it in an open forum on a college campus? Furthermore, why was sex education seen as empowering then, but destructive now?

Next week, the University of Southern California (USC) Women’s Student Assembly (WSA) is hosting Sex Week in the tradition of college campuses across the country, including Yale, Harvard and Brown. Sex education has always been a part of college. Frat houses and dormitories are laboratories for experimentation. However, many college students experience sex for the first time during college, as well as all the emotions that go along with it. Inhibitions make students less likely to discuss their sex life with their partner; therefore they aren’t getting the proper education they need to develop meaningful relationships and become better at sex. To face an uncomfortable topic head on is to take control of it.

WSA plans to host a series of events aimed at opening communication about relationships, anatomy and finally understanding what “hooking up” actually means, who’s doing it and why. As it turns out, many college students are intimidated to discuss the topic because they are under the impression that more of their peers are having sex than actually are, or that more students know more about sex than they actually do. This is what Arnie Kahn, who conducted a study at James Madison University, calls “pluralistic ignorance.” When it comes to the idea of attending an information session on sex, one Harvard student said, “Harvard kids don’t want to admit that they don’t know something they think they should know.”

Even in anonymous surveys, students are reticent to be open and honest about their sexual experiences. One survey reported that 63 percent of college males and 45 percent of college females out of a pool of 274 survey takers who claimed to be heterosexual had engaged in a sexual “hook up”…so, either the males exaggerated or the females underestimated the truth. Not only is there little consensus about the number of students that are sexually active; there is much confusion over the definition of “hooking up.” In a way, the term itself defines the problem. It is “strategically ambiguous,” says Amanda Holman from the University of Nebraska, “It’s a way for them [students] to communicate about it without having to reveal details.” These details, however, can help students better understand themselves and their relationships.

On Thursday, WSA's program will host an event entitled “Best Sex Ever” with Laci Green, creator of the popular YouTube series, Sex+. The WSA hopes that she will clear some things up about dating and sex, and will begin a discussion of the popular new Facebook page, USC Hook-ups. Unfortunately, the title of this event could create the misconception that Sex Week is about glorifying sinful behavior. When a Harvard organization hosted an event called “Dirty Talk,” according to student Brenda Serpis, “A lot of people just thought it was going to be tips on how to talk dirty, but it really wasn’t. It was just like, being consensual and comfortable in expressing yourself with your partner.” Provocative titles get people in the room, but the helpful discussions convey the sincerity of the cause.

The WSA is attracting attention with its kickoff activity: decorating cupcakes in the shape of vaginas. Kaya Masler, Director of WSA, said this activity is meant to inspire “an open discussion about the female anatomy—a topic that, along with female sexuality altogether, is often excluded from mainstream expressions of sex and sexuality.” Kaya may be referring to, say, the discrepancy between the images of the female vagina in porn magazines and the many shapes and sizes of actual (un-photo-shopped) vaginas. The message that women’s vaginas are as unique as the cupcakes they decorate is crucial to female self-acceptance, especially in the world of designer genitals (the documentary The Perfect Vagina addresses this phenomenon).

It is just as crucial that men understand this message about individuality and acceptance. Jenna Couture, a sex and relationship therapist, says that being good in bed “is indicative of how comfortable you are with your body and how freely you’re able to submit to being vulnerable. Someone that is very comfortable with themselves in bed usually make others comfortable.” Men and women both have insecurities; when they learn more about each other’s bodies, they can create a more positive sexual experience for each other.

Unfortunately, the discussion on sexual pleasure gives some people the idea that the program promotes sex-for-pleasure. Yale student Alec Torres opposes Sex Week because “it glorifies the use of human beings as the object to the end of other’s sexual desires.” Jenna offers a different perspective from the experience she’s had with her clients: “I don’t think talking about sex encourages casual sex, more so, talking about sex in depth can have the reverse effect in that it can slow down the hooking up process. When you know better, you do better. The more you learn about your sexuality and yourself, the less hooking up appeals to you.”

A program that gives young people the confidence to “make the right decision” can only serve to improve the “hook up” culture at colleges, which does risk objectification if left alone. College partly provides young people with a social education. We must steer that education in a way that fosters mature relationships, and a healthy understanding and appreciation of the human body—both the physical and emotional aspects.


Reach Contributor Amanda Kantor here; follow her here.



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