‘Sex Week’ at Yale Amends Event Following Ban Threat

NEW HAVEN, Conn.—Despite the recommendation by Yale University’s Advisory Committee on Campus Climate that "Sex Week at Yale" no longer meets its initial purpose and should no longer be allowed to use the university’s name or facilities, President Richard Levin announced last week that rather than end the event outright, he would allow organizers the opportunity to amend the program for consideration next semester.

“We have no intention of suppressing the students’ right to free expression,” he said in a written reply to the just-released 42-page report. “But we will not allow the University’s facilities or name to be used in the service of corporate sponsors and the private inurement of student organizers.”

The Committee’s comments on Sex Week, which was founded in 2002, are contained in a single paragraph in the report, as follows:

“We heard over and over from students, faculty, and staff that ‘Sex Week at Yale,’ a student-sponsored event, is highly problematic. A student-initiated event begun in 2002, it has described itself as “a campus-wide interdisciplinary sex education program.” Over time, this event clearly has lost the focus of its stated intention. Although ‘Sex Week at Yale’ continues to promote consideration of some serious topics, like international sex trafficking, in recent years it has prominently featured titillating displays, adult film stars, and commercial sponsors of such material. We recommend that ‘Sex Week at Yale’ be prohibited from using Yale’s name and any Yale facilities. We recognize the role of events that promote healthy discourse and help students explore issues of intimacy, love, and relationships as they relate to their own lives but feel that the most recent iterations of ‘Sex Week at Yale’ cannot accomplish this. Administrators and student organizers must be thoughtful about working together to create a new program that is consistent with a climate of respect and responsibility (and thus worthy of the University’s support).”

Organizers of the event responded right away to Levin’s letter, saying they would make “some concessions in response to administrators’ concerns, but they said they will not shy away from controversial issues in their proposal,” according to the Yale Daily News.

“I think that we’re looking at the balance of events really hard to make sure that the events are relevant to Yale students,” said Connie Cho, one of Sex Week’s organizers. “Does this mean we’re going to touch on the issue of porn? Yes, because it’s relevant to Yale students.”

One immediate concession was to remove a direct affiliation with the school from the event’s name, which is now officially “Sex Week 2012.” Another was to launch a fundraising campaign rather than continue relying on commercial sponsorships to underwrite Sex Week. Organizers will also expend greater energy making sure the event contains a diversity of views and opinions more reflective of the entire Yale student body.

According to Yale Daily News, “Cho said she and the other organizers want to consider criticisms of Sex Week and provide a balance of events that are ‘inclusive’ and ‘relevant to Yale students.’ The organizers do not want to host events purely for ‘shock value,’ Cho said, and they will seek feedback from students about whether certain events would be perceived as ‘voyeuristic.’ As part of their effort to be inclusive, Cho said coordinators are reaching out to student organizations—including religious and advocacy groups—across campus to co-sponsor events, with the hope of having each event for the program be co-sponsored.”

The organizers’ immediate response did not address the not-so-subtle reference by Levin to “the private inurement of student organizers,” which seemed to imply some sort of kick-back arrangement between them and past sponsors of the event, such as sex toy company Pure Romance, but even strident opponents of Sex Week found the vague implication to be unfounded.

“If President Levin is referring to any suspected financial misconduct in connection with Sex Week, we can't assess that said Bijan Aboutorabi of Undergraduates for a Better Yale College.” It's certainly nothing we've ever heard of, nor does it appear to be alluded to in the Advisory Committee's report.”

Jezebel.com also has reported on the kick-back issue, saying that Fleshbot editor Lux Alptraum “saw no evidence of financial malfeasance when she spoke at Sex Week 2010.”

She did take issue with the program, however, telling Jezebel, “I think they should have made the event more well rounded, and that there's something telling when the main people that college students turn to for a discussion of sex are related to the adult industry. But that said, all the people they recruited were really smart and thoughtful and talked about a lot of things aside from pornography. The line between sex ed and porn is not as distinct as some might think.”

While the kick-back inference is unsubstantiated at this point, there is no denying that there has been a commercial facet to Sex Week. As AVN has reported, manufacturers of adult novelties have participated in the event for years, including in partnership with famed author, sexologist and erotic guru Dr. Susan Block, whose talk during the 2010 event, during which she also handed out vibrating gifts to students and teachers, was her fifth Sex Week at Yale.

Other notable Sex Week participants from the industry over the years have included performers Buck Angel and Sasha Grey, director Paul Thomas, retailer Joel Tucker and Vivid co-chairman Steven Hirsch. In 2008, Sex Day at Yale even included a Vivid Day.

No word yet on whether president Levin will consider the immediate concessions and promises of greater balance by Sex Week organizers sufficient, and also, if it does gain approval, to what extent adult companies will be able to continue their involvement.