Are You Sex-Positive?

Harvard’s new student-organized Sex Week has a lot on offer: Anal Sex 101, Sex-Positivity and Slut-Pride, Campus Hookups, Sex and Faith, and Making Sense of Abstinence. We’ve got LGBTQ issues covered (at least a bit) and the 8thAnnual Female Orgasm Seminar. Harvard Hillel is even offering a Jewish perspective on “Guilty Pleasure, Sacred Delight.” Bravo. But where’s the programming on reproductive rights and responsibilities?

Can you be “sex-positive” and ignore the sex-negative? Can you talk about human sexuality without mentioning that scarlet A-word of heterosexual sex? Abortion. Or how about the C-word? Contraception. Or the L-word. Legislation. I’m ambivalent about Harvard’s Sex Week, and not only because I just noticed that my proposal for an ethical porn system was highlighted in the promotional materials. (It still feels a little startling to see my name next to the word “porn” on an increasingly routine basis.)

On the one hand, it’s gratifying to see an open, shame-free conversation about sexuality on a major college campus, particularly one driven largely by the women students who have, arguably, more to lose from a lack of such dialogue. My problem is with the Sex Week programming itself – programming designed to be “interdisciplinary, thought-provoking, scholastic, innovative,” and “applicable” to students’ sexual experiences. Really?

Yeah, yeah… I know. Sex Week is designed to “connect diverse individuals and communities through common experiences,” with events open to “anyone, regardless of their personal identities, practices, and preferences.” Great. I mean it. This is terrific.

So where’s the debate about the un-fun stuff? Where’s discussion of abortion and access to contraception and whether a blastocyst should be a legally protected human? Maybe I missed the session on why a third of all American women have an abortion at sometime in their lives (ie while in college.) I noticed a session on How to Talk to Your Doctor about “embarrassing” problems. How about a session on How to Talk to Your Doctor About Life-Altering or Life-Threatening problems?

I hear a lot about the diversity of voices on campus but I wonder if the Harvard Sex Week organizers are just a little too concerned about protecting people’s feelings. We have many more people of faith at Harvard than ever before, and that can only be a good thing. But, as we’ve seen over and over again, people of faith are into sex, too. They consume pornography, use contraception, don’t use contraception, get pregnant, get others pregnant, and think about having abortions. And, yes, when their back is up against the wall: people of faith sometimes do more than just think about having abortions.

I’m sorry to be such a Debbie Downer but why be coy about the real consequences of human sexuality? It’s easy to sound ‘sex-positive’ with props and words. Much harder to do the work that’s necessary to make sex positive.  If you think, as I do, that women’s health is under attack, get up and be counted. And if you don’t think women’s rights are under siege, well, let’s hear from you, too. But be prepared to face some hard facts. If Harvard can’t get real – we’re all about truth, remember? – who can?  Back in the day, we said that the ‘personal is political.’  Now, it seems, the personal is sex toys and lube. Maybe this isn’t a problem for Harvard students. Yet.

About ErikaChristakis

Yale Lecturer in early childhood education/Licensed teacher/Former preschool director/author. In possession of: unmarketable bachelor’s degree (Harvard, anthropology), semi-marketable graduate degrees (public health, education…). Rewarding career at the intersection of family, society, and schools (including long stint in parenting vortex). Forging a new path to connect all of the above.
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