If you couldn’t make Harvard University’s recent fourth annual Sex Week, you missed out on some stimulating fare. It boasted free seminars and workshops with titillating titles such as “What What in the Butt: Anal Sex 101,” “Fifty Shades of False: Kink 101,” and “Love @ First Swipe: Online Hookup Culture.” Yes, that Harvard.
Open to the public, Sex Week is coordinated each year by a student-run organization called Sexual Health Education & Advocacy Throughout Harvard College (SHEATH). Sex Week, the group’s website states, “intends to promote a week of programming that is interdisciplinary, thought-provoking, scholastic, innovative, and applicable to student experiences in order to promote a holistic understanding of sex and sexuality.” That’s their way of pretending that instructing students in the thought-provoking, holistic use of butt plugs and dental dams is academically legitimate.
Sexperts from a local adult toy shop led the anal sex seminar, which sought to “dispel myths about anal sex and give you insight into why people do it and how to do it well.” Parents shell out as much as $58,000 a year to Harvard to give their kids at least the aura of a top-shelf education; somehow I doubt that excelling in Anal Sex 101 is what they had in mind.
Also listed on the schedule, which is riddled with spelling and punctuation errors, was “Brown Girlz Do it Well: a Queer Diaspora Remix,” a workshop designed to “situate our personal narratives within broader systems of racism, casteism, classism, islamophobia, and imperialism.” Call me old-school, but college students need a lot less indulgence in their own personal narratives and a lot more immersion in the narratives of the great storytellers who shaped our civilization. They need a lot less indoctrination in grievances and victimization, and a lot more exposure to the sublime heights that the human spirit has attained in art, science, and philosophy. They need to stop ghettoizing themselves according to racial-sexual categories and start identifying with our common humanity. That’s what a liberal arts education should be about.
Sex Week Wastes Limited Time, Resources
Many Harvard students no doubt are getting an impressive education, but the university isn’t doing its reputation any favors with workshops like “Virginity & Abstinence” (which posed the burning question, “does viriginity [sic] exist?”) or “Romance on the Rocks: Alochol [sic] and Consent.” Does one really need a seminar to grasp that drinking and sex go together like a horse and carriage?
To their credit, some at Harvard resisted the siren song of kink. Student Molly Wharton told The College Fix,
I do question the amount of time and resources that went into planning and funding these events, some of which are downright vulgar, at a place like Harvard. I can’t imagine that there are not more worthwhile educational programs and initiatives to which Harvard’s resources should be devoted.
Nailed it. But SHEATH’s co-president Kirin Gupta defended the workshop this way: “Saying we don’t need it is like saying we don’t need sex education, or should have abstinence-only education, or that people should feel ashamed for doing whatever it is that’s part of their sexual practice.”
Not quite. There’s a difference between sex education and promoting a narcissistic obsession with sexuality. As for shaming anyone: frankly, our culture needs some shaming now and then—not for what we do in private, but for our increasingly perverse willingness to put our private lives on display in the public square.
It’s Not Prudish to Object to Sex Week
Criticizing the program, however, gets you smeared as an unevolved bigot: “The conservative backlash speaks to the latent homophobia that society thinks so often it has gotten over, and has not,” says Gupta. “It speaks to these residual prejudices that people [have] when faced with a reality they’re not willing to acknowledge or respect.”
No, it doesn’t. Objecting to Sex Week is not about the fear and loathing of homosexuality or kinkiness; it is simply about questioning the program’s appropriateness and academic value, particularly at an institution of supposedly higher learning that began in 1636 as a seminary. Harvard University doesn’t have a formal mission statement, but Harvard College, the undergraduate program, does. It is committed to, in part, “the advancement and education of youth in all manner of good literature, arts, and sciences.” Sorry, but S&M, “feminist porn,” and “queer spoken word groups” do not fall under that umbrella.
I’m no prude. I used to work in the porn industry. But when an institution as esteemed (rightly or wrongly) as Harvard offers a slate of workshops featuring, for example, “the demystification of sexual fetishes,” the school doesn’t merely look silly; it is giving its imprimatur to a cultural obsession with seeking personal identity in the shallows of our libido rather than the depths of our souls.