Sex Talk Stresses Comfort, Safety

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Ria S. Tobaccowala

Amber Madison, a recent Tufts graduate and the author of “Hooking Up,” speaks with Harvard students about sex at a seminar sponsored by the Freshman Dean’s Office and the Women’s Center, among others.

Harvard students looking to score a few pointers from a local sex expert were left in a state of anticipation last night, receiving more level-headed advice than titillating tips.

In an event headlined as a “scintillating and sexy talk,” Amber A. Madison—the author of “Hooking Up: A Girl’s All-Out Guide to Sex and Sexuality”—spent an hour discussing college students’ most intimate sexual concerns.

Enough students came to fill Ticknor Lounge in Boylston Hall, where the talk was held.

“Where is the clitoris?” one student asked, via the blue index cards that were provided to allow anonymity.

“You can go home and Google that,” Madison said, briefly flashing a picture of the female anatomy from her book.

Madison, who wrote a sex column for the Tufts Daily while she was an undergraduate, covered everything from body image to STDs to the importance of consent. But throughout it all, she hammered home the same message.

“Good sex starts with good decision making,” she said. “I know that’s not the sexiest thing to say. I should be up here saying, ‘Good sex starts with whips and chains and strap-ons.’”

Madison’s frank words differed from the impression given by the provocative e-mails sent by students to many house lists, promising “sexxxxxy suggestions” at the event.

“They promoted it as a ‘sexy’ talk, but it really wasn’t,” said Madison, expressing surprise at the tone of the event’s advertisements. “When I think of sexy, I think of trying to turn people on. I wasn’t trying to turn anyone on.”

Madison said she hoped her advice would help students make themselves comfortable with their partners.

“What I really want the audience to have gotten out of my talk is to figure out what feels good for them, not just physically, but emotionally,” she said.

The e-mails advertising the event, which was sponsored by several College offices, raised concern among Christian and pro-abstinence groups on campus.

“I don’t think that we should learn to have better sex lives from the Freshman Dean’s Office,” Harvard-Radcliffe Christian Fellowship member Meghan E. Grizzle ’07 said.

Sarah M. Kinsella ’07—the co-president of True Love Revolution, a pro-abstinence group on campus—called the administration sponsorship “inappropriate.”

“I don’t see why Harvard is promoting the ‘Hooking Up’ talk, because I don’t think it encourages the safest behavior,” she said before last night’s event.

Grizzle and Kinsella both said they did not plan to attend Madison’s talk.

Madison said she believes that a person’s choice to abstain is a personal decision. Responding to the pro-abstinence groups’ criticism, she said, “It’s wrong to push your agenda on someone else, whether you’re for abstinence or for having sex.”

Blake L. Johnson ’09 said he agreed with Madison’s message.

“I’m glad that it wasn’t judgmental, and she let us know that regardless of orientation or whatever, we were normal,” he said.

Comparing Madison’s talk to a 2005 event on the female orgasm, Johnson said last night’s discussion was “different...but not disappointingly so.”