Harvard Sex Week: Looking Backward, Looking Forward
At the beginning of this academic year, every Harvard freshman received a flyer under his door inviting him to participate in the planning of this year’s “Sex Week.” The average freshman, newly-arrived to college–a place and time self-consciously associated with the sexual–can be excused, perhaps, for not knowing what an event entitled “Sex Week” entails.
And, to be fair to the freshmen, the answer is a complicated one: An explanation of what Sex Week is and where it comes from involves not only engaging in a discussion about sexual behavior on college campuses, but also in a larger debate about the importance of having those discussions in the first place.
Samantha A. Meier ’12 and Abby P. Sun ’13 first hatched the idea of Sex Week while eating lunch during the summer of 2011. A big idea crafted over a small meal, it would lead to a media frenzy (Meier and Sun landed on the front page of The New York Times) and an event that would attract over 2,000 Harvard students and the sponsorship of over 21 student groups and administrative offices.
Meier and Sun strove to create an event that would showcase a wide range of speakers and include a diversity of opinions. Students would listen to sexologists discuss BDSM, hear a student speaker consider the ethics of porn, and engage in a discussion with the Harvard Chaplains about sex. They would learn from a speaker about asexuality or head to the ubiquitous Female Orgasm Seminar, a previously stand-alone event that the two had helped plan.
Sexologist and author Logan Levkoff, who delivered last year’s Female Orgasm Seminar, characterizes her experience speaking at Harvard as “everything I could have hoped for and more.... I was delighted by the enthusiasm and participation.”
“It’s not how to give a great blow job,” Levkoff says. “This stuff forces us to consider who we are, how we were raised, how we perceive messages we’ve received or challenge them.”
Humbi Song ’13, the former president of the Radcliffe Union of Students, says that the organizers “did an incredible job last year.”
“The female orgasm seminar really pushed for an open, healthy discussion about people’s sexuality that sometimes can be lacking on college campuses,” Song says.
Although Sex Week was an overwhelmingly popular event on campus (one third of the undergraduate population attended at least one event) there are some who believe it is an inappropriate allocation of Harvard’s resources. The Harvard Society (formerly True Love Revolution), a student group dedicated to promoting abstinence before marriage, remains strongly opposed to Sex Week. The
Anscombe Society, which also promotes abstinence, chose not to participate in Sex Week both this year and last year despite repeated efforts to engage them in the events. Anscombe Society Vice-President for Events Jim P. McGlone ’15 defends the group’s decision not to participate in Sex Week.
“It’s an active promotion of an ‘anything goes’ mentality of sexual license and that is a message we are very concerned about. We think this has the power to do a great amount of damage to our classmates.”
McGlone went to the first event of Sex Week last year entitled “Spring Fever: Exploring Your Sexuality,” given by sexologist Megan Andelloux concerning sexual experimentation and “getting frisky.” McGlone says that he was “horrified, just horrified” by the discussion.
“I don’t think Sex Week provided a meaningful environment to talk about sex.... That has no place on my campus. I don’t want that on my campus. I don’t think that’s good for anybody,” says McGlone.
In response to such comments by the Anscombe Society Martha R. Farlow ’13, one of the co-presidents of Sexual Health Education and Advocacy throughout Harvard College (SHEATH), the group that Meier and Sun founded to put on Sex Week, says: