The inaugural Sex Week at Harvard, a week of programming that is interdisciplinary, thought-provoking, scholastic, innovative, and applicable to student experiences of sex and sexuality from March 25-31, draws ever-closer. As the founders of Sex Week, we think now might be the time to revisit the rest of the lyrics of the Salt-n-Pepa song “Let’s Talk About Sex.” Who knew that, for instance, the next lines are “Let’s talk about you and me/ Let’s talk about all the good things/ And the bad things/ That may be?”
Just like the provocative hook of Salt-n-Pepa’s song is catchier than the rest of its content, so too is it possible to focus on the “Sex” part of Sex Week at Harvard without examining what the Week is really about. For us, Sex Week is not just about sex: It is about discourse as much as it is about intercourse. Harvard students are having sex, it’s true. Harvard students are also not having sex and choosing to be abstinent for a set period of time or until we enter into a lifetime commitment such as marriage. And, most significantly, Harvard students are already engaging in discussions about love, sex, sexuality, and relationships. These discussions may take place on HarvardFML, between friends, at the freshman dating event put on by the Center for Wellness and the Freshman Dean’s Office, or during section for Literature and Sexuality, Human Sexuality, or one of the other General Education classes that attracts students with the word “sex” in the title.
In fact, Harvard has a long history of talking about sex. In 1913, Harvard’s President Charles Eliot aided in the founding of the American Social Hygiene Association, an organization intended to fight the spread of venereal disease through sexual health education. A 1952 article in the Crimson advocating a sex education class on campus reminds us, “after all, just because a man has a Harvard education, he has no inherent gifts that enable him to negotiate sex and marriage alone.” As recently as 2002, Science B-29: “Evolution of Human Nature” (no longer being offered) was known colloquially as just “Sex.”
The problem may be, then, where, when, with whom, and in what contexts these conversations are happening. It has been our experience that dialogues about love, sex, and dating can end up being more like monologues, or conversations specific to a particular group or community, rather than applying broadly across campus. The Harvard community holds incredibly diverse values on, beliefs about, and approaches to love, sex, and sexuality. As evidenced by the plethora of media coverage on the “hostile sexual climate” at Yale, sex and sexuality remain pertinent topics of discussion on college campuses. Sex Week was started in order to engage with these contemporaneous issues. We have much to learn about ourselves and each other by talking about love and sex with mutual respect and eagerness to understand the views and experiences of others.
Indeed, our goals in planning Sex Week draw directly upon the mission of Harvard College itself. Harvard College “strives to create knowledge, to open the minds of students to that knowledge, and to enable students to take best advantage of their educational opportunities…. to rejoice in discovery and in critical thought; to pursue excellence in the spirit of productive cooperation.” Seeking inspiration from this call for students to come together and create the educational opportunities that are pertinent to our lives, the mission statement of Sexual Health Education and Advocacy Throughout Harvard College has similar aspirations: “SHEATH aims to unite diverse members of Harvard’s community...to promote open, honest, holistic, culturally competent, and inclusive sexual health education and discussion.” We believe that examining “common human experiences with love, sex, sexuality, and relationships” are vital to any education.
This vision requires being constantly attentive to the needs, desires, and wishes of the greater Harvard community. In planning the first-ever Sex Week, we have started conversations with a number of students and student leaders in organizations as diverse as the Harvard Environmental Action Coalition, True Love Revolution, Harvard Men Against Rape, Delta Gamma, Fuerza Latina, Harvard College Faith and Action, the Harvard Graduate Council, the Radcliffe Union of Students, and the Queer Students and Allies. To connect students to the resources that are already available to them, we have united with peer counseling groups and various Harvard offices, including Contact Peer Counseling, the Center for Wellness, the Harvard Foundation, the Office of Career Services, the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, and the Harvard College Women’s Center. We have solicited critical feedback and continue to do our utmost to address, as preached in “Let’s Talk About Sex,” “the good things and the bad things that may be” during Sex Week.
These conversations should be not a one-time occurrence but continuous. We can always do a better job, and there’s always more to discuss. Our hope is that individual students will know where all available resources are located and that their worries, insecurities, and questions about sex and sexuality will be answered to suit their needs and concerns without judgment.
So, Harvard: Let’s talk about sex, baby, let’s talk about you and me.
Samantha A. Meier ‘12 and Abby P. Sun ‘13 are the co-founders and co-presidents of Sexual Health Education & Advocacy throughout Harvard College, the student-run organization organizing Sex Week. Meier is a sociology concentrator in Mather House. Sun is a visual and environmental studies concentrator in Winthrop House..