Reflecting on Sex Week

On Saturday, March 24, 2012, as I sat amidst the boxes of condoms, lubricant, and T-shirts and piles of evaluation forms, posters, and flyers, I began to wonder what exactly I had gotten myself into. Harvard’s inaugural Sex Week, planned by myself and the rest of the board of Sexual Health Education and Advocacy throughout Harvard College, was quite an undertaking. The week included twenty-plus events put on in conjunction with over thirty different student organizations and offices attended by roughly 1,700 people in total.

SHEATH set out to promote discourse and community building around the topics of sex and intimacy on campus, and with the support and contributions of all the individuals, students, student groups, and offices involved in Sex Week, we succeeded. Again and again as I reviewed the event evaluation forms, I saw variations on the same theme: talking about sex is important, and there needs to be a space to talk about sex here at Harvard. What I have learned in the course of Sex Week, though, is that talking about sex represents something much deeper.

Throughout the week, reporters peppered me with questions like, “Do college students really need an excuse to be talking about sex?”, “Isn’t this just a week for sluts?”, “Why are there so many faith-based events? What makes you think faith has anything to do with sex?”, and “Aren’t parents upset about all this? What do your parents think?” I found myself having less and less to say in reply. It seemed as though the unspoken assumption on the part of many reporters was that young people have never considered what love and sex look like in their own lives except in the most casual way. The further implication was that college students have nothing meaningful to say on the topic. I disagree strongly with both of these assertions.

Living in Cambridge, even if you are only here during your time at Harvard, you will notice that American culture places strong emphasis on sex as a site of social and personal meaning. From Sandra Fluke to Rick Santorum, contraception to abortion, marriage equality to divorce rates, and sex trafficking to sex scandals, sex is a topic that is very much alive in our national consciousness. Sex is presumed to reveal deep inner truths about us all. The ways in which we negotiate sex, love, and intimacy in our lives are imbued with powerful social meanings. In talking about sex and its role in our lives, our underlying assumptions about the world and our place in it are revealed. Sex Week allows us to use talking about sex as a lens through which to examine our lived experiences and our intellectual, emotional, and spiritual frameworks for navigating our relationships with ourselves and others. Moreover, it allows us the unique chance to learn the ways in which other people do the same.

Before Sex Week began, I would glibly quip that as a graduating senior I was most excited for the Job Fair co-sponsored by the Office of Career Services. However, the event that ended up being the most meaningful to me was one of the smallest of the week—a luncheon held by the Harvard Chaplains with fewer than ten students (and fifteen chaplains) in attendance. I wound up in a small discussion group with a chaplain, my roommate since junior year, and a few other students who I had never met. In that hour, I learned more about the woman who I had lived less than 100 feet away from for two years than I had learned in our friendship up to that point. Our lunch was one of the most intellectually and emotionally rich experiences I have had during my four years here, delving deep into what defines us as people as we spoke about our loved ones, our childhoods, and our shifting, evolving beliefs, thoughts, fears, and hopes for our lives.

That, to me, is the beauty of Sex Week. I would never have learned these things about my roommate without the space to start a conversation not just about sex, but about all those other deeply personal issues that sex touches upon. From those who never step foot into a Sex Week event to those who attend each one, I hope that the Harvard community will find more ways to engage in the thorough intellectual and emotional introspection that examining one’s own relationship(s) to love, sex, and sexuality demands, and to build relationships with each other in sharing what we have identified in ourselves and our communities. During next year’s Sex Week, I hope you will talk about sex, but more importantly, I hope you will listen.

Samantha A. Meier ‘12 is co-founder and co-president of Sexual Health Education & Advocacy throughout Harvard College, the student-run organization organizing Sex Week. She is a sociology concentrator in Mather House.

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