Sex Week's Incoherent Agenda
By W. Benjamin Whedon Last year, a new student organization appeared on campus. Since its inception, the Sexual Health Awareness Group, commonly known as SHAG, has orchestrated a controversial new incidence on campus widely known as “Sex Week”, the second instance taking place earlier this year. Throughout the week, the organization’s efforts to promote this event were inescapable. SHAG members stationed themselves prominently in Elrod Commons, the usual lecture notices were posted in every building, and extremely crass promotional insignia were distributed to every dorm room and hung prominently in the Commons building. These encroachments on student privacy have raised questions regarding the University’s financial support for SHAG.
While the organization received substantial funding from an Avon Grant, a sizeable portion of its monetary support has came from University Administration. While the Executive Committee has denied SHAG any financial assistance, the administration deemed “Sex Week” to be worth funding. When questioned, the administration responded that the decision was made “...as part of our health education and promotion efforts to create a safe and healthy sexual culture for our community.” From the student organization’s acronym, it is reasonable to assume that SHAG and the administration share the same vision. It is odd, then, that the events of “Sex Week” were in no way aimed at the facilitation of such a societal development.
The stated goal of raising awareness regarding issues of sexual health is indeed admirable, also necessary given the social dynamic on campus. Had this year’s “Sex Week” explicitly focused on such an initiative, there would be little room for controversy. SHAG’s efforts on campus may even have been applauded. Instead, SHAG’s activities seem to take the form of a conscious assault on the traditional values of reserved sexuality and modesty. Given the overwhelming presence of the school’s “hook-up culture”, the point of such an initiative seems rather moot. Students that practice chastity or even monogamous, long-term relationships are decidedly in the minority at W&L. The ever-increasing presence of active sexuality in the campus social scene makes it all the more vital that actual issues of sexual health get the attention they need, a point both SHAG and the administration seem to have missed.
If the alleged goal of raising awareness was indeed their objective, the means of promotion served only to undermine such a dialogue. For several weeks leading up to and during “Sex Week”, the school saw a plethora of different and oftentimes explicit advertisements. While some were merely standard, tasteful lecture notices, the principal iconography was not so. The main advertisement featured an image of several disrobed students sitting on a bench with the words “Sex Week” spelled out on the backs. While the exposure of the bare posteriors could be presented as part of a sensationalism needed to fill lecture seats, it had quite the opposite effect. Though by no means blatant pornography, the image stretched the boundaries of social decorum and unsettled many students. I recall one instance in which I witness a group a group of prospective students visually and audibly unnerved by the prevalence of the iconography. A single instance of this banner alone may have been tolerable and could have had the desired effect. This attempt at advertisement was rendered entirely counterproductive by the widespread distribution of pamphlets trumpeting the image before every dorm room. Such an action can only come across as pushy at best, and invasive at worst. It further unnerved students but mostly importantly, it substantially undermined any dialogue that may have taken place. Hopefully, SHAG will keep this in mind when planning their events in the years to come.
While perhaps less detrimental to the organization’s efforts than the banner, the presence of SHAG members in Elrod Commons and their activities there did little to further their cause. From their station by the staircase, members of SHAG distributed pamphlets, candy, and condoms. Firstly, beyond any symbolic meaning it may have had (which if so represents an entirely different issue), their condom distribution was pragmatically superfluous. Condoms are already freely available in the student health center and on every dorm room hall. That additional administrative money would go to such an effort despite the pre-existence of exactly the same program seems wasteful and needless. That aside, it was not so much their intentions as their methods that worked against them. Aside from placing a serious damper on traffic through Commons, SHAG members were very insistent that passersby accept their offerings, to the point of severe agitation. In some instances, those that had the misfortune of making eye contact were physically obstructed. Had this all been presented in the context of preventing disease or pregnancy or promoting safe sex, some action might have been justified. However, for the entirety of “Sex Week”, I saw not one mention of the health benefits of using condoms or of the risk of unprotected sex. Again, in this instance, SHAG seems to have entirely missed its own point of creating “a safe and healthy sexual culture for our community.”
As part of the events of “Sex Week”, several lectures were hosted throughout. In these lectures, the defenestration of nominal objective is quite evident. Of particular note were the “Pelvic Motion Workshop”, the “Moral Defense of Promiscuous Sex”, and of course “I Heart Female Orgasm”. Of the primary events, few seem to have anything to do with the betterment of the sexual health of the student body. I had the pleasure of attending the lecture “I Heart Female Orgasm”. I found those presenting to be quite humorous and well-versed in the subject material. For approximately one third of the lecture, men and women (and transgender and questioning and undecided) were separated. We were given a brief spiel about how the rest of the lecture would be run and then allowed time to ask anything and everything we ever might have wanted to know on the subject. After that, the entire group reconvened and we shared what was discussed in each group. While little to no fault could be found in the lecturers’ methods of presentation or in the lecture itself, its subject matter alone raises questions about its relevance to sexual health. Many of the “Sex Week” lectures, indeed a majority of them, seemed focused more on the betterment of the individual sexual experience rather than the well-being of the student body in general. Hardly a benefit to the campus collectively, these activities were certainly not worthy of University funding and offered little that students could not learn merely by taking an independent study.
Most of us can agree that, as a community, the health of safety of our fellow students should be of paramount importance. With the growing trend towards sexual progressivism in the student social life, issues of sexual health become more immediate. For the benefit of our fellow students, the risks of certain, extra-curricular activities ought to be highlighted. The efforts of the Sexual Health Awareness Group (SHAG), while possibly bearing a semblance of good intention, resulted as counterproductive to their own true endeavors. Robert McNamara once said, “If we can’t persuade our allies of the merits of our cause, we had better reexamine our reasoning.” In the cause of student health, the administration and the student body stand united in purpose, if not in practice. SHAG may have had this noble interest at heart when preparing “Sex Week”, but the unnecessarily sensationalistic, seemingly hostile, presentation of their cause deterred many and undermined whatever positive dialogue that might have been achieved.