“We have but one rule - that every student must be a gentleman.”
— Robert E. Lee
The Sex Week Abomination

The Sex Week Abomination

Nathan Richendollar (’19)-

This past Wednesday, as is regularly the case, I guided a tour for prospective students and their families. A few families from Virginia were unfortunate enough to follow me for the better part of an hour. As Abraham Lincoln might have said, “I looked at them and they at me, and in that arrangement, they got the better part of the bargain.” Usually, tours are an event where I get to showcase my love for Washington and Lee, tell funny stories and historical tall tales, and they get to ask questions and get away from home for a day. Our commitment to student self-government, one of the things that so impressed me when I visited our university for the first time, usually factors prominently in the tour experience. But last Wednesday was different.

Three-quarters of the way into the tour, we entered Commons, and I had to open a door that had a sign reading “Sex in the Dark” plastered on it, as if W & L had begun offering Kamasutra to make up for the increased taxes on our endowment instead of scaling back our endless multiplication of unnecessary necessities like duplicate swimming pools, tennis courts, and a $13 million re-vamped CGL. Most of the parents caught sight of that poster. They saw another when, to avoid them seeing the massive Sex Week poster of naked students hanging on the Commons staircase, I took them out toward the library from D-hall and got to see another poster that proclaimed, “Sex in the Dark: Totally Anonymous…Experts will Answer All Your Questions,” or something akin to that. One of the families had a ten-year-old girl taking the tour with her older high school-aged brother. If I were a parent, that would have been the moment that W & L got crossed off our list as a place worth giving $260,000. Which is unfortunate, because Washington and Lee’s student body has voted Sex Week down every time they go to the Executive Committee for funding. Yet, they still put up banners courtesy of the Office of Student Affairs’s assistance. On top of a laundry list of other objections, there is a solid case to be made that the Office of Student Affairs is subverting our much-vaunted student self-government. On an issue so clearly about how our students want the university to project our image, an administrative nullification of our Executive Committee’s decisions is a blatant intrusion on our sovereignty and a violation of all we claim to hold dear. As long as we say on tours with a solemn face when speaking of the Honor System, “We take student self-government at Washington and Lee very seriously,” then when the student body’s representatives vote down funding for provocateurs, no should mean no.

Not only is this tradition distasteful, offensive to religious students (especially when done so close to Holy Week), a display of transhumanism’s haughty hubris, and just plain creepy, but it’s abominable business and a detriment to our university’s culture. It might be difficult for some to imagine, but the ostentatious and one-sided value system of Sex Week risks alienating talented and inquisitive students from the school.

Imagine this: the average bill for a W & L student over the course of their four years, whether paid by scholarships or parental cash or an admixture of both, is about $260,000. Sex Week runs for a week, and during a typical week, we run twelve tours of the campus (two per day on weekdays with two more on Saturday, not counting special tours). Assuming an average tour size of three families, we find that W & L has 36 families on tour over Sex Week. Suppose that 20% of these families are religious, or conservative, or both, and are not merely flummoxed at the posters (as nearly all are), but are ready to puke and make the decision then and there not to send their children here. That’s seven potential students lost per year, or a potential $1.62 million in lost revenue for the university every time the banners go up. That’s the low end of the range, and we haven’t even considered the loss of creativity and student diversity lost in the process. Those students wouldn’t have just contributed financially to the school, but they would have gotten so much from their education here, and if our current students are any guide, given so much back in intellectual and community contribution. We’re losing talent, money, and the core of what makes Washington and Lee go ‘round: intellectual curiosity and virtue.

For those who are incredulous that a student or parent would make rule W & L out based on Sex Week, let me just say that if I had toured the university during Sex Week, it likely would have been my last tour. I have heard a similar sentiment from many other students spanning the ideological spectrum, every single one who I have talked to, in fact. For people whose beliefs about premarital sex, or traditional values more generally, or even simple decency, the negative effect of a giant idol-like poster of scantily-clad (or unclad) students more than offsets any positive amenities they have pointed out to them. And to what end? What do we accomplish by holding a Sex Week?

The SHAG organizers would likely say that they’re “building a healthy sexual campus climate,” or “encouraging sexual experimentation” or encouraging “safe sex.” To the first point, we conservatives want a healthy sexual climate on campus, too, but we seem to have a huge disagreement over what that looks like. We don’t think that encouraging students to let go of their moral compasses and develop habits that objectify the opposite sex, decrease productivity, and empty the soul, is “healthy.” But we’re not puritans. We think a heathy campus climate on sex looks like this: I don’t have to hear about your sexual habits, and you don’t have to hear about mine. To the extent that organic conversation about them between students or student groups happens, it should reflect the truth of the matter and not one-sided propaganda that pushes people outside their comfort zone. There should be a general understanding that womanizing, or its reciprocal, is not the ideal for reasons practical, moral, and generally obvious. That is a healthy campus sexual climate. We agree with the general principle that people should be allowed to do what they want with their own bodies, but there is a vast chasm between that principle and agreeing that a certain mindset about sex should be promoted over the objections of our own elective government. To the second point, why is it the administration’s job, or the job of a student group, to encourage sexual experimentation? This is a highly personal matter that should stay that way, to be discussed with friends and family, not strangers disinterested in your future success and felicity. To the last point, does anyone seriously think that there is a single person at this school who isn’t aware of condoms’ existence or the fact that birth control pills prevent births? Give us a break. We’re spending money and driving away potential students to patronize our current students with the promotion of immorality that all the students already know about, with very few and very weird exceptions. This event is nothing but an emotional stimulus package for those who are feeling guilty for their promiscuity, a subsidy of sorts, a way of feeling validated by others when their minds and hearts are heavy. And as Thomas Sowell once said, “If you tax something, you get less of it. If you subsidize something, you’ll get more of it.” This basic law of economics applies as well to sexual habits as anything else, and perhaps more so.

How am I as a tour guide supposed to make my tour group believe everything I tell them about W & L being an institution steeped in tradition, civility, and respect with posters of naked students hanging around? It’s impossible to explain away but to tell the ugly truth to the tour group: a few on the far left think it’s a good idea to put up highly suggestive posters for a week in order that people might be encouraged to copulate more, host professors talking about their intimate lives, and give out sex toys just so the point sinks in, and the administration gives it a thumbs-up after the student body shoots it down every year. Since trashing the administration, deservedly or not, on tours, is not advisable, the question goes unanswered, though I can see the bewilderment in most parents’ and students’ eyes from that point forward whenever I give a tour during Sex Week. This nonsense needs to stop. “Self-expression” of personal sex habits is not worth nearly $2 million per year, nor is it worth the loss of credibility and respect suffered by the professors who participate, nor the damage to the university’s reputation, nor the sexual volatility intentionally stirred up in our student body, which creates jealousy, lower marriage success rates later in life, and an objectified view of both yourself and the opposite sex, which makes life less meaningful (this a rare area where left-leaning feminists and religious right-wingers usually find common ground on—objectification of humans is a huge net bad).

Additionally, there is a massive double standard at play here. Imagine what would happen if a conservative group held a whole week’s event, not for some middle-of-the-road economic cause, but for a core conservative cultural issue to show our “self-expression.” How about an “NRA Week?” I bet most of the nation thinks being a responsible gun owner is more morally acceptable than sleeping around or publicly encouraging others to rid themselves of their sexual inhibitions (contra Sex Week organizers). What are the odds of university funding for it? Low, to say the least. “Bible Week?” Not a chance. “Abstinence Day?” (that doesn’t require a week—it’s a more succinct message) Ditto. Let me state here unequivocally: I am not asserting that the university should fund any of these conservative moral statements, even though I think they’re much more worthwhile than a celebration of modernity’s terrifying emptiness. It’s not the administration’s place to promote a social agenda on campus, at least on fundamental moral questions, but if they’re going to fund one side, they should fund both.

And to the counter-argument that Sex Week isn’t about promoting a lifestyle, but about opening people’s minds to choices and thus doesn’t constitute a value statement, let me say two things. First, by that definition, NRA Week would not be promoting anything either. We’re not encouraging people to buy firearms necessarily, but merely showing them the options they have available should they choose to do so and offering them one-sided literature and discounts to buy said firearms. This is a nonsense argument. If it weren’t meant to influence things or portray a value statement, it wouldn’t be an event whatsoever. Otherwise none of the progressives reading this would be enraged by my suggestion of an NRA week—they know that such a public event, allowed by the university, means that our community must consider buying an AR-15 commendable, or at least acceptable, behavior. I’ll tell you what a non-value statement looks like: no posters, no flyers, and no events. In the case of guns, a lack of a value statement would look like: no posters with guns on them, no flyers, no events with guns for sale or gun catalogs. On sex, it looks like this: no posters with naked people, no suggestive flyers, no people trying to accost me with sex toys as nonchalantly as if they were selling tomatoes by the dozen.

The administration also posts flyers in the male bathrooms about pre-marital sex, how to avoid babies as a result, and talk about sex in purely recreational terms, as if the most consequential activity for the human psyche, body, and spirit requires no more thought than a fishing trip or an afternoon hike through Woods Creek. This, by the way, is nonsense, as anyone who has had premarital sex, or even pre-marital make-outs, knows. There are many more consequences, emotional and spiritual, to having sex with someone who is not committed to you than there are from deciding to watch Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back instead of Caddyshack on Saturday night. Sex Week, in coordination with the flyers in the bathrooms, are clearly intended to make a value statement by persuading those pesky holdouts of traditional values that they are outnumbered, that they are not cool, and that they are isolated. It’s peer pressure, except sponsored by the administration over the voice of the actual peer leaders, our Executive Committee.

By the way, what is a “sex expert”? Does anyone know what that means? We have extended politically correct language to dignify the overly promiscuous, to make them seem more dignified and normally adjusted and important. I would like to see a single American household that uses this language in its everyday workings. How stifling and sterile it would be for a wife, suspecting her “life partner of the preferred biological sex” of impropriety, to yell indignantly at him, “have you been seeing that sex expert down the street!?” What a sad state of human affairs for life to be so dry, so mechanical, so devoid of emotional expression in language. Why is it an obsession of the those who lean left to dignify or comfort those who do the most to destroy society’s supports (criminals, drug addicts, “sex experts”) and demonize those who adhere to a moral law greater than themselves, all the while speaking of tolerance?

Let me just close with a quote from one of our Founders, George Washington, whose name is still attached to this school and hopefully ere will, as the poets say. In his 1796 Farewell Address, Washington said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.” It is fine that many students here are not religious and believe that human sexuality should be unlimited, unmoored from child-bearing, and disconnected from all that makes our existence human. But it is not fine that we are subjected to their false propaganda every year over the objections of our elective student government without a countervailing force presented as an alternative. We should heed the words of Washington and at the very least: to not labor to subvert the happiness and virtue of our fellow students.

CORRECTION: Please note that the SHAG group, which stages Sex Week, does in fact receive funding from the Executive Committee ($350 the past two years and $500 three years ago), though according to a representative of the EC contacted directly by the writer, this a fraction of their request every year and they get most of their funding from Student Affairs. The writer of this piece was previously given false information by a source with regard to the SHAG's EC funding, and we apologize in spirit for this inaccuracy while standing by the rest of the article's content and broader message." 

The Shadow Government of W&L

The Shadow Government of W&L