Sex is in the air.
With flyers sprouting up across campus displaying phrases like “everyone masturbates” and “having sex burns 300 calories per hour,” students have been gearing up for Penn’s first-ever Sex Week.
Starting on Tuesday, Penn Sex Week will aim to educate students about sex — as well as celebrate it. Modeled after similar programs at Harvard and Yale universities, the ultimate goal of Sex Week is to create campus-wide dialogue about a topic that some say has long been considered taboo.
“There’s so much people don’t know about sex, because they’re either denied the information or they’re too ashamed to seek it out,” said College junior Arielle Pardes, one of the co-chairs of Sex Week and a Daily Pennsylvanian columnist. “We’re moving the discourse away from just talking about hooking up over the weekend to more critical things, like criticizing the porn industry or talking about masturbation or writing erotica.”
The story of how Sex Week was made possible in the first place starts with Pardes.
In June 2012, Pardes wrote a DP column in which she called on Penn to host its own version of a Sex Week. Although she acknowledged that the University already has a number of sex education programs in place, she made the point that there has not yet been a forum for students to learn about sex in a more diverse, relatable way.
Soon after her column ran, Rabbi Joshua Bolton, Penn Hillel’s senior Jewish educator, reached out to Pardes, intrigued by her proposal. Over the next few months, Bolton worked with with Pardes to help turn her vision into a reality.
Today, Hillel — along with the Social Planning and Events Committee and LGBT Center — is one of the sponsors of Sex Week.
“I was compelled by her article and by what some of the other universities around the country were doing,” Bolton said. “Hillel sees itself as having the responsibility of asking students, Jewish and non-Jewish, to ask big questions. Hopefully Sex Week will ask some of these questions about a topic that’s often relegated to more superficial discussions.”
From a discussion on the ins and outs of masturbation to a screening of a film about asexuality, Sex Week — which runs through Saturday — is set to offer a wide variety of events.
“Our schedule really reflects the huge array of issues related to sex,” said College junior Ellie Stoller, another Sex Week co-chair. “Students don’t always want to hear about sex from a public health perspective. In my mind, this week is going to open up the dialogue about sex in a way that’s much more diverse, much more intellectual.”
Although Pardes acknowledged the controversy that an event like Sex Week can bring, she said she has heard nothing but positive feedback so far.
The same cannot be said for some peer schools’ events, however.
Last year, Yale’s Sex Week — which began in 2002 — came under fire after a committee appointed by President Richard Levin recommended that the event should be banned, claiming that it had strayed from its original mission on campus. Although Yale’s Sex Week went on as planned, the committee’s recommendations were at the center of a high-profile controversy on campus.
Earlier in March, the University of Tennessee’s administration pulled funding for its Sex Week, following complaints about the event by conservative lawmakers.
Logan Levkoff, a 1998 College graduate and former 34th Street sex columnist, believes the fact that Penn’s inaugural Sex Week has moved forward with virtually no controversy is a sign of how attitudes toward sex have shifted over the years.
“These events aren’t just about how to have good oral sex. That might be part of what a school’s Sex Week is about, but it’s much broader than that,” said Levkoff, who has spoken and written extensively about sexuality and will be leading a discussion on the female orgasm on Wednesday. “I think a lot more people are coming to understand that.”