Journalists sound off on writing about sex
Readers are consistently upset by writing about the 'mundane' topic
February 5, 2014, 11:05 pm · Updated February 5, 2014, 11:45 pm·
Let’s write about sex, baby.
Wednesday night’s FEMINISM/S “Sex in Journalism” talk at the Kelly Writer’s House tackled the complicated topic of writing about sex. Panelists included journalist Julia Allison, blogger Lena Chen, “Foxing Quarterly“online editor Kelsey McKinney and college media scholar Dan Reimold — all of whom have experience writing or studying dating/sex columns.
“For something as almost mundane as sex, there’s so much outrage, and people are so personally inflamed and offended that you would want to talk about it,” College senior Arielle Pardes said, who hosted the discussion and writes The Daily Pennsylvanian’s sex column, ‘The Screwtinizer.’ “It’s incredible actually how much backlash there was and continues to be over something that everyone does.”
Pardes was inspired to bring together this group of panelists after reading Reimold’s book, “Sex and the University: Celebrity, Controversy, and a Student Journalism Revolution.”
The conversation continued with an honest discussion of anonymity in sex journalism. Panelists spoke freely about the consequences their writing had on their personal lives, from dealing with their Google search results to having readers who violate their privacy.
“I had not started the column to get attention. I just started it because I wanted to talk about dating,” Allison said, who has written for publications like ELLE and Newsweek and is now working on her first book, “Experiments in Happiness.”
Chen, who started the popular “Sex and the Ivy” blog while studying at Harvard University, also talked about how the resulting publicity affected her relationships. Regardless of sex journalism’s potential repercussions, Reimold emphasized the importance of such writings.
“No one is talking about this … as we know, when the adult outlets try to write about what students are doing in their sex lives at colleges, they’re often getting it wrong,” Reimold said. “The columns are not only providing education but they’re doing it in a language you know.”
Although both Allison and Chen wrote under their legal names, McKinney and other sex columnists at The Daily Texanuse alliterated pseudonyms that allow them to take on different personas. Example bylines include Sexy Sally, who shares the straight female perspective, and Fabulous Frank, who shares the homosexual male perspective. Characters like these expand the current voices in sex journalism.
“There’s a lot of things I’d like to see featured more [in these types of writings], including a larger diversity of experiences,” Wharton sophomore and audience member Santiago Cortes said.
Reimold shared similar thoughts and explained that he believes LGBTQ student issues are the biggest area to be improved upon.
“Talking about it on a student level doesn’t happen,” he said.
Chen called the topic a “continuing conversation” and explained that she doesn’t know what having sex in college will be like five or 10 years from now, but that she hopes it will include more diverse conversations that include all genders and sexualities.
“Ultimately, a writer has a platform, but the purpose of that platform is not just to tell you about their lives … It’s to start a conversation,” she said.