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The Sex Week phenomenon in American academia got started in 2002 on the campus of Yale University after student organizers Eric Rubenstein and Jacqueline Farber teamed up with two sponsors, the Yale Women's Center and the Yale Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Co-op, to provide "an interdisciplinary sex education program designed to pique students' interest through creative, interactive, and exciting programming."
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The first-ever affair of its kind, it included a film festival, a "Sex and Entertainment" celebrity panel, and talks on topics such as "The Materialist Anthropology of Love and Sex," "The History of the Vibrator," and the curiously titled, "Sex with Four Professors." By 2006, Sex Week at Yale had swelled into something of an expo, with the inclusion of sex-toy sales reps, a panel of porn stars, and stripping lessons from a Playboy Channel hostess. A former Catholic priest's discussion on homosexuality added just enough religion to soothe the stray piqued -conscience.
Also in 2006, some 25,000 copies of Sex Week at Yale: The Magazine, underwritten by Pure Romance, a company that sells sex novelties, were distributed to sister Ivy League universities—"to bring the experience outside of just Yale because it's just that good," said then student director Dain Lewis. Contributors included talent from Playboy, Cosmopolitan, and Maxim magazines.
Seeds of a Counterculture
Meanwhile, as schools across America replicated Sex Week, two University of New Mexico (UNM) freshmen, Sean and Sadé Patterson, decided together to choose God over sin and were married in 2013 at the age of nineteen.
About three months after that, Sadé was walking through the student union one day when something unusual caught her eye. Sitting on a table was a very large, oversized picture of a fetus. The fetus wasn't fully developed yet, but it was a beautiful picture. Intrigued, she walked toward it and met Samantha, the founder and president of UNM's chapter of Students for Life of America. Students for Life (SFL), Samantha explained, is a pro-life group that helps women on campus. Every Friday they set up a table like this and offer pro-life resources, free of charge.
Sadé had never given much thought to social or political issues. Truth be told, she didn't even know exactly what it meant to be pro-life. But when -Samantha invited her to one of their weekly meetings, she accepted, and before long, both Sadé and Sean were drawn into the pulse of pro-life advocacy and ministry with SFL-UNM.
Right away they became invested in campaigning for a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks' gestation (their home city of Albuquerque is considered the late-term abortion capital of America), and Sadé also sought and received training in pro-life apologetics through SFL. She loved it all. After a season of personal bewilderment, she had found her calling.
Sex Week Meets the Students for Life
And so it came about that when the first "Celebrate Sex Week at UNM" was announced in 2014, Sadé saw cause for concern. "Since when," she asked in a letter to the editor of UNM's student newspaper, the Daily Lobo, "has it been a University mission to promote sexual behavior that can and often results in sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies?" And how exactly do talks on "How to Be a Gentleman and Still Get Laid," "Negotiating Successful Threesomes," and "How to Have a Good Orgy" contribute to UNM's stated goal of striving to "educate and encourage students to develop the values, habits of mind, knowledge and skills that they need to be enlightened citizens . . . and lead satisfying lives"?
They were good questions, to which the university did not provide good answers. But Sadé, who was by then vice president of SFL-UNM and pregnant with her first child, did something far more constructive than merely raise good questions. She and the UNM Students for Life mobilized to offer healthy, respectable alternative content to the objectifying and degrading UNM Sex Week lineup.
They hosted a table with resources on such -topics as STDs, birth control awareness, and pregnancy support services. A journalism major, Sadé served as media spokesperson and fielded inquiries from local news outlets. Overall, they received mixed feedback, but university officials did issue a campus-wide apology and said that they would not sponsor another Sex Week.
Self-Serve Sex Meets Real Sexuality
So with the university officially out of the Sex Week business, the following year UNM's Student Alliance for Reproductive Justice, Self-Serve Sexuality Resource Center, LGBTQ Resource Center, Planned Parenthood of New Mexico, and others hosted Sex-Uality Week to "provide comprehensive, educational and pleasure-focused sexual health information . . . without -apology."
This time around, Sadé, who was now president of SFL-UNM and mother to 10-month-old Daniel, went to work. She attended every workshop. Who knew the Bible supported abortion and homosexuality? That chapstick could double as lubricant, or that a porn star could double as a marriage advisor? The first Sex Week had been light on -education and heavy on sexual gratification. The second one was similar in content, only broader in scope. She found the whole affair very disheartening. But she had a plan.
Earlier that year, Sadé had attended an SFL Leadership Summit at the headquarters of Students for Life of America in Virginia, where she'd received top-notch training and had been challenged to design and implement a project to change the culture on her campus for life. As her project, she planned to put on a better Sex Week for UNM students—one that offered information from a diversity of viewpoints, not just the "anything goes," self-serving one. A real Sex Week would offer real solutions to real problems, she thought, so she named the event, which came to fruition in March 2016, "The Real Sex Week."
Here's how it played out:
Monday's talks covered the biology of sex—how sexual intercourse indelibly affects minds and relationships, and how the evidence suggests that our bodies were created to bond with one monogamous partner.
On Tuesday, detailed information about birth control options was presented. Success and failure rates of various hormonal contraceptives were relayed, and a segment called "Green Is the New Pink" presented Natural Family Planning and other environmentally responsible options.
Wednesday brought support for pregnant and parenting students, with information about ultrasounds and parenting classes, as well as encouraging talks by successful parenting students.
Thursday saw a sexual assault seminar and talks on post-abortion healing, and Friday closed out the week with self-defense instruction from two MMA (mixed martial arts) trainers. "Instead of hearing that most college men are rapists who need to be taught to control themselves, females in our workshop gained empowerment by learning how to fight off would-be attackers," Sadé wrote in a follow-up article at The College Fix.
In fact, everything about The Real Sex Week was designed to present full-orbed information and to empower students to make informed decisions about their sexuality. CareNet's Know Now mobile unit was present for two full days, giving free STD and pregnancy tests and referrals for treatment.
Predictably, there were detractors, but attendance was strong and most feedback was supportive. Sadé is now putting together a starter kit for students who want to bring a Real Sex Week to their campus.
Real Sex, Real Life
Hopefully, there will be many takers. Anything-goes sex is bound to pique interest and provoke excitement, so the degrading Sex Weeks will be with us for some time. But anything-goes sex is also, in the end, bound to disappoint. Because real sex, like real life, works best when people choose God over sin. And accordingly, the best way to celebrate sex—and enjoy it without apology—will always be to honor the author's design.
Fortunately for the sexually disillusioned, the Author of sex allows sexuality do-overs. •
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