It makes me so sad that the University of New Mexico felt the need to apologize for offering sex education to students last month. They apologized because we talked openly about prevention of some very palpable threats to safety on and off college campuses.
We—folks from the Women’s Resource Center and myself—bring sex education from a place of empowerment, consent, safety and pleasure. That last one really gets some people angry, because they’ve been taught to never talk about sex in terms of pleasure. (God forbid people actually enjoy it!) It is a clear sign of where we are as a culture to see upper-level administrators publicly pull their support for the programming of UNM’s inaugural Sex Week.
Officials apologized after they say they received around 50 complaints from a few parents and anti-abortion campus groups. They complained because we used “provocative” titles that couldn’t possibly teach students anything other than pure hedonism.
Really, I’m glad they noticed. We made the lecture titles eye-catching on purpose. After years of hosting sex education, I know it’s pretty rare that you get 75 people to come to a class titled “How to Communicate for Better Oral Sex.”
So we had a bit of fun with it and used workshop titles that would get attention and draw people in, such as “O-Face Oral,” which was a student-led workshop with standing-room only. Reid Mihalko’s “How To Be a Gentleman and Get Laid” drew a similar crowd. We even held off-campus workshops not paid for by university funds to educate people on “Negotiating Successful Threesomes” and other topics.
We aren’t alone in understanding that comprehensive sex education can lead to overall sexual health.
The World Health Organization defines sexual health as “a state of physical, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality. It requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”
If UNM students don’t have administrative support to access healthy sex education, UNM is ignoring a (potentially) really important part of coming into adulthood. Not to mention, they’re sending the message that students’ sexuality is something to apologize for, that sex is dirty, and we don’t need to provide this type of consent training to students. Obviously, we do.
In mid-October, another UNM student was sexually assaulted at the Albuquerque campus. On Oct. 2, a student at Santa Fe University of Art and Design reported an incident of indecent exposure and threatening behavior.
During Sex Week, UNM released a Security and Fire Safety Report that showed a significant jump in reported sexual assaults on campus in 2013. In 2012, there were four reported cases, and in 2013, that number jumped to 11.
Even though conservative media like Breitbart and a group on campus called Students For Life had a field day by categorizing the effort as pro-abortion, many student groups have come forward to share their support for sex-positive events like Sex Week. Self Serve created a petition in support of Sex Week and received more than 1,000 signatures in under a week.
Then we got additional support when, at the end of October, both the Graduate and Professional Student Association and Associated Students of UNM passed resolutions in support of Sex Week.
I think Kat Haché said it best in an article about college sex weeks on the website Bustle. “The real danger here is not Sex Week,” Haché wrote. “The danger here is furthering the idea that sex is taboo and cannot be discussed in an open, frank manner. The danger is pretending that sex on college campuses does not exist. The danger is refusing to address issues like consent and boundaries when sexual assault is a reality for students… at universities across the country.”
We planned this event hoping it would get people talking about sex and sexual assault on college campuses. And we accomplished that goal. We knew some people wouldn’t support it, and that’s OK too. Now is the opportune moment for universities to embrace this type of education for the strides it can take to produce healthy, educated, well-rounded individuals.
This column was originally published in the Santa Fe Reporter on Nov. 4th 2014.