Let’s talk about it

(Zachary Schiller/YH Staff)

There won’t be “Babeland’s Lip Tricks: Blow Jobs and Going Down”—a favorite from Sex Weeks past—at this year’s Sex Week(end), but there’s plenty else to spike your interest. Spanning from Thurs., Feb. 28 to Sun., Mar. 3, Sex Week(end) is hosting a series of events meant to foster safe, open dialogues about sex on campus. “We want to create a space for people to engage with stuff they wouldn’t have been able to investigate in high school or haven’t been able to investigate in college,” said Co-director Hannah Mogul-Adlin, TC ’13, EPH ‘14.

The events will include a speech by Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, an OB-GYN and Cosmopolitan’s go-to sex doctor; “Demystifying Kink,” a presentation by Babeland, a feminist sex-toy company, on BDSM; and “Sex: Am I Normal?” with Dr. Jill McDevitt, an interactive presentation involving survey questions answerable by audience members with remotes. “The whole point is [to express that] everyone’s normal,” said Mogul-Adlin. “There are all kinds of ways to experience sex and enjoy sex. Yale generally has a very open and liberal attitude towards sex…but I don’t necessarily think there’s enough engagement with the problematic issues that still remain.”

Sex Week(end) closes on Sunday with three discussion sections led by SeLF, Yale’s recently established Sexual Literacy Forum. The topics include “Like a Virgin: DISCUSS (for the very first time),” “They did WHAT?! (Slut Shaming at Yale),” and “Getting Naked: Body Image & Sex.” The seminars, representative of SeLF’s new semester-long classes, offer an intimate discussion setting that Sex Week(end)’s larger presentations can’t deliver.

Founded last spring by Hannah Slater, BK ’13, and Paulina Haduong, BK ’13, SeLF began conducting seminars this fall in a format inspired by female sexuality programs at other universities. SeLF classes are semester-long weekly discussion sections led by two student facilitators, with a weekly-themed curriculum including “Culture, Body Image, and Desire,” “Masturbation, Pleasure, and Orgasm,” and “Violation of Boundaries.” “We were spending a lot of time talking to each other about issues that came up in our lives and those of our friends, like dangerous ignorance about birth control, racial fetishization, and sexual assault,” said Slater on her decision to found the group with Haduong. “It felt at times like we were the only ones thinking about these issues, but we realized that these types of conversations happen privately and separately all over campus,” she said. When the two founders heard about the Female Sexuality workshop (FemSex), a hugely popular student-led program at UC Berkeley that has spread to other schools like Brown and Columbia, they were inspired by the programs’ success in fostering the discussions they wanted to have at Yale. “We decided to start SeLF using their model of small, student-facilitated groups that meet consistently over a semester, but we adapted the curriculum to deal with human sexuality in general, rather than female sexuality alone,” Slater said.

Currently, there are four SeLF seminar sections. By the end of the year, over 50 students will have gone through the program (applications for next semester are currently up at, and its leaders hope to continue expanding its size in the coming years. “It’s a unique forum,” Cindy Ok, PC ‘14, a founding member of SeLF and current seminar facilitator. “At Yale, people are constantly studying the history of sex and the theory of sex. This is a safe space for people to talk about sex and sexuality while learning basic facts and rules.” Ok explained that, so far, the group has fostered fruitful discussions. “There are a lot of interesting interactions between different social groups, asking questions about everything from intellectual standing to personal preferences,” she said. “Everyone’s so on board, willing to give both cerebrally and emotionally.”

Though the groups contain members of both genders, representing a wide array of sexual orientations, they do tend towards being politically liberal. “We’re happy to have conservative and diverging opinions, but not a lot of conservatives have been drawn to the group,” Ok said. “Hopefully we’ll have more diversity moving forward.”

According to Brown’s FemSex webpage, FemSex first started at UC Berkeley in 1993, as a student-taught workshop for which participants received credit. In the years since, it’s inspired similar workshops at Carleton College, Columbia/Barnard, Cornell, Miami University, University of Buffalo, University of Nevada, and now at Yale. SeLF modeled its curriculum after Columbia’s chapter.

“FemSex at Columbia and Barnard is not yet a class that participants can get credit for,” said Adair Kleinpeter-Ross, who served as a facilitator in Columbia’s FemSex program. Despite its early difficulty in gaining official recognition as an undergraduate organization, Kleinpeter-Ross said, “FemSex has a significant following on campus, and our number of applicants grows each year, and is usually over 150 students.” She said that its growing popularity seems to have stemmed from how seriously the program is taken. “We expect our participants to treat FemSex like a class. We meet twice a week for two hours at a time, assign homework every session, and keep track of attendance,” Kleinpeter-Ross said.

In the past few years, there’s been a focus, at least by some on campus, on opening up a dialogue to discuss some of the same issues SeLF hopes to explore. “Title IX had an upside,” Ok said, referring to the complaints brought against Yale in March 2011. “It created a basic constant conversation about stuff that was happening on campus or wasn’t happening…I think people opened up to their friends more after these stories came up. I think that set us up for this forum.”

“I think we’re trying to address the same issues, just in different way. I think both are really important,” said Mogul-Adlin on the different opportunities offered by Sex Week(end) and SeLF, and the decision to combine the two for Sunday’s events. “SeLF creates a space for people to engage at a much deeper level. I’ve been to a few SeLF meetings and there were people in the group who had never had the chance to discuss these issues with people who had different experiences.”

In that vein, Haduong said, “I believe that a lot of issues around sexual culture on any campus stem from issues in communication. SeLF is really a place to start conversations, for us to explore our desires and communicate them more effectively to others, without fear of shame or judgment.” This seminar dynamic is inherantly different from the pyrotechnics of Sex Week(end).

Ok shared a similar sentiment: “Here’s a forum for learning directly from and with these 10 other people who not just come from different places than you, but from a whole set of different experiences, and opinions, and fears, none of which, somehow, act as barriers in between,” she said. “It’s a self-selecting group; these are people who are profoundly willing to share themselves intimately and thoughtfully hear out everybody else.”

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