The Sex Workers' Art Show returned for the fourth time to the College of William and Mary campus in Williamsburg, Va., this week. Described as an "eye-popping evening of visual and performance art created by people who work in the sex industry," the show has been touring the country (and particularly college campuses) for the past several years. A Duke student publication reports that the show begins with a cast member leading the audience in a chant of "'naked ladies.' The remainder of the event featured political statements, musical theater, a mild dominatrix act, the elaborate removal of clothing and an anal sparkler for the grand finale."
The college president wasn't thrilled about the show, but declined, as he put it, "to be a censor." Instead of forbidding the performance on campus, W. Taylor Reveley III insisted that audiences as well as those who find the show "offensive and degrading" participate in a forum to discuss issues raised by the show at its conclusion.
Here are a few ideas for discussion: Doesn't presenting such a show trivialize and possibly even encourage the degradation and exploitation of women inherent in "sex work" (aka prostitution in the real world)? How does presenting a show like this encourage the search for truth and knowledge that universities claim to advance?
Major universities now sport student-run porn magazines. According to The New York Times Magazine, Boston University students publish the "sex positive" Boink. Yale publishes SWAY, the acronym for Sex Week at Yale. What's that? It's "a student-run symposium held biennially there since 2002, with administrative blessing and a corporate sponsor, Pure Romance, a company whose representatives sell sexual aids for women at Tupperware-like 'parties'" (emphasis mine). Columbia has Outlet, which recently featured an article on "vaginal personalities." These magazines, the Times explains, "aren't so much answering the question of what is and what isn't porn -- or what those categories might even mean today -- as artfully, disarmingly and sometimes deliberately skirting it."
It's not actually too surprising that the kids are pushing the envelope into the porn world, because the atmosphere on campus is already a bacchanal when they arrive as freshmen. As Princeton professors Robert George and John Londregan recently wrote on The Public Discourse: