Harvard’s annual “Sex Week” came to a close on Friday. And now, two students are speaking out about its shortcomings, and offering a different perspective.
The week notoriously dedicated to open conversation concerning sexuality, which has been occurring on the Harvard campus since 2011, is apparently intended to promote “safe, well-informed, and pleasurable sexual choices” to college students, according to Harvard student Lita Peña.
Peña is co-president of the student-run organization Sexual Health Education and Advocacy Throughout Harvard (SHEATH), which sponsors and organizes Sex Week each year.
Events headlining the controversial week included “Bloody Good! An Intro to Period Sex,” “Hit Me Baby One More Time: BDSM in the Dorm Room”, “Sexual Fetishes A-Z,” and “One is Not Enough: Open Relationships, Non-Monogamy, & Polyamory.” Sponsors of the various talks included retailers of sex toys, condoms, and lubricants.
But not all students at Harvard were on-board with the week’s activities and overriding message.
In an op-ed published Wednesday in the Harvard Crimson, titled “Recovering the Beauty of Sex,” Harvard students Joseph A. Barisas and William F. Long proposed an alternative view to the consent-based conceptualization of sexuality promoted by SHEATH.
Barisas and Long are co-presidents of Harvard’s Anscombe Society, which describes itself as “a student organization at Harvard College that strives to present another option to our peers regarding sex-related issues, endorsing premarital abstinence and sexual integrity, and upholding the institution of marriage and the family.”
The brave student-penned article characterized SHEATH’s Sex Week programming as a diminished and oversimplified version of what sexuality ought to be. “What matters is not the act consented to, but the consent itself,” wrote Barisas and Long. “While consent is obviously essential to the very nature of sex, there is so much more to it than just a verbal assent extracted from the other party in order to do whatever one desires.”
The two students further claim that SHEATH has reduced sex to “a purely physical act whose primary function is to produce pleasure and satisfy passions,” and that the group avoids addressing the emotional and spiritual aspects that naturally accompany the experience.
Ultimately, Barisas and Long believe that this “hollowed-out” view of sex leads to “heartbreaking” consequences, which can be seen in a culture marked by one-night stands and hookups. The pair suggests, instead, the idea that “true sex requires genuine care for the other party and to have their best interest at heart.”
Far from shutting down open conversation surrounding love and sexuality, Barisas and Long hope to continue the discussion that began during Sex Week. To that end, the Anscombe Society has a number of public meetings and talks lined up at Harvard, including one Thursday evening with the world-renowned moral philosopher Dr. Janet E. Smith. Smith’s talk will be titled, “Why Sex is Complicated,” and is reportedly curated for both religious and nonreligious students. If nothing else, it will give students at Harvard something more to think about.
“Only when we take every aspect of sex seriously and consider it in its proper framing,” wrote Barisas and Long, “can we recover its natural beauty and value.”