Yale University is arguably the most prestigious institution of higher learning in the United States, counting amongst its distinguished alumni five presidents and 19 Supreme Court justices, not to mention America’s most influential public intellectual, William F. Buckley, avatar of the conservative revival that shaped American politics for decades.
Yale has its pick of the youthful crop. So recurrent campus events that have the enthusiastic support of a critical mass of Yalies provide a window into the minds of the country’s future cultural and political elites.
Founded in 2002, and since then an increasingly successful biennial celebration, Sex Week at Yale this year featured 34 events, including presentations on kinks and fetishisms, an instructional seminar on masturbation and two presentations defending non-monogamous sexual relationships. The program was written up in the April 5 edition of National Review by former Yalie Nathan Harden (Buckley fans will love the title: “Bawd and Man at Yale”).
If there is an overarching theme to Sex Week, it might be that “nothing is forbidden.” Implied subthemes are:
– any student without sex on the brain 24/7 is pretty hopeless; and
– all sexual activities are ethically equal; their worth is proportionate to the intensity of physical pleasure they deliver.
A third of the 34 events were hosted by porn industry stakeholders. In 2008, one film’s graphic violence against women so unnerved organizers they stopped it mid-reel. They seem to have recovered: This year a porn actress specializing in sadomasochism showed a film in which she is bound and flogged (real welts appear), while her whipper taunts her with obscenities. Then the porn actress called for a female volunteer from the Sex Week audience, on whose inner thigh a male volunteer attached a string of clothespins ( “Put it on with an intention,” the actress instructed when he shrank from inflicting a cruel enough grip to cause pain).
The students making up the “rapt audience” for this display are unusually intelligent, mostly advantaged young people brought up in the most liberated sexual era of human history. They have been free from adolescence to engage in any and all sexual activity without guilt or—if they are prudent—fear of encumbering responsibilities or disease. Furthermore, these students all have access to porn and sex toys; they need no instruction in masturbation; they are but a short train ride away from a plethora of New York fleshpots. The Internet offers every conceivable attraction for private titillation. No student is prohibited from finding his or her bliss on or off campus. So why the need for a campus Sex Week?
Week-long campus festivals take enormous amounts of time and energy to organize. It makes sense to expend both on cultural or academic assemblies—fields by nature dependent on communal participation—but it makes no sense to organize a “conference” to facilitate group voyeurism into behaviours universally regarded as private.
Unless the purpose of the event is evangelical paganism. The hallmark of paganism is the repression of reason and the inflammation of sensation. Collective voyeurism serves to arouse even the most jaded sexual appetite, as well as cutting off any retreat into private moral judgmentalism. Once one has participated in group OrgyThink, one has lost one’s sexual honour and cannot easily regain it.
Sex Week, therefore, strikes me as nothing more than a forum conceived to proselytize the student body on the cultural virtue of dumbing deviancy down, and to shame students who adhere to traditional moral standards of reasonable restraints on sexual gratification. As Harden was told by one female observer, “It’s not Sex Week, it’s Have Sex Week.”
While the sadomasochism marketer was attaching pinching devices to her breasts, another presentation was in progress next door. A speaker invited by Yale’s Anscombe Society, a small campus group devoted to the cause of premarital abstinence, was explaining that the sexual revolution made “consent” the only moral test of a sexual relationship, ignoring the idea that “some sexual acts are incompatible with human dignity.” He asked the audience, “Can we move from saying what is permissible to asking what is right and what is good?”
Attendance at “Babeland’s Lip Tricks,” in which a New York stripper demonstrated oral sex techniques with rubber props for 90 minutes: 2,000 (more than a third of the undergraduate body). Attendance at the lecture advocating sexual restraint: 14. Yale’s motto: Lux et veritas (light and truth). Privilege of attending Yale in 2010: not quite as priceless as it used to be.