KNOXVILLE, Tenn.—The 2nd Annual UT Sex Week will take place at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville from March 2-7, despite efforts by local legislators to have it cancelled. Adult retailer Good Vibrations is a sponsor of the event, at which sex educator Tristan Taormino will speak.
UT Sex Week is produced by Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee (SEAT), a student-run organization that strives to foster a comprehensive and academically-informed conversation about sex, sexuality, and relationships in order to educate the student body and the Knoxville community. Good Vibrations, the legendary heritage retail brand started in 1977 by a family therapist with the emphasis of accurate sex education at its cornerstone is sponsoring Taormino as she brings sex positive information and empowerment to an adult population in critical need of sexual health and wellness.
"College age young adults are smarter than what the older generations give them credit for and if they are asking for well-known sex educators to visit them and speak to their health and wellness then let them be. This is censorship and limiting of free speech towards a population that is in critical need of accurate and helpful information when it comes to their bodies and sexual health. We know too well unfortunately what happens without education- unwanted pregnancies, transmission of STDs and STIs, date rape, shaming, suicides, and more egregious behavior and attitudes," said Jackie Strano of Good Vibrations.
Other Sex Week guest speakers include clinical sexologist Megan Andelloux, sex and relationship expert Reid Mihalko, and more than two dozen others. They will lecture on a variety of topics ranging from sexual health, gender theory, and hook-up culture to communication, consent, orgasms, and abstinence. UT Sex Week features more than thirty events including a poetry slam, an art show, and various lectures on the intersection of sexuality with history, culture, religion, law, and public policy.
On Febraury 5, State Representative Richard Floyd introduced a formal joint resolution to condemn Sex Week, the House Education committee approved it, and it is scheduled for a vote from the full Assembly today. With 27 representatives and senators co-sponsoring the resolution, insiders expect it to pass. It states that the Tennessee General Assembly "condemns the organizers of Sex Week at the University of Tennessee and expresses its displeasure with the University for permitting Sex Week to be held on the UT-Knoxville campus for a second consecutive year."
Last year, after state legislators complained and threatened to stall the passing of the university's entire budget, university administrators de-funded Sex Week, withdrawing $11,145 in state money from the event. Student organizers forged ahead, utilizing $6,700 in support from student activity fees to produce the first annual Sex Week.
This year, there have been similar threats behind closed doors to cut the University's total budget by millions of dollars if Sex Week goes forward as planned. Notably, Sex Week's budget is $25,000, and $20,000 of that comes from student activity fees—not state funds. UT students pay about $300 per semester in student activity fees and 5 percent of that goes toward event programming. Nonetheless, Representative Floyd and his supporters insist that Sex Week doesn't deserve any funding, calling it an "outrageous misuse of student fees and grant monies."
"Because we live in an abstinence-until-marriage education state, most students arrive at The University of Tennessee with insufficient knowledge to make healthy sexual decisions. Tennessee has some of the worst stats in the country for sexual assault, STIs, and unwanted pregnancies," said Brianna Rader, a senior at UT and co-founder and co-chair of Sex Week and SEAT. "SEAT and Sex Week are correcting for a disparity in sex education on campus."
Rader says that about 4,000 people attended Sex Week events last year, and SEAT did not receive any complaints.
"Unfortunately, this seems to be par for the course these days when students want to hold events related to sex and sexuality. If the university caves in to these conservative legislators, it will set a dangerous precedent for freedom of speech on campus," says Taormino, a frequent college lecturer and host of the radio show Sex Out Loud. "Every time I've spoken at a Sex Week, I've seen the dialogue around important issues increase dramatically. We must tackle these topics, however taboo. It's the only way we can move forward as a society."
Taormino will give her popular lecture on feminist porn on March 5 and hosts a sex and relationship question-and-answer session on March 6. Taormino's appearance is sponsored in part by sex-positive retailer Good Vibrations, and she will be giving away safer sex supplies to students while on campus.
Sexologist Megan Andelloux, who will discuss sexual pleasure and health in her March 2 talk and give her "Sexploration" workshop on March 3, said, "With only 22 states requiring comprehensive sexuality education in high schools, and just 13 of these mandating the medical accuracy of their sex-ed programs, our lack of educational conversations about sexuality are producing sexually unhealthy adults. To promote sexual health, sexuality education needs to go beyond the conversations about birth control and condoms. We need more public discourse about sex, not less! Sexual health is a basic human right, and through activities like Sex Week, the University of Tennessee and other schools are creating space for, and thus paving the way towards, a healthier United States."
"College is a time where young adults are supposed to be investigating new ideas, engaging in spirited debates, and exploring how they want to make the world a better place. Unraveling the cultural fear and stigma around sex and pleasure, and giving students accurate sexual health information and better communication skills is so important," said Mihalko, who will lecture on hook up culture on March 2 and sexual assault prevention the next day. "Sex Week is a student-driven event, programmed by and for students who tirelessly put together this diverse and robust line up of speakers and topics. State government officials shouldn't undermine them."
Sex Week co-founder Brianna Rader encourage students and concerned citizens to sign the current petition to support students' rights to collect and allocate student activity funds and prevent the state government from interfering with that process. She says, "Unfortunately, the state is putting Sex Week and the university in a vulnerable position because of threats to cut the university's budget. Sex education is important on college campuses, and the state representatives need to realize there is a need for this type of programming."
For more information, visit GoodVibes.com.