In Junuary, a scandalized segment during the conservative Rush Limbaugh Show addressed an article in the New York Post announcing an April event at the University of Minnesota created to educate students about sexual health.
The event, which is free to attend (but not required), cost the university $3,406 to put together, a fact that the Post felt compelled to repeat twice before adding (in the tired style of panic-mongers all over the country) that it is not unusual for students to enroll in classes at the age of seventeen. Since, you know, talking about the female body and how to make informed sexual decisions is tantamount to corrupting the poor, unwitting 17-year-olds that have the misfortune of setting foot onto this den of iniquity called an educational institution.
Limbaugh, of course, took it a step further. From the show transcript:
You know, the press release here on the orgasm seminar at the University of Minnesota doesn’t say anything about lessons on faking it. Well, I assume it’s hands-on experience. How else are you gonna do this? But there’s nothing here about fake orgasms. And I don’t know whether they’re gonna be giving away cigarettes. Everybody knows an orgasm leads to smoking. Everybody knows that. I’m assuming that orgasms are covered under Obamacare. The cost of this thing, $3,406. That’s what it’s gonna cost the university. Why is this gonna cost anybody anything? It must be — the 3,000 bucks must be for the cigarettes, the postcoital tobacco bliss. Exactly right.
So basically, seminars that are meant to educate people about how to lead informed, healthy and sexually satisfying lives are a secret ploy devised by a national conspiracy of liberal universities who are in cahoots with Big Tobacco. First orgies, then smokes! Mind you, Limbaugh’s is the only site in this equation with the enormous header image featuring someone smoking.
We couldn’t make this up even if we wanted to. But just to be sure we covered all our bases, we reached out to Kaya Masler, the director of the Women’s Student Assembly at the University of Southern California, which kicked off its annual Sex Week yesterday.
Sex Week came to USC in 2011, when Emilia Ana Cosma — then executive director of the Women’s Student Assembly, decided students needed sex-related programming on top of the resources the school was making available through its Health Promotion and Prevention Services (HPPS). She wasn’t exaggerating — the same year that Sex Week first came to USC, the school’s campus paper Daily Trojan, reported concern from a HPPS employee, Christina Li, about the number of students who don’t seem to know that HPPS offers sex-related services.
The students who put together Sex Week believe that they are making it easier for students to know how to access existing resources to lead healthier sex lives, and creating an environment that makes them feel safer about discussing sexuality with partners, peers and counselors.
Throughout the year, the Women’s Students Assembly holds weekly meetings to encourage students to speak about their sexual experiences and ask for help when they need it. It also maintains a page online to continue the conversation after meetings end, as well as for students who can’t always attend.
“Many of the themes in this year’s Sex Week programming have developed out of discussions on that page and in those meetings,” said Masler. “For example, we had one discussion about USC hook-ups (both the rape culture-infested page on Facebook and the actual thing) so we decided to bring Laci Green in to host an event on healthy sex and navigating hook-up culture as a feminist. Overall, as a result of our discussions and our page, this year’s lineup has had an opportunity to be much more targeted towards the needs of the campus and also to gain more traction.”
As of today, the USC Sex Week page on Facebook shows that 659 people intend to attend. Yet despite the overwhelming evidence of support, Masler says that Sex Week has not led to any administrative changes at USC.
“I think there’s still an overwhelming lack of university-fostered discussion about sex in the open format that students need,” she said. “To the school’s credit, [the Women’s Student Assembly] is funded by a Student Programming fee that the university supports, and administrators do sign off on the expense requests for our condoms and presenters. However, we are still seeking to work more with the Office of Campus Activities because, despite our rapidly expanding network, we still can’t reach everyone.”
Masler thinks reaching more people will be instrumental to making USC a safer campus.
“I think that empowering people to talk about their sexual experiences and to seek positive ones is a really strong way to help heal from and prevent unwanted sex,” Masler told us. “Sex Week is so much more than condoms and sex toys. It’s about the joy and strength in sexuality that helps to fight oppression and build a healthier community.”
We couldn’t agree more. Can we stop with the panic-mongering and hand-wringing now?
Header image is a collage of a photo of Rush Limbaugh smoking (which is featured as the header image across his site), and a photograph by Courtney Emery.