Yale Bans Sex Week: Does Being a Porn Star Disqualify One from Sex Education?

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Nov. 11 2011 6:31 PM

Yale Bans Sex Week: Does Being a Porn Star Disqualify One from Sex Education?

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Adult film actor Ron Jermey, adult film actress RayVeness, and Steve Pearce pose for pictures at the Adult Video Awards.

Photograph by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Amanda, I totally agree with your thoughts on the unfair struggle that porn stars face in trying to change careers. After giving so many viewers pleasure, it’s shameful—and hypocritical—that we treat them like dirty tissues when we should be rooting them on to more sustainable employment in mainstream film or elsewhere. Indeed, one of the areas where some porn stars might be most qualified to work is sex education—after all, they’ve made a living in an industry where sexual health, safe sex practices and consent are of primary concern, if not always totally honored. Whether their experience was positive or negative, they can certainly speak to the importance of these issues; furthermore, there isn’t anyone better positioned to elucidate the key distinctions between pornographic fantasies and the poorly-lit, generally unglamorous realities of sex.

But even in this seemingly obvious field, porn stars are under attack. According to Jezebel, Yale University has just canceled their infamous “Sex Week” with the administration citing an over-influence of porn as the main reason. To be fair, part of the ban stems from the fact that Sex Week organizers may have received kickbacks from porn corporations, an accusation that if true, is definitely a problem. However, much of the anti-Sex Week sentiment seems to have been expressed as a general hostility toward pornography. One student organization, Undergraduates for a Better Yale College, had this to say to their classmates:

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Tell Yale that a pornographic culture does not create respect but degrades, does not build up relationships but undermines them, promotes not consent but the ugliest form of pressure, does not stop sexual harassment and the objectification of one another's bodies but makes us numb, blind, and indifferent to how we actually look at and treat others. Tell Yale that you want a campus marked by respect and love, full of flourishing friendships based on the acknowledgment of each person's integral value, relationships based on true love between partners — not transient lust — and a sense of familial trust between all students. Tell Yale to say "No" to Sex Week and all it stands for, because Yale can do so much better.

The central notion here—that porn must necessarily degrade, undermine and numb otherwise loving and sexually mature individuals—betrays a real lack of understanding about how most people use porn. Sure, there are cases in which viewers lose the ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality, but most adults do not. We lust over porn and then turn it off to (hopefully) lust over and love our actual partners. 

But that's all old hat. The real issue here is that critics believe that because many porn stars and industry professionals have been involved in Sex Week, the event is somehow privileging titillation over education. This dichotomy is false. It is entirely possible for an attractive female porn star to discuss the emotional issues involved in having multiple partners, for example, while also consenting to being eye-candy. These things are not mutually exclusive, and, really, probably work better together. I suspect that the organizers of Sex Week understand this; it’s too bad that they’re being punished for being so savvy. Hopefully the students will be able to find a way to continue their event in a more staid form without excluding those so perfectly positioned to share their wisdom. 

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

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