In the opening weeks of fall, a number of colleges now feature what they call “Sex Week,” a week in which risky and irresponsible sexual behaviors are encouraged and even facilitated. It’s a trend many parents will be stunned to learn about—to unpack the phenomenon, today we’ll hear from Kara Bell. Read the interview, posted below, or listen on the podcast:
Trinko: So, you recently wrote apiecefor The Federalist detailing how colleges have “Sex Weeks,” where they promote behavior that’s, well, let’s say not what parents are probably anxious for their kids to learn while they’re away at college.
And you graduated this past December from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where you had your own encounter with a Sex Week-type activity. Tell us about that.
Bell:Stepping onto campus was kind of a shock. Within the second week of being in my freshman dorm, facilitators from the Sex Out Loud student organization, which is university-funded, rounded us all up, boys and girls, and had us sit in the common area and play a little fun game of Sex Jeopardy with a colorful game board, with categories such as sex toys and kink, contraceptives, myths, and sex positions.
I just remember looking around the group and kind of feeling so awkward … And everyone else did, too. It’s obvious with the faces of … my peers how uncomfortable they felt.
I even asked one of my friends recently, “Well, what was the one thing you remember most of this event?” And she said that she recalls that one of the facilitators was kind of elbowing at the guys and laughing along, saying that the best sex position is standing doggy style in the shower. So, it was so uncomfortable for us girls.
I’m from a very small town in Wisconsin. Very small public school, graduating class was 50 people. Our sex ed curriculum consisted of where abstinence was taught. So, going onto a campus where abstinence is seen only as a matter of a preventative measure against pregnancy rather than an option for having that sort of lifestyle, it was very eye-opening. And it was for a lot of my peers as well.
Daniel Davis: Tell us about this group Sex Out Loud. You said it was funded by the college administration. How did they get that sort of status and why did the school think this was a good idea to promote this to incoming freshmen?
Bell:Sex Out Loud is one of the highest-funded organizations at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, apart from Badger Catholic or the atheist, humanist, and agnostics group. And the majority of their funding goes towards sexual health-related programs.
But if you look at their table at student organization fairs and the type of programming that they have, that they travel around to freshman dorms and do, it seems as if all their money is spent on condoms. … And that’s the way they kind of promote themselves.
I remember the first month I was at school, we had the fall student organization fair. And there was a table that was at least piled 2-feet-high full of flavored, glow-in-the-dark, and colorful condoms.
I was walking past with some of my friends that I made that first week, and we were prodded into grabbing them. So, we were just awkward and trying to walk past. And the facilitators, which were older men, it was kind of weird, were like, “No, no. Come back, come back.” And they’re trying to put it in our hands. Of course, the freshman guys walking past were stuffing their backpacks full and making jokes.
So, while sex ed on campus is important, colleges should focus more of their attention on preventative measures and teaching students about the resources that are on campus that can help them rather than taking it 300 steps too far and making students feel super uncomfortable and promoting sort of a bizarre sexual behavior.
Trinko: It just seems obvious to me that if you haven’t met and you’re both drunk or one of you is drunk, how can you say there’s consent? … You barely know each other.
Bell:Yeah. I was in a sorority at University of Wisconsin-Madison, if you can’t tell.
Trinko: I could not.
Bell:And being in a sorority, it was required that we take at least two or three sexual assault courses, of how to recognize if there’s a sticky situation going on at a bar, how to rescue a friend, Green Dot programs, all of these preventative measures.
But then fraternities only needed to attend an event with a speaker talking against sexual assault. That was it. And really the same curriculum programming should be the same for both.
And I think … kind of having a different set of rules or guidelines for either fraternities or sororities and not really being as specific and clear when it comes to consent and sexual assault on campus has really hurt.
Trinko: And you would think, too, that most men certainly don’t want to commit sexual assault. You would think they’d be grateful to get like, “Hey, here are the clear lines. Here’s what you need to watch out for. Here’s signs that a girl is far too wasted to consent.”
Trinko: As we mentioned, you were recently in college yourself. And you work with college kids, it sounds like. … Do you think women are happy with the status quo in college? I ask because I know that as a 14-year-old girl myself, it was never like, “Oh, I can’t wait to go to college and hook up with some drunken guy who won’t recognize me in the morning.” What do women actually think about the status quo?
Bell:I hear this a lot from our students that reach out, and at our summits and campus lectures, this is always one of the main topics of discussion. It’s that a lot of young women feel that the traditional style of dating has been totally lost. And they feel like when it comes to dating, it’s more of just a “Let’s grab a drink” and then you’re expected to have sex with the guy by the third date. There’s always that by-third-date kind of thing, kind of narrative. And that’s really hurt.
Actually, one of the most requested speaking topics or kind of discussion topics we get from our young students is the topic of dating. Can we have a professional speaker come in and talk about the virtues of dating and the virtues of getting to know your partner and not placing so much of an emphasis on sex by the first date? Which is kind of the narrative that’s on campus.
The college administration, a lot of university-funded programs like Sex Out Loud, assume that all students are having sex by the first date. So, they act as if it’s a normal, routine, transactional thing when really that’s not the case.
Trinko: And I’m sure we have parents and grandparents listening who are having heart attacks right now and are very worried for their children going to college.
Did your parents give you any advice that you felt really helped you? Would you have any advice to parents, generally, about how do you talk to your kids when they’re still at home before they go off to college and maybe encounter a culture like this?
Bell:Yeah. That’s a good point because my parents didn’t even know about my experience freshman year until I wrote this article. Just because I thought it was normal on college campuses to have something like this and also it’s an awkward topic.
Trinko: Oh, totally.
Bell:I don’t want to bring it up at the dinner table. Also, if I told my dad, he’d be so worried, he’d pull me out.
Bell:… A lot of young students, particularly during freshman orientation, they’re faced with this sort of rhetoric where they are timid about sharing what exactly they’re learning to their parents.
Also, as a freshman girl, you’re stepping onto campus, you’re finally at the college of your dreams, you’re looking up to your professors, the older peers in your class, everything … It seems as if all this is normal and it’s expected, and you would be the odd one out, the close-minded one for saying something, the traditional one for saying something, although that’s not necessarily the case.
So, I would advise parents and grandparents or those related to a college student on campus right now to read the article, read more into this issue, speak to the student about their experience.
The Center for Conservative Women has a resourceful booklet, particularly for young women, young college women, of their guide to safe sex and how to properly care for their bodies. And it’s purely factual, of just, “Here are the facts. This is what you should do,” rather than all the mixed motivations and pressures that colleges and such programs and facilitators have.
Davis: Well, Kara Bell, thanks so much for writing the Federalist piece and for coming in and sharing your experience.