Breaking news – students at this university have sex.
Some of them might even be doing it right now as you read this; others could be masturbating or watching porn, probably at the same time.
Though this may come as a shock to certain members of our noble state legislature, most students are probably aware of these undeniable facts of college life. There is one fact, however, that my fellow students may not know.
UT was ranked 121st out of 140 universities in a sexual health assessment conducted by Trojan Condoms, trailing fellow SEC schools such as the University of Georgia (12), the University of Kentucky (44) and the University of Missouri (43).
One of the assessment's metrics analyzed the websites of each school's sexual health center. UT's equivalent – the Safety, Environment and Education Center – lists the following statements, among others, under its Wellness tab: "Abstinence is good and can happen at different times in life," and "The difference between true love and herpes is that herpes lasts forever!"
If those two statements strike you as peculiarly ineffective ways to advise young adults about sexual wellness – especially at a school with a low score in the sexual wellness category – then you'd be happy to know that a group of UT students has organized Sex Week (March 2-7) to foster a comprehensive and academically-informed conversation about sex, sexuality and relationships.
You'd be less happy to know that a group of legislators in Nashville are working to shut Sex Week down.
Led by our own state Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, the group of lawmakers has raised concerns over state funds appropriated to Sex Week.
Some $20,000 are coming from the University Programs and Services Fee – a pool generated from each student's $275 paid each semester; another $5,000 was granted by UT's Ready for the World campaign; and the History Department offered $500 to bring the "AIDS Quilt," a transportable memorial to more than 94,000 victims of the world's deadliest sexually transmitted disease.
In short, Sex Week uses .27 percent of student programming fees to educate our state's students on the one thing human life depends upon, the one thing American culture – rightly or wrongly – values the most.
Sounds like a great idea, and not just to me. Four thousand attendees participated in Sex Week 2013, helping UT to join the likes of Columbia and Brown University (both in the Top 10 of Trojan's Sexual Health rankings) as one of the first 10 universities in the nation to hold an educational event about sex.
Subjects long held taboo – such as virginity, premature ejaculation, orgasms and sexual harassment – were explained by experts. Questions that needed more of a response than "Abstinence is good," were answered. For just a few days, the human sexual experience was celebrated, analyzed and respected as the vital biological and social tradition that it is.
So why are state legislators up in arms against Sex Week? Campfield and his cronies harp on its finances, but not a one of them seems to mind paying Butch Jones enough money to hold 120 Sex Weeks each year, so long as he gets the Vols to a bowl game come next January.
They also call into question the educational value of some of its programming, including lectures on pornography and female masturbation. But simply regurgitating the more traditional "birds and the bees" lecture no longer qualifies as sexual education. When we live with pornography constantly streaming, we should examine it; in a world of consistent sexual violence, independent female empowerment requires instruction.
These are issues that demand respectful, open and academic dialogue – not topics for the hushed, rushed confusion of bedroom whispers.
At the core of the political opposition, beneath the disguise of finances and programming, lies the expired validity of conservative ideology that would rather keep sex in the dark. We've seen it before in President George W. Bush's abstinence-only sex education in public schools and its subsequent failure to demonstrate a beneficial impact; we're seeing it now, in our own state, as Tennessee teachers face disciplinary action if they allow students to hold hands, kiss or hug – qualified in the state law as "gateway sexual activities."
Just last year, we saw this same issue – veiled under the auspices of state appropriations – force Chancellor Cheek to pull Sex Week's funding just two weeks before the events began. It was only thanks to private donations that Sex Week 2013 happened at all.
This year, Tennessee must fund Sex Week to demonstrate an effort to become a safer, more educated state. The current sexual education it offers seeks to repress, not enlighten. And that's not an education at all – it's reinforcement for a sex-negative culture that saw 28 female UT students report rape in 2012.
For those women; for the students having sex even now, as you read these words; for the sake of our health – UT needs Sex Week. And Sex Week needs you to defend it before the legislature tries to tear it apart, again.
Your state representative, Mr. Campfield, can be reached at (615) 741-1766, or by email at email@example.com.
R.J. Vogt is a junior in College Scholars. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.