The Tennessee state Legislature has proposed "a resolution condemning the administration of the University of Tennessee for permitting 'Sex Week' to be held on the UT-Knoxville campus." In summary, the resolution expresses official "distress" over the "atrocious" program called Sex Week, which, according to the proposed resolution, "fits nowhere within the mission of the University of Tennessee, nor should it ever."
On behalf of Sex Week, our student organization SEAT and our supporters, we would like to express disappointment in the state Legislature's proposal and would like to offer an alternative perspective. There are facts that we cannot ignore. By the age of 22, 92 percent of Tennesseans are sexually active, according to the Kinsey Institute. While we make no effort to disrespect the decision that some have made to remain abstinent until marriage, we recognize that most have not.
Because we live in an abstinence-until-marriage education state, most students arrive at UT with insufficient knowledge to make healthy sexual decisions. Tennessee has some of the worst statistics in the country for sexual assault, STIs and unwanted pregnancies. SEAT and Sex Week are working to correct for a disparity in sex education on campus. The state Legislature may be "distressed" about Sex Week – we are equally distressed about the poor state of sexual health in Tennessee.
We are committed to comprehensive sex education. Comprehensive sex education requires in-depth discussions about different sexual choices and the associated physical and mental health repercussions.
This exchange of knowledge must occur in a sex-positive manner, meaning we regard all consensual sexual activities as fundamentally healthy and embrace sexuality as primary to the human experience. This must include a conversation about pleasure because that's a part of sexual health. Holistic sexual health has to be a respectful and positive approach to sex — inclusive of pleasure and safe practices and free of coercion, discrimination and violence.
Sex Week is not atrocious; we have a mission that serves an undeniable public health need.
The University of Tennessee, similarly to many of the nation's universities, suffers from a sexual culture fraught with stigmatization resulting in dangerous silence on health issues, severe sexual and gender oppression and violence. While we understand that our titles and marketing devices, openness and audacity may be discomforting, we are far from atrocious.
We choose to give the benefit of the doubt to our state legislators and believe they have the capacity and compassion to understand the importance and need for comprehensive and positive sex education. It appears to us that the motivation behind this resolution is related more closely to politics and power than substantive reasoning or values.
Sex Week was built and is reevaluated regularly to contribute to the mission of UT. Like the university at large, we wish to "move forward the frontiers of human knowledge and enrich and elevate the citizens of the state of Tennessee, the nation, and the world." Furthermore, a university is meant to function as a marketplace of ideas where thoughtful discussions can occur, and that includes important topics like sex and sexuality.
The resolution claims Sex Week "is an outrageous misuse of monies." As the editor of this publication has already calculated, Sex Week uses, at most, 0.27 percent of student fees. We can specify – UT collected $17.6 million in student fees in 2013, so Sex Week actually costs less than 0.15 percent of all student fees.
Does preventing sexual assaults, unwanted pregnancies, and STIs not deserve 0.15 percent of student fees? We're sorry to be the ones to have to inform the legislators of this, but your children, your neighbors' children and the college students of Tennessee are having sex. Someone has to stand up for their health, and Sex Week is willing to do so.
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 and conversations about sexuality are important on college campuses, and the state representatives must realize the need for this type of programming. We ask our supporters to please express your disappointment with the state legislators — call them, email them, write statements. If you do not, then Sex Week will suffer, the university will suffer, and the health of Tennesseans will suffer.