Sex Educators Call Out the Chronicle of Higher Education

This piece also appeared on the Good Vibrations Magazine.

At the beginning of September, I wrote about an opinion piece published on the Chronicle of Higher Education website. The original piece, by Margaret Brooks, is a pretty standard example of how people attack sex education through fear, shame, innuendo and misrepresentation of the facts. And several of my colleagues and I responded to it. We also collaborated to write a letter to the editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education, which we sent them on Sept 16:

Dear Chronicle Editors,

We were deeply disappointed by your recent publication of economics Professor Margaret Brooks’ op-ed, “‘Sex Week’ Should Arouse Caution Most of All.” It is clear that Margaret Brooks has not only misrepresented herself, but also seeks to discount over 40 years of legal precedent upholding student rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. The policies she calls for attack academic freedom itself, representing a clear return to the pre-1960’s-era doctrine of in loco parentis. Moreover, her suggestion to use far-fetched “sexual harassment liability” as a stick to force implementation of her proposed policies is nothing short of outrageous.

In her article, Brooks displays willful ignorance or calculated deception by omitting important information related to Sex Week events, making the article little more than fear- and shame-based grandstanding. She writes that Sex Week events occur unbeknownst to staff and faculty, while failing to remark on her own correspondence with administrators at Brown University, who informed her of their approval of Sex Week after investigating her concerns. Brooks’ suggestion that the sole purpose of Sex Week events are to sell sex toys and pornography is incorrect and irresponsible. Readers need merely look at the schedules from various Sex Weeks to see that topics covered have included sex & disability, religious perspectives on sexuality, communication, transgender issues, critical evaluation of sexuality as portrayed in pop culture and pornography, healing from sexual assault, safer sex, and yes, even topics such as traditional families and abstinence.

When Brooks complains about a “lack of balance,” what she’s really taking issue with is a necessary attempt to restore balance to sex education for young adults, after the many years of abstinence-only education most of them have received during their younger years. While the purpose of an opinion piece is to present one particular perspective, given the flaws in Brooks’ argument, as well as her lack of credentials in the field of human sexuality, it is imprudent not to present an alternative perspective. Instead of offering a valuable contribution to the much-needed academic discourse on sex education, The Chronicle presents an anti-sex education bias unbecoming of a publication of record in higher education.

We, the undersigned, believe sexuality is a key component in literature, history, politics, religion, and popular culture–each of which are topics integral to the activities that Sex Week and similar programs bring to college campuses. Perhaps some people don’t think these are appropriate subjects for college students (most of whom are legally adults) to discuss in an intellectual setting, such as a college or university. That’s their prerogative. However, to suggest as Brooks does that these topics are unsuitable in and of themselves, that their mere mention warrants sexual harassment lawsuits, or that students be barred from exploration of such topics in pursuit of their own education, is nothing short of an attack on the fundamental principles of higher education and should have been seen as such by the editors of The Chronicle.

-The Undersigned

  • Logan Levkoff, M.S., Ph.D., AASECT

  • Charlie Glickman, Ph.D., AASECT

  • Megan Andelloux, AASECT, ACS

  • Shanna Katz, M.Ed, AASECT

  • Charles Moser, Ph.D., MD, FACP, Professor and Chair of the Department of Sexual Medicine, Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, in San Francisco, CA

  • Jennifer Giang, ASUCD Gender and Sexuality Commission, University of California, Davis

  • Caitlin Alday, ASUCD Gender & Sexualities Commission Chair, University of California, Davis

  • Laura Mitchell, Gender and Sexuality Commission, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, University of California, Davis

  • Jason Hans, Ph.D., CFLE, Associate Professor, University of Kentucky

  • Dr. Elisabeth Sheff, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Georgia State University

  • Aida Manduley, Brown University Class of 2011, Sex Week Coordinator and Chairperson for the Sexual Health Education & Empowerment Council

  • Caroline McKenzie, Ph.D. student, Women’s Studies, Purdue University

  • Dr. DJ Williams, Leisure Sciences

  • Elizabeth Anne Wood, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Sociology, Nassau Community College

  • Scott Elman, President of the Student Health Advisory Committee, Washington University in St. Louis

When we sent the letter to the Chronicle two weeks ago, we had sixteen signatures. And as Brooks’ complaints spread and was picked up by more news sources, more sex educators, colleagues, and allies joined us.

The reason that Sex Weeks are important is precisely because so many people such as Brooks respond to sexuality with fear, anxiety, guilt, and shame. So thank you, Margaret Brooks, for showing people exactly why young adults need access to accurate, non-judgmental, developmentally-appropriate, and comprehensive sex education.

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2 Responses so far.

  1. Thank goodness someone is thinking! And thank goodness we have educated sex educators. Bravo. And thanks too to Ms. Brooks for bringing this issue to the forefront. Hope she learned something as well. When it comes to sex, we all have more to learn.

  2. Maggy says:

    I work at a state university in Ohio. A few years ago the local Archbishop raised a big fuss about my institution’s sex week. A local “morality” group wrote several letters to the Vice President for Student Affairs that implored him to stop the University from exposing the students from depravity. Fortunately, we are permitted to continue sponsoring events that educate students on healthy sexuality. I was both saddened and angered by the whole incident. Many students come to us without this knowledge and they need to know the truth.

    Thanks for challenging the notions stated in *The Chronicle of Higher Education.* Shying away from teaching students about sex can have deadly consequences.

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