Sex Week: UK campus abuzz about birds and bees

Cryptic, neon green signs popped up around the University of Kentucky in recent weeks declaring: "Sex Week @ UK ... It's coming. R U?" — which has prompted both a buzz and some confusion around campus.

The inaugural Sex Week at UK kicks off Monday with a series of events, ranging from "Sex Toys 101" — a frank seminar about bedroom accessories — to lectures and panel discussions about religions' approaches to sex or ways to teach sex education.

All of the discussions and related activities, such as belly dancing classes and sensual poetry readings, are aimed at improving students' "sexual literacy," organizers say.

"Sexuality is something broader than just sex," said Jason Hans, UK assistant professor of Family Studies and faculty advisor of Sex Week. "We love the tease of talking about sex, but we don't like to talk about it openly and honestly and seriously."

The week long event will conclude Oct. 11, when men march a mile downtown in women's high heels to protest sexual violence.

Sex-themed weeks have become a trend on college campuses since students at Yale University hosted a series of lectures, discussions and events dealing with sexuality in 2004. Later this month, Indiana University will hold its second Sex Week.

While Sex Week at UK is an official student organization and received $700 from the Student Government Association, most of the money for seminars, between $6,500 and $8,000, comes from sponsor company Pure Romance, an Ohio-based firm that hosts sex product and education parties at private homes.

Brandy Reeves, a health education coordinator for Pure Romance, will conduct the Sex Toys 101 seminar, where she said she will explain different varieties of vibrators and go over the proper use of personal lubricants made from water, oil and silicon.

"We really just want to give them basic information about these items so that if tomorrow or next week or 20 years down the road they do decide this is something for them they have the information they need to choose the right product," Reeves said.

Reeves and other representatives from Pure Romance — which bills itself as "America's number one reason for a girl's night in" — also will host private sex product parties for women at seven homes and three sorority houses next week. Those private parties, which the company compares to Tupperware Parties, are not affiliated with the university or part of the official Sex Week events.

Still, some have questioned whether a public university campus is the proper venue for any of the Sex Week events.

Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for the Family Foundation of Kentucky, said the seminars seemed to "trivialize" sex, particularly with a session devoted solely to sex toys.

"Maybe the organizers of Sex Week at UK ought to reconsider their slogan: Here's our suggestion: 'Silliness: the Ultimate Contraceptive,'" he said. "UK obviously has sex on the brain, which is a very uncomfortable place to have it."

Organizers stress that the event's focus is on fostering a better understanding of sexuality, whether its understanding sex's connections to spirituality or practical safe-sex information.

Barret Gargala, a senior family studies major and co-coordinator of Sex Week, said the events are more than a how-to course for students.

"They might be having sex," she said. "But they might not be informed about it."

Even the seminar about sex toys can highlight serious issues, because "using the wrong combination of lubricant and condom together can lead to condom failure," Hans said.

He said students come to campus with misconceptions about sex, even after taking sex education courses in high school. For instance, Hans is about to publish a survey of 500 young adults, of which only 20 percent considered oral sex to be sex even though sexually transmitted diseases can be spread during oral sex.

Many students said they're aware of Sex Week, thanks largely to the 500 neon signs organizers posted around campus two weeks ago — some of which were quickly ripped down.

Freshmen Ethan Ritter and Josh Bell said the signs caught their eye but they didn't know what it was about until they saw an event schedule Friday.

While neither were sure they'd attend, Ritter said he supported the premise.

"It needs to be talked about more," he said.