‘Real Sex Week’ Gives Students the Information Their Universities Won’t

Frustrated by the misinformation about sex and relationships from ‘Sex Week’ on campus, students have begun to push back with their own events.

Students for Life UNM
Students for Life UNM (photo: Facebook/Students for Life UNM)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — “Real Sex Week” at the University of New Mexico recently offered college students something the last two “Sex Weeks” did not provide in years past: authentic, life-affirming education on sex, birth control and sexual assault.

“We want to offer real solutions to the real issues that students face,” Sade Patterson, president of the campus Students for Life chapter, told the Register.

Students for Life UNM decided to start their own week at UNM, after two previous “Sex Weeks” only served to promote abortion, condoms, multiple sexual partners and open marriages — one of them even provoked an official apology from the UNM administration.

But the people who had walked around dressed up as human genitalia were doing nothing to address the real issues students face at UNM, Patterson explained: such as what to do about sexually transmitted disease, providing support to students who become pregnant or supporting women who have been sexually assaulted. So the university’s Students for Life chapter decided that it would be up to the task of putting together “Real Sex Week.”

March 7-11, students at “Real Sex Week” workshops received information about the risks of hormonal contraception and learned about natural family planning — which is Church-approved — as “green birth control”; they heard testimonies from several women who had been pregnant during college, parented their children and obtained their college degrees; they heard talks about what to do after sexual assault and after abortion. The week capped off with Jesonna Ollis, a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter, teaching self-defense to women. Care Net also participated by providing a mobile unit from 10am-3pm for students seeking free and confidential STD and pregnancy testing.

Patterson said that Students for Life wanted to promote the dignity of human life, bring up issues that are not really talked about and present “alternative information that a lot of people don’t have.”

“Right now on our campus, sexual assault and other crimes are on the rise, and we want to combat that,” she said, noting that many women (and men) do not report their assaults.

“The ‘Real Sex Week’ is also very important, because we’re dealing with another thing that no one talks about, which is facing unplanned pregnancy,” she added, noting that society was giving women only these choices: drop out of school or have an abortion. Instead, Students for Life wanted to make women feel confident to make that choice for life and continue their educations. Patterson, who has experienced going through college as a pregnant and parenting student, said, “We want them to know that it is possible with support, and I wanted to highlight that.”


Culture of Encounter

Ignorance about what constitutes authentic, healthy sexuality, coupled with rising levels of sexual violence, may be one of the main drivers behind the “Sex Week” phenomenon on college campuses across the United States.

“Many campuses host ‘Sex Weeks’ under the guise of facilitating dialogue that will foster a safer, healthier sexual climate on campus,” Caitlin La Ruffa, executive director of the nonprofit Love and Fidelity Network, told the Register.

“However, the reality is they do anything but,” she said.

Instead, many times, university “Sex Weeks” have doubled down on the hook-up culture that is causing sexual chaos in students’ lives. Some of them have provided pornography screenings, “adult” toy fairs and presentations on sexual experimentation, with a range of deviant sexual behaviors.

This hook-up culture, La Ruffa said, “jeopardizes sexual health and safety.” It sends the message that sex is an expected transaction, and alcohol is used to get it, and she added that, together, these factors create an “environment of increased risk for sexual assault on college campuses.”

How Love and Fidelity’s student organizations respond to “Sex Weeks” depends: Some may see it as more prudent to ignore it and not give it more publicity, while others see an opportunity to get out there with their own message about true love and sexuality.

La Ruffa pointed to one case, where students at Yale organized a “True Love Week” after successfully lobbying the administration to kick “Sex Week at Yale” events off campus, which had been sponsored by pornographic and “adult” stores, and have the university’s name removed from that event.


Hunger for Truth

Having a presence at these sexual-awareness events can make a difference in the lives of students who are really searching for answers, according to Fellowship of Catholic University Students (Focus) missionary Sarra Stanley.

In Stanley’s first year as a Focus missionary, her team set up a booth for “Sexual Awareness Week” at Northern Arizona University. Stanley said their goal was to initiate a conversation with students about natural family planning and the health risks of hormonal contraception. Their leader hit on perfect the name for their presentation — “Green Sex” — and they handed out CDs of professor Janet Smith’s presentation “Contraception, Why Not?”

“It was an awesome week, and we got some follow-up conversations throughout the week,” Stanley said.

Without Focus’ “Green Sex” booth, however, the freshmen would have had only one other information alternative: Planned Parenthood.

“The students had to come to either us or them, and a lot of them came to us,” she said.

Now in her third year as a Focus missionary, this time at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., her new team put together a talk on contraception and the “Biology of the Theology of the Body” by Vicki Thorn, founder of Project Rachel. They called the talk “What You Didn’t Learn in Sex Ed,” and approximately 200 people attended. 

“We’re still having follow-up conversations from that talk, and that was three weeks ago,” Stanley said. Many of the women in particular had already been through sexual experimentation and multiple partners and were looking for real information on understanding their bodies and wanted to know the chemical, biological and psychological impact that sex has on the body.

But presentations on authentic sexual behavior are few and far between at university “Sex Weeks,” Stanley noted. She said that for every one of those, there are 10 organizations that hand out free condoms, refer to Planned Parenthood or extend invites to a performance of The Vagina Monologues.

However, she sees it as an opportunity to create a culture of encounter and to not be afraid to speak honestly about their own experiences when talking with other students.

 “It is just a matter of putting ourselves out there and making sure that we are a visible resource for them,” she said.


Different Responses

Love and Fidelity Network’s student organizations have hosted a variety of events, including lectures, debates, panel discussions, movie screenings and poster campaigns, to reach out to students with an alternative message to the hook-up culture.

“One of our recent campus efforts was a Valentine’s poster campaign that encouraged authentic relationships and healthy dating,” La Ruffa said. “Using the hashtag #BringDatingBack, we sent posters, which focused on specific dating tips in response to specific dating fears — for instance: that it’s too complicated, awkward, scary or old-fashioned — to nearly 40 schools.”

The efforts do have an impact. The network’s student organizations have received a lot of positive feedback, including from one atheist who said a talk on sexual ethics made him reconsider his negative view of Christianity, according to La Ruffa. However, not all feel that way. At Harvard University, she said, the #BringDatingBack posters had been torn down and replaced with a bag of condoms.

La Ruffa said students need authentic information, because there are potential life-changing consequences beyond graduation from having extramarital sex and multiple partners — and it is not simply sexual transmitted diseases or emotional distress.

“Students still believe comforting myths like ‘everyone will grow out of this when we graduate,’” which just aren’t true,” she said. “Many men and women find it difficult to transition from taking sex casually and rejecting commitment to cultivating a romantic relationship. The hook-up culture is simply radically opposed to those attitudes and habits that aid in the proper formation of romantic relationships and healthy commitment.” 

Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff reporter.