It's March -- the time of year when high school seniors and their parents hover around the mailbox, hoping that Junior will grab a slot at the college of his dreams. For some, there's added anxiety. Their sights are set on one of America's most elite institutions -- Yale University, alma mater of three of the last four U.S. presidents and of three sitting Supreme Court justices.
Most Yale applicants, of course, will get the dreaded thin envelope -- a polite "sorry, no." But perhaps they need not regret losing the chance to drop $50,000 a year in a quest for intellectual stimulation within Yale's ivy-covered halls.
These days, you see, Yale is gaining fame for stimulation of a different kind. In classrooms where lectures on moral philosophy once got students' intellectual juices flowing, Yalies recently poured in by the hundreds to hear the likes of transsexual porn star Buck Angel, and porn icon Sasha Grey, winner of seven Adult Video News Awards, including "best group sex scene."
It was all part of last month's "Sex Week at Yale" (SWAY) -- a nine-day series of lectures and demonstrations that has been a biennial campus tradition since 2002. This year, SWAY featured a star-studded line-up of how-to-do-it experts -- the "it," of course, being everything any human being has ever found remotely sexually arousing, from erotic piercings to sadomasochism.
This being Yale, the week started with a veneer of academic respectability: a lecture by museum curator Katharine Gates (Yale '85). Gates has served as a curator -- not at the Smithsonian, but at the Museum of Sex in New York City. The author of "Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex," she presented a "video-and-slide-illustrated talk" on the Kinkmap -- "her ongoing project to collect and organize the world of sexual subcultures from Adult Babies to Body Inflation, Cannibal Play to Zoophilia," according to the Sex Week schedule. Nathan Harden, a 2009 Yale graduate who reported on Sex Week for National Review Online, explained that Adult Babies include "men dressing up like babies (complete with diapers)."
Anybody aroused yet?
Harden also reports that Gates' lecture covered "gay fur erotica" (any animal rights issues there?) as well as "sneeze fetishes."
Yalies eager to learn more could follow up with a workshop on masturbation, a "sex toy demonstration," a lecture entitled "Beyond Monogamy" or a seminar on sexual fantasies by Dr. Susan Block (Yale '77). There, Block handed out a video she said contained footage of an orgy she had held in celebration of President Obama's election victory, according to Harden.
Or students could attend "an interactive workshop on sexual self-realization," led by Diana Adams (Yale '01) -- a "sexual civil rights lawyer, polyamory activist, and national jiu-jitsu champion."
You might suspect that Yale's focus on sex is entirely student-driven. Not so. The university's administration is doing its best to ensure that the subject becomes a year-round preoccupation. In February, the Yale College Dean's Office announced a new "sex@yale" initiative. The project will be led by a 22-person advisory board of faculty and administrators. It will solicit essays for the Dean's website from students -- almost 100 so far -- who will "reflect anonymously on their sexual experiences at Yale and their impressions of the sexual culture here."
No doubt these student essayists will draw inspiration from Sex Week's other events. These included an "Erotic Bondage Suspension Performance" (moved off-campus at the last minute, according to Harden) and a "fetish fashion show." The fashion show -- held in Yale's dining hall -- featured erotic lingerie designed and modeled by Yale students. "The outfits evoked various role-play themes, including devil and angel, boss and secretary, and one that I can only describe as girls in leather with chains," according to Harden.
Sex Week's grand finale was a lecture by the 21-year-old Grey, described by the SWAY schedule as "one of the biggest names in porn." Grey is known for her on-screen performances of "consensual degradation," according to Los Angeles Magazine.
Is there any dissent at Yale? Any countercultural types, any rebels?
There was one. His name was David Schaengold, and the Sex Week schedule described his speech as "a philosophical defense of the institutions of marriage and the family," based on "a Thomist-Aristotelian argument about natural ends."
Natural ends? Philosophy? Marriage? How did this weirdo crash the party?
Schaengold is in the minority for now. Only a dozen students showed up for his talk, according to Harden. But who knows? After a few more years of men dressing like babies, and after sneeze fetishes have lost their erotic glow, more folks may give him a listen.
Katherine Kersten is a Twin Cities writer and speaker. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.