Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Let's Talk About Sex (Columns), Baby

Savage Love

The Nation
reports that ever since Berkeley's "Sex on Tuesday Column" in 1996, students have been writing columns in the vein of what author Alex DiBranco calls the "student sex columnist movement."
At its core, the sex column phenomenon is a radical progressive movement in the sense of pushing against traditional silence and the status quo, which is a source of concern for many administrators, parents and even students. Challenges to the columns stem from a conservative mindset--whether that be political, religious or cultural.
The challenges, it seems, are numerous. Universities and state legislatures threaten to pull funding from campus media that publish sex columns. Ultimately, to me it seems like more expression about sexuality is a good thing. Sex columns, as trite and annoying as I often find them, sometimes do perform an important public service for people who feel alone in their sexuality. The good ones push conventional wisdom and social norms about what's "normal" when it comes to sexuality.

The Nation column pointed out that Dartmouth is a school known as a conservative campus, but the Dartmouth Free Press, a Campus Progress-sponsored publication, has been publishing a sex column for years.
The sex column entered the pages of the Dartmouth Free Press in 2004, when senior Sheila Hicks, sexual leftist and host of the campus radio sex talk-show, "In Your Pants," encouraged readers to send "the questions you probably wouldn't ask your parents or your clergy members" to Dartmouth's liberal, progressive and alternative biweekly. Clint Hendler, Free Press editor in chief during the latter half of Hicks's tenure, saw the column as "a way to put a thumb in the eye of campus elements who found a ready outlet in the Dartmouth Review for rather churlish and reactionary takes on steps taken by the administration and others to support safe sex and LGBTQ culture." Unsurprisingly, given the aesthetic of the paper, sex columnists for the Free Press tend to be more clear about having explicit political and activist motivations than those on campuses in general.

Heather Strack asserts in the Free Press, "A sex column is a significant statement of female rights. Not only am I a female columnist, but I am writing about a topic considered taboo and improper for a woman." Women are the main target of abstinence/purity movements; thus, even if most columnists do not state this as unambiguously as Strack, the campus sex column is not only about students seizing control but about hearing underrepresented voices. Though men are readers in equal numbers, the sex columnist is a (straight and queer) female-dominated profession, with a small minority of queer men.

It's true that not all sex columns are the same. Just as many are inspired by Sex and the City, Cosmopolitan, and Dan Savage (although Dan Savage's column is decidedly the most progressive of the three, since he actually acknowledges that non-straight couples exist), as they are by open and honest views of sexuality.

Sometime around my junior year (if I recall correctly) my alma matter's campus daily began publishing "Dr. Date," a letter response column that reads like a more inane version of Savage Love. The column, as I remember it, was awfully relationship focused and took more of an opportunity to snark than it did to educate.

Cross posted.

1 comment:

Ariel said...

Well, I'll say this- as great as Sex on Tuesday is (I grab the Daily Cal every day on the UCB campus to see what the topic is now) its quality depends on the author writing this term. In the past year it has encouraged non-consent, racism, heterosexism, cheating, and occasionally sex negativity.

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