08.21.12

When Sex Isn’t Sexy: My Bizarre Education at Yale University

Porn stars lecturing on campus, rampant sexism, and Taliban in the classroom, are just a few of the things not so sexy about Yale University today argues recent graduate Nathan Harden. His new book is “Sex and God at Yale.”

What do Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Clarence Thomas, Sam Alito, and Sonya Sotomayor have in common? They were all educated at Yale. And what do porn stars Sasha Grey, Ron Jeremy, and Buck Angel have in common? They are just a few of the many sex industry personalities who have been invited to lecture or “educate” Yale students in the last few years.

When the average person thinks of Yale University, sex probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Nevertheless, in recent years Yale has positioned itself as a leader in a radical new form of sex education, complete with sex toy pageants, porn star lectures, sadomasochism seminars, and fellatio demonstrations. What does any of that have to do with the mission of Yale University? That’s the question I set out to answer in my new book, Sex & God at Yale: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad. As a recent Yale grad, class of 2009, I can attest—it wasn’t as exciting as it sounds. And as Yale’s example proves—being obsessed with sex doesn’t necessarily make you sexy.

Everyone knows that power is sexy. And Yale has plenty of that. But you know what isn’t sexy? Turning the training ground for America’s political and cultural elite into an intellectual joke. For instance, Yale has hosted talks by countless members of the sex industry, as if they were top academic experts on human sexuality, with no real counterexamples. The way I see it, a porn producer is about as qualified to lecture me on human sexuality as the CEO of McDonald’s is to lecture me on healthy food choices.

You know what else isn’t sexy? Sexism. I encountered plenty of that at Yale. During my time at Yale, the university hosted porn film screenings in its classrooms that included glamorized sexual violence and “fantasy rape.” Meanwhile, outside the classroom, frat boys were caught chanting “No Means Yes!” and “We Love Yale Sluts!” Yale has suffered a long series of embarrassing high-profile cases of sexual harassment and assault. Therefore, I was hardly surprised when a group of my female classmates filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights last year, complaining that Yale had allowed a culture of sexism and intimidation to persist on campus. It doesn’t take much to get from “fantasy rape” in the classroom to “No Means Yes!” on the campus quad.

These things happened, mind you, at a university that supposedly prides itself on its liberal concern for women’s rights. Never once did Yale officials have the courage to step forward and say that materials that glamorize sexual violence weren’t acceptable in the classroom. Instead, Yale officials claim that these things fall within the bounds of “academic freedom.” And they tried to wash their hands of it all.

That leads me to another thing that isn’t sexy—and that’s taking a really important job and then treating it with utter indifference. If Yale seeks to train our nation’s best and brightest, that implies a special responsibility to train them well. Since it has now become an unofficial requirement that you attend Yale in order to attain the highest levels of political office, that means that whatever Yale does with the young impressionable minds in its care has consequences for everyone in this country. As a student, I saw no evidence that Yale’s leaders take that responsibility seriously.

When I went off to college, I expected there to be a lot of sex going on. But I didn’t anticipate what a keen interest Yale officials would take in the private sex lives of students.

Like most people, I grew up thinking of Yale University as an elite, prestigious institution, dedicated to training up world leaders. I never imagined that those leaders would include a former official for the Taliban. Yet Yale officials had no qualms about inviting such a person to study at the university during my first year there. Thus, I had the absurd experience of sitting next to a former Taliban diplomat while his comrades were literally at war with my fellow countrymen. Imagine the diversity he brought to the classroom! We are talking about a regime that tortured women, executed homosexuals, and prevented little girls from going to school. Under Yale’s definition of academic freedom, there is no reason to exclude those who do such things. Moral relativism disguised as multiculturalism? Again, not sexy.

When I went off to college, I expected there to be a lot of sex going on. But I didn’t anticipate what a keen interest Yale officials would take in the private sex lives of students. And I was amazed at how Yale continually partnered with for-profit corporations in the sex industry.

Yale’s cozy relationship with corporate interests in the sex industry—including numerous major porn production companies and some of the nation’s largest sex toy companies—has been the backbone of its infamous “Sex Week at Yale” event for the past ten years. Other elite universities, including Harvard, Brown, and Northwestern, have begun holding sex-themed events modeled on the corporate-backed events at Yale. Yale’s leaders say that academic freedom requires them to allow these activities. But I think they need to learn a basic business lesson: When a company comes into a classroom to market and sell its products, that’s called advertising, not education.

Simply put, academic freedom isn’t the same thing as having no academic standards. No one, for example, would say it was acceptable for Yale to host a week dedicated to denigrating blacks or gays. That would be hideous, not to mention completely irrelevant to Yale’s mission as a training ground for future leaders of the world. Yale officials would never allow such a thing. So why should events that repeatedly denigrate women be hosted year after year?

Yale’s bizarre sexual programs—senseless and absurd though they may be—are really just symptoms of a deeper problem. The problem is this: Yale holds great power over American culture, but Yale’s leaders believe that “academic freedom” absolves them of any obligation to uphold the values and ideals of the nation over which they hold such immense power.