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Sex and Love at Yale

8:35 AM, Feb 11, 2012 • By THERESA CIVANTOS
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The issue hits close to home for Peters because her mother was a victim of rape at age 14, but wasn’t able to tell anyone about it for 30 years. “She raised us to tell her anything,” Peters said, “because she didn’t want us to suffer alone as she had suffered alone.” For that reason and others, Peters said, she believes that events like Sex Week will “be a force for good” on Yale’s campus. She hopes that Sex Week will provide “a forum, a safe place, a haven” for students to openly discuss sex and sexual issues.

To that end, Peters said, she originally asked the organizers of True Love Week to join forces. Sex Week, she said, is supposed to be “all-inclusive.” Because Sex Week is intended to be “beneficial and substantive for everyone on this campus,” Peters said, “we approached [UBYC] and asked them to be a part of this.”

But to the students of UBYC, joining forces with Sex Week would only be counterproductive. “Sex Week [symbolizes] the very attitudes we disagree with,” said Bijan Aboutorabi, representing as it does “a continuous and limitless expansion of the principles of the sexual revolution.”

True Love Week, its supporters say, is a countercultural challenge to the prevailing “casual sex” ideology on campus. “True Love Week shows there is an alternative point of view,” says Courtney McEachon, another organizer.

Challenging the campus status quo through traditional love and marriage is hardly unique to Yale. A secular organization called the Love and Fidelity Network is doing similar work on a national scale. “I think the battle is being fought at every university in America,” said Travis Heine, who helped organize True Love Week.

On many campuses, however, the fight for “love and fidelity” comes from religious rather than secular organizations, many of which offer a crucial sense of community. At the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, for example, there is a student residence, called the St. John’s Catholic Newman Center, which houses nearly 600. On an even bigger scale, the St. Mary’s Catholic Center at Texas A&M serves nearly 13,000 students. For undergraduates seeking to resist the dominant hook-up culture, the support that these and similar centers offer is invaluable.

Despite these pockets of support, a healthy sexual climate is still far from the norm at many universities. What's missing on college campuses, says Meg McDonnell, “is a healthy dating culture with understandable norms that allow young men and women to get to know themselves while getting to know other people in the context of looking for lasting love.” McDonnell, a Robert Novak fellow with the Phillips Foundation, has done extensive research on marriage trends among young Americans. Census data shows that Americans are marrying later and later, she says, and the campus culture is one reason why.

With wildly divergent understandings of what constitutes a sexually healthy environment, it's no surprise the two sides can't reach common ground. “One side sees the ultimate success in a relationship to be pleasurable sex,” McDonnell said. “The other side sees the ultimate success in a relationship to be an integrated relationship that encompasses mind, body, and soul, properly ordered.”

Then, too, there is the problem in even getting one side to listen to the other. Courtney Peters and a handful of others were willing to stay and give Esolen’s speech a fair listen, but the vast majority left immediately after the protest.

With True Love Week, Heine said, “we are literally offering a competing view, allowing a dialogue instead of a monologue.” But the dialogue ends when the kiss-in starts.

Theresa Civantos is an editorial assistant at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

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