There’s No Reason Sex at Penn Shouldn’t Be Out in the Open

College students do it.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Ivy League Sex Showdown. In this corner, author Nathan Harden, whose new book, Sex and God at Yale, takes aim at the university’s sex education programming in an oddly humorless, stuffy way—especially considering Harden is a longhaired dude who looks like a roadie for Soundgarden. His challenger: Arielle Pardes, a writer for the Daily Pennsylvanian who recently proposed the University of Pennsylvania should sponsor its own “Sex Week,” following in the lusty footsteps of Yale, Harvard and other prestigious (and horny) institutions of higher learning.

This just in: Ivy Leaguers have sex, too! Organized sex-ed events like the one Harden rails against are nothing new, as a recent New York Times feature explained. The Times also makes a point that Harden obscures in his Daily Beast column—his alma mater didn’t actually sponsor its Sex Week, and the administration pressured student organizers to change the event’s name from “Sex Week at Yale.” Of course, those are the tiny details that get in the way when you’re trying to portray one of the world’s elite universities as a depraved moral sinkhole—and sell some books.

At Penn, of course, sex as a topic of both academic and prurient interest is nothing new. A few examples:

• This past spring semester, the Gregory House dorm sponsored a “Sex Education Quizzo” night. Aside from this guy’s Black Swan homage, it doesn’t look very debauched.

• The university’s Student Health Service developed a “Sex Camp,” which sounds like an ’80s teen comedy starring Phoebe Cates, but is actually an award-winning program focused on sexual health and the college “hook-up culture.”

• Some fellow named Al Vernacchio held a sex workshop on campus in February. That sounds rather shady, considering he looks a bit like your creepy uncle (a good rule of thumb: never trust a sex educator in pleated khakis). But Vernacchio teaches at Friends’ Central and spoke at the Ted 2012 conference, so he’s alright by me. Donations from the workshop also went to Women Organized Against Rape.

• Back in 2005, two students were spotted—gasp!—having sex against a dorm-room window. An eagle-eyed classmate snapped a blurry photo and posted it online, sparking a controversy over free speech and the student body’s apparent disregard for curtains and/or blinds.

• For decades, getting some beneath the Claes Oldenburg “Split Button” sculpture has been considered Penn’s sexual Mission: Impossible. It’s such a notorious bucket-list item that Penn’s gossip blog is titled “Under the Button,” and one of the campus’s 218 security cameras keeps watch for any horny daredevils.

DP writer Pardes makes a smart argument for what a Sex Week at Penn could look like—a fun, provocative event that would be more than just an excuse to invite Ron Jeremy to campus as a speaker. While Harden condemns Yale for encouraging what he calls an “intellectual joke,” Pardes points to a Yale lecture titled “A Philosophical Defense of the Sexual Counterrevolution,” and a panel at Northwestern on sex workers. That sounds serious to me. But again, Pardes is “just” a student journalist who’s not looking to spike her Amazon sales.

Scroll to the bottom of the Pardes column, and you’ll find two comments that sum up the debate. “Gary W,” who appears to be both a 1985 Penn grad and in denial, says he’d never send his kids to a school with a sex week. Then there’s “Derek,” who is probably an undergrad who took a brief break from web-surfing for porn to support Pardes by saying “Yes. Just yes.” Clearly, Gary W. has never seen HBO’s brilliantly cringe-inducing Girls, whose whip-smart recent college grads are nearly lured into creepy three-ways with an amateur DJ, endure emotionless sex with dull boyfriends, endure borderline abusive sex with asshole semi-boyfriends, and narrowly avoid a golden shower. Its creator and star, Lena Dunham—an Oberlin alumna—has been widely praised for her show’s realism. College sex happens, and judging by this show, it’s more harrowing than ever for young twentysomethings, who’ve grown up in a culture of Kardashian porn tapes, Internet smut and Teen Mom. If Sex Week helps one college student see the subject from a new perspective, or survive the car-wreck exploits depicted on Girls, then it seems like an event worth supporting.