University of Tennessee Students Plan Sex Week 2015 Despite Legislative and Parental Outrage

Sex Week 2015 will go on as scheduled the first full week of April on the Knoxville campus of the University of Tennessee, beginning with an art gallery show entitled “Butter My Biscuit.”

However, Sex Week is only happening thanks to a compromise between university officials and state legislators who threatened to pull funding from the university if the event was not halted.

Organizers of the event, which includes provocatively titled educational seminars on sexually transmitted diseases and sexual assault, say their elders have it all wrong. The students proudly proclaim sex is something to be celebrated, not hidden behind, well, closet doors.

There was not a bridge over that generation gap two years ago.

Parents and politicians were outraged with the first Sex Week in 2013 that featured events such as “The Golden Condom Hunt,” and a lecture from an expert in lesbian BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism).

It was the news of the lecture by lesbian BDSM expert Sinclair Sexsmith that really lit a fire under conservatives in the Tennessee General Assembly. Fox News Radio’s Todd Starnes wrote a column on it, and the story went national.

Even though Sex Week 2013 organizers countered by saying Sexsmith would be doing a poetry reading, not an actual demonstration of BDSM techniques and equipment — no lesbians would be spanked — the damage had been done.

The University of Tennessee pulled more than $11,000 in state funding from the event. Still, the week went on, featuring not only the Golden Condom Hunt, but also seminars entitled “Queer as a Bug” and the aptly titled “Getting Laid” event.

Sex Week 2014 didn’t make the adults paying for their kids’ University of Tennessee tuition feel much better, with a lecture on “lube as a tool of revolution” and health issues involved in “back door lovin’.”

State Rep. Richard Floyd (R) introduced a House resolution that branded Sex Week 2014 as “atrocious” and “an outrageous misuse of student fees and grant monies.”

Sex Week organizers said $20,000 of their $25,000 budget for the week came from student fees. The remaining $5,000 came from a University of Tennessee grant.

The Tennessee Senate passed its own resolution condemning Sex Week 2014 after Sen. Mike Bell (R) told his colleagues of a constituent’s daughter who was “attacked” by people dressed as  “genitalia” during Sex Week 2014.

The generations could not be more at odds on this event.

One student planning to attend Sex Week 2015 wrote on the event’s blog (blog.sexweekut.org) that she attended the 2014 event out of a sense of rebellion.

“Yet this time I am motivated by a profound sense of affection for Sex Week and what it stands for rather than my raw need to give a metaphorical middle finger to the insurgents from Nashville. This time I am pleased to actively participate in the events,” she wrote.

The student also wrote that not only was Sex Week 2014 not what her elders thought it would be, it also fell short of her expectations.

“I have even dared to venture into panels I suspected of vulgarity. Oddly, I have found myself both pleasantly surprised and secretly disappointed when they turned out to be educational and far from perverse,” she added.

Student organizers with the group Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee (SEAT) stressed on the U-T Sex Week Facebook page the event is not a wild five days of spring-break-like sexual cavorting without the beach. They said it is all about “promoting sexual health in an inclusive, sex positive, and open-minded manner at the University of Tennessee.”

“The dialogue we hope to cultivate will be LGBTQ-friendly, relevant to a wide array of audiences, medically accurate, held in a safe-space, and enlightening,” organizers also wrote on their Facebook page. “The event does not presume everyone is having sex, so Sex Week will include programming for people who are not sexually active.”

Perhaps that is true. But the event also includes seminars with titles such as “Batteries Not Included: Sex Toys and Pleasure,” “Your Hair Down There,” and “Road Head,” which is described in the Sex Week 2015 brochure as a lecture on the role of the automobile in American sexuality.

It has not been easy to put on Sex Week 2015.  In addition to resolutions roundly condemning the event, the Tennessee General Assembly approved legislation that would have severely limited how student-activity fees at all colleges and universities in the state could be used.

The bills’ sponsor, Sen. Stacey Campfield (R), agreed to withdraw the legislation after university officials agreed to a compromise that gave students the choice to “opt out” and divert their $20 fees from programs they didn’t like, such as Sex Week.

Sex Week organizer Nicky Hackenbrack, a senior majoring in biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology, told the Daily Beacon, a University of Tennessee alternative student newspaper, the new funding restrictions would hurt the 2015 event.

“Our events facilitate discussion and make way for the diversity of viewpoints on this campus," Hackenbrack said. "And we'll have a difficult time creating quality programming or bringing in qualified outside speakers with a shortage of funding."