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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Pizza, Pleasure and Parents (oh my)

I always thought my kids should know about sex when they were pretty young. I found out, too early, from my slightly older neighbor Richard Whiting, who also had access to his dad’s Playboy collection. That was followed by a very scientific discussion from my father involving diagrams, things that looked like tadpoles, and a drawing that appeared to show a wire that seemed to connect husband and wife while they slept. That reminds me, now, of planes refueling in the air. Though I have never seen a plane on the ground smoking a cigarette. It all helped me understand why I had a certain reaction when my teen neighbor Martine Gaitot wore a tube top.

My rule with all four of my kids was always this: I will answer any of your questions honestly but I will not talk about anything I personally did or didn’t do. I will just say “generally…” All that I will admit to is having had sex four times. That’s all one of my kids still thinks. Kids, by the way, are first appalled about what their parents did, then curious, and then grossed out. I hate to remind our students, but the majority of their parents have had sex. In any case, relax. Using the same philosophy I'll offer no no self-disclosures here.

As parents, we get to shape the opinions of our children about sexuality and the values or morals (if we think there are any) that we connect with it. They are receptive until they find out sex is “generally” pleasurable, and then they do what they want.  We mostly don’t want grandchildren until we are ready.

As I see it, there are two philosophies about sex. The first is that it is beautiful, intimate, soulful, private, and sacred, and often saved for marriage and maybe baby making. The second is that it is carnal, fun, exciting, and the more the better, and - probably not often - for baby making.

This past August we again promoted Trinity University’s Pizza and Pleasure programs, with guest sex therapist Cay Crow. These programs are generally about things I would rather not discuss openly: self-pleasure, orgasms, kinkiness, and Lady Gaga. Interspersed in these programs are messages about safer sex, sexual health, and respect for the person you are doing disgusting things to.

Personally, all of this except the pizza makes me a little uncomfortable. I don’t want to know what our students are doing any more than they want to know what the faculty and staff are doing – though we are likely doing it better.

Many see these things as educational. Students are having sex anyways. We know about half are based on surveys. We can also assume a portion of the rest want to, but can’t find anyone to participate. Which is why students throw parties.

This year, for the first time, I heard from several parents objecting to the programs and how they are publicized. These are parents who generally follow philosophy number one. They are not uber-religious moralists per se.  They simply wonder where is the balance in all of this? If we are teaching students which sex toys come in what colors why are we not teaching them that it is okay to not be hyper-sexual? That seems fair.

What about the possibility, they posit, that cavalier attitudes and promiscuous behavior comes at a price and with emotional baggage such as that discussed in Girls Uncovered. One parent argued that this leads to a campus culture that can make sexual assault an unsurprising outcome. That parent, by the way, isn’t saying that Pizza and Pleasure programs lead to sexual assault. Rather, by sharing only one side of the story on sexuality one could wonder whether or not we are we creating a culture that desensitizes and dehumanizes others.

The question then, for the University staff, is who will go to a program on not having sex? Just because parents want it (the program), doesn’t mean students will want to attend or be seen attending.  Such a program could be perceived as old farts preaching their own puritanical values. There must be a way to create this balanced message in a safe, interesting, and acceptable way. What about the students who want to learn about how to balance what they believe in their hearts, see with their eyes, think in their minds, and feel in their loins? Doesn’t the University have a responsibility to these students in the same way as to the ones who are going through sexual partners like candy?

Enter possible campus speaker Wendy Shalit. She is a mom and author, who even at 23 started to preach a different message as an alternative to the other view. Worried that she may be a far right conservative lunatic, I did a little research on her.  I learned she has had sex at least three times. I also learned that she presents the type of message that some of our parents would like us to provide: that it is okay to say no, to be a virgin, to in fact be a male virgin, and to connect values and sexuality.  She seems normal enough.

The counseling staff, which coordinates Pizza and Pleasure, is considering ways to present a balanced message as part of the series. Now Wendy Shalit has fallen into our laps. Weigh in on the poll at right about whether or not we should bring her to campus. More broadly, weigh in on the idea that we owe it to our students to balance our programmatic approach on sexuality and education by commenting below.

Some might argue that the University should stay away from any issues about sex all together. That might be simpler. However, with students peaking in terms of exploring their identity and values, sexual and otherwise, and with our educational role, avoiding the topic seems like ignoring it. After all, we are all adults here, aren’t we?  And who among us doesn’t like pizza?


Lily Gonzalez said...

LOL at the picture you chose.

David said...

You get me.

Anonymous said...

My actual vote isn't available as a radio button, so here goes...
Don't ask me, ask the students. If they want to hear from Wendy, then bring her in. I support your search for balance, but these young adults will let you know!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for making a difficult topic laugh out loud funny. I agree with anonymous. talk to the students and student organizations. Trinity has a little something for everybody.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for offering students a forum for discussion and an opportunity to share information about sexual relationships in a reflective, responsible venue. Rather than encourage students to engage, perhaps it will empower them to abstain if that is part of their personal value system. Sure, plenty of college students are hooking up, but let's also encourage them to have the conviction to say No.

Anonymous said...

Is this 1950? I can't believe that I am reading that parents of college-aged young adults object to their students taking part in the previous program (as you described it). I support the search for balance, but it feels as though you have overbalanced in an effort to cater to conservative values. Is this the way other important issues are addressed? I am sending my son to Trinity in the belief that he is being exposed to a broader world than he has previously experienced. I am saddened to learn that, in this, Trinity seems to be letting him down.

David said...

One thing I know is that I seem to have more parent readers than student readers. I appreciate that, and the diversity of opinion in trying to generate discussion on this topic.

Parent said...

I think that a balanced approach to this topic is necessary, as I believe a balanced approach to most topics is optimal. In order to help these kids think critically and make informed decisions, they need to hear both sides of the story, just as in a court room. Not every student wholly supports or engages in the pleasure side of the argument, just as not every abstains either. To engage or not engage in sexual activities is a personal choice, so it's prudent to educate them on their options.

Proud Trinity Mom said...

The last post was from over a year ago, so what happened? Was Wendy invited to speak?

Thank you.

David Tuttle said...

I thought I responded, but don't see it published. Wendy was a little pricey given we were able to work some new topics into the program. An updated post will be published soon!