The University of Tennessee hosted its sixth annual Sex Week on April 6-12, 2018. As has happened in the past, it came with a wave of criticism from students and lawmakers alike.
Sex Week is sponsored and run by the organization Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee, also known as SEAT. According to SEAT member Mykaela Tackett, the goal of Sex Week is to educate students and community members about sex in order to foster healthy relationships.
“Sex week is dedicated to providing a thorough sexual education to UT students and people in the Knoxville community through informative and entertaining events,” Tackett said. “It also exists to empower people through opening the doors to sexual expression and to raise awareness about issues relating to sexuality that people face.”
Once the week’s schedule was published online, many users took to Twitter to complain about the titles of some of its programs. Sex Week 2018 contained programs such as “Masturbation Nation” and “Sucking D and Licking P.”
The issue made its way to the Tennessee State Senate, where lawmakers such as Ferrell Haile expressed their outrage in the messages Sex Week teaches on campus.
“There’s an entire difference in free speech and free ideas and the exchange of ideas and debauchery,” Haile said. “Just evil debauchery, degrading the human spirit and human life into animal life. There is a fine line between free speech and allowing evil to run rampant.”
When asked about the names of the programs, Tackett explained that the names are carefully chosen to maximize student turnout.
“We need attendance to keep Sex Week alive on this campus, and we choose [the program names] carefully to try to ensure that we get people in the door so that they’ll have a chance to learn,” Tackett said. “The somewhat lewd or offensive titles make students laugh and get them in the door so we can have those conversations.”
This is not the first time Sex Week has caused a stir with the Tennessee state government. In 2016, the Tennessee government passed a bill prohibiting any state funds from going towards Sex Week. The bill also removed $100,000 in funding from UT’s office of diversity and inclusion as retribution for allowing Sex Week on campus. Sex Week, which is protected by the Campus Free Speech Protection Act, is now funded with student opt-in fees.
Despite the backlash, SEAT has never wavered and Sex Week has been constantly held in the face of criticism. As explained by Tackett, the only changes SEAT plans to make for Sex Week 2019 are to make it more inclusive.
“Next year, we need to foster more spaces for marginalized groups so they can have conversations and feel safe,” Tackett said.