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At Yale, True Love Week hopes to challenge Sex Week

Yale kicks off its controversial "Sex Week" event, which is billed as a way to promote sexual health through a series of speakers and workshops. This year, however, the event will have some competition from another student-organized event: "True Love Week." WVIT-TV's Jeff Saperstone reports.

As Sex Week 2012 unfolds on the Yale University campus boasting about 50 workshops on topics ranging from contraception and sexual harassment to pornography and online dating, a smaller series of events is branding itself as the alternative.

Sponsored by Undergraduates for a Better Yale College, True Love Week kicked off on Sunday with an event titled "What They Didn't Teach You in Sex Ed." Six other events focused on promoting fidelity and love will take place this week, leading up to Valentine's Day.

"We’re definitely smaller," junior Eduardo Andino, co-founder of the Better Yale group, told msnbc.com. "We don’t really need, I think, all that many events to get our point across. We want to treat sex with a little more respect."

Even just the names of some Sex Week events -- which include "Fornication 101 with Oh Megan!" -- are titillating, said senior Isabel Marin, a member of Better Yale.


"I look at these events and I’m just shocked," Marin told msnbc.com. She believes the sexual climate on the Yale campus is unhealthy, and Sex Week does nothing to improve it.

"They’re not conscious of how the hook-up culture negatively affects women," Marin said. "They’re not asking women to respect themselves more.”

 But Sex Week co-director Connie Cho told msnbc.com the events are focused on female sexuality, intimacy and desire.

“I think Sex Week is about diversity of thought and opinion and helping students to make sexual choices of their own," Cho said. She said she welcomes True Love Week as another voice on campus, but believes the series of events has too narrow a focus.

Andino, who has never attended Sex Week events, said True Love Week wants to emphasize the importance of love and relationships as part of a sexually active life. He said his group's beliefs are not religiously or politically based, but they hope to address the campus's "sexual obsession."

Sex Week has been a part of campus life at Yale since 2002, but it was close to being axed last year by the university administration. Undergraduates for a Better Yale College was behind a petition asking Yale to withdraw its institutional support of Sex Week by ceasing to provide university facilities for Sex Week events. The petition claimed Sex Week encouraged "an unhealthy obsession with physical pleasure."

Other U.S. universities--including Northwestern, Brown and Washington University in St. Louis-- host their own versions of Sex Week.

A so-called Advisory Committee on Campus Climate looked into Yale's sexual environment and issued a recommendation in a Sept. 15, 2011 report sent to Yale’s President Richard Levin. The committee was formed after 16 students filed a Title IX complaint with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights against Yale, alleging the university has a hostile sexual environment.

The committee alleged that in recent years Sex Week had lost its focus. "Although 'Sex Week at Yale' continues to promote consideration of some serious topics, like international sex trafficking," the report stated, "in recent years it has prominently featured titillating displays, 'adult' film stars, and commercial sponsors of such material. We recommend that 'Sex Week at Yale' be prohibited from using Yale’s name and any Yale facilities."

In response to the administration's threat to ban Sex Week from using the university's name or facilities, Cho said the organizers developed a new proposal in December 2011 to focus the events on "female sexuality, queer sexuality, and sexual health," rather than pornography.

While Sex Week was not banned, it's no longer allowed to use "at Yale" in its name. Events still take place on campus, Cho said, but receiving corporate sponsorship is now off-limits.

A talk featuring former porn industry actress Maggie Mayhem is one of this year's headline events, but Mayhem will sit on a panel with Cindy Gallop, founder of MakeLoveNotPorn.com.

“We’re giving students the opportunity to talk with someone who’s been in pornography to understand what the industry is like," Cho said. "It’s really about intellectual rigor, about investigating a subject.”

Andino said he wishes the administration's investigation into Sex Week had been more thorough. He believes this year's program is "a little more diverse, but it has the same theme and the same note."

"Some events are plain obscene," Andino said. "We shouldn’t promote destructive habits such as sexual addiction and pornography."

Both Andino and Marin made reference to Yale's "pervasive" hook-up culture.

“There is something wrong with our sexual culture," Andino said. He believes the school's hook-up culture is widespread enough that there’s a "weird pressure to be silent if you’re against it."

"Everybody agrees that this is an unhealthy sexual climate," Marin said. She said her own experiences with the hook-up culture taught her she deserves a better, more meaningful relationship.

But Cho said Yale has more than just alcohol and hook-ups.

"To make a generalization is to lose sight of what Sex Week can be," she said.

Yale University is located in New Haven, Conn. About 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students attend the university.

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