Cambridge, Mass. is about to become Cambridge, Ass.
At 5:00 tonight, as part of Harvard Sex Week, the storied institution will host “What What in the Butt: Anal Sex 101,” a workshop that promises to cover “anal anatomy and the potential for pleasure for all genders; how to talk about it with a partner; basic preparation and hygiene; lubes, anal toys, and safer sex; anal penetration for beginners, and much more!” Students can expect to learn “why people do it and how to do it well.”
Outraged critics believe these workshops don’t belong at the world’s finest university. At least one Harvard student is calling them “downright vulgar” on The College Fix, and many of the article’s reader comments are in agreement.
We asked Kirin Gupta, co-president of Sexual Health Education & Advocacy Throughout Harvard (SHEATH), which organizes Harvard Sex Week, to respond to the media firestorm.
MTV News: Why do you think Harvard Sex Week is making so many headlines?
Kirin Gupta: The past two years we had Sex Week, we didn’t have an anal sex event — but I think it’s something that was really missing. It’s part of a lot of people’s sex lives, but it’s something a lot of people don’t want to acknowledge because it’s not part of traditional heteronormative sexuality.
Saying we don’t need [the workshop] is like saying we don’t need sex education, or should have abstinence-only education, or that people should feel ashamed for doing whatever it is that’s part of their sexual practice. … The conservative backlash speaks to the latent homophobia that society thinks so often it has gotten over, and has not. It speaks to these residual prejudices that people [have] when faced with a reality they’re not willing to acknowledge or respect.
MTV: Is the workshop mostly aimed at straight couples, gay couples or both?
Gupta: It’s about the general mechanics. It is different for people of different genders, but it does address performing this act on anyone of any gender.
It’s also important that anal sex is not just penetrative — there are a lot of sex acts around anal anatomy. It is about a lot of different forms of how to do this safely.
MTV: It seems like, uh, “What What in the Butt”-stuff has become way more mainstream over the past few years. Why do you think that is?
Gupta: I can’t speak to the whole social trend, since I don’t have sociological research in front of me, but I do think people are more and more willing to talk about a diversity of sexualities and a diversity of sex acts and sexual practices. It is important to get an education and talk about your partner’s needs.
MTV: Do you think this workshop wouldn’t have been a big deal at any other school, but because it’s Harvard specifically…
Gupta: Yeah, a lot of times people forget that an Ivy League is also a college campus. There are young people here and they need sex education just as much as any other campus needs it. A lot of people think of Harvard as [having] old-school, ivory tower, Northeastern Protestant puritan morality — this abstinent or sexually repressed attitude toward intimacy. Part of why Harvard Sex Week exists is to open the dialogue about sex in whatever forms it is taking place.
MTV: How many students are attending the events on average?
Gupta: It depends on the workshop. We get anywhere from 12 to 200-250 people.
MTV: What would you say to the criticism that students could just Google this stuff, instead of having the university spend resources on it?
Gupta: The thing is people can Google only what they know they’re looking for. If you’re only looking for penetrative sex, you won’t find any information about the other kinds of pleasure-receiving that are possible. There’s so much on the internet that’s harmful or destructive — violent porn or toxic erotica sites — and it is not safe-sex education.
There is something to having someone in front of you, where you can feel comfortable and ask questions. This is something you shouldn’t have to shamefully Google in your room at night.
MTV: Are you getting any protests on campus, or is it just online?
Gupta: Not usually protesters. There is a fairly vocal group of abstinence-only conservatives, an advocacy group that does have quite a presence on the campus, and we have gotten a lot of backlash from those kinds of groups. There have been a few posters outside, but it’s not something where they scream at us — yet.
MTV: How would you respond to commenters saying this workshop is somehow evidence of America’s crumbling morality?
Gupta: I would say that the idea America has a crumbling morality, that we have some kind of morality that’s standing, is built on repressive patriarchal conceptions of sex and sexuality. So if that’s crumbling, then let it crumble.
But what’s important to me is to address our partners’ needs and engage in all of these acts safely, and respect our partners’ consent and talk about these things openly. And I think that, in itself, is a moral enterprise.
Head to itsyoursexlife.com for more facts and answers to all your sexual health questions.