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Speak Up for Sex Week

WRITTEN BY Lorae Deaton

Every March, when the weather finally fights its way back above 60 degrees and we can begin walking to class without three layers, UTK hosts its most controversial student event: Sex Week. 

Hosted by Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee (SEAT), Sex Week provides an opportunity for open discussion about sex and sexuality, as well as comprehensive educational events on consent, sexual health and safety.

In 2022, we celebrate a decade of free, open and honest conversations about the obstacles we face on campus and how we can make a safer, more educated environment as students. The past decade has seen wins and losses for free speech and safe sex education in both the state and federal spheres — Sex Week, weathering it all, remains.

The idea for Sex Week on UT campus came to two Honors College students, Brianna Rader and Jacob Clark, in early 2012. UT had just hosted Megan Andelloux, a certified sexologist and sexuality educator whose frank discussion about sexuality, feminism and women’s sexual rights was received enthusiastically on campus. 

Rader and Clark recognized that there was a demand in the student body for a forum where they themselves could engage in the global discussion on sex and sexual practices. 

In early March of the same year, UT became one of the first ten universities in the United States to host Sex Week programming. It also, abruptly, became the topic of nationwide speculation.

A few weeks before the first Sex Week, an article by Fox News columnist Todd Starnes garnered nationwide attention over the programming, which included events discussing sexual pleasure and safe BDSM practices. Tennessee residents then decried the use of state funding to host Sex Week. 

Only three days before the first Sex Week events began, the University pulled over $11,000 in funding.

SEAT was able to raise the necessary funds in 48 hours; a testament to the present need on campus for open, academic discussion about sex. Events for Sex Week 2012 went on as planned, including discussions on consent, safe sex and women’s liberation. Students wanted a safer campus environment, and they were willing to — literally — pay for it.

In the decade since, SEAT has faced opposition from one side and vehement support from the other. 

A recent controversy has been SEAT’s alleged violation of Public Chapter 1066, a bill which ensured state funding could not be used to “fund or support Sex Week.” 

Though no state money has been directly used to fund Sex Week, Rep. Micah Van Huss argued that the use of university meeting places and buildings to host events constituted “indirect” use of state money. 

These allegations prompted an investigation into the allocation of university funds, and a decision that UTK would no longer directly allocate funds to any registered student organization, including SEAT. 

On the GoFundMe page for Sex Week 2020, the first Sex Week to occur after the policy change, SEAT described the situation:

“In years past, we have relied on the Student Programming Allocations Committee to receive Student Programming and Service Fees which covered speaker fees, travel and advertising costs. Following an investigation into our organization by the Tennessee Comptroller … that process has been eliminated.”

If you want to do your part to ensure that safe sex remains a safe topic for discussion on UT campus, make sure to show up and show out at all future events. 

As students, we have the opportunity to play a role in the environment formed on UT’s campus. After a decade of fighting for our right to freely speak about issues important and relevant to ourselves and our safety, let’s actually use it and speak up for Sex Week.