Sex, Vagina, Penis

I had no initial interest in Sex Week.

When I first heard of the event in 2013, I assumed it was nothing more than a stereotypical sex ed program. The most impressive feature I could identify about Sex Week was its use of clever gimmicks to rope young college students into a room where they would probably be forced to look at pictures of STIs, reproductive organs and penis/vagina diagrams. To my cynical ears, which had primarily encountered abstinence only or fear based education, the informational panels were suspicious and the quirky events too vulgar for my Southern lady sensibilities.

Then I heard of the mounting controversy brought about by forces from Nashville seeking to protect my Christian morals from such heinous influences. Growing up in a culture which is fundamentally opposed to outsider intervention, my instinctive response was outrage and a mouth-frothing determination to do everything in my power to resist government overreach. How dare they insinuate that I was somehow too incompetent a Christian to determine for myself what was appropriate? How dare they lecture us on what the University of Tennessee Knoxville stands for when most have never studied under the banner of Rocky Top? How dare they presume to be better qualified to represent student interests than the student government which we elected? How dare they threaten to destroy my beloved university with their indiscriminate scorched earth strategy against student funded events? How dare they tyrannically try to cram their antisexual agenda down my throat? How dare they!

While I had little taste for any form of sexual education, no concept of sex positivity, and even less interest in exploring various forms of sexuality, I had a firm belief that meddling outsiders are to be resisted in the most excessive, self-defeating ways possible. Thus, I became an avid supporter of Sex Week UT for all the wrong reasons.

I spitefully ventured to a few panels and learned something phenomenal about the world: sex is not merely about sex. It is not simply reproduction, vulgarity, funsies, romance and STIs. Sex is about power, pleasure, gender roles, culture, religion, social structure, history, politics and so much more than I ever considered before. Going to Sex Week gave me the words I needed to identify the multiple, frequently contradictory pressures I experience as a woman.

Something about recognizing the role sex played in how I was defined by society was infinitely more empowering than all the girl-power, pro-feminism messages I have tolerated throughout my life. I am encouraged to flaunt my femininity for the sake of adding to the diversity of STEM degrees, and yet I feel a need to repress my gender in the male dominated field of chemistry in order to be taken seriously. As a Christian, I find the prospect of being able to tell my husband he is the only one I have shared myself with to be romantic, but as an educated girl on campus I should put out or else I am a prude who can’t think beyond my Bible. Is it truly free thinking if I abandon my religious notions of romance due to peer pressure? As a modern woman, I am supposed to confidently manage all of these expectations without giving in to the patriarchy. Sex Week gave me the tools I needed to admit I do feel these pressures whether I want to acknowledge them or not, and my sexuality and gender do affect me. Learning about sex as more than an act of reproduction gave me a context I never had before to truly examine what it meant to be a woman, and all the expectations which came with my gender. What a remarkable tool Sex Week gave me!

In 2014, I obtained a Sex Week t-shirt and proudly waltzed through rural East Tennessee in my skinny jeans, cowgirl boots, crucifix earrings and displayed the event’s logo for all the world to see. The outsiders have returned with a vengeance, once again antagonizing my instinct to fend them off with all the self-righteous fury and borderline hateful “us vs. them” mentality that my heritage has endowed upon me. Yet this time I am motivated by a profound sense of affection for Sex Week and what it stands for rather than my raw need to give a metaphorical middle finger to the insurgents from Nashville. This time I am pleased to actively participate in the events. I have even dared to venture into panels I suspected of vulgarity. Oddly, I have found myself both pleasantly surprised and secretly disappointed when they turned out to be educational and far from perverse. Perhaps a part of me was hoping to be shocked out of my comfort zone. Thus, when a young woman from rural Tennessee timidly approached me to inquire about my shirt, I did not flinch when she asked if I was a sexual deviant of some sort. I felt somewhat silly to admit I was not so worldly when it came to sex, and was truthfully a virgin. She was astonished that someone promoting Sex Week so openly and unapologetically was a virgin considering her assumptions likely reflected my own initial prejudices. When she asked me why a virgin like me was so thrilled to participate in an event like Sex Week, I told her that sex is about so much more than sex.

Everyone should learn how to talk about it.

Journey Towards a Healthier Sexuality


When I started college, I was not comfortable with my sexuality. My first sexual encounter wasn’t the awkward fumbling around of YA novels, but a violent depredation of my consent and my agency that to this day affects my ability to maintain healthy sexual relationships. The experience set me afloat in a confusing and vicious cycle of uncertainty. I never felt empowered in my sexuality; rather sex became an obstacle to overcome in relationships instead of a source of shared intimacy or pleasure.

No teenager wants to be burnt out on sex or have it seem like an obligation, but I never knew how to move forward because I never knew how to talk about my experiences. I was ashamed because I knew there had to be something wrong with me. I had an end goal of reclaiming my sexuality, but with no firm place to start and no resources to keep me going, I found I was never able to recapture what it seemed I was missing.

Nearing the end of my freshman year, I owe most of my progress towards a healthier sexuality to the existence and impact of Sex Week on our campus.

Sex Week has taught me that it’s natural to have questions and more than acceptable to ask them; that masturbation is self-care, not something to be ashamed of; that sexual exploration is an empowering and life-changing process. And most importantly, Sex Week has taught me the importance of communication and the power of my voice–in giving consent, in providing direction, and in asserting my opinion. I’ve become more comfortable in talking about sex, whether my experience with sexual assault or my sexual identity or just flavors of lube.

I’ve come to decide that healthy sexuality isn’t the end goal I initially thought it to be, but really more of a journey–it comes with wrong turns, missteps, and setbacks, but also victories and a few pleasant pauses to enjoy where you’re at. As Sex Week co-founders Jacob Clark and Brianna Rader get ready to graduate, I think it’s important that we thank them for equipping our student body with the tools to make the journey easier. Without Sex Week, I would not have made it nearly this far.

*Brianna and Jacob have graduated since this post was written; SEAT and Sex Week are also, like the author of this blog, incredibly grateful for their work and sacrifices, and wish them more than the best as they go on to their postgraduate lives.

I love your beard

by: third year UTK student

I grew up in a very sexually “vanilla” area of the Midwest, meaning that anything other than a husband-and-wife going at it in missionary with the lights off was a foreign concept to me. Cosmopolitan Magazine was where the devil had his vacation home, and homosexuality was worse than missing the perfect deer from your tree stand.

Living in such a sexually-deprived, rural wasteland made me under-develop my own sexual desires and fantasies. I knew I was attracted to boys, but the number of boys that weren’t related to me or my friends made my options back home limited. Needless to say, college has really opened my eyes to the world of sex and sexuality, and I’ve become much more open minded. However, it took me a solid year to fully accept things about my own sexuality, with a notable example being my… fetish.
Fetishes were something I always associated with creepy serial killers, like Norman Bates’ creepy Oedipus complex he has going on in Hitchcock’s classic “Psycho,” or weird body parts, like Quentin Tarantino’s foot fetish that prompts him to feature feet in every one of his movies. I never knew that “real” people actually had them, and I was scared that I was one of the “weird ones” that did.

I realized I had a thing for beards gradually, noticing more and more that my celebrity “10/10 would bang list” changed with an actor’s facial hair, with many gaining crush status when they grow their traditional “hiatus” beards or for movie roles.

Things really picked-up when I started somewhat-dating a bearded fellow my sophomore year. That’s when I realized how turned-on I was by the feeling of a beard, both on my face and in… other areas. 
I loved the prickly feeling and getting hairs in my mouth. I loved spending the next few days gently touching the parts of my chin and neck that had ‘beard burn’ with a thrill I had never experienced before. His attractiveness hinged on his beard’s status, and I would even bite it when we were fooling around.
Despite all the beard-lovin, I refused to admit that it was a fetish. 

“I just really like beards, okay,” I would insist. “They’re good looking and make men look lumberjack-ey”

My friends would roll their eyes and insist, “You follow multiple bearded models on Instagram and beard-centered blogs on Tumblr. Beards distract you from stories you’re telling. ‘No-Shave November’ is one of your favorite ‘holidays.’ You have a fetish.”

I was in denial, though. Which is sad; in actuality there is nothing wrong with a fetish. It’s just a person acknowledging the fact that something about a person or thing really just gets their sexual gears turning; they’re really just “super turn-ons.” The only thing they do is make a person more attracted to another person. They don’t make a person a serial killer or “weird.”

So join me: accept your fetish with pride and use it as a helpful tool in picking a future sexual partner. With all of the delectable options this university has, any criteria that can help narrow down the potential partner group is a plus. 

Oh and if you have a beard: call me.