Legislators Attempt to De-Fund University of Tennessee's Sex Week

Lila Gray

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The 2nd Annual University of Tennessee Sex Week will take place from March 2-7, despite efforts by local legislators to have it cancelled, organizers insist.

UT Sex Week is produced by Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee (SEAT), a student-run organization that “strives to foster a comprehensive and academically-informed conversation about sex, sexuality and relationships in order to educate the student body and the Knoxville community.”

On Feb. 5, State Representative Richard Floyd introduced a formal joint resolution to condemn Sex Week, the House Education committee approved it and it is scheduled to be voted on by the full Assembly today.

With twenty-seven representatives and senators co-sponsoring the resolution, insiders expect it to pass. It states that the Tennessee General Assembly "condemns the organizers of Sex Week at the University of Tennessee and expresses its displeasure with the University for permitting Sex Week to be held on the UT-Knoxville campus for a second consecutive year."

Last year, after state legislators complained and threatened to stall the passing of the university's entire budget, university administrators de-funded Sex Week, withdrawing $11,145 in state money from the event. Student organizers forged ahead, using $6,700 in support from student activity fees to produce the first annual Sex Week.

Sex Week's budget is $25,000, and $20,000 of that comes from student activity fees as opposed to state funds, organizers reported. UT students pay about $300 per semester in student activity fees and 5 percent of that goes toward event programming.

Representative Floyd and his supporters insist that Sex Week doesn't deserve any funding, calling it an "outrageous misuse of student fees and grant monies."

"Because we live in an abstinence-until-marriage education state, most students arrive at the University of Tennessee with insufficient knowledge to make healthy sexual decisions,” said Brianna Rader, a senior at UT and co-founder and co-chair of Sex Week and SEAT. “Tennessee has some of the worst stats in the country for sexual assault, STIs and unwanted pregnancies. SEAT and Sex Week are correcting for a disparity in sex education on campus.”

Rader says that about 4,000 people attended Sex Week events last year, and SEAT did not receive any complaints.

"Unfortunately, this seems to be par for the course these days when students want to hold events related to sex and sexuality. If the university caves in to these conservative legislators, it will set a dangerous precedent for freedom of speech on campus," said Trisatan Taormino, sex educator, author and radio host, who Good Vibrations is sponorsing to speak at the event.

"College-age young adults are smarter than what the older generations give them credit for, and if they are asking for well-known sex educators to visit them and speak to their health and wellness then let them be, said Jackie Strano, Good Vibrations’ executive vice president. “This is censorship and limiting of free speech towards a population that is in critical need of accurate and helpful information when it comes to their bodies and sexual health.”

Rader encourages students and sympathetic citizens to sign the current petition to support students' rights to collect and allocate student activity funds and prevent the state government from interfering with that process. She says, "Unfortunately, the state is putting Sex Week and the university in a vulnerable position because of threats to cut the university's budget. Sex education is important on college campuses, and the state representatives need to realize there is a need for this type of programming."

Sex Week guest speakers include, in addition to Taormino, clinical sexologist Megan Andelloux, sex and relationship expert Reid Mihalko and more than two dozen others.

UT Sex Week features more than thirty events including a poetry slam, art show and various lectures on the intersection of sexuality with history, culture, religion, law and public policy.