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Sex week at Harvard

It was bound to happen: Harvard, one of the oldest, most highly esteemed universities in the nation has launched, well, sex week. That’s a week of classes devoted to teaching students about hooking up on campus, “slut-pride” and the art of dirty talk.

Yale started an annual sex week back in 2002 and since then, at least five other college campuses including Brown and Northeastern have had them, according to the Yale Daily News.

The student-organized event at Harvard aims to provide a mix of sexual health topics like talking to your doctor about sex to an entire seminar devoted to the female orgasm. Legal topics like the ethics of porn and what constitutes affirmative consent (i.e. how much alcohol is too much) round out the program.


Still, given my health bias, I would have liked to have seen less comedy and kink on the program schedule and more about contraception and the rapid spread of throat cancers related to sexually-transmitted human papillomavirus. Having unprotected oral sex can transmit HPV from the genitals to the mouth, a fact I’m guessing many college students -- even those smart enough to get into Harvard -- don’t know.

“These HPV-related cancers have become an epidemic, and we don’t understand why,” Dr. Robert Haddad, chief of the center for head and neck oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School professor, told me in a previous interview. The vast majority of the throat cancers he treats are HPV-related where most used to be caused by smoking or alcohol abuse.

I think a seminar on sexually transmitted diseases, including information on signs and symptoms as well as on the HPV vaccine (which was just recommended for young men), might have been a particularly worthwhile addition to this program given that the organizers made room for separate sessions on sex toys and anal sex toys.


According to the website, Harvard’s sex week “intends to promote a week of programming that is interdisciplinary, thought-provoking, scholastic, innovative, and applicable to student experiences in order to promote a holistic understanding of sex and sexuality.”

Harvard students willing to take time away from mid-semester exams will no doubt get some serious and fun sex education from these seminars. If it gets them to open up about sexual health issues, especially with their doctors, I think sex week is a great idea.

But for next year, I say to the organizers and sponsors, which include the Harvard College Women’s Center and the Center for Wellness: Consider inviting some of Harvard Medical School professors, like Haddad, to give a more comprehensive education about sexual health issues.

Deborah Kotz can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.