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Sex is here, get over it




February 28, 2007








It would seem that February fever is beginning to take its toll on what passes for reality these days.


It all started when the pundits of prurience and signatories to sexlessness discovered, thanks to a less than ribald librarian, that Susan Patron in her award-winning children’s book, “The High Power of Lucky,” used the word “scrotum” on the first page. Never mind that it was the scrotum of a dog bitten by a snake that was involved. No, the tut-tutters simply couldn’t abide the fact that children would come face to face with a word that identifies what anyone, young or old, can see on a male dog any time they care to look.. 


As a result, some libraries have banned the book for no other reason than its inclusion of a perfectly sound physiological term for a part of the male anatomy. 


As if that weren’t enough, when a story about the Sex Workers Art Show at William & Mary appeared in the Gazette two weeks ago, the truculence of the anti-cupidity crowd rumbled onto the paper’s opinion pages and into the Last Word with a vengeance.


“William & Mary has become a moral black hole,” ventured one Last Worder, while another wondered, “How would the college allow such a nasty subject to be the topic of its recent choice of shows? Sex work is nothing to be praised or studied.”  Still a third opined that “President Nichol invites the sex industry to preach to impressionable children.”


So inflamed has the spleen of the party-poopers become that those paragons of right-wing rectitude, The Washington Times and Fox News, have picked up the story and conjoined the sex show with the Wren Chapel cross flap to further rail against the satanic and libidinous ways of William & Mary president Gene Nichol.


Well, let’s get a few things straight.


To begin with, the sex industry, like the scrotum, is here to stay. And it is here to stay precisely because those who find it “nasty” have allowed it to accrue unto itself an almost unnatural erotic exoticism that exists only in activities forced underground. As long as we consider strip teasers,  prostitutes and sexually oriented body parts constituents of a “moral black hole,” so long shall we perpetuate and enhance the all too natural proclivities they represent.


Second, to categorize students at William & Mary as “impressionable children” is so far off the mark as to be extra-terrestrial. Having taught on the college level for 36 years, I can tell you that these kids know more about sexual activity, sexual diseases and sexual risk than older adults did at their age. In fact, I suspect that elementary school kids know more about sex now than I did when I was in college.


Parents should be delighted to have their children talk about scrotums, as opposed to using some of the other frisky terms bandied about on school grounds for the male and female erogenous zones.


Finally, Nichol did not invite the sex workers to the college this year any more than Tim Sullivan invited them in years past. Students at the college have their own funds for such invitations, and, as it should be, censorship of their choices is minimalized.


Yet there are some on the right who, because Nichol is an unabashed progressive and a member of the dreaded ACLU, are determined to thwart his successes by consigning to him an aura of moral incompetence and a lack of accountability.


Their conflation of the issue of the chapel cross with the sex workers is only one indication of the illogical associations formed in the minds of those who, like muckraking politicians, are determined to rely on ad hominem attacks and character assassination to foment a clamor for the removal of one of the most popular and forward-looking presidents the college has had in years.  


While Nichol may have acted too hastily in removing the cross from the Wren Chapel,  the incessant reactionary drumbeat that has ensued is way out of proportion to the action he took. The cross has not disappeared. It has not been hidden away. It is available at any time to anyone who wants to use it. 


The point is that the college is a much more diverse institution than it has ever been before. It is a secular public entity that must adapt to and accept the social and religious mores of all its students. And this Nichol, to his credit, understands.


As for the Sex Workers Art Show, let’s grow up. It was an innocuous, sometimes bawdy presentation of a type of revelry that people have been participating in throughout history. Compared to the overtly sexual plays of the Greek comedian Aristophanes, the novels of Balzac or the drawings of Aubrey Beardsley it was pretty benign stuff.


And from what I understand, the word scrotum was never mentioned.  






















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