Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

{This article originally appeared in igDana's weekly Music for America column "A Rush and a Push." Check out the column and feel free to comment on their message boards here.}

A couple of weeks ago, The College of William and Mary's student newspaper, The Flat Hat, ran as their weekly "Behind Closed Doors" sex column an installment entitled "Balls: Lick 'em and Love 'em," which focused on the fondling of testicles and gave advice to "those ladies out there that like to pretend the scrotum is invisible."

The April 8 column was not an unusual one for "Behind Closed Doors," even when it went on to describe more effective ways to find a woman's G-Spot. However it did seem to spark more discussion than sex columns of the past.

David Brooks, a New York Times columnist, made reference to the "Balls…" article in his April 17 column "Public Hedonism and Private Restraint," aligning William and Mary's sex column with 50 Cent's "Candy Shop" and young teens "with acres of exposed pelvic skin" as examples of the sex all around us. Meanwhile, at William and Mary, one faculty member took it upon himself to write The Flat Hat a letter in which he outlined several reasons, sometimes convincingly scientific, as to why a college paper should not feature a sex column written by students.

Naturally the "Balls: Lick 'em and Love 'em" article was the one to get national attention, however not all "Behind Closed Doors" columns have been so explicit. An earlier column from this semester was entitled "Love: Not easy, but worth it." Other installments have shown the columnist speaking out against sexual violence, informing readers about "the morning after pill" and reporting on Virginia State's long-overdue abolishment of what was referred to as "the fornication law," a fourth degree misdemeanor which, although not having been used since 1847, made it illegal for unmarried couples to "fornicate." Most of all, her columns have focused on the goal of making sex less taboo, and something that can be talked about as opposed to a foreign mystery for some people.

This is not the first time The Flat Hat, (or probably any other college newspaper) has had to deal with oppositional flack due to its content. I've been a columnist and writer for The Flat Hat for the past four years, and in the two years of the sex column's existence, it has been no secret that the writer of "Behind Closed Doors" got a bad wrap from not only some faculty, but also some of the more conservative students on the Williamsburg, VA campus. Last year, someone from the College community sent clippings of her column home to her parents, resulting in nothing less than huge embarrassment.

Arguments against the column have always centered on the column as being too explicit, encouraging of pre-marital sex, or representing the College in a negative light. I myself became a topic of conversation when in several of my columns I used the word "fuck." My boss at a campus job said some of her co-workers felt it was extremely inappropriate for a newspaper that prospective students read as an indicator of the school in general to contain any obscenities. It might paint for the prospective students a poor picture of the College. Later the Reviews section of The Flat Hat, in which my column appeared, received an email that read simply, "Dear Flat Hat – Fuck you."

My attitude then, and my attitude now, is that, well, college students say "fuck," they have sex, and if there is a student newspaper, it shouldn't tailor to the needs of anyone but the students. Freedom of the press, Freedom of speech, etc. However, the faculty member who authored the letter to the newspaper seemed to think otherwise. In his listing of reasons as to why a student should not write a sex column, his first reason was thus:

"The writings of the current 'Flat Hat Sex Columnist' are always childish, always a display of ignorance, and sometimes pornographic. If one of our legislators sees her column 'Balls: Lick 'em and Love 'em" there will be a negative impact on the College's appropriation from the State [sic]. Some of her columns probably violate Virginia's statutes of obscenity."

Another reason:

"Sexual intercourse is connected to chemical processes that are not under conscious control. For example, in females, intercourse causes release of oxytocin, the "mother love" hormone, which is involved in the bond between mother and infant. Thus, the same chemistry that mediates the mother-infant bond also mediates the bond between a woman and her mate. This is the strongest chemistry in our bodies."

I find it hard to believe that the Virginia State Legislature would revoke funding to one of its public universities because of a column in which a student gives sex advice to other students. And whether or not it does in fact violate VA's obscenity laws is unclear. As for the science, I believe it only strengthens the fact that sex is not something to be taken lightly – never does the columnist advocate sleeping around, rather she has acknowledged that sex is something meant only for those deeply in love, and she advocates waiting for marriage if you believe in waiting. And in any case, the issue at hand is not whether or not sex is a good idea, or whether of not "fuck" is a bad word. Rather it is whether or not they should be discussed in the print of a college newspaper.

The most recent installment of "Behind Closed Doors" is not any cleaner since the New York Times mention or the faculty letter; this week the topic of conversation is anal sex: "It has a cultural shock value, so we only talk about it when we're making a joke…Anal sex doesn't have to be a joke. It can be a normal, pleasurable way to have sex, as it is for a lot of people." And after having read the letter from the faculty member, I had no problem leaving in the five occasions in which I used the word "fuck" in my own column.

I agree that a sex column, or the incidence of the word "fuck" in a campus newspaper paints a somewhat negative light of a college for prospective students, or perhaps more correctly, for their parents. But I also believe that even if it is more negative, it is a more honest and more real picture. The College of William and Mary does not offer a journalism program, therefore The Flat Hat is run entirely by students, and is thus a reflection of the students' lives, not an advertisement for the College. What should it be? {This article originally appeared in igDana's weekly Music for America column "A Rush and a Push." Check out the column and feel free to comment on their message boards here.}