The Daily Texan’s sex column series just turned one month old, and as expected, it’s already received some backlash.
It’s a bit cheesy, and the comical, vulgar nature of the writing has offended some and will continue to do so. On social media, I’ve seen replies to the columns from the Texan’s account that mourn the desperate direction the Texan has taken and criticize the paper for contributing to the “decline of journalism.” (Full disclosure: since the sex columns are handled through our Life & Arts department, I had no part in writing, editing or coming up with the ideas for the columns. I read them for the first time when they appeared on the Texan’s website.)
Whether people personally like the sex column series or not cannot be changed; some people may never wrap their heads around the idea that a newspaper can simultaneously produce enterprising journalism and a sex column, or that the two types of work are both of value.
However, if the purpose of the sex column extends beyond attracting attention, to the promotion of open and honest conversations about sex, it can be nothing but a social good for our University.
Having a column where four anonymous writers of varying sexual orientations and experiences talk about a weekly topic, ranging from first kisses to masturbation, is beneficial to a college population because it desensitizes taboo topics and embraces the diversity of sexual history and preferences. By including everyone in the conversation, and narrating the real version of how sex plays out instead of the idolized one seen in the media, students can make sense of their own sexual encounters and questions. This freedom of expression about sex is like a breath of fresh air to college students in Texas.
It’s a known fact that Texas in particular does poorly when it comes to providing high school students with objective information on sexual education. In 2004, the State Board of Education approved controversial health textbooks that mentioned no methods of contraception other than avoiding sex altogether. Unsurprisingly, Texas has the highest percentage of teenage pregnancies in the nation. It is no stretch to assume that Texas’ abstinence-only approach to sex education has failed, because putting so much emphasis on purity leaves Texas students with little knowledge of what to do to stay safe.
The University, however, has substantial resources on sexual education and health. University Health Services offers free peer-led workshops on sexual health. The Voices against Violence organization covers the darker side of sex, offering interactive performances such as Get Sexy, Get Consent, to help students recognize the signs of an abusive relationship and the rules of consent. Any UT student can organize a free performance for their extracurricular group with two to three weeks’ notice. In addition, The Gender and Sexuality Center is a well-known institution that serves the interests of women and the LBGTQ community at UT. They provide both a mentor program and walk-in advising.
However, many students — due to time constraints, disinterest or other reasons — don’t go out of their way to attend available seminars, classes or productions.
Which is why the Texan’s sex columns, vulgar though they may sometimes be, are crucially important. A column in the school newspaper is a public forum, at the tip of students’ fingers both tangibly and over the Web. It’s easy, effortless and takes less than five minutes to read. And they will read them: the columns are consistently some of the most-trafficked stories on the Texan’s site.
A sex column can’t be credited with making monumental positive changes to public health. However, it is a medium that may inspire students to do their own personal research, see STD/STI screening as a common and often necessary precaution, and to be more assertive about what they want sexually.
Manescu is a journalism and international relations junior from Ploiesti, Romania.