The recent Record article “Campus poll on social-sexual behavior reveals campus trends” is problematic if not disturbing on several points. The professed aim of the project was to contextualize sex at Williams as a “historical record by which future generations can assess important aspects of our culture.” The survey, however, failed to do that insofar as it asked narrow-minded and salacious questions. Yes, it is difficult to quantify sexual trends, but if we are going to make the attempt, the least we could do is (try to) ask the right questions. After all, it is the questions, not the answers, that speak to our context.
My main concern is with the survey’s limited scope. Regarding sexual orientation, respondents could only choose between Straight, Gay, Bisexual and Other. Queer (my identification) and Questioning were not represented. Why did we relegate these categories to Other? By acknowledging these identities as significant at Williams (and they are), the Record could have made a real statement for future generations. More generally, the article paid entirely too much attention to promiscuity, virginity (whatever that means) and relationship status. By focusing almost exclusively on these elements, the article steers the discourse into little more than gossipy titillation – regardless of its claims to the contrary.
Even more disturbing is the fact that the survey did not ask about healthy sex practices at Williams. The article could have been infinitely more useful for current and future Williams students had it asked about pertinent issues like protection. Other crucial questions that need to be addressed on this campus include: Do you discuss your sexual history with each new partner? Have you ever gotten tested for a sexually transmitted infection? Have you ever felt pressured to do something sexually you didn’t want to do while at Williams? By looking at the very things we don’t talk about, the Record could have had a direct impact on how we think about sex at Williams.
Ultimately, there is no excuse for not addressing these issues. Williams has the benefit of a Women’s and Gender Studies Department, Health Center, Queer Student Union, Rape and Sexual Assault Network, Women’s Center and Peer Health, all of which would have been happy to help with this project. It is my hope that in the future the Record (and anyone else, for that matter) draws on these resources the next time they want to tackle sex at Williams.
Victoria Williams ’09