Bawd and Man at Yale
From the April 5, 2010, issue of NR.


It sounds like the opening of a pornographic movie: An attractive young teacher saunters up to the blackboard. Next, she ducks behind the podium to slip off her tights. Before you know it, she’s standing topless and bare-chested in front of the entire class, calling for a few student “volunteers.” But this story isn’t fiction.

The teacher, in this case, was a porn actress named Madison Young. Young was invited to speak at Yale University in February as part of a nine-day series of lectures, panels, and special events known as “Sex Week at Yale.”

Introduced in 2002, Sex Week at Yale has courted controversy from the beginning. Held every other year, it brings to campus everyone from porn stars to sex-toy manufacturers, and has grown bigger with each installment, this year topping 30 events. They included, to name a few, a presentation on “kink” and fetishism, a lingerie show that used Yale students as models, two presentations in defense of non-monogamous relationships, an instructional presentation on masturbation, a female-condom giveaway, and a graphic presentation on erotic genital piercing.

I first experienced Sex Week as an undergraduate. This year, I returned to cover the event as a journalist.

The biggest event of Sex Week 2010, in both promotion and turnout, was surely the instructional presentation on oral sex called “Babeland’s Lip Tricks,” which was sponsored by a sex-toy company. The event’s planners were wise to book one of Yale’s larger lecture halls: When I arrived, every seat in the house was full, including those in the balcony, and hundreds of extra students had flooded the floors and aisles, with scores more huddled around the back doors. Some sat on the stage itself. I estimate there were 2,000 students present — more than a third of the undergraduate student body.

The instructor was a burlesque performer from New York called, simply, “Darlinda.” Using a projector screen and various rubber props, she demonstrated oral-sex techniques in front of the rapt audience for an hour and a half.

Pornography has always been a part of Sex Week — more so every time, it seems. Of the 34 events on this year’s Sex Week schedule, eleven featured porn stars or adult-film producers as primary speakers or performers. That’s about one event in three.

In 2008, a screening of pornography was shut down mid-reel after organizers became alarmed by the film’s depictions of sexual violence against women. This year, however, sadomasochistic pornography was back on the program. On the afternoon of February 13, Madison Young was scheduled to give a lecture on sadomasochism entitled “BDSM 101,” a presentation billed as an opportunity for students to learn how to “build new levels of intimacy, trust and connection with your partners.”

Her talk was held in William Harkness Hall, the building on Yale’s central quad where, as a student, I attended a class on international relations. I returned to Room 208 for a lecture on relations of a very different kind.

Near the classroom door, bras, panties, and briefs were laid out across a chair, along with dozens of condoms. These items were free for the taking, courtesy of Sex Week’s corporate sponsors. (Merchandise is promoted or given away at nearly every one of Sex Week’s events.)

I passed on the latex and took a seat in the back row. At the front of the classroom, Young’s manner was breezy and casual. She encouraged students to shed their coats and extra layers. “I want you to be comfortable.”

She began by explaining the basics of BDSM. “The ‘B’ stands for ‘bondage,’” Young said. “It can be handcuffs. It can be zip ties. It can be rope — anything that’s restraining you. It can be neckties.

“The ‘D’ is for ‘discipline’ and ‘dominance.’ . . . Dominance is more about power. The ‘S’ stands for ‘submissive,’ often associated with ‘service’ — a dominant and slave, a teacher and a schoolboy.

“‘S & M’ stands for ‘sadism and masochism.’ Sadists give sensation, or what might be referred to as pain.”