Porn on Campus

Student smut, sometimes unauthorized, makes a splash at universities

What do Sex Week at Yale, vibrators for sale at the Cornell health center, and a dissertation on gay men of color in porn have in common? They've all won Pollys (polly-awards.com). According to the conservative Collegiate Network, liberals and multiculturalism are rotting young minds. To demonstrate its disgust, the Network created the Campus Outrage Awards, a/k/a the Pollys, "given each year to universities to remind the public that political correctness, curricular decay, and violations of academic freedom and free speech remain an unfortunate reality throughout much of higher education."

Clearly gunning for its own Polly is Harvard's student-produced erotic literary magazine H Bomb (h-bomb.org), which debuted this month. Its editors—20-year-old Katharina Cieplak-von Baldegg, a film major who just completed her sophomore year, and Camilla Hrdy, 21, a senior history of science major—fought for its existence after The Harvard Crimson called what they were proposing a porn magazine and put its funding in jeopardy. The co-founders defended their mission to the university, made a "no-porn" promise, and were finally given approval and $2,000 from the student government.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Cieplak-von Baldegg said that their intent is to "promote intelligent discussion about sexuality, relationships and love—not found in current magazines or on the Web." When I spoke to her, I pointed out that there are quite a few places, especially online, where sexy and smart intersect nicely, namely nerve.com, Sweet Action, On Our Backs, suicidegirls.com, cakenyc.com, scarletletters.com, and burningangel.com. But the H Bomb-ettes insist that none inspired their creation: "I think current discussions of sex, no matter how intelligent or feminist, still focus too much on pornography and the mechanics of achieving orgasm. H Bomb looks for a wider scope of topics—we're not only concerned with the act of sex itself but the context—emotional, political, scientific, or artistic. Another feature of H Bomb is that it is omnisexual."

While Cieplak-von Baldegg's idealism is sweet, she's exhibiting a common problem facing some students: They live in an insular bubble. She and her Harvard comrades didn't exactly invent thinking smut or a pan-sexual approach to it. But they did produce something noteworthy: While tamer than we all imagined (and than the drooling media had hoped), the mag is sharp and thoughtful; it captures a specific Harvard brand of sex on the brain and yet can still be enjoyed by an outsider. It is not remotely smutty, and I believe that's deliberate in order to calm its critics. After all, in nearly every piece of media coverage on the magazine, one can hear the editors saying, "It's not porn! It's not porn!"

At the other end of the spectrum—comfortable with shouting, "It is porn! It is porn!"—is the gonzo video company Shane's World Studios (shanesworld.com). Founded by young starlet Shane (who later retired from the business and sold the company), Shane's World produces unique Gen-X pornos in which fun trips and outdoor activities are combined with sucking and fucking (think rock climbing followed by pussy licking). There are first-time forays and scavenger-hunt high jinks, all with a giddy (and sometimes giggly) celebration of sexuality. In early editions, there are even "Shane's Helpful Hints"—humorous how-to's on everything from pubic hair grooming to using the female condom.

Two years ago, the company made headlines when producers shot Shane's World #29 at Arizona State University and Shane's World #32 at Indiana University; both films featured actual undergrads engaging in erotic escapades (but no intercourse) with porn stars. According to Shane's World Studios owner Jennie Grant, students invited the production team to campus to film. Although the company never named any university in the video or promotion, there was a ton of hoopla, especially at IU. Some students who appeared in the films were disciplined for breaking university rules against lewd behavior. The media frenzy around the scandal pushed #32 to become the company's bestselling title ever and led to a new series called Campus Invasion, whose fourth installment is due this August, as well as to a new line of Shane's World-brand sex toys geared toward the college market.

College is a time of sexual exploration and growth for many people, so the connection to porn seems obvious. "College students are way more open with their sexuality, more apt to watch porn, more into experimenting. I don't think that was going on 10 years ago," says Grant. "Our videos say, 'It's OK to be sexual, have fun, go crazy.' Young adults especially respond to this positive message." Although there is drinking in many Shane's World videos, the company is dedicated to responsibility when it films on campus: Everyone must have valid identification, take a PCR-DNA test for HIV, and be able to understand and sign a model release. Shane's World never provides or encourages the use of alcohol. "We want people to fully understand the consequences of what they are going to do."

These days, some students even make their own porn to help pay tuition: Indiana University made headlines again recently when one blonde co-ed's site, teenkeira.com—which offers erotic photos of her taken in her dorm room for a $24.95 monthly membership—came under fire. Because the site was not hosted by the university's servers and no mention was made of IU, officials decided not to reprimand her. Others can get college credit for their efforts, as is the case at my alma mater, Wesleyan University, where Professor Hope Weissman teaches a course on pornography and students make their own porn for the final class project. Sex, whether it takes the form of pornography or not, can be academic or extracurricular, but it's not going away anytime soon. College students are adults, free to study sex in any way they want.

I'm sick of sex at universities being devalued by conservative groups like Collegiate Network, and portrayed as superficial, unimportant, and much less significant than, for example, medieval history or economics. Sexually explicit media are just as viable as subjects for creativity, debating, and theorizing. And where better to deal with them than in school, an environment of experimentation, evolution, and education?


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