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Ben Bernstein ’09: Sex Power – Stop

The University should disassociate itself from its most infamous party

Thursday, November 2, 2006

I’m a loser. After you finish reading this column, you would be an idiot to disagree. Still, while my reputation will likely be in shambles after this article’s publication, I think it is necessary for someone to come out and say what needs to be said, for our school’s well being, both present and future. So here goes: Sex Power God, Brown’s throbbing symbol of unfettered debauchery, must be kicked off campus.

Sex Power God is Queer Alliance’s annual fall fundraising dance. What distinguishes this dance from other similar events that occur on campus and with the support of the University is that it is a “naked dance.” I use the term in quotes because attendees are not required to be naked and most people aren’t completely disrobed, but the vast majority are pretty close. Once inside, lights off and music pulsing, attendees start dancing, hooking up and engaging in sexual activity on and around the dance floor.

The University’s association with Sex Power God unnecessarily damages Brown’s reputation. It also poses a serious threat to the safety and health of Brown students. For both of these reasons, Brown should disassociate itself from Sex Power God.

To see the effect the SPG scandal has had on fundraising, one need go no further than the students who work at Brown’s student calling center. One student caller told me that following last year’s SPG we lost several long-time donors who were upset about the “sex party.” Not only do many older alumni give money to Brown every year, they also leave money to the University after they pass away. Sacrificing significant donations from alums so that Brown students can have public sex in University buildings is ridiculous policy at a time when our endowment is the lowest in the Ivy League, and the University is undertaking and proposing many new initiatives, including boosting international recruitment, implementing the proposals made by the slavery and justice committee and improving student housing.

SPG defenders will likely counter that the University cannot be a slave to the dollar. After all, Brown probably lost many donors when it became racially integrated, and no one is arguing that the University should go back to being a racially exclusive institution. The difference is that while desegregation was of great social value to our school and community, public sex is not. Racial integration provided racial equality as well as increasing the talent level of our student body by broadening the pool of applicants. Continuing SPG brings no benefits to the University community, unless you consider mono epidemics to have some inherent social value.

If you talk to Brown alums, even recent ones, their favorite memories and the events for which they come back to Providence have nothing to do with Sex Power God. “Alums love the campus dance, they love graduation; those are always the highlights of their Brown memories,” one student caller who has talked to hundreds of alums told me. At other universities, alums flock back in droves for homecoming weekend, graduation and commencement, so much so that they often overwhelm the University and build up in current students a sense of school pride that lasts for a lifetime.

By contrast, one girl who attended last year’s SPG related to me that most people who go once are so grossed out that they never want to go again. And while there certainly are repeat attendees, the event has failed to establish itself as a serious community-builder on campus, and it never will.

From a University standpoint, the scariest aspect of Sex Power God may not be the lost funds or the absence of social value, but the safety and health threat it poses to Brown students. SPG encourages, in its very name, the kind of sexually aggressive behavior that led a girl last year to sit in a bra and panties in the Providence cold, sobbing with her friend because of another student’s inappropriate actions toward her during the dance. During last year’s dance, 24 students required emergency medical care. Certainly, there are drinking-related problems every weekend, but nothing on the scale of SPG. As one attendee told me, “You have to be pretty drunk if you are going to get naked in front of 200 people.” Sex Power God clearly encourages binge drinking; by throwing its weight behind the dance, so does Brown University.

I should make it clear that I am not in any way criticizing Brown’s gay community or QA. Other QA sponsored initiatives, especially the upcoming “e4e: Education for Equality,” are important for preventing the kind of homophobia that is still pervasive here at Brown. However, the plain truth about SPG is that it costs the University money and it hurts members of the Brown community. And what do we get in return? Students get to hook up with someone without talking to them first, they get to watch or participate in public sexual activities and they get to do all of this on Brown property and with University approval. It’s a raw deal. President Ruth Simmons should make the hard, yet necessary, decision to kick Sex Power God off campus.

Ben Bernstein ’09 invites Ruth Simmons to attend Sex Power God this year, as she might any other campus event.


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  1. Given the cancellation in 2014, and the sexual violence argument used here and in QA’s statement, this is prescient.

  2. I just read an incredible essay by Warner called “The Ethics of Sexual Shame.” It posits that the LGBTQ+ movement has attempted to normalize ‘deviant’ sexualities by focusing on sexual identity rather than sex itself. The shame we associate with bodies and sex speaks profoundly of the hetero-colonial-sexual society that dominates our rhetoric on bodies and “moral” sex–or rather moralist sex.

    Although I attended SPG last year and was rather distraught at what I saw, it was not the celebration of bodies that bothered me, but rather the lack of celebration. People were there to hook up, not to enjoy the safe space: free of sexual shame and judgment. That is why it was cancelled.

    I commend the LGBTQ+ movement for removing the shame and stigma from ‘deviant’ sexual acts. SPG should exist; especially at a university committed to discourse on all things controversial–one need only look at the scandal at SUNY a few years ago to see how relevant these issues still are today.

    We dream of a world where sex is not something to be ashamed of: where desire and pleasure is something to be celebrated–not only those of the heterosexual ‘majority’ but of every person

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