The Sexist

College Sex Columnist On Masturbation, Money Shots, and Scandalized Grandmothers

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This year, the University of Mary Washington's student newspaper, The Bullet, crowned a new sex columnist for its long-running sex column, "Sexclamations." Since taking the helm, 19-year-old freshman Erin Hill has tackled such campus-ready topics as female masturbation, representation in pornography, and pubic hair choices (an area of particular Sexist interest).

Over the past couple of months, Hill has heard from the haters ("Can you tell me how talking about masturbating is 'progress' in female journalism?"), lovers ("THIS ROCKS SO MUCH"), and one student who wrote in opposing Hill's column because her grandmother read it one time and became overwhelmed by the column's impolite subject matter. Seriously.

The detractor, Anne Elder, wrote:

My grandmother is an avid reader of the Bullet.

She reads the online edition every Thursday, looking forward to reading the happenings of her alma mater.

A few weeks ago, however, she received quite a shock when she tuned in.  She saw the first column of the new Sexclamations.

Needless to say, my inbox had an e-mail waiting from her regarding the column.

Her overall opinion was that it was “tasteless” and “some things are best kept under wraps and are more interesting if shared with select folks.”

I can’t say I disagree.

Elder went on to note that "Sex is an incredibly intimate expression of love, and that’s how it should stay," that "No one wants to know how many times a day you masturbate, how many people you’ve had sex with or what your favorite positions are," and that "If you take the passion out of sex and degrade it by putting it in print, it becomes less of an act of love and more like watching promiscuous college students get it on."

Putting aside the obvious question of why a grandmother is reading a publication for college kids and becoming offended that the content is not tailored to her sensibilities, I'd like to address Elder's complaint that sex columnists "degrade [sex] by putting it in print." According to this theory, sex isn't inherently bad—but people who admit to doing it are. Fucking is understandable as long as you deny, deny, deny, because talking about sex just about the sluttiest thing a person can do—even sluttier than doing it in the first place. This theory all but guarantees an unhealthy sexual environment. On a campus where you're shamed for opening your mouth about anything sexual, bad shit happens—students will be less likely to verbalize their consent—or lack of consent—with their partners, less likely to feel comfortable reporting a sexual assault if it occurs, and a lot more likely to silently agonize over whether their bodies, sex lives, sexual orientations, and most intimate expressions of love make them bad people.

All reasons why Erin Hill is providing a valuable service to the students of Fredericksburg, Va.'s University of Mary Washington. The proof is in the comments section: No matter what grandma thinks, students are talking about these issues. I asked Hill to talk a little bit about life as a college sex columnist:

Sexist: What sort of response have you gotten from classmates, friends, anonymous commenters, etc. since writing the column?

EH: Face to face with readers and friends, I have received nothing but praise since I became the new writer for Sexclamations. I have had several people tell me that the primary reason they pick up a copy of The Bullet is to read Sexclamations. According to upperclassmen, the column used to be less about sex and more about the relationship aspect of sex. They said that they didn’t enjoy the column in the past because it was not as interesting. Supposedly, previous articles provided commentary on lighter issues, such as the “romance and meaning of holding hands.” Everyone has applauded my efforts to be more raw, real, open, and honest. I try to not to censor myself too much. Sex is a brazen act and I feel my articles should be just as forthright.

Thank goodness I have an awesome editor who fully supports my writing. I managed to use the term “money shot” in a school newspaper- I thought that was a pretty big deal! I didn’t think my editor would allow it (originally, I used the term cumshot), but she did! It is important to remember that I don’t use vulgar language just for the sake of creating shock value, rather I use it to illustrate my point. Sometimes stronger language conveys my message in a better, more realistic fashion.

I suppose the most surprising response was from my mom. My mom fully supports the column, despite the awkwardness of reading about my perspective on porn. Out of all the compliments I receive, the best are from my mom- who simply stated in a facebook message yesterday, “Loved your article! <3”

A lot of college sex columnists use pseudonyms. What are the advantages and challenges of putting your real name out there?

EH: I think putting my name out there shows an unabashed support for women’s reproductive rights and women’s sexuality. I can’t be afraid to talk about topics like masturbation and attach my name to it if I expect and encourage other women to open a dialogue about their sexuality and exploration. I hope that my articles can make people more comfortable and knowledgeable about things related to sexual matters. I would like to lessen the taboo surrounding sexual issues. For that to happen, I must be fully confident, comfortable, and knowledgeable about sexual matters. Attaching my name to what I write is a part of achieving that goal. Perhaps some of my peers may stereotype me as the no boundaries, sex-obsessed girl or the liberal, feminist girl who writes Sexclamations. Hyperbolic labels don’t really bother me that much, as long as I’m able to convey interesting, informative ideas regarding sexual issues through my articles.

Why do you think it's important to write about stuff like representation in porn, female masturbation, and women's health?

EH: I think it is important to write about these things because it is important to talk about them. If my articles can provoke a conversation among a few girls in a college dorm about their sexual experiences, then I will consider my articles to be a success. I think it is important for people, especially young women, to have an open dialogue about sexuality. Because of conservative social norms and a prominent abstinence only message in schools, I think many women are shamed into not fully appreciating and celebrating their bodies. Personally, I don’t think sexual exploration is a bad thing; however, sexually exploring oneself and others can be a poor notion if not done safely. I hope my articles open the door to “sex positive” conversations.

What was your reaction to the letter to the editor which stated that the topics in your column are too vulgar to even be spoken about?

EH: Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. I respect Miss Elder’s comments and can understand why she might feel that way about my column; however, I was disappointed that she made false claims about my articles. She stated that I had written about “how many times a day [I] masturbate, how many people [I’ve] had sex with, or what [my] favorite positions are.” This could not be farther from the truth. In fact, I agree with Anne in that writing about such personal details would be “tasteless.” Perhaps Miss Elder misunderstood my intentions of the articles. My intentions were not to expose details of my sexual life, degrade the meaning of sex, or make crude/vulgar statements. My intentions were to creatively educate, provoke curiosity/inquiry, and encourage sexual conversation- in hopes that people become more comfortable with sex and sexuality. All in all, Miss Elder and I fundamentally disagree. I wish to promote conversation and education about sex while she wishes to keep sex a completely private, intimate institution. I’m glad we each have the freedom to express our differing perspectives in the “Viewpoints” section of The Bullet.

What do you think of the idea of writing a college sex column with the goal of pleasing students' grandmothers?

EH: The Bullet is a paper primarily read by current students and I feel the topics discussed in The Bullet should cater to that readership base. I understand that faculty, parents, and alumni read The Bullet, too. On the other hand, it is important to note that there are plenty of articles other than Sexclamations that are exclusively pertinent to current students. I don’t think it would be tremendously troublesome for the older readers to simply skip articles like Sexclamations. In general, I don’t see a major problem with skipping articles that do not appeal to you. If you don’t like it, don’t read it! It’s an elementary concept. Until I am given restrictions, I hope to continue to write a column with relatable and interesting information regarding sex and sexuality.

  • TT

    Sorry to comment off-topic, but Amanda, did you see this article today? You may like it:

    http://www.avclub.com/articles/a-soundproofed-room-of-ones-own-17-wellintended-ye,39169/

  • Erin

    Brava, Anne Elder!

  • Callie

    You wrote, "Putting aside the obvious question of why a grandmother is reading a publication for college kids."

    It sounds like the grandmother is reading because she is an alumni of the school. Elder wrote, "She reads the online edition every Thursday, looking forward to reading the happenings of her alma mater." (Alma mater)

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist Amanda Hess

    @TT thanks! I do like it!

    @Callie the first part of that sentence was meant to be read with the second part of that sentence: "...and becoming offended that the content is not tailored to her sensibilities."

  • je di

    Growing up I hated being a girl. I felt like it left me with no power over what happened to me. Outside of the obvious trauma by the abuse my father perpetrated on me there were many things in society that made me feel this way. I had to wait to be asked out by boys, they decided if we were in a relationship or just a hook-up. Because of the situations some young women come from & the inequality in grade school (see:SBOE removing sex & gender as a social construct from Texas public school curriculum) I believe a column like Sexclamations can be a life saver for some women. I remember going to Vagina Monologues at my college; it was like someone breathed life into my womanhood. For the first time I felt empowered to be part of the sisterhood of proud vagina owners! Erin Hill, thank you for breathing life into the young women that read your paper. I have to wonder how Ms. Elder would be reacting to your column if someone had stood up for her right to be a sexual woman when she was in college. -j

  • Jim

    I believe you've missed the point entirely of Miss Elder's response. However, given your tasteless and vile choice of words in your own writing, I suppose it's not surprising.

    This issue is not one of age. It is one of manners and good taste. Unfortunately, for those who have neither, it's quite difficult to gain any ground in a debate.

    Miss Hill says that teaching abstinence shames young women into avoiding sexual exploration. What a bizarre notion. Teaching abstinence is about teaching young women (and men) to respect their bodies. There's no shame in that.

    I applaud Miss Elder for having the courage to speak her convictions. I'm sure she knew full well what kind of response she would receive. In my book, that makes her an incredibly brave young woman, and it makes her writing worthy of much greater admiration than the filth that flows from your pen.

  • K

    I respect my body by using it the way it wants to be used: FOR SEX.

    And before you harangue a blogger for writing "vile words and filth," I suggest you crack open the bible and read the story of Dinah (Genesis, chpt. 34) and tell me that isn't the most revolting thing you've ever read.

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