Sex on Tuesday has been harmful this semester

Read Brett’s response to criticism of his column here.

We are writing to address what we see as a failure on the part of the writers of the Daily Cal to make use of the “Sex on Tuesday” column as an instrument of education and intelligent dialogue.

“Sex on Tuesday” has the opportunity to be an informative and thought-provoking tool for the UC Berkeley campus. Yet, as long as we have been students here, there have been far too many articles written that leave out important aspects of sexual health, reinforce existing stereotypes and address relevant issues in problematic, sexist ways that often leave the reader more confused than they were before reading the column.

“Sex on Tuesday” comes from a campus known for pushing the envelope, and the column has, in fact, gained national attention for some of its articles. Many of the articles in our time here have had shallow, ill-researched claims put forth as factual evidence, however. Many of the articles start off by addressing important issues, but instead of delving into existing research or interviewing relevant experts right here on campus, relay only anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence is flawed, and relying solely on the written experiences of one student is dangerous when put forth as fact. The current writer of the column hopes to “stimulate thought and conversation on sex through an unorthodox perspective” this semester, yet, as a self-identified “heterosexual male,” he fails to recognize or address his privileged position in society, particularly when cisgender, heterosexual males’ narratives and attitudes about sex are the most prevalent in the media. For instance, the column propagates notions of women as objects, denies the existence of female sexuality and female desire, excuses rape culture and does nothing to challenge the unrealistic image standards set for women in our society.

In last week’s “Sex on Tuesday” article, author Brett Tanonaka discussed the legalization of prostitution. We do not wish to take a stance on the issue — that would be outside the scope of this discussion — but we do wish to address the way it inaccurately addresses the causes of rape in our society. He claims that legalizing prostitution may reduce “rape and sexual patriarchy […]  by allowing people (specifically men) to release bottled sexual urges.” This argument is flawed because it asserts that men cannot control themselves and that their unfulfilled desires are “manifested in vicious impulses.” This is a myth perpetuated by rape culture that is simply a restatement of the old “boys will be boys” adage. Men have autonomy. They have the ability to control themselves and take responsibility for their actions. Unfulfilled sexual urges do not cause men to rape; rather, the societal acceptance of masculine dominance and aggression does nothing to discourage rape, especially for male perpetrators.

In his column “Victoria’s Secret and male body image,” Tanonaka once again brings up a relevant societal issue — unrealistic body and image standards presented by the media — but fails to analyze it in a thoughtful way. These standards have been and should continue to be scrutinized for their harmful effects on all people, but instead he discusses how difficult it is for him and other men to find an average, nonsupermodel woman sexually appealing after being bombarded with images of women he thinks “embody heterosexual males’ sexual fantasies.” He claims, “Many men (at least inherently) have a difficult time separating the media-projected world from realistic expectations. By sculpting flawless women who represent a paragon of beauty, the brand only heightens the requirements women need to satisfy the male libido.” While we agree that there is a problem with the media promoting one singular view of beauty, we take offense with Tanonaka’s assumption that women want — need — to satisfy men sexually. Instead of analyzing how these image standards affect those who are expected to live up to them (in this case, women), he provides an anecdote about how he only found his girlfriend sexually appealing if she wore a “lacy thong” from Victoria’s Secret and not if she wore “Walmart panties.” It’s unfortunate that he was unable to separate the fantasy presented by the media from reality and that he took issue with how hard this made his life and not with the unrealistic standards set for women by the Victoria’s Secret fashion models. Furthermore, Tanonaka himself fails to challenge society’s (unrealistic) standards of female beauty, publishing in his “Shopping for a ‘Casual Encounter’ on Craigslist” article that he was searching for a woman sexual partner of “any ethnicity and no particular body shape — just someone who isn’t too curvy.” Personal preference is one thing, but to display this opinion in a public column just serves to perpetuate our society’s attitudes that women with curves are not desirable, that curves are something to be ashamed of and that only skinny people are sexual.

The columnist’s objectifying attitudes speak to a larger problem in our society’s attitudes about sex: one that disregards female desire and sexual agency. This is sometimes referred to as “the sexy lie” — an idea that ultimately prioritizes female physical presentation over female pleasure and construes aesthetics with sexual sensation. This absurd notion is so damaging to the female psyche that it can even prevent women from experiencing pleasure during sex because of anxiety about how they are perceived by their partner. In a number of articles, Tanonaka seems to utterly ignore female desire or overlook the possibility that a woman could have/take agency over her sexuality. His column about prostitution fails to acknowledge or account for female desire among sex workers and nonsex workers alike in his imagined scenario of legalized prostitution. He does not recognize that while female prostitutes do claim a certain amount of control over the use of their bodies, there is also a large negation of the sex worker’s own desire in such a transaction. In other columns, he discusses sex in terms of what he, as a man, does or would like to do, but there is little reflection on what his partners want or ask of him. This is problematic at best and potentially dangerous at worst as it downplays the crucial role of communication and consent. Our society misogynistically trivializes female sexual agency and desire, and Tanonaka does nothing to challenge this.

Although many of the current articles have been problematic, “Sex on Tuesday” has been and can continue to be an educational and informative part of the Daily Cal. As the oldest campus-newspaper sex column, it’s important that it continues to be groundbreaking, but even more important that it doesn’t fall into spreading opinion as fact and misinforming students with potentially harmful information. The previous author of the column, Vi Nguyen, covered a vast array of topics from masturbation and female ejaculation to cisgender bias and the bisexuality spectrum by presenting research in tandem with her opinions and experiences. Nadia Cho, the fall 2012 columnist, presented her opinion alongside relevant research and factual information about the topics of her writing. From the Affordable Care Act and its effect on patients receiving birth control to an in-depth discussion of what it means to give consent and safe BDSM practices, Nadia’s articles were not perfect, but they did not reinforce stereotypes about women’s sexuality to the extent the current column does.

We are not the first students to bring this matter to the table and express our concerns, but this has gone on long enough. We implore The Daily Californian to hold its columnists to a higher standard. Yes, these are opinion pieces, but with your reputation comes responsibility. We ask that current and future writers take the time and energy to consider the impact of their writing, because the impact of this newspaper extends far beyond the campus community.

Signed,

Brittany Cliffe, UC Berkeley junior

Caitlin Boise, UC Berkeley junior

Jasmine Sankaran, UC Berkeley junior

Caitlin Quinn, UC Berkeley junior

Ferheen Abbasi, UC Berkeley senior

Matthew Lewis, UC Berkeley sophomore

Terah Tollner, UC Berkeley freshman

Eliza Suppal, UC Berkeley senior

Angelique Adams, UC Berkeley sophomore

Meghan Warner, UC Berkeley sophomore

Sofie Karasek, UC Berkeley junior

Aron Egelko, UC Berkeley sophomore

Meg Perret, UC Berkeley junior

Contact the opinion desk at [email protected].