Posted tagged ‘sex’

No sex for the President

January 24, 2014

With apologies for the salacious title of this post.

When you and I were students, and when we were staying in some student residence or other, some of us (if we’re old enough) may have been subject to a regulation that prohibited the overnight stay in our rooms of a guest of the opposite sex (our gay friends, curiously, were less restricted). Well, you probably thought that this kind of rule has long been abandoned or that it certainly has become unenforceable. Think again. And don’t think students. Think university presidents.

The new President of the University of Alabama in the United States, Dr Gwendolyn Boyd, has the use of a presidential residence that comes with the job. But her contract contains the following stipulation:

‘For so long as Dr. Boyd is president and a single person, she shall not be allowed to cohabitate in the president’s residence with any person with whom she has a romantic relation.’

Well no, there is no such word as ‘cohabitate’, but we’ll let that pass for a moment. What we see here is a rule prohibiting a woman president from having romantic liaisons at home. She may have all sorts of other visitors, including family, and if she acquires one, a husband; but not someone about whom she has pre-nuptial romantic feelings. Leaving aside the extraordinary assault on her human rights, how on earth can a university impose such conditions (notwithstanding her own apparent tolerance of them) in this day and age? And how can they possibly believe they are legally entitled to do this? And aren’t they at all worried that they will be mocked for this? Whatever next?

Another university league table

June 3, 2013

Honestly, I have no idea what to say about this one. My university comes in at number 49. And what’s wrong with Salford (or maybe right)?

So where do we want to be on this league table?

June 4, 2012

Well, you probably thought that you had seen all the university rankings, both locally and globally. But think again. A student website,, has produced a league table with a difference: one which measures in which UK universities students have the most sex. The results was assembled from the findings of a survey of 4,656 students in 100 universities. The resulting table has Bangor University in Wales (and we won’t go into the interpretation suggested by the students of the university’s name) at the top, while at the bottom we have the University of Essex. My own university, Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, is at number 25, and I have no idea whether this pleases me or whether I’d prefer it somewhere else in the table.

Scotland has only one university in the top 20 (Heriot Watt at number 2), while Wales is dramatically over-represented there with four universities. But it absolutely impossible to identify any particular trend in the rankings. There is no overall difference between pre- and post-1992 universities, or between the regions (except for Wales). So it is possible that the results are a fluke governed purely by the habits of this particular group of students, and that the pattern could change dramatically in a year or two; we shall have to wait and see.

Clearly it is not saying anything very new to point out that there is a fair amount of sex in universities. But this also reminds us that universities need to take seriously issues such as sexual health and personal safety, as well as various codes of ethics.

In the meantime, I suspect that this table is not being highlighted in any university’s PR materials.

We’ve covered sports and car parking: so what about sex?

September 3, 2009

As I pointed out in a post last year, it has been suggested that the three things a university President has to secure are ‘sex for the students, athletics for the alumni, and parking for the faculty.’ Whatever about athletics and car parking, I had never actually been asked by anyone to arrange for sex for the students. On the whole my suspicion would have been that they don’t need much help in that department anyway. But then today, in the course of an interview, I was asked to express a view on the free availability of sex on university campuses.

IIt wasn’t really that different when I was a student. Or rather, it wasn’t that different on the campus. In Ireland as a whole there was no sex, or none anyone admitted to, and the days when a parish priest would walk amongst the dancers at a youth club with a ruler in hand, to ensure that the minimum distance between boy and girl of one foot was being observed, were not long over. But on the campus the attitude was ‘anything goes as long as it doesn’t frighten the horses’, and the contrast between the puritan outside and the free-and-easy inside was striking. However, we had a rule that no student in college accommodation could entertain overnight guests of the opposite sex – this became popularly known as the ‘anti-heterosexual rule.’ And then one day the then Vice-President of the Students Union announced publicly to the college discipline officer that he proposed to entertain a woman overnight, ending his rather well crafted letter with the words: ‘Having thus informed you of my intentions regarding my female bedroom companion for tonight, I now await your pleasure.’ The college officer wisely did nothing at all.

Fast forward to my term of office as President of DCU. About five years ago a Sunday newspaper ran an article on how various university students unions were advising their members on safe sex and promoting the availability of contraception. A couple of days later I received an email from a very upset member of the public who remonstrated with me that I should be taking decisive steps to ensure appropriate chastity on the campus, so that young people would not be led into temptation and immorality. I replied very politely, and I hope sensitively, but I pointed out that this was a horse that had bolted the stable a very long time ago and was certainly not about to come back.

Which brings me back to the interview today. I had to think for a moment on what I could and should say. While I do believe, as I have just pointed out, that it would be impossible, counter-productive and undesirable for a university to intervene in the private lives of students as long as these do not involve activities that are illegal, I am not however in the business of promoting sex either. Students will do what they have been doing, but equally they should not feel under any pressure to do so, or certainly not from me. And I felt it was important to make it clear that non-consensual sex was wholly unacceptable.

My correspondent of five years ago was of the opinion that universities, and university presidents in particular, had corrupted Ireland’s youth and had turned sex into a casual act of consumption rather than something more elevated within marriage. No doubt he was not alone in that view, but in the meantime we are living in a different society which, frankly, no longer accepts the view of sex as being just about procreation within marriage. University presidents would, even if they disapproved of this fundamentally, be completely unable to do anything about it. I believe that the more important campaign around sex and sexuality should now focus on exploitation and trafficking, and on the importance of treating people with respect in this as in other contexts. That would be worth the effort.

Religion and sex

September 2, 2008

As we all know, US presidential candidate John McCain last week announced his choice of vice-presidential running mate, and it is Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. One of the first things we learnt about her is that she is profoundly religious; and when that was unpacked a little more, it appeared to mean chiefly that she was anti-abortion and held a traditional moral outlook. In fact, at first I was unable to discover anything about her religion that was unrelated to sex, nor could I see anyone asking questions about her religiosity that might have involved, say, her views on poverty or world peace.

I am myself a member of the Anglican Church – the Church of Ireland in my case. And as many will know, the Anglican Communion worldwide has been tearing itself apart of late. The issue is not the meaning and significance of the sacraments, or the reform of the liturgy, or the question whether we are living up to the command by Jesus to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and visit those in prison. The issue is homosexuality.

Church membership and participation has declined enormously in the developed world, and those outside the ecclesial structures must be wondering what on earth (because I don’t think it’s heaven) we are up to. We seem to be obsessed, not just with sex, but with the exact and proper amount of condemnation we want to direct at those whose sexual lifestyles we dislike. We trawl scripture with a tooth-comb to find obscure references to these pet hates so as to justify our obsessions, and ignore the spirit of the New Testament along the way.

I am exaggerating a little, of course. The spiritual lives of many churchgoers are very different from the above caricature, and the work of people such as Desmond Tutu has enriched the world. But we risk losing all of that if we appear to be single issue believers nursing our phobias, rather than the tolerant, charitable people I believe we are meant to be.

It’s time we re-arranged the agenda.