Let’s Talk About Sex

Andover is viewed as a liberal school: we have no dress code; no lights out past freshman year; no mandatory chapel; and only the occasional Saturday class. However, on the subject of sexuality, we often come across as overly conservative. How is sexuality discussed at Andover? Certainly it is not addressed in Life Issues class, where discussion is reduced to middle school safe language, nor is it rarely addressed maturely in art. On one side of the spectrum, we have the infamous depiction of Jesus in a scene of homosexual love, a painting by Austin Van ’99 that caused a campus-wide stir that endured well past its creator’s graduation. On the other side, we have the occasional humorous references, such as in the recent stage production of Lysistrata; nonetheless, students rarely see sex and sexuality discussed in a mature and open environment. High school students are aware of sex; numerous members of our community are sexually active. Why, then, is our campus unable to discuss it? I realized this after struggling for many months to stage The Vagina Monologues. Early last fall, I became convinced that this show had to be staged at Andover, and I felt that we were, as a community, mature enough and intelligent enough to handle this educational, though provocative, show. The Vagina Monologues is not the gratuitous, inappropriate twentysomething rant that many people perceive it to be. In fact, it’s a frank discussion of sexuality that tackles important issues such as rape, sexual discomfort, and aging. I spent a large portion of the fall and the winter trying to convince faculty members that we as a student body not only were capable of grasping and understanding extreme sexual concepts, but also needed to be educated and aware, but few agreed, and even fewer were willing to fight for something so controversial. Luckily, after many efforts, a handful of faculty members agreed that student theater productions should not be censored, and the show was finally allowed to proceed, despite a fair amount of dissension and skepticism. Despite this, I heard time and again from faculty, administrators, and even my own parents, that The Vagina Monologues was a show inappropriate for a high school audience, so only with a mandatory 16+ age restriction was my independent project form finally approved. I found my convictions about the relevance of this show strengthened when 56 girls tried out in the Upper- and Senior-only auditions. It wasn’t just me, as I had feared perhaps it might become; females at this school wanted to be able to talk about sex without treating the issue as if it were taboo and wrong. With much understandable skepticism on campus, the show began production and went up last weekend, and the overwhelmingly positive responses I have received from many faculty have made me more resolute in my beliefs that we as a community need to be allowed to address sexual issues more freely. Often Andover students’ abilities to discuss sex in a mature fashion are overlooked, but we have shown that we are capable of expressing ourselves legitimately, with a real consciousness of what we’re talking about. It’s understandable that the faculty and administrators who oversee our lives want to protect us because we are not yet legal adults, but we are mature enough to discuss sex and sexuality in an honest and frank forum, no less so artistically. There are many who don’t feel the need to discuss sexual issues, and certainly we must respect this traditional mindset of women’s being reserved on issues of sexuality, but those who wish to remain more reserved should not quiet their more vocal counterparts. One administrator wrote our cast a congratulatory e-mail and told us that we should be proud of ourselves for making history. I hope that all adults in our lives here are similarly ready to let us speak out and express ourselves articulately when we feel the need. The faculty must begin to trust students who want to create a forum that is open about sexuality, whether this is in the context of discussion, art, or any other outlet. Judging the response to The Vagina Monologues, however, I’ve come to believe that we are headed in a direction of greater freedom of expression for students, supported by more enlightened administration and faculty.