Chris Biddle, Staff Writer (cbiddle@wwc)
Warren Wilson culture goes far out of its way to protect one’s right to any sexual preference, but recent events in Dorland have lead some students to question just how far we should go with our right to “free love.” In addition to these events, the recent RISE Crew publication on polyamory, Poly Amor, has generated conversations on campus. What do these occurrences, which at first glance seem easily linked, mean for the school community and how do we, as an institution of cultural change, communicate these ideas and occurrences in a way that is presentable to mainstream culture?
The phrase “group sex” is not new to the ears of most Warren Wilson students or, for that matter, probably most college-age Americans. We are bombarded by pop culture references to the college years hook-up fantasy: spring break in Cancun, frat party gang bangs, the archetypal “hot mom” character from any nationally broadcast television show, hinting toward a wild past at UCLA. If there’s one thing Americans think they know about their college students, it’s that they have a lot of sex. However sensationalized, offensive or seemingly critical these portrayals of college life are, there isn’t any real judgement in this perceived knowledge because our culture is open enough to generally accept an unsaid standard: it’s perfectly healthy for students to have a lot of sex. The presence of programs like Warren Wilson’s RISE Project and EMPOWER, which provide college students with the resources to discuss issues of sexuality that go beyond media stereotypes and pornographic fantasies, in many ways affirm that acceptance of a hyper-sexualized youth culture, or at least the perception of such a thing. It’s saying quite simply that, hey, apparently you guys (or in the case of Warren Wilson, we) are apparently having a lot of sex, so let’s make sure we know what we’re doing before people start getting hurt. Their two main weapons in this battle are knowledge and intent.
The Echo secured an interview with an individual involved in group sex in Dorland shortly before Thanksgiving Break. According to Anne (pseudonym), beginning some time after Fall Break The Echo’s anonymous source participated with friends in varying degrees of group sexual encounters. They usually ended before our source felt any sort of line had been crossed. The night of Nov. 20 took a different direction from its predecessors, eventually satisfying a full-blown orgy status.
Anne left the room in Dorland before another orgy happened, which, according to sources, involved some of the same people. The anonymous source allegedly came across a naked girl in a hallway, who then entered a room where the source was welcomed and invited to join. Anne estimated that up to 20 people were either participating in or aware of the activity as it was occurring.
According to Anne, what happened in Dorland that night got a little “out of proportion.”
“Things started happening after Fall Break,” said Anne.
“There were things like make-out parties and naked dance parties and it usually ended before getting too far out of proportion.”
Members of the Warren Wilson community are usually reluctant to pry into others’ private sex lives. Perhaps it is out of a desire to show respect, but perhaps there is some sense that we, as a not-for-everyone school, are somehow above all that. Either way, there are still issues with group sex that concern community members. Most of these concerns have to do with safety.
“It’s hard enough for two people to say what they want in a sexual relationship,” says Kelly Kelbel, RISE Crew supervisor. “The concern is, what happens when too many people are involved in the decision-making. Who was deciding to invite people to join? Who was making any of the decisions?”
Kelbel’s questions point toward a fundamental tenant of the RISE Crew message: intent. The RISE Crew recently published Poly Amor, an informational zine on polyamory, meaning multiple intimate relationships at a time with the consent of everyone involved. Poly Amor, like most literature concerning polyamory, deals very little with the explicit sexual nature of relationships, instead focusing on human interaction at a purely emotional level. Consent, knowledge, communication and understanding are said to foster an entirely healthy, jealousy-free relationship among three or more people.
While never stated outright, the idealistic end goal of polyamory as a social movement is, like any movement, assimilation. But proponents of a world where polyamory is at the very least popularly understood have a long road ahead of them. Even those who have never heard the word before might testify to the sensationalized connotations, politically, socially and ethically, of the word polygymy. While similar in derivation, the two words conjure entirely different emotions, opinions and belief systems formed and interpreted from group to group as revolutionary, as barbaric, as enthralling, as gruesome, as “hot.” Depending on who you are, both words could represent a theory of life that should be shared, simply because you might believe it has the possibility to really help people.
Most importantly, both words and both philosophies inadvertently talk about sex without actually talking about it, and in the end, perhaps this is the reason people have such passionate, quickly assumed, environmentally ingrained opinions about the terms. In the dialectic cloud surrounding both words, the only difference seems to be that one represents human rights, and the other seems to represent the right of men, which is probably why students are reading Poly Amor and not in a compound somewhere.
How, then, does polyamory reconcile its image in the midst of the radically new, seemingly anti-traditionalist and undeniably sexy connotations which accompany it? How does it protect itself from misinterpretation? What, if anything, does this have to do with an orgy in Dorland?
Anne considered herself polyamorous from a young age, only finding a definition for her theory later on.
Whether or not Anne, nor the rest of the student body would like to admit it, Warren Wilson does a good job of attracting the attention of sexually progressive people like her. This results in orgies in Dorland and discussions on polyamory, which seem to point to one thing: students at Warren Wilson are willing to take a good hard look at the tradition of monogamy, both physically and emotionally. While images of steam-filled, booze-fueled all night romps in Dorland might conjure the unsavory frat-boy stereotype of college which all Warren Wilson students condemn, the fact that an orgy occurred in Dorland does promote the idea that sexual exploration can be a good thing, and who at Wilson would argue with that?
But we do, despite all appearances, exist within a larger society that in many ways is informed by tradition. Accordingly, she cites the rather public nature of the group sex in Dorland as reason enough that another one will probably not occur. In this decision, Anne exhibits a reasonable amount of restraint and reverence in dealing with what is probably the most dangerous topic of discussion in human history: sex. Sometimes finding a healthy middle-ground, especially when presenting radically new ideas that go against a longstanding tradition, as in the case of polyamory, can aid in legitimizing the ideas of the mainstream. While our allegiance to the real world is often forgotten, we are members of a larger social context. In the end, students need be less concerned with the fact that an orgy occurred on campus and concerned more with how these sorts of occurrences are represented, how sex as a private matter can safely skirt the border of sex as public matter, how we can use sex and relationships as means of education and a philosophy of life.