Talking Sex

March 13th, 2014

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

That quote, often used to underline our own First Amendment and almost always attributed to Voltaire was actually first used by Evelyn Beatrice Hall, under the pseudonym of Stephen G. Tallentyre in The Friends of Voltaire (1906), as a summation of Voltaire’s beliefs on ... oh, never mind … the Tennessee General Assembly wouldn’t get the reference anyway, and even if they did, since it has something to do with France, it’s probably about sex, and sex is dirty and … oh, never mind.

As published in The Daily News, March 14, 2014, and in The Memphis News, March 15-21, 2014

Europa And The Bull


The Tennessee General Assembly has long been afraid of sex.

When I was a UT student in the late sixties, the Tennessee legislature proposed a law making it illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to view nude art. On the humanities complex plaza, stood and still stands a huge statue of Europa and the Bull – both starkers and anatomically and quite dramatically correct. The morning after the news of the proposed law broke, Europa was wearing a huge bra and the bull a jock strap, fashioned from sheets – lots of them – and placed on the statue by enterprising students in the night.

College students, then and now, unlike our legislators, then and now, have a keen sense of humor and a keen sense of the silly.

The Tennessee General Assembly is still afraid of sex.

Their grandparents and parents had it. They themselves, however infrequently, have it. Their children, if not yet, will have it. Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), Mike Bell (R-Athens) and Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) all have it, albeit very conventionally, I suspect, and in the dark. Everybody is a product of it, and the vast majority of unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, societal taboos and collective guilt is a product of myths and misunderstanding about it.

Yet the Tennessee General Assembly would cut off funds to a university whose students dare to talk openly and honestly about sex in a week of sexual awareness events. The aforementioned Puritans – sister Dolores, and brothers Bell and Campfield – and their faux-chaste flock in the House have already voted 69-17 to not merely chastise the University of Tennessee students who organized Sex Week, but to “condemn” them. Emblematic of the legislature, I think the condemned kids should walk around campus with a scarlet “A” emblazoned on their chests – this time for “asinine.”

We should all be very afraid of the Tennessee General Assembly.

I understand that the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees – governing the statewide system – and the Board of Regents – governing the rest of Tennessee’s public universities – have long regarded each other as Hatfields and McCoys, except that the Hatfields and McCoys got over it. While the Regents may snicker as UT’s president and chancellor defend the First Amendment and are forced to squirm in front of the state’s Sex Week inquisition, I would remind the Regents that they’re next.

When this sort of state silliness gets serious, when funding of any public university is dependent on state approval of what’s being said on that campus, then what’s being said on any campus, in any public venue or debate, is fair game and for sale.

Every college president in Tennessee should stand with UT President DiPietro and Chancellor Cheek in defense of free speech, in defense of free thought, in defense of higher education being higher in price than the threats of small minds.

If they all stood up to the silliness, it would be downright sexy.

I’m a Memphian, and it’s time to have that talk about sex.


I'm a Memphian by Dan Conaway

The book is available all over town – columns, comments and character references for a city filled with it and often absolutely full of it. Take a look.



City Girl: Bravo!

Liz gilliland: Thanks to you and Jennifer L. for sharing your thoughts in such an articulate manner. Obviously I couldn't agree more!!

Sam Swan: Well written Dan. It is unbelievable we have a Legislature so in the dark. I am concerned about Free Speech in this country as well as Freedom of the Press.

Peggy Veeser: GREAT article! great Rant! I wanted to say the same thing when I read that crazy article on sex week. Again, great work. You are the spokesperson for us Memphians!

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