Penn State columnist Kristina Helfer made the news last month (on a much smaller scale than another recent Nittany Lion associate) for her first installment of "Mounting Nittany," a weekly column in Penn State's student newspaper The Daily Collegian.
Helfer's column delves into college students' sex lives. Is that news to anyone? I didn't think so, but the revelation seems to have some people up in arms, including current Penn Staters. As a matter of fact, nine letters to the editor were published in response to "Let's talk sex, hugs and handjobs," which was the first
column in the "Mounting Nittany" series.
While some critiqued the quality of Helfer's writing, others criticized her for writing about her personal sexcapades, and some praised her for being "brave enough" to write about sex, everyone seemed to agree that it was surprising to see this topic broached in a college newspaper.
It's no secret that young people have sex, even here at Duquesne. At the same time, no one is hanging out of their Towers dorm window screaming about it — not usually, at least. You may see a college student walking home in last night's outfit on a Sunday morning "walk of shame," or you hear of someone being "sexiled" by a roommate, but how many young people do you know who will openly discuss the act itself?
Sex isn't something to be ashamed of; it is, after all, a natural thing. But, if it's going to be published in a reputable newspaper, the discussion needs to be approached with a whole lot of class.
In contrast to "Mounting Nittany," which consists of a string of unconnected thoughts and opinions about sex, The Pitt News features a sex and dating advice column by Leah Trimble. I'll admit it — I'm a fan, if for no other reason than Trimble's column is often thought provoking, insightful and, importantly, well-written. For the most part, Trimble approaches sex tactfully and honestly.
Helfer states in her first column, "Don't think for a minute that sex is a less dangerous version of an extreme sport." She's definitely right; sex is just as serious as deciding to jump out of a plane or swim with the sharks.
What's disturbing is how lax Helfer's attitude is toward sex. Instead of offering advice or insight to her fellow students, Helfer's writing style gives dime-store romance novels a run for their money. She could bring up some relevant and important issues that college students would want to know about, but she uses the opportunity to publically share her personal sexcapades (some of which she proudly shares took place under a crabapple tree and on the Nittany Lion Shrine).
Helfer's more recent "Mounting Nittany" columns are a little better than the first, but are still lacking on one necessary major change: addressing sex as an at least somewhat private act. Some things are not meant for small talk or casual conversation with strangers.
People's emotions are involved, whether it's a hookup or not. Whether or not you think sex is an appropriate topic to discuss in the pages of a college newspaper, it's safe to say that Helfner took an entire column in a reputable college newspaper to say what anyone else could say in just a few words: "I like sex. It's fun."
Robyn Rudish-Laning is a graduate public relations student and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.