Plans to promote safe sex at the University of Tennessee's Knoxville campus through a series of lectures, games and classes have sparked debate in the state legislature for the second year running.
The state House of Representatives passed a nonbinding resolution on a 69-17 vote Monday night that condemns Sex Week, a campus-wide event that starts Sunday and features light-hearted activities such as an aphrodisiac cooking class as well as serious discussions on topics such sexual assault, binge drinking and pornography.
Legislators say the six-day event sends the wrong message about the University of Tennessee and the state. In addition to the resolution, at least two other bills that relate to Sex Week have been filed.
"I support First Amendment rights," said the resolution's sponsor, state Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga. "You don't have a right to drag the UTK brand … through the mud."
The resolution does not prevent Sex Week from going forward, but the scrutiny has placed university officials in a difficult spot. While not endorsing Sex Week, they say they also cannot stop it without infringing on students' First Amendment rights.
Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee, a student group, organized Sex Week, with about $20,000 of the event's budget coming from mandatory activity fees paid by students. That sum amounts to about 21 cents a student, university President Joe DiPietro testified to lawmakers last week.
Proponents argue that Sex Week events promote healthy sexuality among young adults. But the very existence of the series has prompted visceral reactions from some lawmakers.
"I'm going to send my 17-year-old daughter up there next year," said House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga. "What kind of people that are up there are doing this stuff?"
Opponents of the resolution argued Monday that the students are old enough to run their own events without interference.
"I represent the University of Tennessee, and I've had numerous students that object to the intervention of the legislature in their campus disputes," said state Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville.
The resolution may not be lawmakers' last word on Sex Week. Another bill filed this session would require state universities to divide up student activity fees based on groups' membership numbers, which would make it harder for organizers to put together such an event again next year. A third bill would prevent schools from hiring outside speakers, apart from visiting professors and academic lecturers.
House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, says lawmakers are justified in being upset over Sex Week, but she told reporters university officials should handle the matter internally, rather than face more restrictive legislation.
"It doesn't reflect well on our university," she said. "I think you're going to see a change in student fees and how student fees are allocated."
For information on Sex Week and to look at this year's events, go to