Four new sex columnists for the UT Austin’s Daily Texan are titillating students with masturbation how-to’s and ‘freak in the sheets’ tell-alls. Cue the conservative backlash.
The award-winning newspaper has a venerable history—alums include Walter Cronkite, Lady Bird Johnson, Robert Bill Moyers, and Liz Smith—but this year, editors decided to veer into brave new territory: sex columns.
“Safe sex should be something people should want to talk about openly and honestly,” says Kelsey McKinney, the associate managing editor of the Daily Texan. “It’s something that can be important—but also can be a little bit more fun than our breaking news.”
This semester, the paper welcomed four anonymous columnists to its Life & Arts section: Fabulous Frank, Sexy Sally, Virgin Veronica, and Committed Caroline (no relation to this author). They each have a gimmick: Frank promises “a single gay man’s perspective on the issues that face us all”; Sally is a “lady on the streets but a freak in the sheets”; Veronica describes her adventures on how she wants a “UPS Rush Delivery on Sex”; and Caroline is the one to champion for a steady partner and assure her readers that things don’t have to get boring just because you’re in a committed relationship.
“It’s probably not something I’ll tell the grandkids,” laughs Fabulous Frank, who has thought about law school or possibly graduate school in the humanities after he graduates—if his column stays anonymous, that is.
Each week, the editors meet with the four columnists (“typically with alcohol”) to pick an overarching topic, and then each columnist tackles it from his or her own experience. The topics have varied from “Why I Have Sex” (or why not, in Veronica’s case) to “Masturbation.”
“I didn’t know my own body at all, so how could I be ready to share it,” wrote Committed Caroline in her column on masturbation. “So I learned. Girls in Texas aren’t taught how to pleasure themselves any better than they’re taught where to get birth control, so I learned with my hands under the covers by myself where to touch myself and how.”
“Girls in Texas aren’t taught how to pleasure themselves any better than they’re taught where to get birth control.”
The masturbation columns in particular rankled more than a few of UT’s conservative students. Austin may be known for its liberal bent, but it’s still a state university in Texas, after all. The editors and the columnists all described the reception on campus to the self-pleasure paeans as “mixed.”
There are people who “are questioning the Daily Texan’s capability,” McKinney says. “Like, how dare you put this on the Daily Texan’s website.” (Just for clarity, the Daily Texan is independent of the school; it does have a faculty adviser, Michael Brick, but he does not oversee day-to-day editorial operations.) The masturbation columns were slammed by the conservative blog Campus Reform, which called the paper out over receiving student fees from the university.
The Daily Texan‘s editor-in-chief, Laura Wright, who does not oversee the sex columns, says she has dealt with backlash mainly from alumni, but “they have not made any moves to ask us to stop publishing them and we don’t intend to.”
The biggest firestorm has been on social media and on campus, prompting one of the paper’s reporters, Larisa Manescu, to write a piece defending the sex columns. “Texas’s sex columns, vulgar though they may seem, are crucially important,” she wrote.
The columnists and the editors were all in agreement about one thing: abstinence education still rules in Texas, and sex is not a topic that kids in the state grow up talking about.
“It certainly makes some people uncomfortable and those people have given us a little bit of backlash, but really we enjoy what we are doing and we know we’re not doing it just for fun—we’re doing it for a purpose,” says Sexy Sally. “We try not to pay attention to the haters. For the most part, people who grew up in Texas—we didn’t have a very good sex education and it’s not typically something parents are super open with their kids and I think that’s why it’s made some people feel kind of uncomfortable.”
“I believe most comments on my column in particular have been along the lines of ‘I’m so glad there’s someone like me,’ which is awesome,” Virgin Veronica tells The Daily Beast.
Even though the columns haven’t generated a huge number of comments on their individual pages, they are bringing in large amounts of traffic. The Daily Texan itself the largest student newspaper in the country, with a daily circulation of around 12,000. But the past few years have been tough for the Daily Texan, which his operated by Texas Student Media—it survives on advertising dollars and the fraction of its costs it covers from student fees. Circulation has declined in recent years, and some estimates say it could only keep running for another two years on its current budget.
In the meantime, the four sex columnists have received enough buzz to become minor celebrities around campus—albeit anonymous ones.
“I’m sure some of my friends have suspected me and I’ve had to tell them that it’s absolutely not me,” Frank says. “I’m absolutely the last person you think would be writing a sex column.”
Sally says she doesn’t think anyone suspects her, although a friend took a screenshot of one column when she noticed a phrase that Sally uses—and asked “Did the Daily Texan steal this from you?”
Caroline, meanwhile, says that she had told at least one person: her partner. When she revealed her secret idenitty, she says, he “wasn’t thrilled,” but “eventually he agreed I should do it.” “We both have had trials in our sex life that no one talks about, and I wanted to be able to talk about those things,” Caroline says. “I actually think the column has been really good for our relationship because we talk about sex more, which is good for us.”
Despite all the controversy, none of the four writers say they are aspiring to become the next Carrie Bradshaw and continue the sex column after graduation. Still, Caroline says she “wouldn’t rule out” entering a career as a professional writer, and Virgin Veronica admits that she “would never rule it out. It’s a lot of fun!”