Dr. Margaret Landman Brooks and The CSPH
The CSPH has faced a fair amount of adversity since its inception in 2009. Members of the Citizens Against Trafficking (an anti-rights, sex work abolitionist group) continue to harass staff and supporters of The Center, particularly regarding our outreach on college campuses. These bullies use both overt and hidden tactics in an attempt to delegitimize the importance of conversations about sexuality, pleasure, sex work, and sexual rights.
Most recently, Dr. Margaret Landman Brooks, director of the Economics Department at Bridgewater State University, sent a series of emails to the provost of Vanderbilt University using a series of red herring, slippery slope, and equivocation arguments as well as ad hominem attacks in an attempt to convince the school that it would be legally liable for sexual assaults that occurred on campus after the Study Sex College Tour workshop, “Brilliant in Bed.” While not the only protestation, Dr. Margaret Landman Brooks decision to use rhetoric causally linking pleasure focused sexuality education to sexual assault on campus is both inaccurate and insidious.
We at The CSPH have chosen to address this issue publicly because the tactics used by Dr. Margaret Landman Brooks in this case are irresponsible and dangerous when the context of the climate at Vanderbilt University, as well as the current conversations around sexual assault, BDSM, and Intimate Partner Violence.
Dear Dr. Margaret Landman Brooks:
Happy Anniversary! It has been five years since The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health opened its doors to the public. I’m sure you are as excited about this occasion as we are, because your investment in inserting yourself into the goings on at The CSPH and our founder, Megan Andelloux, is nearly unparalleled.
I know that it seems facetious to say thank you for continually harassing and hindering the work that we do both at the Center and in our outreach to communities across the US, but the sentiment is sincere. Without you, Dr. Brooks, and those who engage with us from a similar perspective, we would be unaware of the breadth and depth of misinformation being spread about comprehensive, pleasure positive, sexuality education.
For example, in your most recent attempt to thwart a sex week, the one where you emailed the Provost of Vanderbilt University to express your concern about bringing Megan to campus to lead Brilliant in Bed, a workshop that reviews safer sex techniques, obtaining consent, and tactics to reduce risk in sexual situations, you made some specious, if not completely untrue assertions. These include:
- discussion of sexual pleasure will encourage men to rape;
- bringing “adult products” onto the campus encourages rape;
- sex education on campus supports rape culture;
- because Megan talks about BDSM practices as a part of her talk, Vanderbilt would be liable if any more rape cases appeared on campus because BDSM encourages rape by decreasing people’s ability to say no;
- by bringing giant microbes to the presentation Megan is making STI’s cute and encouraging people to transmit infections.
The timing of this particular communique, and your repeated references to the issue of sexual assault on campus, might seem alarmist and insensitive considering the recent conviction of two young men, prominent in the Vanderbilt community, for sexually assaulting another student. Creating the bridge between sexuality education and rape is insidious and inaccurate.
After a community has been shaken by such a violent and public display of rape culture, it is not the time to slam the door on discussion. It is the time for people to talk about sexuality from a healthy and shame-reducing perspective rather than reducing the amount of information and access to conversations that people have.
With increasing frequency, schools are addressing assault by providing education to the larger student body. Not just colleges, but middle and high schools are beginning to add lessons on consent and include frank discussions of relationship dynamics into their sexuality education lessons.
It is probably important to let you know that you failed to cancel the event. Even in the uncomfortable climate at Vanderbilt right now, the school administration decided it was more important to provide its students access to information than succumb to fabricated, alarmist assertions from a fear-mongering bully. Regardless of your impassioned urging of the senior administration to reconsider whether or not paddles with the word SLUT printed on them violate the Vanderbilt Personal Power Based Violence policy (which they don’t), students and administrators found the workshop fun, entertaining, educational, and useful.
Taking proactive steps to further conversation about rights, safety, sexuality is an important part reducing sexual violence and increasing individual empowerment. If you are looking for things to pour your energy into, may we recommend a few. You could look into the recently exposed, but industry-wide issue of intimate partner violence in professional sports. You could work to elevate the voices of people from the communities you work with through the the Jump$tart Coalition, by not only providing education about financial management, but also around increasing personal autonomy and safety. You could go back to Brown University, your alma mater, and get involved with the feminist student organizations there. You could sit through a session on sex worker rights, perhaps from an organization like The Sex Workers Outreach Project, to learn more about the actual issues that are important to the community you have spent so much time trying to criminalize. You could attempt to broaden your horizons about kink by going to a beginners workshop, where, I am sure, you will learn about the importance of negotiation and consent in the context of creating a scene.
On your own campus, Bridgewater State University, there are multiple student groups you could work with to decrease sexual violence. You should try reaching out to Student’s Against Sexual Assault, The Social Justice League, Sister Scholars, or the campus Pride Center. I’m sure the type of long-standing dedication you have shown by repeatedly attacking The CSPH would be welcomed by campus organizers.
Clearly, your dedication to The CSPH is a very personal mission. From contacting schools, to co-authoring articles, to getting banned from wikipedia for inappropriate changes to Megan’s page, we seem to be continually on your radar. If you would like to talk about how we, as a sex positive education, sexual assault prevention organization can work with you to make change, contact us. But if your goal is just to continue lurking behind the scenes waiting for your chance to contact organizations who see the importance of providing holistic, positive sexuality education to the public, please find another focus.
Content and Brand Manager
The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health