Daily Collegian’s First Sex Column Goes Viral at Penn State

The premiere of the first sex column published within The Daily Collegian at Penn State has provoked a massive online response.  In less than 24 hours and a bit more than 700 words, Kristina Helfer has become a household name in Happy Valley.

In her debut column, “Mounting Nittany,” Helfer offered a simple message that the higher ed. masses too often forget: Sex happens in college, and it’s OK to talk about.  As she writes, “I love sex.  I love talking about it, I love having it, and I’m sure I’m not the only one, male or female, who feels the same way.  Someday, all of us will be having sex– unless you’re still living in your mom’s basement– and it won’t be a big deal.  Maybe you’re having sex right now, while you’re reading this column (lucky you), maybe you had it last night, or maybe you’ve never had it at all, but sex is all around us.  We’re at the point in our lives when we are coming into our sexuality.”

In the tradition of countless other student sex columns that have been published since the phenomenon’s start in the mid-1990s, Helfer’s words have stirred a torrential rainstorm of reader reactions.  By the morning after its placement online, comments numbered more than 300– some praising the piece’s boldness and necessity in the collegiate landscape and others decrying it as vulgar, pointless, and an embarrassment to journalism, the Collegian, and Nittany Lions worldwide.

On Twitter, the hashtag #mountingnittany gained immediate momentum with a range of tweets mixing snark and sexual innuendo.  Meanwhile, on the homepage of Onward State, an online news outlet run by PSU students, the top story was an open letter written by an international relations major asking Helfer on a date.  The headline: “Courting Nittany.”

Through droplets of sarcasm, the student actually seems sincere in his flattery and infatuation.  As he tells Helfer, “I love the name of your column– it’s no Savage Love, but it’s still very smart and eye-catching.  Also, I love your writing style– it’s like erotic beat poetry. . . . I just got out of a long-term relationship, so I’m not looking for anything particularly serious right now, but based on your column I don’t think you are either, so I thought we might be a good match!”

The bottom line, as Onward State founder and PSU student all-star Davis Shaver tweeted in the piece’s wake:”Definitely the most viral (yep) column launch I’ve seen in my time at #Penn State.  Let’s see if they can keep it up.”

My open letter to Ms. Helfer: You’re off to a bold start on a topic that deserves a column, especially from the student perspective.  Looking forward to the follow-up.  In the weeks to come, be prepared for endless Facebook friend requests, outrageously sexual banter in emails and before-class chats, scores of haters, endless slaps on the back, shrieks from parents, and sly smiles from profs.  Use the power for good.  Write about sexual issues and trends that provoke thought, change minds, open eyes, and provide students with a voice within a media stratosphere filled with clueless adults endlessly opining about what ‘kids these days’ are doing sexually.  Good luck!

Shameless plug alert: For the full story of the student newspaper sex column movement and the journalism revolution it represents, check out my book.  I’ll also be leading a related session later this month at the ACP/CMA National College Media Convention in Orlando.  Details to be posted soon.

6 Responses to “Daily Collegian’s First Sex Column Goes Viral at Penn State”
  1. From my interview with the Columbia Journalism Review: “Too many ‘student newspapers’ are geared toward young students, and because of that, professors and administrators across the country who genuinely want to read about important issues at their universities have to weed through sex columns, Lady Gaga album reviews, and unresearched and disconnected opinion pieces.”

    I think this applies here.

  2. Dan says:

    Michael- Good to hear from you. It’s a vaguely fair point in principle. But it fails on four counts. 1) A vast majority of student newspapers are for students first. 2) The ‘sex beat’ is a fantastic addition to modern journalism that various experts at places from Poynter to Kinsey have pointed out is SORELY lacking across media as a whole and yet dominates many aspects of our lives. I give students a ton of credit for having the courage and foresight to tackle related topics and trends. Professional journalists should be taking notes. Not all the resulting columns scream uber-quality, but the power of the movement overall has a ton of merit. 3) When you start attacking student publications for failing to meet the standards of admins and profs, you lose sense of their ultimate purpose– serving readers is part of the mission, but ultimately they are learning vehicles for the student journalists themselves. When we forget that, and treat their shortcomings as failures instead of building blocks, we all lose.
    4) Careful about invoking the wrath of the Little Monsters! What the heck’s wrong with music reviews and pop culture pieces on sex, love, life, etc., along with the news? If Lady Gaga and sex is out, sports, Sudoku, comics, heck most feature pieces should go then too! :p Every pub needs variety! Hope all’s well. :)

  3. I wholeheartedly agree with your #3. I think your #1 is precisely where we differ. (See: http://www.journu.net/views/2011/09/07/remember-your-audience-dont-write-just-for-kids/). ‘For students’ slowly turns into ‘for kids’. College isn’t an age group and shouldn’t be treated as such. When I was a 28-year-old undergrad, married, and with children; I found myself wanting the news that, say, an administrator wanted. I hated that I was constantly being lumped into the 18-22 just because of my studies.

    Great to hear from you as well!

  4. Great thoughts! I really enjoy your work.

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  2. […] As I wrote previously on CMM, the early October premiere of “Mounting Nittany,” the first sex column published within the Collegian, provoked a massive online response.  In subsequent weeks, it maintained a cult love-it-or-hate-it following. […]