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{Empty title} | The Nation

I was the editor-in-chief of the Pitt News, the University of Pittsburgh's daily student paper, when we started a sex column back in 2004. Our first sex columnist, an outgoing woman, was excellent and extremely well-received, becoming a campus celebrity and local topic of conversation.

While there was some pushback, her tact and a careful consideration of how to approach the column made the column extremely well-read and -respected. The writer even was able to avoid being pigeonholed, and used the semi-fame to acquire a coveted job in the local journalism industry, where she has since been employing her considerable reporting and writing skills.

The man we hired to replace her was also an excellent writer, though a little brasher. I recall being stunned when, several months in, it was clear his column was generating significantly more controversy. Though the column survived, we learned an important lesson: context is everything when it comes to writing about sex. Even on a college campus, people can receive similar messages differently when they come from, say, an attractive woman versus a young man.

As every good newspaper adviser is fond of saying, the right to print something does not always make it a good idea. The Student Press Law Center does an admirable job of protecting rights, but it can not keep a newspaper's credibility with its readers. While some campuses are liberal enough to tolerate graphic and even vulgar images and writing, most college papers that want to publish a sex column have to deal with a whole host of issues, from administration to wary advisers to the local populace and politics that may lead readers to be offended enough to stop reading.