At some point in their encounters with the outside world, Harvard students are forced to admit that they do attend Harvard, not just some school "in Boston" (the preferred understated approach). This is known in Cambridge as "dropping the H bomb." "It's an awkward thing you have to say and get over," explains junior Camilla Hrdy. Last fall, Hrdy and her friend Katharina Cieplak-von Baldegg, a sophomore, decided that--awkwardness aside--H Bomb was the perfect title for a magazine they wanted to start about a subject that just doesn't get enough attention: sex.
The two earnestly filled out forms to win university approval (plus $2,000 from the undergraduate council) and were ready to roll this winter when The Harvard Crimson published an article describing the project as a "porn" magazine. The resulting ruckus drew national headlines but didn't deter the two editors. Last week they finally dropped their H Bomb on Harvard, during finals. The premiere issue includes erotic fiction, nude photos and poetry about sex ("Dark as my flesh was the spot / left behind on the spread, where later I shot / myself mindlessly into your depths").
Despite the fuss, H Bomb is hardly groundbreaking. Many college papers feature student columnists who discuss such subjects as vibrators and oral sex. In the age of "Sex and the City," students and even some parents consider this frankness almost routine. After Northwestern senior Rachel Bertsche published her first column, she received an e-mail from her dad, an educator. "I'm a very proud father," he wrote, "even if my jaw is on the floor." Last February, senior Eric Rubinstein organized Sex Week at Yale, which he describes as "a celebration and exploration of sex and sexuality." Speakers included a porn star, the creator of "Girls Gone Wild" and a masturbation expert. Rubinstein traces his generation's openness to the Lewinsky scandal. "We were in high school then," he says. "That kind of brought sex out of the closet."
At Harvard, many students seemed more interested in studying than in H Bomb, but Hrdy and Cieplak-von Baldegg said the reaction was generally positive. One note of concern came in a sermon by Harvard chaplain Mark D. W. Edington. "Try to understand, cowboys and cowgirls, that you're actually worth a lot more than what our sad sexual culture is trying to sell you out for," he said. "No matter how you cut it, crop it, light it or shade it... exploitation is still a denial of anyone's and everyone's dignity... And that will still be true whether the H Bomb manages to--um--go off, or simply turns out to be more dud than stud." Amen to that.