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Video: Duke sex report sparks gender debate

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    >>> how we actually get there, just ahead on our special series "today's" journey to secret kingdoms, we're going to travel to the real timbucktu.

    >> reporter: at duke university , a joke between girlfriends just sparked a national debate about men, women and sex.

    >> i had the best time of my life last night, twice and once this morning.

    >> reporter: men have been getting away with it for years, bragging about their sexual conquests. the ladds can play that game too. karen was a student at duke, just graduated and wrote this 42-page december siration about -- no secrets here, karen used their names and shirtless pictures. we're hiding their identities. karen ranked the men by physical attractiveness, talents, creativity and aggressiveness.

    >> at first i was pretty excited when i saw it. i was like, good for her, this is awesome.

    >> reporter: karen wrote this about a duke lacrosse player, experience was on his side and he used it. and another man, he was terrible, don't even bother to kiss me more than a few seconds. karen meant the sex list only for her friends, but it made the rounds. this girl gets a fist pump and then some from me, one woman wrote, but karen has critics too.

    >> i think what she did was unnecessary, selfish.

    >> reporter: do you think if a guy did this it would be different?

    >> i think everyone would think they're -- oh, the lacrosse players , they're horrible people.

    >> reporter: karen has gone into virtual hiding, but a blog for women says they recently spoke with her.

    >> i spoke to karen , she feels badly that she unintentionally violated the privacy of her partners, but doesn't feel bad about actually having sex with them. she has changed the stereotype of what women want, plenty of women want just what men want which is to have fun.

    >> so on the duke campus, the question, have the tables finally turned on them? for "today," jeff rossen , nbc news.

    >> judith is a psychologist and dan abrams is nbc's chief legal analyst. good morning to you both.

    >> let's talk about the legal side, you are a duke alumni , 1988 ?

    >> yes.

    >> the athletes that karen owen writes about, she showed us the pictures of them, she named them. do they have any legal resource at all?

    >> possibly, are they going to say any of it is false? are they going to say they never had sex with her? assuming they don't do that, the next lawsuit would be an invasion of privacy case. sex is the sort of thing that leads people to file them. remember, they may not just be suing her, they may sue the people who distributed it because they may be more responsible legally than her because they're the ones who got it out there and the minute you send something out, you're responsible for that content that you're distributing.

    >> i wondered if she would be liable at all because when she sent to it her friends, she didn't have any expectation they would send out us.

    >> you could slander sm someone by saying something to one other person. the question is anybody actually going to file a lawsuit? i'm not sure that any of these guys are going to want to be in the business of filing a lawsuit, but we'll see?

    >> are you going to be the one that got the ten that files the lawsuit or are you going to be the one? that's the core psychological issue, she acted not like the classic victim when guys do this traditionally, but like the aggressor. she had high risk , no attachment sex, she's comfortable with it. then she bragged about it, a traditional gender bending behavi behavior.

    >> quite a few consider her a hero for turning the tables and do what men, many people perceive, have done for years.

    >> i'm not at all surprised by the shock, and yes, this is what it feels like when you're sitting by the phone and you're bragging in the locker room and it doesn't feel so bad to be on the aggressor side.

    >> i would think that if it had been a man who had written this about women, i think there would be a lawsuit. if you saw 13 women described in the way she described them, somebody would want to exact either some level of revenge or to get money for it et cetera because of the societal differences.

    >> certainly there would be traditional moral outrage. look at these indencenssensitive guys. here's like young women do this, they get drunk and they think, i wonder if i could have a piece of him and then they go home and tell their girlfriends and they're not embarrassed or shocked. that's a kind of -- that really takes us aback.

    >> now that it's out there, she doesn't look good either, ultimately.

    >> he's going to have to account for this on future dates. but she's not expressing herself as embarrassed. what she's expressing herself in a traditional male way is i am so sorry if i hurt anyone's feelings or invaded their privacy.

    >> what about a book deal, this is all coming if she wants it. this has made her a commodity.

    >> you chose not to run it, why?

    >> we were actually in the process of blurring out the names and the faces for our sports grid to put it on that site. and the reason in the end is because the other sites put it up without blurring out the faces first. so i thought as a legal matter, i was looking at it as a lawyer and saying if we put up these faces with these names with this sort of stuff on there, we might get sued. so in the process while we were spending the hour, hour and a half of doing it, some of the other sites put it up without blurring it. and so it was an interesting -- we went through a whole back and forth about this, about what to do with this. because on the one hand, it was fascinating, on the other hand it was kind of gross and on the other hand, it was somewhere i was worried legally.

    >> and with ten seconds to go, a lesson here?

    >> social issues are more important than the legal issues, when you send your daughter to college, she's going to face a lot of options, if you don't want her to face this one, talk it over.

TODAY contributor
updated 10/7/2010 9:45:03 AM ET 2010-10-07T13:45:03

Karen Owen took kiss-and-tell to a whole new level when she combined her Duke University-honed academic acumen with her extracurricular wild side to create an elaborate sex list ranking the college men she bedded.

But now the recent Duke grad finds herself red-faced over attention she never bargained for: Her tongue-in-cheek “unofficial senior thesis” on sex with Duke athletes spread from the three friends she originally e-mailed to the whole 14,000-strong student body and, eventually, to websites the whole world can see.

“It’s funny because we know the people on it,” one Duke University student told NBC for a TODAY report on Owen’s now-infamous sex list.

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‘Horizontal academics’
Owen’s sex ranking is nothing if not precise. She took a list of 13 men she slept with, drawing mainly from Duke’s lacrosse team — the same team that was embroiled in a sex scandal of its own in 2006 — and created a bar graph ranking their sexual prowess. She left little to the imagination in creating a 42-slide PowerPoint presentation, detailing sex in the university library during finals week, sex in cars and, most of all, sex while inebriated.

“In my blackout state, still managed to crawl into bed with a Duke athlete,” Owen commented on one escapade.

Owen called her presentation “An education beyond the classroom: excelling in the realm of horizontal academics,” and was clearly having fun mixing her book smarts with her partying experience. She treated her sex ranking as a full-on thesis, writing, “Senior year and college in general often bring about certain situations that result in the seeking of so-called ‘sex.’ Until now, no studies have succeeded in developing a methodology for quantifying and ranking these so-called horizontal academics. In this study, we used data from four years at Duke University to create evaluation criteria for such encounters and applied these criteria to evaluated subjects.”

Karen Owen’s presentation included a bar chart rating her lovers’ performance.

While Owen was obviously not serious in her clinical rankings of her lovers’ sex skills, she may have done too good a job: The friends she e-mailed couldn’t keep it to themselves and began hitting the “forward” button on their e-mail accounts. Thus Owen now finds herself one of the most infamous authors in the country.

And while she was initially full of bluster, saying she’s “got some fantastic stories for the grandkids,” Owen is now sorry that her list has become a viral sensation. “I regret it with all my heart,” she told the Jezebel.com website. “I would never intentionally hurt the people that are mentioned on that.”

Video: Duke alum’s sex-rating report goes viral (on this page)

Owen names names in her presentation, including one unfortunate student of whom she said, “it was over too quickly.” Duke University issued a statement saying it was “reaching out to those who’ve been affected by this incident,” and athletes on the list are less than thrilled, some reportedly regarding the report as harassment.

‘Teachable moment’
It’s another sore point at Duke, which is one of the most prestigious universities in the country but is still smarting from the black eye of the lacrosse team scandal, in which a stripper hired for a team party accused three team members of sexually assaulting her. While the charges were dropped, the infamy remains.

Internet safety expert Donna Rice Hughes pointed to the scandal as a “teachable moment.”

“The last thing this university needed was something like this,” a Duke student told NBC.

Speaking with Meredith Vieira on TODAY, Internet safety expert Donna Rice Hughes called the Owen paper “a teachable moment,” saying parents need to get involved early on in their children’s lives to instill Internet discretion.

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“It’s so important when we see these stories to not think your child is immune, because your child is not immune to any Internet dangers,” she told Vieira. “We need to teach our kids; they need to think before they post. They really need to think twice about whether or not they even want to send to a personal friend.”

Rice Hughes also lamented, “There seems to be a lack of modesty or discretion even among our girls.”

But Owen’s lack of discretion has also made her a hot property. After Jezebel.com posted her sex presentation, the site heard from several publishers looking to contact her.

“Even though I’m sure she’s horrified that her, uh, presentation, which was intended for a small group of friends, has gone viral, she’s a very good, funny writer, and I’m wondering if she has any interest in writing a book,” a HarperCollins editor wrote to the site.

For information about Internet safety from Donna Rice Hughes’ group Enough Is Enough, visit their website by clicking here.

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