the Northwestern sex class controversy

I said I was writing this post, and here it is:

Everyone’s asking what do I think about the fact that a couple engaged in a real sex act in a classroom after class in front of a bunch of consenting adult undergrads. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Read about it here.)

My first thought is, “Idano, I wouldn’t do that in my class.”

My second thought is, “But I do show sexually explicit media optionally in my class.”

So question is: what is the difference between live sex and porn, such that one is something I’m not willing to provide for my students and the other I am?

If the average age at which an American is exposed to porn is 11 (and I don’t actually know the reference for this statistic, but I’ve heard it multiple different reputable places), then lotsa lotsa lotsa the folks in that class had viewed sexually explicit media. Is viewing live sex categorically different from, or just an extension of, their experience with porn?

I think it’s the former. I kinda feel like porn is to live sex as watching “West Wing” is to ACTUALLY BEING IN the West Wing. We may enjoy the fantasy, but it’s really just actors, a script, and a production crew working with their imaginations. We’re not watching anyone really change policies, protect the President, or write the State of the Union, if you see what I mean. (I worked hard on that analogy and I’m still not satisfied with it.) Qualitatively, it’s not the same.

I feel comfortable offering my students the media representation, carefully screened by me, and I don’t feel comfortable offering the real thing, no matter how thoroughly vetted.

Why not? Do I think there is the potential for educational value in a live demonstration of sexual activities? I do. I’ve seen some in my life and I’ve always found them to be informative, memorable, and a vital part of my development of a sex-positive professional.

So why would I not provide it in my class?

Well, for me it’s really about the nature of power, coersion, and consent. No matter how often an instructor says, “This is going to be explicit, it is not required, you are free to leave,” it’s still the case that other people (maybe even the instructor) will observe you leave or stay and you may feel compelled to leave or stay based on your perception of others’ perception, if you see what I mean. “Freedom” to stay or leave is bound by the real and rarely acknowledged constraints of social expectancies and norms.

And my value judgment, in my class, is that providing that “freedom” around sexually explicit media is sufficiently non-coerced, but around live sex it isn’t.

Why is that? Dunno. Gut feeling.

Do I think Dr Bailey should have provided this opportunity in his class? I don’t know enough about it to tell what kind of screening process he used to select the folks involved, but I can imagine circumstances where you find safe, sane, consensual folks to whom an instructor could entrust their students. Are the folks involved such people? Idano.

A question to which I would like to know the answer is, how did this story make it to the news? Who informed a journalist that this was happening? Was it a student? The professor? Weird Chicago Tours? The couple? What was that person hoping to gain? WHY is this news, when we’re still basically fighting two wars, Lybia is a nightmare, there are earthquakes in New Zealand, and oh yeah, global poverty, hunger, AIDS, and the commodification of women’s bodies?

For reference, in my class I have shown Orgasm! Faces of Ecstasy, Zen Pussy, and a collection of vintage erotica that Patrick gave me for my birthday one year, and Nina Hartley’s Guide to Oral Sex.