Alexa Nicolas | Why sex belongs in the classroom
The Fine Print | Penn students should be required to think critically about sex
September 18, 2012, 12:16 am·
The Fine Print
During my tenure at Penn, I have thought and read about sex tirelessly. I have considered sex through the lenses of history, anthropology and most recently, from a modern analytical perspective in discourse with queer theory.
I have written papers on medical discussions of sex in the Victorian Era, lesbian feminism, radical perspectives on the sexual hierarchy and perhaps the most titillating — as it allowed me to spend days perusing Van Pelt’s collection of Playboy on microfilm (which I highly recommend) — a paper on the legacy of Playboy aiding the creation of the modern male.
While I thought about sex, I watched my peers not. Thanks to dorm life, the figurative “watching” was often taken unavoidably literally.
But in the “Sex and Human Nature” class I took during my first year, I learned that a surprising number of male and even female students could not tell you where the clitoris was and that a much larger number of both members of the traditionally defined sexes had no idea what was going on in the menstrual cycle.
And, did you know — as many in my class of over 100 students did not — that the male member is not a muscle but a spongy tissue?
If nothing else, our collective ignorance about our bodies and behaviors should incite education. I am not insisting that Penn take up where our nation’s high schools have failed. Despite sex education’s importance, I’d prefer students take on the intellectual study of sexuality and see general sex education as a beneficial byproduct.
We owe it to ourselves to think about sex, critically. Sex blatantly permeates pop culture and advertising, where “sex sells” has become a marketing cliche. Sex is also the ringleader — arguably slightly more subtly — in many of our country’s greatest debates: contraception, abortion and marriage.
Our generation has the power to offer answers to these questions. Rather than hide behind partisan positions beaten to death, we should think of sex in the same way we analyze economic strategies, pick apart international relations and close-read ancient texts.
In a co-ed college culture where “hook-ups” are sought after, “dry spells” are a thing and “getting with someone” is an exciting topic, our conversations dance daily around sex. But we often choose jargon that removes the word “sex” from our vocabulary.
Unfortunately, talk doesn’t necessarily translate into critical thought — that’s why sex belongs in the classroom.
After all, the classroom provides a space for people to think differently about tradition and circumcision, love and marriage, power and consent.
For now, the idea that sex provides the foundations for society drives me to seek sexual-intellectual salvation for my peers. The French philosopher Michel Foucault conveys this best: sex creates populations. This points to the obvious: sex links generations.
Previously, politics informed the production of generations through intermarriage laws, sterilization cases, social immobility and the maintenance of segregated communities. A collegiate conversation on sex allows us to participate in how future generations are made and how we can meld the fabric of society.
The registrar numbers a dozen introductory classes that explore sex through a variety of subjects: film, folklore, literature, law, health and societies. Perhaps Penn could consider having College students fill an existing requirement with a course based in sexuality. This would maintain the status quo and enable students to think of sex as an interdisciplinary subject with the ability to fill a range of requirements with its single idea.
And, on a separate note, maybe in the same way freshmen have to complete an alcohol module before arriving on campus, there should be a mandatory “safer sex” program too. A program to teach students about common STIs, consent and some lessons on bodily function would be extraordinarily helpful in creating a safer campus.
I want to see sexual health on the NSO calendar. But, is that too extreme? Is that something we as a community are unwilling to face, since unlike alcohol, the threats to health from sex are often less conspicuous?
Penn should require students to think of sex — to think of their own health, orientation, decisions and dominance — because sex is never irrelevant.
Alexa Nicolas, a former 34th Street editor, is a College senior from New York, N.Y. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org “The Fine Print” appears every other Tuesday. Follow her @____Alexa___