If I was in charge of things (which, most unfortunately, I am not), I’d switch around the curriculum for colleges and universities. Many institutions of higher learning require students to take courses such as psychology, mathematics, economics, art history, etc, as liberal arts requirements. But there’s one thing that should be required for all students. A comprehensive survey of human sexuality. There are elective courses like this, but this shouldn’t be just an elective. Hell, I think most of my classmates at my previous college (a small women’s college in the Midwest) and my current one (A Big Name Art College somewhere on the East Coast) would benefit more from a course on sexuality, than the required economics class I had to take.
With the way that sex-ed is going on in the middle and high school levels, students enter college with information that is inaccurate because instructors were required to tell students the abstinence-only song and dance, including that most forms of birth control and STD prevention do not work, or inaccurate because they were educated by the gossip and urban legends of their classmates. And probably no information about the diversity of the gender and orientation spectrum. So what you have are thousands of students entering an environment where they are often living independently for the first time in their lives, but incredibly ignorant about sexuality.
Here’s what my fantasy curriculum would look like:
Learning about the parts of sexual anatomy and sexual organs, and teaching students the scientific names of such parts.
A contract between faculty and students, guaranteeing that the class will be a safe place, where students can voice their questions and concerns without fear of ridicule.
A brief history of sexuality, starting with the earliest writings on sex to the present day. Perhaps soe Sumerian love poetry, The Song of Solomon, The Karma sutra, excerpts for St. Hildegard Von Bingen’s visions (St. Hildegard was a nun, and responsible for the first written description of the female orgasm), etc. might be good readings, showing that sexuality is not a “new” idea. Perhaps also a discussion/lecture on the history of contraceptives, including history of abortions. Columbus’s diaries include descriptions of the herbs Arawak women would consume in order to have abortions. Basically, sourced readings showing that contraception and abortion wasn’t som alien concept that only happened during the 1970s.
Discussion on the diversity of gender and sexual orientation, including definitions of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, intersex, genderqueer, and questioning. Explaining the difference between sex and gender. Discussing the extent of which the heteronormative gender binary permeates Western culture.
Discussion of how “sex” is viewed/treated/discussed. What defines “sex”? Who gets to define what “sex” is? How does this affect people living outside of a determined sexual norm?
Discussion of rape culture. How is rape treated in the media? Pop culture? Language? Stressing that consent is not the absence of “no”, but the presence of an enthusiastic “yes”.
Discussion of current events, like legislation passing ENDA, repealing DADT, and legal restrictions on abortion.
Overall, a class that shows that sexuality is not some weird, alien thing, and that “normal” is a very broad term, and that there is a tremendous amount of diversity in the world. This may seem like “No shit, Sherlock” stuff, but so many of my classmates at both of my colleges didn’t know anything about gender diversity, or the ins and outs (no pun intended, seriously) of sexuality. A girl down the hall from me freshman year kicked out her roommate because her roommate was gay, and she feared that homosexuality was contagious. I had to explain to a friend why I always referred a male-to-female transgendered friend as “she”. A friend of mine, after asking another friend about anal sex, said that she thought that anal was “SO GROSS!!!” after her friend offered her some helpful suggestions on anal. And the attitude at Big Name Art School, especially from the freshman guys, is that they are somehow entitled to sex from everyone who shops at the women’s section of Urban Outfitters.
College is so often treated by pop culture as this booze-soaked sexual playground, but the truth is that many students are confused, and downright scared of sexuality. A comprehensive, required course on sexuality can help debunk many of the myths about sex that college students learn from years of poor education, and open up students minds so that they learn not to put sex, gender, and orientation into neat little boxes. After all, learning to keep an open mind is what colleges should be about in the first place.
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