10 Most Controversial College Courses on Human Sexuality

Americans notoriously share a bizarrely dichotomous relationship with human sexuality. They love breasts, butts, and babymakin’, but simultaneously seem to relish in condemning them whenever the opportunity arises. That’s another sociology discussion for another day, though. Unsurprisingly, this oxymoronic proclivity means the minute a college launches a human sexuality course, no matter how scientifically minded, somebody complains. Some classes manage to conjure up more controversy than others, however, whether because of methods, real or perceived support of the LGBT community/birth control/abortion/another controversial issue, or something else entirely. Take the following, for example.

  1. Indiana University

    The fact that human sexuality classes even exist in the first place is almost exclusively because of the efforts of zoologist Alfred Kinsey. Taught under the guise of a marriage preparation course, the pre-eminent sexologist set about learning everything he could about what Americans do when they think nobody’s looking (or, in some cases, when they absolutely know someone is!). Moral guardians, of course, raged over the course’s straightforward approach to all things sexual “” even when presented within the context of matrimonial bliss. Students, wittingly and unwittingly, provided him with case studies for looking at sex scientifically, which, up to that point, had never really been done on such a large scale. These days, some ethical questions about his methods swirl about, but that doesn’t change his pioneer status any.

  2. Northwestern University

    Northwestern human sexuality professor J. Michael Bailey saw his course canned after an optional after-class session resulted in a national popping of monocles and clutching of pearls. The students, all above the age of 18, knew exactly what the festivities entailed and could refrain from attending without any penalty to their grade, but demonstrating sex toys unsurprisingly offended some people in the community. In fact, Huxton, Tenn.’s Community Baptist Church completely rejected Northwestern University volunteers for no reason other than Professor Bailey’s extracurricular lessons. The incident in question involved showing off the capabilities of the “f—saw” on a live, fully consenting woman, which Bailey considers a real component of human sexuality and therefore, a reasonable topic for the class.

  3. Occidental College

    The Phallus, unlike most human sexuality courses, isn’t psychological or biological in its scope, but rather socially analytical. All things penis and its relationship with the LGBTQ community (yes, even lesbians), minorities, feminism, and other societal components provide the core curriculum. While one would expect the outcry to come from the various and no-doubt divisive opinions within Professor Jeffrey Tobin’s class, the reality stands as a little broader than that. People don’t want it taught because it’s about men’s no-no bits, which are often seen as shameful and offensive by certain groups. Critics most often chide it as “politically correct” claptrap when they aren’t averting their eyes and surreptitiously peeking through their fingers.

  4. Brown University

    Every semester since 2003, Brown University hosts the The Female Sexuality Workshop (also known as FemSex) and its masculine equivalent MSex. The class “” for which students do not receive credit “” was actually imported from Berkeley, where the initiative launched in 1993 to far less consternation than its Rhode Island predecessor. FemSex offers up a safe, nonjudgmental space for frank, thoroughly educational, and positive discussions of every aspect of female sexuality, but some students still took to the newspapers in protest. They ridiculed it as nothing more than masturbatory fodder to titillate men, eventually accusing their advertising tactics as a form of sexual harassment. MSex, it must be noted, received very little in the way of complaints or sarcastic analysis.

  5. Western Nevada College

    Professor Tom Kubisant’s human sexuality class at Western Nevada College asked participants to maintain journals about their own personal sexual activities and growth during the semester, including masturbation rituals. Those weirded out by the idea could take on an alternative assignment reflecting on why they found discussing their private life uncomfortable with no negative impact on their grade whatsoever. Controversy erupted when failing student Karen Royce filed complaints with both the school and the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Education, and the college reacted by striking one section and launching an investigation. Legions of Kubisant’s students, past and present, scurried to defend the assignment and touted how safe they felt in the fact that he never actually read anything they wrote. After the little look-see turned up nothing to substantiate Royce’s accusations of discrimination and sexual harassment, he was allowed to resume teaching the course.

  6. Seton Hall

    Because of its Catholic backing, Seton Hall was forced to cancel its Gay Marriage course in fall 2010, which was to be taught by King Mott, one of the school’s rare openly gay faculty members. John J. Myers, the Archbishop of Newark, cited the Church’s anti-LGBTQ beliefs as his reasoning for purging it from the semester’s offerings, although it was offered by the political science department as an objective analysis of the volatile issue rather than a practicum. The Board of Reagents had different plans, however, and reinstated it shortly before the term began. To the surprise of, well, probably nobody, once the class actually started, no further controversy erupted.

  7. University of California, Santa Barbara

    Dubbed simply “Porn 101,” the controversial film studies class taught by one of Rolling Stone‘s eight most dangerous minds, Constance Penley has found itself on the receiving end of ire from the likes of Santa Barbara County Citizens Against Pornography and Pat Robertson. Penly considers adult films a legitimate genre, one which undoubtedly left (and continues to leave) a significant mark on American culture. Critics of the class paint it as a celebration of porn even though the professor says she genuinely wishes to challenge students to ponder porno’s overall sociological and artistic impact.

  8. City College of San Francisco

    Rather than a controversial class on human sexuality, City College of San Francisco offers an entire department composed of classes that many find terrifying to their sensitivities. Or found, rather, as these days LGBT Studies departments are a little more common and a lot more respected than they were back in 1978. It all started with English professor Dan Allen’s LGBT literature course and expanded through to Dr. Jack Collins and his fusing together of several courses to create a unique program. While these days such a move would be considered “progressive,” at the time CCSF was downright revolutionary. And, of course, highly contested from outside critics. These days, the department overlaps with numerous others for a diverse educational experience.

  9. George Washington University

    Although vouched for by hundreds of former and then-current human sexuality students, a George Washington University professor eventually lost his job thanks to one student’s negative evaluation of his chosen methods. After spring 2005, the highly popular Michael Shaffer faced a sexual harassment accusation because his class involved media featuring nudity and other “explicit” materials, talks of pubic hair, prophylactic distribution, and detailed student stories. Like Tom Kubisant at Western Nevada College, many who had taken the course immediately ran to his defense and declared how safe and educated they felt in his course. However, this support did not convince GWU from ultimately deciding to not renew the professor’s contract, though the school continued offering a class in human sexuality under different tutelage.

  10. University of California, Los Angeles

    Rush Limbaugh thinks Queer Musicology is offered as a UCLA major, when in actuality it’s merely a class. But egregious research failures or not, that doesn’t mean he and his acolytes don’t enjoy holding the course up as an example of what’s wrong with academia and America. In reality, the course focuses on theories regarding homosexuals processing music differently than their heterosexual peers. Beyond the realm of delicate moral outrage over anything beyond straightness, music theorists with no qualms with the LGBTQ community hold a few criticisms about the slowly swelling field as well. Specifically, they don’t think sexuality holds any real sway over how the mind registers rhythms and melodies. As the cliché goes, however, time will tell whether these conjectures hold true.

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