Sex Ed in Higher Ed

College instructor teaching human sexuality rants about the dumbing down of America, the lost art of manners, grammar and (the perfect combination of both) the thank you note. Also includes random rants about life, pet peeves, and sometimes raves about favorite things.

Friday, October 20, 2006

I'll Take "Things That Mystify Me" for $400, Alex

I ran into one of my students yesterday. She appears to be a quiet, unassuming type. Or - at least she's never participated in class, so she's quiet in my experiences with her.

However, clearly she had a bee in her bonnet because she marched right up to me and said, "I just wanted you to know that I thought the video you showed in class on Monday was pornographic. I was really offended." Believe it or not, I realize that as a "sex educator" my definition of what's appropriate is probably quite different than the average bird's. Hence, any time I have a guest speaker or screen a video, I tell students that they are permitted to leave at any time if the subject matter or the way in which it is presented makes them uncomfortable. I will not penalize them if they choose to exercise this option. My goal is to make them think, not to make them miserable (although considering how much they bitch in my course evals about how I expect "too much work" you'd never know it).

But my student (let's call her Misty) didn't leave during the class, so I was confused. The following conversation ensued:

me: Which part offended you, Misty? Was it the footage of different couples kissing?

Misty: No, that didn't bother me.

me: Was it the brief frontal nudity of the prehistoric male and female human ancestors?

Misty: No, I don't even remember that.

me: Well, I . . .

Misty: It was the footage of the uterus. I thought it was completely over the top and uncalled for.

me: You mean the little camera that was exploring the inside of a human uterus?

Misty: Yes. That was unnecessary.

For once in my life, I had my wits about me enough to ask a logical question.

me: Was it the fact that it was a uterus, or would you have been offended by footage of the inside of any human organ, like the stomach, a lung, the intestines?

Misty: No, I guess I would have been offended by footage of any organ.

me: Okay, well, um, thank you for your honesty. I will certainly take that under advisement.

I was not offended and honestly? I don't care. I will probably continue to show that video because I think it includes some amazing footage of both internal and external human anatomy. But here's where Misty's comment belongs in the "Things That Mystify Me" category:

I get that I am not my students' generation. There are many differences between my generation and theirs. For example:
  • MTV came out when I was in 8th grade. We never had cable in our house so I really never saw it unless I was at a friend's house. The only way I saw music videos with any regularity was if I managed to stay up late enough to watch Friday Night Videos.
  • In contrast, most of my students were born after 1984. (Or 1985? When did MTV come out, exactly?) They have never known a world without MTV.
  • AIDS wasn't even "discovered" until 1981 and then the CDC called it "gay cancer" or GRID - Gay Related Immune Deficiency.
  • All of my students were born after 1981 - they have never known a world without AIDS.
  • Magazines like Stuff, Maxim and FHM appeared on the scene some time after I was out of graduate school. These same magazines (which are basically soft-core porn, if you ask me - and I know, because I had a year subscription to Maxim to see what the hell my male students were talking about) must have been required reading throughout junior high and high school for my male students.
  • The Calvin Klein commercial that featured Brooke Shields created such a firestorm of controversy, I thought it must have been because she appeared nude (although I had never actually seen the commercial - I was 10 when it first aired.)
  • In contrast, I have seen ads in Vogue magazine (one for Dolce and Gabbana stands out in my mind) that could only be called soft-core porn. In fact, if you're not actively trying to determine what the ad is for, you would probably think it was an advertisement for a brothel in Vegas.
  • When I was in college, I heard that maybe some fraternities forced their pledges to watch "really gross films" that were "really raunchy." I had never seen one, but I had an idea of what they might include.
  • Today, most of my students know who Jenna Jameson - the porn star(!) - is, and not just because she has a best seller on The New York Times list and an E! True Hollywood story.
  • Playboy is back - as are all things bunny and even I have been sucked into the exploits of "Hef" and his "girls" at the Playboy Mansion.
  • By the time I was 12, I had heard of Playboy, but I don't think I had heard of Hugh Hefner, and I know I didn't know what the hell was going on at the Mansion. Now all kids have to do is turn on E! Sunday nights and viola! They, too, can be privy to the goings-on in the life of an 80-year-old man and his harem three girlfriends.
  • Don't even get me started on Fergie and "the Peas." Lordy, have you seen the London Bridge video in which Fergie "performs" at a "gentlemen's club"?

My point is, I assumed - perhaps erroneously - that my students have been exposed to so much more "raunch" than I ever was growing up that it would take a lot to offend them.

And lo and behold, it does - actual footage of the inside of a human organ. Now that's offensive.

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Blogger rightwingprof said...

Fergie and the peas?

October 20, 2006 1:21 PM  
Blogger Teacher lady said...

"Fergie" is Sarah Ferguson - formerly of the TV show "Kids Incorporated" - and is the only female member of the Black-Eyed Peas. She no longer realizes she is white. She has now launched the ubiquitous "solo career" and her first single is called London Bridge. It is more annoying than "It's a Small World" and will stay in your brain even longer!

October 20, 2006 1:51 PM  
Blogger Aleigh said...

I have to admit, I fall into the born in 1981 category, and yet, I'm a little peeved at having to be lumped into the same category as a girl who was offended by footage of the inside of a uterus. I'm a little squeamish, to the point where I can't watch ER, even, but I don't think I'd be OFFENDED by that.

I don't necessarily think this is a generation gap thing, but then, I hear all the time that I'm an old soul and "so mature for my age" (how patronizing), so perhaps I'm not the best person to be judging. But really -- certainly ALL your students can't be so bad. Seriously. Don't you have any good ones? There are always going to be the morons that give their generation a bad reputation, but geez.

October 20, 2006 5:37 PM  
Blogger Mrs. T said...

Um, aleigh? Have you READ any of the previous posts? Posts about the good students aren't FUNNY. They don't make us laugh. We like us some goofball freaks of students who can make us all feel better about ourselves, while at the same time wonder about the future.
I'm always amazed at what offends people, and at what doesn't. If anyone has been to a high school dance recently (I have) and seen the dry-humping they call dancing, they were probably offended by that. But footage of a uterus? the hell?

October 20, 2006 8:26 PM  
Blogger The "Mind" said...

Good grief, Charlie Brown!

She was offended by the interior shot of a uterus?

I suppose the opening scenes of Look Who's Talking must send her over the edge, eh?

*shaking head and laughing*

October 20, 2006 8:51 PM  
Blogger Dorcasina said...

I wonder if these students are desensitized to sexual imagery, and so are instead offended by the graphic "reality" of those actually body parts, stripped of the titillation factor? That is, that the physical uterus is not 'sexy' in a way that conforms to the MTV/media version of mascara-ed, gloss-ified and falsified sexuality, and thus "offends her" not because it is too sexy, but because it is not sexy enough? (i.e, too functional?) This is something I see in my own students: they are sophisticated in "corporate" sexuality, but prudish beyond belief in discussing the visceral realities of sex...
But then, I'm an English professor, so what do I know about sex?

I absolutely LOVE your blog, btw. I am devastated on the days you don't post...

October 20, 2006 9:30 PM  
Blogger ricki said...

maybe dorcasina is right. That everything's been so sexed up that people can't tolerate the REALITY of what is actually really real.

I remember in my college genetics class, we had to watch one of those "Connections" films (I think it was. Or maybe it was that series that Jakob Bronowski hosted...) Anyway, there was a crotch shot of a woman giving birth. Splashed all over a 25 foot wide college-auditorium screen.

I wasn't offended by it - but I was more than a little grossed out. (As were most of the women in the class, I think. More than one of us were crossing our legs tightly and muttering something about 'never having children' and the guys were equally muttering, 'oh, man, I'm never gonna 'get any' now...')

October 22, 2006 12:23 PM  
Blogger Art Nerd Lauren said...

The Black Eyed Peas were a good band, until they upped the hoochie-mama factor and sold the hell out. :(

A uterus, offensive? I wonder what she'd think of the design on your blog, TL?

October 22, 2006 6:44 PM  
Blogger Moobs said...

She thought it was "pornographic"? I know the porn industry caters for some pretty specialist tastes but come on.

October 24, 2006 7:30 AM  
Blogger Lainey-Paney said...

Seriously she was offended by the uterus?
Chances are, she was born with one & it's still intact. Thank goodness she's never seen it!

...that's just stupid.

...I hope she never ventures over to myspace...she just might have an MI!

October 25, 2006 10:04 AM  
Blogger The_Myth said...

You'd be surprised what shocks some students in 2007.

I teach media studies at a large, East Coast research University known for catering to working class students. In class, I often show a Danish ad for a product called "Cult Shaker" [Google it. There are a series of 4 hysterically sexual ads.]

I chose the one I thought was the least offensive to show: a headless, naked muscleman holding a bottle strategically you-know-where.

Every time I show it, some homophobe says it's gay [how can a guy who could be any random dude on the beach in a skimpy suit be in-an-of-himself "gay"?]. Lots of students say it's disgusting and they've never seen anything like it before. VERY FEW will openly admit they see the images all over and know it's a common advertising technique.

Have they ever LOOKED at any contemporary advertising???? It's their freakin' major?!?!?! It's as if I just brought in this ad to scar them instead of getting them to talk about a common cultural phenomenon.

June 07, 2007 5:59 PM  

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