Out of consideration for my readers I try to keep this blog safe for work, meaning little swearing, no graphic violence, and minimal sexual content. This post is about a human sexuality class I took in college, and later TA’d for, and so be forewarned – the topic for this entry is sex and modern attitudes towards it.
The single best class I took during my time at Sonoma State was Nursing 480, “Human Sexuality and Development.” Nicknamed “the porn class,” its purpose was to detail the spectrum of human sexual experience and to encourage students to look beyond their own comfort zones, to find understanding of other’s preferences or proclivities. My professor was Dr. Deb Kindy, easily the most influential instructor I had during my entire college experience. One of the first expectations she gave for the class was that the course was going to discuss content that would be uncomfortable (for many), and that there were no excused absences – people found all sorts of excuses to not attend during subject matter they didn’t agree with, and for a class based around understanding, that was simply unacceptable.
Looking at the class schedule, I was both impressed and surprised. Almost every other session had guest speakers, addressing topics and circumstances the likes of which I had never encountered before, or if I had, certainly not in the level of detail the class was going to explore. Just off the top of my head we had a local gay pornography producer, a transsexual woman, swingers, abuse survivors, and a BDSM couple along with their slave. There was indeed one week where we watched pornography, but it was easily the most boring session of the class – we talked about how it was marketed and to whom, and the changing nature of internet accessibility (this was in the early 2000s, so the electronic landscape was far different than it is today).
All in all, we covered topics that were largely considered taboo in other academic settings. Here we discussed, asked questions about, and did presentations on different aspects of human sexuality, not in a cold or sterile, clinical way, but in context of society and culture – we looked at what people were actually doing, not just what they said they were doing. It was a genuinely eye-opening experience, and Professor Kindy truly reinforced the positive atmosphere, her warm and open demeanor helping to put the class at ease, even when discussing unusual or unexpected topics.
One of my favorite moments, being her TA the following term, was when we compiled a list of student fantasies. Every week attendance was taken by students filling out brief surveys, either about the content of the week’s session or about their reactions to situations in their own lives. Each student was given an anonymous number, to protect privacy; only the professor and I could map ID numbers back to student names. The point of the fantasy survey wasn’t to get some perverse look into the minds of twenty-somethings, it was instead to show the class just how similar their thoughts were to their peers, that the “taboo” things they enjoyed thinking about weren’t that odd after all.
Though the details escape me, now more than ten years later, I remember most of the student responses falling into only about five categories, and the class reaction was one of stunned silence. Aside from a few outliers who tried to be funny with lurid descriptions of far-out or extreme scenarios, most everyone fell into pretty common categories. People who thought they were weird or different discovered that their proclivities were perfectly normal, once we stripped away the societal taboos on certain subjects.
Though for many the BDSM presentation was the most “out there,” farther afield from their comfort zones than other guest speakers, the session that never failed to get a visceral reaction was the day an unassuming couple came to class to discuss how their sex life had changed after their kids left for college. Here were adults, nominally the students’ parents’ age, talking about the renewed sense of freedom and sexiness they felt, having the whole house to themselves. If memory serves I actually heard some gagging during that class.
One of my favorite aspects of that class were the attendance surveys which encouraged the class to ask questions, anonymously, to be used as discussion seeds the following week. Professor Kindy and I would go through the responses and pick out a handful that would be most interesting, and also worked to present how similar many of the questions were – evidence that many people were in the dark about the same elements of human sexuality or their place in the world. Invariably the question would be raised about Professor Kindy’s own proclivities. An attractive older woman with a welcoming smile and open demeanor, teaching a class about human sexuality and topics that would be uncomfortable in any other setting, obviously she had some sort of deep-seated kink that made her pursue those topics, right?
She always laughed when the inevitable question came up. “I’m really boring,” she’d shrug. To me, her honesty and lack of personal sexual “adventurousness,” for lack of a better word, really meant a lot. I believe there is a stigma that people who engage in non-vanilla sexual activities, or even talk about them, are creepy and twisted people, perverts and predators. Out of everything explored in that class, the number one takeaway was that much of human society has been based on the repression of sex and sexual exploration, focusing on some idealized moral high ground to which no culture actually adheres. Understanding and compassion were essential tools, not just for healthcare workers and clinicians, but also for the betterment of our communities.
Judging by my own and other student surveys taken at the beginning and the end of the semester, I believe the Nursing 480 class did a wonderful job of presenting a broader scope of human experience, providing a safe and understanding environment for students to ask questions, be vulnerable, and to feel like their thoughts and emotions weren’t just okay, but actually shared by many others.
Out of the many great classes I had in college, particularly my seminar-style liberal studies round-tables, Deb Kindy’s Human Sexuality and Development remains the highlight.
Thank you for reading, thank you for understanding, and thank you for hopefully seeing the world just a little bit differently.