College Courses On Human Sexuality: Education or Titillation?

Joanna Schroeder thinks education should include more talk about sexuality, but wonders if some of these courses take things a bit too far.

The website Online College Courses recently released a list of the 10 Most Controversial College Courses On Human Sexuality and it’s really making me wonder if I should’ve waited a decade or more to attend University.

That’s not to say my education was prudish. Before transferring to UCLA, I attended Hampshire College as a fight-the-system feminist straight out of high school, a college known for students calling profs by their first name, female topless football games in the quad (complete with hairy armpits and patchouli), and unusual courses such as Woman On Top?, From Tags to Murals, and Politics of Abortion Debate.

Some of the courses on the Online College Course’s list sound amazing, like this one at UC 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.

Others, like this one at Western Nevada College simply sound like an excuse for some weirdo to perv out on young people’s sexual experiences, though apparently they investigated and learned that he never actually read the students’ journals:

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.

Ultimately, I think it’s cool that we’re talking about sex, pornography, and gender in college. I firmly believe that our society’s fear of sexuality creates a dangerous environment where women feel oppressed and afraid and both men and women are damaged by that fear, and by the antiquated notions that sexual abuse and violence only happen to women. We desperately need to change up our dialogue around sex, and maybe these college courses can help.

The course I think every single college should be teaching? The Ins and Outs of Enthusiastic Consent or How Sex Can Be More Fun For Everyone—and I elect our own Emily Heist Moss and Julie Gillis to design the curriculum!


Photo Courtesy of Ambuj Saxena




About Joanna Schroeder

Joanna Schroeder is a feminist writer and editor with a special focus in issues facing raising boys and gender in the media. Her work has appeared on Redbook, Yahoo!, xoJane,,, and more. She and her husband are outdoor sports enthusiasts raising very active sons. She is currently co-editing a book of essays for boys and young men with author and advocate Jeff Perera. Follow her shenanigans on Twitter.


  1. Open sex discussion in high school, college, wherever…I think that’s great…!

    I was in an abusive, controlling relationship throughout college…and found it very hard to talk to other people about it…if you can’t talk about it or name it, how you can find a way out of it?

    I was also harassed by my pre-professional advisor (the ancient guy put his hand on my leg when I went to talk to him about my application to grad school…I never reported him because I was so petrified I wouldn’t get into the grad school of my choice….I finally told someone at my college in the guidance office 3 decades later!)….and also, by a cafeteria worker (that guy I reported and he got fired!)….

    Sex comes in so may different forms…but for me, the most important stuff just gets down to how you treat people…or how you want to be treated…

  2. Next what? May be colleges would start courses in pornography as well.

    • wet_suit_one says:

      It’s already out there isn’t it?

      And given how poorly some of the porn is shot, there needs to be a school. Seriously! The lighting, camera angles, cum on white backgrounds (the WORST!!! You can’t see ANYTHING!!! Drives me NUTZ!), it’s enough to make you want to spend money to send the lousy directors to film school so they can learn how to make good porn. I’m not joking. Production values matter!!!!

  3. wellokaythen says:

    Speaking as a college instructor at a public institution, I’d like to point out that in some places there’s pressure to get as many students as possible into one’s classes, boost enrollment, create buzz for your department, make a name for yourself, justify your existence as a department in light of budget cuts, etc. Sometimes that has a chilling effect on faculty’s willingness to take risks, but sometimes it encourages faculty to sex-up their classes to get more students. If you can work “sex” into the title of a class or in a course description, there’s an automatic bump in your numbers.

    I am also told constantly to appeal to what students know, to reach out to them on their own terms, to speak their language so I can conform my teaching to their particular generational culture. If they use Twitter, they must expect me to use it, too. The customer is always right, that sort of thing. If I were to teach human sexuality to today’s 18-22 year olds, I’d be virtually obligated to focus a lot on internet porn. It’s where they’re coming from, man, so I gotta make it relevant to their lives, you know?

    If you think it’s crucial to have classes like this, then thank God for tenure. Without some protection of academic freedom, colleges and university courses would be no different from high school sex ed. Without tenure, I shudder to think what medical schools would teach future doctors about human sexuality.

  4. Julie Gillis says:

    Thanks Joanna! I’d love to see there be comprehensive sex ed taught in high schools and I see no reason why courses in erotic and sexual literacy couldn’t be taught both in college and also in some kind of non profit model.

    Currently much adult sex ed is taught outside of academic settings (through sites like Good Vibrations) and more, but I worry kids don’t get adequate information about their bodies. Thank goodness for sites like Scarleteen.

  5. Anthony Zarat says:

    These courses either need to be taught in High School, or not at all.

    This is because (i) a college education is not available to everyone, and the information you describe is general (ie necessary or un-necessary, it applies to everyone, not only those in college), and (ii) the high cost of a college education can only be justified if it results in income generating potential.

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