A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about an email I received about a not-for-credit Harvard seminar about female sexuality (“FemSex”). Due to my curiosity, I decided to attend the informational meeting held recently. I was surprised to see a few Harvard School of Public Health students and not undergrads leading the meeting; they are to be the facilitators of the seminar. Each participated in the seminar at UC Berkeley or Brown and is kind enough to bring her knowledge and experiences to Harvard this semester.
Apparently at Berkeley, where FemSex started about fifteen years ago, the seminar is so popular that there are six sections and hundreds of people who want to join are turned away. I can only hope that the same doesn’t happen at Harvard. The leaders said that the goal of the seminar, according to its organizers, is to open doors. The participants can decide whether or not to walk through those doors. They can keep them shut if they want to. I got my hands on the syllabus and saw that they indeed are trying to open doors I didn’t even know existed (and would rather not know about).
Some of the topics being discussed don’t seem that outrageous to me and instead are worthy of discussion: portrayals of women in popular media, body image, women’s health, motherhood, and communication and relationships. But another glance at the syllabus and my jaw dropped. Assignments include coloring an anatomical diagram from the C*** Coloring Book, doing an erogenous exploration exercise, and let’s not forget the creative writing exercise—writing your sexual fantasy (don’t worry, it’s anonymous).
Each of the speakers will bring something valuable to the table: a midwife, someone from the BDSM community, a professional dominatrix named Princess Kali, a speaker on open relationships, the two leaders of Harvard’s Office of Sexual Assault and Prevention Response (an organization whose existence I’ve lamented in other posts) and sexologist Carol Queen. If that’s not enough fun, there is a writing workshop on pornography and erotica, a guided tour of Good Vibrations of Boston (a women-owned sex shop), and other field trips involving a porn night and a strip club visit.
Now it’s your turn. Has your jaw dropped yet? I thought, perhaps naively, that I would be able to participate. That I could go in each time, listen to other women’s stories without judging, and then give my own perspective. That abstinence until marriage is the best way to avoid STD’s and is in fact a pretty liberating thing (I won’t have to compare myself to my husband’s previous partners, I don’t have to listen to society telling me what to do, I don’t have to deal with the emotional baggage of premarital sex). That sex work and pornography objectify women. That women wouldn’t need to be empowered if they stopped calling themselves victims and instead worked alongside men.
I’m not sure what their reactions to my opinions would be. I’m not sure if my views would be tolerated. I wonder if I’d inadvertently violate the contract I’d have to sign, which requires that I contribute to making the space safe and comfortable. But I do know that as long as we’re watching a film entitled “When Abortion Was Illegal,” being told how great polyamory is, and discussing self-love and masturbation, it can never be a safe, comfortable space for me. I’m still trying to grapple with the fact that without me, these women might not hear a sensible, critical view of sexual liberation and total “self-ownership.” The onus is on me, I keep telling myself, to bring them out of the Twilight Zone.
But the contract requires that I not miss more than three classes and three assignments. That means I’d have to do the assignment on eroticizing safer sex and a whole lot more. I’m just not willing to condone such harmful sexual behaviors by sitting there and fueling the fire that I have worked so hard these past few years to put out. I left the meeting without turning the application in.
What would you have done if you were in my shoes?