by Cutter Kilgore
Let’s talk about sex. Colette Colburn does, and the students in her Human Sexuality class enjoy taking part in the discussion.
Only a few weeks into the quarter, Colburn has put names to faces, and singles individuals out to speak up, though it’s hardly necessary. Her classroom hums with animated murmurs, free and eager. Students share their opinions and attitudes on sexuality in the media and concerns, or a lack thereof, over the growing perception of neo-feminism and America’s raunch culture.
“I’m pretty sure 98 percent of this class has done it, otherwise we wouldn’t be here,” one student said to a chorus of bemused smirks and sighs. “Sex education is like being taught all the pieces of what makes a car without actually being able to drive it.”
Hailey Kubic, 18, is here on the recommendation of a friend. “I heard Colette was really hands on, and everyone’s included,” she said. “It’s very involved.”
Colburn controls the floor like a moderator at a political debate, nodding along, bringing others into the conversation at times, as students bounce ideas around with an easy, excited flow.
“Apparently, the clitoris is wishbone shaped,” said Jordan Simpson, 20, one of the outnumbered men enrolled in the course. “I never knew that.”
Simpson, along with a portion of his female classmates, also never knew that women can become pregnant during their periods. He gave a wry shake of his head and smiled.
Colburn splinters her class into smaller discussion groups and assigns stimulating topics such as, “Have you ever flashed your breasts to strangers?” and “Do you think the phrase ‘like a man’ is a compliment?” She said she tries to encourage critical thinking. There’s never a lull in the ensuing dialogue.
These questions are inspired by one of two course-required texts, “Female Chauvinist Pigs,” by Ariel Levy. The cover of Colburn’s copy is bubble-gum pink and adorned with the silhouette of a naked woman. And the pages are plumed with yellow note-paper, rounded from wear. Colburn’s handwriting is precise and legible. Her jotted excerpts are out-of-context fragments.
“What is sexual liberation?” one of her notes asks.
Probably it’s nothing like a “rainbow party,” described in the Levy text as a group-sex activity that typically involves young teens wearing different shades of lipstick and performing fellatio on multiple partners. The object, ostensibly, being to see which boy can collect the most colors. It’s like Pokemon-meets-pornography, and it perhaps falls into the thematic realm of raunch culture.
“Youngsters are doing this and don’t consider it sex,” Colburn wrote in an email. “Rather they view it, sometimes, as a way of preserving virginity, or as a way of gaining ‘popularity’ as it is conveyed in the media.” She commented that there is a glaring absence of any sort of public education about such activities.
What is raunch culture?
Colburn describes it as, “basically, females are flaunting their sexuality thoughtlessly for the benefit of attracting males.” She used an example of two women making out at a bar and said, “They’re doing it for a dude,” adding that the careless nature of such actions can be psychologically hurtful.
Colburn said she especially likes that the class is helping to raise students’ awareness of sexuality around them. She hopes students will develop confidence in their ability to find answers about their sexuality and that of the people they care about.
“I don’t want my students to know what my beliefs or biases are,” she said, sitting in her office beneath a weighty shelf-collection of Pez candy dispensers. “I don’t have a particular agenda. I want students to arrive at their own conclusions.”
And some have. Colburn said that she’s watched students’ views on sexuality evolve after spending a quarter entrenched in lively, open-minded conversations with their classmates.
For a little over an hour on a gray Monday morning these students talked about sex. They discussed gender roles and cultural perceptions and stigmas regarding men and women.
And then there was an entire documentary about penises.
Slang terms are replaced with factual language within the first week of class. Penis. Vagina. Neither word is taboo here.
“As the quarter progresses,” Colburn said, the class “becomes more intimate.”
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