Universities have changed since we did our degrees… There’s a report on the BBC website (Northwestern University sex toy show ‘disturbing’) about a ‘motorised sex toy’, which sounds like it was probably a fucking machine, being demonstrated in during a psychology lecture on human sexuality.
The particular topic was human sexual arousal and female physiology. Apparently ‘About 100 students observed the proceedings … Attendance was voluntary and students had been warned what to expect’ and ‘Student feedback for this event was uniformly positive’. The demonstrator was quoted as saying “We had fun with it. I’m an exhibitionist.”
It does raise some interesting questions. Is there a reason, apart from university administrations being concerned about their PR, why students on a human sexuality course shouldn’t be able, voluntarily, to be exposed to such ‘teaching material’.
One can’t assume university students, who are adults, would be completely innocent in such matters anyway. Whether the demo added to their knowledge and understanding is something that probably can’t be assessed from a distance. However it’s plausible that it would have informed students not just about female physiology and arousal, but the whole issue of ‘sex toys’ and given them some insight, too, into the nature of exhibitionism. Presumably the main embarrassment factor for the university is the fact that it’s all become a public issue.
It is the role of univeristies to teach, and human sexuality is relevant to a range of courses from psychology to sociology to biology and medicine to art and literature. There’s always new ground to break and sometimes barriers have to be crossed in order to do it. In the 70s and 80s it was often considered necessary if daring to use actual pornographic images in lectures about pornography and eroticism, the psychology of sex and other topics. In lecture terms, a picture is often worth a thousand words. It’s also been known for toys such as vibrators to be shown to students (though probably not ‘demonstrated’) and for actual prostitutes to be invited to speak at seminars and lectures on prostitution and sexuality. Reportedly in some places and at some times, couples have actually fucked for students to observe and make notes.
Outside universities, plenty of feminist groups and others have done things like invite women to inspect their own genitals and those of other women in minute detail, and this has often resulted in women having greater self-confidence and a sense of empowerment.
Is there a ‘freedom to teach’ or ‘freedom of knowledge’ issue here? What specific issues are there about the nature of knowledge and methods of its acquisition? If a fucking machine demo is acceptable, how about other sexual practices? Bondage? Spanking? Needle play?
And finally, given that universities in the past have been engaged in all sorts of things they haven’t wanted to be public knowledge, from accepting donations and grants from dubious sources to ethically problematic research across a wide range of disciplines, isn’t demonstrating a fucking machine a relatively unimportant issue?
Thoughts and comments welcome!