Taking sex out of the bedroom and putting it into the classroom

In honor of National Condom Week, members of the Sex 101 DeCal and other students with the Tang Center's Sexual Health Education Program passed out free condoms and lube across Upper Sproul.
Michael Drummond /Senior Staff
In honor of National Condom Week, members of the Sex 101 DeCal and other students with the Tang Center's Sexual Health Education Program passed out free condoms and lube across Upper Sproul.

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Consistent with its liberal reputation, UC Berkeley offered a wide variety of courses on sex-related topics this spring semester. These topics range from the analysis and history of porn to discussions about how sexuality and gender affect social work.

Perhaps the most well known of these classes are the ones taught by students themselves, namely the DeCals “Topics in Sexual Health,” “FemSex: A Community Space to Critically Explore Sexuality, Identity and Empowerment” and “Critical Sex Studies and Pornography,” which focus on creating space to talk about sex-related issues.

In the popular “Topics in Sexual Health” DeCal, formerly known as “Sex 101,” facilitators and UC Berkeley juniors Jackie Jung and Daysha Bermudez focus on creating a safe forum for students to discuss their personal experiences with sex.

This environment is created through games such as “Move Your Ass.” In the game, students stand in a circle and make confessions that run the gamut, from “I like orange juice” to “I’ve masturbated in the last two days.” Those who identify with the speaker must scramble to switch places or risk getting stuck in the middle, where they have to share an unknown — and ideally, sexy — fact. Through games such as this one, Jung and Bermudez hope to provide a safe environment where students can discuss and learn more about sex without fear of being judged.

The curricula for this course dive into a myriad of sex-related issues, highlighting UC Berkeley sophomore Camille Florentino’s belief that you can never know enough.

“Everyone should take a sex class at some point in their life, especially when they’ve become sexually active,” Florentino said. “There’s such a sexually active college culture, and I want to be able to educate others about being sex-positive.”

Both Jung and Bermudez come from traditional backgrounds and wanted to create a space in which sex-related topics could be openly explored. They chose to facilitate the class after taking it last year.

“I was a real pervert when I was younger, and I loved to talk about sex with other people,” Jung said. “When I went through the DeCal page, I was like, ‘Oh my God, Sex 101 — what a great space to just talk to other like-minded people about sex!’ ”

This semester, Bermudez hopes to focus on slut-shaming and rape culture in the course, which is sponsored by the Tang Center’s Sexual Health Education Program. She hopes she can help introduce a new norm in which women who enjoy sex aren’t considered an anomaly.

“You know, if you’re a slut, that’s great!” Bermudez says. “You’re a fucking slut!”

Meanwhile, “Critical Sex Studies and Pornography” focuses on pornography as an alternative medium to understanding societal issues, considering porn as deserving of attention as film or other kinds of art. Facilitator Matthew Kirschenbaum, a campus junior and former Daily Cal staff member, chose to facilitate the DeCal after taking a course called “Screening Sex,” taught by film studies professor Linda Williams.

“There’s definitely a separation between what we’re studying in class and what we’re seeing or jerking off to,” Kirschenbaum said. “But I find it important to not ignore (this disparity) because it has such a big impact on our lives.”

Then there’s “Pros and Con(doms): The Science of Birth Control,” a class focusing on contraceptives and taught by two UC Berkeley juniors, Ashley Doan and Phoebe Jen. The course takes a practical and political approach to sex, tackling the ethics of birth control and the biological side effects of contraceptives among other topics. Doan and Jen hope to band with pre-existing programs to offer a more comprehensive experience and initiate a greater conversation about sex.

DeCals, however, aren’t the only way students can explore sexuality. Amanda Reiman, a lecturer in the School of Social Welfare, teaches Social Welfare 116, “Sexuality and Social Work.” In the class, Reiman takes a practical approach to theories of gender and sexuality, hoping to promote nondiscriminatory views of gender and sexuality for those interested in social work. As with Jung and Bermudez’s DeCal, the key to achieving Reiman’s goal is providing a safe space to discuss issues her students might consider sensitive.

In “Sex, Sexuality and Society,” history professor Thomas Laqueur is interested in the link between sexuality and what he calls “the fundamental features of our being,” viewing the class as an opportunity to emphasize the importance of history when considering contentious topics such as birth control and abortion.

Underlying all these classes is the desire to achieve an open-ended conversation that has its underpinnings in mutual respect and communication.

“Sex can be defined by each individual person,” Bermudez said. “I think that’s really important.”