UC Berkeley is known for its wide variety of course offerings, especially when it comes to student-taught classes, which include everything from Phish: A Critical Analysis to The Psychology of Text Messaging. One class, however, is best known by the buzz and rumors surrounding it, rather than its cult interest or sheer absurdity.
The Female Sexuality DeCal explores issues of gender and sexuality in contemporary American society. This inquisition includes everything from critically examining portrayals of women in the media to exploring female sexuality and self-pleasure.
According to facilitator Amelia von Gerer, two queer women started FemSex in the spring of 1993, after taking a class called Feminism and Pornography. Inspired, they spent the semester learning to orgasm and later sought to teach a Decal course on the matter, initially titled “The Orgasm Class.”
The pair ended up broadening the curriculum to include additional topics in female sexuality, and the DeCal has continued to evolve since then. Today, FemSex is a space for free discussion of power and privilege related to gender, women’s health and sexual practices, among other things.
FemSex students (fondly called “FemSexies”) are instructed to be open-minded, non-judgmental and respectful when discussing the controversial issues put forth by facilitators. Discussions range from views on pornography and sex work to gender-based violence and having healthy relationships.
Bei Cao is one of 10 facilitators of the DeCal. The Gender & Women’s Studies and Social Welfare double major took the class last spring after hearing from fellow students how it had changed their lives.
She said that prior to taking the class, she felt alienated from the campus community after returning from time abroad in South Africa.
“After taking the FemSex class (I was) able to relate to women I would have never had the chance to talk to before,” she said. “It can get pretty emotional (and) eye-opening.”
Inspired and wanting to share what she had learned with others, Cao became a facilitator for the first time last semester, leading students through a variety of queries relating to female sex and sexuality.
“I know a lot of folks think it’s a bunch of feminists sitting around talking shit about men,” Cao said. “(But) being in the class that just seems so ridiculous because it’s such an inclusive space.”
Van Gerer acknowledged that while the DeCal was initially aimed at white, queer women, “over the past 18 years (it) has morphed (in)to a space where all people are welcome and included.”
The Female Sexuality program has gained interest beyond the Cal community, with classes now taught at universities around the nation, including Columbia and Brown.
“It revolves around sex but it’s a lot more than that,” Cao explained. “It’s about tolerance and communication — (it’s about) how to become a well-rounded individual.”