In my first year of graduate school, I spoke to an undergraduate class about life pursuing a Master’s in Sexuality Studies alongside an alumni from my program.
While we waited for the professor to introduce us, she leaned over to me and whispered, “Are they still teaching sexuality but not sex in that department?”
My eyes went wide and I only managed to utter a small “Yes” before the professor called the class to attention. Sitting next to that polished, astute woman, all I could think was, “Holy Shit. Sex is taboo in sexuality studies.”
I often feel straddled between two worlds.
On one planet, populated by the smart kids from high school, everyone talks about structural violence, theory, race, sexual identities, gender and queer politics. The denizens of this planet worship ideas.
On the other planet, populated by the weird kids from high school, everyone talks about cock rings, lube, blow jobs, anal sex, genital sores and Pedobear. The denizens of this planet worship acts.
I want these two worlds to collide but only if they fit together post-collision. Why can’t we talk about cock-ring use as a part of sexual identity? Lube access as a structural impediment to sexual happiness? Anal sex as it relates to gender?
Academia shies away from sex. We only talk about sexuality, not because academics in this field are prudes, but because we want funding for research. People with lots of money are prudes. They will sponsor HIV/AIDS prevention research but not studies on women’s attitudes towards blow jobs or condom use in the porn industry.
In a rather testy final essay for a professor, I wrote the following on academia and sex:
One major thing I have learned, in general, is that many academics like to skirt around the topic of sex as if the act were something crass, best left to the plebes. I am now absolutely certain that change cannot come from an institution so bent on removing its hive mind from that of the general population. Wherever I have seen organizations doing great change to make people feel comfortable with their own and others’ sexualities, academia is suspiciously absent.
On the flipside, community organizations struggle for funding because they seem unprofessional. Part of this is due to the heavy sex talk but the other part is because they don’t do the polished professional dance practiced by academics. I wonder if this is unconscious distancing.
So I sit in both worlds, always feeling a bit on the outside. Too sex-minded for academia, too theory-minded for grassroots sex ed.
Ideas and action must come together to be effective. Sexual theory and sexual bodies must be understood as inherently linked. I am one of the only people in my cohort with a good grasp on physiological and biological aspects of sexuality.
Go ask someone from my department how an erection works. I would expect an incredulous blank stare for that kind of question. Go ask someone in the streets about queer theory and you will get the same weird stare. Bodies matter when talking about sex. For most people sex = physical.
You can’t spit sexual theory to the general population without relating thoughts to their visceral experiences. And mental masturbation does not count as a sex act.