Let’s talk about sex! – The Utah Daily Chronicle
Westminster College in Utah has sparked controversy over an upcoming elective course, GENDER3000, where students will watch and discuss pornography. The planned course has sparked a social media storm, with comments from well-known Tory spokespersons like Candace Owens.
The college also experienced a high volume of phone calls and doxing from some staff members. Some people even called for the class to be canceled, creating a change.org petition. Rather than canceling a course because it seems controversial, we should create more platforms to discuss difficult topics in safe environments.
I want to acknowledge that having conversations about pornography or sex can be uncomfortable. Up to a third of adults remain uncomfortable talking about sex with their partners. Growing up in Utah, where sex was an inappropriate topic and questions weren’t always welcome, I too struggled. I experienced discomfort talking openly about sex as an adult, even with partners I trusted. Regardless of my legitimate feelings of discomfort imposed by the culture I was raised in, avoiding the topic altogether can and does cause harm.
For example, a survey showed that although many women struggle with vaginal dryness, around 27% would rather endure the physical pain of oil-free sex than talk about it with their partner. Avoiding conversations about sex and attributing dirty connotations to it can also feed deep-seated sexual shame. These attitudes make sex uncomfortable for those who are ready to have it.
The LDS faith, for example, focuses on abstinence before marriage and teaches members not to explore their bodies beforehand. As one couple described in a Salt Lake Tribune article, it involved difficulties connecting as sexual people after marriage, with the woman explaining how it caused her great insecurity as a newlywed.
His experience, unfortunately, is not unique. Research indicates that sexual shame, inside or outside of religion, has a profound impact on self-esteem. Abstaining from discussions about sex leads to sexual shame, less enjoyment of intimacy, and more vulnerability to dangerous situations. It only makes it more important that we have places to host safe conversations about sex, like GENDER3000 in Westminster.
Likewise, avoiding conversations about pornography does not make it go away. This only allows issues related to dangerous environments within the porn industry to persist. As sex has become less taboo, watching porn has also become more regular. The Internet has accelerated this process.
Indeed, the size of the adult content market in the United States has grown, on average, by 10.5% per year from 2017 to 2022. It is a million dollar industry with more projected growth in Classes. This growth has had a greater impact on how porn influences its audience. A survey showed that more than half of respondents who admitted to slapping, choking, gagging or spitting on their partners were influenced to do so by pornography.
The problems with the porn industry go beyond how it influences its viewers. In some cases, pornography uploaded to popular porn sites features non-consensual sexual encounters and people in the industry have alleged coercion or force. The reality is that sometimes porn is consensual and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s forced and sometimes not. The things we see in porn almost always influence sex in our real lives.
It is therefore essential that we talk about pornography, what it says about sex, women and our culture. If we don’t discuss pornography, we will never have conversations about how to make pornography safer for sex workers who participate in it and minimize sexual victimization in the industry. We will never be able to recognize, let alone change, how we allow it to influence us.
These examples show us exactly how important it is to have courses like GENDER3000 from Westminster, which ask students to question the way we approach sex and pornography. Following an online controversy, Westminster’s marketing director, Sheila Yorkin, has defended the course, saying Westminster still plans to offer it and establishing the school’s commitment to talking about difficult and uncomfortable topics .
Yorkin underscores a key point here – academic discussions have to be uncomfortable at times, pushing boundaries and motivating students to think outside of their worldview. Equally important, this course will challenge students to talk about areas of our culture that need change.
Westminster also stressed that this course remains completely optional. My personal experience with college courses has not always been convenient or easy. The aim has been to teach critical thinking and how to question parts of society, politics, culture, etc. This course is similar. It aims to promote discussion and dialogue about the impact of the porn industry on “society, culture and inequality”.
Some people don’t want to talk about pornography or sex in class and may refrain. For students who wish to have these discussions, rather than stopping them, we should aim to provide a safe place for discussion. In these settings, credible professors can act as authorities on the subject and moderate the conversation to ensure that everyone continues to learn in this environment. The outrage over this course begs the question: If we can’t openly discuss pornography in a college class with adults who have consented to the conversation, where can we?