When it comes to sex on America’s college campuses, you don’t get a lot of good news. Looming in the background of the exhaustively debated “hookup culture” is a campus sexual-assault crisis. Any attempt to mix sex and pedagogy — Northwestern’s live sex-toy demonstration; Hugo Schwyzer’s porn-star lectures — seems doomed to wind up local-news scandal fodder. But elsewhere, humanities professors continue to quietly work sex and gender into their syllabi to create the kind of stimulating class debates your 19-year-old self would not have accidentally slept through. The Cut browsed a couple dozen course catalogues to give you fall 2013’s sexiest offerings.
Studies of Women, Gender and Sexuality 1258: “Friends With Benefits?”
Harvard students can prepare to write a magazine trend piece and/or zeitgeist-y rom com with the help of professor Afsaneh Najmabadi’s inquiry into the meaning of “friendship and sex, and their inter-relationship, in a contemporary American culture.” If Friends, Sex and the City, New Girl, and The Inbetweeners don’t have the answers, perhaps “Winthrop, Plato, Cicero, Biblical sources, St. Augustine, St. Aquinas, Montaigne, Bray, Marcus, Sedgwick, and Foucault” will. Later, students will look inward, “asking what gay marriage, Facebook, and changing conceptions of masculinity/femininity are doing to/for friendship.”
Best for meeting closet 50 Shades readers
French 6780: “Libertinage and Perversion”
French-speaking Cornell undergrads may elevate their kinky persuasions by asking what E.L. James’s libertine predecessors Sade, Casanova, Lautréamont, and Bataille can tell us about “the nature of the human subject and its relationship to the law or to the universal.” And the related inquiry: Why does everything feel more tasteful in French?
Anthropology 21A: “Images of Asian Women: Dragon Ladies and Lotus Blossoms”
Through debates about Orientalism, gender, and power, MIT students will work out the “circumstances that create and perpetuate” the stereotypes of Asian women: “dragon ladies, lotus blossoms, despotic tyrants, desexualized servants, and docile subordinates.” Also: probably meet a lot Asian women.
Trench Coat Required
Film and Media 108: “Screening Sex”
“What is movie sex?” pornography and film scholar Linda Williams asks U.C. Berkeley students. To find out, students can engage with dirty movie genres — “hard-core pornography, Blaxploitation, ‘foreign’ art films and the avant-garde” — guilt-free, as long as they read their Foucault and Freud. And as long as they don’t watch in the library, presumably.
Easiest Reading List
English 236: “Queer About Comics: Sexuality and Graphic Fiction”
University of Wisconsin — Madison English majors get to swap words for drawings because, according to Ramzi Fawaz, contemporary comic books are a hotbed for “non-traditional or queer sexuality.” “In the 1930s and 1940s Wonder Woman visually celebrated S/M practices and same-sex bonding between women; in the 1950s MAD Magazine elicited pleasure in the satiric critique of the nuclear family; in the 1960s and 1970s superhero comics borrowed from the visual culture of gay and women’s liberation; and in the 1980s, LGBT culture took up comics as sites of sexual pleasure and sex education.” So, yes, Allison Bechdel’s The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For is on the syllabus
Will Come in Handy for Study Abroad
Spanish 399: “Pursuit Love: Plato to iPhone”
You will know these Cornell students when they touch down in Barcelona and Buenos Aires: They will be the ones quoting the romantic lines of thinkers “from Plato to Erich Fromm to Ortega y Gasset to Zygmunt Bauman” to their Spanish-speaking lovers. Plus they’ll have the vocab for the relevant stuff, like, “How is technology — smart phones, the Internet, Facebook — affecting the way people experience love in the 21st Century?”
Best Five-Year-Reunion Material
First Year Intensive Writing Seminar 145: “Sex at Rice: The Good, the Bad and the Awkward”
Emphasis on the awkward. This course will ask Rice freshmen to “think critically about how they have conceptualized sexuality and the ethical norms governing their sexual practices.” Issues covered: The Rice Purity Test, NOD, theme parties, hooking up, pornography, objectification, gender, and same-sex relationships. We imagine there are only two grades: a high-five emoji or “It gets better.”
Free Dirty-Talk Practice
Linguistics 52N: “Spoken Sexuality: Language and the Social Construction of Sexuality”
Professor Robert Podesva’s class examines the way language is used to perform a sexual identity, convey desire, and “encode dominant ideologies about sexuality, evident in labels for sexual minorities as well as terminology for sex acts.” In other words, a class for any Stanford students who still don’t even know what snowblowing is.
Ripped From the Headlines
History 187: “Pornography and Prostitution in History”
At Vanderbilt, something for the history majors: “Commercialization of the sex trade, Renaissance to the present. Political scandal, capitalism, and globalization; effects of technological change, from the printing press to the Internet.” Thanks, Spitzer. Thanks, Weiner.
Professor–Cum–Online Dating Guru
Sociology 122: “Social Networks”
A class in which U.C. San Diego students are presumably encouraged to spend the whole lecture checking Facebook on their laptops, “This course takes a social network approach to the study of society, examining the complex web of relationships — platonic, familial, professional, romantic — in which individual behavior is embedded,” including online dating sites. If Professor Kevin Lewis, who is known for his research into millions of OkCupid users’ data, can’t decode our incoming messages, no one can.
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