03 March 2011


SEX TOY DEMO. This story made me sit up and take notice. "Northwestern students and administrators are defending an explicit after-class demonstration involving a woman being publicly penetrated by a sex toy on stage in the popular Human Sexuality course last week.

"The optional presentation, attended by about 120 students, featured a naked non-student woman being repeatedly sexually stimulated to the point of orgasm by the sex toy .... The 600-person course, taught by Prof. John Michael Bailey, is one of the largest at NU. The after-class events, which range from a question-and-answer session with swingers to a panel of convicted sex offenders, are a popular feature of the class. But they're optional and none of the material is included on exams."

Professor Bailey is quoted as saying, "I think that these after-class events are quite valuable. Why? One reason is that it helps us understand sexual diversity. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but watching naked people on stage doing pleasurable things will never hurt you." The hour-long session included a question-and-answer period.

University administrators have been cautiously supportive, commenting that the event "most likely falls within the broad range of academic freedoms -- whether one approves or disapproves." Students and faculty were even more supportive. The sex health education and violence prevention coordinator at NU remarked, "As a sexuality educator, I do think that demonstrations of specific arousal techniques -- those definitely have educational value." A senior who was present for the after-class event noted that "Interested attendees were warned five to ten times about the intense nature of the demonstration." He estimated that at least 20 students began trickling out after the warning.

It is worth noting that Northwestern University is a private institution, not funded by taxpayer dollars. It is also worth noting that all the students present were 18 years of age or older ... in short, they were adults making a free and informed choice to be present for the demonstration. In this writer's view, far more harm has been done by inadequate or inaccurate information about sexuality, than could ever be done by a frank and open discussion of what makes us tick. During my undergrad years, I would love to have had such a course available to help me better understand my own sexuality, and the sexuality of women as well. Ignorance is not bliss.

EASTERN COUGAR. Felicity Barringer reports that "Seven decades after the last reported sighting of the eastern cougar, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service declared it extinct Wednesday and recommended that it be removed from the nation's endangered species list. There's just one wrinkle, though. Scientists are moving to the conclusion that the eastern cougar was erroneously classified as a separate subspecies in the first place. As a result of a genetic study conducted in 2000, most biologists now believe that there is no real difference between the western and eastern branches of the cougar family."

This would make sense to me. Prior to the invasion of North America by European settlers, many species of predators and prey enjoyed a range that spanned the continent -- gray wolves, elk, deer, black bear, and cougar (or mountain lion). From the beginning of our carcinogenic takeover of the landscape, we have systematically and vigorously made every effort to eliminate large predators. The reasons range from erasing competition for wild game, to the irrational fears of predators which have their mythical roots in Europe. In any event, wolves and cougars have taken the brunt of humankind's animosity, to the brink of extinction.

As reported in a recent post, there is cause for hope that our murderous response to large predators is slowly giving way to a more rational willingness to coexist. One hopes that, whether the eastern cougar was a separate subspecies or not, one day there will once more be wolves and cougars in the wilder parts of the East. It is a tiny hope, a mere spark in a sea of darkness, but we all need hope -- especially those among us who have fangs, claws and fur. The world is a richer place for diversity, whether cultural or biological.

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