Allegheny College's Ford Memorial Chapel, which conducts Catholic mass and non-denominational services every week, hosted a sex-positive class last Wednesday focusing on topics like the female orgasm, body image, and consent. It was a particularly clever choice because it forced critics to hang themselves with their own puritanical rope as they scrambled to explain why it's sinful to respect your own body.
Sex educators around the country should follow suit and lead classes from the pulpit to prove to young people that exploring and educating yourself about sexuality is the right thing to do.
The class led by sex educators Marshall Miller and Kate Weinberg at Pennslyvania's Allegheny College, a small private liberal arts school, is called "I Heart the Female Orgasm." It covers issues including:
• An emphasis on individuals making sexual decisions that are right for them, including whether to use the information now or when married or in a serious relationship
• Analysis of the messages women receive about their bodies and sexuality from media, religion, families, and elsewhere.
• Body image, and the links between "befriending your body" and experiencing physical pleasure
• The value of learning how to say "no" to sex—and the problems college-age and adult women sometimes encounter when they realize that's all they ever learned
• An opportunity to talk openly in same-gender groups during part of the program
• Female anatomy
• Tips for partners about being patient and respectful
• The problems with pressure to have an orgasm, to orgasm faster, to have multiple orgasms, to orgasm with a partner, to fake or not fake orgasms
• Answers to the most common questions about orgasm
Some students said the event, which was funded by student activities fees and hosted by Allegheny's student government, Reproductive Health Coalition and Young Feminists and Queers and Allies, was held in the chapel because it was an open venue that could hold large numbers of attendees, not to purposefully make a larger statement about religion and sexuality. Of course, that's not how the news outlets that picked up the story chose to cover it. The College Fix, a conservative student blog, ran a piece called "College Hosts Sex, Masturbation Tutorial — Inside a Church" and described the chapel as " transformed into a boudoir of sorts" for "what was billed as an educational seminar," accompanied by "a sexual marketplace of sorts" because student groups sold merchandise (buttons, t-shirts, the book written by program coordinators Marshall Miller and Dorian Solot titled I Heart Female Orgasm: An Extraordinary Orgasm Guide) after the event concluded.
Nice (if redundant) conservative spin there, but what actually happened is that a legitimate educational seminar took place inside a church. The writer attempted to do the same by quoting verbatim from the lecture:
Meanwhile, the sex educators had also told students masturbation is not a sin.
"Some people figure out masturbation and orgasm as teenagers, some people figure it out later than that," said Weinberg, describing her lifelong fascination with pleasuring herself. "And some people figure it out earlier than that. Like preschool age. I was part of that last category.
How dare she tell people not to feel ashamed about doing something that nearly literally everyone does!
"Sometimes it can be difficult finding your G spot by yourself, because it involves inserting a finger or fingers inside the vagina into the front wall of the body, and that kind of results in an awkward, kind of clawlike hand position," Weinberg said, demonstrating with a pawing motion as the audience giggled. "Obviously, there are better ways you can position your body. Or if you've got a partner, you can get your partner to insert their finger or fingers inside your vagina in the front wall of your body in a sort of a J curve."
Cross yourself ASAP so that you'll be protected from this helpful (and humorous) information!
It's only "unusual" because church-sanctioned sex is too often presented as something you have to grit your teeth and endure (once you have a ring on it, of course) through a hole in a sheet for the express purpose of procreating. But it doesn't have to be this way! We don't have to teach kids that masturbation is a sin because the Bible says Onan was struck down for refusing to sleep with his brother's wife and spilling his seed on the ground. (Which, Weinberg points out in her class, could be interpreted as God blaming Onan for not sleeping with his brother's wife, which is a whole other [creepy] story.) We don't have to teach girls and women that they're harlots if they enjoy sex. We need to stop associating spirituality with abstinence because that correlation just leads to guilt and shame and higher rates of teen pregnancy. The church can and should teach us how to lead healthy sexual lives instead of disseminating ineffective and incorrect information.
"I Heart the Female Orgasm" is not a pick-up artist seminar. It's a sex education class that focuses on women's empowerment. And that's why Chaplain Jane Ellen Nickel, who conducts non-denominational Christian services at the college each Sunday and manages the office of Spiritual and Religious Life, defended its location to The College Fix:
"I don't have a problem with it being held in the chapel. The program advocates responsible, respectful decision-making regarding sexual behavior, and includes the option waiting for marriage, a message that resonates with many students of faith. While the name may have some shock value, the event itself is consistent with our policy of opening the building to campus groups. We would love it if students at such an event experience the chapel as a welcoming space, and then feel encouraged to attend a religious service or program."
The best part of this "controversy" is that all those who directly oppose it are forced to explain what they find so distasteful about the aspects listed above by Nickel. Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, sent a strongly-worded letter to Allegheny College president Dr. James H. Mullen, Jr.:
Last night, two sexperts arrived on your campus to teach students how to masturbate. Women were told that by "inserting a finger or fingers inside the vagina into the front wall of the body" they will experience orgasm. "If you've got a vagina, your genitals are tucked pretty neatly inside your body. It's a pretty handy place to keep one's genitals, really." Such words of wisdom do not come cheaply: tuition is over $37,000.
I would appreciate hearing your thoughts on this matter. Just do me the favor of not invoking academic freedom-that is not the issue. I think you know what is.
Wait, no, what is it? We have to force religious leaders to explain why masturbation is evil and female sexuality is dangerous and why sex-positivity has no place in a church. Let's do that by hosting more classes like this one in places of worship.