Live Sex Demonstration in University Class

It was part of an optional lecture — which came with multiple warnings about explicit content — after his human sexuality class. It featured three guests involved in the BDSM scene who were planning to talk about their kinky lifestyle. It happened that the presenters arrived early during the professor’s lecture on the g-spot and female ejaculation, both of which are scientifically controversial. When it came time for the guests’ presentation, one of them, Jim Marcus, suggested that he and his fiancée, another speaker, provide a genuine example of female ejaculation right there on the spot. After brief hesitation, Bailey agreed.

“I couldn’t think of a legitimate good reason why people shouldn’t be allowed to see that, and I still can’t,” he told me. The students were repeatedly warned about what they were going to see, and those who were uncomfortable with the idea were allowed to leave. The woman took off her clothes and her fiancé got her off with the motorized dildo — although she didn’t actually ejaculate…

It’s important to note that this story broke in Northwestern’s student newspaper — the angle being that, hey, this unconventional demonstration had taken place, and students were fine with it. It didn’t make MSNBC because the actual students who witnessed the demonstration were outraged or scarred by the experience. It made national news because the idea itself is shocking, unusual and titillating.

Read more here.

I’m very curious to know what people think.

25 thoughts on “Live Sex Demonstration in University Class

  1. I doubt I ever believed a prof when told we didn’t have to do something. So one thing is that I’m not sure about the framing here.

  2. I agree with jj. I think the prof made a mistake. Someone uncomfortable with what was about to happen had, it sounds like, very little time to process the idea, as well as gather up the energy to say I’m not comfortable with this. Saying that can be hard to do.

  3. I would assume the students were told about the optional lecture days in advance, although the article isn’t clear on it. And I really can’t think of a reason why someone would be okay with watching sex, but not okay with watching female ejaculation.

    The prof. was a bit naive to not think this would get attention, but his decision wasn’t poor to stop treating sex like some big giant taboo.

    Also, I think it’s funny how the guests are described as being part of a BDSM scene, but then the only thing the article describes is using a dildo. Ooooo, so kinky. (/sarcasm)

  4. This exhibition in class does not serve any scientific or educational purpose for if any ejaculation was shown, it could still easily have been doubted as being an actual female ejaculation…just like any single experimental result will be open to doubt.

    As well as being an insult for female students who have to be a witness to their male classmates (they could even be in a relationship with one of them) watching another female in a sexual act and very probably getting aroused by that (these female students already feel a pressure from society to compete with porn and each other), I don’t think that this does the case for women much good because it is a repetition of the usual display of a woman’s body associated with sex.
    If we want women to be taken seriously, as thinking human beings instead of mere bodies (or sex objects), we should exhibit female thinkers and study female ejaculation by proper research. The professor should have not allowed this.
    He would probably also not have had a man come over and ejaculate in front of the students (or do it himself).

    For me sex is something wonderful and very special, especially if I let something (a part of someone I love, preferably) enter my body. I magine more women feel like this, instead of wanting to exhibit this moment like porn actresses as if it were routinely done. I also don’t think that that is what should be seen as a ‘woman expressing her sexuality’ as it is sometimes (or often) sold. Sex is probably experienced very differently by women than by men and so far all I have seen after more openness about women’s sexuality is a growing intrusion of male oriented porn into everyday life.

  5. Logoskaieros, I’m not sure what you mean; the article identifies the kind of dildo involved in the first paragraph; it was a dildo attached to a reciprocating saw. I suppose that need not be confined to the BDSM community, but sex toys attached to power tools are also not exactly ordinary sex toys.

    On the rest it sounds to me that the professor in question did everything right except decide to deviate from the actual class plan and OK the demonstration on the spur of the moment — it sounds like the optional lectures were actually outside of class, that there were clear statements of content, and that the students themselves issued no complaint (although that on its own is never a guarantee). As Louise notes, thinking that research into such subjects shouldn’t be silenced doesn’t remove all the ethical issues; at the very least, this is the sort of thing that should never have been done without planning, including careful identification of the ethical issues and how they would be handled.

  6. a few notes about the live act, as far as i know:

    1) the act in question was not performed in class, but rather in an optional after-class setting.

    2) the students were told many times before the after-class presentation, throughout the quarter, that it was optional, and those who were there were also given the option and the time to leave before the live act (and some students did choose to leave).

    3) the professor has had this optional, after-class session many times, or rather, each time he has taught the class; students have found it valuable and there seems to not have been a problem before (though i think that there has not been a live act before).

    4) the panel members say that they thought about doing the live act after a projected video was screened of a woman masturbating which gave the impression, wrongly, they felt, that orgasm in women is primarily clitoral.

    5) the woman who demonstrated g-spot orgasm was nude from the waist down; the panel members (and many audience members) said that they thought that the video that was just screened was much more graphic than their presentation.

    6) the panel members have also said that the kids were great and asked really great questions, both in the presentation and after it via email.

    7) finally, while i share concerns about the ‘pornification’ of culture, i’m not sure that women are well served by some of your assumptions here, Louise Chanary (sorry; my accents seem not to be working!). a woman chose to perform this sex act, for educational purposes. said woman is not a porn actress, but is a thinking human being. some women in the audience we might assume are not heterosexual and might be aroused by the performance. and i think that if it is anywhere that a woman’s body might reasonably be displayed for sex, it would be in a class on human sexuality, and in particular an attempt to demystify women’s experience of sex. i respect your description of your own experience of sex, but i don’t think it necessarily serves women well to universalize that experience.

  7. The professor in question appears to be J. Michael Bailey, who authored a nasty, transphobic book a few years ago. (See here for details on the book.) The book presents an insulting, sexually reductive treatment of transfolk. Bailey resigned as chair of the Northwestern Psychology department following an investigation into his research practices, which involved treating as research subjects (without their knowledge or consent) women who came to him for clinical letters authorizing their surgical treatment. He subsequently described these women in his book, under thin pseudonyms, in ways they found incredibly unrepresentative and offensive.

    None of this is necessarily relevant to the current controversy, except for the following. Several of Bailey’s unwitting transsexual research subjects had agreed to give guest lectures to his human sexuality class in the 1990s. While they understood themselves to be speaking on behalf of their community, as educators to Bailey’s students, he was actually treating them as props in exhibition of his own offensive theories. Two of the women subsequently referred to these class sessions as Bailey’s “Freak Show”. (See here and here.)

    Without having been in the classroom, it’s hard to be certain about the present incident. But given Bailey’s history, there is every reason to believe that he was engaged in exploitative, sensationalist titillation masquerading as research, and very little reason to expect the class was conducted with anything like sensitivity to the experiences of his students or guest speakers.

  8. This little bit of “academic” philosophy indicates the absolute intellectual poverty being passed off today within “progressive” education. The Alfred Kinsey-ite “Professor” should be fired and all the students enrolled in this “University” might consider demanding their money back. This is not “education” but B.F. Skinnerian Psychological Conditioning. It is no wonder our society has decayed as it had done with such academically atrophied pseudo-science passed off with any semblance of honesty. Looks like Zygmund Dobb’s work “The Great Deceit” and Kilpatrick’s “Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong” are worthy to all related to the above incodent. SRA

  9. @sk:
    Surely, I didn’t want to suggest that all women have my experience (or should have, or that it should be taken as the universal female experience. Frankly, I have no idea how other women actually experience sex, there is little talk about that) nor that all female students present were heterosexual. Of course the woman doing the act is a thinking human being, but having an orgasm in front of students hardly shows her in a position where she exhibits her intellectual abilities.

    The main point I wanted to make is that there are good reasons to not have done this and that these reasons have nothing to do with being a prude, being old fashioned, or wanting to keep a taboo on sex alive.
    It often seems as if the only options that are considered are keeping it a taboo or showing it everywhere. However, the obvious third option is to speak openly about sex but to keep the act more private.

    It is interesting to see how in defense of the act both the fact that this was not part of the class and the fact that it was meant for educational purposes are used.
    So, should it be considered as part of the students’ education or not?

    And I would like to add that a professor has a certain responsibility towards his students that comes with being an authority figure. In a sense the students were not entirely free to choose to not attend even if it was after class. An after class gathering organized by a professor is something different than a party amongst friends.

  10. “In a sense the students were not entirely free to choose to not attend even if it was after class. An after class gathering organized by a professor is something different than a party amongst friends.” (Louise Chanarý)

    In what sense? From what I’ve gathered, around 600 students are enrolled in the class, only around 120 were present for the optional, after-class event in question, and, according to a few reports I’ve seen, around 20 or so students left after being repeatedly and clearly notified that something sexually explicit was going to occur.

    The reactions to this story are providing wonderful fodder for Jonathan Haidt’s social intuitionist model of moral psychology (e.g. reactions to the scenario of the brother and sister who have sex in France).

  11. Live sex is ok- but this accurate history of supremacy of Islam conveniently referred to as “moderate” as a politically correct way to describe Islam.
    An excuse if ever there was one!

  12. Rob said:

    In what sense? From what I’ve gathered, around 600 students are enrolled in the class, only around 120 were present for the optional, after-class event in question, and, according to a few reports I’ve seen, around 20 or so students left after being repeatedly and clearly notified that something sexually explicit was going to occur.

    This was partly addressed above by jj. As it happens, all the students who stayed seemed to have genuinely wanted to, fortunately, but it is bad teaching practice not to recognize that students might feel pressured by peer opinion, or by assumptions about what the professor might think, to stay. A properly done demonstration would have been planned with this ethical concern in view; since it had not been planned, it is true both that it had not already been deemed essential to the course, and that OKing it on the spur of the moment made it impossible to take proper steps to minimize ethical risk.

  13. sk says:
    “said woman is not a porn actress, but is a thinking human being”


  14. sorry, evie, that particular dichotomy was not mine, and i certainly didn’t mean to imply that sex workers (who are women) don’t think! my bad.

  15. @ Louise Chanary: fair enough. I think we disagree about the freedom of the students to leave the (still-educational) after-class discussion, but i see the ethical issue more clearly now, i think! i am more interested in the implication that women are more likely to want to keep sex private and special, or whether women as a class are harmed by a presentation or by live sex acts. i think alot of this hinges on the idea that interest in sex or being a sex object in some way, and being a serious thinker, are somehow incompatible (for women, obvs). i agree that this dichotomy exists, but i’m not sure that the best way to combat it is to keep them separate and insist on one or the other. but i’m still thinking through this.

  16. Brandon: I see your point about how the impromptu nature of the cautionary announcement of what was going to transpire might not have permitted some students to leave without feeling uncomfortable, and caused others, out of peer-pressure, to remain.

    As for JJ’s comment, I take it she’s implying that there’s a risk in non-attendance for an ostensibly optional event leading to bias in grading/recommendation; but I wonder if the class sizes she’s recalling are comparable to Bailey’s.

  17. Rob, I don’t think that I had anything as specific as grades in mind. One simple thing is just that if the professor later refers in class to the optional part, one might not get the reference at all.

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