PVV – watching adult instructionals in a college human sexuality course, oh my!!

Recently, a darling friend of mine let me know about this unfortunate and aggravating story. First read the story, and then I will tell you why I find it both unfortunate and aggravating.

College student complains about having to watch ‘porn’

Watching a video of people having sex might not be weird in college, but it would be a little weird in college class, right? Unless, of course, the class was titled, ‘Human Sexuality’ — in that case, it might seem normal. But normal was not the reaction of one Fresno State University student who, having possibly mistaken the class for Comparative Economic Systems or something else traditional, filed a complaint with the school, calling it ‘pornography. The offended student also enlisted the help of a conservative activist group on campus that said that the ‘entire class seemed to be in shock.’ With all due respect, isn’t that kind of like being in shock when your English teacher pulls out a copy of ‘The Iliad’?” (originally here)

With a little additional poking around I learned that the “video of people having sex” was, in fact, not porn at all. It was an adult instructional produced by the Sinclair Institute called Advanced Sexual Techniques, Vol. One (2005). So basically, it was a sex-ed video that contained some actual sex. Professor Peggy Gish showed 20 minutes of the film during her elective “Introduction to Human Sexuality” course. Fresno State has issued a statement supporting Peggy’s curriculum. Nice!!

So why do I think this is unfortunate and aggravating? Well…

1. The conflation of sex-ed and porn: porn is not sex-ed, adult instructionals are a type of sex-ed (intended for of-age, consenting adults), and Advanced Sexual Techniques, Vol. 1 is an adult instructional. None of these things however is really clear in the paragraph above. Even though the author seems well-intended and (rightfully) incredulous, sharing information in this sort of unclear and incomplete way functions only to sensationalize and confound further. Unfortunate and aggravating.

2. Disconnects between individual boundaries and preferences and social boundaries and preferences: the complaining student may have a personal point. In that student’s view, this adult instructional video, Advanced Sexual Techniques, Vol. 1 (which I have not seen, but I gotta tell you – content produced and/or carried by the Sinclair Institute is generally the mildest of the mild), may have been way over the top. And that’s ok. As humans, we have the right to define and articulate our own boundaries.

But so do college professors teaching elective courses in a public university. This may be case of mismatching - “Introduction to Human Sexuality” may not have been a good fit for this student. Hell, wild and hectic Cal State Fresno (which is actually neither wild nor hectic in the grand scheme of colleges) may not be the right place for this kid in general. These things happen all the time. What’s both unfortunate and aggravating is the fact that student could not (or would not) find another route to reconcile this mismatch. I can empathize with Peggy Gish in this situation, and I do not envy the stress I’m certain she’s been feeling.

3. Presumptions in general: “[E]nlisted the help of a conservative activist group on campus”? “[T]he ‘entire class seemed to be in shock’? Where do you get off, offended student and conservative campus activist group!!? It’s not up to you all to assume shock and offense on the behalf of others, nor is it up to one group to decide what’s ok for another. Would you like it if someone did this to you? Oh wait…

This type of presumptuous behavior is both unfortunate and aggravating, but it’s not uncommon.

le sigh…

Fortunately, Fresno State (aka California State University at Fresno and Cal State Fresno) has stood by Professor Gish and considers the matter closed. But what does this situation say about the bigger issue of sex education? Nothing because the university supported their professor? Maybe, except that I do think this situation points to bigger issues. For some, it seems like sex education is not ok… Or that only certain forms of sex education are ok… or that sex education is only ok to the lowest common denominator – you can only teach to the line of one person’s discomfort…?

I really hope the student who was uncomfortable with Advanced Sexual Techniques, Vol. 1 has been able to reconcile their discomfort in a way that meets their specific needs. Cuz not everyone has the same kinda sex and/or is in the same place in terms of their sexual development. Further, people don’t all take in information in the same way – a teaching tactic that works for one may not work for the next. And all that is perfectly A-ok.

But to attempt to attempt to derail the entire train just because you’re ready to get off… well, that’s not.

Here’s another example of varying forms of adult sex education – “Safer Sex on a Cupcake with Reid Mihalko“!! A wonderfully helpful PVV reader drew my attention to this, and I gotta tell you: this guy’s style of teaching, etc doesn’t work for me (me, personally) at all. But he’s fun and friendly and engaging and informative, and the students he’s working with clearly dig it. And that’s all that matters. Check it out:



More on the Fresno State story here.

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