Studying Sex: A One-of-a-Kind College Course Is Helping to Transform the Burgeoning Field of Sexuality Studies

By Andre, Amy | Colorlines Magazine, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Studying Sex: A One-of-a-Kind College Course Is Helping to Transform the Burgeoning Field of Sexuality Studies


Andre, Amy, Colorlines Magazine


In a large classroom packed with students, Professor Nick Baham is teaching a course called African American Sexuality. The course has been taught here in the Ethnic Studies department of California State University-East Bay (formerly CSU-Hay-ward) since the mid-'80s, with Baham taking over as professor in 2000. The students settle in as he turns their attention to a guest lecturer, who is visiting to discuss images of people of color in feminist pornography.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Most of the students in the class are themselves Black, and mostly female. They range in age from late 20s to early 30s, and between 50 and 60 people take the class when it's offered several times a year. Most students identify as heterosexual. As far as Baham knows, it is the only course in the country specifically on African-American sexuality. For today's lecture, Baham and his guest field questions about Black female sexual agency, the involvement of Black people in alternative sexual communities and even representations of pleasure and orgasm.

Contrary to some students' expectations, the 10-week course is not a sexual "how to." Baham's challenge is to get students to step out of their comfort zones, as they cover topics such as BDSM, Black LGBT issues, sex work, media hype around the "down low," marketing of Black female bodies on television, representations of Black sexuality in pornography, interracial sexuality and Black male patriarchy.

Rethinking What's Natural

Students enroll in the course with a variety of ideas about sexuality, Baham says. Among his students, he finds that "certain things are considered taboo because they're considered things that white people do. For example, gay and lesbian identity is considered white, introduced to Blacks during slavery and not organic to Africa. Religiosity also comes up; sexual practice is conflated with religious prerogatives."

Representations of Black sexuality, especially Black female sexuality, in popular culture are also an issue. "They're very aware that their sexual bodies are objectified and commodified," Baham says. "And there are clearly demarcated lines between [women who are] virgins and sluts. [The students'] sexual self-perception is bounded by race, gender, and religiosity. Every erotic activity that they're engaged in becomes a contested cultural terrain, where [they're] fighting the legacy of colonialism."

For one of the class assignments, Baham has the students conduct a mini-ethnography. He asks students to interview people whose sexuality is different from that of their own. "So, if they're heterosexual and vanilla, they go to the Folsom Street Fair [an annual leather community event in the nearby city of San Francisco] and chat with people," he says.

"I'm not trying to indoctrinate them. I'm not trying to stop them from looking to the Christian church every time they have sex. I'm looking to get them to think critically about what they do and what they think is 'natural.'"

The Color of Sexuality Studies

The existence of Baham's course itself--and its high enrollment numbers--indicates a departure from the norm in the field of sexuality studies. Rita Melendez is a professor in the Human Sexuality Studies department at San Francisco State University and a research associate at the school's Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality. Both at sexuality studies conferences and in her own classroom, she often finds that she is one of a handful of people of color. Most of her colleagues are white, as are most of her students.

The field of sexuality studies is small but growing, having emerged from an interdisciplinary social sciences arena. Academics and theorists dating back to Freud popularized the notion of studying human sexual behavior, and its development has been shaped by everything from the early psychologists to the birth of feminist theory, from the advent of HIV/AIDS to the creation of women's and gender studies, and more.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Studying Sex: A One-of-a-Kind College Course Is Helping to Transform the Burgeoning Field of Sexuality Studies
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.