Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Three Decades of Sex: Reflections on Sexuality and Sexology

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Three Decades of Sex: Reflections on Sexuality and Sexology

Article excerpt

This commentary provides selected observations drawn from 30 years of experience teaching university sexology courses and as a sex therapist. Over the past three decades, there have been social changes in our perceptions of sexuality, even if on the personal level, little has shifted. The changes include the dramatic impact of the Internet in shaping sexual knowledge and defining restrictive norms as well as the increasing use of drugs that affect sexuality. Evolving attitudes towards sexual assault and LGBTQ issues are among the most significant of these changes. It is noteworthy that the field of sexology is thriving in Canada.

KEY WORDS: Information technology; cohort differences; sexual side-effects/ADRs; university sexual norms; sexual assault; LGBTQ attitudes

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I have been teaching university sexology courses for 30 years. For almost as long, I have been teaching advanced courses in sexual dysfunctions and sex therapy while my day job has consisted of the practice of sex therapy. This commentary consists of some select observations from my vantage point as an educator and therapist. The focus is on how aspects of human sexuality, and our perceptions of them, have changed since 1983 and, in some instances, have failed to change despite some major social and academic upheaval over these years. (For a comprehensive analysis of the current state of sex therapy and sexology see Kleinplatz, 2012.)

"That's how it goes/Everybody knows"

--Leonard Cohen

In the three decades since I developed the first sexology course at the University of Ottawa, course enrollment has increased dramatically and has far outpaced overall university enrollment. Interestingly, the desire to study and learn about sexuality has grown unabated, even though each new cohort of students assures me that "everybody knows" so much more about sex today than people used to a generation or two ago. "We are so much more open about sexuality as a society than we used to be." So they said in 1983 and so they say in 2013. "We are having more sex, with more partners. And so much more than our parents, we know about sex ... Everybody knows..." The reality that dyadic sex now begins no earlier than it did in the 1980s or 1990s and with fewer partners (Boyce et al., 2006; Eaton et al., 2011) is beyond their comprehension. Students who believe that their generation invented the "hook up" are advised to see the 1977 blockbuster, Looking for Mr. Goodbar. I tell them that one-third of the women getting married in 1945 were already pregnant. "Not my grandmother [or great-grandmother] ..." they say.

Every generation believes it has in some sense invented or perfected sex, and that its own cohort is infinitely more knowledgeable and more open-minded than its predecessors even if there is little, if any, empirical evidence to confirm such self-affirmations. This is unchanged. However, what has changed is that in 1983, my students were more interested in exploring possibilities for their own sexuality, broadening sexual repertoires and options, and discovering new ways of being sexual. In 2013, it appears that, in comparison, students are more likely to be looking for answers to questions related to proper sexual conduct and technique. Their queries are increasingly founded on myths and beliefs rooted in sexual imperatives. In my courses, there has always been an opportunity for students to participate via anonymous questions. Over a 30-year period, tens of thousands of questions have been submitted. Throughout the years, questions about oral sex have been among the most common. However, whereas the wording and tone of such questions used to be, "Is it OK to..." or "What are different ways to experiment with oral sex?" the current tone is about getting it right, being competent performers: "What is the correct way to give a blowjob?" Similarly, monolithic thinking or the assumption of one-true-way to sexual skill comes through in questions such as, "What is the best position for intercourse? …

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