Blow your mind

Soon you can get a Ph.D. in human sexuality in San Francisco

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rebecca@sfbg.com

SEX Examples of Americans' obsession with sex abound. It seemed the mainstream media would never get over Miley Cyrus' ostentatious twerking at the Video Music Awards. Politician Anthony Weiner managed to live down his sexting scandal, only to mar his comeback with still more sexting. Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" broke records for its searing popularity, but its rape-y message inspired a feminist parody, substituting the lyrics "you're a good girl" with "you're a douchebag."

One researcher in the field of human sexuality estimates that 95 percent of all the sexual activity humans have — in every society — is for pleasure, not for reproduction. Despite the fact that almost everyone is apparently having sex for the sake of sex, we still live in a country where certain public schools stick to abstinence-only sex education with zero information about birth control. Meanwhile, right-wing opposition to women's reproductive rights threatens to send laws governing access to abortion and contraceptives hurtling back to the Dark Ages.

Given the ongoing cultural clash, it's fitting that San Francisco — famous for its sexual institutions like the Folsom Street Fair, Kink.com, Good Vibrations, and the Lusty Lady (may she rest in peace) — is poised to lead the way in offering one of the only Ph.D. programs in human sexuality nationwide.

San Francisco already boasts numerous pioneers in sexual education and related studies. City College of San Francisco, for example, began offering one of the first gay literature courses in the country in 1972, leading to the 1989 establishment of the first Gay and Lesbian Studies Department nationwide. And the National Sexuality Resource Center at San Francisco State University was created to promote sexual literacy, with the goal of replacing misinformation about sexuality and dispelling negative attitudes with evidence-based research on sexual health, education and rights.

The newest Ph.D. program will be housed at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS, www.ciis.edu), and is scheduled to get under way in 2014. Gilbert Herdt, an anthropologist who founded SF State's National Sexuality Resource Center and has been working in the field of human sexuality for some 35 years, is the program director.

Formerly a professor at Stanford and the University of Chicago, Herdt had long dreamed of creating a Ph.D. program with a multidisciplinary approach to human sexuality, an effort he believes would have been stymied a decade ago by political resistance.

"A lot of people are shocked when they realize there is only one Ph.D. program in the United States on human sexuality," Herdt notes, referencing a program offered at Philadelphia's Widener University focused on sex education. The CIIS program will be the first accredited doctoral program in human sexuality in the western United States.

It took decades for women's studies and gender studies to be considered Ph.D.-worthy academic disciplines, Herdt points out. But when it comes to this endeavor, "there's one big difference: Human sexuality remains a taboo in the United States."

Consider this. In the Netherlands, Germany and France, sex education in schools can begin as early as kindergarten. Here in the US, states such as Florida still lack comprehensive programs offering in-depth information on sexually transmitted disease or contraception. It might not come as much of a surprise that Western Europe has lower rates of unwanted teen pregnancy, HIV and STDs.

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