“Don’t even get me started on ‘50 Shades of Grey,’”, said Diana Knauf, professor of Psychology at Shoreline. “What a completely incorrect portrayal of the BDSM community.”
“Laughable,” said Rachel David, Shoreline’s Director of Women’s Studies. “By the way, have you seen the Salvation Army domestic violence ad campaign that just came out?”
With that, Knauf, David and their cohort, Communications Studies professor Brooke Zimmers, launched into a discussion that covered everything from celebrity transitions to sex toys to homophobia on campus.
Listening to them, you’d get the feeling that this is how a session of their Interdisciplinary Studies class “Intersextions” might go.
Intersextions combines insights from three disciplines – psychology, communications and gender studies – to teach sex ed in an interconnected, sex positive way.
“Our mission is that our students have happy, healthy sex lives,” said Knauf.
So why does it take three teachers and 15 credit hours to teach happiness in the bedroom?
“Because sex needs to be taught in context because it’s not just a physical act,” said Zimmers. “As humans, we bring a variety of things to the table and not any of it is tangible stuff. Anyone engaging in a relationship or sex needs to have a concept of gender, power and communication.”
The class teaches skills relevant to any relationship students might find themselves in, not just intimate ones. The unofficial tagline for the class could be: If you think you’ll be in a relationship at any point in your life, this is the class for you.
“I’ve had people who are virgins wonder if they should take this class or not,” said Knauf. “I tell them absolutely. The class is for everyone at any level of sexual discovery.”
“We’re teaching skills they can use for the rest of their lives,” added David. “Being a good ally is a key skill in life and relationships in general, but it’s not something people are naturally good at. But it can be taught.”
Another unofficial tagline for the class could be: This ain’t your mama’s sex ed class.
“This is a college-level sex ed class,” said Knauf. “There are no restrictions on what we can teach.”
Taught only once every two years, the climate for the class feels especially ripe this year.
“There’s a lot more visibility and conversation out in the world about sex, gender identity, asexuality, trans issues, you name it,” said Zimmers. “Our class is a place where students can explore those issues academically and get a good background in life skills at the same time.”
Knauf started a version of the Intersextions class back in 1999 called “Sex and Sweat,” pairing with a Physical Education teacher to help students ”get comfortable with their bodies and what they want to do with other people with their bodies.” When that instructor left Shoreline, Knauf realized she didn’t want to go back to teaching the class alone.
“I can teach sex alone,” she said, “but it’s not nearly as fun as teaching with a partner and feeding off the energy they bring to the course.”
Her cohorts agree.
“It’s the difference between singing a solo and singing with a band,” Zimmers added.
While the 15-credit hour commitment for the course may seem intimidating to students at first glance, all three instructors agree the intensiveness is actually a benefit to students.
“Research shows that when we do learning in interdisciplinary ways, student’s learning is deeper. They can see the intersectionality between the topics and subject matter,” said David.
“We’re able to go so much deeper into topics and contextualize them – and the ability to have students apply the theories they’re learning and apply the information in different ways is awesome,” added Knauf.
And having three instructors at the helm allows the colleagues to give students more attention. “We have a lot more bandwidth for students,” said Zimmers.
But it’s not just students who benefit from the class.
“My relationships improve each time we teach this class,” said Knauf, “Because I’m reminded of power dynamics, communication skills and all of that. It’s a joy to be able to work this way in the classroom, and the students can tell.”