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Sexy Education: Sex Positivity Divides UC Berkeley 

Tuesday, Sep 30 2014
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The late '90s and early aughts were a golden age for sex positivity on the UC Berkeley campus. Gay rights groups routinely draped the steps of Sproul Plaza in rainbow banners, while rhetoric students wrote flowery papers about gender as a social construct. Inga Muscio's book Cunt: A Declaration of Independence was required reading in most peer-led female sexuality classes; their counterparts in the male sexuality class enjoyed a year-end field trip to a strip club. Even The Daily Californian got on board, touting its "Sex on Tuesday" column as a bold step for a campus newspaper — it covered everything from dildos to dating sites to dishy personal anecdotes.

"Sex on Tuesday" soldiers on, though the controversial male sexuality class has since retired. Berkeley, meanwhile, seems to be rethinking its stance toward all things coital. There now seems to be a much greater rift between the people who embrace sexual liberation, and the ones who recoil.

"We're seeing there's somewhat of a disconnect," the university's lead sexual health educator Robin Mills says, adding that she came on board in 2008 with marching orders to revise the sex-ed program. "At that time, we had a few students on campus who were very sex positive — so sex-positive, in fact, that they needed to be a little reined in," Mills recalls, adding that she wanted to create a more balanced atmosphere.

Doing so required a little trial and error. One of Mills' early innovations — an anatomically correct, life-size penis costume — didn't go over so well with right-wing student groups. Nor did a National Condom Day celebration that featured sex-themed carnival games, including a vagina-anus condom toss. It took place the same day that hundreds of elementary and middle school students were touring the UC Berkeley campus.

Claire Chiara, president of the Berkeley College Republicans group, was piqued. "If I had been one of those children, and my parents found out I was exposed to a graphic display of sexual organs, they would have been very disappointed," she says.

Incidentally, Chiara is also disenchanted with Berkeley's latest display of sex positivity: an archival sex-ed exhibition at Doe Library called Birds Do It, Bees Do It: A Century of Sex (Mis)Education in the United States.

"The exhibit itself was acceptable for a library," Chiara concedes. "Where it became obnoxious was a display case with very graphic images — drawn and animated — of people having sex. And then there were condom wrappers everywhere." She saw it as another example of the sex zealots taking open-mindedness to an extreme.

For better or worse, though, sex and free speech are two linchpins of UC Berkeley's history. And even the campus Republicans are quick to acknowledge that. They just want it done tastefully — and perhaps less positively.

About The Author

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan was a staff writer at SF Weekly from 2013 to 2015. In previous lives she was a music editor, IP hack, and tutor of Cal athletes.


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