Marquette Warrior: FemSex at Marquette

Thursday, February 14, 2013

FemSex at Marquette

Now happening at Marquette, according to a flyer posted around the campus two weeks ago:
The Female Sexuality Workshop (FemSex) is a 12 week co-facilitated, student-led workshop that aims to create a mindful, safe, respectful, and open environment for participants to validate their experiences, challenge their ideas, and learn with and from others. Evolving from long-running courses at UC Berkeley and Brown University, FemSex seeks to bring values of empowerment, diversity, and collective learning to Marquette University and the Milwaukee community.

Mission: To provide a safe space for exploration, encourage honest dialogue, facilitate collective learning, engage and grapple with the social forces that inform individual experiences, and build allyship. The workshop is free and open to the community.

Workshop topics: health, gender, identity, body image, sexuality, desire, power and privilege, spirituality, pleasure, communication, consent, relationship, empowerment, and more!

Workshop Activities: large and small group discussions, speakers, readings, in-class activities, and take-home exercises

When: Monday evenings, 6 p.m.-9 p.m. the first session is Monday, February 4th. The last session is Monday, April 29th.

Who: We welcome people of all genders, sexualities and sexual orientation, ethnicities, religious affiliations, political inclination, and abilities. All participants must complete an application and sign a participant contract.

Interested in Learning More? Attend an Information Session.

Dates: Tuesday, January 22nd or Thursday, January 24th

Time: 8 pm. – 9 p.m.

Location: The Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, AMU 425

Come to learn more about the workshop, complete the application, review the workshop syllabus, and ask questions. All are welcome!

If you have any questions, please contact Rachel Bruns at or Claire Van Fossen at .

*FemSex is sponsored by the Marquette Gender and Sexuality Resource Center*
So just what is FemSex? Since it started at Berkeley, an article in the Berkeley student newspaper may be a good place to begin.
According to facilitator Amelia von Gerer, two queer women started FemSex in the spring of 1993, after taking a class called Feminism and Pornography. Inspired, they spent the semester learning to orgasm and later sought to teach a Decal course on the matter, initially titled “The Orgasm Class.”

The pair ended up broadening the curriculum to include additional topics in female sexuality, and the DeCal has continued to evolve since then. Today, FemSex is a space for free discussion of power and privilege related to gender, women’s health and sexual practices, among other things.

FemSex students (fondly called “FemSexies”) are instructed to be open-minded, non-judgmental and respectful when discussing the controversial issues put forth by facilitators. Discussions range from views on pornography and sex work to gender-based violence and having healthy relationships.
Of course, if women have trouble having organisms, it would seem that a licensed sex therapist would be the person to see, and hard to see how the undergraduates who typically lead these discussions would be much help.

At Berkeley, the students leading the class all seem to major in Sociology, Psychology, Ethnic Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, with minors in related fields. In other words, they know all about how to talk about how women are victims, but actually know little about sex.

So it’s not surprising that the description goes on to add an explicitly political dimension:
The pair ended up broadening the curriculum to include additional topics in female sexuality, and the DeCal has continued to evolve since then. Today, FemSex is a space for free discussion of power and privilege related to gender, women’s health and sexual practices, among other things.
How you help women have better sex by telling them that men are evil exploiters isn’t clear, at least if we are talking about women who aren’t lesbians.

A more complete account of what the typical course involves can be found on a syllabus used at Carleton University, and on a syllabus from the FemSex website a Berkeley.

Some of the entries seem innocuous enough, for example “Communication in Relationships” (Carleton) and “Women’s Health and Menstruation” (Harvard). But most involve hot-button moral and even political issues. For example:

  • Porn and Erotica
  • Reproductive Choices (including abortion)
  • Exploration of sexual practices and lifestyle
  • Orientation of sexuality and gender
  • Power and Privilege
  • Pornography, Erotica, and Sex Work
  • Self-Love, Pleasure, and Orgasm
  • Sexual Practices and Orientation
  • Contraception and Sexually Transmitted Infections
  • Power & Privilege
  • Womyn’s [sic] Empowerment & Final Projects
A syllabus for Femsex at the University of Nevada-Reno is quite similar.

At Cornell an even wider variety of subjects is discussed:
Topics include: anatomy and physiology, cultural influences on sexuality, body image, STIs and safer sex, reproductive choices, solo sex, partner sex and relationships, gender identity, orgasms and inhibitors to orgasms, pornography, kink sex practices, BDSM, and more ...
If the syllabi of these course suggest some rather provocative topics, the actual activities are far more provocative. The student newspaper at Berkeley gives some examples:
In 2002, Female Sexuality-as well as the male version of the course-faced scrutiny by administrators after a Daily Californian article cited illicit sexual behavior in class. The incident sparked new guidelines for faculty oversight of student-run courses, but both DE-Cals have endured.

“Some people have a negative impression, but it’s not like that at all,” said senior Christie Santos, who took the course last semester. “The total goal is empowerment.”

For one project, students were asked to pen their own erotic story. Facilitators have also aired pornography clips in class to counter negative preconceptions about the industry’s treatment of women, Raymond said.

“Before the class, I would be really hesitant to use porn,” Santos said. “I think as women, we have a lot of hang-ups about porn and self-pleasuring ... I think it’s really interesting, because it’s exciting, it’s arousing-there is a lot of porn out there that isn’t degrading.”

Speakers in the DE-Cal have included sexologist Carol Queen-co-founder of the Center for Sex and Culture-as well as midwives, porn performers and members of the transsexual community.

The course has also held optional field trips to bondage clubs to allow students to explore alternative sexualities, Santos said.
The version of the course at Harvard was hardly less outrageous. As described by a woman blogger who was not at all sympathetic to the project:
Some of the topics being discussed don’t seem that outrageous to me and instead are worthy of discussion: portrayals of women in popular media, body image, women’s health, motherhood, and communication and relationships. But another glance at the syllabus and my jaw dropped. Assignments include coloring an anatomical diagram from the C*** Coloring Book, doing an erogenous exploration exercise, and let’s not forget the creative writing exercise—writing your sexual fantasy (don’t worry, it’s anonymous).

Each of the speakers will bring something valuable to the table: a midwife, someone from the BDSM community, a professional dominatrix named Princess Kali, a speaker on open relationships, the two leaders of Harvard’s Office of Sexual Assault and Prevention Response (an organization whose existence I’ve lamented in other posts) and sexologist Carol Queen. If that’s not enough fun, there is a writing workshop on pornography and erotica, a guided tour of Good Vibrations of Boston (a women-owned sex shop), and other field trips involving a porn night and a strip club visit.
Of course, one could quite plausibly argue that all these things are worth discussing. And indeed, they are. But the strong emphasis is that any discussion must be “nonjudgmental.” Indeed, an email sent out to advertise the event at Harvard said participation required the “suspension of judgment.”

In the first place, one can’t imagine a workshop that takes a nonjudgmental attitude toward things the organizers really believe to be evil. One can’t imagine a workshop on rape, or drug abuse, or racism that would be taught in a “nonjudgmental” way.

But far worse is the fact that FemSex is not nonjudgmental at all. It is littered with strong moral judgments. For example, Carleton students “discuss ways in which we learn about sex in sexist and heteronormative terms. Personal stories as well as media portrayals will be welcome.”

What about prostitution? What about pornography? The Berkeley syllabus promises to discuss “. . . the taboos that surround pornography and sex work.” Taboos, of course, are a bad thing.

Abortion? What would one expect when a speaker is from Planned Parenthood? Of course, no version of FemSex that we can find ever invited a speaker from a pro-life group.

Promiscuity? A look at the Berkeley website shows featured readings titled “Slut! Growing up Female with a Bad Reputation,” and “He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know.” Of course, from a Catholic, or indeed any Christian perspective, a double standard is a bad thing. But the proper response is not to encourage women to be promiscuous.

It’s odd that feminists think you can stick it to the patriarchy by making it easier for guys to get laid!

Indeed, when guys respond to female promiscuity in the predictable way, the feminists get huffy about it. An article in the Columbia Spectator gripes:
May we remind you that the joke “Columbia girls to wed, Barnard girls to bed” is still not funny? Barnard women have been immortalized as sluts and sex objects that aren’t worth a guy’s attention for a serious relationship, and the tradition is passed on every year to the next generation of students.

Moralism on Steroids

FemSex, in sum, is not nonjudgmental. It’s intensely moralistic. But the morality is a secular morality that says “if it feels good do it,” and “any sex act one wishes to engage in is OK.” Harsh moral judgment is reserved for anybody who says differently.

A woman blogger at Harvard saw this quite clearly. Contemplating enrolling, she observed:
I thought, perhaps naively, that I would be able to participate. That I could go in each time, listen to other women’s stories without judging, and then give my own perspective. That abstinence until marriage is the best way to avoid STD’s and is in fact a pretty liberating thing (I won’t have to compare myself to my husband’s previous partners, I don’t have to listen to society telling me what to do, I don’t have to deal with the emotional baggage of premarital sex). That sex work and pornography objectify women. That women wouldn’t need to be empowered if they stopped calling themselves victims and instead worked alongside men.

I’m not sure what their reactions to my opinions would be. I’m not sure if my views would be tolerated. I wonder if I’d inadvertently violate the contract I’d have to sign, which requires that I contribute to making the space safe and comfortable. But I do know that as long as we’re watching a film entitled “When Abortion Was Illegal,” being told how great polyamory is, and discussing self-love and masturbation, it can never be a safe, comfortable space for me.
And of course, a questionnaire that women wanting to lead sessions at Carleton have to submit makes clear the rigid political correctness of the enterprise. The women are required to explain:
What can you do to make sure issues of privilege are addressed in class? Have you had experience working with diverse communities or dealing with issues of diversity/privilege?

Femsex at Marquette

The program at Marquette is similar to those elsewhere. This is, after all, “monkey see, monkey do,” and administrators and activists on college campuses ape each other. And of course, those folks at Marquette ape what is done on secular campuses (or on “Catholic” campuses which, like Marquette, are not really Catholic).

Here is the syllabus for the Marquette program.

It has a few concessions to the supposed Catholic nature of Marquette. For example, among the “models of sexual behavior” to be discussed alongside “fantasy, kink, fetish, and more” are “asexuality” and “abstinence.” And it promises “both negative and positive views of masturbation.” And they have stuck in a discussion of “Sexuality and Spirituality.”

But then, projects at the end of the syllabus include:
  • Cunt Coloring: Color an anatomical picture from The Cunt Coloring Book.
  • Affirmation Assignment: Affirm someone in a manner of your choosing.
  • Birth/Adoption Assignment: Talk to your parent(s)/guardian(s) about the experience of your birth, adoption, or how they came to have you.
  • Erotica: Create an anonymous piece of erotica exploring fantasy and desire.
  • Pleasure Point: Find a new pleasure point or pleasurable activity, and write about (or express in another medium) the experience
Then finally, probably the most interesting:
  • Empowerment Object: Bring in something that you find empowering to share with the group.
The last one is particularly interesting. Do they want a sex toy, perhaps? We’re guessing that no woman in the group will bring a pistol for which she has a concealed carry permit!

Quite obviously, a program that endorses implicitly (and often explicitly) abortion, sadomasochism, prostitution, homosexuality, masturbation and promiscuity is way beyond questionable at a Catholic university — and even at a university that pretends to be Catholic.

But even from a secular liberal standpoint, the program is questionable. As a woman writing in the Harvard Crimson put it:
Oddly, the focus of FemSex is purely sexual liberation. Despite the numerous other issues confronting the modern woman, the class focuses eight out of 10 sessions on sexual and/or anatomical exploration. The syllabus seems to suggest that sexual liberation is a woman’s only path to empowerment—funny, I thought that was law school. Where are the seminars focused on women in corporate America, or women in the military? By diversifying its syllabus, FemSex might lose its shock value, but it would be able to address a broader range of concerns and appeal to more students.

Even worse, in its attempt to force its members into an archetype of what liberation should be, FemSex’s approach overpowers the individual instead of empowering her. Empowerment is about making your own choices, not about adhering to the FemSex agenda. I wonder how a class member who made the liberated choice to abstain from sex would be received in this group.

According to its information e-mail; “this class requires dedication, openness, willingness to communicate, suspension of judgment, and BRAVERY.” Bravery? It is difficult to understand what bravery has to do with attending field trips to porn shops or listening to a dominatrix give a lecture, both of which are potential offerings of a FemSex curriculum. Bravery would be having these conversations and trips out of your own curiosity, not as some sort of misguided attempt at finding a pre-determined “liberated” identity.

At the information session earlier this month, one FemSex alum recounted her favorite assignment from last term: taking a speculum and a light and getting intimate with her own private parts. Nothing could serve as a better example of FemSex’s misguided philosophy: while its participants are searching their own insides, they’re missing what’s going on outside. We live in a world with those other people — you remember them, the men — and until we can stop judging our liberation as women (sexual or otherwise) by how separate we are from men, we will never be truly empowered.
The image of college women one gets from FemSex is that of whining neurotics. Really, which would be better for the cause of women’s equality: studying to make a good grade on a Physics exam, or attending a feminist hen party to obsess on sex? FemSex, in reality, is the ultimate way of treating women as sex objects.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...


5:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, so. Who cares about your rigid views? If those campuses want to teach about reproduction (yes gasp even abortion) you're against that?

12:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is highly sexist. Yes it is your choice to decide your own morals, but you're missing the point of the workshop entirely. It's not about helping women or men have sex or orgasms. It's not about hating men. On the contrary, it's making it okay to talk about women, their sexuality and how they feel. How is talking morally offensive?

3:04 PM  
Blogger Molly Arenberg said...

Where on earth did you get "men are evil" from in the conference description? You are projecting your own, inaccurate and offensive view of feminists onto the conference. How great would it be for Marquette to prevent and respond to its sexual assault problem (on campus and abroad) in the same timely fashion that it shuts down a conference pushing for gender equality. Blog on THAT.

7:35 AM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

Where on earth did you get "men are evil" from in the conference description?

Are you so naive you can't decode the "power and privilege" stuff?

Interesting that you bring in sexual assault, on which Marquette has a very poor record. Isn't it just like the modern politically correct university to institutionalize a lot of things to placate feminists, but when faced with real sexual assault to cover it up?

10:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can't agree with you more! This is a Catholic University (or at least it is supposed to be). If people want this sort of officially sponsored nonsense then they need to go elsewhere. For ONCE Marquette did the right thing in pulling the plug on this rather than caving to the liberal, secular whining on campus. As a student paying outrageously obscene tuition I am thrilled to see the powers-that-be up here finally come to their senses and rein in the free-for-all that has been going on.

Should the group exist? Meh. Who cares? People can do what they like. It's a free world.

Should we as students at a private, CATHOLIC university be forced to sponsor (read: pay for) its activities? Hell to the no.

1:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the fact that you think 'men are evil' is what is meant by discussing power and privilege is the most overt expression of your white, male privilege i've ever seen. it is excruciatingly obvious how uninformed you are about these topics.

6:27 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

the fact that you think 'men are evil' is what is meant by discussing power and privilege is the most overt expression of your white, male privilege i've ever seen

Thank you for making it clear that I was right. And you don't even understand you were doing that, do you?

That kind of politically correct blather is so much a part of your culture that you can't even see that it's a confession that what I said is correct.

7:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. McAdams,

I also teach at Marquette and I think it is problematic that you have essentially alienated a large number of female students that attend this university. I have had numerous students (male and female) express concerns about taking a class from someone that is blatantly disrespectful of women. As teachers I think it is one thing to offer a balanced opinion, another to use our position of authority to castigate and alienate our students.

8:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh no! Adults talking about adult topics! Really, though. You give extreme examples of things that have been included in the program at other colleges and then assume that those things will be allowed in Marquette's version of the program if it is approved. No one is going to be allowed to show pornography, for example. Calm down. I am a current freshman and I am shocked by the fact that the huge need for a non-judgmental discussion group is not being met. This program has no agenda and it had been decided that Marquette's version would incorporate spirituality, just as Marquette's Gender-Sexuality Alliance currently does at its meetings.

Just because a view is expressed on campus at an activity sponsored by the college does not make the college responsible for the opinion. Part of getting a higher education is talking about serious topics. If a student expresses a pro-choice point of view in class, for example, it's not a problem.

8:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know - I've seen far more castigation and alienation going on from professors who are so rabidly pro-abortion that they deny anyone (whether male or female) the right to have voice on the topic if it is opposed to their own. Apparently the only 'rational' view is their own and everyone else is too stupid to have the the right to speak.

I've also had my fill of those who are so agenda-driven that you are deemed a 'bigot' or 'repressed woman' (in class, no less!) if you merely state your beliefs that marriage is between men and women or that there are two genders in this world. Everyone else gets to state their beliefs in class on the topic without being told they are wrong!

Tolerance for diversity of beliefs seems to flown only one way in academia these days. I'm pointing out nothing that most folks don't already know in stating that. Even those showing intolerance (while hypocritically lauding it) know they are speaking out of both side of their mouths. A point which is usually proven by the tendency to make sweeping complaints "anonymously."

If you really believe you are in support of the truth and aren't, in fact, the ones bullying others who hold different views, why be ashamed of claiming your voice?

Sexism is a real thing. However, crying "sexism" every time something is deemed to be outside the parameters of what can go on at a Catholic university seems to harm the real effort that should be underway in eliminating genuine sexism.

I don't agree with everything that Dr. McAdams says or even the way in which he says it...but I have yet to see sexist motivation or speech come out of his mouth. At least on here.

2:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"FemSex, in reality, is the ultimate way of treating women as sex objects."
Well said and SO true! Excellent commentary based on facts rather than just abusive name-calling like Van Fossen's response - when there's no truth or facts to talk about then the name calling starts. One easy way to tell who is lying.
What the evil side knows and modern woman has forgot is that the woman is the foundation of morality in a given society - pervert her and ruin the society - my prayer is that women, especially at "Catholic" universities, by-pass this perverted garbage that will only bring them grief, abuse, and disease.

9:09 AM  
Blogger shutupnsing said...

God Bless you Professor McAdams. I pray that people in all walks will be inspired by your stand, and demonstrate (at their own risk) the same moral courage as you have to expose those who lack your character, wisdom and judgment...preferring the collective shadows of their own cowardice and intellectual dishonesty. They seem to be everywhere like a plague. There's nothing like Truth to Power, Dr. McAdams, to send the roaches scurrying!

5:12 AM  

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