Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article posted online was a draft not reflecting revisions made during the editing process. The version below is the article that ran in the Dec. 6, 2012, print edition of Venues.
This article contains some sexually explicit content.
Mondays and Wednesdays in 162 Willard can get a little racy as the students of PHIL 014 (The Philosophy of Love and Sex) talk sex — along with its racial and social implications.
The Philosophy of Love and Sex is taught by Kathryn Gines and “offers an examination of theories and attitudes concerning love and sexuality that have been prevalent in the Western world,” according to the syllabus.
The class requires no previous philosophical background and encourages questions and discussion of typically stigmatized topics including sex, sexuality, gender, race and ethnicity — no holds barred.
“There’s an assumption that there’s a lot of sex happening on college campuses, but very little opportunity to actually talk about it,” Gines said. “This class provides an opportunity to talk about what’s going on.”
The course as taught by Gines is split into three parts. The first focuses on the epistemological aspects, discussing the implications that knowledge and truth has on perceptions of sex and love. The second part of the class explores sexuality, homosexuality and queer philosophy, delving into arguments for and against each. The last topic, which the class is currently discussing, examines the intersections of race, gender and sexuality.
“When a latina woman or an Asian-American woman experiences oppression, it’s not ever only racial oppression or gender oppression, she’s simultaneously experiencing both,” Gines said.
On Wednesday, Nov. 28, class began with a tittering of students, but quickly silenced itself upon the entrance of Gines, who proceeded to discuss miscegenation and the “browning of America,” a term used to describe the demographic changes in America, and the title of the book being read by students in class.
Gines proceeded to describe the browning of America and interracial marriage as “the literal loving away of racism,” adding that love problematizes the rigid lines between ethnicities and religions.
She then asked students to answer a question with their i>clickers, and protected by anonymity, the exhortation was honesty.
How did students perceive the browning of America? In a few minutes, the responses were recorded. Sixteen percent of students who answered the polls perceived it as a threat, and 80 percent perceived it as salvation, or a promise of social change. The remaining 4 percent had failed to choose a valid response.
The room was then opened for discussion.
“Think about popular stereotypes, especially negative ones, of different racial groups. How do these stereotypes get more nuanced or applied differently when we also factor in gender, sexual orientation, class or religion?” Gines asked her students.
Minutes later, hands flew into the air.
“All black people eat chicken, and all Mexican people do yard work,” a female student said.
“That’s good, but give me more that pertain to sex and sexuality,” Gines said.
“Latinos and blacks are more sexually active, or hypersexual,” a male student said.
Another student’s response, that black and latino males have larger penises than their Asian or white counterparts, was met with laughter.
“We laugh about it, and some people might say that it’s a positive stereotype, but when that gets translated into a black-man rapist, it turns into a problem — it can be very pernicious,” Gines said.
A male at the front of the class raised his hand and contributed his thoughts. According to a popular Internet site, it had been written that Jewish women were more likely to perform oral sex.
“The Internet seems to become the resource to confirm whether a particular ethnic or religious group likes to give blow jobs,” Gines said, smiling.
More suggestions poured in, including mention of stereotypes associated with lesbian women with masculine qualities, hypersexualized gay men and bisexual orgies. The discussion also touched on differing standards for women and men in terms of sexual activity, the perceived higher pregnancy rate among Hispanic teens and the assumption that black women have attitudes, among other topics.
“Anybody want to make a final profound claim before we wrap up here?” Gines asked.
“Black women have bigger butts…” came a voice from the middle.
“That’s kinda true,” someone said, which was welcomed with uproarious laughter.
Students slowly filed out of the classroom and were urged not to forget their homework.
So what does it say about the Western world now that we have classes enabling students to discuss sexual, racial and religious prejudices both casually and academically? Have we made social progress? This too, according to Gines, has been discussed by the class.
“We no longer have laws on the books in the U.S. making it illegal for people of different races to marry, but a lot of these ideas are very sedimented, there’s a lot of discomfort going on even today,” Gines said. “I think there’s an indication that there may be more acceptance of interracial couples, but there’s still work to be