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Vol 39  No 17
July 19, 2007


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Seminar course explores sexuality and society
by Leslie Vryenhoek


Dr. Ailsa Craig

Dr. Ailsa Craig expects her new course on sexuality to catch students’ attention.

“If there’s sex in the title, everyone wants to enrol,” the sociology professor said, adding the course was over-enrolled when she piloted it last year as a special topics course. However, she cautions that this is neither an easy grade nor a how-to primer.

“There’s a difference between knowing how to [have sex], and knowing how to interpret the ways in which sexuality impacts society,” she explained, and added, “It’s not that sexuality and biology aren’t linked, but sexuality has important cultural meanings and social implications that have nothing to do with ‘sperm meets egg.’”

The course, which will be offered in both fall and winter terms, focuses on how we understand sexuality and the complex social contexts in which it is immersed. Topics include societal controls (for example, marriage and prostitution laws), how sexuality works as an organizing structure, and the ways certain sexual behaviours are marked as abnormal.

“‘Normal’ sexuality is not marked at all – people aren’t labeled, and can walk through life with much more freedom,” she said. “Part of this course is about understanding the inequality and social stratification that results from our definitions of sexuality.”

Dr. Craig first taught a course on sexual diversity in society while a graduate student at New York University. When she joined Memorial’s faculty last year, she developed a similar course, but adapted it for a Canadian context, including such things as this country’s same-sex marriage debate.

The 4000-level sociology seminar involves a great deal of discussion – that’s very important, given the sensitive nature of the subject matter. And while Dr. Craig has no expectation that anyone in the class will divulge anything about their personal sexuality, she said it does happen on occasion.

“It depends who’s in the class—what ends up being said, and how.” For instance, a class discussion on prostitution and society will be markedly different if someone in the class has worked in the sex trade and says so, rather than with a group of students whose only knowledge is from watching Law and Order.

She stresses to her students that active class participation has as much to do with listening as with talking “There won’t be any tolerance for shutting people down. There has to be an ability to listen and for people to feel respected.”

That respect for different opinions extends to the professor herself. “I tell students from the beginning that they don’t have to agree with me, but I do need to see a sociologically reasoned argument,” Dr. Craig said.

Ultimately, Dr. Craig admited that teaching a seminar course in sexuality is not without its perils – but said she expects it will also be rewarding and fun. “It’s serious stuff, but sex can be pretty funny, too.”

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