After 15 Years, FemSex DE-Cal Still Going at It

Anna Hiatt/Staff

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The Female Sexuality DE-Cal is like a good orgasm: It's jarring, emotionally powerful and it just keeps going.

In fact, it was the desire to climax that inspired the course 15 years ago, although since then the focus has changed.

"Initially, it started out as a class on how to have orgasms," said third-year Tracie Raymond, a current facilitator of the course. "But they widened the parameters, because the faculty wouldn't OK it."

The class now centers on women's empowerment and has broadened its scope to such topics as body image, sexual violence and alternative sexualities.

When it first began in the fall of 1994, the DE-Cal featured just one section with 20 students. This spring, it opened with five sections and more than 100 students, making it one of the most popular student-run courses on campus.

Facilitators and students say the course's allure stems from its discussion-based format and the diverse students it draws. Many call it a "safe space" for female students to express themselves and explore their sexualities.

"In this space, you actually feel comfortable sharing your thoughts, because you know you're not being judged," said Katie-Lyn Lantow, a former student who hopes to facilitate the course in the fall.

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.

Other campuses have borrowed the DE-Cal's concept and curricula for their own female sexuality courses, including Harvard University, which started a version in 2006.

"When FemSex was new at Harvard, it was wildly popular. It was so different from anything else that was being offered," said Harvard graduate Vanessa Pratt, who facilitated her campus's version of the course in 2007-08.

She said the course provided students with a casual forum for intimacy that the campus otherwise lacked.

"We had people who were married, people who weren't going to kiss until they were married, girls who had never used a tampon before, a person in a queer polyamorous nonsexual relationship-every possible non-normative style," Pratt said. "We never had a goal at all, except to have safe, productive, thought-provoking conversations and for people to be more fulfilled in their lives after they left."


Contact Rachel Gross at [email protected]

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