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Not your average ‘sex class’
Typically the term “sex class” brings to mind pre-teenagers giggling about breasts and erections. Scientific terms are used, the facts are taught and teachers usually try and escape the classroom as quickly as possible when the bell rings to avoid any further questions. However, when I heard about a new course offered called “The Philosophy of Sex and Love”, I knew this had to be a different kind of experience.
Ed D’Angelo entered the classroom on the first night of class and walked straight to the board. He immediately reminded me of a sweet grandfather, with his white hair and metal-rimmed glasses. He wore a pair of black dress pants and an argyle sweater and his warm smile convinced me that he would present the image of a conservative man.
He set his briefcase on the table and then proceeded to write a list of scientific sexual terms on the board. He then invited the class to call out the more commonly used slang words. Instinctively, I panicked. I knew the words running through my own mind were certainly inappropriate to be saying in front of who I thought was a sweet, innocent, elderly man.
The next thing I knew, I was hearing words that would make my grandmother pass out from embarrassment. D’Angelo, however, nodded along nonchalantly and even contributed to the list, adding his two cents into the class discussion.
I sat at my desk in disbelief. But D’Angelo seemed unflustered at even the most vulgar slang terms my generation is all too familiar with.
D’Angelo has been teaching various philosophy courses at Quinnipiac University since 1997, but it wasn’t until 2007 that he introduced ‘The Philosophy of Sex and Love’ to the campus. He previously taught the course at the University of Bridgeport and spoke highly of the experience. There are, however, some misconceptions about the course. “.I’ve had colleagues who would smirk and made fun of it in a way. I guess they think of it more as a sex-ed course rather than really talking about moral and social issues connected with sex and love”, D’Angelo explained.
D’Angelo opens each class presenting a controversial situation and then opening the topic for discussion. Last class, he introduced the concept of student-teacher relationships. We arranged our desks in a circle for a more intimate setting. Our class had good chemistry and everyone was willing to share their personal thoughts and experiences.
D’Angelo explained that his technique is to open up to the class so that the students will feel comfortable to discuss any personal experiences.
“I’ve heard students come out as being gay or lesbian as a result of feeling so at ease in class. I think these issues are really important in people’s lives, if not now, then in the future.”
I found it refreshing to have a professor who addresses topics that are so prevalent in our society today and yet so taboo in a usual classroom setting. So far, this class has dealt with issues such as adultery, student-teacher relationships, incest and pre-marital sex, to name a few.
Outside of the classroom, we are responsible for completing readings from two different books. One of the books, “The Loving Person,” was written by D’Angelo himself. The other addresses issues relating to sex and relationships.
Our first written assignment was to write a two page response paper on any topic we found interesting in the reading. The topics students’ chose to write about ranged from the provocative, such as what constitutes adultery, to the more tame discussion about what types of sexual behaviors our society deems as “normal”. D’Angelo listened intently to each student as they presented their papers. I noticed that while he always respects a student’s personal views, he is excellent at challenging the class to make us look at an issue from every angle.
While the class addresses many sexual issues, the term “love” in the title of the course sometimes gets lost in the background.
“The way the class begins, the sex part has a central role, but I think the part about love is more important,” D’Angelo explains. “How often we have sex is minimal when most of our life is relating to people. Interacting in a loving way is so important to human relationships.”
D’Angelo believes that as a species, humans need to become more loving. He states that it is unfortunate that the media emphasizes more sex and violence than loving behavior. D’Angelo personally tries to bring more loving behavior to Quinnipiac’s community.
In the class that took place during the week of Valentine’s Day, D’Angelo walked around the classroom and gave a hug to any student who wanted one.
When I sat down to talk to D’Angelo about this course, I was hesitant to ask him how he bridges the age gap between himself and the students. When I finally asked him, he laughed. “I used to be 20 once too!,” he said, and I immediately felt like I had insulted him. He assured me that my question was not offensive, and explained that human emotions have always been the same.
However, at the time of D’Angelo’s youth, premarital sex was rare. He believes that it’s a different world today, and in many ways for the better. STDs and HIV were foreign terms to people at that time and thankfully now people have become aware of these issues and are better equipped to protect themselves.
D’Angelo hopes that after taking this class students will be open to more diverse types of sexual behavior and not be judgmental. He also wants students to realize that love is caring for someone as well as yourself, and it takes teamwork to make a relationship work. D’Angelo illustrates this by bringing his wife into the classroom later in the semester and allowing students to ask any question they want. “It puts us on the spot because we don’t know what they are going to ask. We have to really think!,” he says. D’Angelo feels it is important for students to see a married couple together and understand what goes into making a long term relationship work.
While I have always been comfortable discussing the topic of sexuality, it took a few classes for me to adjust to the idea of speaking out on these issues to people other than my close friends. Over the past few weeks, I have really started to look forward to this class because I look forward to volunteering my opinions and beliefs in class and hearing how others will react.
I now come back to my dorm room after class and talk to my roommates about everything that has been discussed that night. I believe this type of class combined with D’Angelo’s teaching methods is truly innovative and should be a part of every student’s college experience. As D’Angelo told the class on the first day, “These are important topics in life, and college should be a place where you can talk about these topics without fear.”