Northwestern live sex demo: No harm, no foul?

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December 17, 2013 by nooffensebut

Northwestern University, where I attended graduate school, recently spent a few weeks at the center of a controversy eddy for a live sex demonstration that took place on campus.

As part of an optional presentation for a human sexuality class, a visiting couple demonstrated the use of a motorized boudoir accouterment. Currently, the university is in the midst of a reputation recovery operation.

I followed some discussion on alumni listservs, and reaction has been mixed.

“The school has no business sanctioning or presenting a course on human sexuality, let alone exhibitionism presented in the name of authentic classwork,” wrote a 1981 alumnus.

I think the first part of that statement goes too far. I have a B.A. in women’s studies, and my college course load certainly included classes where human sexuality was a major and frequent topic. We spent a lot of time exploring and debating the historical and social context of sex/sexuality, and there were plenty of lively, informative discussions.

And as a 2010 alumna wrote: “There is a need for research and expertise on human sexuality. Unless you think we should emulate Europe in the Dark Ages or Puritan New England.”

Of course, reactions were also strong outside the Northwestern community.

“This is (expletive) pathetic,” a friend of a friend posted online in response to an article on the matter. “Northwestern U = NO CLASS.”

I have to admit, whether I support the choice to do a live sex demo or not, I took a little offense to the above statement. I have a certain degree of Wildcat loyalty. It’s the same principle by which I’m allowed to insult my family, but you aren’t.

This was not a school-sanctioned activity. University president Morton Schapiro has said he was “troubled and disappointed” by the event and would investigate the after-class seminar.

Professor John Michael Bailey apologized for any offense that was taken and for the controversy that befell Northwestern, but added in a statement that he saw “no harm” in the demonstration itself.

I don’t disagree with that. Honestly, I’m not concerned about the corruption of college students — most have seen a lot worse on the Internet. I’m just not wholly certain what the live demonstration actually accomplished from an educational standpoint.

Oh, well, I guess you had to be there.

 Originally published March 18, 2011 in the Chattanooga Times Free Press
Reader response:
Dear Holly,Reading your today’s column, I learned why I liked some of your
writings.  I attended NU in the early 1960’s, an extension of the 50’s
more than “the sixties!”, when they literally locked the women up at
night. Now I find out that you’re an alumna.  (I was there while they
were moving Indiana Dunes sand to make the 40-acre campus extension.)

Seems to me that this live sex demonstration is why schools have

Kirk B


Holly, I have been a practicing Christian for almost 60 years. If you ever have a desire to talk to someone about trying that lifestyle, please let me know.

Becky W



When my copy of the march 21 Weekly Standard arrived, I saw that the title of their lead article was “Lower Education.” The basic subject was the same as your recent column, the sex toy performance at Northwestern University.

I congratulate you for being concise. You covered the subject in a few column inches, while the Weekly Standard wasted five pages on what was essentially a non-story.

I’m happy that we have places like your alma mater, where children may grow from late puberty to early maturity without doing appreciable harm to our culture. Their parents probably feel some sense of pride in ensuring that their progeny are getting a “proper” liberal (in the political sense) indoctrination, if not education.

After reading the articles back to back, not belly to belly, I found that three of us had wasted our time, you, Joseph Epstein and I. The only significant difference was that you an Mr. Epstein were being paid for your time; I wasn’t.

Bill F

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