Earlier this month on CNBC, New York University professor Don Kulick and sex writer Tristan Taormino squared off against me to debate the merits of watching hardcore pornography in the college classroom.
Yep, you read that right.
Time recently profiled Kulick’s “Sexuality and Gender” course, which devotes class time to the screening of X-rated Japanese cartoons, as well as films showing female ejaculation and women having sex with transgendered men. Kulick believes these video showings will enrich a student’s college experience. The anthropology professor directs NYU’s Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality and has written Travesti: Sex, Gender and Culture among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes.
Kulick told the TV audience that watching porn breaks down the “defenses” of students’ underlying prejudices: His screenings lead young people to say, “I had moral standings that I didn’t realize I had.” What are some of these “moral standings” and “defenses” that need to be removed? Well, let’s start with the commonsense understanding of gender. Referring to transgendered people, Kulick says that “pornography gets [students] to talk about what it means to be a man [and] what it means to be a woman.” For most of us, of course, seeing a baby exit the womb will provide sufficient evidence of the newborn’s physiological makeup. But as far as Kulick is concerned, this naïve perspective needs to be corrected. (It’s a boy! . . . It’s a girl! . . . I’ll tell you in 20 years when he/she makes up his/her mind!)
Kulick also uses his professorship at NYU to sponsor sex panels, such as the recent one entitled “Sex and aging: Removing taboos, restoring respect.” The panelists discussed the plight of gay men in nursing homes and misconceptions surrounding the sex drive of elderly persons. (It’s in high gear, Kulick’s researchers tell us.)
The pressing question is: How does this information help fulfill the mission of a university, which is to graduate educated citizens? According to Village Voice columnist Tristan Taormino, a sex-heavy syllabus is needed because college is “about exposure to new things [as well as] dialogue and debate.” Vigorous debate, apparently, requires a healthy interest in virtually every branch of sexuality. Taormino has written a book titled The Complete Guide to Anal Sex, and produced a movie called Tristan Taormino’s House of Ass–but before you write her off as a fringe figure, you should know that colleges and universities frequently request and pay her to address their students.
Should tuition funds really be siphoned away to subsidize a pep talk on anal sex, or to satisfy an anthropology professor’s personal fantasies? We are already becoming a video-programmed culture of non-readers whose powers of imagination and levels of intelligence are waning. The work of such as Kulick and Taormino only perpetuates the downward spiral.
Remember, a recent study found that only one in 1,000 people could name all five First Amendment freedoms-but 22 percent of Americans could name all five family members from The Simpsons. The Washington Post reports that only 31 percent of college grads could read and comprehend complex books, while The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that 40 percent of college students need remedial work in math and English. American students place much lower than foreign students in international competitions, and tuition rates are soaring past inflation rates.
Objecting to the inclusion of porn in the college curriculum is about priorities, not censorship. Even Kulick admits that his classes do not stimulate original thinking: “Pornography speaks to our emotions, not intellect . . . If you only read about pornography, you don’t challenge people in their gut.” But don’t we attend college to have our minds, not our “guts,” challenged? Finding one’s emotional response to porn can happen through a quick Google search, during spare time and at no cost.
–Jason Mattera is the spokesman for Young America’s Foundation.