Last spring, the same semester that I took FemSex, a not-for-credit seminar that explores a number of issues dealing with female sexuality, two people argued in The Crimson that FemSex is not the best way to strive for female empowerment. In an op-ed, Vanessa J. Dube ’10 described FemSex as “only interested in separating women into these silly slumber party seminars,” while Lucy M. Caldwell ’09, a Crimson editorial columnist, said that a woman thinking of taking FemSex would be better off finding a sexually progressive boyfriend or visiting a psychiatrist if she has menstrual-stigmatization issues. Both writers make note of the course fee, but fail to mention that payment for it is optional and that the price is highly subsidized by grant money. Neither of these writers had enrolled in the class, but of course, they are perfectly licensed to their opinions.
Although I went into FemSex somewhat skeptically, I found it to be exactly the experience I had been missing throughout the rest of my time at Harvard. I heard about the class when I was performing in the Vagina Monologues in the spring of 2006. This was my first introduction to feminists at Harvard, many of whose ideas I wasn’t sure I agreed with. I didn’t want to have to start referring to “all genders” instead of “both.” I didn’t want to use the pronoun “ze” and I didn’t see why it was necessary to perform the same play year after year. However, the people I met and the experiences I heard about were unlike anything I’d known previously, so in an effort to branch out, I decided to take the class.
The diversity of issues that FemSex deals with makes it accessible to anyone; from anatomy to contraception to masturbation, every asset of female sexuality is intimately explored. The class includes a number of guest speakers, including a midwife, a dominatrix, and a trans person, willing to share their experiences and answer questions.
And contrary to popular belief, the class does not have some kind of political agenda, but rather serves to create a discussion forum for women with every conceivable viewpoint. Nor is it filled with a homogeneous group of oversensitive and misguided people, as Caldwell and Dube imply. Nowhere have I felt on equal standing and un-judged with a group of students so diverse: Black, white, single, married, gay, straight, athletes, artists, freshmen, seniors, conservative, liberal, virgins, and the experienced. If I had not taken FemSex, I would never have had the opportunity to meet the amazing women I did.
FemSex has something for everyone: the coupled-up girl who has never had an orgasm through intercourse, the supportive best friend who’s trying to understand her lesbian roommate better, and the sexually adventurous lady who’s sick of confessing to Bored@Lamont. How many girls on this campus long for friends who can be as open as the girls on “Sex and the City?” Even the Charlottes of Harvard can join in on the fun occasionally.
FemSex also provides a safe, non-judgmental space. Not all of us can bare our souls to the world like Lena Chen ’09, whose blog, “Sex and the Ivy,” has been much-publicized for its candid look at sex at Harvard. Some of us want people to whom to talk who can identify and share, who we know won’t stop liking us for being a little T.M.I. Too often, I get looks in the dining hall for talking loudly about sex. FemSex provides a place for people to talk loudly, so that those who don’t want to don’t have to hear about it.
I understand that there are a number of students on this campus who think that FemSex is unnecessary, but what class or organization isn’t? Extracurriculars aren’t built out of necessity; they are created out of desires—to do what we love, to find common ground, to help others. If a student doesn’t like it, she doesn’t have to take it, but the need for it on this campus is no lesser because it’s not for her.
FemSex is unnecessary in the same way as an African-American studies class is unnecessary; it’s easy for us to look at this campus, at our seemingly liberal society and say there are no problems left to fix. It’s easy to say that the solution lies in finding a better boyfriend or just shutting up and learning to live with it. But some people see study and exploration as a stronger way to approach the problem. The more we learn about ourselves and others, the more likely we are to feel happy and safe. And in a world of meaningless drunken hook-ups, perhaps it’s time we started getting more of what we wanted out of sex.
It is difficult to pinpoint what changes in myself I can attribute to any one specific experience and what was just a normal part of growing up, but I do know that last semester, the one in which I took FemSex, was a semester of tremendous growth and change for me. We are all consistently changing throughout college, and Harvard is not always the most warm and supportive place to do so. Now, as a senior (dear God), I would describe my overall experience at Harvard as a positive one. I love the friends I have made and the extracurriculars I have taken part in, but I have found no place where I have felt more welcome, respected, safe, and open than I have in FemSex. Why anyone would want to deny another student of that is beyond me.
Sachi A. Ezura ’08, a Crimson magazine editor, is a sociology concentrator in Eliot House.