I HAVE always been fascinated by sex. My fascination involves more than hormonal impulses. I have an academic interest in sexuality and sex roles, the field I have chosen to research as a junior psychology concentrator. Unfortunately, as I found out last semester, Harvard encourages undergraduate research into sexuality about as much as it encourages keg parties in Harvard Yard.
At the beginning of the term, I enrolled in Psychology 1000, "Methods of Social Research," and submitted a proposal to study the relationship between parent-child communication about sex and adult sexual attitudes and behavior. My teaching fellow responded with tentative approval.
In order to begin my research, I headed for Widener Library to review the relevant literature--and ran smack into the bars of the "Erotic Cage." This room is a restricted-access area in the bowels of Widener containing journals on sexuality. Why aren't these journals in the regular stacks? The library employees I asked didn't know, but I presume it's because the University considers them too dirty for undergraduate minds. A typical excerpt from the Journal of Sex Research:
"Subjects were asked if they had ever participated in any of the following activities:
.Manual manipulation of clothed breast.
.Manual manipulation of. . .
You get the idea. In other words, this stuff is less graphic than the innuendo in "Sexual Encounters of the Floral Kind." Yet prim Harvard librarians hide these journals away in the Erotic Cage, effectively keeping them from the perverts (psychologists, sociologists, biologists, and the like) who want to read them.
The only way to get a journal from the cage is to turn in a request card and come back fifteen minutes later, in which case a library employee--wearing rubber gloves, I imagine--will retrieve three journals per hour for you.
That's assuming they can get to them. One journal request was rejected because the shelf holding that particular journal was blocked by stacks of chairs.
Can't you picture it? "Hey Harry, what should I do with this furniture?" "Oh, just stack it up in that room with the dirty books."
Despite Widener's archaic storage system, I managed to find a significant amount of previous research on communication and its relationship to sexual attitudes and behavior.
But a larger hurdle still stood in my way: Harvard's Human Subjects Committee. This standing committee, consisting largely of members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, is responsible for reviewing and approving any research on humans.
After I turned in the second phase of my proposal, the same teaching fellow who previously gave me the go-ahead suddenly began to "suggest" that I revamp my study to avoid the sensitive "Have you ever..." questions. Evidently, he was acting on orders from above. His general unease in discussing the issue made me suspect that his office was bugged with a direct line to Big Brother.
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