Northwestern University Sex Toy Scandal Brings Out My Inner Prude

northwestern university archThe investigation into last week's notorious after-class live sex toy demonstration at Northwestern University is well underway -- and no one knows quite what to think about it. Some side with the professor, John Michael Bailey, and argue that the exhibition was educational and valuable because it presented a realistic female orgasm (versus unrealistic interpretations typically seen in porn). Others are on the complete opposite side of the spectrum, like award-winning scholar and clinician Robin Mathy who is filing a formal complaint against Bailey and NU's psychology department. She thinks the lecture "'speaks to a voyeuristic excitement' and is not a legitimate form of sexual education."

And me? How do I feel about live power tool sex? As it turns out, to my great surprise, I'm something of a prude ...


I want to be able to say that this act of female sexuality was empowering; that everyone can benefit from learning how a woman orgasms; that information is power.

But I'm too busy being creeped out by the context: That the woman in the demonstration was a self-proclaimed exhibitionist. Which means that more than 100 students -- students -- were a part of making her and her fiance's sexual fantasy come true.

Now, I know participation in the lecture was "optional." And because this is a discussion of sex and sexuality, people automatically make the jump from "optional" to "consensual" and, therefore, argue that this exhibition was completely harmless. But if we're talking about students in an academic setting being taught by a professor who is responsible for giving them grades, I'm not sure if the "consensual" argument holds that much water.

There's an inherent power dynamic between teacher and student that plays a role even if those students are over 18. I'm willing to bet that many of those students chose to participate because they trusted their teacher -- not because they were completely confident in their sexuality, fully understood what it was like to be in front of an exhibitionist, and knew they could handle what they were about to experience. Which is fine. They're adults. New experiences are a big part of what sex is all about.

But I can still be creeped out by it. And I can still wonder how responsible it was to show something like that in a classroom setting.

I'm not going to get up-in-arms about the sex toy demonstration. But I am going to wonder if that professor defines "consent" the same way that I do.

If that makes me a prude, then so be it.

Do you think the NU live sex demonstration was educational or inappropriate?


Image via Clara S./Flickr

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