Prof. Bailey is bringing sexy back

Meredith Laitos

Wednesday Column

This morning, about 604 Northwestern students are stressing out about sex, because they are about to get tested. Today is the midterm for Professor Michael Bailey’s test on Human Sexuality, and roughly eight percent of the student population is enrolled in the class. That’s about the equivalent of every single person in both Willard and Elder taking the same exam at the same time.

This class is so popular that even after offering 600 seats, it still left 50 students on the wait list. Unlike other classes this size that only fill up during the midterm and final, this one actually fills Ryan Family Auditorium to the brink on even the dreariest of winter afternoons.

The material covers everything from orgasms to infidelity. It discusses giggle-inducing subjects like male nipples, disturbing topics like sadistic serial killers, and socially poignant themes like gay marriage and what is going on inside of Michael Jackson’s head. There are not many careers that require this knowledge, nor is there a large calling for sex researchers to change the world. Nearly 75 percent of student do not count it towards their major. So what is it about this class that has NU students flocking to it in droves?

According to CAESAR, 41 percent of students enrolled in the class in 2006 had “very high” interest before even taking the class. The most popular reason they enrolled was not “major,” and not “minor,” but rather “no reason.” In other words, a huge percentage of students sign up without any credit-requirement incentive.

This says something interesting about NU students. It indicates we’re normal. No matter how much we may complain about our lack of decent relationships, we are evidently still typical college students. Placing the word “sex” in the title of a class is a tease we simply cannot ignore.

It also says something about our generation: We’re excited about discussing the unspoken. I bet if this class was offered a generation or two ago, more people would protest it than take it. This year, the class’s highly anticipated “gay guys panel” filled almost every seat in Ryan Family Auditorium, a crowd larger than that of most football games. The size of this audience proves how many students want to hear answers to the taboo questions, an avenue we don’t get many opportunities to take. Where else can you ask a panel of a dozen gay men in front of a massive audience, “Are you a giver or a taker?”

Finally, the class’s popularity indicates something about our comfort zones. By learning the details of deviant sexual behaviors, we are able to better understand society’s sex spectrum and then place ourselves on it. The more defined sexual labels become, the more we see where we fit in, and that makes us comfortable.

This grown-up version of sex ed will surely continue to be a must-take class at NU. It will continue to exist in a category of its own: Not highly career-pertinent, not frequently required for graduation, but just downright scandalously interesting.

Medill junior Meredith Laitos can be reached at [email protected]