Class sex toy demonstration causes controversy

Patrick Svitek

Update 2: University spokesman Al Cubbage has released the following statement regarding the incident:

“Northwestern University faculty members engage in teaching and research on a wide variety of topics, some of them controversial and at the leading edge of their respective disciplines. The university supports the efforts of its faculty to further the advancement of knowledge.”

Update: Prof. John Michael Bailey has released a statement regarding the demonstration. Read it here.

Northwestern students and administrators are defending an explicit after-class demonstration involving a woman being publicly penetrated by a sex toy on stage in the popular Human Sexuality course last week.

The optional presentation last Monday, attended by about 120 students, featured a naked non-student woman being repeatedly sexually stimulated to the point of orgasm by the sex toy, referred to as a “fucksaw.” The device is essentially a motorized phallus.

The 600-person course, taught by psychology Prof. John Michael Bailey, is one of the largest at NU. The after-class events, which range from a question-and-answer session with swingers to a panel of convicted sex offenders, are a popular feature of the class. But they’re optional and none of the material is included on exams.

Last Wednesday, Bailey devoted six minutes of his lecture to addressing mounting controversy regarding the incident and articulating his educational intent. He told the class he feared the demonstration would impact the after-class events, which are sponsored by the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and he explained the educational purpose of the events.

“I think that these after-class events are quite valuable. Why? One reason is that I think it helps us understand sexual diversity,” he said, according to an audio file obtained by The Daily.

“Sticks and stones may break your bones, but watching naked people on stage doing pleasurable things will never hurt you,” he said to loud applause at the end of his speech.

Bailey declined to comment for this article due to class preparations that he said last until Friday.

Chicago sex tour guide Ken Melvoin-Berg, who operated the device, emphasized the instructional value of the hour-long session, which also included a question-and-answer period.

“Talking about it doesn’t always lend itself to this sort of thing,” Melvoin-Berg said. “We’re not just talking about it. We’re actually doing it.”

The shock value could be attributed to offended parties “not really knowing why they’re upset, but knowing they’re upset,” he added.

NU administrators on Tuesday afternoon offered approving but cautious responses to the demonstration, with Dean of Students Burgwell Howard admitting he was “somewhat surprised” upon first hearing of the after-class presentation. The event, however, most likely “falls within the broad range of academic freedoms – whether one approves or disapproves,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Laura Anne Stuart, the sexual health education and violence prevention coordinator at University Health Services, said after hearing of the event she consulted with a few members of SHAPE, the on-campus sexual health group she advises.

“As a sexuality educator, I do think that demonstrations of specific arousal techniques – those definitely have educational value,” she said.

Stuart added that the sexual display’s appropriateness depends on the class context, audience makeup and the professor’s ultimate goals.

Bailey is no stranger to controversy. The 21-year professor, who repeatedly has been named to the Associated Student Government Faculty Honor Roll, including in 2010 and 2009, has drawn criticism for the research and conclusions of his book “The Man Who Would Be Queen,” which explores male femininity and autogynephilia, a sexual fixation in which a man is sexually excited by the thought or image of himself as a female.

Interested attendees were warned five to 10 times about the intense nature of the demonstration, said McCormick senior Nick Wilson, who was present for the after-class event. He estimated at least 20 students began “trickling out” due to the warning.

McCormick junior Ellen Kourakos described the sex-toy implementation as “a little more explicit than expected.”

Administrators and students interviewed said because the event was optional, it is a permissable addition to the class.

“Personally, I probably wouldn’t want to witness that, but a student can take or not take the course,” said Christine Woo, a member of NU’s Christians on Campus chapter. “It’s their choice.”

Howard wrote in an e-mail Tuesday evening that hopefully students aimed to “plan their attendance accordingly,” especially given the popular but provocative nature of Bailey’s course.

Wilson downplayed the controversy, adding students were present because they chose to be and some were actually trying to move closer to the front of the room during the demonstration.

“Everybody’s blowing it out of proportion,” Wilson said. “It’s one small thing. It’s an intense thing, but it’s a small thing.”

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