Catholic University Sparks Controversy for Student-Led Workshop on Sex Acts

Marquette University, a Catholic college in Milwaukee, Wis., is once again mired in controversy involving FemSex, a female sexuality workshop with classes on masturbation, orgasms and erotica.

According to its syllabus, FemSex is a weekly workshop that provides "a safe space for exploration" into women's sexuality. Modelled off of other student-led courses at UC Berkeley and Brown University, it includes group discussions, activities and individual exercises. The more controversial themes include "orgasms, masturbation, sex, kink, and sexual identities."

Ethan Hollenberger, an alumnus who raised concerns about the workshop with the university's president in February, told the Marquette Tribune that: "When an academic program sponsors (FemSex), you see the (Marquette) Catholic identity eroding."

The program originally ran in the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC), a division of Marquette's administration. Hollenberger and other alumni, faculty and donors then approached university President, the Rev. Scott Pilarz, wondering if the content was appropriate for a Catholic and Jesuit university. Pilarz and former Provost John Pauly decided to withdraw university sponsorship in February, but the workshop continued with sponsorship from the university's Honors Program.

"As an academic seminar, it needs an academic home on campus," argued FemSex director Amelia Zurcher.

John McAdams, associate professor of political science at Marquette, is a vocal opponent of FemSex and noted on his personal blog, the Marquette Warrior, that FemSex is led by students, rather than professors, teachers or licensed counselors. "If there were some actual technical expertise involved, it might be more of a legitimate academic exercise."

McAdams remarked in his blog that the students leading discussions at Berkeley, a model school for Marquette's FemSex, are majoring in sociology, psychology, ethnic studies, and gender and women's studies. "In other words, they know all about how to talk about how women are victims, but actually know little about sex."

The Honors Program, which now hosts FemSex, is controlled by the English and philosophy departments, "two of the most politically correct departments on campus," McAdams alleged.

Anna Balistreri Klapps, Claire Van Fossen and Rachel Bruns, who developed the FemSex curriculum, argued that the workshop is not at odds with Catholic views.

"FemSex does not push any ideology, teach or impart any prescribed concepts, generalize experiences, make prescriptions, or advocate a particular philosophy or morality," the developers wrote in a joint statement to the Marquette Tribune. "FemSex grapples with issues core to our humanity that are too often shamed, silenced, and ignored, often to the detriment of individuals and communities."

While minor changes to clarify workshop procedures, values, and expectations have been made to the syllabus since February, Klapps, Fossen and Bruns said the content has remained the same.

The curriculum developers said FemSex has multiple offers of sponsorship from groups on and off campus, and they have even approached the GSRC about renewing the center's sponsorship. Susannah Bartlow, GSRC director, said the center is considering this change.

This is not the first time colleges have become embroiled in controversy regarding sex ed courses. In 2011, a Northwestern University professor drew criticism for his in-class, live sex show. Gail Dines, author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality, and professor at Wheelock College in Boston, Mass., decried his actions as a "cheap shot" that displayed a blatant disregard for students' well-being.

The Christian Post did not receive a response from Marquette University at the time of this publication.

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