For generations, people have been told that discussing sex is taboo — that nice people, especially women, don’t talk about it, even with their husbands.
In the 21st century, however, open, frank discussion about sex increasingly is seen as necessary for the establishment and maintenance of healthy adult relationships.
That’s why Dr. Jessica Kratzer, assistant professor in the MTSU Department of Speech and Theatre, calls the new “Sex and Communication” class her “dream course.”
Kratzer designed the first half of her course to track sexual communication through the life course, beginning with parent-child relationships and progressing through dating relationships, married and long-term couples and sex among the elderly.
Her students watched “Still Doing It,” a documentary in which nine senior citizens talk openly and frankly about their sex lives.
“They had these mixed emotions, like, you know, ‘I can’t believe people in their 80s still have sex,’” Kratzer said of her students’ reactions. “But, at the same time … they hope that they’re still able to do that when they get older.”
One of the students’ assignments was to interview two people about their sexual experiences — willing subjects who the students most likely would have known before signing up for the class. Kratzer said the students used pseudonyms for the participants in their papers.
“I think a lot of people feel embarrassed about their sexual pasts or unsure about how their partners will feel about their sexual pasts, even if they feel OK with it,” Kratzer said.
Other people just don’t want to risk hurting their partners’ feelings, the professor added. But one theory about communications breakdowns Kratzer won’t accept is the “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus” mentality.
“That book I find to be ridiculous and based on complete stereotypes,” Kratzer said of the best-seller by relationship counselor John Gray.
Nothing about relationships between men and women or the differences between masculinity and femininity is that simplistic, the professor said.
“One isn’t better than the other,” she added. “It’s nice when they can complement each other and work well off each other.”
Discussions about sexual communication take on new dimensions when talking about new technology. For example, Kratzer said, there’s not that much research on “sexting” available because it’s relatively new. But she said people tend to have more courage in talking about sex when they can hide behind technology.
“It’s so much easier to say things via a text message or an e-mail, because you don’t have to face that person,” Kratzer observed. “You don’t have to look them in their eyes.”
She also has reservations about the wisdom of those who post their sexual history on Facebook. She doesn’t necessarily find speed dating problematic, though.
“I don’t see anything wrong with it as long as people are going in with the mindset that they may not find their perfect match,” Kratzer said.
By exploring various perspectives in class, Kratzer said she hopes her students will find that there’s more to sex than just sex.
“I’m hoping that my students really understand the broad spectrum of communication and sex and, when we talk about sex, it doesn’t have to be the act itself,” she said.
The Sex and Communications course, COMM 4800, is a special topics class that debuted this semester and can be offered again periodically at the department’s discretion.
To hear an interview with Kratzer from WMOT-FM’s “MTSU On the Record,” visit http://mtsunews.com/sex-and-communication-2.
— Gina K. Logue (Gina.Logue@mtsu.edu)
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