Teaching Psychology of Human Sexual Behavior
When I was asked to teach Psychology of Human Sexual Behavior at San Diego State University in the summer of 2022, I hesitated at first. This request came just weeks after Roe v. Wade was overturned in the United States, and the country was in turmoil, trying to figure out how to move through this tumultuous and terrifying period. Simultaneously, the country was implementing bans and bills that prevented some professors from teaching material related to sexual orientation and gender identity, and rates of sexual violence on college campuses were alarmingly high (Muehlenhard et al., 2017).. I wondered whether I could sensitively and meaningfully teach a class like this at this sensitive time.
However, after a few days of vacillating, I decided that I was up for the challenge. Comprehensive sexual education has a variety of benefits for learners, particularly fewer unplanned pregnancies (Kohler et al., 2008; Stanger-Hall & Hall, 2011). Given the state of reproductive healthcare in the United States, I saw this as an opportunity to support students by educating them about contraception, consent, and gender and sexual diversity. Also, given my background in supporting gender- and sexuality-diverse students, I felt that I was an ideal candidate to be teaching this course at this time.
Preparing for the class was challenging: I wanted to select a textbook that was sensitive on matters relating to sexual orientation and gender diversity. More specifically, I wanted to select a feminist and trans-friendly textbook. I did not want my transgender and nonbinary students to have to experience dysphoria while reading their text for the class. While I was unable to find a perfect book, I enjoyed reading Dr. Justin Lehmiller's text Psychology of Sexuality (2nd edition) and opted for that one. Dr. Lehmiller is a phenomenal sex educator and science communicator, and he has a variety of supplemental materials available to support student learning, ranging from podcasts to book lists.
To prepare for the course, I spoke with several people who had taken and taught courses on human sexuality before (because I had not!). Many shared information that their students wished were included (e.g., disorders of sexual development, asexuality, pregnancy), and I worked with the text to create a syllabus that included information about topics that seemed particularly important, based on feedback. From body image in the bedroom to egg donation to abortion, I wanted to create a curriculum that addressed students' concerns and answered their questions about sex. I also reached out to several experts in the field to see if they would be willing to give guest lectures, and many agreed!
Closer to the start of the term, I learned that the course would be both hybrid and enormous. Specifically, the class meets once per week on Thursdays, and students are also responsible for online material between class sessions. When I learned that the class size was 220 students, my jaw dropped. I had never taught a class that large... heck, I had never been in a class that large! I had to adjust my expectations and strategies to work with a group this large. I was extremely nervous, given that my Certificate in University Teaching and Learning primarily had prepared me for smaller classrooms. However, I spoke with others, reviewed previous syllabi, and worked to adjust my expectations for how the class would go.
We are presently in Week 4 of the course, and it has been a tremendous learning experience for me as an educator. Not only is some of the course material new to me, but I have learned so much about teaching, letting go of expectations, setting boundaries, and creating active learning strategies for large groups. My students are amazing, and they have been so vulnerable and open in class. I am so glad that I decided to teach this course -- it has been a really wonderful experience so far!