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Arguing with Myself: Tastefulness, Censorship, and the Sex-Toy Demonstration

Written by Patrick Malone for - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Maybe I’m just getting old.  As my 32nd birthday looms ominously at the end of this month, I have started to see some of the telltale signs that I can no longer count myself among the ranks of the young.  If I don’t get at least 7 hours of sleep, I’m ruined the next day.  I select food at the supermarket with a much greater focus on trans-fat than flavor.  I drink tea.  Tea!  My only consolation is that at least I, unlike some others, recognize that I am getting older and have attempted to gracefully hang up my shiny clubbing shirt in favor of my comfortable, stained sweatshirt.

It is within this context that I have tried to approach the recent controversy at Northwestern University.  To briefly summarize, Professor John Michael Bailey, who teaches a large human sexuality class at Northwestern, held a supplemental session after one class, where a naked, non-student female was stimulated with what I have seen described alternatively as a “high-powered” or “motorized” sex toy.  That’s really all the detail we need to get into on that.  About 100 students, who were completely informed on the explicit nature of the content, chose to stay and watch.  Surprisingly, Bailey was shocked when protests and complaints appeared almost immediately, as he saw the exercise as completely in tune with the mission of his course.  He viewed the reaction as a division between people like him who “see absolutely no harm in what happened, and those who believe that it was profoundly wrong.”

I don’t think Professor Bailey is quite right here.  There has to be a middle ground between “absolutely no harm” and “profoundly wrong.”  I have always been proud that progressives are often able to see things in a nuanced way, not just black or white, or right or wrong. ... Read more