What is sexuality? Is it simply a function of what kind of sex we have and with whom? Why do we seem to find sex so fascinating, constantly debating people’s sexual habits and desires and speculating on what they mean? Somehow our sexual identities seem to be the most important thing about us, much more important than what we eat, what country we grew up in, or our political beliefs. Moreover, there is an anxiety that we get it right, that we cultivate the right desires, the right relationships, the right performance of gender. What becomes evident when we dig a little deeper is that science lies at the heart of this preoccupation with normalcy and deviance. In fact, the study of sexuality began as a way to scientifically understand and correct “deviant” behaviors, such as homosexuality and “excessive” female sexual desire. Medicine has always been in the business of determining normal human functioning, and of course we live in a world where we take the evidence of science and medicine as fact, not as opinion or prejudice. However, when we view the history of sexuality through the lens of medicine, we will see that science is not as free from bias as we believe. In fact, it too is shaped by certain assumptions and values. By understanding the ways in which scientific “fact” was determined by the attitudes and perspectives of the past, we will bring into relief the discourses of science that continue to shape our understandings of our bodies, relationships, identities and practices.

Like all philosophy courses, this course will use the material at hand as a vehicle for learning critical skills–how to think, how to question, and how to communicate those thoughts and questions to others. Thus, the course heavily emphasizes activities that promoting critical thinking and written and oral communication. This is not a course where you will be given answers, but where you will be exposed to different ways of thinking and being that will seek to challenge your most basic assumptions about the world around you.

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Tara M. Dankel