Let's Talk About Sex...at Dal

- October 26, 2005

When The Coast published its most recent list of favourite university courses in HRM, Dalhousie's class on human sexuality, taught by Charlotte Loppie (School of Health and Human Performance) topped the list. Quite bluntly - and it will come as no surprise - sex is a popular topic among students. Now, a new course that takes a step back and focuses on the history of sexuality is expected to be a popular one as well.

Starting in the winter term, Dr. Todd McCallum will teach Topics in the History of Sexuality which will look at comparative, theoretical issues relating to the history of sexuality. McCallum will examine "the rise and fall of schools of sexology as embodied by Ellis, Freud, and Kinsey; sexual violence and harassment; the commodification of sexuality; the history of the body; sexuality and colonialism; gay and lesbian subcultures; and the intersection of class, race, and gender in sexual experiences, discourses, and communities."

"I developed the course in conjunction with Shirley Tillotson, who currently teaches a gender and women's history lecture course," says McCallum. "In Canada, the history of sexuality is now an established field. Similar courses are taught at most universities, and some schools have even developed minor programs on sexuality that combine history, sociology, political science, etc.  As well, Shirley and I wanted to take advantage of the fact that a number of our colleagues have integrated the history of sexuality into already existing courses. Because of these efforts, there is considerable student demand for a senior seminar that explores sexual issues in greater detail."

McCallum says he expects some potential controversy to surround the course, "in that sexual politics seem to unfailingly attract controversy in our contemporary age." McCallum will begin the course by looking at the amicus brief filed by a group of historians with the US Supreme Court in the 2003 case of Lawrence v. Texas to get a sense of the roots of controversy that tend to accompany the teaching of this subject. He says his students will also look at two subjects, pornography and serial killers, that continue to attract much attention both in the popular press and among historians.

McCallum says it's important to teach this course now for several reasons.  First, as with any other topic, sexuality is subject to historical change, and he hopes that students will get a glimpse of the incredible range of sexual experiences and ideologies across cultures and time periods.  Second, he also believes that our current political discussions suffer for the absence of an accurate understanding of the historical character of sexuality. "In one sense, this attitude comes with the job," he says. "Most historians believe that what they do is of value in our present-day world.  Yet, with all the public discussion of the importance of history to the project of making good Canadian citizens, it seems all the more crucial that students come to terms with the history of what is often understood as a natural and unchanging phenomenon."


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