College Offers Course Devoted Entirely To Pornography

by Jack Butler - Hillsdale College on March 29, 2013

A relatively new Pasadena City College class called “Navigating Pornography” – devoted to giving students a venue to study and discuss a touchy topic in an academic setting, according to its professor – has already prompted praise and concern.

First offered last spring, the class is a for-credit elective open to all students and does not require any prerequisites. In just one year, it’s come under national scrutiny after its instructor, Professor Hugo Schwyzer, invited a porn star to speak to its students.

But Schwyzer defended Navigating Pornography in an interview with The College Fix, calling the subject matter legitimate.

“(The course) focuses on giving students tools to understand pornography as a historical and contemporary phenomenon,” Schwyzer told The College Fix. “Students today live in a porn-saturated culture and very rarely get a chance to learn about it in a safe, non-judgmental, intellectually thoughtful way.”

The course doesn’t merely consist of viewing pornography. In fact, students do not view porn inside the classroom. Instead, they watch it on their own time as homework. Assignments include journals, a research paper, and a final exam, Schwyzer explained.

Schwyzer, professor of history and gender studies at the Southern California-based community college, said the elective provides students an avenue to discuss pornography in an academic setting.

He said he hopes students come out of the course with a better personal understanding of some of the seminal issues of pornography, such as: “why we love porn … why some people are deeply troubled by it … and how both to make decisions about porn in their own lives and how to have conversations about porn with others.”

Response to the course in the Pasadena community has been “excellent” in most respects, “save from some in the administration and the community,” according to Schwyzer.

“Students welcome it,” he adds.

Yet in an interview with The College Fix, a colleague of Schwyzer’s who teaches at the same community college called the course “absolutely appalling.” He asked not to be named, citing tension at the campus over the course, which recently prompted a wave of national controversy over its guest speakers: porn stars.

The media coverage was generated after Schwyzer invited James Deen, a porn star who graduated from Pasadena City College as Bryan Mathew Sevilla, to give a public lecture in late February. Some of Deen’s more recent films include “Don’t Tell My Wife 2,” and “Too Small To Take It All 5,” according to his filmography.

But university officials had to cancel the public lecture, because neither the instructor nor the event sponsors had secured the necessary permits, according to a Pasadena City College press release. 

“We support the instructor’s academic freedom within the classroom,” said Dr. Robert Bell, assistant superintendent of Academic and Student Affairs. “The college’s concern is to schedule all public events according to procedures so we can insure public safety and security.”

“I want to make clear that Schwyzer is expressing his own personal opinions,” said Dr. Mark Rocha, PCC superintendent-president, in the same press release. “In no way does he speak for the college or Board of Trustees.”

Bell offered to reschedule the lecture, but Schwyzer said that Deen would unlikely be able to come on any other date. Deen did end up speaking at the college, but only to 35 students in Schwyzer’s class.

In a March 21 article for the Australian Daily Life, Schwyzer wrote that Pasadena officials had not rejected similar guests in the past.

“In its official statement, the college explained that the cancellation of the public event was due to a lack of proper paperwork,” Schwyzer wrote. “Yet I filed the same forms for Deen that I’ve filed for countless other speakers over the years, including female porn stars.”

He concluded that Deen represented a new face of the male porn star that made women more comfortable about their sexuality, which accounted for the stronger reaction.

“…there’s no denying that Deen’s meteoric rise reflects a cultural shift towards acknowledging that young (and not so young) women are as hungry for sexual pleasure as men,” he wrote. “As the unprecedentedly nervous administrative reaction to Deen’s appearance on my campus showed, that shift is profoundly threatening.

“When men realize that women aren’t just sexy, but sexual in their own right, the fear of not being able to live up to female demands can become overwhelming.”

Schwyzer also provided evidence of this effect via responses from students about both Deen and the class, who have made comments such as:  “How could you not be aroused by such a cute and charismatic young guy?”

“I’d tap that in a second,” said another of Deen.

“It felt really good to be in a classroom where we could openly acknowledge that women get horny too without it being unsafe or weird.”

On March 19, a few weeks after inviting Deen to campus, Schwyzer invited sex educator Jessica Drake, creator of “Jessica Drake’s Guide to Wicked Sex,” and star of “Men In Black: A Hardcore Parody” and “Alice in Wonderland: A XXX Parody,” to speak in class.

But this time, the Los Angeles Daily News reported, the lecture was open only to students and approved media. In an interview with the LAist, Drake said that students were receptive to her talk.

“They are really hungry for this information and they knew that they could ask me anything and not shock me,” she said.

Students asked her questions anonymously through Twitter and the professor.

“I did give a bit of specific advice, but most of all I let them know that there are so many different ways to learn more about sex and there are so many possibilities. I do caution them on getting all of their cues from fantasy.”

Fix contributor Jack Butler is a student at Hillsdale College.

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