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Hot on Campus | June 19, 2012

College courses featuring porn become more common

Culture clash

Christian researchers say pornography should be studied, not appreciated

©iStockPhoto/Oktay Ortakcioglu

Some parents might be surprised to learn they are paying for their students to watch, digest and learn to appreciate pornography in college.

At New York University, assignments for Anthropology of the Unconscious include discussing X-rated Japanese comic books. At Bates College, in Lewiston, Maine, students can take a class called, "Doing it, Getting it, Seeing it, Reading it," which among other sexual topics, discusses the difference between "pornography and erotica." And in a course offered at Wesleyan University, a secular liberal arts school in Connecticut, undergraduates taking "Pornography: Writings of Prostitutes," are actually required to produce a work of pornography for their final project.

What has been termed "porn curriculum" is steadily taking root in secular colleges and universities throughout the country. A handful of self-styled porn scholars believe in "immersing" their students in the porn culture by having them watch pornographic videos and exploring internet sites for class homework. They argue that graphic sexual imagery has become ubiquitous in society, so it's almost irresponsible not to teach young people how to deal with it.

Evangelical anti-porn advocates and Christian scholars who analyze the pornography industry see the value in studying porn and the effect it has on the brain, particularly among adolescents. But they believe that pornography should be studied in a specific academic context. Requiring students to view and become comfortable with pornographic content in the classroom cannot be done without the exploitation and degradation of those involved, critics of the courses say.

Increasingly, students agree.

Last month, Appalachian State University placed one of its professors on administrative leave for showing a pornographic film in a sociology class. Administrators didn't find out about the course material until students in the class complained. They accused the professor of "inappropriate speech and conduct," a college administrator told The Appalachian. Student complaints are not unusual. As pornography has become more prevalent in the classroom, some students have taken their concerns to school officials. But many students embrace the "porn curriculum," viewing it as a genre of art.

A growing number of scholars are pushing the study of porn in a variety of academic fields, from literature to film, law to technology, and anthropology to women's studies. Last year, 50 schools offered courses that included in-depth pornography content. The list of schools promoting porn in the classroom includes many of the nation's most prestigious secular colleges-NYU, Yale, Harvard, Columbia and Berkeley.

Kevin Eames, associate professor of psychology and director of institutional research at Covenant College, in Georgia, believes that the effects of pornography should be studied and dedicates a portion of his Addictions class to the topic. But Eames treats pornography as a type of illegitimate hedonic activity, like an addictive drug.

"A healthy study of human sexuality and the human body in a biblical context is the best way to approach issues related to pornography," he said. "It provides a basis of comparison by demonstrating the good against the counterfeit, which is what pornography is...I treat pornography in the category of illegitimate pleasures that can be addictive and that is a counterfeit for both sexual intimacy and true joy," he told World on Campus.

But Eames' approach to studying pornography is vastly different than the "porn curriculum" approach. The first seeks to find answers to a problem and expose the dangers of what porn can do to a mind. The latter seeks to embrace an idea and "teach" young people how to understand pornography, which in some cases means treating porn as an art form.

None of Eames' classes include any actual study of pornography, which he describes as the worst corruption of sexual intimacy.

"I think a bad way to approach it is to study it neutrally as a legitimate art form or genre," he said.

Rick Schatz, President and CEO of PUREHOPE, an organization dedicated to fighting sexual exploitation and brokenness in the United States, explains the fallacy of thinking that watching porn could have intellectual merit. Schatz says that a professor wouldn't require students to drink during a class on alcohol, because there's a certain percentage of students who have drinking problems.

"Instead of actually studying the legal, political and moral issues associated with porn, the vast majority of these courses are validating it and showing addictive pornography to students, even requiring them to produce it," he said. "There's absolutely no academic basis for that type of course."