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Nonsense and Sexuality

//Dylan Jian Barrick

Ally MacConchie, Copy Editor

Last semester, a workshop titled “Sense and Sexuality” was given on Bergen Community College’s campus, under the guise of a “women’s rights discussion.” When I first heard of this event, I thought it was going to be a talk about consent. I feared that it would place all the responsibility on women, and in a way, I was right.


My concerns were validated when I discovered that the presentation was for women only. This led, in my mind, to a one-sided argument. The presenters stated men are less aware of their sexual health status than women because they don’t get tested as often.


Sponsored by Bergen’s counseling department, counselor Lois Carmichael stated that “men were not invited for a reason, because we’re talking about women’s bodies,” adding that “not everything has to be open to everyone all the time.” I’m not sure what Title IX, which bans discrimination in schools on the basis of sex, among other things, would say about that.


For a program so willing to make a sweeping generalization regarding the sexual health of men and their likelihood of getting tested, one would think they would allow men to sit alongside and benefit from information about their own health and about women’s bodies. By preventing men from attending, this program placed the responsibility to engage in discussion about sexual health with potential partners solely on women.


For example, women were advised to wait until their mid-20s before having sex, and told things such as “the rectum is an exit, not an entrance,” and that “a hook-up usually leads to regret.” A hook-up can lead to other things, too, like a long-term relationship or even marriage. The presentation, unfortunately, seemed to focus on scaring people away from their own sexuality instead of giving them adequate resources to practice it safely.


According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, comprehensive sex education has been proven to reduce not only the chances of pregnancy but sexually transmitted infections and even sexual activity itself. Having knowledge about how your body works and how to effectively use protection lowers the likelihood of unintended side effects of sex and helps people view sex in a healthy way instead of with shame or aversion. 


Humans have been having sex as long as we’ve existed as a species, and arbitrarily telling someone to abstain from sex isn’t educational and won’t help them if they decide not to.


Apart from the discussion, students who attended the workshop on Nov. 13 also received a pamphlet full of formatting errors titled, “Sense and Sexuality: the college girl’s guide to real protection in a hooked-up world,” written by Miriam Grossman, MD.


When the pamphlet is searched online, the first result links to Aside from being full of misinformation presented in a fearmongering way, the booklet gave absolutely no information on LGBTQ+ relationships. 


The tone of much of Dr. Grossman’s pamphlet is misogynistic, heteronormative and instills a sense of fear among her readers. Page seven, my personal “favorite,” says that the reader “[might] imagine that the waiting rooms of fertility clinics are packed with obese women smoking cigarettes.” No, Dr. Grossman, I don’t imagine that. I imagine women like my mother, who struggled to have me at age 45 and underwent in-vitro fertilization treatments to become pregnant.


At the bottom of the same page, Dr. Grossman implies that a woman might regret striving to achieve self-actualization because she wants to have a child. She writes, “It saddens me each time a patient describes this- typically a student who always put career first, and is finally getting a Ph.D. at 38 or 40.” What saddens me is her internalized misogyny.


As an accomplished woman with a medical degree, why would she try to discourage women from attaining their dreams? Why does she imply that the most important thing a woman can become is a mother? There are so many possibilities for women today than have ever been presented before, and it sounds like she’s trying to get women to have a child before they might be ready to. 


“Remember that motherhood doesn’t always happen when the time is right for you,” Dr. Grossman writes. Some women want to have a career and be financially stable when they decide to have a child, and other women don’t want to have a child at all, which are both valid. Instead of scaring women into making a choice they might not be ready for, let them know options for conception when fertility declines, as well as accurate information on contraception if pregnancy is something one wishes to avoid. 


In a presentation meant for college students, who have correct citations drilled into them with every essay we write, the claims put forth in the pamphlet do not utilize in-text citations and the most recent source in her bibliography is from 2008. You’d think that a booklet discussing such a serious topic would have citations on each page to make it clear which studies Dr. Grossman is referencing, but instead, readers are met with vague lead-ins like, “in a British study.” In which British study? Who conducted it, and when?


Dr. Grossman also says that according to the Food and Drug Administration’s website, “Condoms provide some protection, but anal intercourse is simply too dangerous to practice.” In my research, I couldn’t find anything saying this on as all traces have been deleted, but I found plenty of conservative websites willing to quote this. Apparently, this was said by the former Surgeon General from 1982-1989, during the AIDS crisis, when not much was known about HIV and AIDS.


When I searched for more information about Dr. Grossman online, I found her website. Instead of a comprehensive biography, I was met with: “One hundred percent MD, zero percent PC,” emblazoned in all capital letters, with “GOODBYE Marriage. GOODBYE Mothers & Fathers. GOODBYE Male & Female. In a World gone MAD, Children are in DANGER,” underneath.


Scrolling down on her homepage, she perpetuates transphobic ideas, writing that children “are led to believe that gender is fluid: do you feel female today? Well, you’re female then, because biology is irrelevant,” invalidating the experience of transgender individuals in a sarcastic manner. She goes on, “Male and female are fixed conditions, at least for about 99.99 percent of us. A man cannot become a woman, nor a woman a man.”


The American Psychiatric Association has stopped classifying being transgender as a mental disorder, but as gender dysphoria in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 


Dr. Grossman’s message is, whether intentionally or not, incredibly transphobic and, well, gross. For a psychiatrist who claims to be revolutionary in her field to return to and enforce dated notions, she contributes to the discrimination that causes turmoil for transgender people and severely reduces her credibility.


For a pamphlet, containing a multitude of blanket statements presented in an alarmist way, by an author whose work reeks of bigotry, to be handed out on Bergen’s college campus is disappointing. I went to Catholic school for nine years before coming to Bergen, and abstinence-focused sessions were something I did not expect to follow me to a secular school filled with adults capable of making their own choices. The attempt to sway students with dated information and no attempt to talk about how to have safe sex worries me about the direction in which Bergen is heading.


This kind of rhetoric is extremely misogynistic and potentially harmful to a woman’s relationship with her body. With rampant misogyny and the failure to even consider LGBTQ women at all in their narrative, “Sex and Sensuality,” both the pamphlet and the discussion, close the doors to an open conversation that would benefit everyone. 


Throughout this semester, the F-W.O.R.D. Club, the feminist club on campus, will be putting on workshops with the help of the Department of Specialized Services. These events will focus on comprehensive sex education, including an LGBT-focused session and all members of the school community are invited to attend. The club meets Tuesdays from 10-11 a.m. in room B-203.

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