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College classes on human sexuality face heightened scrutiny

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Sex education made headlines in Lawrence, Kan., last spring when a human sexuality class taught by a maverick professor caught the attention of a conservative state legislator.

Prof. Dennis Dailey's course, Human Sexuality in Everyday Life, included segments on controversial topics. He showed videos to illustrate the range of sexual practices and used earthy humor in his lectures that at least one student found off-putting.

That student was an intern in the office of Republican state Sen. Susan Wagle, who did not like what she was hearing about Professor Dailey's course.

As a result, Senator Wagle introduced a budget amendment aimed at prohibiting state universities from showing what she called "obscene" videos in sex ed classes.

In the end, the governor vetoed the amendment. But the incident shines a spotlight on the controversy that often surrounds sexuality classes. Educators say flaps like that in Kansas are not unique. "It's far more common than we know," says Gilbert Herdt, director of both human sexuality studies at San Francisco State University and at the National Sexuality Resource Center there.

Experts say that Americans are more supportive of sex education, and especially with preventing HIV/AIDS or teen pregnancy, but others balk at more explicit topics.

The discipline has become something of an academic orphan, and without the support of an organized department, professors often find the subject difficult to teach.

Most classes were established during the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Those were years of more openness, says John DeLamater, a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.


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