Sex in Suriname

This semester break my friend Carl and I traveled to Suriname, South America. We spent a week in the country’s interior, slinging our hammocks in the huts of hospitable Peace Corps volunteers living in small villages and becoming immersed in and fascinated by Maroon culture. Both the volunteers and the villagers proved to be uniquely accommodating and friendly, affording us not a window, but a door into their culture. The villages we visited were full of interesting, organic and beautiful traditions. As a Sex & Health writer for The Big Green, I was particularly interested in the sexual traditions practiced by the Maroon.
The Maroon
[hut]It was Christmas in the jungle of South America. The sound of thumping bass and bouncing reggae pierced the quiet, dark village of Drepada. Loosely hanging light bulbs, reflecting off the tin roof of a centrally located shed, illuminated a makeshift dance floor where 20-plus children – their parents mostly having retired for the evening – moved their bodies in concert with the music.
A young girl, perhaps 13, turned and began dancing in my direction, her small, white tube top and baggy white pants contrasting sharply with her glistening black skin. She began to gyrate her hips and pelvis slowly, methodically and suggestively. As the beat propelled the song forward, she started to lightly brush her hand across her inner thigh.
I darted my eyes, searching for a more appropriate, non-pedophilic target. Finally settling on her face, I found relief: her broad smile and big eyes revealed not the slightest hint of sexuality. She simply was having fun. Her physical movements, overtly sexual in my mind, did not carry the same cultural weight for her. What seemed brazen and unwholesome to me, was simply the norm for her in a culture where tradition dictates that children openly talk about sex.
Traditions play a large role in defining and representing a culture. At MSU, we eat ice cream at the dairy store, incessantly jump up and down in the Izzone and demand color-reversal reciprocation when we shout “Go Green” at random passers-by. In the Maroon villages of Suriname, culture is largely defined by sexual traditions.
The Maroon villages in Suriname were formed in the 18th century by escaped slaves originally from West Africa. A Dutch colony until 1975, Suriname was, at one point, a major stop on the Dutch West India Company slave trade route. The dense rainforest of Suriname served as great cover for fugitive slaves, and many who escaped formed small villages throughout the interior of the country, essentially recreating Africa in the heart of the rainforest. Similar societies were formed throughout the Caribbean and the Guyanas. The term Maroon is not specific to the people of Suriname, but rather is used to describe escaped-slave societies throughout the region.
The Maroon villages we visited or stayed in – Drepada, Baku and Lebidoti – were filled with anachronistic contradictions: glowing TV screens illuminating thatched huts, topless women washing Von Dutch t-shirts, reggae-blasting stereos disturbing the tranquility of the rainforest. But despite these superficial signs of modernization, tradition was ubiquitous. In particular, sexual traditions – polygamy, menstruation huts, ritualistic scarification, daily vaginal washes – have thus far weathered the external winds of modernization.
More Money, More Women, More Problems
Perhaps the most conspicuous sexual tradition in Maroon culture is the openly embraced practice of polygamy. It is common for men to take multiple wives, often in the same village, sometimes building them neighboring homes.
According to former Peace Corps volunteer Peter Scott, multiple wives function as status symbols. “It comes with money,” said Scott. “Not every guy in town has multiple wives. You have as many wives as you can afford.”
Nathan Snyder, the current volunteer in Lebidoti, agreed. “Because it is culturally expected for men to give women things – gold, food, anything that they can afford – the more money you have, the more you can spread it around, the more women you can get.”
The men of Lebidoti are rarely around, but they rarely go a night without sex. Primarily employed as gold-miners, village men will often leave to work in the mines for months at a time. It is overlooked, if not accepted, that men will sleep with prostitutes while away at the mines. When they return, they are expected to provide their wives with money and supplies, enough of each to last during their long stretches of absence. Men are not frowned upon for having multiple wives provided they can financially support each of them.
“I’ve never seen anything close to guilt or remorse,” said Snyder. “There are some times when guys don’t seem to be able to take care of their families, but otherwise no.”
Scott and Snyder sat next to each other, their green plastic chairs crowding a dusty dirt pathway next to Snyder’s tin-roofed house. It was two days before the New Year, and the mood of the village was decidedly festive. As Scott and Snyder discussed polygamy, less stigmatic traditions were being proudly displayed and embraced in anticipation of the holiday: we were interrupted regularly with jovial, traditional greetings; some village men wore their traditional loincloths; many women wore vibrant, plaid pangis- a traditional skirt.
Amidst these beautiful displays of tradition, I asked the volunteers what they personally thought about the tradition of polygamy.
“I can’t judge,” said Snyder. “In my own culture it is said to be taboo. Coming in here, they are surviving. They are living.”
“I’ve never witnessed an actual problem with it,” said Scott, adding that he thinks there is an unspoken rule amongst co-wives that prohibits them from talking bad about each other.
“A lot of guys have multiple wives,” he continued, “but they joke ‘you only find problems when you have more than one woman.’ I think that has got to be rooted in something. Whether they have seen that, or they just think more women equals more problems, I don’t know.”
Love and Hate
While Maroon men often seem quite happy in polygamous relationships, women are not always as content. “There is definitely competition and jealousy, but I think that is primarily with their co-wives,” said Peace Corps volunteer Dara Lipton. “They all know and expect that their man will sleep with other women. It’s when they start making babies, start families with other women, [which] brings with it financial obligations, time and money that is now going to be spent with this other woman…then there is a lot of jealously and competition. Oftentimes the first wife has a lot of anger toward the second wife for taking away that time and the second wife is angry at the first wife because she thinks she gets special treatment because she is the first.”
[dara]Lipton, 24, is a volunteer in the village of Baku. She’s lived in Baku for 18 months, and during that time she has almost completely immersed herself in the culture. In interactions with villagers, only her skin color betrays her otherness. As we talked, she stood in the shallow water on the shore of Lake Brokopondo, scrubbing dishes and clothes on a machete-ribbed tree stump. She wore only a black bra and a plaid pangi, a common outfit for Baku women. Behind her, the setting sun illuminated the bare and bleached tree limbs rising from the surface of the water, looming like grey ghosts in the watery graveyard formed by dam in the 1960’s.
“Her role is to produce and care for children,” Lipton said of the typical Baku woman. “She is expected to keep a very clean home. She’s expected to know how to respect her man, provide for him. There’s a Dutch word they use, it means both your man and your master. I think it’s indicative of their role. But the man is not here very often. I mean the woman really runs the house, but there are a lot of expectations about how she will set up her home and run her home for her man.”
Like many village women, Lipton is ambivalent about polygamy in the village. “I think I initially came into it thinking ‘that’s wrong.’ I don’t think I’d be able to say that now. But I don’t think it is at all a sort of pleasant nirvana or perfect living situation. I speak to these women, and in their quiet, truthful, honest moments they hate it.”
The next day, with Lipton as translator, a village woman named Esther expressed her desire for a monogamous man.
“I don’t want my man to have another woman, because I want him to sleep with me every night,” she explained. “Not everybody loves the two women thing. Every night I want to be excited. We don’t live long. I want to live well, because I know I might not live long.”
Esther was much more intent on discussing other Baku traditions. She treated each one like a little treasure, performing trial runs of each answer before allowing me to push play on my tape-recorder. When asked about traditional marriage ceremonies, her answer stretched to half an hour. She told her stories elaborately and with gusto, using props and acting out scenes for clarification – the story-telling itself a proud tradition.
Her animation faded when asked about sharing her man with other wives. “If a man comes to me and sleeps three nights, and then goes and sleeps three nights with another woman, then I’m sad,” she said. “At night I sleep by myself. I don’t want that. I don’t want it like that.”
Despite the frustration and competition associated with sexuality in the village, Lipton said that most Baku women greatly enjoy sex.
“They love it. They honestly love it. I think a lot of people in America are like ‘I love sex’ for whatever reason, but I don’t think Baku women are inhibited or frightened at all by sexuality, or intimidated by it. They love it. Granted a lot of that is that they love talking about it, but I mean you see it in the way they dance, they just love it, every bit of it. You never know what happens behind closed doors, but it is certainly an open topic of discussion.”
Open, and according to Lipton, frequent. “They love talking about porn,” said Lipton. “We don’t have TV here, but we have DVDs and DVD players. They love talking about this new porn film that came into the village and is being passed around. And they generally will only watch it with their partner, with their man. To me they love talking about penis size. You know, American men versus black men, village men. They love talking about how they say they are cold when their man hasn’t been around for a while and they want to get some. They’re very funny. They make allusions and references to sex all the time.”
Bonding in Inconvenience
Here at MSU, many guys become squeamish when menstruation comes up in conversation. In Suriname, men become disgusted. “They see it as filthy, as dirty and a sickness,” said Lipton.
Because of this view, women are effectively ostracized when menstruating: they are required to leave their home and sleep in a moon hut, as it called, with other menstruating women; if they enter someone’s hut, the entire home must be ritualistically and thoroughly cleaned; and they cannot cook for fear that their blood will contaminate the food and cause men to grow ill, perhaps even sterile.
In 1984 Sally Price published a book called “Co-Wives and Calabashes,” in which she described her experiences in Maroon villages. When she initially arrived in the village of Dangogo in 1966, she was unfamiliar with the particulars of the moon hut. She was staying as a guest in the home of a villager, but inadvertently was accused of contaminating the host’s home when she returned to gather her belongings before taking up residence in the moon house.
She wrote: “Hadn’t I understood, she (her host) said accusingly, that even the first drop of blood carried ritualistic danger, that I should have sent a child into her home to get the things I needed, and that she would now have to carry out purificatory rites in the hopes of undoing the contamination I caused?”
Although the moon hut experience can be unsettling and inconvenient, Lipton, who has also participated in the rite, said that the tradition does have some merit. “There are some beautiful elements to it, where there is this community of women, who you know, are sort of bonding in their inconvenience.”
[lake2]Because menstruating women are not allowed to bathe with other villagers, they bathe as a group on shore. “It was the most beautiful part for me. You’re not allowed to wash in the lake where we are right now, so you go out to a place over there (points down shore) that is cut out from the bush, facing the lake. It’s beautiful. You heat up water, and it really is the only time in the month that you wash your whole body with hot water, which is really nice. It was nice for me to stand out there with my fellow menstruating women, exposed to the world, naked, early, early in the morning, washing with warm water.”
A Different Kind of Wii
Far from the village, in the Surinamese capital of Paramaribo, Carl and I met Benny. We were enjoying a late-night snack of fried plantains with peanut sauce on the shore of the Suriname River when Benny approached us, greeting us with an offer in the form of a question: “Marijuana?”
We declined, but Benny kept talking. He told us he operated a ferry boat in Albina, transporting passengers across the river to French Guyana, until his broken Evinrude engine forced him to Paramaribo for repairs. He had unkempt dreadlocks, a formerly white shirt and he described himself as Rasta.
The conversation, like many in Suriname, quickly turned to sex. “I’ve got women of all types,” he told us. “Indian women. China women. Jungle women.” He liked the jungle women the best because, as he matter-of-factly put it, they rub leaves on their vagina which makes them feel younger, like a girl.
We dismissed his statement as misguided and disgustingly misogynistic. And while the latter is no doubt the case, we later learned that his information did have some factual basis.
Women in Baku perform ritualistic vaginal washes twice daily, using jungle plants they call wii. The washings are intended to simultaneously cleanse a woman, while later increasing the sexual satisfaction of her male sexual partner. According to Lipton, some types of wii simply smell nice, while others are specifically intended to dry out a woman, confirming Benny’s information.
“You’re supposed to really just wash yourself,” said Lipton, who participates in the daily ritual. “It dries you up, and it’s for your man. Two times a day. Every morning and every afternoon before you go to bed. Every woman.”
A Scarring Sensation
In addition to vaginal washings, many Baku women engage in ritualistic scarification, a process by which small ridges are formed on various parts of the body. Women elders will cut patterns into the skin of a willing participant, usually a young woman, using a knife or razor blade. These patterns usually include a series of lines placed next to each other. Once the cuts are made, the sap of a specific type of wii is rubbed into the open cuts. Next, cool, black ash from a wood fire is rubbed into the cuts, effectively delaying the healing process, and leaving the woman scarred.
Like the vaginal cleansings, the scars were initially intended to heighten the sexual pleasure of a woman’s male partner. “The more it is raised off your skin, the more desirable it is,” said Lipton, who had a series of lines scarred into her lower back. “The intention of it is for the tactile pleasure of your man.”
The scars are usually in places where only men can see them: on a woman’s lower back, outer hips, or butt. “And some of the older women have beautiful ones,” said Lipton.
While the original intention of the scars was to provide males with pleasure, Lipton said scarification is now considered more of an initiation rite than an act of sexual obedience. And although men do find the scars pleasurable, many women also enjoy the erotic sensations.
Change on the Horizon?
Traditions often create unique tensions, the past competing with the future for a stake in the present. When people laugh at MSU because of its agricultural background, we find ourselves in a unique position. Perhaps we argue the technical merits of the cyclotron over a bowl of ice-cream at the dairy store.
The Maroon villages seem to be metaphors of this struggle between past and future. In the middle of Baku, a pink monster dwarfs surrounding thatched huts. Apparently not a fan of subtlety, a gold miner from the village who recently struck it big built an ultra-modern house in the center of the village, complete with glass windows, stone tile and wainscoting. And as if it didn’t stand out enough already, he painted it bright pink. While the house is the most auspicious anomaly in Baku, it is not the only symbol of modernity in the village; DVD players are popular, at least one family owns a small cell phone tower, and our boat operator listened to an mp3 player as he ferried us across Lake Brokopondo. But traditions persist. Particularly, sexual traditions. But will they change? And should they? Many Americans might suggest a change is in order, arguing that polygamy and blatant patriarchy are inherently and morally wrong. But it is important to note that progress and modernity are not synonyms. Many of the Maroon traditions are beautiful, and to eradicate one tradition may be to compromise them all.
Lipton, who recently taught a World AIDS Day lesson in Baku, expressed her reluctance to advocate change. “The school teachers, who are from the city, wanted me to say ‘tell them to be monogamous, tell them it’s wrong to have multiple wives,’ but I didn’t feel comfortable doing that because that is their parents, that is their family, and it is not appropriate for me to judge that. But I did talk to them about understanding the ramifications of it, the importance of just doing what you feel is right.”
The men, who seem to benefit the most from the sexual traditions, understandably appear unmotivated to change. Many boys in the village strive to follow the example of their fathers, most of whom have multiple wives. “I don’t hear any young men now talking about being monogamous,” said Lipton. “I think it is going to take another generation. Because basically all of their fathers still do it. So the sons, that is still what they see.”
[boots]Snyder said the only change he has seen so far is from those who are going to church or to the city regularly. The villages are definitely being influenced by western culture, he said, but the tradition of polygamy doesn’t seem likely to end any time soon.
The women seem more open to change.
“The two woman thing is not good,” said Esther. “They’ve got to get rid of it. It’s hard. You can’t be excited with your person the way you want to. When a man has another woman you worry too much and think that he doesn’t live well with you, that he doesn’t take care of you.”

Posted in Sex & HealthComments (0)

Sexology 101

[man]There are no sex toys or phallic sculptures. No wood-carved African fertility goddesses. No photographic depictions of copulation adorning the walls. The office of 65-year-old Andrew Barclay, a certified sexologist, features neutral colors, lace curtains and a flower-print couch.
Contrasting the bland, nursing-home motif is Barclay. His white hair and khaki pants don’t seem out of place, but in this setting his words ring incongruous. “Why don’t we have more sexual acting out on campus?” Barclay asked within the first 10 minutes of the interview, leaning forward in his leather chair. “Yeah there is some. There is some minor exhibitionism. During football riots certainly there are women who inflame the crowd by lifting up their tops and exposing their breasts, but breasts aren’t really sex organs.”
Barclay, also known as \”Dr. Sex,\” and the only certified sexologist in the Lansing area, has made a career out of studying and talking about human sexuality.
Sexology
“Sexologist is a general term that refers to anyone who studies human sexuality in a scientific way,” said Barclay . The root of the discipline can be traced back to Sigmund Freud, whose ideas still permeate the study of sexual behavior. But it wasn’t until the middle of the 20th century that the work of Alfred Kinsey legitimized the study of human sexuality.
Kinsey, an entomologist and zoologist at Indiana University, released two reports – “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” in 1948 and “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female” in 1951 – that launched him and his studies into the public spotlight. In these reports Kinsey meticulously documented multiple forms of human sexuality, including the relatively taboo practice of homosexuality. “To Kinsey, one or two homosexual acts didn’t make you a homosexual,\” Barclay said. \”And that’s real obvious, that engaging in homosexual activity is kind of normal.\” Kinsey argued that sexual orientation existed on a continuum, that few people where completely heterosexual or completely homosexual, but rather somewhere in-between.
In 1947, Indiana University opened the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction. The classes were extremely popular, and a sort of sexual fervor seemed to sweep the campus. Twenty-two years later, a similar excitement swept across the campus of MSU.
In the winter of 1969, MSU sponsored a seven-week series of lectures and discussions titled “Sexuality – A Search for Perspective.” Barclay, at the time a young psychology professor at the university, aided in the planning of the colloquy. He also delivered two lectures titled “Biopsychological Perspectives on Sexuality” and “Sex and Personal Development in the College Years.”
As the colloquy approached, numerous student organizations raised money, multiple academic departments offered part of their budget and some private donations were received. Professors offered to lead discussions and students volunteered for myriad odd jobs. “It really was an exciting time,” said Barclay. He and fellow professor Donald Grummon edited a book that shares the colloquy’s title. In the forward, Grummon describes the undertaking as “a project that in hindsight seems, in these days of widespread alienation, a minor miracle of cooperation, good will, hard work and fruitful dialogue among widely diverse groups.” In other words, sex brought the campus together.
Sex in the classroom
In 1974 Barclay began teaching a course on human sexuality. The class quickly became the university’s most popular offering. The next year, responding to demand, Barclay decided to offer the class as a televised course in large lecture halls. “We set a record for the largest number of students ever to enroll in a class anywhere,” he said. “I think we had close to 9,000 students enrolled. We made headlines all over the world. In particular, the one that I remember was in the Paris edition of the Herald Tribune. In French it said, ‘Sex replaces farming at Michigan State.’ I loved that headline. It was just so French.” [quote]
Classes were run by graduate students who were responsible for turning the TV on, monitoring students and leading small group discussions. The first quarter of the course consisted of desensitization. Students were taught anatomical terms and shown televised nude student models, a scene of childbirth, depictions of various sex positions and examples of foreplay. The second quarter of the course dealt with social roles and relationships. The third quarter dealt with sexual feelings, during which students were informed that the course had become a mirror in which to see themselves. And the final quarter discussed human sexuality as a natural phenomenon.
Not surprisingly, the course was controversial. University administrators cited two main concerns. “First, there was a real concern that high school kids would sneak in from across the street. They honestly feared this,” recounted Barclay, grinning. “Second, they were actually concerned that the males would get so worked up in class that afterwards they’d run around campus raping people, which is completely ridiculous.”
As a professor, Barclay became very interested in the science of education. “It’s a fascinating subject,” he said. “I mean not just how do you teach them, but how do you teach them in the most efficient way? How do you maximize the retention of the learning? And I’m sure you’ll be the first to tell me this, most professors haven’t studied this. They have no clue how to teach their discipline. So as I got started teaching, my focus was in thinking ‘How do you do it? How do you do it?’”
Barclay’s decision to televise the course was not simply based on necessity. Rather, as a researcher and educator Barclay was interested in how the medium could be used as a teaching tool. Many of his decisions were informed by the research of the Children’s Television Workshop, the group responsible for producing the educational children’s program Sesame Street. According to Barclay, an article published by the State News in the spring of 1974 referred to his class as “an x-rated Sesame Street.”
After 12 years as one of the university’s most popular offerings, the course was discontinued. By 1986, only 450 students were enrolled in the class, a decline Barclay attributes to the growing preponderance of middle school and high school sex education courses.
The MSU library still holds a copy of the Human Sexuality Workbook, a companion to the televised course. As a physical artifact, the book is a rich find: the call number is handwritten in pencil in the upper corner of the first page, student notes such as “period for muscles to relax before next orgasm” are written in cursive, and one page is bookmarked using a perforated dot-matrix printer paper tear off. Textually, the book reads something like a 1970s self-help manual. When talking about sex positions, the book reminds the student that “each individual has to define for himself or herself what an appropriate sexual relationship is or what appropriate sexual positions are. Simply because we provide information on the range of possible positions for sexual intercourse does not mean you have to run out and try them right after class.” Supplementing a lesson on masturbation, the workbook informs that “no linkage whatsoever has ever been found between masturbation and any form of physical or mental illness. Certainly those people who masturbate ‘too much’ may have some physical difficulties with blisters, but the blisters themselves are the sign of masturbatory overindulgence and do not represent any underlying pathology.”
Origins
Growing up in New Rochelle, a suburb of New York City, Barclay first began to explore his world. “I could walk down to the bus stop, wait for the bus, get on it, give the man my nickel and I could ride the bus to my nursery school. I knew where it was, and I would go to school,” he said. “The second year I was at nursery school there was a little girl who was from up the street, and I kind of shepherded her around. Can you imagine a kid doing that today? That is what such a messed up society this is. That children can’t even ride the bus for fear that someone will snatch them or do something awful to them. So I grew up in this very idyllic place.”
At Yale, Barclay studied culture and behavior, an honors major comprised of 10 students and four professors. His classmates each approached cultural and behavioral problems from unique perspectives: anthropology, psychology, sociology, and zoology. It was in this setting that Barclay first began to conceptualize problems from a multidisciplinary standpoint, a way of thinking central to sexology. After graduating from Yale in 1963, Barclay earned a master’s degree in experimental psychology at Columbia and a PhD in personality and clinical psychology from the University of Minnesota.
An MSU legend
In 1967, Barclay was hired into the MSU psychology department. He retired in 2002, but traces of his educational career linger. In conversation, he teaches by providing analogies to enliven the past and useful metaphors to clarify concepts. On the popular site ratemyprofessors.com, one user commented that Barclay’s class was “awesome and transformational” and referred to him as the “greatest TV psychologist that ever lived!” Another user wrote “My girlfriend had Barclay for Abnormal Psych. I tagged along to one of his classes out of boredom one day, and ended up going with her 5 more times. The guy is entertaining!”
Journalism professor Bonnie Bucqueroux remembers Barclay fondly. She considers him, along with former professors Lash LaRue and Zoltan Ferency, her heroes at MSU. “They had minds that cut through the clutter and the B.S. and made us think about the world in new ways,” she said via email. “My only concern is – where is the new crop? Universities are supposed to be about critical thinking, challenging the status quo and speaking truth to power. That trinity of MSU profs also made learning and thinking fun.\”
No ordinary retirement
Since retiring from the university, Barclay divides his time between his sex therapy private practice and the local court system, where he performs evaluations for organizations and attorneys. “What I discovered was sex therapy is terribly boring,” said Barclay, “and the reason it’s boring is because nobody has invented a new way to have sex. I mean, we do it the same way the cavemen did it. When somebody invents a new way to have sex, then we’ll have a whole bunch of new problems.\” [bonnie]
“Everybody has got the same pathology,\” he continued. \”Always the same. Sickness always presents the same set of symptoms, so does mental pathology. When you see something that is fixed, rigid, unmoving, you know it has got to be pathological. When a person is healthy, their feelings are moving, flowing, but when they get jammed up and stopped, that’s when they develop mental illness.”
The state of Michigan does not license sex therapists. In fact, anyone who wants to hang a sign on their door and say they are a sex therapist has the right to do so. And according to Barclay, many did. “Problem was, many years ago, people were calling themselves sex therapists and when you came in for sex therapy they hit on you. Gosh, that doesn’t make someone feel confident in the process that was going on.”
In the 1960s, Barclay actively participated in creating a certification process for sexologists. “We wanted to make sure that there were ethical standards so that the patients received adequate care,” said Barclay. “The sexologist certification would ensure a patient that the therapist had been trained and was approaching the therapy from a scientific standpoint.” Barclay is currently a member of the American Board of Sexology, where he’s served as a diplomate since the mid ‘70s.
Sex therapy
As a therapist, Barclay primarily counsels individuals who are having too much sex, too little sex or unsatisfying sex with the latter group consisting of non-orgasmic women and men who are premature ejaculators. “These tend to be the kinds of people that you see,” said Barclay. “But I would say the biggest problem in the United States today is incompatible drive.” According to Barclay, somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of married couples suffer from incompatible levels of sexual drive. His challenge as a sex therapist is to get people to talk about this discrepancy. “They don’t like talking about it. And of course when you are married you have to present an image that everything is fine. Couples that are having horrible troubles at home always manifest in public as the happiest couple.”
On Barclay\’s “Ask Dr. Sex” blog on SpartanEdge (www.spartanedge.com), he humorously muses about his own experiences and answers sex-related questions from readers. Bucqueroux, the advisor for SpartanEdge, said she asked Barclay to write for the site because of his intelligence, loquaciousness and outrageousness. “I love his column because there are still many students who have questions about sex,\” Bucqueroux said. \”Dr. S(ex) functions as your dirty uncle who will tell you the truth.\”
[drsex] “I never thought I’d be a doctor,” said Barclay. But he is. Sure, he has a sort of whimsicality about him. He’s passionate, iconoclastic and brazen. But he’s also a scientist, and as a result his whimsicality is grounded in theory. Yes, it was strange to talk openly about sex when Barclay helped organize the colloquy in 1969. Yes, it was a bit odd to create a televised course on human sexuality in 1974. Yes, it is unusual to be a certified sexologist in 2006. But these examples have illustrated Barclay’s life long commitment to the scientific study of human sexuality, a commitment which defines sexology. In a Nov. 6 post, Barclay queried, “I’m always in the mood, aren’t you? Some people don’t like me because I am walking around turned on all the time. Isn’t life supposed to be that way?”

Posted in Sex & HealthComments (1)

Sexology 101

[man]There are no sex toys or phallic sculptures. No wood-carved African fertility goddesses. No photographic depictions of copulation adorning the walls. The office of 65-year-old Andrew Barclay, a certified sexologist, features neutral colors, lace curtains and a flower-print couch.
Contrasting the bland, nursing-home motif is Barclay. His white hair and khaki pants don’t seem out of place, but in this setting his words ring incongruous. “Why don’t we have more sexual acting out on campus?” Barclay asked within the first 10 minutes of the interview, leaning forward in his leather chair. “Yeah there is some. There is some minor exhibitionism. During football riots certainly there are women who inflame the crowd by lifting up their tops and exposing their breasts, but breasts aren’t really sex organs.”
Barclay, also known as \”Dr. Sex,\” and the only certified sexologist in the Lansing area, has made a career out of studying and talking about human sexuality.
Sexology
“Sexologist is a general term that refers to anyone who studies human sexuality in a scientific way,” said Barclay . The root of the discipline can be traced back to Sigmund Freud, whose ideas still permeate the study of sexual behavior. But it wasn’t until the middle of the 20th century that the work of Alfred Kinsey legitimized the study of human sexuality.
Kinsey, an entomologist and zoologist at Indiana University, released two reports – “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” in 1948 and “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female” in 1951 – that launched him and his studies into the public spotlight. In these reports Kinsey meticulously documented multiple forms of human sexuality, including the relatively taboo practice of homosexuality. “To Kinsey, one or two homosexual acts didn’t make you a homosexual,\” Barclay said. \”And that’s real obvious, that engaging in homosexual activity is kind of normal.\” Kinsey argued that sexual orientation existed on a continuum, that few people where completely heterosexual or completely homosexual, but rather somewhere in-between.
In 1947, Indiana University opened the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction. The classes were extremely popular, and a sort of sexual fervor seemed to sweep the campus. Twenty-two years later, a similar excitement swept across the campus of MSU.
In the winter of 1969, MSU sponsored a seven-week series of lectures and discussions titled “Sexuality – A Search for Perspective.” Barclay, at the time a young psychology professor at the university, aided in the planning of the colloquy. He also delivered two lectures titled “Biopsychological Perspectives on Sexuality” and “Sex and Personal Development in the College Years.”
As the colloquy approached, numerous student organizations raised money, multiple academic departments offered part of their budget and some private donations were received. Professors offered to lead discussions and students volunteered for myriad odd jobs. “It really was an exciting time,” said Barclay. He and fellow professor Donald Grummon edited a book that shares the colloquy’s title. In the forward, Grummon describes the undertaking as “a project that in hindsight seems, in these days of widespread alienation, a minor miracle of cooperation, good will, hard work and fruitful dialogue among widely diverse groups.” In other words, sex brought the campus together.
Sex in the classroom
In 1974 Barclay began teaching a course on human sexuality. The class quickly became the university’s most popular offering. The next year, responding to demand, Barclay decided to offer the class as a televised course in large lecture halls. “We set a record for the largest number of students ever to enroll in a class anywhere,” he said. “I think we had close to 9,000 students enrolled. We made headlines all over the world. In particular, the one that I remember was in the Paris edition of the Herald Tribune. In French it said, ‘Sex replaces farming at Michigan State.’ I loved that headline. It was just so French.” [quote]
Classes were run by graduate students who were responsible for turning the TV on, monitoring students and leading small group discussions. The first quarter of the course consisted of desensitization. Students were taught anatomical terms and shown televised nude student models, a scene of childbirth, depictions of various sex positions and examples of foreplay. The second quarter of the course dealt with social roles and relationships. The third quarter dealt with sexual feelings, during which students were informed that the course had become a mirror in which to see themselves. And the final quarter discussed human sexuality as a natural phenomenon.
Not surprisingly, the course was controversial. University administrators cited two main concerns. “First, there was a real concern that high school kids would sneak in from across the street. They honestly feared this,” recounted Barclay, grinning. “Second, they were actually concerned that the males would get so worked up in class that afterwards they’d run around campus raping people, which is completely ridiculous.”
As a professor, Barclay became very interested in the science of education. “It’s a fascinating subject,” he said. “I mean not just how do you teach them, but how do you teach them in the most efficient way? How do you maximize the retention of the learning? And I’m sure you’ll be the first to tell me this, most professors haven’t studied this. They have no clue how to teach their discipline. So as I got started teaching, my focus was in thinking ‘How do you do it? How do you do it?’”
Barclay’s decision to televise the course was not simply based on necessity. Rather, as a researcher and educator Barclay was interested in how the medium could be used as a teaching tool. Many of his decisions were informed by the research of the Children’s Television Workshop, the group responsible for producing the educational children’s program Sesame Street. According to Barclay, an article published by the State News in the spring of 1974 referred to his class as “an x-rated Sesame Street.”
After 12 years as one of the university’s most popular offerings, the course was discontinued. By 1986, only 450 students were enrolled in the class, a decline Barclay attributes to the growing preponderance of middle school and high school sex education courses.
The MSU library still holds a copy of the Human Sexuality Workbook, a companion to the televised course. As a physical artifact, the book is a rich find: the call number is handwritten in pencil in the upper corner of the first page, student notes such as “period for muscles to relax before next orgasm” are written in cursive, and one page is bookmarked using a perforated dot-matrix printer paper tear off. Textually, the book reads something like a 1970s self-help manual. When talking about sex positions, the book reminds the student that “each individual has to define for himself or herself what an appropriate sexual relationship is or what appropriate sexual positions are. Simply because we provide information on the range of possible positions for sexual intercourse does not mean you have to run out and try them right after class.” Supplementing a lesson on masturbation, the workbook informs that “no linkage whatsoever has ever been found between masturbation and any form of physical or mental illness. Certainly those people who masturbate ‘too much’ may have some physical difficulties with blisters, but the blisters themselves are the sign of masturbatory overindulgence and do not represent any underlying pathology.”
Origins
Growing up in New Rochelle, a suburb of New York City, Barclay first began to explore his world. “I could walk down to the bus stop, wait for the bus, get on it, give the man my nickel and I could ride the bus to my nursery school. I knew where it was, and I would go to school,” he said. “The second year I was at nursery school there was a little girl who was from up the street, and I kind of shepherded her around. Can you imagine a kid doing that today? That is what such a messed up society this is. That children can’t even ride the bus for fear that someone will snatch them or do something awful to them. So I grew up in this very idyllic place.”
At Yale, Barclay studied culture and behavior, an honors major comprised of 10 students and four professors. His classmates each approached cultural and behavioral problems from unique perspectives: anthropology, psychology, sociology, and zoology. It was in this setting that Barclay first began to conceptualize problems from a multidisciplinary standpoint, a way of thinking central to sexology. After graduating from Yale in 1963, Barclay earned a master’s degree in experimental psychology at Columbia and a PhD in personality and clinical psychology from the University of Minnesota.
An MSU legend
In 1967, Barclay was hired into the MSU psychology department. He retired in 2002, but traces of his educational career linger. In conversation, he teaches by providing analogies to enliven the past and useful metaphors to clarify concepts. On the popular site ratemyprofessors.com, one user commented that Barclay’s class was “awesome and transformational” and referred to him as the “greatest TV psychologist that ever lived!” Another user wrote “My girlfriend had Barclay for Abnormal Psych. I tagged along to one of his classes out of boredom one day, and ended up going with her 5 more times. The guy is entertaining!”
Journalism professor Bonnie Bucqueroux remembers Barclay fondly. She considers him, along with former professors Lash LaRue and Zoltan Ferency, her heroes at MSU. “They had minds that cut through the clutter and the B.S. and made us think about the world in new ways,” she said via email. “My only concern is – where is the new crop? Universities are supposed to be about critical thinking, challenging the status quo and speaking truth to power. That trinity of MSU profs also made learning and thinking fun.\”
No ordinary retirement
Since retiring from the university, Barclay divides his time between his sex therapy private practice and the local court system, where he performs evaluations for organizations and attorneys. “What I discovered was sex therapy is terribly boring,” said Barclay, “and the reason it’s boring is because nobody has invented a new way to have sex. I mean, we do it the same way the cavemen did it. When somebody invents a new way to have sex, then we’ll have a whole bunch of new problems.\” [bonnie]
“Everybody has got the same pathology,\” he continued. \”Always the same. Sickness always presents the same set of symptoms, so does mental pathology. When you see something that is fixed, rigid, unmoving, you know it has got to be pathological. When a person is healthy, their feelings are moving, flowing, but when they get jammed up and stopped, that’s when they develop mental illness.”
The state of Michigan does not license sex therapists. In fact, anyone who wants to hang a sign on their door and say they are a sex therapist has the right to do so. And according to Barclay, many did. “Problem was, many years ago, people were calling themselves sex therapists and when you came in for sex therapy they hit on you. Gosh, that doesn’t make someone feel confident in the process that was going on.”
In the 1960s, Barclay actively participated in creating a certification process for sexologists. “We wanted to make sure that there were ethical standards so that the patients received adequate care,” said Barclay. “The sexologist certification would ensure a patient that the therapist had been trained and was approaching the therapy from a scientific standpoint.” Barclay is currently a member of the American Board of Sexology, where he’s served as a diplomate since the mid ‘70s.
Sex therapy
As a therapist, Barclay primarily counsels individuals who are having too much sex, too little sex or unsatisfying sex with the latter group consisting of non-orgasmic women and men who are premature ejaculators. “These tend to be the kinds of people that you see,” said Barclay. “But I would say the biggest problem in the United States today is incompatible drive.” According to Barclay, somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of married couples suffer from incompatible levels of sexual drive. His challenge as a sex therapist is to get people to talk about this discrepancy. “They don’t like talking about it. And of course when you are married you have to present an image that everything is fine. Couples that are having horrible troubles at home always manifest in public as the happiest couple.”
On Barclay\’s “Ask Dr. Sex” blog on SpartanEdge (www.spartanedge.com), he humorously muses about his own experiences and answers sex-related questions from readers. Bucqueroux, the advisor for SpartanEdge, said she asked Barclay to write for the site because of his intelligence, loquaciousness and outrageousness. “I love his column because there are still many students who have questions about sex,\” Bucqueroux said. \”Dr. S(ex) functions as your dirty uncle who will tell you the truth.\”
[drsex] “I never thought I’d be a doctor,” said Barclay. But he is. Sure, he has a sort of whimsicality about him. He’s passionate, iconoclastic and brazen. But he’s also a scientist, and as a result his whimsicality is grounded in theory. Yes, it was strange to talk openly about sex when Barclay helped organize the colloquy in 1969. Yes, it was a bit odd to create a televised course on human sexuality in 1974. Yes, it is unusual to be a certified sexologist in 2006. But these examples have illustrated Barclay’s life long commitment to the scientific study of human sexuality, a commitment which defines sexology. In a Nov. 6 post, Barclay queried, “I’m always in the mood, aren’t you? Some people don’t like me because I am walking around turned on all the time. Isn’t life supposed to be that way?”

Posted in Sex & HealthComments (0)

Does Size Matter?

[hand]I’m sitting at the bar near an attractive woman. Gathering courage, I shift my eyes off my drink and toward her fingers; they tell a story I’m interested in knowing. The lithe digits lift a mixed drink off the bar and swirl the ice cubes around in the remaining inch of amber liquid. Her hand is devoid of a wedding ring or telling tan line, and I notice her ring finger appears to be significantly larger than her pointer, so she’s probably…athletic?
A study recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine indicated the second to fourth finger ratio of a female is a predictor of her athletic ability. Researchers at King\’s College in London studied hand X-rays of over 600 females aged 25-79. Females typically have a ring finger that is roughly the same size as their pointer finger. However, the study\’s findings indicate that women with substantially longer ring fingers tend to excel in sports, particularly those involving significant amounts of running, such as tennis and soccer.
Many female readers are probably looking at their hands right now to see if they\’ve got the gift. The rest of you are probably rolling your eyes at the absurdity of the assertion.
But members of the MSU women\’s tennis team didn\’t roll their eyes at the study. Rather, the five players at practice eagerly lined up to have their hands checked. All five confirmed that their ring fingers were longer than their pointers. Lacking scientific tools of measurement, I didn\’t question their findings. I attributed this unlikely ratio to cognitive dissonance. They know they\’re good athletes, so they must have long ring fingers.
But the women were a little hesitant to give their finger length full credit for their athletic ability. \”I think genetics plays a role in terms of how good of an athlete you are,\” said tennis player and communications senior Sarah Andrews. \”If [finger length] has something to do with genetics, then maybe,\” Andrews said.
\”I think it\’s also your mental toughness. If you want to do it, then you\’re going to do it,\” said natural sciences freshman Christine Milliken, who is also on the team. She never previously considered the possibility that the size of her ring finger could determine her ability to swing a racket.
[josi]Another student athlete, human biology senior Josi Brynick, laughed at the idea as she removed her right hand from the pocket of her hoodie and examined her ring finger, which happened to be quite long. An athlete all of her life, she currently plays center-mid on an off-campus soccer team. “I have no idea. Maybe it’s possible. But in sports, you need skills. If people enjoy what they are doing they continue and get better,” Brynick said.
It is important to note that the study does not attempt to prove causality. It would be an error to assume that long ring fingers cause athletic ability.
Scientists often have tried to read the physical body as if it were a text, attempting to explicate unseen information from the tangible form. The finger-length study is an extension of a long-running curiosity.
Phrenology was one of the earliest attempts to read the physical body. Practitioners of phrenology attempted to determine personality and character traits by reading the head of an individual. The theory, developed by German physician Franz Joseph Gall in the 19th century, was based on the assumption that functions of the brain were extremely localized. Because of this belief, phrenologists would attempt to create personality profiles of individuals by feeling or reading bumps on their heads. A large brain bump in a particular area might mean that a person was particularly willful or obstinate. The absence of a bump in another spot might mean that a subject lacked a sense of humor.
The theory was quite popular in its time, but it sounds absurd to anyone with an understanding of modern science. According to MSU associate professor of psychology Zach Hambrick, anyone still practicing phrenology is \”in the same league as fortune tellers.\”
Somatotype theory is a more contemporary attempt at reading the physical body. The theory, developed by psychologist William Sheldon, rose to prominence in the middle of the 1900\’s. Based on his investigation of 4,000 photographs of male bodies, Sheldon classified human\’s into three distinct physical groups: ectomorphs, endomorphs, and mesomorphs. Sheldon ascribed character traits to each of the body types. For example, the mesomorph label was applied to an individual with a muscular or athletic stature. According to Sheldon, mesomorphs are typically competitive, courageous and assertive. Like phrenology, somatotype theory has suffered a significant decline in popularity, but not all readings of the physical body have been discounted.
Although studies of the head are still clouded in a shroud of pseudo-scientific stigma associated with phrenology, the scientific community seems to have reached a consensus that there is a significant relationship between head size and IQ. In fact, a research article published this October in the journal Pediatrics indicates that the head size of a child in her first year of life helps determine her adult intelligence. So don\’t laugh the next time you see a baby with an unusually large cranium–she\’ll probably be your boss some day.
Scientists believe head size is related to intelligence, but the theory is controversial because of the exploitative ways the data have been used historically: to support political or ideological agendas, such as racism. In 1839 anthropologist Samuel George Morton found that the skulls of white people were on average larger than blacks, a finding which was used to promote a theory of racial superiority. According to Hambrick, head size studies have been associated with supporters of eugenics, those interested in advancing or perfecting the human species through programs such as selective breeding.
[fingers]In this context, the seemingly innocuous finger ratio and athleticism study assumes an ominous quality. According to the King\’s College researchers, their findings \”could help identify individuals at a pre-competitive stage.\” This is a startling statement. It conjures up images of young girls, who, because they were born with a long ring finger, are separated from their peers and put in Olympic training camps. And of course they’re denied an education, because that’s for the kids with big heads, not fingers.
Critical theorists argue that all texts embody an ideology and often promote ideas not explicitly stated. Texts can also be twisted by the reader to promote his or her own agenda. Reading the body can be viewed in this light too. Our bodies can be read in ways that we are not always aware of and in ways that we do not always approve of. And they can be read erroneously.
So should we, or scientists, refrain from reading the text of the body? Should we cease to examine the relationship between physical features and intangible traits? Of course not. The danger of reading a body lies in assuming that an individual’s physical features tell the whole story, in assuming that reading the cover is the same as reading the book.

Posted in Sex & HealthComments (0)

Unsure About Insurance?

[jon]At the start of a semester most students are worried about their classes, classmates, professors and wardrobe decisions. I was worried about my genitalia.
The morning of my first class this fall, I awoke to find my penis red, inflamed and itchy. Instead of fantasizing about intellectually stimulating conversations with could-be-supermodel female classmates, I was plagued by thoughts of prescription salves, shrieking girls and lonely nights. I lack both health insurance and money, so the possibility of expensive medical bills was equally frightening. Needless to say, I was scared and didn’t know what to do. And I know I\’m not alone – there is an alarming number of uninsured college students nationwide. According to data collected in the 2005 U.S. Census, 46.6 million citizens are uninsured, and of those, 8.5 million are between the ages of 18 and 24. Health insurance provider AETNA claims on their website that more than 10 percent of the uninsured population is made up of college students.
So for three days I pretended nothing was wrong. I applied Gold Bond anti-itch cream, went to class and did my best to ignore my lower half. By the end of the week the inflammation and itchiness had spread to the rest of my body – a development I actually found pleasing. Ruling out an STD, I self-diagnosed myself with hives, drove home and finally sought medical care at my mother’s request.
[jolly well]I returned to East Lansing on Monday – medicated, healing and relieved. My skin had cleared up but the experience remained opaque. I wondered what I could – and should – have done differently. My mother and the doctor who treated me had chided me for avoiding medical care and insisted I seek care immediately should a similar situation develop in the future. Without health insurance, I had felt that my options were limited. But are they? I decided to investigate affordable health and dental services available to the uninsured student on or near the MSU campus.
Like any good college student, I began my investigation online. Fascinated with a story I had heard about a man trading his way from nothing to a house, I decided to try my hand at bartering. So I logged onto allmsu.com where I placed an ad that read, “I’ve got a wisdom tooth coming in and I don’t have health insurance. I’m looking for a medical student who will remove the tooth for free or trade (I’ve got a lot of cool stuff).” The ad received little play. The two responses I received both expressed a healthy amount of concern and skepticism, and both discouraged me from a risky amateur procedure. One of the responders recommend Lansing Community College’s dental clinic instead, where she said her roommate had received treatment for a similar problem.
The recommendation proved fruitful: the clinic offers basic services at affordable prices. An individual can receive dental hygiene care for $30 to $40. According to their website, the significant reduction in costs is realized because the clinic is operated primarily as a practice facility for students in LCC’s dental hygiene program. Because of this, the services are limited to basic procedures. Dental surgeries, such as wisdom tooth extraction, are not offered. The clinic, located in LCC’s arts and sciences building at 515 N. Washington Square, offers free screenings on Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the school year.
Should students find themselves with serious dental problems, Olin Health Center’s dental clinic is a viable option. According to Olin’s Communications and Planning Coordinator Kathi Braunlich, the dental clinic’s rates are comparable to those available in the community. Nonetheless, the convenient location makes it the leading option for emergency dental care.
[olin]But it is Olin’s primary care health services that provide the most benefit to uninsured students. Braunlich confirmed that each year the first three medical office visits of an enrolled student are subsidized by the university and are essentially free. “For a respiratory infection in winter, very common, a student would likely just pay for a prescription since the office visit is covered,” Braunlich explained via email. The cost of extra services such as lab tests and X-rays would also be the responsibility of the student. After these three visits, the clinic operates on a fee-for-service basis. If I had known of the three free visits available to me, I doubtless would have spent one – and would have avoided a great deal of anxiety in the process.
But what to do after those three free visits? There are various other pay-for-service clinics around East Lansing. Classmate and fellow uninsured journalism graduate student Sarah Crespi visited one such clinic, Redi-Care, at 1623 Haslett Rd. in Haslett. She had a mole on her hand removed and tested. She indicated that the visit and removal surgery were affordable, but the lab test on the removed tissue was “quite expensive.” According to Redi-Care, the rate for a first-time primary-care visit by an uninsured patient is $135, while returning patients pay only $84.
Broadcast journalism graduate student Wes Holling does not have health insurance, either. It is a common mistake to assume all college-age students can simply choose to remain on their parents’ policies. Holling’s father is self-employed as a realtor and is responsible for the costs of his own health coverage. Insuring Wes was too expensive, so he grew up without health insurance. Because of this he has never had access to some of the basic health services most people take for granted, such as regular check ups or physicals. However, like me, Wes has flirted with the idea of signing up for a university-based health plan.
Michigan State offers two such plans. The most affordable is the Student Health Subsidy Program, which costs nothing. The SHSP is not insurance. It was designed for low-income students and families without access to health insurance. To qualify for the program, a student or family must have an income of less than 250 percent of the poverty rate. For an individual student like Holling, he must have made less than $24,500 last year to qualify for the program. Once enrolled, a student is afforded unlimited office visits at Olin – and only Olin. The program also covers lab tests, x-rays, and 50 percent of dental costs up to $250. Prescriptions, which also must be filled at Olin, require a $5 to $10 co-pay. But the program, established in 2001, is in peril, according to Braunlich. “Unfortunately, the program is likely going to end after this year due to lack of funding,” said MSU human resource analyst Corie Snellenberger, who was even less optimistic, cautiously indicating that the program may only last a few more months.
If the program is discontinued, other options do exist such as Ingham County’s similar subsidized health plan, which currently serves approximately 15,000 people. I talked to Ingham County’s Access to Health coordinator Boak Bloss, who described the plan for me and encouraged students to investigate it further. An individual making less than $24,000 is eligible to sign up for the plan, after which they’ll enjoy primary care and prescription services with only minimal co-pays. Students who qualify for the MSU subsidized program are not eligible for the Ingham County Health Plan, but if the former is discontinued, the latter becomes a viable option.
For students whose income disqualifies them from the subsidized programs, the university offers students an insurance plan through The Chickering Group. Year round coverage would cost somewhere around $1,300. Coverage is also available by semester or quarter. Braunlich praised the plan, saying it “is a good plan that offers protection year round and throughout the world – not just on campus. It is a much better deal than is available at many other campuses.”
When I woke up the first week of school with an inflamed penis, I felt that my options were limited. I either had to live in denial or spend money that I didn’t have at an ER. But thanks to the immediacy of an office visit and the future security offered by university-based health plans, there are options available to cure the uninsured student – and future unpleasant mornings like mine.

Posted in Sex & HealthComments (0)