In the springtime, boys and girls often discover they’re drawn to each other in inexplicable ways.
Sexuality is a natural, creative, powerful urge that allows the human species, and all others, to continue. Sometimes the inability to effectively harness or control desire, sexuality has been given a bad name, in hopes guilt and shame will help us avoid impulsive choices and their consequences.
It’s also human nature to study what we don’t understand. Exploring the topic of sexuality in the confines of a college classroom came about as psychologists were seeking better ways to help their clients and students.
At Northeastern State University, Dr. Don Herrlein was a pioneer in designing a psychology course in 1979 to address the issues he found predominant in counseling clients. What began as a questionable college class in some people’s minds, quickly became the most popular and first to fill up on enrollment day of all the college electives, with 500 to 600 attending the human sexuality each semester.
“It originated in counseling, people commonly had issues with their sexual adjustment in their relationship, or problems such as domestic abuse” he said.
“I realized something’s missing here. They’re not getting anything in schools or at home. I can correct the misinformation they’re getting. And maybe this can keep so many divorces from happening.”
Students come to college not only to get an education to make a living, he said, but to make themselves better people.
“It’s what I thought psychology should do,” Herrlein said.
At California and Massachusetts colleges, he found classes but no curriculum available, and a paperback book by a Texas professor was what he started with to develop the course, along with attending seminars by experts including Masters and Johnson.
“Correct information alleviates fear,” he said.
With a goal of making students as comfortable as possible, he employed humor and respect, along with a box to drop in questions anonymously.
“Sexuality is a very important part of life given to us by the creator, a gift he gave us to enjoy and create,” he said, “something beautiful, precious.”
Anatomy and physiology was the beginning point, teaching students how all the parts work. The most complex and deadly aspect of sexuality dealt with was sexually transmitted diseases.
A lot changes in 30 years.
Family patterns have changed, he said, role models have changed. Thirty years ago, the mother stayed home and cooked the food, the husband brought home the bacon. Now both parents work or the dad stays home.
Many former students have told him human sexuality was the best class they had in their college career.
“Most people were able to apply parts of it to their life, in marriage or rearing their own children, how they talk to them,” Herrlein said.
Teaching five full classes each semester, 20 percent of the student body were in his classes, and he wanted them to learn something that made a difference.
“God didn’t create [sex] to be evil,” he said. “I hope they also learned to judge each person as a person.”
When Herrlein retired, several professors taught the class for a semester. Today, Dr. Bea Keller includes human sexuality among the counseling courses she teaches. She also found in her work as a counselor a great need for more understanding of sexuality to be effective in helping clients.
“Throughout my studies, sexuality-related issues were persistent with children in adolescence,” she said.
Her master’s degree is in counseling kindergarten through high school students, and her doctorate is in counseling education, with the emphasis in child and adolescent issues.
“My greatest goal is to touch on a lot of different areas, beyond the core, like gender identity, to dispel myths about sexuality and that this topic can’t be discussed,” she said. “We break down some of the negative stereotypes to a more objective level and discuss them in a respectful way with cultural imperative to what’s changing with the time and relevant to this generation.”
Anatomy and physiology also are starting points for Keller, who emphasizes gender identity, how things have changed so much and the terms we use being used correctly while studying something that usually isn’t talked about, that’s taboo. Topics range from reproduction, family communication, intimacy and birth control, to sexually transmitted diseases, dysfunction and child sexual abuse.
“Sex is anatomy, gender is how you feel as a man or woman,” she said. “Be cautious with your words, finding respectful and appropriate choices.”
Oaks freshman Paul Martinez heard about the class from other students, who said it was really interesting and they learned a lot.
“What today’s psychologist sees compared to what they used to see in the old days is interesting,” Martinez said. “They used to think homosexuality was a mental disorder. Today it’s not treated as such. Now they’re leaning toward [it being] biological or genetic.”