Expert Q&A: Human sexuality with Nancy Daly and Lawrence Brownstein





Human sexuality is a large part of our daily lives, but it remains a public taboo. Through the human sexuality course at UT, professors Nancy Daley and Lawrence Brownstein attempt to break down the barrier that exists between sex in our private lives and discussion of relevant sexual health topics. Longhorn Life sat down with Daley, who has been teaching the course for 17 years, and Brownstein, who has been teaching it for 25, to discuss, well, sex.

Longhorn Life: If you could teach just three lessonsfrom your class, what would you want all college students to know?

Nancy Daley: First, sexual coercion, because it’s a big problem on college campuses. Second, STIs and contraception are important for sexually active students to know. And last, I’d want to do orientations — all of the different sexual orientations that a person can have.

Lawrence Brownstein: I would want them to know that they are a miracle, and they should respect themselves and others as miracles. They shouldn’t be ashamed or embarrassed of anything, including their genitalia, because it is all a miracle. Next, that the most difficult part of relationships is having the other person’s interest in mind as much as your own. That’s hard for humans, because we’re naturally self-centered. Last, I would tell them to use their sexuality as a gift that you give other people or other people give you. Don’t treat sexuality as a demand or something that you are owed — just be appreciative of what is offered.


LL: What is the biggest or strangest myth that you’ve heard about sex?

ND: One student said that, in their sex education class in high school, they were told that if two unmarried people are having protected sex, that the condom could sense it chemically, somehow. That was a new one.

LB: I think that the biggest myth I’ve heard is that masturbation causes physical harm. I also want everyone to know that STDs cannot just be transferred through regular intercourse — you can get most STDs from any sexual activity, including oral and anal.


LL: Do you get lots of interesting questions from your students?

ND: I get a lot of interesting questions from all over the board. Some are practical — medical questions, relationship questions or questions about the mechanics. There are a lot of perspectives too, like having a student from communist China who grew up never hearing about sex.

LB: I have a box where students can submit questions anonymously. They can be about anything, as long as it’s about sex, relationships or other things related to the class. 


LL: Since sex can be an uncomfortable topic, how is the best way to approach the subject when teaching it?

ND: I like to use a lot of humor and anecdotes. I mostly want to keep the class both informative and entertaining.

LB: I think humor is one of the best tools. I also use a lot of class participation, like making the entire class say a word someone is uncomfortable with. If someone doesn’t like to say ‘penis,’ I’ll make the entire class say it together.


LL: What do you think about the role of sex in pop culture? For instance, sex addiction in the movie “Shame,” the invention of the vibrator in the movie “Hysteria,” and the popularization of bondage with the book “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

ND: It’s great! We’re a very young culture, and sex still makes everybody giggly and nervous. I’m not berserk about gratuitous vulgarity personally, but I feel like the media has an obligation to explore edgy topics.


LL: What do you think of sex education in this country?

LB: It’s important to people, it’s necessary. Not all schools teach sex ed, but everyone gets it from somewhere — parents, organizations, peers, television.


Photo credit: Mika Locklear