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Prof Talk: Letitia Meynell

Professor Meynell offers students a well-rounded sex education. Photo by Calum Agnew

In our society, we are constantly bombarded with images of sex and love through media, advertising and entertainment. However, we very rarely take the time to analyze these perceptions of sex and love. According to Letitia Meynell, an associate professor in the department of philosophy at Dalhousie, the lack of opportunities for people, especially young people, to think critically about sexuality is exactly what attracts a lot of students to her class, ‘The Philosophy of Sex and Love.’ With the class list exceeding 230 students, it is evident that many students are no longer willing to take the popularized notions of sex at face value.

What is sex? How can we define sex, and how can we attempt to count the number of times we have had sex? This is how Meynell begins her course.

“It is not obvious what sex is, or what counts as sex,” she says. “We talk about PIVMO, which stands for penis in vagina male orgasm, as a kind of paradigm of what sex is. So you can count how often you’ve had sex by counting how often there has been penis in vagina male organism. But that’s obviously stupid because then apparently gays and lesbians never have sex. ”

So then, is it easier to determine what doesn’t count as sex? Not really. Some would say that sexting is not sex and should not be considered cheating. But others argue that sexting is a form of sex and therefore should be considered cheating. The boundaries of what counts as sex and what does not only get more complicated from there.

Marriage is a logical focus to have in a course about sex and love, but professor Meynell approaches it in a way that disrupts some of the common narratives and expectations about marriage that people tend to have in our society.

“We looked at it through the lens of same-sex marriage,” she says. “Some people have claimed that since marriage is such a corrupt institution it is not worth having and that gays and lesbians should be spending their time looking for other rights that are more important. Of course there are lots of people who disagree with that view. There are also those who suggest that because marriage is such an important part of our society it has become a mark of citizenship. Therefore denying people the right to marry is like denying people the right to become full citizens”.

Marriage is something most heterosexual people see as a normal aspect of life. However, people who are already members of the club fail to notice that there are more controversies surrounding marriage than we like to think.

“[In the course] I go from marriage to prostitution because lots of thinkers for a long time have suggested that marriage for women in traditional relationships is a form of prostitution,” explains Meynell. “You sell your sexual services to one man for the rest of your life, rather than an afternoon or an evening.”

All is not lost, though, because obviously young people who are willing to take a class like the “Philosophy of Sex and Love” want more well-rounded and analytical views on the subject matter.

“This is a sad time where people learn more about sex from pornography than from anything else, and it’s a terrible teacher about sex!” says Meynell. “If you learn your morals and desires from pornography it’s very unlikely that that’s going to help you have a positive, healthy, happy sex life.”

But where else can young people be educated about sex? It often seems there is no real forum in our society for people to discuss sex and love in a thoughtful, positive and constructive way.

“You maybe had a health class which was, you know, mostly bullshit—at least mine was—and it is not something people tend to talk about with their friends. With groups of friends there is usually a lot of posing and posturing when it comes to taking about sex and love.”

When students sign up for a class like ‘The Philosophy of Sex and Love’ they are ultimately expressing their want and need for a better sex and love discourse in society. They know there is something wrong with the lessons they are getting from popular culture.

“There are such screwy and stupid messages out there,” says Meynell. “Like the weird status of virginity and the idea that you can “give your virginity to someone.” What the hell does that even mean? If you are having sex for any other reason than for yourself that’s probably a bad idea.”


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