Inside the Northwestern Fucksaw Debacle | What Really Happened

4thMar. × ’11

A pair of couples: Ken and Sunny, Jim and Faith walked into Professor Bailey’s Northwestern University class to find a giant vagina projected onto the screen. “It was some sort of BBC health film. There was a 20 foot high labia, this is what’s preceding me” says Ken, who was with several bags of fetish gear in tote. The four were invited to give an anecdotal lecture about BDSM and fetish.

Between them, there is a lot of personal experience to share. “ I do the Chicago sex tour, I ran a dungeon in Detroit, I was involved with porn, I’ve done everything from modeling latex at IML to being the jizz mopper after a bear party. You could not even imagine what that amount of hair, condoms and crisco looks like” says Ken. In class they would talk as resources on BDSM, polyamory and fetishes.

The mile high vagina video ended on “we aren’t sure if the female G-spot orgasm exists…” and in a moment of spontaneity, the infamous fucksaw decision was made. They would give the class a real life example of the g-spot orgasm with Faith on a fucksaw toy.

“Recipe for Sex Media Scandal: Take one part non-normative sex, mix with one part normative institution, add a heaping of sexually anxious culture and stir well with personal indignation to taste” says sex educator, Jessi Fisher. Yet, the “outrage” has seemed to be created by the media. Ken says that to his knowledge, no parents came forward, and as far as they know only two students (who weren’t in the class) complained.

The story ran it’s course. “The Sun Time article positioned this as a demonstration of female orgasm, which is not a complete story. They were not comfortable making the distinction between clitoral and g-spot vaginal orgasm in print, so the article itself is misleading” says Jim, who manned the fucksaw. “This is the censorship that prevents information from being really passed around. The way this has been handled by the media has encouraged me even more to think demonstrations like this are necessary.”

Bailey too has defended the lecture, saying that it was educational. Before Faith’s clothes were removed, the four gave an hour and a half-long presentation with a Q & A. When Faith laid down a towel and took of her clothes, students were offered plently of chances to leave. “We put a condom on the toy and lubricated it, while Ken explained what we were doing. I used the device to stimulate Faith to a number of g-spot orgasms” says Jim.

Whether or not live sex demonstrations should be a part of sex education is a debated topic in itself. “In what way does seeing a live sex act foster intellectual development?” asks Fisher. “Simply looking at something in the world or having a conversation does not mean you become educated. Students brought their own sexual stereotypes, assumptions and anxieties with them. Watching a live demo and Q&A is not guaranteed to change their preexisting sexual paradigms.”

But this shift is what Ken tries for in his Chicago sex tours and lectures. “The first thing I do in every sex tour is an ice breaker where we say our name and what gets us hot. It shows that there are so many different opinions in one small group– this person likes guys with big shoulders, this one likes to be choked.”

While fielding questions from the students, Sunny sensed a similar opening-up. “At first the students assumed that we were irresponsible and hadn’t thought a lot about this. That we do it high and drunk. We had to explain it’s totally the opposite.” The kids then asked questions like: how do you fit this into your normal life? Do you get jealous when you see your partner with someone else?  Do you guys ever just get in bed and have normal sex? “Its like yeah, most the time we just have sex! But I could see their brains working to fit this into the mold of normal life” says Sunny.

Sexologist  Dr.Carol Queen who works with Good Vibrations sees value in live sex at the University level, as long as there is consent: “This allowed them to observe real sexual functioning. I am guessing the demo involved live sexual communication and negotiation between the two — maybe the most valuable angle of all. There is a bias that sex doesn’t need to be taught — that it is “natural”. Sex ed, to these folks, is health based if not abstinence-only. Pleasure and function based sex ed that includes demos falls far from their diagrams of ‘where the ovaries are’.”

As the story runs the media course, a theme emerges in the comments: the belief that there is something wrong with BDSM inherently. “This is what we dispelled in class, we are not all emotionally scarred, we didn’t get molested as children. It’s a shame that majority jumps to those conclusions” says Sunny. Psychology has in part, furthered this belief. Just as homosexuality was long listed in the DSM (the psychiatry bible of mental disorders) BDSM has been slow to totally disappear,  still listed as an illness is it causes significant distress.

“There is a serious movement among therapists to get these forms of sexual play out of the DSM. It will definitely happen, we just don’t know when. So many of the sex-related “illnesses” were not originally codified with consent in mind. And of course when one’s sexuality is not accepted or reflected in society, it will cause distress!” says Queen.

Among a few sexologists debating on twitter, I saw the words “Howard Stern school of sex-ed” thrown around. Live sex is an intense experience and not something we explore in our culture–of course the shock of the fucksaw remains.

“When you are seeing something live, there is visual and audio but also olfactory aspects. Experiencing in more than two senses brings the information to the brain in a way that no other could. It will also be cemented in a differently just reading in a book or seeing a video” says Ken.

It’s a fair guess that in this class of about 600, most were seeing live sex for the first and perhaps only time. “We knew that it would be a first for a lot of people. Ken was on the lookout for consent–people turning away. I was really impressed with the thoughtfulness and professionalism of the students. If the media were half as respectful and thoughtful as those students, this would still be a non-issue. ” says Jim.

If anything, the students were truly left with a new understanding of something they could have only previously imagined. And, Ken and Sunny agree, in addition to being educational, the demo was an amazingly hot. Shouldn’t learning be allowed a little sexiness?

Tell me what you think: Was the demo sex-ed appropriate or in bad taste? Does live sex have a place in sex ed at the University level?

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16 Comments

  1. Posted 2011-03-4 at 11:17 | Permalink

    this is a great article. it’s wonderful to see the full story of what happened during the lecture explained. as someone who took human sexuality in college (and learned so much from it) i find it absolutely outrageous that the media has blown this up into a full fledged scandal. it’s absurd, as sex is a part of being human and thus, so is sexuality. thank you for this.

  2. Posted 2011-03-4 at 11:20 | Permalink

    Thanks Karen! As I interviewed everyone I was reminded who the naysayers often are: people who are not in academia, people who have never taken a human sexuality class or even know what one is. I guess, what I am really left with is how much this is just about how stigmatized both sex and kink/fetish are in our culture. The “should live sex be allowed in education” debate is an interesting one, but sadly it seems not what the ruffled feathers is about.

  3. Hardin Reddy
    Posted 2011-03-4 at 11:52 | Permalink

    “Was the demo sex-ed appropriate or in bad taste?” Certainly it was appropriate–this is a class on sexuality, and the existence and behavior of the G-spot are relevant to the field of study. Perhaps the strongest criticism that could be made is that it was unwise, in terms of internal university politics, for Prof. Bailey to approve the demonstration without first seeking approval from the department head. But in bad taste? No.

    “Does live sex have a place in sex ed at the University level?” Do zoologists observe animal mating rituals they are studying, or stop at reading books or watching films? Enough said.

  4. Posted 2011-03-4 at 12:01 | Permalink

    Hi Hardin, this was something Jim and I discussed and I find it really interesting. He was saying that in education so often we are stand-offish that there is this idea that you can learn everything you need from a lecture or a book without “going into the real world” with it. And if you do really explore it, you are seen as an outlier, dangerous.

    This is true in my field– journalism, where we had to invent the term “gonzo” to talk about living the story. But isn’t being close to your subject how you get the best insights? Certainly, there needs to be space to draw back and see the bigger picture, but I think real life, street experience can teach a lot more than any professor.

  5. Posted 2011-03-4 at 12:15 | Permalink

    Thanks for posting this Rachel. I’d read one of the sensationalist accounts of this and knew that the truth had to be so much more complicated than the reports. The Daily Northwestern links were quite interesting.

    When I was in college, many eons ago, I don’t even think there was a Human Sexuality course available (I could be mistaken), but if there had of been, I would have been interested in taking it. There’s a lot of squabbling about “is this what our hard earned education dollars are going for?” One could ask the same question about sports, talks by politicians, or even, heaven forbid – poetry! Who needs poetry? We’re sending our kids to college to get good jobs, right? Not to educate them. Sorry for the sarcastic rant. And yes, I’m a parent and we’ve sent two kids to college with another to start this fall.

    From my understanding, attendance was OPTIONAL, and the students were informed as to the nature of the demonstration. I would love to hear from some of the students that were actually there and what their reaction was. I’d think that a good portion of them would have had very mixed reactions, because like most of us, honest talk about sex and sexuality is NOT part of our everyday life. Just look at all the snarky comments posted in any of the postings about this. Those don’t come from being comfortable with the subject. I guess the one benefit to this sensationalism is that it does get some people talking in a way they might not have before.

  6. Posted 2011-03-4 at 13:34 | Permalink

    As long as people are given the ability to opt out it is an excellent learning opportunity in a college level course. For the men and women in that class to walk out of the room thinking vaginal orgasm isn’t possible would be sad indeed. I wish more adults believed they could have, and deserve in a normal, daily fashion, sexual satisfaction of all kinds. It is certainly fine not to pursue these things if they don’t interest you, but if you are planning on having sex with anyone other than yourself, and you’d like it to continue for any length of time after the first encounter, then it would do us all well to learn as much as we can about ourselves, each other, and how to feel good.

  7. LD
    Posted 2011-03-4 at 19:43 | Permalink

    What I want to know, and none of the articles have covered: Where can one procure a “fucksaw”? Do they sell them somewhere, or does one need to rig one up on their own? Also, can they be operated by one person, as in, could a woman use one without assistance by a partner?

  8. Bob
    Posted 2011-03-4 at 22:07 | Permalink

    There are really too points to this. One is the idea this was an optional class to attend. First it is a class being offered by s professor. That means that optional is not really true. The second aspect is how many of the students would have felt comfortable leaving if most students stayed for the live show? In large groups people tend to go with the flow and there have being many studies on this subject. So again saying they had the option to leave is not really that simple. The professor who is a psych professor would be well aware of these facts since they are taught in intro psych courses.

    I would suggest that the majority of the presentation there was nothing wrong with it. However the live sex act was unprofessional and unnecessary.

    If this course was for grad students that were focusing their studies on human sexuality then sure I think at that point it would be warranted. However if it was a class of 600 students I am guessing this was a intro course. (Correct me if I am wrong about this)

  9. Larry Pollic
    Posted 2011-03-4 at 22:33 | Permalink

    Personally I think demos like this are exactly what is needed in our society today, especially in America. There is so much misinformation out there and so many “experts” that it can be very difficult for people both young and old to truly understand what is going on just by reading about it or being taught by a professor. I found it quite amusing that the only students who complained about the live demonstration weren’t even present!! It saddens me to read about how misrepresented this was by our media and that people were so outraged by this without knowing the truth. Our country is so sexually regressed it isn’t even funny anymore, demonstrations like this one are sorely needed.

  10. JohnO
    Posted 2011-03-4 at 23:07 | Permalink

    Prudes are rude! Some of the commenters in The Tribune seem to think that this foreshadows the End of Days, or at least NU.

  11. Posted 2011-03-5 at 06:48 | Permalink

    Appropriate. I want to see more things like this. Demystify sex and show that it is a natural and positive aspect of our lives. Remove the guilt and shame.

    I also like that two days before this story broke, I was having tea with a girlfriend in my cozy home and she wistfully expressed interest in attending a fucking machine party.

  12. LarryChicago
    Posted 2011-03-5 at 08:28 | Permalink

    It is not clear from this report what the status of the two couples was in the class. Were they students? If so, the question of consent becomes problematic. It is of course entirely possible, even almost certain in this case, that being invited to talk about one’s sexual experience was not felt as a coercive demand by someone who could reward or punish the student, but one cannot rule that out as a possibility, and it can’t be put to rest by simply saying that these folks do this all the time in other contexts. That the additional decision to move from telling to demonstrating was made in a moment of spontaneity makes the sex act even more problematic than the talk. Again, this does not mean that coercion was felt, but it is certainly possible to imagine that even if one does demonstrations like this all the time one might not necessarily want to perform it in front of fellow classmates and one’s teacher, or one might not have been ready for the question to be asked.

    A similar argument could be made about the student viewers, whether or not the couples were students. It’s nice that Ken was on the lookout for consent–people turning away — and that Jim was really impressed with the thoughtfulness and professionalism of the students. But consent is not something one can be on the lookout for after the fact. And it seems hard to believe that there would not be pressure on students to stay for this demonstration to demonstrate for the teacher on the lookout their own disciplined and professional attitude toward sex, even if they did not think it was hot.

    If the class was nothing more than an information-sharing structure, the question of power would not arise. But it does here, because the teacher grades students in this course, and that is why it was a bad idea.

  13. Posted 2011-03-5 at 11:14 | Permalink

    When I interviewed Dr. Carol Queen she had a lot to say about the issue of consent in this whole thing. It was her thought that the demo was okay but consent was key. She said because it was so spontaneous some of the consent issues might have been muddled over–that it would have been best if the kids had more time to decide, think about it, like a few weeks. I’ve got to say, yeah I agree. That would have been best, but the way it happened was still with consent very much in mind. And the level of attacks just are not warranted.

    Larry, no none of the presenters were students. They are veterans of the local kink/fetish scene and each have different professions.

    LD, I think this is my favorite of all the comments around this story :)

  14. Posted 2011-03-6 at 05:08 | Permalink

    Rachel, thank you so much for taking the time to interview us, get the whole story and get it out there. It’s a shame it isn’t being shared or picked up by mainstream media but as of late I’m seeing it linked more and more.

    Larry, no we aren’t students. We are 4 people (one in our 20′s, one in our 30′s and 2 in our 40′s) who are kinky in our private lives and also are intelligent, successful, contributing members of society. We agreed to speak with the the students at NU, as we do with other small groups, because we are passionate about sex education. We didn’t sign up to be outed to the entire world.

    Kink frightens a lot of people and part of our reasoning for speaking out on that to small groups is to help dispel those fears. Kinky people aren’t weirdos, and perverts but often times your successful and seemingly “normal” friends, neighbors and family members. Many individuals go to great lengths to hide the kinky side of themselves because they can be fired, arrested and harassed if found out by employers, neighbors and family.

    Being outed by the media has caused us A LOT of friction in our personal lives. Some of our careers may be at stake, family members are upset and we’ve lost friends. We certainly didn’t ask for that. We’ve spoken on these same topics in smaller groups for years without issue. On the same token, however, we’d be hypocrites if we hid our heads in the sand and felt ashamed of what transpired at NU.

    We appreciate Rachel and others who are trying to get the truth about what really happened heard. We’re hoping that ultimately good will come of this. History has proven collectively we can’t grow, change and learn new things without challenge and controversy.

  15. Posted 2011-03-7 at 16:24 | Permalink

    Thank you very much for adding another perspective to this fiasco, and another chance for Ken, Sunny, Jim and Faith to get their story out there. As I mentioned on Sunny’s blog, it still blows my mind that the world remains so close-minded, so uneducated about sex. It’s like the general public is willing to accept that sex happens and is necessary for the continuation of the species, but any acknowledgement beyond that is considered inappropriate. And it is endlessly disappointing to me that there are so many misconceptions out there surrounding BDSM and the kink community. We are normal people. We are upstanding citizens who have families and successful careers. It is a shame that we have to live in fear that our own families or employers will someday find out, and I despise having to lead two separate lives. What I don’t understand is why it scares people so much. Why is something that is so natural and instinctual so feared?

  16. Posted 2011-03-7 at 17:58 | Permalink

    I love Jim’s comment about how all this controversy in the media only shows how we need more demonstrations like this one.

    When comparing the students and the media’s reaction, I hope high hopes for our future. I only hope this experience in the classroom will bring some of the students to contribute great articles like this one into the mainstream media one day.

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