With topics ranging from the facts of sexual development to effectively communicating consent and understanding root causes of sexual violence, a new UNLV School of Social Work class aims to dispel misinformation and battle stigma associated with sex.
Sexual Behavior and Society (SW 671-1009), is a three-credit advanced seminar course centered on sexuality with a sex-positive perspective. It will be offered for the first time as a web-based synchronous class during summer session II. By fostering sensitive discussions on hot-button issues, such as rape culture, students can identify the resources and skills necessary to advocate for themselves and future clients.
Why is it being taught
Discussion of sex and sexuality has long been hampered by social taboos. As popular society re-examines topics including abuse and what it means to be a survivor in the wake of the #MeToo movement, this course offers key insights into how this stigma has halted discussions on relevant issues including bodily autonomy and sexual violence.
It also covers basic knowledge of what sex is, what it means for the people participating and how policy affects this discourse. These lessons are essential for the social work students this class targets, as they may have to correct misinformation about sexual health or advocate for the sexual safety of their clients.
Who’s taking it
The course is designed for graduate students, most of whom will be pursuing a Master of Social Work degree. Individuals who want to enter helping professions related to sexual wellness or sexual violence will find the course useful.
Who’s teaching it
Rebecca Bosetti, an assistant professor in social work, specializes in child and youth services. Much of Bosetti’s past work has focused on sexual violence, with research topics including survivors of such violence and children in the juvenile justice system who express sexually abusive behaviors. She has also researched childhood sexual abuse and its motivations. She holds both a master’s and Ph.D. in social work from The Ohio State University.
How it works
The course will offer students the tools to factually and professionally discuss sex. The course relies in part on a traditional lecture setup, but it also features multiple self-reflection exercises and group discussions. One of the aims is to encourage students to discuss sex without fear or shame. Intentionally capped at 20 enrollees, the class offers a safe space to explore topics they’ve never publicly discussed. Students might be asked, for example, to reflect on how they felt about their own sex education experience.
The reading list
Given the diversity of UNLV’s student body, Bosetti took special care to draft an inclusive reading list. The readings for the course include excerpts from works by authors representing several races and sexual identities, including
- Sexual Consent by Milena Popova, a feminist activist and member of the LGBTQ+ community.
- Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture, an anthology edited by well-known writer and academic Roxane Gay, a Black woman who identifies as queer.
- The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love by foundational intersectional feminist bell hooks
- Sex-Positive Social Work by social worker, educator and member of the LGBTQ+ community SJ Dodd.
What students might be surprised to learn
Publicly discussing sex and sexuality without fear or shame is possible, according to Bosetti. The more students learn about these topics, the more they’ll learn about themselves along the way. To empathize and connect with peers and clients, students must address their own biases; that’s an underlying principle in social work. However, it can be surprising to realize that the stigma surrounding these topics contributes to harmful biases.
What excites instructors the most about this class
This is the type of course, Bosetti says, she dreamed of taking as a student herself. In her doctoral program, she studied sex through the lenses of law, trauma, and criminology, but didn’t have access to courses focusing strictly on healthy sexual development. Social work as a field simply wasn’t emphasizing those lessons yet, she said. Now, she’s excited to share her work with students and to help them pursue research and academic interests in this field.
What even laypeople should know from this course
Bosetti wants everyone to understand that sex is not inherently a dirty or shameful topic. Sexual wellbeing is an aspect of health. The more the public can discuss this topic without fear, the better off society will be.
Where do students go next
Students who take this course may choose to pursue research on sexual health, boundaries, sex work, or other similar topics. Many are interested in careers in advocacy for sexual wellbeing, anti-violence, or social work in a school setting. The lessons from this course can prepare them for the difficult conversations they’ll engage in within these settings.