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UC Berkeley Students Respond to Catholic Parents Guide to Sex Ed

Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2014 in UC Berkeley

Ms. Robin, Sex Goddess logoI’ve mentioned a time or two that I am on a sex ed exhibit committee at UC Berkeley. Myself and a handful of library professionals are planning an awesome exhibition on the history of sex (mis)education in the United States. While collecting items for the exhibition we came across A Catholic Parent’s Guide to Sex Education (Guide) by Dr. Audrey Kelly. The Guide was published in 1962 a time when views of sex, sexuality, and women’s rights were beginning to be viewed through a lens of free love and reproductive freedom for women.  Even for today, this Guide was comprehensive covering what parents should tell their children about puberty and coming of age issues, dating, relationships, sex at various ages including sex for early and late starters, and marriage.

One of my fellow committee members was thumbing through the book for images – which there are none – when she noticed that students had gotten rather engaged with the text in the form of marginations. “Margination” is the term librarians use to describe writing in the margins of books. Who knew there was an actual term for that?…With so much margination my colleague could not help but read a few aloud to us. I found this to be super interesting. Call me a nosy nerd, but the fact that students felt so compelled to respond to this book and so often peaked my interest. I had to know what else was being said and in response to what.

I borrowed the book to satisfy my curiosity.  I found writings in the margins of several pages. They start on the very first page. Even on the last page of the book, which isn’t even a full page, there were comments. Only in the glossary and index do the comments cease. All in all there are a total of 43 comments made in the margins.  Most of the comments are made in response to sexist or heteronormative content in the book. In addition to commenting students also wrote questions to the author, other readers, and even to themselves which they answered, interestingly.  I counted a total of 10 questions. Though I am not a hand-writing expert, there appears to be at least 4 different students who respond.

My favorite comment comes on the opening page of the book where one student writes “[t]his is one of the most self contradictory, hypocritical, sexist, fucked up and misinforming, distorted books I’ve EVER read – barring some Moonie material perhaps.” This particular student wanted to be sure that each and every person who so much as opened this book was aware of their opinion on this book. While a bit harsh this comment captures the essence of all the other comments in the book.

Catholic guide marginationsMy second favorite side comment was made in regards to something the author wrote about women when attempting to explain how best to raise young men. In the “Late Adolescence” chapter Dr. Kelly, writes “[b]oys, firstly, should be taught to regard women as the weaker sex; despite their many protestations of equality…” to which someone responded in the margins “you aint heard nuthin’ yet.”  I love it! I will reserve my initial comments as they are clearly inappropriate.

One of my other favorite comments was made by a student who discloses via side comments that he or she was a late starter and did not experience a sexual debut until their early 20s. In the chapter “For Late Starters,” the author discusses how embarrassing it can be for a child to receive “instruction upon sexual matters” at a later age.  Apparently the student was in agreement with the author on this and commented “that’s what my stupid mother did.” I fell out laughing! This chapter comes near the end of the book and after reading all of the comments in the book, I just couldn’t help but laugh when I got to this one as I felt I had gotten to know that particular student commented fairly well.

For a book that has been checked out 31 times from May 27, 1963 through April 9, 2003, 43 side comments or “marginations” seem to be a lot.  No other book that we have come across seems to be have elicited as much call and response from the readers. Such comments speak to UC Berkeley students’ acceptance and support of equal rights for men, women, transgender folks, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and heterosexuals. It is more interesting to me that all of these comments were being made years before same-sex marriage was legalized in CA. I wish I knew exactly when the comments were made and by whom. I imagine those early students who felt compelled to respond were likely among those who gave this campus the image and reputation of being a place where you are accepted for who you are regardless of your beliefs.

This PRIDE season, if you are looking for a good laugh and interesting read consider checking out The Catholic Parent’s Guide to Sex Education, oh wait, we have it checked out until April for the sex ed exhibition. Guess you’ll have to come to the exhibition or wait until April to laugh your butt off at the content and comments. Until next time…

Keep it safe and sexy,

Ms. Robin, the Sex Goddess

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