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But some scholars disagree about the need to present porn in class. In Sex and the Law, a senior seminar given by Paul Abramson, a psychology professor at UCLA, the screening of Inside Deep Throat, a documentary about the making of the notorious '70s porno film, is optional. Porn is "so pervasive in our culture, most students have already seen it," Abramson explains. Showing it "seems unnecessary." Likewise, Catherine Sherwood-Puzello, who covers pornography in her human-sexuality class at the University of Indiana at Bloomington, the home of sex pioneer Alfred Kinsey's institute, displays Michelangelo's David and Playboy covers in her class but "no X-rated movies," she says. "Those are not a good way to explain porn," which she believes is best taught with the same dispassion with which one would teach a course on statistics.
Advocates of bringing porn into the classroom insist that studying porn without watching it misses the point. Kipnis screens Saló or 120 Days of Sodom, by the Italian avant-garde filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, in her obscenity class. The film, updated from the novel by the Marquis de Sade, is set in fascist Italy and depicts a tribunal of powerful men and their sexual torture of teenagers. She says students who had previously espoused staunchly liberal views about freedom of expression often find themselves disgusted and horrified by what they see. "University students are often too cool, too hip to understand why other people get perturbed," Kipnis says. "Showing a film like this allows them to react and then to take a step back and analyze their reaction with the critical tools you give them."
Students agree that watching skin flicks in a classroom--as opposed to, say, a dorm room--can offer new perspectives. Lindsey Reich, 21, a senior majoring in anthropology at N.Y.U., thought herself fairly progressive when she signed up for Professor Don Kulick's sexuality-and-gender course last year. Then he screened a film featuring the porn star Annie Sprinkle having sex with a transgendered man and another showing female ejaculation. To her surprise, Reich was shocked. "I realized I do have my biases about what is a man and what is a woman--I mean, I grew up in the Midwest--and it made me want to explore these stereotypes and get past them," she says. "Those films did that better than any academic book."
Parents who foot the bill for such epiphanies often start out eyeing those courses with varying degrees of skepticism. After Matthew Schwartz told his parents he was enrolling in the cyberporn class at Buffalo last year, his mother Fran joked that he had got the school to tailor a class around his interests. His father Marvin complained, "I'm paying for you to study what?" The class delved into what causes cultures to define pornography in different ways--lessons that Schwartz, 21 and a senior, says will make him more sensitive in his planned career as a translator in Arab countries. "It turned out to be about societal norms--not fluff at all," says his mother.