Nine middle-aged men and women are sitting in a circle in a cluttered, colorful classroom in a church annex in Austin. Her husband, Eugene, sitting nearby, was raised in Spain and has handsome features and courtly manners. "Touch one of your hands with the other," she says. Tonight's class is one of 14 in the seven-month course, which is the result of an initiative of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the United Church of Christ (UCC).
Judith, the oldest, is an artist, and her long, curly gray hair is piled into a messy halo atop her head. "Feel the smoothness and roughness of all the various parts, the places where it's dry or moist." Some of the students close their eyes as they follow her instructions. Since 1998 the institutions have coproduced sex education materials for children ages 5 to 18; as church leadership reexamined the curricula, they noticed a need for age-appropriate material for grown-ups.
Contacted recently at her office, Detwiler says many people learn about the reproductive capacity of sexual organs in traditional sex ed, but not the "pleasure capacity." She says that despite the sexualization of our culture, many of her students don't know what normal genitals look like, and she has discovered that loads of women worry that theirs are abnormal or ugly.
In Sylvie's class, Detwiler used diagrams and photographs to explain that the truth is, of course, that there's a variety of "normal," as wide ranging as human faces.
In fact, he later explains, that's why he signed up for the course with his wife of 15 years.
"We're past the Kama Sutra part of life," Larry says.
"My dad was a general practitioner and my mom was a counselor, and they were very open with my brother and me growing up," she says.The students are asked to write down sexual experiences in chronological order, using the black pen for those that were in their control (such as a first kiss) and the red pen for those that were not (such as getting their first period).The women are a flurry of activity, practically tripping over each other to scribble—"played doctor," "found a pubic hair," "menstruation," "kissed a boy," "kissed a girl," "touched by a cousin," "fell in love," "lost my virginity," "had an abortion," "had a baby," "breasts sagging," "menopause," "discovered sex without love." The men look on and appear intimidated.Her students also discussed the parts of the body besides the genitals that are wired for sexual response—skin, lips, breasts, nipples, tongue, hands, brain.Then Detwiler pulled out a model of a penis and the "Wondrous Vulva Puppet." She had labels ready (clitoris, perineum, vagina, glans, PC muscle) and asked volunteers to place them correctly.