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International students get a lesson from Good Vibes

5 March 2009 No Comment

By Huda Ahmed/510 Report

Jessica Fischer organized mysterious shapes made of plastic and metal, as well as spongy brightly-colored toys on the table and waited for her young audience at UC Berkeley’s International House to be seated. The dim yellow light bulbs gave the room a romantic glow. The whole room was soon packed with more than 45 international students from the University of California trying to figure out what these objects were and what the speaker would say.

Fischer a fair, skinny 25-year-old woman, is a masters candidate with the Department of Sexuality Studies at San Francisco State University, and she was about to lead a workshop about pleasure physiology and sex toys. The workshop’s goal was to let students understand their bodies and feel comfortable with them, and to be as comfortable talking about sex with members of the opposite gender as with their own.

Sex is very sensitive subject for some international students like Cheryl Lo, a 22-year-old undergrad in mass communications, who was staring at the workshop flyer: “It was a bit shocking when I saw it. I asked myself, ‘Do they talk about sex and orgasm publicly?” she said. “I‘m curious and I want to ask some questions. I’m from Hong Kong and in our culture; it is embarrassing to talk about sex in public.”

Fischer began her lecture by asking the students who had taken any biology classes to raise their hands – only one student did. “Okay, in this workshop, we will talk about the history of sex toys, the use of them and the physiology of pleasure to understand how these things stimulate our body,” she said.

She produced two cloth dolls, a man and a woman, with spongy genitals.  The students passed them from one to another, making fun of them and taking pictures; some were nervous and shy about touching the toys.

The lecture lasted for more than two hours; Fischer spoke about the earliest days of sex toys when they were used for medical therapy, not as entertainment objects, and about the 19th Century doctors who tried to find a way to enhance or increase the sense of pleasure for women who could not get satisfaction from their partners.

Fischer is originally from Arizona, and works as an independent contractor for the Good Vibrations OSSE (Off-Site Sex Education) program. Good Vibrations is a retailer devoted to providing “access to sex-positive products,” according to their Web site. Fischer realized her ability to teach when she was very young, “I have always educated people around me. I used to give my friends condoms to help them have safe sex,” she said, “I came from conservative state which is different from California, so I did not know how it was going to be and if I would be able to talk about sex topics in public.” 

The students were curious and they kept asking questions, especially the males. For many of them, the lecture was helpful and informative.  “I learned about the human body, differences between women and men,” said one Middle Eastern student, who asked that her name not be used. In her home country, she said, “We are mostly introduced to the subject as biology without going into details. Due to the culture we did not discuss it—it is not a public issue, it is completely private and prohibited. You can talk about it with your same sex but, not with the other sex.”

The sex workshop was not the first one for Angela Chang, a senior chemistry major at UC Berkeley, “This is the third sex workshop I’ve attended.  I was so nervous in the first workshop because I was worried how people would judge me but I felt so comfortable about my body after that,” she said, “My family is originally from China but I was born here. At home, we definitely never talk about sex with me. The only way my parents wanted to teach me is when they handed me a stack of sex books about the change the body goes through and that is it.”

The lecture wrapped up with sex toys in different colors and shapes being passed around by the students, who found it a chance to make goofy remarks. One of the students put a vibrator toy on the floor to make it look like a worm. Fischer does not mind her audience to play with the toys. “It is no harm to throw jokes in here and there to break the sensitive barrier of the subject, as long it helps people to understand and have safe sex,” she said.

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