Campus: San Francisco State University -- November 28, 2001

A first in the West

S.F. State Starts Master's Degree In Human Sexuality Studies

Decades after the sexual revolution, the study of sexuality arrives in academia

To better prepare practitioners and researchers in the changing role of sexuality in today's society, San Francisco State University is launching a master's degree program in human sexuality studies, the first program in advanced study of sexuality in the western United States.

"This is a new frontier for sexuality today," said the program's creator and director Gilbert Herdt. "The aging baby boom generation will live longer and have longer sexual lives than any prior generation. And we have a wide range of sexual diversity here in California and across the country. These are issues that we are now just beginning to openly examine."

The SFSU's 30-unit program, which will be housed in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, includes courses on theory, methodology and policy related to sexuality, the sociocultural as well as biopsychological foundations of human sexuality, psychological sex differences, sexual cultures, sexual diversity, disability and sexuality, sexual identity formation, and sexual and gender role development and behavior. S.F. State has offered a minor in human sexuality studies for years. The new degree program will prepare students to continue their work in human sexuality studies for a doctorate.

The program is particularly timely because of recent focus on sexuality and its impact on society. "The HIV/AIDS epidemic has forced society and science to deal with sexual behavior. And there is also the issue of sexuality and human rights," Herdt said. "And the Internet and its openness is allowing young people to deal with issues of sexuality at an earlier age."

SFSU's program stands out from others in its emphasis on issues of sexuality and social justice, Herdt said. "There are many inequities in society and many stem from a person's sexuality. We need to address social justice and equity issues for sexual minorities and groups in our society who traditionally have been socially and sexually oppressed. These issues have given rise to incidents of anti-gay violence and homophobia," he said.

SFSU's new program signals further acceptance of the field of sexuality studies in academic circles. A number of colleges have created courses on aspects of human sexuality such as gender studies, gay and lesbian studies, and sexual identity and social attitudes. For example, City College of San Francisco has a department of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Studies. New York University students can take courses in humanistic study of sexuality and gender. Columbia University offers advanced study in sexuality and health issues.

"We are proud to be at the forefront of this emerging field of study," said SFSU President Robert A. Corrigan. "Our new master's degree in human sexuality is yet another outstanding example of San Francisco State's academic leadership and curricular diversity. We look forward to attracting and producing top scholars who will contribute greatly to society's understanding of sexuality."

Herdt said that the new degree program would be ideally suited for professionals such as social workers, counselors, teachers, ministers, nurses, health care providers and others in similar professions.
Paul Hammonds, 24, is in his first year in the master's program after graduating from Tennessee Technological University with a bachelor's degree in social psychology.

"I believe this new degree program fills a void in the discipline of human sexuality studies," he said. "You don't have many programs that make a connection between the larger role that sexuality plays in our society. I expect this program will give me a solid foundation to do work and do important research in this field."

The new degree program was created by a group of SFSU researchers led by Herdt, an anthropologist who came to the University three years ago from the University of Chicago. Director for the Center for Culture and Mental Health Research and a professor on the University of Chicago's Committee on Human Development, Herdt has written numerous books on gender development, sexual identities and gay culture in America and the Pacific Islands.

Herdt said he expects that interest in the new program will come not just from the Bay Area but also from across the country and around the world. "Many people are interested in this field of study but can't get this type of knowledge and training in other areas Our location in San Francisco puts us in the center of cultural change and openness, especially on issues of sexuality," he said.

The first students will receive their master's degrees in human sexuality studies from SFSU next year. Nine students entered the program in fall 2000 and another 12 entered last fall pending approval of the degree. Herdt predicts dozens more will enroll each year.


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