Speaker questions role of sex in U.S. society, current sexual stereotypes

O’Brien, a sociology professor at Seattle University, spoke about the relationship among sex, societal roles and institutions.

Hayley Odom

University members gathered in Lind Hall Monday to talk about sex.

Jodi O’Brien, a professor of sociology at Seattle University, lectured on “sexual silence and shame and good old American values” to a crowd of approximately 30 people.

O’Brien focused on explaining U.S. culture’s simultaneous obsession with and repression by the topic of sexuality. She said this idea helps explain how today’s sex-based controversies play out in U.S. society.

“Sexual imagery is absolutely everywhere and at the same time (society) is only being educated with abstinence,” O’Brien said.

She said sexuality defines the role people play in society.

“The sex story contains a recipe for what you can and can’t do,” she said. “You can’t be feminine and a good father or a sex worker and a good mother.”

O’Brien also spoke about how institutions such as religion and family values muddy the realms of sexuality and produce boundaries that separate people with different sexual representations, beliefs and ideas.

“In our society homosexuality is acceptable as long as the person afflicted wears a cloak of shame,” she said.

“The assumption is that being straight is a default condition and that you aspire to be a part of that family equation,” she said. “The attempt to separate sex by the family equation indicates a shaky institution.”

O’Brien’s lecture drew students from many University departments who had vested interests in the issues discussed.

Aaron Bruenger, a graduate student with a minor in literacy and rhetorical studies, said he came to the lecture because of his interest in the rhetoric of sexuality and gender.

Senior Nicole Relyea attended the lecture because she is taking a cultural studies class on sexuality and culture. She said she liked that O’Brien actually answered questions about sexuality. In her class, Relyea said, students often just sit and ponder answers.

“These are very liberal ideas and a lot has to be said for the conservativism of our country,” she said.

The Center for Writing brought O’Brien in as part of the annual speaker series for the interdisciplinary graduate minor in literacy and rhetorical studies, said Susan Meyers, the center’s assistant director.

She said O’Brien’s ability to create classroom-like discussions about controversial issues was an important draw for including her in the series.