CIIS Launches New Program in Human Sexuality StudiesPosted on May 2 2013

By Zack Rogow

Beginning in fall 2013, CIIS will offer a cutting-edge PhD program in Human Sexuality. The program will be headed by Professor Gil Herdt, who founded the Department of Sexuality Studies and the National Sexuality Resource Center at San Francisco State University. Professor Herdt is an internationally known cultural and clinical anthropologist with extensive research and administrative experience in the field of sexuality, sexual orientation development, HIV, mental health, and culture.

“This program puts CIIS in the center of the map in terms of research in this groundbreaking area,” says CIIS President Joseph L. Subbiondo. “The program will draw to the Institute clinicians, scholars, and policymakers who are doing innovative work in this area.”

The doctoral program in Human Sexuality at CIIS is the first PhD of its kind at an accredited university in the Western United States, and the only program in the world that provides doctoral concentrations both in clinical sexuality and in sexuality policy studies.

According to Herdt, the realm of human sexuality studies is relatively new. “Initially the research in this area focused on defining what was thought of as a series of sexual diseases,” Herdt explains. “Premarital sex, masturbation, and homosexuality were all thought of as disorders. It wasn’t until the work of anthropologist Margaret Mead, who studied Pacific Islanders; and biologist Alfred Kinsey, who studied small-town U.S.A., that the understanding developed that these behaviors are a normal part of human sexual experience.”

“By the mid-twentieth century,” Herdt elaborates, “Kinsey clearly had moved away from the notion that sexuality was abnormal, to a spectrum approach that saw human sexuality as ranging from heterosexuality, to bisexuality, to homosexuality. Nevertheless, much research on sexuality continued to be dominated by a Freudian paradigm. This created a lot of undue concern about the connection between mental illness and sexuality. Then came the second sexual revolution of the 1960s; the second wave of feminism; and the movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights. These infused the study of sexuality with a whole new perspective on gender, on sexual recreation, on female sexual autonomy, and on LGBTQ relationships.”

To assemble the faculty to teach these new developments in the field, Herdt is bringing together experts from a variety of disciplines, from psychology to anthropology to sociology.

The program focuses on two sets of concerns. “The vision of the PhD program,” Herdt adds, “is to provide scholarly, evidenced-based, comprehensive, and holistic knowledge of sexuality in two broad areas: 1) clinical psychological practice, and 2) sexuality policy and leadership.”

The clinical focus appeals to experienced practitioners who want to add expertise, deeper knowledge, and skill sets in the area of human sexuality; and/or in gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer studies.

“The second specialization relates to sexuality policy studies,” Herdt describes. “It focuses on thought leaders, educators, and researchers at the local and national level who are interested in LGBTQ policies, and/or women’s reproductive health and rights. For instance, we hope to equip clinicians and policymakers with state-of-the-art knowledge on how parents can help love and support their transgender children.”

The sexual policy specialization will include a practicum where students will intern at local, state, regional, national, or global organizations devoted to LGBTQ issues, women’s reproductive health, and/or reproductive rights. Herdt asserts that the field of human sexuality studies is crucial at this moment in history. “Right now, many issues related to sexuality are wedges in our society. We need to foster research and knowledge in this field in order to promote sexual literacy, and sexual well-being.”

Zack Rogow is senior editor at CIIS. His writings include a recent book of poems, "My Mother and the Ceiling Dancers," from Kattywompus Press.



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