Last year, the biggest little city felt dry of girl power. We felt the dehydration. A wave of feminism felt necessary to water the garden we deserved.
Clinical sexologist Dr. Tory Clark felt the cravings.
She signaled a group of women on Facebook with a video of a rambunctious Berkeley student explaining a new obsession on her campus, a student-taught class being offered called “Female Sexuality.” FemSex for short.
“This class changed my life,” the student said on camera. “It changed my life.”
FemSex was described as a class that served as a safe place for women to share an understanding of diversity, exchange knowledge about their bodies, and cover a broad spectrum of sexuality, all building as a basis for social change.
When Clark sent out a mass Facebook message with the subject line, “We could have this here,” I took it as a red-hot feminist alert.
In November 2011, a small group of women, including myself, RSVPed to a meeting at Clark’s office. We found ourselves pouring over a syllabus from UC Berkeley in frenzy. Curriculum included classes like “Self Love, Pleasure, and Orgasm,” and “Power and Privilege.” It seemed unfamiliar and exhilarating. We agreed this project was worth digging into.
Kari Ramos, a program director at NCASV (Nevada Coalition Against Sexual Violence), acknowledged the potential the course could have, especially in the spirit of feminine unity.
“I’m a sucker for strong, educated and empowering women coming together to spread what they know in a fun, healthy and conscious way,” Ramos explained. “This is the definition of the leadership of FemSex. We value women and sexuality … and we really value all the ways those two blend together and with the rest of the human experience.”
A string of meetings ran weekly for two months prior to the University of Nevada, Reno’s spring semester. Keeping with the protocol of FemSex Berkeley, our group decided to break each week into a different theme. While it was true we were a small group of women, each of us offered various subject knowledge spanning from a focus on psychology to the history of sex work. Some were grad students, some single moms—many shades of female dimension were represented.
We built up a buzz of goddess energy the best way we knew how. No one knew what to expect. FemSex was a title that sparked interest and blushed faces. We put up bright yellow posters around campus. Soon we had a website up and were accepted by the Associate Students of the University of Nevada (ASUN), which meant we were an official university club, and applications became available.
And the buzz worked. More than 20 students showed for the first day, eager and curious over our syllabus statements: “BECAUSE we crave conversation, books, projects, speakers and films that speak to US so WE feel included and can understand ourselves better,” read one out of nine manifesto-like statements. A declaration of female promise and empowerment spoke volumes.
What we hadn’t anticipated was two male students enrolling. Quickly, we found power in their conviction for better understanding of female-kind. Surely, the contagion would run rapid through male groups.
Ramos found the gender diversity non-threatening.
“I was comforted to know they wanted to learn about female sexuality and women’s experiences in the world,” Ramos explained. “And hopeful that they might share this new knowledge with their peers and encourage other men to take the class.”
Farah Rashdan, a classmate, initially found their presence to be confusing, but eventually educational to the overall mission of FemSex.
“What surprised me about FemSex was walking in and finding two males in the classroom,” Rashdan laughs. “At first, totally not OK … Then it was comforting, getting the male perspective was interesting.”
Matt Ford, one of said male students, felt the experience had an extraordinary impact on his views.
“What surprised me was twofold: first, how different the female perspective on many of these issues can be from the male perspective, and second, how much common ground can still be found,” he explained. “Women make up more than half of the population, so it’s not even fair to call them ‘women’s issues’ when they affect every human being. It was helpful to hear that not only did men have a role in addressing gender issues, but that it could be a positive one, too.”
Masculine energies aside, a micro-community of women’s health was built. The exchange of information was endless. After a facilitator would end a lecture on rape or boundaries, a student would come forward with an offering; a story, opinion, or even advice on the subject. FemSex meant freedom.
Lisa Kasum, a neuroscience major, explained her relief in finding that freedom to discuss often taboo subjects.
“What initially interested me was a space to openly discuss topics which often go unspoken,” she said. “Previously, I had only found such spaces at Burning Man. My favorite was just listening and sharing personal experiences in a very positive learning environment … This ‘safe space’ has provided an incredible opportunity for us to learn from one another.”
Though an open discussion usually meant heavy dialogue on very tragic realities in women’s health. Often tension ran high. The class became group therapy, and the classmates became more like family.
Shayla Kranovich, a 22-year-old university student, felt she left with a fresh sense of reflection and newly founded friendships.
“By the end of the semester, I felt like I had a new family,” she said. “I talked to the FemSex group about a lot of things that I do not share with most people who know me pretty well. I was not expecting FemSex to go as emotionally deep as it did. Basically, FemSex made me feel extremely blessed and empowered.”
With FemSex just beginning our second semester, as facilitators, we are evolving with new ideas to expand and push forward. Still, perhaps the most remarkable evolutions might be watching past students spin their own web of feminist activism.
Kranovich being one of them.
“I am excited to start a whole new group,” Kranovich said. “I am also facilitating the Body Image week, which I’m super excited about. I am currently completing an internship on-campus related to bringing body image and eating disorder awareness to the UNR campus, and am really excited to partner with FemSex on that.”
And just like that, the garden of girl power started to feel like a jungle.