How much explicit sex is acceptable in a book required for a college class? asks Siobhan Curious, who teaches in Quebec’s version of community college.
This year, she put Scott Spencer’s Endless Love on the reading list for a course on novels about adolescence. She’d read an excerpt, but not the whole thing, till after she placed the order.
Thirty-five pages in, I was greeted with a graphic, dripping, pulsating depiction of teenage, heterosexual anal sex.
The scene is not gratuitous. It’s fundamental to the fabric of the novel. It is beautifully, if shockingly (at least to me) rendered. It is absolutely appropriate to the book.
The questions is, is it appropriate for a college classroom?
Some of my students will be under eighteen; some will be deeply and narrowly religious; some will be really immature. Others will be able to handle explicit sex scenes and appreciate them for what they are: an integral part of the story. When I briefly present the book to the class and mention that some of them may wish to avoid it if they’re uncomfortable with graphic sex, many of them will be titillated and will choose the book for that reason. (This is what happens with Alice Sebold’s Lucky in my memoir course, when I tell them they should avoid it if they are worried about the opening rape scene; the vast majority of students choose it as one of their readings.) Others will be absent that day, will be assigned the book or choose it themselves, and will be outraged.
Curious wonders if she should trust her students “will choose wisely and handle the consequences” — or find another book.