Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Are you qualified to talk about sex?

Via U-Wire:
A University of Montana law professor who opposes the content of the Kaimin’s weekly sex column could eventually take the issue to the state legislature unless the newspaper establishes written policies for hiring columnists and reviewing content.

Since February, assistant law professor Kristen Juras has made clear to the Kaimin her opposition to senior Bess Davis’s “Bess Sex Column” by writing a letter to the editor as well as e-mailing and meeting with Kaimin editor Bill Oram. Juras said the material in the column is inappropriate for college students and reflects poorly on the university’s School of Journalism and UM itself.


Juras said someone writing a sex column should have a background in sexology, just as someone writing a column about the environment should have an environmental background.

Juras said she’s concerned because the Kaimin appears to have no set criteria for giving someone a job as a columnist writing in an area of “alleged expertise” or for reviewing objectionable material. She said that if these policies were put in place, the problems she has with the content of the sex column would correct themselves.

I'm sorry, but a sex column isn't legitimate only if the author is a trained sexologist. A human being doesn't need advanced degrees in psychology, biology, anthropology, or criminology to speak on sexual intercourse or sexual relationships. Unlike a column on the environmental hazards of "clean coal" which requires specific knowledge and training, sex is an act that any human being who has engaged in sexual intercourse should be able to write about.

A newspaper doesn't require a humor column writer to have a degree in rhetoric and psychology so as to understand the human mind's reaction to humorous speech. The humor writer need only understand humor and how to be funny. A sports writer doesn't need a degree in actuarial science or statistics to be able to analyze box scores and trends. As a lawyer certainly Juras is familiar with the threshold for expert testimony; training, education, or experience can qualify one as an expert. The weight attached to that opinion is obviously affected by the amount of each element, but nevertheless the opinion can be stated.

The fact that the column is in a student newspaper indicates that the majority of the articles are written by authors that have no degree at all. Juras might as well require the entire paper be shut down if her argument is that a lack of credentials bars one from using free speech.

I would rather read about sex or sex-related topics from a source that is experienced in the subject matter they speak about than from a scientist who is trying to remove all subjectivity and the humanity from the act. It's the same justification for why women make better gynecologists and why male doctors are better suited to handle prostate ailments. Personal experience and familiarity with the subject matter makes for a better source than books, diagrams, and other pedantic reasoning.

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