The History of Sex: A Personal Journey

I’m currently teaching an online course for OLLI called “History and Science of Sex” which implies that I am an expert on the subject of sex.  This isn’t quite true.

I grew up in a traditional Brahminical culture in post-independence India. Sex education in school was limited to the birds and bees. Nothing about people. Most of the information I got came from older boys and a few racy magazines. Indian laws were, and still are, based on Victorian laws left over from the British Empire.  Ironic for the land that created the Kama Sutra.  I remember reading a banned copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and being shocked at seeing the “F word” in print. Most of us (at least the men) grew up reading the articles in Playboy while carefully ignoring the pictures.

It was Hollywood that continued to inform and sometimes misinform me about sex starting with bikini-clad Ursula Andress in Dr. No and later portraying the sexuality of older women in The Graduate. Although, being 18, I was more impressed with Dustin’s Alfa Romeo. Hollywood introduced many of us to the concept of a male prostitute in Midnight Cowboy and even porn movies like Deep Throat played to wide audiences.

Sex education, even in medical school, was dry and clinical. Even as a physician I had not given much thought to gay culture until the HIV Crisis in 1981.  Some of you may remember book by Randy Shilts, And the Band Played On, and the movie based on it. 

And I was shocked, amused, and pleased by how quickly some of the nurses I worked with would casually drop a hint that they were prescribed “The Pill” for cramps. ( It was initially approved for this reason in 1957)

I taught a class for OLLI on 1967 -1968 that gave me a chance to review changes in views on sex in the West, especially the famous “summer of love”.

A few years ago, I came across some works by a Popular Science writer Mary Roach, who had penned books titled Stiff, Spook and Bonk. The last one is about her research on sex. Here is a link to her Ted Talk 

My interest in genetics and evolution led me to study the relationship among beauty, sex, and evolution.

I have attended and taught classes on Genetics and Evolution via USF and OLLI. In the recent past I read  the book  The End of Sex by Hank Greely about advances in reproductive technology. Like most of you I am still trying to come to terms with “Swipe right” culture and learning new terms like INCEL 

It has been a blast learning with and teaching for OLLI, and I hope to continue doing both for a few more years. Eventually I may even understand sex. But I will never get around to understanding the opposite sex.

Bharat Pathakjee, MD, is a retired cardiologist who earned his initial degree in his native India and took additional training in Michigan and at the University of Louisville.  Dr. Pathakjee enjoys reading, running, and learning history, science, and philosophy.  His passion for acquiring knowledge is matched only by his passion for sharing it.


3 Replies to “The History of Sex: A Personal Journey”

  1. Thank you
    I agree learning is fun . Having OLLI available to continue to learn and share is wonderful.

  2. Thanks for this, Bharat. I am of the generation who came of age sexually during the AIDS crisis, and I lost many, many friends from this scourge. Shilts’ And the Band Played On helped me process this very complicated and sad time. As a young woman, I received confusing messages about men and women and about sex. Isn’t it great to at least recognize and acknowledge those mixed messages from the vantage point of older age!

  3. Thanks for the hotlinks to Swipe Right and INCELS. I hadn’t gotten around to looking them up. You made it a simple matter of continuing my lifelong learning. Thanks. And thank you also for sharing your memories of learning about sex as a coming of age male. It wasn’t a whole lot easier or better informed for us coming of age as females in the U.S. And now, the f*** word is almost as common as any other word. I read it in The New Yorker and see it on protest signs shown by the media.

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