IASHS: A Virtual ‘Harvard’ for a New Breed of Sex Educator?

LOS ANGELES — Adult movie legend Annie Sprinkle was the first to receive one in 2002. More recently, classic stars Candida Royalle, Jane Hamilton (aka Veronica Hart) and Veronica Vera also joined the ranks of adult industry luminaries who’ve received advanced degrees in human sexuality. Even the late High Society magazine publisher and star Gloria Leonard was posthumously honored with a Ph.D from the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality (IASHS) in San Francisco.

With the field of sexual heath and wellness growing rapidly, the broader acceptance of pleasure products and sex novelties gaining momentum every day, coupled with the continued acceptance of adult sexuality and porn by the mainstream, it’s no surprise that those on the front lines of sexuality should be leading the charge.

Advice-hungry consumers, or just regular porn hounds that seek a new titillation have created a growing market for myriad sex experts to provide them with consultation, books, videos and online coaching.

And like any field of education, people usually seek the experts with credentials.

Enter IASHS. Founded in 1976 by Rev. Dr. Ted McIlvenna, the IASHS says it’s the first institute of higher education to award five advanced degrees in the field of sexology for those seeking a professional career in the field. The virtual “Harvard” of hands-on sexual experience and information, the organization was even born out of a program that began at the University of California Medical School, McIlvenna tells XBIZ, but was considered too racy for doctors because it provided graphic learning materials (read art).

Although the Institute also boasts that its first dean was Wardell B. Pomeroy, a colleague of sexuality pioneer Alfred Kinsey, and is fully approved by the State of California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education, it poses a curious question as to whether the school can stand alongside graduate programs from traditional universities that live and die on national accreditation.

But as McIlvenna points out, the Institute has applied and/or has been contacted by a number of “official” state accrediting bodies over the years. But what makes it particularly unique and valuable is that it refuses to accept federal grant money — a core requirement for any school of higher learning to be “accredited.”

“We don’t take federal money and that’s why we won’t be accredited by the traditional state agencies. We don’t want to be handcuffed as to what we can provide, say and do. We’ve been approached by accrediting bodies run by Mormons and Roman Catholics that wanted us to change our code of ethics to promote contraception and change our name to reflect ‘family and marriage counseling’ instead of sexuality. We won’t do it,” McIlvenna says.

The IASHS director recalls that the Catholic agency even refused to meet in the Institute’s building because it had erotic art on the walls.

Regardless of its academic accreditation, the fact is that IASHS students need to work — hard — to earn their degrees. And there’s a serious financial commitment. Advanced academic and professional degree programs require two-to-five trimesters that among other requirements include reviewing the Wardell B. Pomeroy lecture series, mastering 24 required and elective courses that run the gamut including basic human sexuality, clinical sexology, analysis of the Kinsey reports and many more, along with the completion of a basic research project and the presentation of a dissertation demonstrating analytical treatment and the original and independent investigation of a subject in the field of sexology.

Those not interested in such heavy academic programs can also get certificates in sexology, erotology, AIDS prevention, and even sexological hypnosis among others.

The IASHS gives students access to 18 specialty libraries composed of more than 300,000 books, 350,000 magazines, pamphlets and journals, 100,000 videos, 300,000 films, and more than 1 million photographs, slides and illustrations.

And a student video library offers the student access to lectures and seminars from 1978 forward with extensive collections of erotica, sex pattern films and historical TV broadcasts dealing with topics of human sexuality. It’s also the policy of the Institute to provide a selected library of material for each matriculated student so that they may have their own library of materials.

McIlvenna notes that out of his 395 graduates, 25 percent are in professional practice, another 25 percent consult or teach, and about 24 percent consult to governments around the world in research programs and as aids to sexually repressed countries.

The IASHS has graduates in China, South Africa and Warsaw, Poland. Nearly 9,000 people in China have been helped in a sexual empowerment program for women in China [with the help of Hamilton aka Hart]; in Warsaw, a gender rights movement is underway spearheaded by the IASHS; and in South Africa a troop of porn star graduates are changing the face of the country by counseling women on the horror of female genital mutilation.

So will the IASHS continue to supply newly trained professionals to the burgeoning sexual wellness field? And is the adult industry fertile ground for this new breed of sex-savvy educators?

McIlvenna believes it will and says that a lot of traditionally trained people who claim to be sex experts simply aren’t. He explains that many of those in the psychology profession have taken a course on sexuality and that’s it. “They are the real charlatans. Ultimately sexuality belongs to our experiences and ourselves. How can anyone tell someone how, and what to do if they haven’t experienced it?”

Many of the IASHS graduates come out of the sex industry and that’s what makes them head and shoulders more effective in what they do. McIlvenna notes that 90 percent of sexual problems result from negative attitudes, either from cultural or religious indoctrination. Those who are in the sex industry have had exposure to nearly all of these problems and they can relate and offer guidance. “These folks aren’t frightened by sex. That’s what makes them so much better at what they do,” McIlvenna says.

The educator also notes that women are particularly in need of sexual guidance as nearly 40 percent are not receiving pleasure and are “non-orgasmic.”  He says women are often told that it will be all right after they’re married. “They’re getting bad-tripped,” McIlvenna says, “They don’t get creative in an effort to get a better sex life. Doctors and therapists don’t want to talk to women about getting a vibrator.”

But IASHS grads do. Especially women. McIlvenna notes that three out of four of his students are women and are effective with other women because those seekng help feel they won’t be “hit on” by a man in counseling.

In fact, of his 63 sex/adult industry graduates, none are men. But McIlvenna wants that to change and says he’s actively recruiting for male industry professionals who can demonstrate that they have the experience and the chops to earn a degree. He wants his graduates to know sexuality first-hand.

McIlvenna strives for his graduates to be “legitimized” first as experienced in the field of sexuality — whether it is mainstream, a performer or someone involved in other aspects of adult — and then with credentials. Some notable alumni include mainstream sexperts Dr. Emily of “Sex With Emily” fame, and Dr. Sadie Allison, author of the Tickle Kitty books, who are both graduates of IASHS.

The Institute’s director also points to IASHS graduate Dr. Amanda Morgan, a professor of sexuality at the University of Las Vegas Nevada (UNLV) who also contributes to the sex industry, along with  prominent porn stars as examples of students who exemplify what his school is all about.

“We don’t want our graduates simply to be academic bean counters,” McIlvenna says.