Field Studies, Friends, and the Psychology of Human Sexuality

Sexual orientation, gender, love, dysfunctions, and therapy – would you believe we have covered so much in a week and a half? It’s hard to accept that my time in Copenhagen is already halfway over, but in that short time, I have learned (and retained!) so much about these five topics and more.

I am currently taking Psychology of Human Sexuality, taught by Dr. Debra Quackenbush, although she insists that we call her Debbie. Debbie is a really unique instructor in many ways; she used to live in America but now runs a private practice in Denmark, and she also has both academic and clinical training in psychology. These experiences give her a distinct perspective that helps her to teach psychology in a research-based, clinically-framed, cross-cultural way.

An aspect of Debbie’s teaching that I particularly love is that she provides us with opportunities to apply our knowledge of class topics to cultural experiences in Copenhagen. Whether this is through optional assignments in sexuality-related sites in the city, or by asking us how we have seen ideas from class reflected in our experiences in Denmark, it really makes Copenhagen feel like both our home and our classroom.

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Debbie has encouraged us to look for reflections of our learning in our daily experiences in Copenhagen. In the area surrounding where I have class, there are a number of rainbow flags. As we learned in class, the flag signals to many people that “there is something for you here” and that they can express themselves without restraint.

My classmates are also really great. Everyone is incredibly approachable (I say this as an introvert!), and it is common for us to go get lunch together or explore Copenhagen after class. I actually feel more comfortable with my classmates here than I do with many of my classmates at my home university! This tight-knit, open-minded environment is perfect for a sexuality course, as people are unafraid to be open and it feels easy to talk about less frequently discussed topics.

The main goals of the course include learning about the spectrum of behaviors and attitudes that comprise sexuality, understanding sexuality through a variety of cultural perspectives, and being able to support our ideas about sexuality based on the available research. A DIS-exclusive way that we meet these goals is through activities called Field Studies. Field Studies provide unique cultural opportunities for hands-on learning experiences and meeting experts in the field. For my course, we have done two field studies so far: A visit to Slottet, considered the world’s first LGBTQ+ nursing home, and a guest lecture from Steen Schapiro, a filmmaker and lecturer on sexual subcultures.

When we first arrived at Slottet, I was surprised to see that it looked like a castle (although I should not have been surprised – the name means “the castle” in Danish!). First, we were given a tour of the facilities. There were a number of markers of LGBTQ+ pride – a rainbow bench, rainbow walls, and a bookshelf marked with a rainbow flag and lined with books and movies featuring LGBTQ+ characters.

My favorite part of our visit to Slottet, though, was interacting with the residents and the staff there. It was amazing hearing from the LGBTQ+ staff members about their experiences being LGBTQ+ in Denmark and participating in the LGBTQ+ movement here.

A particularly neat aspect of our Field Study was how our visit to Slottet overlapped with what we were learning about in class at the time – sexual development over the lifespan. An oft-ignored fact is that elderly people still feel and express sexuality. At Slottet, we were able to learn how the staff incorporates awareness of resident sexuality and some of the things that they do to promote healthy sexual expression. Overall, the visit to Slottet exceeded my expectations. I learned so much more about LGBTQ+ history in Denmark and sexual development than I imagined!

Our second Field Study, a lecture from Steen Schapiro, covered a different aspect of the Psychology of Human Sexuality: Sexual subcultures. It was fascinating to hear about the reality of these subcultures from an expert in the field, as popular media like 50 Shades of Grey has often painted them in a negative light. Schapiro gave a multimedia presentation incorporating film, photos, and lecture, with content spanning the origin of sexual subcultures to the present, where people often gather to celebrate and partake in these subcultures together. It was a fantastically unique experience to hear from him, and an experience I doubt I could have had without DIS.

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Schapiro was an engaged lecturer who is passionate about what he does (and very happy to answer our questions!).

Looking back on everything I have learned so far, I can say the most surprising new insight I have gained is how I can be a better ally. I (mistakenly) thought I couldn’t improve on this front, but these last two weeks in Copenhagen have really opened my eyes. From class discussions on how therapists can make their practices more LGBTQ+ friendly, to understanding how to promote healthy sexuality for all age groups, to learning more about the communities formed around sexual subcultures, I have gained an even stronger sense of empathy and understanding. Not only am I excited to incorporate this knowledge in my future career path, but I am also excited to start using it today. I look forward to seeing what new insights I gain in my final week in Copenhagen, and what my future in Stockholm will bring.

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