Let’s talk about sex

Anna Such, Channels Contributor, Anna Such, Channels Contributor, and Anna Such, Channels Contributor

Marian Shapiro is a sex-ed superstar.

Shapiro, a City College professor, spent most of her life educating people on a somewhat uncomfortable topic: sex.

Her open, humorous attitude about the topic has added to the popularity of her Psychology 125 “Human Sexuality” class, and students inevitably end up on the waiting list each semester.

It is 3:55 p.m. on a Thursday and Shapiro’s class is abuzz with students talking about the upcoming weekend. As Shapiro enters the room, students become quiet, with only occasional whispers between friends.

She is dressed in loose-fitting, brightly-colored clothes, with spectacles tucked into a halo of salt and pepper hair. She punctuates her sentences with gestures, touching her heart, holding her palms open, and fiddling with a small chain around her neck.

Laughter radiates from her classroom as she lectures on Kegel exercises, strengthening exercises women do to tone pelvic muscles.

“You can do it any time,” says Shapiro. “I’m doing it right now.”

What brought this woman to choose a career as a sex educator?

She didn’t always know what she wanted to do. As an undergraduate, she majored in music at UCSB and UC Berkeley. She met her husband in college, joined him on his studies in Europe, and then became pregnant.

Shapiro says she became pregnant in part because she was never taught methods of avoiding pregnancy, and her sex education as a child was far from complete.

The couple then relocated to a small town in Kansas, where her interest in sexual education began. While pregnant with her second child, she realized it was a great time for her first child to learn how babies are made. Shapiro answered all of her children’s questions about sexuality.

As her kids grew up, she volunteered at Planned Parenthood, which eventually developed into a career. When her kids went off to college she was admitted to the University of Kansas social work program, an eight-hour commute from her home. At first she had doubts about going back to school at age 52, but then an encouraging friend made her realize that she would be 56 in four years anyways, with or without a degree.

What was it like working at Planned Parenthood in a town that was 70 percent Catholic? Shapiro faced opposition, hate mail, and threatening phone calls.

At one time, Right to Life protestors paraded outside the clinic with a bloody baby doll dangling from a six-foot tall crucifix. They shook it at every car that passed, even though they didn’t perform one abortion at that clinic.

Shapiro never questioned her choice of work. She felt gratified making a difference in people’s lives by helping to educate them.

She said that some of the kids and parents she worked with were surprised that “you don’t get struck by lightning if you ask about a penis.”

Shapiro wanted to be somebody who made things happen, rather than standing back and letting things happen to her.

When Shapiro first began work at Planned Parenthood, people appreciated her openness about sex. Today, many of her students believe the way in which she talks about sex makes the situation comfortable. She is honest and humorous in her treatment of a sensitive subject.

“If you’re ramming really hard, it probably hurts her,” she explains, slapping her fist into her other hand for emphasis.

Although Shapiro seems to know she is a talented educator, she remains humble.

“I enjoy being an advocate in a controversial field because I know I’m needed,” Shapiro says.

“If I don’t speak up for these rights, who will? This was definitely true in the Bible Belt. Here in California, it’s not so special. Everyone and their uncle is a sex educator.”