How sex toys, porn may help fund a university program

Putting the "soft" into "soft money."

Watch your clicking on this one if you’re in the office.

AdamandEve.com, which sells sex toys, lube, porn and other accessories, has announced it’s helping sponsor a chair in sexual-health education at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

Its funding for the $2 million Joycelyn Elders Chair in Sexual Health Education — named for the surgeon general fired by President Bill Clinton after stating that masturbation perhaps should be taught — amounts to $50,000 over five years.

(The recipient will be named in five years, which is apparently the deadline for collecting the donor pledges.)

I clicked on the link in the press release to check out what’s going on, and was taken to a company page that required me to pledge I was 18 before I could continue.

I did, and — yowza. Suddenly saw an array of sex toys, hard core DVDs and nude women.

(Nice. I’m now calling HR to explain.)

Wondering whether some people might start howling,  I called up Eli Coleman, director of the human sexuality program in the med school’s Department of Family Medicine and Community Health — and the man quoted in the press release.

He said he contacted the company after seeing that it had sponsored organizations such as the American Association of Sexuality Educators Counselors and Therapists. (Here’s a short profile of AdamAndEve.com founder Phil Harvey in Bloomberg Businessweek, which tells a little about Harvey’s safe-sex education efforts.)

Coleman acknowledged that the idea of taking a donation from a sex-shop site might raise a few eyebrows, but said the company is just one of about 290 different donors and 21 different organizations contributing to the chair, and so no one has too much influence.

And scrutinizing a donor list, he said, is bound to reveal a donor that some people don’t like.

He told me:

“Our program mission is clear about promoting a science-based approach to health education. There are a plethora of sexual health problems that we’re facing as a country, and we’re really … trying to help people (by giving them) information to make people sexually healthy. …  That’s our mission, and I think that’s what (the) company is supporting.”

Fair enough. People might get the role of toys and lube and lingerie.

But hardcore porn? Something that’s believed to distort a person’s view of sexuality?

He replied:

“I think that to lump everything and make some sort of generalization is very difficult. We do know that many individuals and couples enjoy erotica as part of their healthy sex relationship, and we have evidence where that can be helpful. We’re also aware some people get lost, and we treat people who have problems with internet pornography.

It’s just like gambling. … This can be used responsibly or irresponsibly. Fortunately, the gaming industry devotes a lot of effort to helping people learn .. and … promote responsible use, and that’s what (AdamAndEve’s) intention is as well.”

He said his program isn’t endorsing or judging any of the donors or their beliefs, and would not say whether he approved of the company’s business. But he cautioned against judging the source of the money:

“If this was a company that was into child pornography or something like that, that was illegal, I don’t think we could morally accept something from people who are involved in illegal activities. But this is a company that’s responsible and is law-abiding, and I think that they generally take a responsible approach to providing these products to people who are adults and find these enhancing to their lives.”

  • Joannao

    And thank YOU for the inflammatory headline.

    • Anonymous

      I think it’s blunt, but not inflammatory. It gets to the heart of the matter in as few words as possible. Money from the sale of these items — which some may or may not find morally objectionable — is helping to fund a U of M program. Pretty straight-forward, and it avoids euphemisms

  • Crc259

    It is funny how we lose all sense about something as healthy, natural, and normal as sex.  If the money was from a company with unethical labor standards in a thrid world country, we wouldn’t bat an eye.  If the money was from Lockheed Martin, would this be a headline at all? 

    • Anonymous

      I understand your point, but I think the comparison is off. If the company with unethical labor standards were sponsoring an ethics program, that would be closer. And the concept of healthy, natural sex is the entire point. Are the DVDs portraying healthy, natural sex? Maybe. Maybe not. I think it’s a reasonable issue to raise.

  • Steve

    Universities and many other organizations accept charitable donations from less than ideal citizens all the time.  How many of our university chairs have been endowed by corporations that exploit their workers, despoil the environment, abuse animals, etc?  Why shouldn’t the university take it in these times of shrinking budgets?  I’m not going to defend porn because most of it is indefensible for any number of reason but our lack of a healthy attitudes regarding sex and our inability to reasonably discuss it may help create an environment for porn to thrive.  And thrive it does, with profits exceeding those of professional sports according to the New York Times. The amount for the chair probably amounts to less than a couple of hours of income for the “industry” and if some of that can be used for good purposes, why not?   

    • Alex Friedrich

      Hey, fair enough response.
      Not sure I’m comfortable with the “everyone does it” and “it’s just a little bit of money” argument, however.
      I do wonder where we should draw the line when it comes to accepting money. Illegal gains only?

  • DrJ

    This kind of sensationalism is below the journalistic standards I expect of MPR. How pathetic.

    • Anonymous

      Dr.J:
      I’m afraid I can’t do much with your comment. If you could give me some details about why it’s a sensational and pathetic post, we can have a discussion. For now, feel free to read my previous comments, which lay out my basic stance. That said, I do hope it’s still possible to  raise issues in articles. Stifling questions and burying issues serves few, I’m afraid.

  • Elizabeth T.

    Are we grown-ups or not?  Is the question whether the donor manufactures sexual materials?  Or just the pornography?  What makes the headlines?  Sex.  Why not a headline:  
    “University funded by Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles” after accepting money from one of the aerospace corporations that also make parts for the military weapons?
    Why shouldn’t the U take the money, if it wants more money than the State can provide?  The source of the money is legal. That is the only ethical question I see.  What I would be interested in seeing is a list of the other sources of funding for the U’s various endowed chairs.  I’m sure that there is public objection to some, if not all, of those corporations, such as ADM, Monsanto, WalMart, Lockheed-Martin, Boston Scientific, etc. who manufacture pesticides, herbicides, laboratory animals, GMOs, military weapons, or who pollute the environment or engage in unfair labor practices.  If UMN refused funding from a donor based upon only 1 facet of that company’s portfolio, it would be sadly lacking in funding for paper towels, much less professors of medicine or public health.What is the process a university would use to vet a donor, anyway?  Is there an open-door policy on “sure, we’ll take your money!” for anyone?  Mr. Coleman stated the U wouldn’t take the money if it came from a source of illegal sexual material, e.g. child pornography.  Well, then – did the U actually review Adam&Eve before accepting the money?  Is there a different review process for military manufacturers or research animals or sex toys?