Vrije universiteit Amsterdam logo
Universiteit Groningen logo
Universiteit Leiden

Sex and SocietySex is Science - let's break the taboo!

Aranka van der Kuip
Shir Rachel Halivni
Lucia Wagner


Sex is everywhere, whether in art, policy, law, daily lives, or business but no one talks about it.  And that has devastating consequences. We created our redesign to break this taboo, to educate  about fundamental facets of sex and give academic insights into the theme from  interdisciplinary views. This process included a lot of brainstorming and meeting with experts  from several different fields that all have something to say about sex in their respective contexts.  We also talked to possible teachers and lecturers for the course as well as the Honours academy  which is in charge of the actual implementation. Then we merged our own ideas, experience  with good classes and input from the guest lectures in our “rebuilding education” course as  well as the expertise into a course design. “Sex and Society” is an interdisciplinary Honours  course consisting of 14 sessions, scientific insights and guest lectures from psychological,  artistic, political and legal perspectives. It includes practical applications, creative freedom,  journalistic elements, student responsibility and presentations. 

By combining a flipped classroom with safe spaces, experts and academics we tried to create  an unique University course that stimulates intrinsic motivation and creativity and has real life  applications. 

Problem Analysis

Sex is everywhere, in literature, history, art, books, and many more fields. Today, this topic is  addressed in many forums, some more positive than others. Sexuality and gender are concepts that can be confusing and hard to grasp/address. The course Sex & Society will give room for  students to ask questions and explore the field with a guiding academic hand. Much like the  minor offered by Amsterdam University, the course will increase knowledge of the subject from  a political, societal, cultural, and scientific point of view. Activism, debates, and challenges  when talking about such sensitive subjects and the importance of including them in everyday  academic conversations will be addressed, breaking through the taboo of talking about sex. 

The termination of a support group for victims of sexual violence at Leiden University gave  rise to the course Sex & Society (Bakx, 2021). The course Sex & Society tackles a topic many  are uncomfortable addressing, sex. The course hopes to turn the subject of sexuality, consent,  harassment, inclusivity, and diversity into easier and more constructed subjects to talk about,  breaking boundaries and diversifying the topic. 

The lack of information given to students in high school and university leads to unhealthy  relations making the university an unsafe space for some students. At the end of the course,  students are expected to know how to engage in healthy conversations and behaviors when it  comes to sex and subjects relating to it. 

We expect the students to be ambassadors of healthy sexual behaviors, and to protect  themselves and those around them, making Leiden University a safer space to study. Such a diverse controversial course can present Leiden University as an innovative and  inclusive university, addressing sex from different academic perspectives, such as historical,  artistic, psychological, etc. 

The multidisciplinary approach of this course will give students the opportunity to learn from  each other and broaden their knowledge about the application of the use of sex and gender in  different academic areas. The students’ group presentations will help them develop their  research skills and presentation skills, receiving constructive feedback from their peers and  teachers. 

The course will give students the tools to construct inclusive research and understand the  difficulty and problems in the lack of diversity in research done up until now, including the  application of ethical research methods. 

The hope is that a course like this can help fight prejudice and protect against sexual assault,  for students to know their rights and support each other during their studies.

Redesign (MVP)

The Syllabus of the Course can be accessed by clicking the link here.

Scientific Justification

In this course we want to foster creativity and active participation from the students, which is  why we decided to construct and assess the course with sessions and assignments designed to  bring out these qualities. We will explain here why these methods are relevant with the science  of today and how they foster these qualities. 


Before we can achieve active participation and creative freedom students need to be motivated  to participate in the sessions. We will turn to the work of Deci and Ryan (2000) on the self determination theory of intrinsic motivation to justify our means of bringing out motivation.  They argue there are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The goal would  be to foster intrinsic motivation because this will lead students to be more interested in what  they do, have more excitement and be more confident. This will then lead to better performance,  persistence and creativity; showing how intrinsic motivation is linked to more creativity in the  classroom. Important concepts needed for intrinsic motivation are autonomy and competence.  Earlier work of Deci et al. (1991) actually applied this theory to an educational perspective. The  same benefits were found in the classroom when students showed self-determination. They  linked two key elements on achieving self-determination namely autonomy support and  interpersonal involvement. When teachers are involved on an interpersonal level students hold  on to their natural curiosity in the form of intrinsic motivation. This combined with autonomy  support from adults like offering choice, minimizing control and providing information for the  making of decisions brings about conceptual understanding, flexible problem solving, social  responsibility and personal adjustment in students. 

This course mandates interpersonal involvement from teachers because of its nature.  Discussions about sex and sexuality are inherently very personal subjects and warrant  sensitivity on the teachers part. This is also facilitated in the first session. It’s important that a safe space is created to talk about these topics and that students can get to know each other and  their teachers. Furthermore the presence of the same teachers at every session despite the many  guest lecturers and topics creates a safe person to fall back onto with problems. Lastly, at the  start of each session a small exercise is performed to fall back into the safe atmosphere. These  all contribute to the interpersonal involvement of the teachers who are present every session.  Autonomy support from teachers is found in the assessment of the course. The blog, diary and  presentation all offer the freedom of choosing what subject interests students the most, with  guidelines on choosing their form and topic.  


Now that we’ve explored the topic of motivation and the way it encourages creativity we can  look at other ways we try to promote creativity in the classroom. Gajda et al. (2017) have found  ways in which student and teacher behaviours influence creativity. Interestingly care and  emotional support from the teachers seemed the most important factor in creating an  environment students feel comfortable creating in. This being even more important than  traditional ways of fostering creativity. It suggests that a psychological safe environment is  needed to allow students to take risk in the process of creative freedom. However, this doesn’t  mean that traditional ways don’t do anything at all. Beghetto and Kaufman (2014) analysed the  way classroom context matters in creative freedom. First of all it’s important to incorporate  creativity in the teaching itself. Having activities that let students come up with ideas and have  them think critically as well as providing opportunities for this process. Incorporating choice,  imagination and exploration lets students move away from established definitions and create  their own unique ways of looking at the world. Then thereafter it’s important to monitor these  activities so they continue to be creative-supporting, not dampening. Finally approaching these  activities as a means to an end. The ultimate goal isn’t creativity itself but the lessons learned  from the process, which students can take home.  

As explained above we have a multitude of ways we incorporate care and emotional support  from teachers in our sessions. Especially the central teachers present at every session will be  important on this topic. There are also many activities during the sessions which give room for  coming up with ideas and also exploring the self. These include the presentations, the diary, the  blogpost, the nude model drawing, the body positivity workshop and more. Having the central  teachers monitor these activities and be the safe people students can fall back on safeguards the  creative-supporting atmosphere. Something we also hope to achieve with our sessions is  exploration of students own sexuality or topics within sex they are interested in. Having the activities during session be a more fun way to explore and learn about different topics and  having the assessment methods be a more serious in-depth look at a subject. The freedom to  choose what that subject is means they can explore topics they have personal interest in. This  will hopefully result in lessons they bring home with them which they will remember for a long  time.  

Active participation

Lastly we will discuss why we want to use ‘flipping the classroom’ as a way to encourage active  participation and better student learning. Hermsen et al. (2019) showed that flipping the  classroom has a list of benefits. Starting of it can increase time spend with the teachers because  those are then available when students try to understand and apply the new knowledge. It also  enhances active participation when techniques are applied to bring this out. It supports and  inspires students to explore values and attitudes they hold about the topic. Active participation  furthermore stimulates problem solving and decisions making skills as well as higher-order  thinking. Van Alten et al. (2019) conclude as well that flipping the classroom leads to higher  assessed learning outcomes. Yet they warn that attention must be paid to the way flipping the  classroom is implemented, because not every time this method is used benefits are seen. They  deduce this is because of wrong implementation.  

To bring about the best results using this method, session 3 in the course will be about how to  present, literature search and everything else students need to know to achieve successful  learning outcomes. Alongside that, the presentations are structured with the intention of active  participation in mind. Half way through the presentation students are required to use activities  to bring out active participation in the class, for example using group discussion, roleplay,  quizzes, experiments or whatever else students can come up with. For this also some guidelines  will be provided on what to do.  

In these ways we hope to bring out the best of our students using scientifically sound methods.


Bakx, P. (2021). Protest against termination of sexual violence support group: ‘No more  silence.’ Leids Universitair Weekblad Mare. violence-support-group-no-more-silence/

Beghetto, R. A. & Kaufman, J. C. (2014). Classroom contexts for creativity. High Ability  Studies, 25(1), 53–69. 

Deci, E. L., Vallerand, R. J., Pelletier, L. G. & Ryan, R. M. (1991). Motivation and  Education: The Self-Determination Perspective. Educational Psychologist, 26(3–4),  325–346. 

Gajda, A., Beghetto, R. A. & Karwowski, M. (2017). Exploring creative learning in the  classroom: A multi-method approach. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 24, 250–267. 

Hermsen, J. L., Mokadam, N. A. & Verrier, E. D. (2019). Flipping the Classroom. Thoracic  Surgery Clinics, 29(3), 279–284.

Ryan, R. M. & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic  motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68–78. 

Van Alten, D. C., Phielix, C., Janssen, J. & Kester, L. (2019). Effects of flipping the  classroom on learning outcomes and satisfaction: A meta-analysis. Educational  Research Review, 28, 100281.