A Look Back: The Birds, the Bees and Bernie
SFSU studentsof the 1970s and early '80s probably owe more to Bernard (Bernie) Goldstein (B.A., '62; M.A.,'64) for their understanding of sex than to their friends or parents.
The popular professor of biology, now emeritus, introduced his ground-breaking course in human sexuality in 1970 in response to requests to make college classes more relevant.
Those were daring times, Goldstein recalls in an October phone interview from his Petaluma home. The women's movement, "the pill," gay and lesbian consciousness, and research about human sexuality were relatively new. "My goal was to challenge myths and provide sound basic information about sexuality from a scientific, biological perspective," Goldstein says.
Students flocked to the course in droves.
"We had to switch classrooms two or three times," Goldstein says. "The first semester we had 200 [students], then 400. We topped off at 760."
"Bernie's class was the first large university course in human sexuality and was well known throughout the United States," says Gil Herdt, who directs both the National Sexuality Research Center, based at SFSU, and the University's highly acclaimed program in human sexuality studies.
Goldstein is credited with co-founding the program. Today it has 35 faculty members from many academic departments and offers degrees and specialized courses in a variety of areas. It was one of the first programs in the nation to offer a master's degree in human sexuality studies and a minor in gay and lesbian studies.
Known for his charismatic teaching style and warm sense of humor, Goldstein liked to have a little fun in class. One time he demonstrated the varying strength of different condoms by filling them with water on the McKenna Theatre stage. After one broke, he told students, "You really don't want to buy that brand."
In many ways, sex is just as confusing to students today as it was when Goldstein first taught his class. "We haven't really come that far," Goldstein says. "We still have the same concerns and worries. How do I fit into society? How do I find a mate that's going to be good for me?"
His advice: "Be willing to work at a relationship. People worry too much. Stress has a way of holding us back. Relax, have fun and be able to laugh at yourself."
Goldstein, who received the President's Medal from SFSU upon his retirement in 2003, hasn't been able to stay away from the classroom. He began teaching a class in human sexuality for Sonoma State's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute five years ago. His wife, Estelle Goldstein (B.A., '62), whom Bernie met at SFSU in the 1950s, came to every session. "She would jump into the conversation from the back of the room. We had a wonderful time," he says. "She gets bigger laughs than I do."
-- Janet Wade
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