Human sexuality collection on display in Oviatt

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CSUN students who expect to view the Vern and Bonnie Bullough Collection of Sex and Gender books and periodicals – one of largest human sexuality collections in the West – may be surprised once they see it at the Oviatt Library.

“There is an academic connection,” said Jessica Holada, reading room and stacks supervisor at the special collections and archives in the Oviatt Library.

Even though CSUN is located within the San Fernando Valley, one of the largest producers of adult film in the world, there is no connection between the collection and the adult film industry.

Holada said people should not expect a porn video store when they step inside the reading room, which houses the collection. The reading room is in the Tseng Family Wing room on the second floor of the Oviatt Library.

“It’s mostly secondary sources,” Holada said.

Most of the collection consists of books and periodicals. Different subjects on human sexuality are found in the collection, such as the ethics of sex, sexual habits from various cultures, different kinds of fetishes, reviews of various adult films, the world’s best dirty jokes, and Playboy and Playgirl Magazine.

Several biographies can be found at the reading room, ranging from the life of a Hong Kong call girl to a FBI agent who is gay.

“Topics range from abortion to zoophilia and everything in between,” wrote Vern Bullough, founder of the collection, in an e-mail.

According to Holada, most people who visit the collection on sex and gender and use it for research are CSUN faculty and students. She said that the collection is primarily the interest of psychology experts.

“It is a research collection,” Holada said. “It’s meant to be.”

One recent visitor that used the collection’s resources was an independent scholar from England. Holada said that the scholar was working on the history of cross-dressing, and was looking at various unpublished manuscripts.

“I want to see the special collection,” said Angelica De Vera, a senior psychology major and human sexuality minor. “I will get the opportunity to (look at the collection) with my Sociology 451 (Sociological Aspects of Human Sexuality) class, which is being taught by Professor James Elias. I would want to see the different areas of human sexuality that have been researched.”

De Vera believes that the collection will help people understand their view of human sexuality.

“I think people could try to learn more about it since sexuality plays a role in all of our lives whether we want it to or not,” she said.

Once she sees the special collection, De Vera said she hopes to use some of the work in the collection in her own study.

“I would use the collection anyway since I have to research certain topics for my classes,” she said. “I am interested in learning about sexual dysfunctions and different sexual practices in other cultures.”

Bullough, an expert on human sexuality, said he was able to start the collection with a grant given to him by the Erickson Education Foundation in 1969. The groundwork of the collection was from Bullough’s own research library.

“I did establish the collection on sex and gender at (CSUN) in the 1960s and have added to it since then,” Bullough said. “There are over 6,000 volumes in the general collection, which are mostly in the main university stacks.”

The Oviatt Library was able to acquire the entire collection between 1973 and 1979. As the ensuing years went by, Vern and Bonnie Bullough gave books to the library. In 1996, the Bulloughs gave 4,000 books to the collection.

Works dating back five centuries ago can also be found in the collection. The oldest book is a 1584 edition of the works of Girolamo Fracastoro, an Italian doctor who gave syphilis its name. A 1736 copy of De Morbis veneris is in the collection as well.

Written by French doctor Jean Astruc, the book was the first scientific dissertation on venereal diseases. Also found in the collection are manuscripts that contain fantasy writing and cross-dressing documentation.

“In terms of books on sex and gender, we run a poor second or third to the Kinsey Institute at the University of Indiana, but we have a good collection, but all the major universities have collections on sex and gender,” Bullough said. “We just have one of the better ones.”

In memorial to the passing of Bonnie Bullough in 1996, the Bonnie Bullough Memorial collection on prostitution was established in 1997. Despite the nature of the work found in the collection, Holada has heard of no opposition to it being located in the Oviatt Library.

“University libraries carry materials that would be controversial material,” she said. “It’s a collection where people have a lot of pride about.”

According to Bullough, he believes that what can be viewed as obscene to one person may not be to another.

“I hold that obscenity is in the eye of the beholder,” Bullough said. “A good library should have such material.”

Among the CSUN community, knowledge of the Bullough collection of human sexuality is limited, and at times students misconstrue what is actually there, each giving different interpretations as to what exists. “I have heard peers mention that there is a porno collection in the library,” De Vera said.

De Vera first learned that the Bullough collection on human sexuality existed when she heard about it from one of her professors, who called it a “special collection” in the library.

“I don’t think many students know about the collection,” said De Vera. “I think some do, but may think it is a vast collection of pornographic videos instead of books and research articles.”

Bullough said that the reason the library does not have any adult films is because there isn’t the means to maintain the materials, nor the machinery to run it.

“In fact, the library had to turn down gifts of many materials such as this because of its inability to preserve and protect it,” he said.

“It doesn’t get anyone’s attention,” Holada said about the reaction of the CSUN community finding out about the collection.

Efforts will be made to create awareness as to what the collection is all about, she said.

According to Holada, curator Tony Gardner talks to classes about the collection. Another thing that will also create is more understanding of the collection, Holada said, is improving the web pages linked to the library website about the collection.

“University libraries have an obligation to have a variety of materials on large number of topics and I cannot think of anything more important than questions about sex and gender,” Bullough said.

John Barundia can be reached at jcb44123@csun.edu.