When Tameca Harris-Jackson was a freshman at Old Dominion University in Virginia, one of her dormitory mates came bursting into her room, crying inconsolably. “She said she was pregnant,” says Harris-Jackson, who teaches social work at UCF. “She didn’t know what she was going to do about it.”
As Harris-Jackson listened to the young woman, her tale unfolded. It became clear there was no way she could have been pregnant. The “event” had happened just the night before, and impregnation would not have been possible.
She calmed the young woman, and gave her a mini-human sexuality lesson. It became clear that this young woman was not alone in her beliefs – or lack of beliefs – about all the workings of the human reproductive system. “I felt like I needed to do something,” Harris-Jackson says.
It was a defining moment for Harris-Jackson.
She became the unofficial resident expert on human sexuality to her peers, answering questions from persons of all backgrounds. She heard, “How does one get pregnant?” all too frequently. Harris-Jackson says questions were occasionally accompanied by a snicker or a guffaw. She always tried to answer them in the manner she had gleaned from her unofficial mentor, Ruth Westheimer, a talk-show host who gained fame for bringing discussions about sex and sexuality to radio and television.
Soon, it became clear there was a need in all society for more resources about sex and sexuality. As she was pursuing her master’s and doctoral degrees, Harris-Jackson would still get questions from people who wanted to know why she wanted to be a sex therapist – a totally different area of study. Today, she’s a licensed clinical social worker and a certified sexuality expert.
Not much has changed in the 20 years or so since she was an undergraduate student. “People are hungry for information about sexuality at any age,” Harris-Jackson says.
In her presentations to students, Harris-Jackson’s professionalism and non-judgmental demeanor offer the assurance that no question that is asked will be mocked or disregarded.
“Dr. HJ is so excited about what she teaches, that it draws you in. You don’t want the experience to end,” says Nicole Smith. “She showed the importance of being able to be open about speaking about sexuality at whatever age.”
In her recent LINK (Learning and Interacting with New Knights) presentation at UCF, “Sex and the Senses,” Harris-Jackson discussed the five senses while simultaneously educating students and participants on safer-sex practices. About 70 students attended the event, says Gabe Martinez ’16, sexual wellness coordinator for Wellness and Health Promotion Services at UCF.
“Dr. Tameca really goes into the chemistry of the aphrodisiacs,” Martinez says. With tastings of chocolate, strawberries and honey, Harris-Jackson encouraged the students to be aware of the role their senses play in sensuous settings.
“I was blown away by her presentation,” Martinez says. “She was funny, engaging, knowledgeable and approachable. The students fell in love with her teaching style.”
Harris-Jackson also has twice taken UCF students abroad to Amsterdam, where, as part of a comprehensive program she developed, they are exposed to that culture’s open approach to sexuality. In Amsterdam, Harris-Jackson explained, issues related to sex and sexuality are part of school curriculums from kindergarten on up.
“This trip greatly prepared me for my future in social work,” says Felicia Bender. “I tried to train myself mentally before the trip to understand that I’m about to be in a different culture entirely.”
Harris-Jackson is planning a study-abroad program to Thailand next year. All interested students are invited to find out about the program at studyabroad.ucf.edu.