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Sydney Festival: academics reveal that sex is a laughing matter


24 January 2012

(L-R) Craig Barker, Dieter Hochuli and Patricia Weerakoon took to the Bright Club stage with Juanita Ruys (not pictured).
(L-R) Craig Barker, Dieter Hochuli and Patricia Weerakoon took to the Bright Club stage with Juanita Ruys (not pictured).

Sex was the theme for the second late-night session of the Bright Club, the Sydney Festival event in which University of Sydney academics reveal the funnier side of their research.

In a night by turns raunchy, amusing, informative and just plain weird a capacity audience filled the Famous Speigeltent last week to have their funny bones tickled.

Dr Craig Barker, from Sydney University Museums, set the pace by explaining why archaeologists offer fertile ground when it comes to matters of love and lust - they are experts at dating, and the older you are the more interested they become.

Barker went on to tell the capacity audience that in the 19th century your first date with an archaeologist might have been at a mummy unwrapping party - where the contents of Egyptian mummies were gradually revealed to an amazed audience - an archaeological take on the striptease.

Associate Professor Dieter Hochuli, from the School of Biological Sciences, followed up with some confronting tips on what the insect world has to teach humans when it comes to sexual encounters.

Traumatic insemination, performed by green plant bugs, is as bad as it sounds. We might have more luck imitating the orchid which uses old-fashioned deception to attract the closest 'flying genital', in this case a wasp.

In Coleridge's poem Kubla Khan he describes:

A savage place! as holy and enchanted

As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted

By woman wailing for her demon lover!

After hearing Dr Juanita Ruys, from the University's Medieval and Early Modern Centre, describe medieval sex demons, the audience might have found them less appealing as partners than Coleridge suggests.

Demons are fallen angels who don't have bodies and are transgendered. A male demon, or incubus, slept on top of you while a woman demon, or succubus, slept underneath. "Demonic or just married?" Dr Ruys wondered.

The tricky problem of how a disembodied demon even has sex occupied medieval monks for some time.

If only they had been able to consult Dr Patricia Weerakoon from the Faculty of Health Sciences. In her role as a sex therapist she has spent many years answering questions about sex including the perennial "will eating corn flakes diminish my libido?"

Dr Weerakoon also revealed that research studying the relationship between arousal and strength of grip in males found an inverse proportion - "So keep that in mind next time you meet a man with a weak handshake!"

Host James O'Loghlin, TV and radio presenter and alumnus of the University, introduced the talent, who he coached for their comedy debut.

Songstress and comedienne 'Saint Blaise' brought the night to a close with a scarily seductive cabaret act, some of it aimed directly at front-row audience member, the University's Professor Rick Shine.

Find out more about the final Bright Club on Wednesday 25 January.


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Media enquiries: Verity Leatherdale, 02 9351 4312, 0419 278 715, verity.leatherdale@sydney.edu.au