CHICAGO -- Professor J. Michael Bailey takes full responsibility for the live sex act.
He isn't ready, however, to express regret.
"If I decide to say I shouldn't have done this," he said on Thursday, sitting in his sex research lab at Northwestern University, "it will be because this could have been avoided, not because anybody has been harmed by it."
Here in the sex lab -- an unsexy little space crammed with computers, chairs and a wobbly round table -- the world seemed quiet, wonky, normal, not so different from the bespectacled Professor Bailey.
But beyond the walls of 225 Cresap Hall, Bailey was being widely cast as a villain. The Northwestern Sex Toy Scandal was burning up newspaper websites, clogging hours of radio talk, rivaling Charlie Sheen for jokes and outrage.
On Thursday morning, shortly before Bailey walked into the sex research lab, wearing jeans and carrying a laptop, the university's president had issued a statement saying he was "troubled and disappointed" by what happened in Bailey's class on Feb. 21. The professor, the statement said, had shown "poor judgment."
"It wasn't what I wanted to hear," Bailey said and sighed.
He twiddled his thumbs. He pushed his glasses back up his nose. He looked tired.
Bailey's act of debatable judgment happened in a flicker on that Monday afternoon in Ryan Auditorium. His popular Human Sexuality class had been dismissed, but about 100 of the 600 or so students stayed for an optional after-class session that the guest speakers had named "Networking for Kinky People."
A few minutes into the discussion, the guests proposed a live demo on the big stage.
Bailey was surprised. He hesitated. But just a little while earlier he'd been thinking about the knee-jerk negativity so many people have about sex, about sex research.
As a man who believes everything is worth studying, he had to ponder why he was hesitating.
"I could not come up with a good reason," he said Thursday, "and so I said OK."
And so it happened. A man. A woman. A dildo on the base of a buzz saw. The device had a name, not fit for print in this newspaper, that Bailey said he didn't know until after class.
"They're sexually spontaneous kinky folks," he said of the performers, "and I'm sure they came up with the idea right there."
The sex was consensual. The audience was voluntary and rapt. The act lasted only about three minutes.
But to Bailey it felt much longer. His mounting apprehension dragged the minutes out. His dread proved prescient.
First came the school newspaper story. Then the media deluge.
"When I knew it was going to be bad in some quarters," he said, "was when I got a call from Fox News."
Sex research comes with controversy, and Bailey has had his share.
"I have a thicker skin than most people," he said, "... but I'm feeling the nail through the skin right now."
Bailey has taught at Northwestern since 1989. He has taught Human Sexuality since 1994, and the class is not, as you might deduce from the radio talk show discussions, a sexual how-to course or pornography on parade.
He presents sex as science. A lot of Power Point, lectures, stats. He teaches students about sexual diversity, which includes what he calls "problematic diversity."
"Sex is not just one thing," he said. "Sex is many things. I teach many things."
That includes teaching what kinky sex means.
A Texas native, Bailey was a graduate student at the University of Texas, studying intelligence and schizophrenia, when he took a class on homosexuality. He isn't gay, but he was fascinated by sexual orientation. He switched fields.
His investigations have made him well-known among sex researchers, and his theories have earned him animosity and accolades. Liberals and conservatives, straight people and gay, have found reasons to love him or hate him, believe him or doubt him.
"Contrary to what people might believe about me, I do not enjoy being attacked and called names, even by people who have bad arguments," he said. "I do think that my willingness to say things that are true but that anger people has been one of my best qualities as a scientist."
As a teacher, he is hugely popular.
Some students aren't wild about him -- "To me he's just arrogant," wrote one student in a course evaluation -- but many more are.
His evaluations are filled with words like knowledgeable, effective, awesome, chill, funny, personable, enthusiastic, passionate, approachable, casual yet organized.
And so far, Bailey said, not a single student who was present at the so-called sex toy demo has complained to him.
"I'm the TA and no one wrote me either," said a former student who was sitting with him in the sex research lab.
Bailey said the people he knows well have been supportive these past couple of days. The only colleagues who have mentioned it have been kind, though some disagreed with his choice on that fateful Monday.
His ex-wife e-mailed to apologize for giving his phone number to a reporter. His 26-year-old son left a voice mail.
He leaned into his laptop and read an e-mail from his daughter: "Dad, I'm so sorry for everything that's happened. Are you OK?"
He figures it's time to call his mother in Texas.
"I suppose I should see if she knows and if she's worried."
The Human Sexuality course will conclude with next week's final. Bailey doesn't foresee a reprise of the buzz saw demonstration in future classes.
"If I had to bet, I would bet I will not be doing this again," he said, "either because of my decision or someone else's. And that's fine. It's not like I think this is a necessary part of understanding kinky people."
And in the spring, he will teach nothing sexier than statistics.
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