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Students and staff at UCPH's Faculty of Medicine get naked at the student bar, sexually objectify patients in word games and write erotic novels. But can they do this without jeopardising their professionalism?
“We sat in there, topless. It was fun to look at everyone’s breasts, and you could see people’s dicks too. You weren’t allowed to comment on them if they were bent, but you’d know,” says an anonymous female medicine student to our reporter. She is talking about the Shaft (Skakten in Danish).
Until recently, the Shaft was a small room off the place where the Fredagsbaren (Friday drinks night) took place in the Panum complex, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen. The Shaft was closed off recently in connection with the construction of the new Maersk Building – Panum Tower. To enter the Shaft you had to be either topless or bottomless. It’s infamous – a reference understood by all students of medicine. Is there a unique sex culture at the University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences? And what do you find if you, in the Freudian sense, get to the bottom of the Shaft?
“Students of medicine are used to seeing people naked and thus develop a relaxed and no-nonsense relationship to nudity. Seeing people topless at Fredagsbaren – so what? It is what it is. It’s a part of the everyday when you’re always in contact with the body and its functions,” says Camilla Skovbjerg Paldam, who researches sexuality and pornography at Aarhus University.
As well as having demystified the human body, the fascination with sex at Medicine might also have something to with perhaps biggest taboo in the world of medicine: the mix of the anatomical and sexual interest in the body. It shouldn’t, for example, be sexually arousing to check breasts for lumps.
“It’s definitely a popular taboo. There are many cartoons about gynaecologists”, says Camilla Skovbjerg Paldam. Not only satire, but lots of pornography and semi-erotic novels are about transgressing this taboo.
On MOK.dk, the online home of the student magazine for medicine students at the University of Copenhagen, they’ve put up a medicine-themed version of Cards Against Humanity. The black cards have incomplete sentences on them: “When we did your wife’s autopsy we found …” or “Have you heard that … cures cancer?”. The white cards fill out the blanks: “semen”, “masturbating on a sleeping patient” and “gynaecological instruments in the wrong hole”. Or “waking up in the Shaft“.
“As long as no-one is harmed by the activities and as long as it’s something the students themselves seek out, then the responsibility lies with them. It’s the same with my literature – you choose whether or not to read it,” says Professor Jørgen Olsen, Head of Studies in Medicine. He also writes erotic novels.
His 2013 debut ‘Blue Shock’ takes place at a university’s health sciences faculty (read: the University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences). Jørgen Olsen has never hid that he moonlights as an erotic novelist. And he posed in Dagens Medicin (Danish medicine website) in a suit with his wife on a leash and in latex.
“I believe that a public, democratic institution like the University of Copenhagen should have room for people writing literature in their spare time. On Facebook I like a union that throws fetish parties. Is that a problem? Students and management surely can’t be offended that you have a sexuality that you explore in some way or another,” says Jørgen Olsen.
We wanted to use a picture of the Shaft for this article, but Husgruppen, the student club that arranges parties and Fredagsbaren at the Faculty, don’t allow photos:
“We’re not keen on photographs because the club is where we let lose. People down shots. And in five years’ time these people will be responsible for your life. That’s asking for a tabloid frontpage – ‘Here’s is your doctor – drunk!’ – and we want to avoid that,” says Markus Olsen, member of Husgruppen.
In an age where a photograph has eternal life online, students are afraid to be deemed unprofessional. It’s fun to mix sex and medicine in a politically incorrect stew – just not on the job. Jørgen Olsen, for example, has agreed with his superiors not to write another novel set at a place too reminiscent of his own workplace. At Medicine, they take their work seriously. But when they drop the scrubs and celebrate the weekend, there’s no reason not to genre-blend Atlas of Human Anatomy with Cosmopolitan.
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