The institute grew out of research in the 1960s highlighting the general lack of understanding and formal training in human sexuality. Its library and archives were a collection of adult films, academic sexological and erotological resources, and sex therapy training materials.
Like all post-secondary schools in California, IASHS was required by California law to register with the State of California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education, an anti-fraud or anti-diploma mill unit of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. IASHS had BPPE “approval to operate”, which means that IASHS met the minimum legal standards for “offering of bona fide instruction by qualified faculty”. That approval was discontinued in 2014. In 2017, the institute’s attempt to renew operation was denied.
The path that led to the founding of the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in 1976 began in 1962 with a program called the National Young Adult Project (NYAP). Originating in the then Methodist Church, the NYAP ultimately became an ecumenical project that included the Evangelical United Brethren, Presbyterian Church USA, and United Church of Christ denominations on the national level. Other church bodies (African Methodist Episcopal, American Baptist, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Protestant Episcopal, United Presbyterian Church in the USA, and Lutheran Church of America) also participated on a regional or local level. Dr. Ted McIlvenna (1932-2018), a Methodist minister, and cofounder, owner and president of the institute, headed the San Francisco project for the NYAP. Of the 50+ nationwide projects the NYAP developed by 1968, only the three connected to him and to Glide Memorial Methodist Church had anything to do with sexuality issues. McIlvenna believed that there was a lack of research on human sexuality and the absence of demonstrated effective training and educational methodologies. A meeting in 1967 at the Institute for Sex Research led to the formation of the National Sex Forum as part of the Glide Foundation to address this lack.
By 1974, it was clear to the forum that a free-standing institute dedicated to the study of and education and training in the emerging field of sexology was required. They divided the creation of the academic institute as: McIlvenna to re-envision the Forum as an academic setting; Laird Sutton to collect a graphic-resource library; Herbert Vandervoort to organize and prepare the academic work of the study team; and Marguerite Rubenstein, Loretta Haroian, and Phyllis Lyon to define the professional training standards for the new academically trained professional sexologists.Wardell Pomeroy was the first Academic Dean.
The institute was integral to the development of humanistic sexology, emphasizing experiential techniques and sexual pleasure over positivist empiricism. The culture of casual as well as clinical nudity and the inclusion of various bodywork and erotic massage techniques led to the institute being nicknamed “Hot Tub University” or “Fuck U” by some critics. The inclusion of Reichian therapy and other techniques not well founded in research similarly led to criticism.
Degrees were offered in Master of Human Sexuality, Master of Public Health in Human Sexuality, and Doctor of Human Sexuality, as well as Doctor of Education and Doctor of Philosophy degrees with a focus in sexology and erotology. They also offered professional certificates.
Coursework varied by degree sought, but included formal academic lectures, group-based discussion, video lectures and webinars (which may be undertaken off-site as part of a distance education program), and hands-on training in therapy and bodywork. Research-based degrees included independent or directed use of the institute’s extensive primary and secondary archives of sexological material.
Quackwatch identifies the institute as a “Questionable Organization”. In a 2014 news article about the institution, IASHS founder Dr. Ted McIlvenna said: “We don’t take federal money and that’s why we won’t be accredited by the traditional state agencies. We don’t want to be handcuffed as to what we can provide, say and do. We’ve been approached by accrediting bodies run by Mormons and Roman Catholics that wanted us to change our code of ethics to promote contraception and change our name to reflect ‘family and marriage counseling’ instead of sexuality. We won’t do it.”
In addition to its educational and archival mission, the institute engaged in outreach, such as teaching sex education to underserved teenagers in demographics at high risk for pregnancy. Ted McIlvenna, president of the institute, favored a curriculum focusing on teaching teenagers techniques for “obtaining healthy, respectful relationships with their partners” rather than abstinence-only sex education. The institute produced safe sex books, videos, and assorted paraphernalia. The archives included hundreds of thousands of adult films, as well as documents tracing the development of sexology as a field of research and training and educational materials; together, they comprised one of the most comprehensive sexological and erotological resource centers in the world.
^“Approval by Means of Accreditation Overview”. Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education. Retrieved 5 April 2013. Q. Does the Bureau accredit institutions? A. No. The Bureau approves a person to operate an institution in California. An approval to operate signifies that an institution is in compliance with state standards as set forth in the Private Postsecondary Education Act. Only accrediting agencies can accredit an institution. Accreditation is a voluntary non-governmental review process. On the other hand, state approval is mandatory for a person operating an institution subject to the California Private Postsecondary Education Act of 2009.