Am I a Sexuality Educator, or a Be-A-Nice-Person Educator?

As a sexuality educator, I teach about a lot of different topics- contraception, sexuality transmitted infections (STIs), reproduction, anatomy, relationships, violence prevention, values, consent, pleasure, and the list goes on. However, there’s a theme that is ever-present in my work. At the end of the day, a lot of my lessons end with the message, “Be a nice person”.

For example, in a lesson about contraception, I emphasize, be a nice person and make sure you and your sexual partner are on the same page about preventing pregnancy (or not!). In a lesson about STIs, be a nice person and get tested so that you don’t unknowingly expose someone else to an STI. In a lesson about values, be a nice person and respect someone else’s values about sexual expression. In a lesson about consent, be a nice person and make sure that your sexual partner is consenting (preferably enthusiastically!) to all sexual activities. In a lesson about pleasure, be a nice person and think about whether your partner is experiencing pleasure.

Sexuality is so much about being in relationships- with another person, with oneself, with society, with family. And relationships are tough- sometimes we can say the most hurtful things to the people we love the most (including ourselves). It can be easy (and human) to be respond to conflict or disagreement or confusion with yelling, put-downs, passive-aggressive BS, coercion, or the silent treatment. Being a nice person is not always easy- it takes active listening, thoughtful consideration, and sometimes sheer magic. Plus, many people were not taught this critical skill, and it certainly isn’t modeled very regularly in our society. (Need a little help? Wikihow has some helpful suggestions that apply in all sorts of related situations.)

The message, “be a nice person”, is a great alternative to the ‘don’t do this’, ‘don’t do that’ message. Those ‘don’ts’ often get conflated into fear-based messages of, DO THIS AND YOU’LL DIE/SUFFER/HURT SOMEONE. Yes, our actions can hurt others, and yes, we need to be aware of how to prevent harm to others. One of the most basic, fundamental ways we can accomplish that goal is to “BE A NICE PERSON!”

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Friday FREAK OUT! #Feministsareugly reminds us to be beautiful

What’s trending on the sexuality front this week? The hashtag #feministsareugly has grabbed the attention of feminists and anti-feminists worldwide, and the Twitterverse is freakin’ out.

The hashtag first appeared a little over two weeks ago, and many assumed that it was coined by misogynst, antifeminist crusaders, following in the footsteps of other hashtags like #Idontneedfeminism and #womenagainstfeminism that have been flooding people’s twitter feeds all summer. (News outlets and blogs added to the confusion of the hashtag’s origins with posts such as Feminists are posting stunning selfies to mock #feministsareugly hashtag and Feminists hit back by posting stunning selfies.)

However, the hashtag was actually coined by feminists @LilyBolourian and @Cheuya in order to change the narrative about women of color and standards of beauty. Studentbeans.com did a great piece: This is why #Feministsareugly is a brilliant hashtag. And @LilyBolourian has been particularly vocal about the origins and purpose behind the hashtag:

 

Lily shared with me that the hashtag was inspired by a need to respond to both…

misogynist trolls judging women’s appearances and fellow feminists pearl-clutching because they felt that our way of hitting back against patriarchy was somehow reinforcing it.

But in the end…

There is no proper or right way to feminist.

And the call for selfies was also from the hashtag creators:

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Resulting in TONS of amazing selfies from feminists- both women and men! (Yay men!)

No matter what, it’s has certainly inspired a dialogue over feminism, objectification, standards of beauty, etc:

Over at HuffPoUK, they wonder if feminists are missing the point:

We understand these women are trying to point out the ridiculousness of the ‘ugly feminist’ stereotype, but are they really re-claiming the phrase or just playing into the hands of the aforementioned chauvinistic pig?

Feminists believe in equal rights, which in turn means believing in an end to the objectification of women. But by posting selfies, are some not promoting the objectification of women by inviting others to judge their ‘hotness’?

But what do we do with this hashtag now that people are freakin’ out about it? Certainly many have taken the opportunity to speak out about the value of self expression, about their views on feminism, about the evils of misogyny, and the importance of getting your story straight before you post it!

I think this particular freak out in and of itself highlights the variety of opinion and the strength of individuality, and how we need to honor and respect people no matter how they express themselves or what they look like. It can be hard to disagree with someone else, but it can be done respectfully, without dragging them under the bus for who they are. Twitter has become a hotbed of trash-talking, by opponents and allies of feminism alike, and #feministsareugly reminds us to be beautiful, own that beauty and respect the beauty of others.

Friday FREAK OUT! Choose Purity, OR DIE!

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Making the rounds this week is a story about yet another Purity Ball (purity balls have in fact been happening since 1998), in which young girls pledge that they will abstain from sex until they get married, often pledging themselves to their fathers until their wedding day (creepy, right?!). This particular Purity Ball, ‘Choose Purity’, is getting a little more attention, though, because it was co-sponsored by a PUBLIC AGENCY, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Can I say that again? It was co-sponsored by a government entity, which has absolutely no place hosting an event that is steeped in religiosity and drenched in FEAR mongering.

The Las Vegas Sun reported that the event featured the “Toe Tag Monologues” in order to drive home the message that engaging in premarital sex means death- complete with someone being rolled out in a body bag.
20140509-185105.jpg So what does this purity ball tell us happens when you have sex? The Sun summed it up really well:

Typically four things: sexual assault, gangs, drugs and prostitution.

This is wrong on so many levels that I can barely explain it. (For some other great posts on this, click here, here, here, here, and oh so many more so just google ‘Choose Purity’ May 3, 2014.) Here are five thoughts that I can construct about this:

*Yes, there are risks involved in having sex. But so are there risks crossing the street- but people still do it. Safely. (Well, some more safely than others.)
*Yes, abstinence is a great option for some people, but not for everyone and it’s certainly not a panacea.
*Yes, we need to talk about those risks, but in a REAL way, not in an extreme, overdramatized, this-will-never-happen-to-me way.
*Yes, we need to talk about how people can be safe, by using actual, real-life, ordinary examples- because that’s where the tough stuff sits.
*Yes, it’s possible that having sex isn’t such a bad thing after all, when it’s safe, consensual, mutual, and pleasurable. (gasp!)

I guess that’s why my blog is about being fearLESS.

For more about the icky purity ball scene, check out:
Welcome to the Bizarre and Beautiful World of Purity Balls, on the Huffington Post
Purity, a photography book by David Magnussun
The Purity Pledge and America’s Modern Virginity Movement, a documentary available on YouTube, for FREE
and I’m not gonna leave this out out:
Many Teens Don’t Keep Virginity Pledges, an article outlining research results also showing that pledgers are also less likely to use condoms when they do have sex.

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Friday FREAK OUT! What can we learn from First Kiss video featuring strangers kissing

Earlier this week a video was posted to Youtube called First Kiss (also known as 20 Strangers Kissing). Within 24 hours, it had over 20 million views. As of this post, it’s got over 44 million.

That is basically the definition of VIRAL. It’s been called beautiful, touching, gorgeous, and strangely sweet. It’s also be described as cringy-cute and a bad first date- probably because it was soon learned that the video is actually an ad for Wren, a clothing line. (Note, it’s being described as a viral win.)

But once you get past that the video is actually an advertisement and the individuals in the video are actors (selected in part for their attractive looks) and are not representative of your average human being and that it’s incredibly staged, there ARE lessons about sexuality that can be learned:

  • Mike Domritz, on the Date Safe Project website, points out that the video demonstrates that asking for consent- something demonstrated throughout this video- doesn’t have to ruin everything, and can in fact make everything better.
  • Daniel Garza, from the Examiner, points out that the video highlights that “you are a living, breathing, sexual person with needs.”
  • Marcie Bianco, on PolicyMic, points out that the video “gives credence to the idea of sexuality as an act, or an action. There is no difference between the nerves or intimacies of the men kissing women, the men kissing men or the women kissing other women.”

As with all my Friday Freak Outs, I encourage sexuality educators to use popular media as teachable moments. This video can spark interesting discussions around consent, sexual being-ness, and inclusivity. It could also spark discussions around intimacy, hook-up culture, and the use of sexuality in advertizing.  (It can also spark parody videos, like this one that is NSFW, or this one, which IS safe for work.) The possibilities are really endless.

Friday FREAK OUT! Johnny Weir’s Olympic Fashion Win takes him to the Oscars

The 2014 Sochi Olympics have come and gone, and there certainly were some outstanding athletic performances. But Johnny Weir, NBC figure skating commentator and former Olympian, clearly won the gold in fashion.

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His outfits got a ton of media attention, especially on Twitter and Instagram, and his fashion has been named a highlight of the games. Posts like Weir Watch and Johnny’s Outfit Tracker kept the public up to date on a daily basis. You can check out his full collection here.

His fashion and commentary has not ended with the Olympics, though. He and Tara Lipinski, his equally charming co-commentator and fashionista in Sochi, will be hosting the red carpet for the Oscars on Sunday night.

However, not everyone was super thrilled with Johnny’s style…gay CNN Don Lemon said, “No one likes a gay minstrel show.” For clarification, Lemon was referring to “someone who is flamboyant and over the top and all of those it seems those are the people who get the attention but they don’t represent all of gay America.”

Now that Weir is out and about and not going away, this can certainly become a teachable moment. There are so many ways that Johnny’s Olympic experience can be used in a sexuality education setting. Johnny models amazing self confidence and security in self identity, especially in an environment that posed considerable risk. Johnny demonstrates resilience after being criticized by big media outlets and individual Twitter users alike. Johnny also was a human- with challenges in the fur industry and his fishing debacle. All these qualities- confidence, resilience, humanity- are so important to remember when in a relationship, a sexual situation, or even when teaching!

Friday FREAK OUT! A big week for #MarriageEquality

This week has had so many incredible things happen that I can’t limit my post to just one story.

First, on Monday Michael Sam, a strong N.F.L. hopeful, announced that he is gay.

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Dale Hansen, a sportscaster from ABC News 8 in Dallas, TX hits it on the nose with his 2minutes and 15 seconds of commentary about how several officials from the NFL think it would be uncomfortable for someone to be gay in pro football- they wouldn’t be welcome in the locker room.

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This video has gone viral, with nearly 4 millions views on YouTube (and I think at least 5 of my Facebook friends posted it on their walls!) In his video he quotes Audre Lorde, “It is not our differences that divide us, it is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” to which he adds,

I want to beleive there will be a day when we do celebrate [those differences].

AMEN!

Then on Wednesday, a federal judge ruled that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. The ruling states that the government may define marriage and attach benefits to it, but cannot “impose a traditional or faith-based limitation” without a sufficient justification for it.”

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And on the heels of this landmark decision comes another court ruling that Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. “Our Constitution declares that ‘all men’ are created equal,” wrote Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, in Norfolk. “Surely this means all of us.” If the decision holds, then it could have significant repercussions in other states with constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage.

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Oh and let’s not forget that on Saturday Attorney General Eric Holder announced sweeping changes in the way that federal government treats same sex couples in the criminal justice system. They will no longer be treated differently in terms of filing bankruptcy, testifying in court, and visiting someone in prison.

So this was a BIG WEEK for EQUALITY (one of my favorite words!). And just in time for Valentines Day and #RespectWeek. Woohoo! Now go eat some chocolate and watch a sappy romance movie.