Friday FREAK OUT! Tweetstorm about abstinence education: CHEERS to Alice Dreger!

This week Alice Dreger did something I’ve been wanting to do for years. She went to a high school class that had outside presenters talking about abstinence, and she LIVE-TWEETED it. And what she heard was outrageous, and unfortunately, for someone who has researched and reviewed abstinence-based curricula, I’m not surprised:

As she highlights during her tweetstorm, programs like these are using fear as a way to discourage sexual activity, and ignore and dismiss pleasure as a key component of a healthy sexual interaction. I’ve seen this over and over again. SIECUS has some thorough and useful reviews of abstinence based programs, and as Alice and her son found, research is showing the negative impact that these programs have on young people.

This story has gone viral this week- shared on nearly every email list, Facebook group and social media platform I participate in! Alice shared a full account of her experience attending her son’s the class on The Stranger, and has already gotten international attention in outlets like Huffpo, buzzfeed, mtvnews, and feministing. (And a bit of push back in her own local paper The Lansing State Journal)

And major kudos go to Alice for modeling healthy communication with her son about not only sex and sexuality, but also educational methods and critically thinking about class content. We want young people to learn how to take in information and then examine its relevance and worth.

And, sure science has a key place in evaluating content quality, but we also want young people to be able to decide for themselves if a message rings true for them and be able to put it aside if it doesn’t jive with their values or beliefs.

And even MORE kudos to Alice for highlighting the role of pleasure in sexual activity. (And it’s not the first time! In May 2014 she wrote an article for Pacific Standard titled, What if We Admitted to Children That Sex Is Primarily About Pleasure?)

Let’s keep freaking out about how ‘educational’ programs that are fear-based and that focus on scaring teens are destructive and ill-conceived. Instead let’s support education that helps equip people to make healthy decisions using critical thinking skills based on real life circumstances. Sex is exciting, intriguing, and can in fact be pleasurable!

Thank you, Alice Dreger, for speaking out against fear-based abstinence education and speaking UP for pleasure.

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Friday FREAK OUT! Consent, just like a cuppa tea

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“hey, would you like a cup of tea?”

In the last week or so, I’ve seen one particular blog post about consent pop up several times in my Facebook feed, Twitter, and  yep, it made it to Buzzfeed. In this post, Consent: Not actually that complicated, blogger Emmeline May compares seeking consent to offering someone a cup of tea:

…imagine instead of initiating sex, you’re making them a cup of tea.

You say “hey, would you like a cup of tea?” and they go “omg fuck yes, I would fucking LOVE a cup of tea! Thank you!*” then you know they want a cup of tea.

If you say “hey, would you like a cup of tea?” and they um and ahh and say, “I’m not really sure…” then you can make them a cup of tea or not, but be aware that they might not drink it, and if they don’t drink it then – this is the important bit –  don’t make them drink it. You can’t blame them for you going to the effort of making the tea on the off-chance they wanted it; you just have to deal with them not drinking it. Just because you made it doesn’t mean you are entitled to watch them drink it.

If they say “No thank you” then don’t make them tea. At all. Don’t make them tea, don’t make them drink tea, don’t get annoyed at them for not wanting tea. They just don’t want tea, ok?

And so on… (you should definitely read the whole post!)

Her post, written in a very approachable, colloquial, conversational tone, has people freakin’ out a bit- mostly in good ways.  (And from her follow-up post, seems like she’s had a bit of a freak-out, too, given the attention her blog is suddenly getting in response to her tea analogy post- from an average of 13 views/day to 30,000!) Emmeline’s blog, Rockstar Dinosaur Pirate Princess, isn’t focused on sexual assault prevention, it’s not a bog about sex/sexuality specifically, it’s a blog written by a young woman sharing her voice. Her posts vary in topic, but often discuss feminism, intersections, bodies, and she actually started her blog as part of her journey to not drink alcohol for a given period of time (initially 3 months, then it shifted to a year). So I think that her post on consent, which she wrote as a “short one” not imagining that it would go viral, appeals to people’s need to talk about consent as an everyday activity, in everyday terms. Much of the recent dialogue about consent has been shrouded in controversy, legalese, and policy debacles, and her post is more about understanding the concept of consent and how to apply it in real life. It reminds me of peer-to-peer messaging (she even shares that the post was inspired by her conversation with someone else!), helping others to realize that practicing consent can be straightforward.

However, sometimes life really isn’t that simple. As my friend and colleague Meredith White shares, “Where consent becomes complicated is when you factor in power, which this analogy does not address. A power differential can make “no” difficult or terrifying to say. A lack of power can quash a person’s agency, which is necessary in order to articulate desires.” As more and more people encounter Emmeline’s tea analogy, it’s important to encourage further critical thinking about the context and relationship of the tea drinkers, especially considering power dynamics and individual agency.

In a perfect world, consent would be as simple as having tea, however it’s going to take more education and skills development, with consistent messaging about how consent is essential, mandatory, ongoing, and also best when enthusiastic! So let’s still freak out about tea, but maybe with a grain of salt.

 

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Resource Highlight: The Sex Ed Store

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Description The Sex Ed Store is an outstanding resource for all things sex ed. There you can get a plethora of curricula on a range of topics, you can get a contraception kit, and it’s run by the amazing Center for Sex Education (CSE). A few examples of print resources available include Sex Ed in the Digital Age, Teaching Transgender Toolkit, and Older Wiser, Sexually Smarter. If you’re interested in learning more about some of the lessons published in curricula available at the Sex Ed Store, check out Sexually Smarter, a blog by the CSE.

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Using this resource The store is there for you! Anyone can order from the online store, although the resources available are admittedly geared towards educators. The lesson plans may supplement curricula, since many manuals are set up to be buffet-style (pick and choose what you like), or the curriculum can stand on its own. Some manuals do assume a certain level of training and education for the facilitator, but fortunately the Center for Sex Education also provides training sessions!

Why I like it The Sex Ed store has resources developed and edited by some of the leading professionals in the field. Many of their curricula consist of lesson plans written by different sexuality educators, incorporating diverse voices and perspectives. Their resources are peer-reviewed and are thoughtful and relevant. In addition, the Center for Sex Education makes sure to update their manuals regularly so they are reflective of current issues and trends. The curricula also have easy-to-use lesson plans with clear instructions and rationales, utilizing sound educational approaches. There are resources for people of all ages- young adolescents, young adults, and older adults. Lastly, sexuality educators are often invited to submit contributions, so it can be a great way for your ideas to be shared with the larger community.

How you can get it Visit the website to order (or preorder) resources. The Sex Ed Store also makes appearances at events and conferences, especially the Center for Sex Education’s annual conference.

Note! I will likely cover some specific resources from the Sex Ed Store in future posts, so stay tuned!

Friday FREAK OUT! Sex Ed on the Daily Show

This week sexuality education got national attention on the ever-popular Daily Show. In Clark County, Las Vegas, teens are lobbying the school district to incorporate comprehensive sexuality education into the curriculum, sparking debate among teens and parents. One parent in particular, “Princeton mom” Susan Patton, has been vocal in her objection, stating that sex ed should not be taught in school at all, and that parents and faith leaders should be the ones teaching young people about sexuality.

The Daily Show’s Jordan Klepper took a moment to interview not only Susan Patton, but also a group of teens to hear their input on what they want to learn about in sex ed and what questions they have, airing this past Wednesday:

In addition to providing some comedic relief, this story highlights several different freak outs that some people have about sex ed:

  • Teens freak out because they need and want information and resources they’re not getting. “Sex ed is really important because we need to be able to make healthy, responsible, educated decisions about our own bodies.” -Teen
  • Teens freak out because their parents aren’t great resources on sexuality. “Parents only know so much on this issue. Parents aren’t always there!” -Teen; “Thinking about my mom teaching me about the clitoris. I just vomited in my mouth a little bit.” -Jordan Klepper
  • Parents freak out because they don’t want their kids to get information about sex. “Nobody wants to talk about these facts, it makes them uncomfortable.” -Jordan Klepper
  • Parents freak out because they think that kids just want to have sex (in any interpretation of that broad term). “Do they really want knowledge or do they really want sex?” -Susan Patton
  • Parents freak out because they have to answer questions and provide information that they are not comfortable with. “If it’s that awkward for parents to talk to their children about sexual behavior, then you have to find a website, sit your child down in front of it and say, look, google it.” -Susan Patton
  • Teens freak out because their parents are freaking out.

Wow- lots of freaking out! (And that’s not even all the freak-outs!)

Really, sexuality education should be a multi-pronged approach (maybe not necessarily including the Wolf of Ball Street, the Daily Show’s fact based porn that will get you off…of unsafe sex). So in one regard, Susan Patton is right, that parents do need to talk openly and honestly with their kids about sexuality, relationships, decision-making, values and so on. AND kids need to learn critical information, facts and resources from teachers at school. AND faith communities can offer further learning environments that provide safe spaces for critical thinking and dialogue. AND as individuals we can learn more by reading books, utilizing web-based resources, and talking with friends and family members.

Sex ed should not exist in a vacuum, at only one time in only one place. We need to embrace a continued learning approach because we grow and change throughout our lives, gaining new experiences and perspectives along the way- especially in regards to sexuality. Let’s stop talking about sex ed as a “one and done” approach implemented by just one person. Sexuality education needs to be taken on by parents, teachers, faith leaders, AND the individual.

Kudos to the Daily Show, for showcasing the needs teens have for accurate information and making fun of the preposterous idea that sex ed does not belong in school.

50 Shades of Grey: I read it so you don’t have to

*Note to my readers: spoiler alert! If you don’t want to know what happens in the 50 Shades trilogy, I recommend not reading this post past the “Here Goes”.

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Every once in a while, a book will be so popular its influence is undeniable. For better or for worse, 50 Shades of Grey, by E.L. James, is one of those books. Since its publication in 2011, over one hundred million copies of the book have been sold, and the film is about to hit the screens on February 13, 2015. In April 2012, Time magazine included author EL James in a list of “100 Most Influential People in the World”. 50 Shades of Grey is now a common household reference- it seems like everyone knows about it, and it’s safe to say a good chunk of people have read the series (or at least tried to).

What’s the big deal about 50 Shades? In a nutshell, it’s wildly popular trashy erotica. It originated as Twilight fan fiction, first posted under the title Master of the Universe with characters even named after Edward and Bella. After some push back on the sexual nature of the series, James removed the story from fan fiction sites and eventually posted the reworked original piece as 50 Shades of Grey. So its popularity most likely stems from the following first gained in the Twilight scene.

Is it any good? In my opinion (which I know many others share), the books are poorly written, lack character development, have painfully predictable plot lines, glorify some very unhealthy relationship behaviors, and the sex scenes are remarkably similar- you’ve read one or two, you’ve read them all. But I guess some people must like the books- or else how would they be so popular? Maybe people read them out of simple curiosity, maybe a socially acceptable way to learn more about BDSM (bondage/discipline, dominant/submissive, sadism/masochism) and/or read about sex, or maybe just because it was available at the right time in the right place. Or maybe because it’s somehow become socially acceptable to read this particular erotica- people are reading it on the subway, on airplanes, in waiting rooms.

Why did I read the series? I knew about the series well before picking the books up myself, and heard friends and colleagues say they tried to read it but couldn’t make it past the first few chapters. By the time I read the first book, 50 Shades was already part of regular conversations among sexuality educators. And I delved into them and read all three books for several reasons:

  • People kept on asking me about it. They know I’m a sexuality educator, and wanted to know what I thought. Therefore, I wanted to have an informed opinion.
  • I knew that my audience, my sex ed participants would have read 50 Shades or at least heard of it, and frankly I didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of them! Plus it’s helpful to have an idea of where your participants are coming from in terms of how/what they’ve learned about sex.
  • I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. Why THIS book? What could be captivating people THIS MUCH?
  • To write this blog post, and provide a service to my fellow educators. Reading the series was annoying, frustrating, and left a bad taste in my mouth, and it’s THREE books. But sexuality educators NEED to know something about 50 Shades, because we can’t go around pretending it hasn’t impacted our culture on some level. So in this post I’m going to point out key components of the book that would be critical to know about in your role as an educator. (You can also read more on Wikipedia about the series.)

 

So here goes!  Continue reading

Friday FREAK OUT! UVA Sororities banned from frat parties: an ill-advised strategy

The University of Virginia, like many other colleges and universities nationwide, is struggling to address campus sexual assault. In the current climate, people feel called to take some action to prevent further assaults from taking place, and it seems that some of these actions are well-intentioned yet ill-advised.

The Washington Post reported this week that 16 of UVA’s sorority chapters in the National Panhellenic Conference were banned from attending fraternity parties this weekend in order to ensure their safety. Many students are outraged at this mandate, a decision that demonstrates an attitude that women are weak and need to be protected.

This action also neglects to hold those people who are engaging in coercive behaviors or committing acts of violence accountable for their actions. I’m tired of ‘prevention tactics’ that lay the sole responsibility on potential victims- yes we all need to do our best to stay safe, but really people need to NOT commit acts of violence.

You bet I’m freaking out about this one, alongside a slew of others (I particularly like how Mary Sanchez responded in her piece Sorority strictures are a retrograde reaction to campus sexual assault) and many students who have every right to be frustrated and upset by these top-down, ‘holding the victim responsible’ actions.

‘Prevention’ measures that don’t address the root of the problem of sexual assault- one person taking control of another, engaging in behaviors without the consent of another person- only change the environment that the assault takes place in. Assault may take place while alcohol is involved or at a frat party, but it’s not the REASON. Let’s spend our efforts and energies looking to education and changing the culture in which consent is overlooked, bypassed, or ignored to one where consent is expected and respected.

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Resource Highlight: Our Whole Lives

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Description
Our Whole Lives is a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum available for six different age levels (grades k-1, grades 4-6, grades 7-9, grades 10-12, young adult, and adult), developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the United Church of Christ (UCC). This program can be combined with the Sexuality and Our Faith supplements, available for each level.

In-depth training sessions are available for would-be facilitators of the program, that usually take place over one weekend. Training sessions provide facilitators with a strong understanding of the Our Whole Lives values, key facilitation and implementation skills, tips on teaching about critical topic areas, and an opportunity to practice through peer facilitation. Check out the list of upcoming trainings on either the UUA or UCC training list websites.

The Sexuality and our Faith supplement includes an optional visual component for the grades 7-9 and 10-12 levels, available to facilitators from UUA or UCC congregations who have attended an OWL training and are approved by their Trainers.

Using this resource
While designed by the UUA and UCC, the curricula can be implemented in either faith-based or secular settings- any faith-based material is only included in the supplemental material. Note, the lesson plans in the curricula for grades K-1, 4-6, and 7-9 are intended to be used sequentially and in full. The lesson plans in the grades 10-12, young adult, and adult programs can be more loosely implemented, using the audience to identify which topics will be included in the program to meet the needs and interests of the group.

Why I like it
The Our Whole Lives program is not only well crafted and intentionally written, it is respected in the field of sexuality education as a model curriculum. It is easy to use for even an inexperienced facilitator, and engages participants in critical thinking while also providing key information. In addition, the OWL values make it clear that the program stands for something, and that something will hopefully help participants be healthy sexual beings.

Plus, this is a comprehensive program that provides age-appropriate learning for people of ALL ages, because we are sexual beings from the moment we come into existence until we die, and we all need to explore this complex topic of sexuality throughout our lives- not just once (or even just twice). We bend and grow and stretch all the time, let’s do that with our sexual development, too.

I also have a strong personal connection to this program. I am a facilitator for all six age levels and a Trainer for middle/high school and adult/young adult levels, and has informed my personal and professional development in profound ways. Of course I selected this resource as my first resource highlight!

How can you get it
Visit the UUA Bookstore or the UCC website to purchase the curricula and/or supplements. Cost of the curricula are $40 (grades K-1, 4-6, young adult), $60 (grades 10-12, adult), and $75 (grades 7-9). Supplements range from $8 to $18.