Unequal Partners, Our Whole Lives, and the Sex Ed Conference: 2015 was a busy year!

Goal For The 2015Some really exciting things happening in my personal life aside, 2015 was a year of incredible growth and opportunity! Thus, I had a little less time than I had hoped to work on my blog. So, what was I doing?!

Unequal Partners: Teaching about Power, Consent & Healthy Relationships, 4th Edition

Some time ago, the Executive Director of the Center for Sex Education asked me to edit and update their teaching manual, Unequal Partners. Originally written in the late 1990s by award-winning sexuality educators Sue Montfort and Peggy Brick, the focus had been on preventing teen pregnancies, especially when teen girls were in relationships with older male partners. The lesson plans drew heavily on focus group research conducted by Lyn Phillips, and incorporated opportunities for participants to learn from the experiences shared by the research subjects. In subsequent editions, the editors added more and more on exploring power differentials in general, and developing healthy relationship skills. And along with the times, lessons were adapted and added to be inclusive of same-sex relationships. The 3rd edition, published in 2007, has 30 lesson plans, and also includes several lessons on the legal components of consent.

The 4th edition, which is AT THE PRINTER RIGHT NOW!!!, has a total of 50 lesson plans divided into two volumes- one for participants ages 10-17, one for college-age participants. The manual is now organized into sections, so that facilitators can easily identify the relevant topic. And it’s designed as a choose-your-own adventure resource- you don’t have to do all the lessons in the manual, and there’s no one set way of implementing them (because every group and program is different, and I truly believe in the power of ‘facilitator’s choice’ for program design).

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When I first started working on the project, I recognized how much the narrative of consent has changed in the last decade, and how few curricula address how to navigate the conversation around consent. In addition to understanding the legal age of consent and possible repercussions for engaging in sexual activity with someone who is underage, we need to help young people communicate about consent, read non-verbal cues, and understand the influence of power dynamics in relationships. I know that truly understanding healthy relationships is a lot more than just listing characteristics like respect, trust, honesty, and communication, it’s also about conflict resolution, decision-making, asking someone out, handling rejection, and thinking about break-ups. And many of the issues of power that exist between partners of different ages could also be problematic among partners of the same age, and that a critical learning moment will help participants dissect and unpack POWER as an issue, rather than age.

As I started working on this project, the national dialogue on campus sexual assault and mandated consent education had really started amping up, which highlighted the lack of resources available for this population. I’m really excited about the 20 lessons for college age participants in the 2nd volume, almost all of which are new, and many offering guidance on hot topics, such as BDSM & consent.

This was a pretty epic project- there was a call for lesson plans from contributing authors, I carefully reviewed and updated the existing lesson plans (cutting some, combining others), and there were a few key concepts that I really wanted to make sure were included, so I either invited colleagues to submit a specific lesson or threw one together myself. For example, Meredith White, Julia Scheinbeim & Lindsay Fram co-wrote the lesson plan in volume two Stone Cold Sober, Buzz Buzz Buzz, Totally Wasted, which explores substance use and consent. In response to some relevant current issues, I put together the lesson Tears, Smears & Fears, looking at what can happen after a break-up, such as overwhelming emotions, smearing behaviors like revenge porn, and stalking. Plus the project entailed a massive amount of formatting and copy-editing, and I was incredibly thankful for the wisdom and expertise provided by Bill Taverner and Mary Lynn Koval.

Working on this manual was both fun and thought-provoking, and of course at times challenging! It’s not easy to keep audience, facilitator, scope, and content in mind all at the same time. I hope that it is helpful for facilitators and educators in a variety of settings who are seeking to incorporate concepts of power, consent, and healthy relationships into their programs.

Are you SOLD? You can order your copy today!! http://www.sexedstore.com/unequal-partners-4th-ed/

Our Whole Lives, grades 4-6, 2nd Edition

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The 1st edition was published in 1999.

Not long after I started working on editing and revising Unequal Partners, I was asked to co-author the revisions to the 4th-6th grade Our Whole Lives curriculum, alongside the brilliant and inspiring Amy Johnson. Even though I already had an editing project on my hands, I knew this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up!

The Our Whole Lives program holds a very special place in my heart. Not only is it one of the first programs I was ever trained to facilitate as a sexuality educator, I participated in the program that preceded Our Whole Lives, called About Your Sexuality, when I was in 8th grade, and in large part is the reason I am a sexuality educator and trainer today. Our Whole Lives expanded on all the good aspects of About Your Sexuality– the intentional environment, the comprehensive approach to learning about sexuality, the value of sexuality as a positive aspect of life, and the focus on respect and relationship- and applied it to not only middle school students, but people of all ages in a developmentally appropriate manner. Our Whole Lives is comprised of six different curricula, one for Kindergarten-1st grade, 4th-6th grades, 7th-9th grades, 10th-12th grades, young adult, and adult. Our Whole Lives is a collaboration between the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ, and includes a secular resource with an optional faith supplement for each curriculum.

The 4th-6th grade curriculum happens to be my favorite age group to lead for Our Whole Lives. 10-12 year olds are experiencing a lot of change, are often eager to learn, and will still play and have fun without worrying too much about what that means. Amy and I were excited to build on what was already a strong program. Originally written in the mid-90s (published in 1999), the program needed a refresh to reflect shifts in our language about gender, sexual orientation, among other topics, plus we wanted to added some topics related to media literacy and body image.

Amy and I worked closely together to revise the curriculum, thinking carefully about how will 10-12 year olds respond to various activities, language, and content. We agreed that 8 lessons wasn’t quite enough, so the 2nd edition will feature 10 one-hour workshops. It’s also remarkable how much of sexuality education at that age is about learning vocabulary, so we added a Word Bank, with new words added to the Bank each lesson, which will remain up and visible for the rest of the program.

The process for revising this curriculum was very different from Unequal Partners– each workshop was collaboratively written by me and Amy, sent to a team of reviewers, and then we revised the workshop based on feedback. And now that our work is done, the curriculum is currently being field-tested in a variety of settings nationwide, after which final revisions will be made.

So STAY TUNED on when the 2nd edition of Our Whole Lives for grades 4-6 will be available for purchase!

Consent: So Simple, Yet Oh So Very Complicated…Keynote at the National Sex Ed Conference

Yet another exciting opportunity came my way when I was asked to give a keynote presentation for the National Sex Ed Conference on the topic of consent. What a year!

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That’s me, talking with my hands! And right in front of the Racial Justice Solidarity statement. Rad, indeed.

With this opportunity, I wanted to highlight the national conversation on consent, share some insights on how college students in particular have been taking up the issue, and add some depth to the conversation because I truly believe that consent can be quite complicated. Building on the thoughts and ideas that went into Unequal Partners, I sought to demonstrate the need for messages that are simple and straightforward, and that make great t-shirts and memes, but also touch on the complexities of relationships (of any duration, seriousness, or commitment) and power dynamics.

This project was also a challenge! My jam is far more facilitation- asking participants questions and really allowing their insights to drive the lesson and conversation. In preparing for this keynote, I had to get ready to talk TO a group of about 500 people for AN HOUR! Switching gears to presentation mode was truly a moment of growth for me, and entailed more than a small bit of research and reading up on crafting an engaging talk, rather than a workshop! Although I did ask people to turn to their neighbors and discuss messages about consent. I just couldn’t resist!

This was fun, though. I’ve enjoyed learning and growing at the National Sex Ed Conference for five years now, and this experience was just the same- encouraging me to truly think about what do sexuality educators need to be thinking about.

Want to check it out? The video from my keynote will be posted in the coming weeks, I’ll post the link once it’s live! More info about the conference can be found: http://sexedconference.com

In Reflection of 2015

2015 was HUGE! Two big teaching manual editing projects and prepping and giving my first keynote presentation all in my ‘spare’ time, I’m trying to not be too hard on myself for the lapse in blog posts. And I couldn’t have done it alone- I had many friends and loved ones that have helped and supported me through the journey of 2015!

Now, what’s in store for 2016? Hopefully a few more posts, including in terms of resource highlights, recent reads and Friday Freak Outs, and please bear with me as I balance it all!

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Friday FREAK OUT! Update the curricula! #SCOTUS ruling on marriage equality changes everything 

If you had asked me 15 years ago if one day, everyone would be able to legally marry in every state in the country, I would have replied with hopeful skepticism. I am awe-struck and downright giddy about the monumental decision by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) to make marriage accessible to anyone regardless of gender identity. When I started teaching sexuality education in the early 2000s, I thought we would forever be adding statements into lesson plans instructing facilitators to check the state’s laws on who can marry whom. I am absolutely thrilled that from now on, curricula authors get to leave that out! No more special footnotes or instructions, we just get to talk about getting married or not married as a thing for everyone and anyone. 

So, hats off to SCOTUS, for requiring revisions to all published sex ed curricula and making future ones easier to write! 

  

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