Looking for rainbows? Try JC Penney! Turning their ads into teachable moments

“First Pals: What makes Dad so cool? He’s the swim coach, tent maker, best friend, bike fixer and hug giver — all rolled into one. Or two.”

It is a rare occasion that I am able to really applaud the advertising efforts of a large company. However, JC Penny has made me proud in their use of same-sex couples in recent advertisements for mother’s day and father’s day. Even amid criticism and boycott for hiring gay actor Ellen DeGeneres to be their spokesperson, JC Penney has stepped up to the plate to let everyone know they have the right to freedom of expression and to love who they want.

JC Penney has also provided a fabulous teachable moment for sexuality education programs. As I have mentioned in past posts, media is a strong influence on people’s ideas about sexuality, and here we have an ad campaign that normalizes gay! Plus, interesting fact, according to Wikipedia (the most reliable source of info on the web, of course), JC Penney is based out of a small town just north of Dallas, TEXAS!

So, how can YOU use these ads as teachable moments? Here are some questions to prompt discussion:

  • Who do you see pictured here?
  • When you see these ads, what emotions come to mind?
  • What does this ad say about the meaning of family?
  • How do you think people react when they see an ad picturing same-sex couples?
  • What effect could this ad have on homophobia?

    “Creativity, oil paints, Freedom of Expression:
    You’ll often find Wendi, her partner, Maggie, and daughters elbow-deep in paint, clay or mosaics. “Even as babies, the girls toddled around in diapers, covered in paint,” said Wendi. They come from a long line of artists, which includes grandma Carolyn. Visiting her art studio in Greenbury, Texas is a favorite outing. And like any grandma, this one loves to bake – pottery, that is.”

Throughout your discussion, be sure to emphasize the message that relationships that are based on love and respect can be healthy, no matter who is in that relationship!

Lastly, JC Penney has already gotten a lot of heat because of their ads. Say thank you through this petition organized by Sum of Us and make sure they know to keep up the good work!

A Pleasure Framework for Sexuality Education

I am very excited to announce that a commentary and a lesson plan that I wrote have both been published in the most recent issue of the American Journal of Sexuality Education (Volume 7, Issue 2).

Getting to the Good Stuff: Adopting a Pleasure Framework for Sexuality Education

Don’t Forget the Good Stuff! Incorporating Positive Messages of Sexual Pleasure into Sexuality Education

Both pieces are a direct result of a workshop that I facilitated at the Center for Family Life Education’s Sex Ed Conference in November 2010.  (This is also the workshop that the reporter from the NY Times Magazine attended when she wrote the article, Teaching Good Sex.)

In both the commentary and the lesson plan, I defined A Pleasure Framework for Sexuality Education:

The Pleasure Framework for Sexuality Education is an underlying approach to sexuality education that actively affirms sexual pleasure as beneficial to an individual’s overall sexual health.  A sexuality education program with a pleasure framework…

  • Focuses on the positive, pleasurable aspects of sexuality.
  • Validates an individual’s desire to seek and experience pleasure.
  • Examines challenges associated with experiencing pleasure.
  • Explores the diversity of what pleasure means to individuals.
  • Promotes the understanding of pleasure-seeking motivations.
  • Supports open communication about experiencing pleasure.
  • Integrates the concept of pleasure into all content areas.
  • Encourages decision-making in order to achieve positive outcomes.
  • Affirms that sexual pleasure is beneficial to an individual’s sexual health and well-being.

The Pleasure Framework for Sexuality Education calls on the teachers, facilitators, and/or program personnel to adopt a philosophy that the overall goal of their sexuality education program is for the participants to become healthier sexual beings, and that the experience of pleasure is central to that goal.  This framework does not ask programs to omit or change the content areas that are already included in their curriculum.  It does, however, require that the individuals who are administering the program maintain a sex-positive, pleasure-affirming perspective, and consistently frame learning around positive actions that are mindful of sexual pleasure.  (deFur, K. (2012) Getting to the Good Stuff- Adopting a Pleasure Framework for Sexuality Education. American Journal of Sexuality Education. 7 (2), 151-152.)

In the commentary I go into more detail about why pleasure is key to sexuality education, strategies for applying the framework, and some anticipated challenges (and suggestions for facing those challenges).  The lesson plan is designed to be used with professionals (although portions could be adapted for use with teens), and provides an opportunity to explore the meaning of pleasure, values associated with sexual pleasure, challenges for bringing pleasure up in the classroom, and practical use of the pleasure framework.

I feel like this is an exciting time for these publications to come out.  In doing the research, I found that SO many people are talking about pleasure, especially when I think about how little was out there on this topic while I was in grad school (2004-2006).  I feel honored to be joining my voice to the many others that are crying out for PLEASURE.

Summary of ideas generated during an activity for developing strategies to integrate positive messages of sexual pleasure into sexuality education programs at the Sex Ed Conference, November 18, 2010.

Porn Post #2: When should we teach about pornography in sex ed?

Pornography: rarely a day goes by without some news article or tv show talking about pornography.  Even if you are not a fan of watching porn, you can barely avoid hearing about it, at the least.  So if we can’t avoid it, as Elizabeth Schroeder pointed out in a recent NY Times article on When Children See Internet Pornography, at what point should we be teaching about it?

In March 2012 I wrote my first post on Why pornography should be included in sexuality education, where I articulated the need for creating a safe, intentional space for participants to learn and talk about an issue that is so prevalent in our society.  Given its ubiquity, I argue that educators can and should bring up the concept of sexually explicit material early on in a young person’s education.

One of the observations about the negative influence of pornogaphy is that people who rely on porn to develop their sense of sexuality, sexual behavior, and relationships have unrealistic expectations in real life. A key component of developing healthy sexuality is understanding the difference between images/media (porn) and reality (real life).  This differentiation is an important learning concept that can be delivered in an age-appropriate context, over time.

How old is a child when he/she first understands reality vs. pretend? Real life vs. television/movies/books? This may be somewhat different for every child, especially given development delays/disabilities, however many children are able to differentiate between tv and real life when they are 4 or 5.  We can start helping young people think about the images that they see by using this discourse of differentiation early on, and then applying it to any image portraying sexuality.  You can talk about ‘pornography’ in the larger sense of the word- explicit material intended to cause excitement or interest- without even using the term.

Take the definition of pornography by Merriam Webster:

  1. the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement
  2. material (as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement
  3. the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction

Use the concepts of ‘depiction’ and ‘excitement’ to describe the difference between media (pretend) and reality, and then when the child understands the concept of sexuality, add that to the mix.  (Note- the Our Whole Lives program has a curriculum for Kindergarten/1st graders- 5 & 6 year olds- that teaches children about sexual behavior. Is this the time to also talk about sexual images?  Media portraying sexuality, especially in ways that are different from reality?)

Established sexuality education programs, which in most settings are not in place for audiences younger than 11 or 12, should certainly include a discussion of sexually explicit material, using a broad perspective of what constitutes pornography. Again, the goal should be to prepare young people to think critically about the images/material they will encounter in life.  And when a young person does happen upon sexually explicit material (even before it’s appropriate for them to be seeing it), use it as a teachable moment and revisit the conversation that hopefully you’ve had about real and pretend, material for children and material for adults.  No matter whether ‘sex ed’ is happening in an intentional learning environment, or just at home, the conversation should happen hopefully before someone else brings it up- whether that’s a peer, a family member, or even a child pornographer. The person/people who are resources for young people on this topic can communicate affirming messages about individual sexuality  (rather than prescribed sexuality that imitates, or tries to imitate, pornography) and informed decision-making, based on real-life situations.  Parents- I recommend not waiting until you see the receipt for that explicit iPhone or the browser history full of xxx sites.  Take the initiative, put your fears aside, and talk about what’s real or pretend, adult or not.

So the short answer to the question, when should we teach about pornography, is as early as possible and whenever there is a sex ed program.  It is the teacher’s responsibility to not only intentionally bring the topic up, but also craft messages about sexually explicit material that are age-appropriate and realistic (even if the teacher is a parent!).