Today I have been preparing for a workshop I’ll be leading this upcoming Friday at the CFLE’s National Sex Ed Conference in New Jersey. My workshop will be part of a Topic Track on Addressing Shame in Sex Ed. Here’s the description:
Dare to Be Shameless! Overcoming Sex-Shaming Rhetoric in Sexuality Education Rush Limbaugh was criticized for calling Sandra Fluke a slut for supporting birth control, but how shameless are sexuality educators? Are you inadvertently using sex-shaming rhetoric? Workshop participants will examine what sex-shaming rhetoric entails, reflect on how sex-shaming can impact sexuality education, and identify alternative approaches that are sex-positive.
My 1-hour workshop will be followed by a session by Megan Andelloux and Aida Manduley discussing the role that shame, guilt, and embarrassment play in sexuality education. It’s exciting to be a part of a conference workshop series that is exploring the drawbacks of shame in sexuality education.
My preparation for this workshop has me thinking a lot about how people have absorbed and developed a sense of shame about sexuality- both from an educators’ and a students’ standpoint. There are several potential sources of this shame:
- Family- parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, faux-family (like my ‘uncle’ lou)
- Religion- faith communities, religious texts, religious leaders
- Media- television, books, internet, billboards, music
- School- teachers, support staff, textbooks, peers
We pick up our attitudes and reactions to sex and sexuality from all of these sources, whether we like it or not. And a lot of the time, what we learn is less from what is explicitly verbalized and more about the ‘music’ in the background. It’s the pursed lips at someone laughing when the teacher says ‘penis’. It’s the flared nostrils when someone asks their mom for the definition of a wet dream. It’s the rolled eyes when someone doesn’t know what a sexually transmitted infection is. It’s the unwillingness to answer a question about masturbation because it’s ‘off topic’. All these reactions teach others that sexuality is something to be ashamed of, and that conversations about sexual experiences are inappropriate.
Being shameless is about using language that is open and accepting; it’s also about maintaining a physical posture of validation and support throughout any interaction with a participant, son, daughter, congregant, etc. A teacher can tell their students that it’s ok for two people of the same gender to be in love through their words, but the way that they will actually hear it is through their body language, attitudes, and actions. My workshop on Friday will focus on how rhetoric can be sex-shaming. Let’s remember that sex-shaming rhetoric comes from a lot of shameful background ‘music’.