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!
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:
The kid has invited me to his health class on sex ed to see how bad it is, so I'm going. But hands over my mouth means I can't live-tweet it
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.
Now he's reading scientific studies about abstinence education. I did something right.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
Play-Doh’s Sweet Shoppe Cake Mountain Playset has caused quite a commotion over the holiday season, supposedly ruining some Christmas celebrations. The freak out is happening over the 3-inch Extruder Tool included in the playset, which many report resembles a penis or a dildo.
The product description reads:
Once you’ve made your pretend cakes, it’s time to decorate. You can start by squeezing out some Play-Doh Plus frosting with the extruder. Try adding 2 colors for fun swirls!
Comments on Twitter and Facebook range from outrage to delight, and news outlets have also had a heyday with reporting this story (check out stories on USA Today, SF Gate, and Huffington Post).
In response to consumer feedback, Hasbro issued a statement on their Facebook page indicating they are replacing future playsets with a different tool and will offer a replacement for anyone who would like one.
This freak out is really a teachable moment and a reality check all in one. Children who get the playset and wonder if the extruder tool resembles a penis, parents can reply with an accurate, correct response. Here’s a sample reply: “Some people may think that the extruder tool in your play-doh set resembles a penis. However, there are many things that could resemble lots of body parts. No matter what the tool resembles, it’s important to use it correctly and respectfully. But for this purpose, the tool is meant to help you design a fun and delightful pretend cake made out of play-doh.”
Parents that do freak out about this tool need to get in touch with the reality that many things DO resemble body parts, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Children need to learn about body parts, especially from their parents, and the more we can talk about them naturally and with ease (withOUT freaking out about it), the more that children will be comfortable and at ease with their own body parts.
This past Monday, Calvin Klein nonchalantly released its new line, Perfectly FIt, featuring Myla Delbasio, a normal size 10. CK did not make a big deal of Myla’s inclusion in the spread alongside other straight-sized models, who are typically size 0 or 2. However, several media outlets were quick to label Myla as ‘plus-sized’, resulting in a Twitter backlash highlighting that a size 10 is not a plus-size.
This freak out has given Myla an unanticipated platform to share her story of finding her way in the modeling industry as a ‘normal’ size. In interviews with NY Magazine and Elle, Myla talks about the past 10 years in her career as a model, and how challenging it has been for her and other girls to be ‘in-between’. She also shared how she never thought she would have an impact on young girls and their body image until she started getting emails this week from teens saying how much seeing her has given them new hope.
What was also uncovered in the midst of Myla’s sudden fame is a video featuring Myla by the What’s Underneath Project, posted on Sep 3, 2014. In this video, Myla shares about her issues and hangups with body image, challenges with drug addiction and eating disorders, and how she feels she is finally coming to a place of acceptance and acknowledgement of her body- feeling good about it, feeling healthy. Oh and she does this while she takes off her clothes, one item at a time. Instead of being tantalizing, she shares more and more while becoming more and more vulnerable.
What’s so amazing about this particular freak out is that we’re freaking out about normal. Not just normal body size but normal, no big deal presentation of it. Even in their follow up statement, Calvin Klein maintains a stance of inclusivity:
The Perfectly Fit line was created to celebrate and cater to the needs of different women, and these images are intended to communicate that our new line is more inclusive and available in several silhouettes in an extensive range of sizes.
There are still significant problems with how women are represented in the media- I imagine that Myla’s photos are still airbrushed and touched up so we can’t see blemishes or stretch marks, but at least her size is more representative of the average female in the US.
And this freak out has generated an inspirational conversation about body image, self-assurance, and body confidence. Let’s keep it going.