Friday FREAK OUT! Singapore teen wants inclusive sex ed, free of bigotry

On October 6th, a brave high school student in Singapore penned an open letter to her principal about her sex ed class, in which she asserts, “the workshop and booklet actively serve to promote rape culture in school.”

Agatha Tan’s letter has gone viral, with 4,533 shares on Facebook (as of 10/17), and a slew of supportive articles and posts, such as Jezebel, HuffPo Parents, Business Insider, Singapore, and BuzzFeed to name just a few. Some of Agatha’s key points include:

I learned a simple yet important lesson: that bigotry is very much alive and it was naive of me to think I could be safe from it even in school.

[The workshop presenter from Focus on the Family] sends a dangerous message: that you should always assume that a girl means something else (like “yes”) when really she just means “no”.

The joking attitude here only serves to reinforce rape culture, since the guys now come to mistakenly understand that girls always mean the opposite when they say anything, including “no”.

[Focus on the Family’s] portrayal of guys with regards to their raging hormones not only makes them seem pathetic, but again reduces girls to their role as supporters of their male counterparts.

I feel that [Focus on the Family] has used sexuality education as an opportunity to further spread their own conservative, “God-ordained” beliefs rather than to educate students on arguably more important things such as safe sex, sexual identity and shared and equal responsibility.

The quickness and ease with which the facilitator dismissed anyone outside of his limited moral framework was a clear display of bigotry and tells students that acceptance is beyond him.

This Freak Out of Agatha’s, and the ensuing viral Freak Out occurring internationally, highlights the absolute need to realize that bad sex ed IS happening, and thank goodness someone is willing to tell us all about it. How many other bad sex ed stories are there, or worse, how many times bad sex ed has contributed to poor sexual decision-making, shame, and/or boundary violations?

Since we can’t wave a magic wand and get rid of all the bad sex ed, we need to prepare teens to do just what Agatha did- critically examine (aka, tear apart) the sex ed they get. Just because there’s an outside expert, students still need to determine if the content and delivery is on point. I’ll put out a shameless plug for a lesson plan I wrote about examining fear based methods: “Be Afraid! Be Very Afraid!” It’s published in the curriculum Teaching Safer Sex, Volume 2. In addition, SIECUS has some helpful reviews on existing curricula and speakers in their Community Action Kit. So students: listen carefully and think critically about how people talk about sex and sexuality.

And once they realize their sex ed is bad, they can clamor for sex ed that’s GOOD. Sex ed that is not only accurate and age-appropriate, but also inclusive, affirming, and thought-provoking. Facilitators that are open-minded and welcoming, that do not shut students down or cross boundaries.

Props to Agatha Tan. I hope she continues to inform the leaders in her community, and the world, about any BAD sex ed she gets in the future.

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Am I a Sexuality Educator, or a Be-A-Nice-Person Educator?

As a sexuality educator, I teach about a lot of different topics- contraception, sexuality transmitted infections (STIs), reproduction, anatomy, relationships, violence prevention, values, consent, pleasure, and the list goes on. However, there’s a theme that is ever-present in my work. At the end of the day, a lot of my lessons end with the message, “Be a nice person”.

For example, in a lesson about contraception, I emphasize, be a nice person and make sure you and your sexual partner are on the same page about preventing pregnancy (or not!). In a lesson about STIs, be a nice person and get tested so that you don’t unknowingly expose someone else to an STI. In a lesson about values, be a nice person and respect someone else’s values about sexual expression. In a lesson about consent, be a nice person and make sure that your sexual partner is consenting (preferably enthusiastically!) to all sexual activities. In a lesson about pleasure, be a nice person and think about whether your partner is experiencing pleasure.

Sexuality is so much about being in relationships- with another person, with oneself, with society, with family. And relationships are tough- sometimes we can say the most hurtful things to the people we love the most (including ourselves). It can be easy (and human) to be respond to conflict or disagreement or confusion with yelling, put-downs, passive-aggressive BS, coercion, or the silent treatment. Being a nice person is not always easy- it takes active listening, thoughtful consideration, and sometimes sheer magic. Plus, many people were not taught this critical skill, and it certainly isn’t modeled very regularly in our society. (Need a little help? Wikihow has some helpful suggestions that apply in all sorts of related situations.)

The message, “be a nice person”, is a great alternative to the ‘don’t do this’, ‘don’t do that’ message. Those ‘don’ts’ often get conflated into fear-based messages of, DO THIS AND YOU’LL DIE/SUFFER/HURT SOMEONE. Yes, our actions can hurt others, and yes, we need to be aware of how to prevent harm to others. One of the most basic, fundamental ways we can accomplish that goal is to “BE A NICE PERSON!”

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Friday FREAK OUT! #Feministsareugly reminds us to be beautiful

What’s trending on the sexuality front this week? The hashtag #feministsareugly has grabbed the attention of feminists and anti-feminists worldwide, and the Twitterverse is freakin’ out.

The hashtag first appeared a little over two weeks ago, and many assumed that it was coined by misogynst, antifeminist crusaders, following in the footsteps of other hashtags like #Idontneedfeminism and #womenagainstfeminism that have been flooding people’s twitter feeds all summer. (News outlets and blogs added to the confusion of the hashtag’s origins with posts such as Feminists are posting stunning selfies to mock #feministsareugly hashtag and Feminists hit back by posting stunning selfies.)

However, the hashtag was actually coined by feminists @LilyBolourian and @Cheuya in order to change the narrative about women of color and standards of beauty. Studentbeans.com did a great piece: This is why #Feministsareugly is a brilliant hashtag. And @LilyBolourian has been particularly vocal about the origins and purpose behind the hashtag:

 

Lily shared with me that the hashtag was inspired by a need to respond to both…

misogynist trolls judging women’s appearances and fellow feminists pearl-clutching because they felt that our way of hitting back against patriarchy was somehow reinforcing it.

But in the end…

There is no proper or right way to feminist.

And the call for selfies was also from the hashtag creators:

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Resulting in TONS of amazing selfies from feminists- both women and men! (Yay men!)

No matter what, it’s has certainly inspired a dialogue over feminism, objectification, standards of beauty, etc:

Over at HuffPoUK, they wonder if feminists are missing the point:

We understand these women are trying to point out the ridiculousness of the ‘ugly feminist’ stereotype, but are they really re-claiming the phrase or just playing into the hands of the aforementioned chauvinistic pig?

Feminists believe in equal rights, which in turn means believing in an end to the objectification of women. But by posting selfies, are some not promoting the objectification of women by inviting others to judge their ‘hotness’?

But what do we do with this hashtag now that people are freakin’ out about it? Certainly many have taken the opportunity to speak out about the value of self expression, about their views on feminism, about the evils of misogyny, and the importance of getting your story straight before you post it!

I think this particular freak out in and of itself highlights the variety of opinion and the strength of individuality, and how we need to honor and respect people no matter how they express themselves or what they look like. It can be hard to disagree with someone else, but it can be done respectfully, without dragging them under the bus for who they are. Twitter has become a hotbed of trash-talking, by opponents and allies of feminism alike, and #feministsareugly reminds us to be beautiful, own that beauty and respect the beauty of others.

Friday FREAK OUT! Choose Purity, OR DIE!

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Making the rounds this week is a story about yet another Purity Ball (purity balls have in fact been happening since 1998), in which young girls pledge that they will abstain from sex until they get married, often pledging themselves to their fathers until their wedding day (creepy, right?!). This particular Purity Ball, ‘Choose Purity’, is getting a little more attention, though, because it was co-sponsored by a PUBLIC AGENCY, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Can I say that again? It was co-sponsored by a government entity, which has absolutely no place hosting an event that is steeped in religiosity and drenched in FEAR mongering.

The Las Vegas Sun reported that the event featured the “Toe Tag Monologues” in order to drive home the message that engaging in premarital sex means death- complete with someone being rolled out in a body bag.
20140509-185105.jpg So what does this purity ball tell us happens when you have sex? The Sun summed it up really well:

Typically four things: sexual assault, gangs, drugs and prostitution.

This is wrong on so many levels that I can barely explain it. (For some other great posts on this, click here, here, here, here, and oh so many more so just google ‘Choose Purity’ May 3, 2014.) Here are five thoughts that I can construct about this:

*Yes, there are risks involved in having sex. But so are there risks crossing the street- but people still do it. Safely. (Well, some more safely than others.)
*Yes, abstinence is a great option for some people, but not for everyone and it’s certainly not a panacea.
*Yes, we need to talk about those risks, but in a REAL way, not in an extreme, overdramatized, this-will-never-happen-to-me way.
*Yes, we need to talk about how people can be safe, by using actual, real-life, ordinary examples- because that’s where the tough stuff sits.
*Yes, it’s possible that having sex isn’t such a bad thing after all, when it’s safe, consensual, mutual, and pleasurable. (gasp!)

I guess that’s why my blog is about being fearLESS.

For more about the icky purity ball scene, check out:
Welcome to the Bizarre and Beautiful World of Purity Balls, on the Huffington Post
Purity, a photography book by David Magnussun
The Purity Pledge and America’s Modern Virginity Movement, a documentary available on YouTube, for FREE
and I’m not gonna leave this out out:
Many Teens Don’t Keep Virginity Pledges, an article outlining research results also showing that pledgers are also less likely to use condoms when they do have sex.

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Friday FREAK OUT! What can we learn from First Kiss video featuring strangers kissing

Earlier this week a video was posted to Youtube called First Kiss (also known as 20 Strangers Kissing). Within 24 hours, it had over 20 million views. As of this post, it’s got over 44 million.

That is basically the definition of VIRAL. It’s been called beautiful, touching, gorgeous, and strangely sweet. It’s also be described as cringy-cute and a bad first date– probably because it was soon learned that the video is actually an ad for Wren, a clothing line. (Note, it’s being described as a viral win.)

But once you get past that the video is actually an advertisement and the individuals in the video are actors (selected in part for their attractive looks) and are not representative of your average human being and that it’s incredibly staged, there ARE lessons about sexuality that can be learned:

  • Mike Domritz, on the Date Safe Project website, points out that the video demonstrates that asking for consent- something demonstrated throughout this video- doesn’t have to ruin everything, and can in fact make everything better.
  • Daniel Garza, from the Examiner, points out that the video highlights that “you are a living, breathing, sexual person with needs.”
  • Marcie Bianco, on PolicyMic, points out that the video “gives credence to the idea of sexuality as an act, or an action. There is no difference between the nerves or intimacies of the men kissing women, the men kissing men or the women kissing other women.”

As with all my Friday Freak Outs, I encourage sexuality educators to use popular media as teachable moments. This video can spark interesting discussions around consent, sexual being-ness, and inclusivity. It could also spark discussions around intimacy, hook-up culture, and the use of sexuality in advertizing.  (It can also spark parody videos, like this one that is NSFW, or this one, which IS safe for work.) The possibilities are really endless.

Friday FREAK OUT! ‘Rape Insurance’ law passes in Michigan…can we find a new hashtag for this?

20131213-153630.jpgThis past Wednesday, Michigan lawmakers passed legislation that bans insurance companies from covering abortion services, even if a woman’s life is in danger. Women who want abortion services to be covered would have to purchase a separate rider. This legislation, “Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act”, has been labeled ‘rape insurance’ by opponents because a woman would purchase the rider ahead of time in anticipation of the possibility of being raped. Michigan Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer shared her own story of sexual assault, calling attention to the needs of survivors.

This is not the first time the legislation has been proposed- last year Governor Rick Snyder (R) vetoed it. But this year it’s different because it’s a citizen’s initiative, having gotten over 300,000 signatures on a petition. Right to Life of Michigan and other proponents of the bill argue that the legislation stops taxpayers from subsidizing the cost of other people’s abortions. In reality, this legislation is just another iteration of attempts to limit access to abortion services- something that many states, like Virginia and Texas, have faced this year.

Much of the media attention regarding this particular legislation is focused on the need for a separate insurance rider in the case of rape (inspiring a significant freak out), but Jessica Valenti makes an incredibly valid point:”

the term “rape insurance” does a disservice to women—and to the reproductive justice movement. It is not just sexual assault survivors who need their abortion covered. Yes, there is an added dimension of cruelty when you’re talking about denying women who get pregnant as a result of rape care and coverage. But we cannot create a hierarchy of “good” and “bad” abortions. Or of “deserving” women. One in three American women will have an abortion, and the circumstances behind that pregnancy is none of our business—and it certainly should have no bearing on whether or not women can afford to access care.

Yes, this legislation is abominable. Yes, it limits access. Yes, there is a reason to be concerned about victims of rape who get pregnant and wish to terminate a pregnancy. In no way do I want to minimize the experiences/needs of someone who has been raped- but is it really rape insurance? While it may not generate quite the freak out that #rapeinsurance has, framing the discussion around access to services and limitation of rights more fully captures the broader issue at hand. So the call to action is finding a hashtag that will gain the attention we need to influence legislation to INCREASE access.

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Sexuality educators can use this as a lesson in both rights to services and health care, and the power of framing an issue. To tease out this concept of framing, use the following questions for discussion:
– What do you think of when you hear the term, ‘rape insurance’?
– How can framing abortion legislation in the context of rape/assault change the dialogue?
– What would be an effective hashtag/tagline that would more fully represent the issue of abortion access?
– What would you say to legislators that were considering a bill that limits access to abortion services?