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!
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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!
"Writers" love lifting tweets but hate looking for necessary ones. Lazy faux-journalists. Do the research or DON'T WRITE. #FeministsAreUgly
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.
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. 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.
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.
Hunter Moore, described as the revenge porn king and the most hated man on the internet, has been arrested, charged with ‘conspiracy to access a protected computer’, among other charges. Moore was the founder of the now-defunct website isanyoneup.com, where users posted pictures (usually of ex-girlfriends/boyfriends, usually with little/no clothing) without the knowledge/consent of the photo’s subject. Moore’s site was particularly nasty, since alongside that compromising photo, the subject’s name and other identifying information was included, so it would be certain to come up in a google search. After much public and private backlash, threats, and serious ‘come-to-jesus’ sit-downs with the FBI, Moore sold the site to an anti-bullying website, bullyville.com.
Moore’s arrest is some great news for advocates who have been trying to outlaw revenge porn in the first place, such as End Revenge Porn. Yes, Moore has been indicted on charges of actually hacking into personal computers to get his content- which is definitely illegal, while revenge porn sites themselves remain lawful in many states (for now). But Moore’s arrest brings awareness to this issue and highlights the need to talk about using technology in healthy ways- not as a method to take revenge on a partner, not as a method to relish another person’s humiliation, and not as a method to take advantage of someone’s vulnerability. I don’t have a legal solution to revenge porn- there are so many legal intricacies regarding free speech, right to privacy, etc, that it’s definitely in a lawyer/policymakers realm, and my expertise is in education.
SO how can educators help prevent revenge porn from ruining someone’s life?
– Talk about what revenge porn is. By defining and describing it, you will raise the awareness of its impact.
– Discuss how revenge porn can affect a victim. Share some stories of people who were subjects of photos posted without their permission.
– Examine the reasons why someone would post a photo as an act of revenge, and then encourage alternative approaches to responding to hurt feelings.
– Explore what part consumers of revenge porn play. Demonstrate how if there is no audience for revenge porn, then its value will decrease.
– Ask how peers can influence each other to make responsible choices regarding taking photos, having photos taken, and consuming photos.
Be mindful that while you may be tempted to come down hard on revenge porn and denounce it left and right (as I would like to do!), it may not open the door for behavioral change for those who are already engaging in revenge porn (as a poster and/or consumer). As an educator, facilitate the discussion with a neutral perspective and let the criticism come from the participants, as it surely will. I’m no fan of revenge porn and the thought of it makes me cringe, but we have to put those cringes aside in order to reach those who have already bought into it.