Unequal Partners, Our Whole Lives, and the Sex Ed Conference: 2015 was a busy year!

Goal For The 2015Some really exciting things happening in my personal life aside, 2015 was a year of incredible growth and opportunity! Thus, I had a little less time than I had hoped to work on my blog. So, what was I doing?!

Unequal Partners: Teaching about Power, Consent & Healthy Relationships, 4th Edition

Some time ago, the Executive Director of the Center for Sex Education asked me to edit and update their teaching manual, Unequal Partners. Originally written in the late 1990s by award-winning sexuality educators Sue Montfort and Peggy Brick, the focus had been on preventing teen pregnancies, especially when teen girls were in relationships with older male partners. The lesson plans drew heavily on focus group research conducted by Lyn Phillips, and incorporated opportunities for participants to learn from the experiences shared by the research subjects. In subsequent editions, the editors added more and more on exploring power differentials in general, and developing healthy relationship skills. And along with the times, lessons were adapted and added to be inclusive of same-sex relationships. The 3rd edition, published in 2007, has 30 lesson plans, and also includes several lessons on the legal components of consent.

The 4th edition, which is AT THE PRINTER RIGHT NOW!!!, has a total of 50 lesson plans divided into two volumes- one for participants ages 10-17, one for college-age participants. The manual is now organized into sections, so that facilitators can easily identify the relevant topic. And it’s designed as a choose-your-own adventure resource- you don’t have to do all the lessons in the manual, and there’s no one set way of implementing them (because every group and program is different, and I truly believe in the power of ‘facilitator’s choice’ for program design).

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When I first started working on the project, I recognized how much the narrative of consent has changed in the last decade, and how few curricula address how to navigate the conversation around consent. In addition to understanding the legal age of consent and possible repercussions for engaging in sexual activity with someone who is underage, we need to help young people communicate about consent, read non-verbal cues, and understand the influence of power dynamics in relationships. I know that truly understanding healthy relationships is a lot more than just listing characteristics like respect, trust, honesty, and communication, it’s also about conflict resolution, decision-making, asking someone out, handling rejection, and thinking about break-ups. And many of the issues of power that exist between partners of different ages could also be problematic among partners of the same age, and that a critical learning moment will help participants dissect and unpack POWER as an issue, rather than age.

As I started working on this project, the national dialogue on campus sexual assault and mandated consent education had really started amping up, which highlighted the lack of resources available for this population. I’m really excited about the 20 lessons for college age participants in the 2nd volume, almost all of which are new, and many offering guidance on hot topics, such as BDSM & consent.

This was a pretty epic project- there was a call for lesson plans from contributing authors, I carefully reviewed and updated the existing lesson plans (cutting some, combining others), and there were a few key concepts that I really wanted to make sure were included, so I either invited colleagues to submit a specific lesson or threw one together myself. For example, Meredith White, Julia Scheinbeim & Lindsay Fram co-wrote the lesson plan in volume two Stone Cold Sober, Buzz Buzz Buzz, Totally Wasted, which explores substance use and consent. In response to some relevant current issues, I put together the lesson Tears, Smears & Fears, looking at what can happen after a break-up, such as overwhelming emotions, smearing behaviors like revenge porn, and stalking. Plus the project entailed a massive amount of formatting and copy-editing, and I was incredibly thankful for the wisdom and expertise provided by Bill Taverner and Mary Lynn Koval.

Working on this manual was both fun and thought-provoking, and of course at times challenging! It’s not easy to keep audience, facilitator, scope, and content in mind all at the same time. I hope that it is helpful for facilitators and educators in a variety of settings who are seeking to incorporate concepts of power, consent, and healthy relationships into their programs.

Are you SOLD? You can order your copy today!! http://www.sexedstore.com/unequal-partners-4th-ed/

Our Whole Lives, grades 4-6, 2nd Edition

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The 1st edition was published in 1999.

Not long after I started working on editing and revising Unequal Partners, I was asked to co-author the revisions to the 4th-6th grade Our Whole Lives curriculum, alongside the brilliant and inspiring Amy Johnson. Even though I already had an editing project on my hands, I knew this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up!

The Our Whole Lives program holds a very special place in my heart. Not only is it one of the first programs I was ever trained to facilitate as a sexuality educator, I participated in the program that preceded Our Whole Lives, called About Your Sexuality, when I was in 8th grade, and in large part is the reason I am a sexuality educator and trainer today. Our Whole Lives expanded on all the good aspects of About Your Sexuality– the intentional environment, the comprehensive approach to learning about sexuality, the value of sexuality as a positive aspect of life, and the focus on respect and relationship- and applied it to not only middle school students, but people of all ages in a developmentally appropriate manner. Our Whole Lives is comprised of six different curricula, one for Kindergarten-1st grade, 4th-6th grades, 7th-9th grades, 10th-12th grades, young adult, and adult. Our Whole Lives is a collaboration between the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ, and includes a secular resource with an optional faith supplement for each curriculum.

The 4th-6th grade curriculum happens to be my favorite age group to lead for Our Whole Lives. 10-12 year olds are experiencing a lot of change, are often eager to learn, and will still play and have fun without worrying too much about what that means. Amy and I were excited to build on what was already a strong program. Originally written in the mid-90s (published in 1999), the program needed a refresh to reflect shifts in our language about gender, sexual orientation, among other topics, plus we wanted to added some topics related to media literacy and body image.

Amy and I worked closely together to revise the curriculum, thinking carefully about how will 10-12 year olds respond to various activities, language, and content. We agreed that 8 lessons wasn’t quite enough, so the 2nd edition will feature 10 one-hour workshops. It’s also remarkable how much of sexuality education at that age is about learning vocabulary, so we added a Word Bank, with new words added to the Bank each lesson, which will remain up and visible for the rest of the program.

The process for revising this curriculum was very different from Unequal Partners– each workshop was collaboratively written by me and Amy, sent to a team of reviewers, and then we revised the workshop based on feedback. And now that our work is done, the curriculum is currently being field-tested in a variety of settings nationwide, after which final revisions will be made.

So STAY TUNED on when the 2nd edition of Our Whole Lives for grades 4-6 will be available for purchase!

Consent: So Simple, Yet Oh So Very Complicated…Keynote at the National Sex Ed Conference

Yet another exciting opportunity came my way when I was asked to give a keynote presentation for the National Sex Ed Conference on the topic of consent. What a year!

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That’s me, talking with my hands! And right in front of the Racial Justice Solidarity statement. Rad, indeed.

With this opportunity, I wanted to highlight the national conversation on consent, share some insights on how college students in particular have been taking up the issue, and add some depth to the conversation because I truly believe that consent can be quite complicated. Building on the thoughts and ideas that went into Unequal Partners, I sought to demonstrate the need for messages that are simple and straightforward, and that make great t-shirts and memes, but also touch on the complexities of relationships (of any duration, seriousness, or commitment) and power dynamics.

This project was also a challenge! My jam is far more facilitation- asking participants questions and really allowing their insights to drive the lesson and conversation. In preparing for this keynote, I had to get ready to talk TO a group of about 500 people for AN HOUR! Switching gears to presentation mode was truly a moment of growth for me, and entailed more than a small bit of research and reading up on crafting an engaging talk, rather than a workshop! Although I did ask people to turn to their neighbors and discuss messages about consent. I just couldn’t resist!

This was fun, though. I’ve enjoyed learning and growing at the National Sex Ed Conference for five years now, and this experience was just the same- encouraging me to truly think about what do sexuality educators need to be thinking about.

Want to check it out? The video from my keynote will be posted in the coming weeks, I’ll post the link once it’s live! More info about the conference can be found: http://sexedconference.com

In Reflection of 2015

2015 was HUGE! Two big teaching manual editing projects and prepping and giving my first keynote presentation all in my ‘spare’ time, I’m trying to not be too hard on myself for the lapse in blog posts. And I couldn’t have done it alone- I had many friends and loved ones that have helped and supported me through the journey of 2015!

Now, what’s in store for 2016? Hopefully a few more posts, including in terms of resource highlights, recent reads and Friday Freak Outs, and please bear with me as I balance it all!

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Overcoming Sex-Shaming Rhetoric at the CFLE Sex Ed Conference 2012

At the CFLE’s annual National Sex Ed Conference I had the pleasure of facilitating a workshop titled Dare to be Shameless! Overcoming Sex-Shaming Rhetoric in Sexuality Education.  During this one-hour workshop we listed examples of sex-shaming rhetoric, identified ways that sex-shaming rhetoric can impact an educational environment, and described strategies for countering sex-shaming rhetoric.  Yep, we did all that in just one hour.  Phew!

It was a wonderful experience being able to engage other sexuality education professionals in a conversation about how our language can make someone feel ashamed about their sexuality, sometimes without that intention.  What even is sex-shaming rhetoric?  As far as I know (and please correct me if I’m wrong), it’s a new concept that needs descriptions and definitions.  During this workshop, I had the help of 75 participants in outlining how sex-shaming rhetoric may be characterized.  photoMy own working definition of sex-shaming rhetoric is:

Language used that makes an individual feel ashamed of a healthy sexual experience, feeling, or act.

This definition may be too straight-forward, or maybe its brevity allows essential room for interpretation.  In short, we as educators must be aware of how our rhetoric around sexuality, including our educational lesson plans, may make someone feel ashamed of their sexuality.

As part of the workshop, I asked participants to write down an example of something someone might say that could be considered sex-shaming, thinking especially of something a sexuality educator might say.  Here are some of the examples they came up with:

  • “If you get pregnant/get a girl pregnant, your life will be ruined.”
  • “There is a time and a place to talk about sex and sex topics, and this isn’t it.”
  • “Clean” = STI negative
  • “When you have a new partner, you must use protection.” (It’s fear-based rhetoric and shaming for people.)
  • A person with multiple partners is nasty.
  • “Sexting is a horrible thing and doing it can ruin your life.”
  • Heterosexual sex is ‘normal’ sex.
  • “You shouldn’t be thinking about sex, you should be thinking about college.”
  • “You’re not old enough to ask those questions!”
  • “If you can’t see something without a mirror, it probably means you shouldn’t be looking at it.”
  • “You’re stupid if you get pregnant.”
  • “You will regret it.”
  • “Boys don’t respect girls that have sex too soon.”
  • “Males tend to be more focused on sex than females.”
  • “…not something [that] good boys and girls do.”
  • “If you sleep with someone too soon, you might smear your reputation.”
  • “What would your parents say if they found out you were having sex?”
  • “You shouldn’t have sex unless you’re in love.”

These examples depict characteristics of sex-shaming rhetoric, and yet they are things that we have all probably heard at least once in our lives from someone of authority.  Being a sexuality educator is an honor, a privilege, and a responsibility.  It is up to us to help people feel comfortable asking questions about sexuality, and learn more about themselves, rather than making someone feel bad and ashamed.  Certainly, there are behaviors that need to be deemed as not OK, and that someone should feel ashamed about, such as engaging in any sexual behavior without consent.  However educators (not just sexuality educators, but anyone who is potentially educating others) need to be aware of how their language can be interpreted.  Our educational approaches can be affirming, rather than shame-inducing.

Thank you to all who attended this workshop, and I look forward to continuing this work on improving our sexuality education rhetoric.