Tag Archives: healthy sexuality

Affirmative consent

Why you should practice affirmative consent: It’s healthy (and sexy), via The Bangor Daily News:

A few weeks ago, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that compels California universities to use an “affirmative consent” standard when investigating campus sexual assaults. As Amanda Hess from Slate explains,

This means that during an investigation of an alleged sexual assault, university disciplinary committees will have to ask if the sexual encounter met a standard where both parties were consenting, with consent defined as “an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” Notice that the words “verbal” or “stone sober” are not included in that definition. The drafters understand, as most of us do when we’re actually having sex, that sometimes sexual consent is nonverbal and that there’s a difference between drunk, consensual sex and someone pushing himself on a woman who is too drunk to resist.

Predictably, there was some concern about whether the state should be involved in the sex lives of college students. There was concern that the law will encourage false reports (of which there are only between 2-8 percent), and that false claims will skyrocket. As Gloria Steinem and Michael Kimmel pointed out in a recent New York Times op-ed, a similar law was enacted in Canada in 1992, and “yet the reporting of sexual assault has not skyrocketed with this higher standard.”

This law is a small step toward sexual violence prevention, and a giant leap in providing victims with protection they deserve.

Primary prevention of sexual violence – that is, preventing the violence before it is perpetrated – includes shifting unhealthy sexual and gender norms. It also puts the burden on everyone to prevent violence, not just a potential victim and/or a potential perpetrator. Primary prevention includes healthy sexuality.

Healthy sexuality is having the knowledge and power to express one’s sexuality in ways that enrich one’s life. It includes approaching sexual interactions and relationships from a consensual, respectful and informed perspective. Healthy sexuality is free from coercion and violence, which is precisely what this law seeks to promote.

Unfortunately in our culture, people aren’t automatically tuned into what it means to be a sexually healthy person. It’s something we all have to work on, given how bombarded we are with societal messages that tell us otherwise. We are taught that women and girls are sexual gatekeepers who should “pretend” to not want to have sex (when they actually do want it) — or to pretend to want it when they don’t — and men and boys should be aggressors who push to have sex no matter what their partner says.

Is it any wonder that sexual violence is such an issue?

And yet, healthy sexuality does exist and it is possible to be a sexually healthy person — and to have a sexually healthy culture. To have a law that promotes a standard of “yes means yes” instead of “no means no” is a great way to help establish healthy sexuality norms. People need to know that sex isn’t sexy without the presence (verbal or otherwise) of an enthusiastic yes, and if it takes a law to compel university officials to use that standard in investigations, then so be it.

As anyone who has ever enjoyed consensual sex will tell you, it’s pretty clear when the other person is into it. Not sure? Ask. It seems simple, and yet many fear that in practice it will be awkward. But as we all learn to be sexually healthier people, practice makes perfect.

So start practicing. It’s (healthy) sexy (sexuality).

This post is cross-posted from a post Cara wrote for Maine Family Planning’s blog, On the Front Lines.

Prevention starts with healthy sexuality

Want to prevent sexual violence? Start with healthy sexuality, via Bangor Daily News:

If I walked up to 100 strangers on the street and asked them to define healthy sexuality, I’m guessing responses would range from uncomfortable laughs to puzzled looks to real responses. In my life, I’ve certainly had difficulty defining what “healthy sexuality” means and in fact, most Americans do. Pause for a moment and think – what is healthy sexuality to you?

Sexual violence is perpetrated because of unhealthy sexual norms: strict gender roles (men are sex seekers and women sex gatekeepers), the idea that communicating about sex is weird and embarrassing, and a host of other risk factors proven to be associated with sexual violence perpetration.

Healthy sexuality is the opposite of that. It’s important that we as a culture not only recognize “no means no” (which is important!), but we also should be providing young people – and let’s be honest, everyone else – with the other side of that coin. The other side is that consent is the presence of an enthusiastic yes.

A sexually healthy person:

  • Recognizes and respects those enthusiastic yes moments;
  • Recognizes and respects when someone says or implies (through body language and non-verbal cues) no;
  • Is comfortable with different forms of gender expression;
  • Knows how to define their own boundaries;
  • Understands and recognizes body parts associated with sex; and
  • Is comfortable with asking for what they want and being okay with getting it – or not!

Healthy sexuality is also important to survivors healing from sexual violence. When someone experiences sexual violence, his or her sexual autonomy has been violated. Part of healthy sexuality means gaining that sexual autonomy back. Taking control of one’s own sexuality and one’s own body can be healing for a survivor.

Healthy sexuality isn’t easy in a culture where we teach people not to get raped instead of teaching people not rape others. It’s not easy in a culture where survivors are still shamed for talking about their experiences with sexual violence. But so many wonderful organizations and people are doing great work to shift the language we use, to change the way we talk about sexuality and how we treat each other, and to challenge institutions where unhealthy sexual norms are rampant.

A sexually healthy culture can’t be built in a vacuum. Unhealthy messages reach all of us at a very young age. However, there communities all over the world are speaking about healthy sex and sparking dialogue that teaches people what to do instead of just what not to do. And, eventually, we’ll live in a culture where healthy sexuality is the norm.

And honestly, I’d give that an enthusiastic yes.

Cross-posted at Speak About It’s blog – go check them out!