Tag Archives: sex ed

These 13-Year-Old Girls Want To Use Their Sex Ed Classes To Fight Rape Culture, via ThinkProgress

Two eighth graders in Toronto, Canada are pushing to overhaul their province’s sexual health curriculum to include more information about healthy relationships, saying that combating rape culture involves creating a “consent culture” among youth.

Tessa Hill and Lia Valente, both 13 years old, are asking the Ontario Ministry of Education to add consent education as a topic in the province’s health curriculum. In an attempt to accomplish that goal, they launched a petition on Change.org last week that’s garnered more than 2,000 signatures so far.

In a recent interview with Canada.com, the middle schoolers explained that they learned more about consent after being assigned to complete a school project on a social justice issue. They chose to explore “rape culture,” or the set of cultural assumptions that allows sexual assault to flourish by assuming that violence and forcible sex is a normal part of gender relations. That got them thinking about how more information about consensual sex could help address issues like cat-calling and slut-shaming, which they say they’ve witnessed in the hallways of their school.

“Our society is scared to teach teens and young people about safe sex, and most importantly, consent. Young people will have sex, despite teaching abstinence in the classroom, so the most important thing is to educate us and other young people about consent,” the petition reads. “When young people don’t learn about the importance of consent in a sexual relationship, it can lead to unhealthy relationships and ultimately perpetuates rape culture.”

Ontario’s current sex ed classes have been in place since the 1990s, and are widely considered to be the most outdated in the country. Education officials attempted to update them in 2010, but that project was shelved after pushback from social conservatives, who complained the proposed changes — like including information about masturbation and homosexuality — were too “explicit.”

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, the first openly gay head of government in Canada, has indicated that she wants to keep moving forward with the 2010 proposal. In December, she directed the Ministry of Education to rework the curriculum to include more information about healthy relationships. And last week, she tweeted that Hill and Valente are doing “important work” and she’d be happy to meet with them.

Similar efforts to update sex ed classes here in the United States are often met with resistance. In California, for instance, parents recently grew outraged after learning that their kids’ sex ed classes include information about gender identity and consent. Across the U.S., proponents of abstinence education have raised concerns about “X-rated” and “pornographic” sexual health classes that teach students about condoms and healthy relationships. Just as in Ontario, these objections often successfully prevent school districts from implementing the curriculum of their choice.

But young people are also increasingly fighting back and demanding medically accurate information in their health classes. Teens in Nevada recently held a rally to push back against their school district’s decision to drop comprehensive sex ed materials. A West Virginia high school student made national headlines for protesting against a “slut-shaming” abstinence education course. And last summer, a Canadian teen convinced her school to drop a course on sexual purity after she filed a human rights complaint against it.

Sexuality in America

8 things America gets totally wrong about sex, via Salon:

We get many things right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. We were the first to put a man on the moon (Neil Armstrong), the first to achieve flight (the Wright brothers), and we came up with the greatest television phenomenon ever: Shark Week. But when it comes to sex, we are all mixed up. For all of America’s cultural pornification—we can’t even sell a router or a chicken sandwich without a bikini-clad model dry-humping it—we still haven’t let go of a lot of the puritanical values our country was founded on. Here are a few of the things our otherwise great nation gets wrong about sex and sexuality.

1. Sexual healthcare is not a priority.

Unless we get pregnant, a raging case of crabs, or need erection pills, it’s pretty rare for Americans to schedule an appointment with a doctor for sexual health reasons, even though the World Health Organization tells us that sexual health is “a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity.” Since Americans barely get any kind of health care at all, and the tiniest amount of sex education in school, it’s not surprising that people only visit doctors for sexual reasons under the most dire of circumstances, and not equally important concerns such as sexual ethics, consent, gender identity, trauma care, and desire. It’s also not surprising that we have the highest STD rates in the industrialized world. A recent report called our rates an “epidemic.” We’re number one!

2. Billions of dollars wasted on abstinence education.

Abstinence-only education—that is, teaching children, primarily girls, that the only way they can preserve their self-worth is to wait until they are married to have sex—has been a popular pastime in the U.S. for roughly the last 20 years, despite the fact that it’s been repeatedly proven not to do a damn thing to prevent teenagers from having sex. In fact, it does the exact opposite by negatively impacting condom use and sexual health.

Some lawmakers are still trying to pass legislation to end federal funding for abstinence-only programs, which mushroomed under George W. Bush, and which Obama later eliminated, only to have Republicans restore them as a concession to social conservatives under Obamacare. Thus far, however, lawmakers have been unsuccessful at ending the insanity. If only conservatives practiced abstinence as much as they preached it….

3. Discrimination against LGBT people is rampant.

In 2014, you can still get fired for being gay, lesbian, or bisexual in 29 states. The number increases to 33 states if you include transgender people. The stigmatization of sexual minorities also leads them not to seek sexual healthcare (and general healthcare) as often as their straight counterparts, leading to poorer health overall, mental health issues and long-term problems. Many don’t even feel comfortable coming out to their doctors, potentially putting them at higher risk for more serious illnesses.

And don’t even get us started on how many Americans believe bisexuality doesn’t exist.

4. We have seriously warped body images.

The only naked bodies we see (unless you are one of the rare breeds who come from a nudist household) are found in porn, and hence, we think of the porn body as the “ideal,” even though very few people’s bodies and genitals look like that without severe modification. A few brave souls are attempting to normalize the diversity of genitalia, Betty Dodson, for instance, but by and large Americans have a lot of shame surrounding their bodies and private parts, leading to such horrors as anal bleaching, labiaplasty, vaginal rejuvenation, and vajazzling, also known as turning one’s vagina into a glittery disco.

5. We’re obsessed with penis size.

We recently watched Unhung Hero on Netflix (it’s not bad!) about our cultural obsession with penis size, and one man’s hilarious and at times depressing attempts to increase his schlong’s length and girth. What with the countless pills, penis pumps, surgical enhancement opportunities, and porn-penis obsessions, it’s obvious that America is hung up (sorry) on the idea that having a monster penis is the only way to be a fully actualized human man. This obsession is generating a lot of money for penis-enhancement companies, but in terms of effectiveness, the “gains” such enhancements produce are often in the realms of insecurity, doubt, loss of sensation, and discomfort.

6. Our popular magazines offer the most bizarre sex advice.

What country besides ours would suggest women fellate a pastry in order to be more sexually satisfied? Thanks to the likes of popular magazines like Cosmopolitan and Men’s Health, Americans are taught the most absurd things about sex, such as the notion that snorting pepper to increase orgasm intensity is a fine idea, presenting your lady with a dick dipped in Nutella will get you an “enthusiastic blow job,” and the smell of toast is an incredible aphrodisiac.

7. Rape culture and the sexual double standard.

Ugh, the fact that we even have a term for it is depressing, but if anything can be gleaned from the recent atrocities of the Santa Barbara massacre and the #yesallwomen campaign, it’s that the way our country views women, sexual violence and female sexuality is seriously skewed. Women are routinely blamed, stigmatized and called names for the sexual harassment and assault they experience.

In addition to the fact that rape culture attempts to normalize sexual violence, the virgin-whore dichotomy also contributes to our warped views on female sexuality. As Ally Sheedy’s character in The Breakfast Club noted about America’s views on female sexuality almost 30 years ago, “If you haven’t, you’re a prude. If you have, you’re a slut. It’s a trap.” Sadly, America’s views haven’t changed much.

8. Ridiculous anti-sex laws still on the books.

It’s illegal to sell sex toys, a.k.a. “obscene devices” in states such as Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, and Louisiana. If you’re busted for promoting a dildo in Louisiana, you face a fine of up to $5,000. In Alabama, it comes with a fine of $10,000 and a year of “hard labor”!

Lest you think this is just the wacky South, Cleveland has a law against showing underboob, defining “nudity” as a “female breast with less than a full, opaque covering of any portion thereof below the top of the nipple.” Having premarital sex is still considered a “crime” in Massachusetts(comes with a $30 fine and up to a three-month imprisonment), Idaho ($300 fine and up to six months jail time), and Utah (class B misdemeanor). And of course the South doesn’t smile upon unmarried sex either: Mississippi promises a fine up to $500 and six months jail time, North Carolina law says you can’t “cohabit together,” and South Carolina sex packs a whopping fine of up to $500 and up to a year in jail.

Uh-merica!

A new approach for sex education?

“For some reason, says educator Al Vernacchio, the metaphors for talking about sex in the US all come from baseball — scoring, getting to first base, etc. The problem is, this frames sex as a competition, with a winner and a loser. Instead, he suggests a new metaphor, one that’s more about shared pleasure, discussion and agreement, fulfillment and enjoyment. Let’s talk about … pizza.”

Abstinence only education is harmful

From thinkprogress.org:

Elizabeth Smart: Abstinence Education Teaches Rape Victims They’re Worthless, Dirty, And Filthy

Elizabeth Smart became a household name after she was kidnapped from her home in Salt Lake City, UT at the age of 14 and held in captivity for nine months. She was forced into a polygamous marriage, tethered to a metal cable, and raped daily until she was rescued from her captors nine months later. Smart was recovered while she and her kidnappers were walking down a suburban street, leading many Americans who followed her story on the national news to wonder:Why didn’t she just run away as soon as she was brought outside?

Speaking to an audience at Johns Hopkins about issues of human trafficking and sexual violence, Smart recently offered an answer to that question. She explained that some human trafficking victims don’t run away because they feel worthless after being raped, particularly if they have been raised in conservative cultures that push abstinence-only education and emphasize sexual purity:

Smart said she “felt so dirty and so filthy” after she was raped by her captor, and she understands why someone wouldn’t run “because of that alone.”

Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum, saying she was raised in a religious household and recalled a school teacher who spoke once about abstinence and compared sex to chewing gum.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value,” Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”

Now in her mid-twenties, Smart runs a foundation to help educate children about sexual crimes. She now believes that children should grow up learning that “you will always have value and nothing can change that.”

Social psychologists and sexual abuse counselors agree that comprehensive sex education can help prevent sexual crimes. Teaching children about their bodies gives them the tools to describe acts of abuse without feeling as embarrassed or uncomfortable, and it also helps elevate their self-confidence and sense of bodily autonomy. A shame-based approach to genitalia and sexuality, on the other hand, sends kids the message that they can’t discuss or ask questions about any of those issues.

Nonethless, abstinence-only education programs have a long history of imparting harmful messages that shame youth about their sexuality instead of teaching them the facts they needto safeguard their health. A high school in West Virginia recently made national headlines after hosting a conservative religious speaker who allegedly told students “if you take birth control, your mother probably hates you” and “I could look at any one of you in the eyes right now and tell if you’re going to be promiscuous.” In Smart’s home state of Utah — which is home to a large religiously conservative Mormon community — sex education is currently mandated, but lawmakers have repeatedly pushed to weaken the state law and reinstate an abstinence-only curriculum.