8. Sex Ed... Sexual Violence Prevention... and Gender Justice

Comments at Suffolk Panel responding to Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings

Today I was on a panel to discuss sexual violence & the recent Supreme Court confirmation, and I spoke about rape culture, fascism, and survivor-led activism. Thank you Duane DeFour for joining us at Suffolk and for the analysis of perpetrator behavior you brought to the discussion. ***If anything above resonates with you, please make a contribution to the fundraiser I’m doing for Wagatwe Wanjuki, an anti-rape activist who has taught me so much.***

First I want you to know that what happened was wrong. What Christine Blasey-Ford described — the assault against her, as a teenage girl, by the teenage boy she says was the same person the government just gave a lifetime appointment to the US Supreme Court — that was wrong. I’m not a lawyer and the law is not our only arbiter of human behavior. From a developmental perspective, from a moral perspective, attacking someone, restraining them, sexually assaulting them, behaving in such a way that the person being targeted rightly fears death — is wrong. I want everyone in this room to know that. I want every Suffolk student to know that — and every person who has ever attended a party. I want every man to know it. I want every woman and nonbinary person to know it. I want every survivor to know it. It was wrong.

And perhaps, at the same time as knowing that it is wrong, you also know it feels familiar. You know that it happens. You know that this particular scene, of a couple guys isolating and attacking a girl at a party, happens. You know that this kind of thing, this thing that we call sexual assault, happens. You know that it happens to teenage girls in high school. You know that it happens to young women in college. You may or may not know that it’s actually most likely to happen to queer women and trans people. You may or may not know that it happens, too often, to men too. It may or may not have happened to you.

If it has happened to you, I’m sorry. I believe you. And it’s not your fault.

It is, first and foremost, the fault of the person who perpetrated an act of violence against you. And it is, too, the fault of what we call rape culture.

Rape culture is the term we use to name that sexual violence is not a series of isolated events, but rather is a systematic and systemic intentional agenda to use sexual violence as a form of social control.

By saying rape culture is systematic I’m saying it is organized, coordinated, that many different parts of rape culture work together to produce our lives as they are now. By saying rape culture is systemic I’m saying it is pervasive, it is everywhere, it shapes all of us. By saying rape culture is intentional I’m saying it’s on purpose. It is not an accident. It is not an accident that guys at parties isolate and attack their chosen victims. It is not an accident that other guys at parties don’t stop them. It is not an accident when the cops don’t stop them. It is not an accident when they are not punished.

Rape culture is on purpose because it serves a purpose, and we cannot be fully effective at stopping rape culture unless we are also ready to admit and address the purpose it serves. Rape culture is a systematic and systemic intentional agenda to use sexual violence as a form of social control of women and queer people in the service of White Supremacy.

Rape culture upholds White Supremacy, and White Supremacy relies on rape culture. The work of ending rape is also the work of dismantling white supremacy. And, right now, with utmost urgency, the work of dismantling white supremacy is also the work of stopping white supremacist fascism.

My disciplinary training as a developmental psychologist is about understanding human development as ongoing mutual influences between the individual and context. I will anchor us in an analysis of the current developmental context in which we operate, and then I will affirm the power of individual agency in making much-needed change.

The context in which we develop, in which we are currently developing — is constituted and constrained by historical time and place. One of the defining features of our current historical time and place is the sharp rise of white supremacist fascist ideology & action.

Rape culture, sexual violence, and men’s violence against women are core components of the white supremacist fascism on the rise across America.

  • Some white supremacist factions have rape culture and men’s entitlement to women’s lives and bodies as their core defining feature — this includes the men who call themselves Men’s Rights Activists, as well as the men who call themselves involuntary celibates. As if women owe them anything.
  • Some white supremacist factions rely on rape culture as a rhetorical threat to distract you from their real agenda. When the fascists claim that Mexican men will rape us, they don’t actually care if we are raped or not. They just want us to fear Mexicans. We won’t give in to that false fear. When the fascist claim that affirming the right of trans people to use the bathroom that makes them most comfortable will give cis male predators an excuse to enter the women’s bathroom to rape us, they don’t actually care if we are raped or not. They just want us to fear a society that affirms the existence of trans people. We won’t give in to that false fear. It is rape culture and white supremacist culture that damage our personal and interpersonal development — not communities that affirm and protect trans people and immigrants. Communities that affirm and protect trans people and immigrants are good for us all.
  • Some white supremacist factions rely on rape culture inherent to centuries of white supremacy on this continent, meaning the ways in which White male colonizers use sexual violence to attack and abuse Native Peoples, and the ways in which White male capitalists use sexual violence to control, profit off, and abuse Black enslaved people. When we fight to end sexual violence on these lands, we must first and foremost fight to end sexual violence against Black and Indigenous women — abuse which continues to this day.
  • And while in some ways these white supremacist factions are distinct, they are not entirely separate either. The giant violent white supremacist attack on Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 was called quote “Unite the Right,” and that was one of many attempts to do so. The fascists are racist and Islamophobic and xenophobic and transphobic and homophobic and anti-semitic and they are also very, very sexist rape apologist perpetuators of rape culture.
  • So, that is where we are. This is the world we are living in. A world in which 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. That means many of us in this room were survivors before we even came to Suffolk. I’m sorry, I believe you, and it is not your fault.

It is not your fault, and yet it is now a part of your life, a part of your development, a trauma for you to process and survive and respond to in whatever ways you choose. So before I close, as promised I want to talk about individual agency. I want to talk about the role of survivor-activism in bringing about much-needed change, to end rape culture, to dismantle white supremacy, and to stop fascism in its tracks.

I’m grateful for the people who went to DC to put their bodies on the line in solidarity with Christine Blasey-Ford and in protest of confirming a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court for a man who has testimony against him as a perpetrator of sexual assault. What was the purpose of these protests and what did these activists do for us?

  • The most ambitious goal was, of course, to stop the confirmation. Making the hearings as uncomfortable as possible, making the voting elected officials as uncomfortable as possible, and swaying public opinion all had the potential to stop the confirmation. Even though that did not happen, the activism itself is still worthwhile.
  • For years, the Movement for Black Lives has called on us to disrupt business as usual. Do not let a violent exploitative system operate with ease. Do not quietly continue with a consistently harmful status quo. Disrupting business as usual is thus another important purpose of protest.
  • The activists attempting to stop the confirmation and disrupt business as usual were also doing something specifically for us. They were holding space for us, holding space for survivors to know that someone thinks this is wrong and cares enough to do something. I was here teaching classes at Suffolk and did not go to DC, and I’m grateful to those who went and held this space for me.
  • The activists were also in DC specifically to honor the testimony of Christine Blasey-Ford and the testimony of Anita Hill before her. Holding up and honoring the precedent of Anita Hill’s testimony is important. White feminists and white survivors, myself included, must remember with every word and every action that the history of survivor-led activism is a history of leadership by Black women and women of color.
  • So when we honor the survivor-led activism in DC, we must honor the entire history of women of color survivor-led anti-rape activism. Centuries of history that includes Kimberle Crenshaw and Anita Hill and Tarana Burke and Ericka Hart, as well as people who launched their activism as students, speaking up about college sexual violence, like Wagatwe Wanjuki and Emma Sulkowicz.

Rape culture and white supremacy are terrible terrifying defining developmental features of our time. And. So are we. We are also defining developmental features of our time. We have agency. We can fight back.

So, to survivors: I believe you, and I believe in you. I believe in your power and I believe in your ability to take action. Thank you.

***If anything above resonates with you, please make a contribution to the fundraiser I’m doing for Wagatwe Wanjuki, an anti-rape activist who has taught me so much.***

8. Sex Ed... Sexual Violence Prevention... and Gender Justice

Believe women. Believe non-binary people. Believe survivors.

  1. When women say “no,” believe us that the answer is no.
  2. When women say “this isn’t good for me,” believe us that this isn’t good for us.
  3. When women say “hordes of powerful racist sexist abusive men are enacting a political agenda of mass genocide in pursuit of a white ethno-state,” believe us that, in fact, hordes of powerful racist sexist abusive men are enacting a political agenda of mass genocide in pursuit of a white ethno-state.
  4. When women say, “you aren’t listening to me,” believe us that you’re missing something.
  5. When women say, “he could just acknowledge it and apologize,” believe us that there is a reasonable possibility of apology in this situation even if you have never imagined anyone would ever apologize for perpetrating that harm.
  6. When Black women say, “White women perpetrate particular patterns of racism and racist harm that have to be stopped,” believe them that White women perpetrate particular patterns of racism and racist harm that have to be stopped. I am one of those White women, and I believe them, and I am working to stop that harmful behavior.
  7. When a trans woman of color says, “my life is being threatened and I can’t take it anymore and I need you to care about me and do something,” believe her that her life is being threatened and she can’t take it anymore and she needs you to care about her and do something. Figure out what you can do. I’ve been there before and I wish I had done more, and I’m working hard on being able to do more next time.
  8. When Black trans women say, “stop epidemic violence against us and center us in your anti-racist/ queer/ feminist organizing,” believe them that we need to stop the epidemic violence against Black trans women and center Black trans women in our anti-racist/ queer/ feminist organizing. I am one of those organizers, and I’ve seen how resources get taken away from Black trans women over and over and over again, and I’m not okay with it.
  9. When trans women say, “we are women,” believe them: trans women are women.
  10. When women who are activists say, “we are being targeted by state surveillance and unjust arrests,” believe us that we are being targeted by state surveillance and unjust arrests. And then join us in the activist work too, in spite of or maybe because of those risks.
  11. When women who are parents say, “we need housing and healthcare and childcare and public education and college scholarships and a living wage,” believe them that they and their families need all these things and more. Parents who aren’t women need them too. People who aren’t parents need them too. Just saying.
  12. When Black women say “pay Black women,” then pay Black women. And fund Black women’s organizing.
  13. When women say “I’m queer, and it’s complicated,” then believe us that we’re maybe not gay and maybe not bisexual and we are queer and it is complicated and that matters and then ask more questions if you want to learn more and then believe the answers to those questions, too.
  14. When women say, “that will hurt me,” believe us that it will hurt us, even if you do not understand how.
  15. I’m a White cisgender femme writing this, so if I said something wrong here, believe Women of Color and believe trans women and believe non-binary people over me. Please and thank you.

I could go on.

Oh, I could go on for so much longer.

What would you add?

Move your money – fund trans and queer women of color-led organizing:

Trans Women of Color Collective

Third Wave Fund

Sister Song

Astrea

The Network/ La Red

6. Youth Development & Education, 8. Sex Ed... Sexual Violence Prevention... and Gender Justice

5 Ways Sexual Objectification in Mainstream Media can Impact Adolescent Viewers

This piece was originally posted on May 3, 2018 with the Society for Research on Adolescence.

Adolescents learn about themselves, their bodies, and how to be a person in the world in many ways — from each other, from their families and schools, and also from popular culture. While most of these sources of influence can be facilitated intentionally by parents and educators, what happens in popular media cannot be controlled. However, parents and educators and other people supporting the positive development of adolescents can take an active role in helping young people understand and navigate the impact of popular media. To contribute to that process, this blog post examines one aspect of sexism in popular media: sexual objectification.

Sexual objectification of women means treating women as sexual objects. Sexual objectification is when people are treated more like things (as in, physical objects) than as people who are complicated cognitive social emotional human beings. Focusing on parts of a body is one example of something that is sexually objectifying; another example is presenting bodies as interchangeable.

The American Psychological Association (APA) Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls released a 2007 report about the impacts of media that sexually objectify women and girls. This report lead to further research in communications, cognitive psychology, human sexuality development, and other interrelated disciplines. Dr. Monique Ward then authored a review of the empirical research on this topic published 1995-2015.

Ward reviewed empirical studies published from 1995 to 2015 that identify effects of exposure to sexually objectifying media, through experimental lab studies or through everyday life. In Ward’s review, she found that exposure to sexually objectifying media can contribute to:

  • Self objectification: When people perceive or treat themselves as sexual objects. (How do I look? What will others think when they see me? Do I measure up?)
  • Body dissatisfaction: Endorsement of a cultural body ideal dissonant with how people see themselves, that makes people unhappy about their own bodies (although idealized body standards may vary cross-culturally)
  • Sexist beliefs: Seeing women as less than human, seeing women as interchangeable, erasing women’s inner lives (e.g., thoughts and feelings), and having negative judgments of sexualized people.,
  • Tolerance of violence against women: Blaming women for their own sexual victimization. Expressing attitudes that support rape and sexual harassment and actually engaging in sexual or gender-based harassment.
  • Objectified sexual experiences: Boys exposed to sexually objectifying media are more likely to focus on the body size and shape of girls they want to date and are more anxious about their own appearance. Youth of all genders may be more self-conscious of their body while engaging in sexual activity.

How prevalent is sexual objectification? Ward reported that sexually objectifying portrayals have been found for:

Knowing these potential effects of sexual objectification in media can equip teenagers to better critique and resist the media they consume. Furthermore, teenagers need to be aware that watching a movie or following a television series is not a benign hobby — everything we do shapes our experience of ourselves and others. Sexual objectification is just one of the many ways the impact of sexist media could be considered. There are other forms of sexualization discussed in the APA report, as well as other aspects of sexual scripts, toxic gender norms, and rape culture to consider.

Young people can also use this information to advocate for change. They can choose to support the Hollywood actresses naming their own experiences of sexual assault behind the screens through #MeToo and saying #TimesUp on sexism in the entertainment industry, both on screen and off. They can advocate for educational opportunities to help buffer the effects of pervasive sexism and sexual objectification, such as ways to build media literacy skills and ways to access comprehensive sexual health education that can strengthen their development of embodied sexual agency. They can also choose to support shows with complex, agentic characters like the Black teenage girl scientist-heroes Meg and Shuri in A Wrinkle in Time and Black Panther, respectively. Youth themselves can make choices about what messages they are exposed to and how they respond to those messages.

Note: The literature on sexual objectification for the most part takes a binary approach to gender, assessing the impact of sexualized media on girls or boys, often within a heterosexual framework. More research is needed to understand the impact of sexual objectification in media for queer youth, trans youth, and youth with non-binary gender identities. Furthermore, a growing body of literature addresses intersections of gender and race, for example, in how feminine and masculine body ideals and physical desirability itself is strongly racialized within the context of American popular culture that idealizes Whiteness.

8. Sex Ed... Sexual Violence Prevention... and Gender Justice

Tips for men confused/overwhelmed by #MeToo and #TimesUp

You have a role in this work. You have a responsibility to yourself and to people you care about. You are needed.

  1. Start journaling. Seriously, you’re going to need a resilience practice, and you’re going to need some space to get to know your own feelings. At least 10 minutes daily.
  2. Follow some feminists. Read what they write and share. Make sure it’s not a fake feminist, like a rape apologist or a TERF. Choose women of color. Wagatwe Wanjuki and Ijeoma Oluo and Lourdes Hunter and obviously Tarana Burke, for example.
  3. Tell women that you’re working on it. Not for cookies, but as an FYI. And I don’t mean women in general. I mean some specific women in your life whom you care about. Say to them, this is really impacting me, and I’m committed to learning more. I want you to know that I care about you and I care about doing better.
  4. Support survivors. Queer survivors, trans survivors, male survivors, women and anyone who has been targeted by sexual violence. If you are confident and humble in your ability to not be an asshole, you can possibly be helpful. Maybe you can make yourself available to listen. Maybe you can help with just some of the labor of life. Put some food in someone’s freezer.
  5. ORGANIZE. Connect with other men to build towards shared goals. I want white men especially to organize against white supremacist patriarchal violence. And. . . also I really don’t. I mean, I do. I’m just worried you’re going to mess it up. And you will. But maybe you have to. Please listen, when you do mess it up. And then try again. Please try again. Keep learning and keep trying.

I want you to be successful at this. I even want to help you be successful. All our lives depend on it.

1. Sex, Dating, & Relationships, 8. Sex Ed... Sexual Violence Prevention... and Gender Justice

Be Better to Me than Aziz was to Grace (A Script of What He Could Have Done)

I wrote a fan fiction spin-off of Grace’s story in Babe. I didn’t write it for Grace or for Aziz Ansari — I wrote it for all the people calling those events “normal,” and for all the people recalling their own stories, and for all the people who don’t know how he could have done any better. HE COULD HAVE DONE BETTER. And you can, too. Let’s just consider really specifically what “better” might have sounded like.

 

1.

G: Why, what nice countertops you have.

A: Want to hop up and take a seat?

G: (Laughs, slides up)

A: Mhmm, this is a good height for me to kiss you. Can I kiss you?

G: Mhmm… (they kiss)

A: How about these clothes, how about we…

G: Mhmm, not yet…

A: Ok.

 

2.

A: I’m going to grab a condom.

G: Whoa, let’s relax for a sec, let’s chill.

A: Oh, ok. Can I keep kissing you? Or, do you want to get down from the countertop?

G: (Slides her feet back to the floor.)

 

3.

A: (Pulls her hand towards his penis.)

G: (Pulls her hand away.)

A: I want you to touch me. I want to feel your hands on me.

G: (Looks uncomfortable, shakes her head.)

A: Oh, not if you don’t want to. (Puts his fingers in her mouth.) Do you want me to touch you?

G: (Shakes her head again, laughs a little nervously.)

A: Ok! Ok, I hear you. Can I keep kissing you?

 

4.

G: (Stops moving her hand, moves away from him.)

A: Are you okay? What do you want, what would feel good?

 

5.

A: Where do you want me to fuck you?

G: Next time.

A: Oh, you mean not tonight?

G: Yeah.

A: I hope for another night then. What do you want to do tonight? A glass of water, a glass of wine, watch a movie, get an uber?

 

6.

G: I don’t want to feel forced because then I’ll hate you, and I’d rather not hate you.

A: Oh, of course, it’s only fun if we’re both having fun. I don’t want to force you, and I don’t want you to feel forced. What would help? Do you want me to get you an uber? Do you want to sit with me on the couch?

G: I’ll come sit with you.

A: Can I do something to help? Rub your shoulders, turn on the TV?

G: Yes, please!

 

7.

A: (After the episode of Seinfeld finishes.) Thanks for staying and cuddling. Can I kiss you again? Or shall I get you an uber?

G: An uber, thanks.

A: Just tell them your name is…

 

8. Sex Ed... Sexual Violence Prevention... and Gender Justice

18 Things for Men to Say in ’18 — at the Golden Globes, or Anywhere

Not one male Golden Globe winner used a moment on camera to mention #MeToo or #TimesUp or sexual assault or men’s violence against women. So I put together a little list of simple, practical sentences that could slide out of men’s mouths at the next award ceremony… or anytime this year, really.

  1. I trust women.
  2. I believe women.
  3. I stand with survivors.
  4. I will hold perpetrators accountable.
  5. To end sexual violence we must end toxic masculinity.
  6. To end sexual violence we must acknowledge, address, and end white male violence.
  7. I am here to help men have better emotional lives, better friendships, better access to both emotional support and accountability.
  8. I am here to change myself as part of changing our culture.
  9. I withdraw my support for the ideals of toxic masculinity.
  10. I withdraw my support from men who perpetrate sexual violence. I will not be complicit.
  11. I will stop working with toxic violent men.
  12. I will stop working with rapists and abusers.
  13. I will stop producing media that glorifies toxic violent men.
  14. I will stop producing media that glorifies rapists and abusers.
  15. I will support media produced by women and queer people of color, with my money and with my social power.
  16. I will support media that challenges white male dominance, with my money and with my social power.
  17. I will make mistakes and accept critique.
  18. I will work hard to make change. Change in my personal life, change in my work life. Change in ways I can’t possibly imagine. I’m here for it.
1. Sex, Dating, & Relationships, 8. Sex Ed... Sexual Violence Prevention... and Gender Justice

Introducing “The Debrief”

Great news!

I’ve been asked by JewishBoston.com to write a weekly column, “ four years ago. Thank you to all of you who have read, shared, and commented on my posts. Words can’t express how much your support means to me. I hope you continue to enjoy the archives of my journey thus far.
And look out for a new column of The Debrief every Wednesday!
1. Sex, Dating, & Relationships, 8. Sex Ed... Sexual Violence Prevention... and Gender Justice

Transformative Sex Ed in Action: The Ethical Sexuality Retreat

The Sex Ed Team at the Moishe Kavod House in Brookline, MA had our first ever (first annual?) team retreat ten day ago. We wanted to spend a whole day talking together about sex, sexuality, and relationships in our lives and in our communities so that we could create a safe space in which to really dive into the trickier, stickier, more complex questions that came up during our workshops this past year.
We had 18 people in attendance, including people who had been integrally involved in the team for the past year or more as well as people for whom the retreat was their first team event. Many people wanted to join us but couldn’t make it, so I thought I’d provide here a little taste of the questions we asked each other:
*How does your Judaism [religion, spirituality] impact your sexuality? How does your sexuality impact your Judaism [religion, spirituality]?
*What happens when I don’t fit into the question you’re asking?
*What are the two most salient pieces of your identity? How do these identities make you feel powerful, powerless, or both at different times throughout your life?
*Do your sexual ethics change in different relationships?
*What personal needs does sex ed meet for you? What personal needs could sex ed meet for you in the future?
*How can we broaden and deepen our impact on the world through sex ed?
We also had three small groups break out for an hour in the afternoon. Their discussions focused on three different themes: jealousy, asexuality, and body image.
By the end of the day, I could feel that the people in the room were very excited and ready to take on leadership of the team in the coming year and get some great work done. We want to do a thorough revision of our six-part curriculum, paying special attention to issues of power, privilege, and identity in framing the activities and informing the discussions, as well as working to integrate Judaism and Jewish learning in a variety of ways. We will also continue to make space for structured and unstructured conversations in our community about relevant topics related to sex, sexuality, and relationships. In addition, we will explore the process of building power so that we can engage in outreach work, take action, and have an impact on the world at large.
If you want to hear more about our work or maybe get involved, feel free to contact me directly or email our team leaders at EthicalSexuality (at) kavodhouse (dot) com.

1. Sex, Dating, & Relationships, 8. Sex Ed... Sexual Violence Prevention... and Gender Justice

Sex Ed for Young Adults, Take Two: It’s Time for Outreach!

A summary of Sex Ed, Take One:
The Sex Ed class for young adults that I was teaching ended in May. I loved and learned from each one of our 14 sessions, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to facilitate these sessions and for the time and energy of each one of the participants. We achieved a lot: 14 evenings together reveling in the Our Whole Lives curriculum; 4 community members trained in facilitating both the Adult and Young Adult versions of this curriculum; and 1 community-wide Sex Ed Shabbat, including prayer services themed on the four Our Whole Lives values and four break-out sessions on various sex ed topics. To wrap up our semester, we joined Keshet in a celebration of Boston Queer Pride. Special shout-outs go to our community leaders at the Moishe/ Kavod House for supporting and participating in this project, to the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ for their fabulous sex ed curricula and trainings, and to the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel (BYFI) grant program for a grant that provided the funds for our work.

An introduction to Sex Ed, Take Two:
Literally the day after our closing session for the class, I started writing a second grant to fund the next stage of our project. And I’m happy to announce that we got the grant! The BYFI Alumni Venture Fund has provided us with a grant to do local outreach around issues of human sexuality. As we continue to provide sex education and community-building programming at the Moishe/ Kavod House, we will also reach out to leaders at local synagogues, university Hillels, and other Jewish community organizations. We will engage them in conversation about the needs of their own communities and the interest in their in experiencing and supporting comprehensive sex education. We will develop materials to serve as the foundation for building these relationships, particularly in the form of workshops we can offer in these other communities. The materials will cover topics such as consent, relationships and communication, gender identity, sexual orientation, family, sexual violence, body image, sexual health, and advocacy. We will explore these topics both on their own terms and as Jews, in conversation with our own Jewish experiences and with Jewish texts.

How you can get involved in this next stage:
We need leaders, and we need doers! Whether you were a participant in the first sex ed class or not, I encourage you to find a way to get involved with our Outreach project. Since this rendition of Sex Ed will combine community education with organizing and outreach, we will need many people to bring a wide variety of skills to the table. Do you want to be involved? What might you be interested in doing? Please be in touch with me to let me know if you’re interested in:
• Joining us over dinner (ie, meetings) to deepen our vision of this work and start planning
• Connecting us with people you know in other local Jewish communities
• Contacting and meeting with leaders in other local Jewish communities
• Finding an analyzing Jewish sources, commentary, and other writings on sexuality
• Helping us develop various workshops that can meet the different needs of our partner communities, including college students, adults and parents
• Researching and producing fact sheets with up-to-date information about local and national sexuality education policies and other policies related to sexual health and justice
• Attending an Our Whole Lives facilitation training (one weekend)
• Bringing any of your favorite skills to the table! Think: cooking, making posters, event planning, writing articles, event turnout, you name it…

I’m really thrilled and excited about moving on to this next stage alongside three other trained facilitators, talented community organizers, and passionate sex education participants. I welcome and encourage any and all feedback, questions or other thoughts and feelings that you may have as you read this news.

1. Sex, Dating, & Relationships, 8. Sex Ed... Sexual Violence Prevention... and Gender Justice

Reflections on Why I Teach Adult Sex Ed

I teach a sex education class for young adults in our 20s and 30s. Today, I want to tell you about the class and explain my belief that learning about sex is an act of healing the world.

The topic for our class is sexuality, broadly conceived. My goal is to facilitate the development of a safe space in which we can analyze our influences, reflect on our experiences and observations, and gain access to important knowledge and skills. Moreover, the basic process of engaging in open and honest conversations about these topics contains in itself extremely powerful moments and opportunities.

Honestly, it’s not just that I think it’s powerful or important, it’s more than that: I crave these conversations. I need them for myself, to help me make sense of my life, my relationships and my community. I need to discuss these issues with others. In college, I volunteered as an HIV test counselor and a peer educator at the Rape Crisis/Antiviolence Support Center, so I was surrounded by warm and enthusiastic conversation about sex and sexuality pretty consistently.

When I graduated, I missed that. I really felt the need for more of these conversations. I wanted people to talk to me about changes, fears and feelings. I wanted to talk about my sexuality and gender since college, about how it felt for some of us to be in couples and some of us not, about the implications of growing older and the expectations on us to be women and men. I wanted to talk about sex.

Then, I got trained to teach Our Whole Lives to middle and high school students as part of my professional development. When I found out that Our Whole Lives also had a curriculum for young adults, I started thinking about teaching my peers.

I spoke with a community leader. She too had felt the need for these conversations in our community, and we made it happen.

So, that’s what my sex ed class is and that’s why I want it. But why is sex ed an act of healing the world?

1. Because healing the world starts with caring for your self. It may seem to take more time in the short term, but each of us individually will get more done and do it with more integrity in the long term if we’re caring for ourselves along the way, physically, emotionally and socially.

2. Because healing the world means engaging in healing relationships. Conversations help us practice understanding each other and communicating with each other in stronger and deeper ways. Intimate relationships, friendships and professional relationships can all benefit from this process.

3. Because our community needs healing. A lot of hurt and violence is perpetuated and covered up because of social norms and structures that sanction it or render it invisible. Talking about these issues can help our community fulfill its potential to be a powerful place of healing, love and celebration.

To demonstrate my claims about our community, I want to play hand up hand down. I’m going to say a statement, all you need to do is raise your hand if this statement applies to you. These statements all include the phrase “our community” – define “our community” as you will, whether you want to think specifically about the people who are already involved in our programs, or you want to think about progressive young adults in Boston, for example.

Let’s start playing.

Raise your hand if you know someone in our community who:
• has been in an unhealthy dating relationship
• is coping with an eating disorder or a history of disordered eating patterns
• wonders whether and how to come out
• is a survivor of sexual assault
• grapples with anxiety or depression
• has been hurt by homophobia or heterosexism
• has had a sexually transmitted infection
• has had an unhealthy breakup
• has said yes without meaning it
• has been hurt by sexism or gender discrimination

We have histories; we have pain; we have needs. At the same time, our community has amazing resources.

Raise your hand if you know someone in our community who:
• has been in a healthy, communicative relationship
• can say no when they don’t want to do something
• is pro-queer
• is a great listener
• expresses their feelings openly and honestly
• identifies strongly as a feminist
• has many healthy ways of coping with pain
• speaks out against negative media messages
• has a positive attitude towards sex and sexuality
• loves their body

I want us to share our many strengths and many blessings with each other. We need to come together to listen, to validate, and to challenge each other. Through these processes, we can take care of ourselves, build community and heal the world.

A note on self-care: during the first part of the hands up exercise, I mention painful and dramatic experiences that many of us have had. If you feel upset by that activity, please talk to someone you trust. I’m here to support you and help you find the care you need.