In addition to bystander intervention talked about in the last post, education about consent, healthy relationships, and healthy sexuality are necessary as a part of preventing sexual violence. These conversations don't happen nearly enough. How many of you can say you learned about consent or healthy relationships in your sex education classes during elementary, middle, or high school? From my experience and countless conversations with friends, family members, classmates, colleagues, and clients, most of us simply learned the relatively vague biology of how sexual intercourse works, specifically heterosexual intercourse. There was a ton of emphasis on anatomy and little to no emphasis on emotion-related or relationship-focused aspects of sex. The need for communication within sexual intimacy was never addressed and no one ever heard of the word "consent." We were taught "how to do it" physically, but I have never met anyone whose school-based education has taught them about the emotional components of sexual intimacy, the importance of communication, or what a healthy relationship actually looks like. (If you have had the experience of being taught about aspects of sex outside the physical understanding, I would greatly appreciate hearing from you as I would be very interested in what you learned and where you learned it to be able to garner additional resources for other schools).
In my 7th grade health education middle school class in the tiny, moderately conservative town of Freedom, Wisconsin, we talked about sex over a few classes. We discussed anatomy, the teacher passed around a bag of tampons and condoms (yes, together in the same bag), and then we spent a majority of the rest of the quarter doing research and creating a report on how much money it would cost to give birth to and raise a baby (which I'm pretty confident was my school's attempt at promoting abstinence through fear-based tactics). There was very little time for questions, and, honestly, even if there was, none of us really knew what to ask nor would we have been comfortable asking questions we may have had without feeling like we would be asking a "stupid question." We were "cool" middle school kids who thought we were supposed to know all of this already; if we had a question, we must not be experienced enough. Over the years, we had internalized the message that not being sexually experienced made us uncool in some way. I knew a majority of my fellow classmates had never engaged in most sexual acts (no matter what sexual acts the boys in my class falsely boasted about whenever the teacher walked out of the room), yet we all were fiercely committed to awkwardly pretending to know what we were doing. My classroom environment was extremely instructional and focused on teaching the very objective basics of heterosexual physical intercourse; there was no discussion or instruction about the more subjective parts of sexual intimacy like emotions or relationships. And we definitely never addressed the concepts of consent or communication needs before, during, and after engaging in any sexual act.
I've learned my educational experience was not unique. What were your experiences with sex education classes like? I would love to hear about your experiences and what you think would have been helpful for you to have learned. Please comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are willing to share your experience.
This gap in education has translated into a largely uninformed college student population. At freshmen orientation this fall, I found myself needing to define consent for the students I was presenting to. Many students did not understand that someone legally cannot consent to a sexual act when intoxicated. They did not get that pushing, coercing, or threatening someone until they give in or maybe even say yes to a sexual act is assault. The students had a difficult time understanding that someone can change their mind at any point during a sexual interaction. We stressed how saying yes to one act does not mean other acts are automatically okay. And the students had to learn that the presence of silence or the absence of a no does not mean yes. Most disturbingly, many of the students were surprised to learn that a sexual act engaged in without consent is sexual assault. There was a vast misunderstanding of sexual assault and consent among the college students sitting in front of me, which was incredibly unnerving.
To curb some of the lack of knowledge around consent and healthy relationships, I have decided to plan an event to educate our community about healthy sexuality and the importance of communication that many of us never received throughout our childhood or teenage years. On Wednesday, February 12th at 7pm, Tips From a Sex Therapist: How to Get the Most Out of Your Intimate Relationship will be presented by certified sex therapist and licensed clinical social worker, Janelle Washburne, in the Craig Hall Community Room at the Graduate School of Social Work.
We will be educating our campus community on the CERTS model of healthy sexuality (Consent, Equality, Respect, Trust, and Safety) and stressing the need for open communication in sexual interactions. We will also explore the effects power and control have on relationships and will engage in an anonymous Q&A to provide a safe environment to allow audience members to have additional questions answered that were not addressed in the presentation. My hope is that this event will provide the community with a better understanding of the importance of the presence of consent, equality, respect, trust, and safety in sexual interactions. This event will be a part of DU's Love, Sex, and Health Week and will be open to the entire community. Check out the flyer below for more information on other events occurring during Love, Sex, and Health Week.