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Sex Positive

Comprehensive Sexuality Education

Education plays a large role in our understanding of the world. It can often lay a foundation for our perceptions of the world. Yet, at the same time, there can be considerable gaps in education that students look to fill. An example of this is within sexual education in high schools. Sexual education has long been a point of tension within school districts. For some districts, it is abstinent only sex education, where students are to refrain from sexual intercourse. Other districts focus on consent. The overall result of this tension point is that there is a gap between what students are learning and what they want to learn. This is demonstrated by the findings from Louisa Allen’s “Closing Sex Education’s Knowledge/Practice Gap: The reconceptualization of young people’s sexual knowledge,” which show that there are two ways that young people, ages 17-19 conceptualize sexual knowledge (Allen, 2001). The first way is information that comes from secondary sources, such as sexual education (Allen, 2001). The second way is from actual experiences with sex (Allen, 2001). Yet, students and young people are receiving their sexual education, not just in the classroom, but in multiple different ways.

The first step in understanding this gap is to understand that there had long been a debate about how sexual education should be taught. There is a debate about whether sexual education should emphasize the risks of sex or stating that teen sex is normal and ensuring it is taught to be safe and responsible (Gordon & Ellingson, 2006). According to the data from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, 37 states have laws requiring abstinence be included in lessons (Planned Parenthood). Only 18 states require educators to educate on the matters of birth control (Planned Parenthood). There is not a uniformed sexual education program throughout the United States, which means that students all over the country are learning different things about sex. The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) has long been advocating the sexual activity focuses on the message that “sexuality is a joyful, integrative, and natural part of being human” (Gordon & Ellingson, 2006).

Yet, a majority of students are receiving what is known as “official sexual education.” This official sexual education focuses on risk mitigation, focusing on Sexual Transmitted Diseases and Infection prevention (Ollis, 2016). Overall, when students were asked about sex, they were not talking about “official sex,” such as Sexual Transmitted Infections or pregnancy prevention, but rather they are talking through their own experiences and what sex means to them (Allen, 2001). The ‘So What’s an Abstinence Anyway?’ lesson had the least variation in interpretation: 90% of the students determined that the danger messages were most dominant. Even in this case, however, the remaining 10% of participants were split between pleasure and equal/unbiased messages” (Gordon & Ellingson, 2006). The current forms of education that are valued when it comes to sexual education is that which “prescribes appropriate behavior rather than knowledge” (Allen, 2001). Even with teaching students every aspect of sexual intercourse, from risk mitigation to consent, students will often bring their own “interpretations based on gender, race, class, sexual orientation, and youth’ (Gordon & Ellingson, 2006). Yet, a well-rounded sexual education could prevent future beliefs in rape myths if done properly. The Sexual Education Forum encourages Sexualities and Relationship education that promotes sexual education that includes discussions on sexuality, emotions, sexual health and more (8). Santelli

According to the SIECUS, if students cannot articulate what they are looking for in a sexual relationship, then they will not be able to articulate consent or non-consent (Gordon & Ellingson, 2006).. This becomes especially prominent when analyzing the gap. This gap can be filled by family, their churches, their peers, their older siblings, and many more. Yet, the overwhelming majority of students are turning to pornography as a way to learn about the themes and topics that they are not learning about in the classroom. These themes include, sexual pleasure, sexual anatomy, and the mechanics of sex. A majority of people between 13 and 18 years old have limited knowledge of the basics of sexual reproduction, even though 95% of that population have been through some form of sexual education (Hesse & Pedersen, 2017). The knowledge that students want to know is not taught in the classrooms (Allen, 2001). 

Comprehensive Sexual Education is an important form of early intervention for Preventing Sexual Assault. These conversations with our youth are imperative in the fight to end sexual violence. 

For more information on comprehensive sexuality education services offered by ZCenter, please contact info@zcenter.org.

Gordon, L. E., & Ellingson, L. (2006). In the eyes of the beholder: Student interpretations of sexuality lessons. Sex Education, 6(3), 251–264. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681810600836364

Lyndon, A. E., Duffy, D. M., Smith, P. H., & White, J. W. (2011). The role of high school coaches in helping prevent adolescent sexual aggression: Part of the solution or part of the problem? Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 35(4), 377–399. https://doi.org/10.1177/0193723511426292

Watson, M. A., & Smith, R. D. (2012). Positive porn: Educational, medical, and clinical uses. American Journal of Sexuality Education, 7(2), 122–145. https://doi.org/10.1080/15546128.2012.680861

Ollis, D. (2016). ‘I felt like I was watching porn’: The reality of preparing pre-service teachers to teach about sexual pleasure. Sex Education, 16(3), 308–323. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681811.2015.1075382

Hare, K. A., Gahagan, J., Jackson, L., & Steenbeek, A. (2015). Revisualising ‘porn’: How young adults’ consumption of sexually explicit Internet movies can inform approaches to Canadian sexual health promotion. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 17(3), 269–283. https://doi.org/10.1080/13691058.2014.919409

Sharma, M. K., Anand, N., Thamilselvan, P., Suma, N., John, N., Sahu, M., Thakur, P. C., Baglari, H., & Singh, P. (2019). Is porn use becoming a modality of sex education among teenagers? A case study. Asian Journal of Psychiatry, 45, 18–19. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajp.2019.08.001 

Hesse, C., & Pedersen, C. L. (2017). Porn sex versus real sex: How sexually explicit material shapes our understanding of sexual anatomy, physiology, and behaviour. Sexuality & Culture: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly, 21(3), 754–775. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-017-9413-2

Allen, L. (2001). Closing sex education’s knowledge/practice gap: The reconceptualisation of young people’s sexual knowledge. Sex Education, 1(2), 109–122. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681810120052542

Hare, K. A., Gahagan, J., Jackson, L., & Steenbeek, A. (2015). Revisualising ‘porn’: How young adults’ consumption of sexually explicit Internet movies can inform approaches to Canadian sexual health promotion. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 17(3), 269–283. https://doi.org/10.1080/13691058.2014.919409

Hirst, J. (2013). ‘It’s got to be about enjoying yourself’: Young people, sexual pleasure, and sex and relationships education. Sex Education, 13(4), 423–436. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681811.2012.747433

Rohrbach, L. A., Berglas, N. F., Jerman, P., Angulo-Olaiz, F., Chou, C.-P., & Constantine, N. A. (2015). A rights-based sexuality education curriculum for adolescents: 1-year outcomes from a cluster-randomized trial. Journal of Adolescent Health, 57(4), 399–406. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2015.07.004

Santelli, J. S., Grilo, S. A., Choo, T.-H., Diaz, G., Walsh, K., Wall, M., Hirsch, J. S., Wilson, P. A., Gilbert, L., Khan, S., & Mellins, C. A. (2018). Does sex education before college protect students from sexual assault in college? PLoS ONE, 13(11).

deFur, K. M. (2012). Don’t forget the good stuff! Incorporating positive messages of sexual pleasure into sexuality education. American Journal of Sexuality Education, 7(2), 160–169. https://doi.org/10.1080/15546128.2012.681214

Peter, C. R., Tasker, T. B., & Horn, S. S. (2015). Parents’ attitudes toward comprehensive and inclusive sexuality education: Beliefs about sexual health topics and forms of curricula. Health Education, 115(1), 71–92. https://doi.org/10.1108/HE-01-2014-0003

Adeoye, H., & Odebowale, I. (2014). Sexuality education and contraception as correlates of sexual behaviour among university undergraduates. Gender & Behaviour, 12(1), 6125–6134.

Jeffries, W. L., Dodge, B., Bandiera, F. C., & Reece, M. (2010). Beyond abstinence-only: Relationships between abstinence education and comprehensive topic instruction. Sex Education, 10(2), 171–185. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681811003666317

 


Written by Cassidy Herberth, Prevention and Education Specialist.

ZCenter aims to end sexual violence, mobilize and educate the public, and support survivors of sexual assault. Our blog addresses issues related to ending oppression and violence, since all oppression and violence are intersectional with sexual violence. All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email info@zcenter.org.

Spokes of the Wheel: Reproductive Justice

What is Reproductive Justice?

 

We often think that reproductive justice and reproductive rights are synonymous, that both are the work to give women rights about their reproductive choices. However, reproductive justice is a much larger issue that involves the entire lifespan of the parent, child, and entire community. It also acknowledges the intersection of class, race, and reproductive justice; reproductive justice is an act of racial justice.

Reproductive justice aims to ensure that individuals have access to abuse prevention and comprehensive education for their entire lifespan of sexuality. It aims to support individuals’ choices about having children. It aims to support parents and children in the many years before and after the act of childbirth.

 

Reproductive Justice and Sexual Violence

 

At ZCenter, we offer prevention, advocacy, crisis intervention, and counseling as ways to support reproductive justice. We offer the Spokes of the Wheel: Reproductive Justice as a model for addressing reproductive justice at the individual and community level.

  • Learning about Healthy Relationships and Consent. For a healthy reproductive life, we all need to learn that sexuality can and should be healthy and should always involve affirmative consent. ZCenter offers this through our prevention services in PreK-12 grade and higher education.
  • Sexual Abuse Prevention. Learning that we can set boundaries, say no, and report to a trusted adult when there is sexual abuse are all crucial aspects of reproductive justice. ZCenter offers this through our prevention services in PreK-12 grade and higher education.
  • Support & Services for Those Who Wish or Do Not Wish to Have Children. Particularly in cases of abuse, individuals are more empowered when they have choices. As part of our medical advocacy services, we offer clients the choices available to them and help them with any resources they need for taking the next step in their decision.
  • Childcare. As we support parents’ choices, we must acknowledge that lack of childcare is a barrier to economic, social, and political power. Paid maternity/paternity leave, affordable or free childcare, and workplace support for parents are necessary as we work toward reproductive justice.
  • Resources to Make Healthy Decisions. At all ages, individuals deserve access to education and resources for a healthy reproductive life. This includes parent resources, education about sexual health, pregnancy resources, and access to quality educational content. ZCenter is proud to offer PATHH: Preventing Abuse Through Holistic Health, a course designed to help youth to comprehensively learn about healthy decisions in their sexuality. This course will begin in 2022.
  • Crisis Intervention Services. When abuse or physical crisis occur, individuals deserve access to support services. ZCenter continues to offer crisis intervention in many sectors of society, including schools, emergency rooms, a crisis support hotline, and counseling.
  • Gender & Sexuality: Support, Education, Services. Our understanding of sexuality and gender are ever expanding and all individuals deserve access to this knowledge. At ZCenter, we know that some vulnerable populations have a higher risk for experiencing sexual violence, including the LGBTQ+ community. We strive to support this community with our services while also partnering with others in the community, like LGBTQ+ Center Lake County.

We encourage you to contact us if you have questions about any of our services or reproductive justice. 

 

For more information:

National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice

Sister Song: Reproductive Justice

Reproductive Justice: An Introduction, by Loretta Ross and Rickie Solinger 

 


Written by Kristin Jones, PhD, EdM, Outreach Supervisor. 

ZCenter aims to end sexual violence, mobilize and educate the public, and support survivors of sexual assault. Our blog addresses issues related to ending oppression and violence, since all oppression and violence are intersectional with sexual violence. All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

It’s Just a Bunch of Hocus Pocus (But is it feminist?)


It would be more than two decades before I would enjoy Disney’s
Hocus Pocus. I found it ridiculous. The last witch hanged in the Salem Witch Trials was on September 22, 1692; the film starts with Salem townspeople hanging witches a year later in 1693. I knew that no one in 17th Century New England wore the bright colors of the witches. I also knew that those hanged in Salem were the ones who would not admit to witchcraft, not the openly practicing witches, as in the movie.

I was always bothered by the stereotypes that the movie perpetuated. Witches harm and/or kill humans. Witches are ugly old hags. Magic is a means to cause harm. At worst, the film is complicit in the patriarchal notion that only Abrahamic religions are true religions, not earth-based religions like witchcraft. At best, it was goofy. Silly. 

But there is something magical about a Halloween movie that was filmed in Salem. There is something nostalgic about walking through the Salem Common and remembering where Max and Allison walked through the autumn leaves. The movie celebrates Halloween, with a cult-level following. As I celebrate Halloween with my own children and learn its joy all over again, I begin to see how Halloween allows us to break social norms, slip into different roles, bend gender norms, and face our fears. We connect with a child within us that we repress all other days. 

Also, who doesn’t love a witch movie with a talking black cat?

In the film, protagonist Max famously says, “It’s all just a bunch of hocus pocus.” But is it feminist? I’m not convinced that Hocus Pocus is a feminist film. The teen female protagonist is reduced to her sexual body parts. “Max likes your yabos. In fact, he loves them,” taunts Max’s little sister. The witches obsess over their appearance and beauty, succumbing to the societal norms about how women should look. All the harm that they cause is directly related to making themselves look younger. None of this feels empowering to those identifying as women.

As intersectionalists, we look to fight oppression of any kind. The film has a striking lack of any People of Color, though we know the town of Salem, Massachusetts is not exclusively white. We also see no LGBTQIA individuals in the film; everyone is defined by heteronormative and cisgender characteristics, though I know for a fact that Salem has Pride events. As feminists and sex educators, we also question the use of virginity in the film. A virgin lit the black flame candle, bringing the witches back from the grave. But we find this problematic as we look at the patriarchal use of virginity to oppress women. When does one’s sexual journey begin? Must we define our sexual journey by the first penile penetration? Why does virginity even matter unless women are property?

But again, my heart swells to see Salem in the fall. Bette Midler sings I Put a Spell on You. It’s very hard to love Halloween and not love this movie. These witchy women, as despicable as they are, are defying social norms, despite the many threats to their safety. They have no dependence on men and they do as they please. The teenager Allison has choices about dating the protagonist; she decides on her own time about romantic entanglement, even after rejecting him at first. The young sister Dani speaks her mind and asserts her needs. 

Hocus Pocus would be quite a different film in 2021, in the time of the #MeToo Movement, the Women’s Marches, and Black Lives Matter. Is there hope? Let’s see when Hocus Pocus 2 comes out next fall. In the meantime, don’t light any black flame candles.

 


Written by Kristin Jones, PhD, EdM, Outreach Supervisor

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

The Power in Reclaiming Femininity

Note: Throughout this article, “women” is used to refer to cisgender and transgender women, as well as non-binary femme-identified people; this is a stylistic choice only and not intended to equate or universalize different peoples’ experiences and identities.

If I had a dollar for everytime I was told, “you throw like a girl,” or “you run like a girl” I would be on the Forbes list for Billionaires under 25 (maybe that is an exaggeration, but you get the point). While my parents fought this message, it was one that I heard from many other adults and kids. It made me feel ashamed. It made me feel like if I embraced femininity, I was somehow weaker, more fragile, and less then. So I completely rejected it. I said One Direction was for girly-girls, I thought pink was ugly, and I thought princesses were useless. I rejected the feminine because I thought that is what I needed to do, so I could achieve those big dreams. 

So where does this rejection of femininity come from? Why do we still view masculinity as the ideal? The Second Wave of Feminism (also known as Women’s Liberation) fought against the roles that women were being forced into. The key word here is FORCED, but it was taken too far. We thought that the rejection of femininity was an ideal form of reclamation. That it wasn’t that masculinity was dominating, but that femininity was a sign of submission. A part of this is because of the gender binary understanding of society. As explained by Philippe Leonard Fradet, femininity and masculinity are viewed as opposites of each other. Therefore, the idea of claiming femininity is often associated with the loss of dreams. People who are feminine are destined to become JUST a wife, JUST a mother, and not see themselves as the CEO of a Fortune 500. It is not wrong to want to be a wife or a mother, and we know that these are not easy jobs, by any means, but it is the idea that embracing your femininity means choosing. You cannot be a femininie CEO, a femininie astronaut. As they say, it is a “man’s world.” We broke up with femininity long ago and now many of us are looking to make up with it. 

But femininity and masculinity are not opposites of each other, and it’s important that we embrace both sets of qualities in whatever ways make us the most comfortable and feel the most like ourselves. Embracing femininity is not just about female-identifying individuals enjoying things that society tells them are “girly,” but it’s about tending to one’s emotions, perhaps getting in touch with our creative side, and connecting with each other in a collaborative and nurturing way. When we utilize our feminine side of collaboration and working together, it lends us another tool in fighting against oppression. We can break away from the binary of men needing to be strong and masculine and women need to be simple and submissive, to create a society where each individual leans on masculinity/femininity at different levels depending on what they need at that moment. 

So how do we get there? How can we embrace our femininity when for so long we have been told to repress it? It’s not easy, and definitely not achieved overnight, and can start small. Setting aside time for yourself to get creative– whether that’s painting or knitting or just simple pencil drawing–and to get in touch with your imagination where anything is possible. Maybe it’s wearing something pink, even though you rejected the color when you were younger. It is learning to love what you were told to hate, because it was girly. Embracing your femininity is seeking community, and talking with close friends or family. Start where it feels natural for you, and continue from there. There is no right way or one way to embrace one’s femininity– so make it your own.


Written by Sarah Brennan, MSW, Volunteer and Activism Coordinator, and Cassidy Herberth, Education and Prevention Specialist.

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

 

https://medium.com/sheroserevolution/reclaiming-the-divine-feminine-will-heal-us-all-if-we-let-it-e71488fceaf7

https://fractalenlightenment.com/30683/spirituality/reclaiming-the-sacred-feminine

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/femininity-study-how-changed-research-feminine-women-always-platinum-a8554031.html

https://www.history.com/topics/womens-history/feminism-womens-history

https://dailyolivian.com/2021/02/12/tiktoks-pick-me-girl-trend-is-just-another-example-of-toxic-femininity/

https://www.simonandschuster.com/m/tips-on-life-and-love/tips-on-life-and-love

https://thebodyisnotanapology.com/magazine/how-men-can-love-their-femininity/

https://anne-mariemarron.com/blog/reclaiming-our-feminine-power-8-feminine-principles-to-cultivate#:~:text=Feminine%20power%20exists%20in%20all,as%20solar%20or%20yang%20energy.&text=To%20reclaim%20our%20feminine%20superpowers,within%20ourselves%20and%20in%20others.

 

Jennifer’s Body and the Feminine Revenge Trope Hollywood Has Been Missing Out

In a small town in Minnesota, there lives a teenage girl named Jennifer Check. She is popular, attractive, and reckless. Her best friend, Anita “Needy” Lesnicki, is the opposite and serves to show just how wild Jennifer is. One night after a concert, Jennifer leaves with the band. The band wants power, fame, and riches. In order to achieve this, they agree to sacrifice Jennifer to Satan but not before confirming she is, of course, a virgin. She lies and says she is, which results in a catastrophe for the town. Now, possessed by a demon who is only satisfied by eating human flesh, Jennifer begins a rampage against the boys in her town by enticing them with sex and then killing them. Jennifer’s Body redefined the genre of horror, comedy, and what it means to be a young woman in the world. It only took 12 years, but this movie is finally getting the recognition it deserves. 

When Jennifer’s Body, starring Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried, first premiered in 2009, it did awful in the box office. It had a budget of $16 million dollars and it made about that much. It was so awful, in fact, that the Chicago Tribune labeled it a “gruesome paint-by-bloody-numbers succubus story.” I was only nine years old when the movie first premiered, so I did not get to watch it. But I remember my friend’s older sister did. She loved it. We sat around the kitchen table as she recounted a story about a young woman who was sexualized and vilified (but of course being nine we did not know what this meant, rather it was her strength and sense of self), but rather than let herself be defined by others, she was reclaiming the labels of “slut” and “sex.” It would be another 6 years until I would watch the movie for myself, but it was everything I needed to hear at that moment. 

It is only recently that the cult following of Jennifer’s Body has grown. While in quarantine, many people have been going back and watching movies that came out in the early 2000s, such as Jennifer’s Body, and people got to talking about how overlooked it was. They realized that this movie was not awful; it was just marketed to the wrong crowd at the wrong time. And the actors knew that this is what the movie had coming. When asked about the movie Megan Fox said, “I am on display for men to pay to look at me.” Vox writer, Constance Grady writes that this was a movie that was targeted towards young teen boys by offering up sexualized images of Megan Fox on the poster and on the trailer. Rather than be a “sexy movie” for teenage boys, the director offers this as an explanation of who this movie is for and what it is about:

“This movie is a commentary on girl-on-girl hatred, sexuality, the death of innocence, and politics, in the way the town responds to the tragedies [of the bloody deaths of several young men]. Any person who dares to respond in an unconventional way is branded a traitor.”  -Diablo Cody

So what does all this mean? Why should we care that a movie like Jennifer’s body is finally getting the recognition that it deserves? Well, it shows us that we are not alone. That when a group of men want to sacrifice the body of a woman so that they can gain more power and sway, that we have the power to tell that story, when we want and how we want. That when men see women as disposable, as there for them to use and discard (like what we often see in Hollywood), there is a chance at a beacon of hope. It also shows how the movie industry works and who is dictating what a “successful movie” is. Because to 9-year-old, 15-year-old, and 20-year-old Cassidy Herberth, Jennifer’s Body is the movie that was successful. It was a movie that changed everything. It was a movie that said, “you know what, you are not alone.”

Jennifer’s Body tells the story, albeit a horror story, about a young girl who is discovering what it means to be both a victim and a survivor. It is a story that was ahead of its time, but it is still not as widely recognized as it should be. Jennifer’s Body tells the story of many people out there, and I, for one, hope there is only more to come.

 


Written by Cassidy Herberth, Education and Prevention Specialist.

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org. 

 

Peitzman, L., 2021. You Probably Owe “Jennifer’s Body” An Apology. [online] Buzzfeednews.com. Available at: <https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/louispeitzman/jennifers-body-diablo-cody-karyn-kusama-feminist-horror>.

Grady, C., 2021. How Jennifer’s Body went from a flop in 2009 to a feminist cult classic today. [online] Vox. Available at: <https://www.vox.com/culture/2018/10/31/18037996/jennifers-body-flop-cult-classic-feminist-horror> [Accessed 17 August 2021].

IMDb. 2021. Jennifer’s Body (2009) – IMDb. [online] Available at: <https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1131734/plotsummary> [Accessed 17 August 2021].

Hirschberg, L., 2021. The Self-Manufacture of Megan Fox (Published 2009). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/magazine/15Fox-t.html> [Accessed 17 August 2021].

73 Seconds: A ZCenter Podcast

ZCenter offers a fresh new perspective on sexuality, healing after trauma, and community activism. The podcast, 73 Seconds, refers to the statistic that every 73 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. Since the start of our podcast, RAINN.org has updated this statistic to show that it is now every 68 seconds (RAINN, 2021), only reinforcing the need for public education and efforts to raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual violence.

 

For an edgy and delightful hour of conversation, check out our most recent episode, Let’s Get Cozier. We interview Jean Cozier, long time supporter of sexual assault survivors and founder of Awakenings, a gallery in Chicago that showcases artwork made by survivors of sexual violence. 

 

As you skim through episode topics, you’ll see that we highlight local community partners, discuss national social justice topics, and converse about the healing process after sexual abuse. 

Catch 73 Seconds on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon Music, or wherever you get your podcasts.

 


For questions and inquiries about the 73 Seconds podcast, please contact sbrennan@zcenter.org.

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

 

RAINN: Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network. 2021. Statistics. https://www.rainn.org/statistics

 

Pleasure is Privilege

Girls just wanna have fun; but can they? In the world of sexuality, pleasure is privilege. 

 

Education

Women are not always taught that they deserve pleasure or deserve to ask for pleasure, nor do we as a society teach them about pleasure. The sex education programs provided in schools do not account for women’s pleasure, orgasm, or masturbation. A comprehensive sexuality education is needed, so that all genders fully understand the intricacies of pleasure.

 

Patriarchy

The experience of pleasure is often limited to those in control; in a patriarchy, it is men who control the pleasure. Many women worldwide are mutilated in the name of circumcision; men get to control women’s pleasure (Posner, 2018). In further frustration with the patriarchy, most women in heterosexual relationships have difficulty with orgasms, whereas lesbian couples often find more pleasure (Posner, 2018). The couples who are able to explore sexuality outside of society’s norms, where men control sex, are the couples who find pleasure more easily.

 

Pleasure and Pain

The brain reacts to orgasms most similarly to seizures (more so than any other activity measured). There is a close connection between pleasure and pain and it is not fully understood (Posner, 2018). As a rape crisis center, we also know that too often sexuality is experienced as abuse, as perpetrators justify that the other person actually enjoys it. Too many youth learn about sex only through abuse, learning only the pain rather than the pleasure of sexuality.

 

Inequality Post-Pleasure

Access to medical services is limited for many Women of Color, rural women, and women in subcultures that frown upon women’s reproductive health choices. Women’s health clinics are often too far of a drive or do not offer women choices about pregnancy, STDs, or reporting abuse (Ewing & Grady, 2010).

 

Maternal and postpartum health in the U.S. remains problematic, especially for Women of Color: 

  • Suicide and overdose combined are the leading cause of death in the first year postpartum (Zahlaway Belsito, 2021). 
  • Approximately 700+ women die in the U.S. from pregnancy related causes in a year (CDC, 2020).
  • Black and Indigenous women are over 3 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women (Zahlaway Belsito, 2021).

 

Recommendations

  1. Communication between partners is key to pleasure with a partner.
  2. Comprehensive sexuality education is needed for all socioeconomic levels, especially for addressing pleasure, orgasms, and masturbation.
  3. Female circumcision needs to end.
  4. More funding is needed for sexual abuse services. Donate to your local rape crisis center.
  5. Access to medical care needs to be an important investment in all socioeconomic areas. For ideas on how to get involved in women’s health advocacy, see the Advocacy toolkit.

 


Written by Kristin Jones, EdM, PhD, Outreach Supervisor

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

 

Center for Disease Control (CDC). 2020. First Data Released on Maternal Mortality in Over a Decade. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/nchs_press_releases/2020/202001_MMR.htm

 

Ewing, H. & R. Grady. (2010). 12th & Delaware. (documentary.) https://www.hbo.com/documentaries/12th-and-delaware-doc

 

Posner, J. (2018). Explained: The Female Orgasm. (documentary series.) Season 1, Episode 16. https://www.netflix.com/title/80216752

 

Zahlaway Belsito, J. (2021). Women’s Reproductive Health Forum. (online.) Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance.

Sex Positivity Post Trauma

A Sexual Society

Sex is everywhere. It is in the ads on TV and on social media, the conversations had among family and friends, and as an integral part of intimate human connection. Recent data shows that the average partnered female-identifying person between the ages of 25 and 59 is having some form of sexual contact weekly (What Is the “Normal” Frequency of Sex?, 2015). These numbers may, to many, indicate that we as a society have decent sex lives. Conversely, Carnegie Mellon took these numbers and examined them further. The International Society for Sexual Medicine (2015) described this study as taking 64 couples and instructing half to increase sexual frequency and the other half to continue as they were. The couples rated amount of sexual activity and happiness with the results showing that those having more sex were not, in fact, happier. According to Mollen & Abbott (2021), sexual wellbeing, including medically accurate education, is integral to positive sexual expression and satisfaction. However, they noted that comprehensive education has steadily declined since 1995, especially for women, persons of color, and those of low socioeconomic status. With this lack of education, how are people as intimate beings supposed to really know about sex? Better yet, how does one distinguish sex? Bad sex? Good sex? Great sex? Hell, was it even truly consensual?

 

Sex as trauma

Based on this information, it appears that society may have become one of double-entendres and sexual banter, without the actual knowledge base to back it up. This includes having real conversations with our intimate partners around the pros and cons of the sex it appears we are all having. Now, couple this information we just discussed and introduce the intricacies of sexual violence. The most recent statistics from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center show that 81% of women and 43% of men will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetimes (The Facts behind the #metoo Movement, n.d.). If it is already hard enough for people to discuss sexuality with those that they are engaging in the act with, what does this mean for those that are sexually traumatized?  To further complicate these already large numbers, 51% of these reported incidences are by people they know. This makes future intimacy complex because the reality of sexual experiences directly ties back to a trauma. This can look like dissociation during sex, hypervigilance, or hypersexuality as a means to control the sexual narrative (Maltz, 2012). These things have become much more commonly known, however, it is still very difficult to know how to navigate the changes that take place mentally, physically, and emotionally. 

 

Tips for Post-Trauma Intimacy

The old adage that knowledge is power really matters when it comes to journeying through sexual trauma either as a survivor, or as a significant other of those who have faced sexual violence. These tips can provide some starting points for the journey toward post-trauma intimacy and connection.

 

1.Talk about intimacy. 

Knowing that we as a society do not have a grounded base in sexual health, means that intimacy is not something that many people discuss. How do people feel loved? What are the ways that each person expresses their love, care, and concern for others? Intimacy does not automatically equal sex. The definition of intimacy is closeness, and after trauma, closeness is avoided because that is how that person was hurt. Defining safety, acts of love, etc. is key to building trust and a more close relationship. 

 

2. Learn about PTSD. 

PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is unique to each person and presents with different symptoms. Knowing what your partner is experiencing, or knowing what you as a survivor is experiencing, is integral to understanding what triggers you. Once triggers are identified, they will no longer be unknown and can therefore be managed appropriately without as many surprises. 

 

3. Create positive sexual experiences.

Using consent as a guide, exploration of comfort around sexual interaction can begin to reframe sexuality as a positive instead of something to be feared or avoided. After trauma, the brain wants to keep us as safe as possible, and that includes staying far away from anything resembling the traumatic experience. In order to orient ourselves to sex as a positive interaction, work slowly, by yourself or with a partner to introduce positive sexual interactions using all senses to build a good foundation for sex and intimate connection. 

 

4. COMMUNICATION

Discussing how to work through these difficult experiences is beneficial in two ways. Communicating feelings about trauma allows the survivor and/or their partner to express happiness, sadness, frustration, etc. so it is no longer bottled up inside causing its own set of symptoms.  It also allows people to express likes and dislikes around sex so there is a clearly defined understanding about boundaries and that the survivor is able to regain control in a sexual environment. 

 

Maltz, W. (2012). The Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse, 3rd Edition (3rd Revised, Updated ed. edition). William Morrow Paperbacks.

Mollen, D., & Abbott, D. M. (2021). Sexuality as a competency: Advancing training to serve the public. Training and Education in Professional Psychology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/tep0000378

The facts behind the #metoo movement: A national study on sexual harassment and assault. (n.d.). National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Retrieved May 25, 2021, from https://www.nsvrc.org/resource/facts-behind-metoo-movement-national-study-sexual-harassment-and-assault

What is the “normal” frequency of sex? (2015, October 20). ISSM. https://www.issm.info/sexual-health-qa/what-is-the-normal-frequency-of-sex/


Written by Christine Berry, LPC, NCC, Doctoral Candidate, Director of Services.

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

The Importance of Positively Talking to Your Kids About Sex

The thought of sitting your child down for the “birds and the bees” conversation can be terrifying, but it doesn’t have to be and is necessary for a healthy understanding of sex. The best sex education strategy is beginning the conversation about sex early and continuing that conversation as the child grows older. This will help your children understand the body and help them feel more positive about their own body. And don’t worry, younger children are typically interested in pregnancy and babies, rather than the mechanics of sex. Here are 5 more reasons to talk to your child about sex: 

 

  1. Body Positivity.  Talking to your children about their bodies openly and honestly shares the message that there is nothing about their bodies to be ashamed of. Your children will more likely be happy with the body they have instead of what they don’t!
  2. Healthy Gender Identity. Gender is different from sex. Sex is something assigned at birth, whereas gender is something based more on how we feel. Sex Education includes conversations about gender so children can grow up understanding who they are and being okay with it.
  3. Recognize Boundaries. Early Sex Education will allow children to recognize what type of behavior is appropriate and  what is inappropriate.
  4. Safer from Sexual Abuse. Learning appropriate boundaries will help children recognize unsafe situations and provide them with the confidence to disclose to a trusted adult if something negative occurs. 
  5. Safe, Consensual Sex. Sex Education teaches children the importance of consent and provide the tools to make smarter decisions. Teaching children positive sexual values provides a framework to make good decisions when faced with the opportunity to have sex at a later age.

There are many more reasons to start the conversation now with your child about safe, positive sex. Becoming a sex-positive parent means knowing your children will grow into autonomous, sexually active adults and supporting children’ s individual sexual identities no matter what. And remember, the process of speaking to your children about sex can seem more daunting than it needs to be. If framed as a series of conversations over time you can avoid the potentially stressful or awkward singular conversation and ensure your child’s future health and safety.  

 

Learn more:

Sex Education for Children: Why Parents Should Talk to Their Kids about Sex by SickKids Staff

Sex Positive Parenting: Rethinking the Sex Talk with Your Kids by Stacey Winconek

How to Talk to Your Kids about Sex at Any Age by Brit + Co

13 Really Good Reasons to Talk to Your Child about Sex by Cath Hakanson

The Sex-Positive Parent by Airial Clark

 


Written by Brigit Dunne, Grants Manager.

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

Sex Positive Language

A rape crisis center focuses primarily on supporting survivors of sexual assault, but we also strive to further systemic change around sexual violence through prevention and education. What does a culture without sexual violence look like? It values consensual sex; it honors the joy and pleasure that humans find in their sexuality. As we work to end sexual violence in our culture, part of that work is to promote sex positive narratives. For the month of May, the ZCenter blog is looking at sex positive culture and our role in it. We start here by exploring language (American English) and how language and sexuality shape each other. 

Language is constantly changing; it evolves with the living community. Just within the last week, an Alabama bill was signed that removes anti-gay language from sex education. We know that language changes as our understanding of sexuality becomes more complex and we also know that our choices in language help to shape the changes that we want to see in society. We offer a brief overview of sexuality and language by looking into semantics, morphology, and discourse analysis.

Semantics

 

“‘Vagina’ is itself an insult. In Latin the word means ‘scabbard’, that is, ‘sword sheath’” (Greer, 2020, p.2); a female’s sexual anatomy is defined only by what a man can store there. A puritanical view of sex has been built into our language, ingrained into our very vocabulary. Our own bodies are turned against us as insults. “By refusing to use words like slut and pussy as terms of abuse, you’re rejecting the imbalanced standards that have been set for women’s sexuality and men’s machismo. It’s a form of protest against the condemnation of women’s sexual independence and men’s refusal to act like chauvinist bruisers” (Montell, 2020, p.48). Montell adds other terms that are too often used as abuse: bitch, old maid, spinster, queer, dyke, nasty woman, cunt, and ho. Some folks are reclaiming these words, as a way to reject old standards of femininity (p.39). Do we want to reclaim all of these insults? Do we want slut, a word that punishes women for enjoying sex, to be used at all? Modern women grapple with this issue and still find no clear answer.

We need to recognize that intermingling gendered and sexual language into verbal abuse is a harm the cuts deeply: “(H)aving someone accuse you of doing your gender badly often feels like the worst insult of all, because it tells you that you’ve failed at a fundamental part of who you are” (p. 38). Also, as children grow up and hear sexual terms used as insults, it automatically places sexuality into a negative light, particularly women’s sexuality. When we see that a man being called a women’s sexuality term (pussy, e.g.) as one of the lowest insults in the culture, we know something is wrong. It’s time to intervene when we hear our own body parts used as insults.

Cursing is too often a contributing factor in a sex negative culture. In fact it is one of three categories of cursing: sex, scatology, and religion. Cursing in the sex category includes terms like fuck, dick, and cunt (Montell, 2020, p. 196). Any sexual act or descriptor can become a curse word in the right context. Once again, we relegate sexual acts to that which is insulting and/or intending to cause harm. However, Montell reminds us that “you can curse without insulting” (p.196). Is there a difference between Fuck the patriarchy and Uhg, the fucking patriarchy? In a world where we want to end sexual violence, we need to be more conscious of our word choice, particularly of how our language perpetuates a rape culture. But we also want to be sex positive and affirm healthy, consensual sex in our language. Similarly, with the word gay, we as a culture are moving away from using the word as an insult and honoring the word as a self-identifier that promotes a healthy sexual identity. Gone are the days when Michael Scott can get away with calling coworkers gay as an insult.

Morphology

 

Morphology is the study of parts of words, including how affixes, conjugations, and other word parts function. For example, a linguist notices that angriness is a misuse of morphemes; we already have a noun, anger, that expresses the same meaning. Adding -ness to angry is unnecessary. 

We can be conscious of how morphemes help or hinder a sex positive culture. We know that suffixes -ette and -ess distinguish words to describe women, and usually in a way that delineated an insult or an assumption that this new word is less than the original. Suffragette was first coined as a way to delegitimize female suffragists; similarly, actress, waitress, and stewardess all refer to women only, distinguishing them from the norm (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, 2013, pp. 85-86). We have a flood of terminology emerging, words that take away the male normalization: waitstaff/server, actors, folks, service worker, postal worker, flight attendant, etc.

We can also be more conscious of the suffix –y. Crazy, slutty, dirty, and bitchy are all terms that anyone can use to insult a woman, specifically if she shows an interest in sexual pleasure and/or assertiveness. Do we use these words often? Do we intervene when we hear them? Do we talk within our social circles about how or if we want to reclaim these terms?

 

Discourse Analysis

 

Analyzing larger chunks of language and how we make choices about language is discourse analysis. Sexuality is discursively constructed, meaning our sexual identity is closely tied to the language we use. In fact, one’s ideology can support feminist values but their discourse might reveal more traditional roles (Kendall & Tannen, 2018). 

What are some ways that discourse analysis helps us recognize more sex positive language?

1.Politeness. We don’t talk about sex in polite company, not even with our children. Also, the “kinds of ‘politeness’ used by and of and to women do not arise by accident; that they are, indeed, stifling, exclusive, and oppressive” (Lakoff, 2004, p. 102). In the workplace, women often “assume a warm manner; use humor, and allow themselves to be the objects of humor; and otherwise attend to the face needs of subordinates by using ‘mitigated commands, forms of politeness, and indirect engagement’” (Kendall & Tannen, 2018, p. 652). Sex positive language means that we stop valuing politeness above justice and equity. Our children deserve to learn about sex properly and our society deserves to talk openly about something we all do.

2. Euphemisms. We use euphemisms to talk about sex positively, because our society still does not accept overt talk of sex in polite conversation. We can say hooking up, Netflix and chill, or gettin’ some; but to openly discuss our happiness about our own sex lives is still considered taboo. Even on one of television’s most openly sexual series, Sex and the City, Charlotte still preferred See You Next Tuesday to cunt (IMDB, 2021).

3. Hedging. We soften our language with phrases like “kind of, sort of, maybe, I think and others” (Parker & Mahlstedt, 2010, p. 144). “I kind of feel horny” communicates that the speaker’s sexuality is not very important. In a sex positive culture, we would openly and directly communicate our needs and desires, because they matter.

4. Normalizing Heterosexuality. “The purpose of a man is to love a woman, and the purpose of a woman is to love a man” (Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, 1965). The lyrics to the song The Game of Love illustrate just how pervasive the heterosexual norm was many years ago. Has the narrative changed since 1965? We certainly see more representation of the LGBTQIA community in pop culture, but we also have the same normalization of heterosexuality in our language. Consider the following interactions that are commonplace:

A: “My junior bought their prom outfit.”

B: “Oh, tell me all about her dress! Which boy asked her?” 

In this example, we see speaker B immediately jump into heteronormative assumptions about clothing, dating, and pronoun usage, and this is a very typical interaction among many parents. 

A: “My boss invited us to a company lunch this weekend.”

B: “Oh, and is his wife the hostess? I wonder if she is catering or cooking it all herself?”

Again, we see speaker B slip into heteronormative language with assumptions about the gender of a boss, their spouse being a woman, and the woman’s significant contribution being a domestic task.

As we go about our day-to-day lives, we can be more conscious of how we use language to either support the heteronormative language around us, or to support the sexuality and identity of all.

5. Online language. In terms of language used online, men use more crude language, including insults, profanity, and adversarial stances toward others (Kendall & Tannen, 2018, p. 652-3). We know that cyber aggression enforces social norms and also establishes social hierarchies (Felmlee et al, 2020). Women are insulted and harassed online if they ever step outside of the social norm for female behavior; women are told to be submissive, quiet, polite, and caring. When we assert ourselves, even worse, our sexuality, we are harassed and bullied (See more at Felmlee et al, 2020).  But we can create safe online spaces and we can be active bystanders who intervene when we see this language behavior online. 

 

Societal Change

 

Can changing our language change societal norms? This was a question Robin Tolmach Lakoff asked in 1975. She found that word choice, tone, politeness, even cursing are approached differently by men and women (Lakoff, 2004). As we look into next steps for sex positive language, let’s keep these thoughts in mind:

  • Use your words. “If there’s no name for it, it’s as if the phenomenon does not exist” (Parker & Mahlstedt, 2010, p. 142). Just as we have added terms like date rape, acquaintance rape, and affirmative consent to our lexicon, we can add more ways to describe sex in a positive light. We can continue to move toward a more sex positive discourse with terms like consent, kink, and body acceptance.
  • Keep the euphemisms flourishing. We need to start with small steps toward positive sex talk, even if it’s just Netflix and chill. In situations where it feels inappropriate to use overt sexual language, let’s at least keep the euphemisms alive!
  • Stop hedging. Stop being polite. Let’s be direct in our communication when it comes to our own sexuality. Let’s not be afraid to assert our needs and desires.
  • Family talk when children are young is how we are socialized into how we view sex (Kiesling, 2019, p.115). Check back in next week as explore this topic of parent and caregiver language on the topic of sex positivity.

 

References

Eckert, P. & S. McConnell-Ginet. (2013). Language and Gender, Second Edition. Cambridge University Press.

Felmlee,D., P.I. Rodis, & A. Zhang. (2020). Sexist Slurs: Reinforcing Feminine Sterotypes Online. Sex Roles. 83:16–28 https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s11199-019-01095-z.pdf

Greer, G. (2020). On Rape. Hachette Australia.

Internet Movie Database (IMDB). (2021). Sex and the City Quotes. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0159206/quotes/?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu

Kendall, S. & D. Tannen. (2018). Discourse and Gender, in The Handbook of Discourse Analysis, 2nd Ed. (Ed. D. Tannen, H. Hamilton, D. Schiffrin). Willey Blackwell.

Kiesling, S.F. (2019). Language, Gender, and Sexuality: An Introduction. Routledge. 

Lakoff, R.T. (2004). Language and Woman’s Place: Text and Commentaires, Revised and Expanded Edition. Mary Bucholtz (Ed.). Oxford University Press.

Montell, A. (2020). Wordslut: A feminist guide to taking back the English language. Harper Wave.

Parker, J.A. & D. Mahlstedt. (2010).Language, Power, ane Sexual Assault: Women’s Voices on Rape and Social Change. Language in the real world. Behrens, S. J., & Parker, J. A. (Eds.). Routledge. 139-163.

Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders. (1965). The Game of Love. https://www.oldielyrics.com/lyrics/wayne_fontana_and_the_mindbenders/game_of_love.html (accessed 2021).


Written by Kristin D. Jones, Ph.D., Ed.M., Outreach Supervisor

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

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