Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Sex education and a new normal

In my last post, I outlined some of my basic thoughts about sex education. As tends to happen, though, I left out some stuff that should have been included, might not have been entirely clear on some stuff, and left out dealing with more complicated topics. I'll try to rectify that somewhat in this post, although I will still stay away from the nitty-gritty of dealing with a world where there are many perspectives on sex and sexuality, and where many of those perspectives are bad.

First off, what's the point of thinking about this in the first place? Well, I have a certain vision of how I think sex and sexuality and everything around it should work, and I think my ideas are preferable to the way things work today. As might have been obvious from my last post (at least in its blatant disregard for practical problems facing sex education programmes in many countries), I was presenting, in a sense, a new normal. By tacitly endorsing polyamory, asexuality, and a variety of kinks through presenting them as valid options to be discussed in sex education programmes, I am in fact trying to move sex and sexuality away from a situation where cisgendered heterosexual PIV (penis-in-vagina) sex is regarded as normal and what all other types of sex build from, and where cisgendered heterosexual monogamous relationships are what every other kind of relationship is compared to. The way I see it, that kind of sex and those types of relationship are perfectly ok and will no doubt be preferred by many; but just as I don't see a reason why we should keep marriages as the privileged form of relationship in society today, I see no reason to treat concepts like heterosexuality and monogamy as normal and the rest as different. Providing a foundation of knowledge and tools to discover ourselves in a non-judgemental manner should be the goal of sex education, and implicitly or explicitly saying that a certain set of behaviour is normal is to set up the rest as weird and different, which goes against the goal of allowing people to discover themselves with an open mind. Of course, this is not to say that educators should obscure how the world looks in regards to what are the most common types of relationships, just that they (and we) should avoid using normative language when presenting that information.

Masturbation is a topic that I didn't cover in my text on sex education, which seems like a pretty big oversight. In particular, in the part talking about encouraging getting to know your body, masturbation would naturally be a big part of that. The existence of masturbation and what it means (stimulating erogenous zones, etc.) and that it's a good way of finding out stuff about your body and what you might like in a safe environment, although with the additional information that you might unexpectedly like different things entirely when you're having sex with someone else. It is also crucial to point out that if you don't particularly care for touching yourself and it doesn't do anything for you, you shouldn't do it; the same ideas about consent, pleasure, communication, confidence and safety apply to masturbation, though of course pleasure and safety are probably the most important factors given that you're on your own. Apart from some basics, I'm not sure what you need to tell younger people about it - do it if you like it, and don't if you don't. I don't really think there's much chance of people overdoing it more than any other fun thing, so I'm not worried about that. In some cases I think there needs to be some pushback against pervasive messages that say that masturbation is a bad thing, to be sure, but that's more situational. Personally, I would like to see a case made against masturbation on its merits - it feels good, it lets you discover things about your body, it can potentially improve your sex life, and can be a good stress reliever. On the negative side... well, I suppose some people get obsessive, but that doesn't seem to be much of an epidemic. On the whole, I stand by my opinion that masturbation is pretty awesome if it's something you like.

An issue some people had with my last post was using BDSM as an example to tell youth about. I can certainly understand why, I can personally get pretty creeped out by some depictions of BDSM. At the same time, I think it's a valuable example of how people have different reactions to different stimuli, and that what is arousing for one person can be a total turn-off for another, and keeping only one perspective on what "should" be sexy and arousing is pretty narrow-minded; better that they learn early that there is a wide range of possibility for what pleasure can mean out there. Of course, BDSM is also something that provides a valuable opportunity to talk about consent, communication and safety, as it shows that it's not the actions themselves that matter, but the context and the existence of clear communication and consent. Take a situation where a man is blind drunk or fallen asleep, but still has a hard-on. Someone takes the opportunity to suck him off - doesn't really matter who or why, the act doesn't leave a mark, and he probably won't remember that it happened when he wakes up. Contrast with a BDSM scene where someone flogs their partner to the point that they break the skin, but it's done under completely consensual forms where the couple communicates with each other. Discussing that issue, I would hope that the non-consensual act is the one considered bad. Certainly, the BDSM scene can also provide ample material for a discussion about safety and how communication can be done in a way that assures active consent, but that just makes it all the stronger as an example. As such, including BDSM as a topic of conversation seems to me a good thing, as well as other kinks (though as I want to move away from "normality", as written above, maybe kinks isn't the right word to use, but that's a later topic). As always, teaching and dealing with the discussion in a way that's age-appropriate would be key.

Finally, I was going to turn my attention to more complicated topics like pornography and sex work, which are complicated to me because I am often of two minds about both topics. However, since they are indeed complicated, I will leave them for a later blog post.

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