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As we discussed in Part One of this series, a lot of us didn’t receive great sexual health education when we were in high school. And even if you did, you might have totally different concerns now than you did when you were that age. Sexuality is a lifelong process—it’s something you can always learn more about. So whether you want to supplement a pretty decent education or make up for an awful one, read on for some ways you can take charge and give yourself the sex ed you deserve.

Learn the basics. SexualityandU, run by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, gives a good overview of different birth control and STI prevention options, and has a cool app that helps you figure out what to do if you forget to take your birth control pill. CATIE has an awesome pamphlet on safer sex for queer women, and TheSexYouWant, created by the AIDS Committee of Toronto, is a great safer sex resource for queer men. Want to brush up on what enthusiastic consent means and how to talk about your sexual preferences with a partner? Look no further than this amazing comic. And Scarleteen has great info on pretty much everything, from gender identity to masturbation to kink to polyamory.

Explore your desires. Masturbating, fantasizing, discussing your fantasies with others, and reading or watching porn can be great ways to explore what turns you on physically and mentally in a low-pressure way. Note, though, that while there’s some really awesome porn out there, there’s also a lot of stuff that’s problematic in its depiction of sexual consent and gender roles, so if you can afford to, consider actually paying(!) for videos or a membership from sites that you know abide by a code of ethics similar to your own. Always wanted to try some particular sexual thing? Talk about it with your sexual partner(s) and see if they’d be down. Not really sure what you’re into? Scarleteen has a great “Yes/No/Maybe” checklist to help you articulate what you like, don’t like, and might want to try. Not really sure if you’re into any of this at all? You might want to check out the website of the Asexual Visibility and Education Network.

Learn some more. Obviously these links should just be jumping-off points. There are books, websites, and real live people out there that can help you learn about pretty much any sex-related topic. Figure out what you want to learn about, and empower yourself to do so.

Get involved. Think sex education is important? Want to do something to make sure young people have access to info you may not have been given? Head and Hands and the Outreach branch of SACOMSS both run workshops in high schools on sex-related topics. You could also get involved with the Shag Shop, the 2110 Centre, the Union for Gender Empowerment, or any of the many other McGill and Montreal based organizations that educate people on these topics. And start a conversation! Share your new-found knowledge with your friends, and if you have a young person in your life, consider letting them know you’re available to talk, and answer their questions honestly.

And have fun 🙂

For most of us, sexuality is something we thought about a lot as teenagers—whether we were deciding whether or not to have sex for the first time, questioning our sexual orientation or gender identity or the things that turned us on, dealing with peer or cultural pressures to act a certain way sexually, or wondering what all the fuss was about. If we were lucky, we weren’t left alone to untangle the confusing web of desires, identities and experiences that make up our sexual selves. Maybe we had friends or family who were knowledgeable and willing to talk about sexuality with us. Maybe we had access to books or websites or phone lines that provided us with accurate and non-judgemental info. And maybe—just maybe—we had decent high school sex ed.

The sex education I got in high school—for a two-week block of my physical education class in Grade 9—was far from perfect. Some of the information we were given was outdated, like the advice to use spermicide, which is no longer as highly recommended as they used to be. Our discussion of consent mostly focused on how to say no to sex—as if none of us would want to say yes. We never talked about the existence of queer or trans* individuals, and I remember the teacher getting flustered when I asked about dental dams.

But I was actually pretty lucky. That class taught me how to put a condom on a banana (the teacher searched several different stores to find non-lubricated condoms, so we wouldn’t be grossed out from getting lube all over our hands). I learned where the nearest abortion clinic was, and where I could buy the emergency contraceptive pill. The teacher talked about what an orgasm was and assured us that it was OK to masturbate, and she did answer my question about dams in the end.

It’s no wonder the information I received in my sex ed class was a bit outdated. The sexual education curriculum in Ontario, where I went to high school, hasn’t been updated since the 1990’s. An updated curriculum, written in 2010, hasn’t been implemented because a small but vocal group of parents object to the inclusion of topics like gay and lesbian parents in a Grade 3 class on diverse families, and an acknowledgement that masturbation can be a healthy way to explore your sexuality in a Grade 6 class on puberty.

But at least I didn’t go to a school that taught abstinence-only sex ed. The fact that my teacher was even allowed to talk about subjects like contraception and abortion means my sex ed class was more comprehensive than the sex ed in most classrooms in the United States. Since 1996, 1.5 billion dollars have been given to school boards by the US government for abstinence-only sex education. Much of this funding is provided on the condition that schools do not discuss contraception or sexual activity outside marriage in a positive way. These programs have not been shown to decrease sexual activity, but they have been shown to lower the likelihood of teens using barriers/contraceptives when they do engage in sexual activity.

Actually, I was very lucky to receive formal sex ed at all. Since 2005, Quebec has not mandated any dedicated sex ed unit, expecting discussions of sexuality to be integrated into other classes. Not surprisingly, this means that the extent to which sex is discussed, and the topics that are covered, vary widely across the province. Some organizations, like Head and Hands in NDG, and SACOMSS (that’s us!), run workshops on sexual health topics in high schools to try to pick up some of the slack, but how many students these programs reach is dependent on how many schools are willing to let these organizations come in and speak to their students.

Personally, I think that young people have the right to accurate, comprehensive, and non-judgemental sexual health information, and while schools aren’t the only place they can get that information, they’re a pretty crucial one. Most high school aged folks are in school, and schools are places where—ideally—we should be provided with information on topics that are relevant to our lives, as well as assisted in developing critical thinking skills to decide how we feel and what we believe about this information. It’s a pretty big deal that schools aren’t doing that with sex ed.

So what to do? Check out part two of this series, on how to take your sexual education into your own hands (no pun intended) and empower other people to do so.

On this blog, we talk a lot about being anti-oppressive, but we wanted to take the time to discuss what exactly that means and why it’s important to us. This is going to kick off a new series of blog posts on social justice definitions and concepts, so while this will be just a brief overview of some important ideas, we’ll be writing more in-depth posts on a lot of these topics in the months to come.

We at SACOMSS understand anti-oppression work to include work that is queer positive, trans* positive, anti-ablist, anti-classist, anti-agist, anti-racist, and anti-sexist. We also think it’s important to be non-judgemental, pro-survivor, and pro-feminist. But what does all that really mean?

In general, being anti-oppressive means acknowledging that systematic oppression exists in our society—that is, that certain people are afforded more privileges than others based on characteristics like their race, sexual orientation, or gender identity. It also means actively fighting against this oppression and for greater equity in society (that’s where something like being pro-feminist comes in). For us, this means both doing our best not to recreate these systems of oppression within our organization—by, for example, being non-hierarchical, avoiding gendered language, and making our services free—and working to change these systems—by, for example, incorporating discussions about how sexism plays into sexual assault myths in the workshops we run in high schools, and supporting Montreal organizations who do work that aligns with our mandate.

As well as being opposed to discrimination and oppression based on someone’s race, socioeconomic status, (dis)ability, age, gender identity and presentation and how that relates to their birth-assigned gender, or sexual orientation, as a sexual assault centre, we want to be pro-survivor. Essentially, that means we support any survivor of sexual assault. We will believe them, we will not judge them, and we will do our best to help them in whatever way we can.

Anti-oppression work is all about learning and unlearning—learning what different forms of oppression are and what they look like in our day-to-day lives, learning how to fight them, and also unlearning a lot of the things we were taught to say or do or believe that actually uphold these forms of oppression. We hope that you, the reader, will learn something from us, and also that you’ll keep in mind that we’re still learning what a lot of this stuff entails.

Jenna Marbles Picture

Last week, Youtuber Jenna Marbles posted a video called “Things I Don’t Understand About Girls Part 2: Slut Edition,” which is essentially nine minutes of horrible, hurtful slut-shaming.

Some other Youtubers, like Laci Green, Hayley G Hoover, and Chescaleigh have already posted some thoughtful responses deconstructing how Jenna’s video perpetuates rape culture. Check them out! (Trigger warning: Chescaleigh discusses her own experience with sexual assault). But we here at SACOMSS Media Watch wanted to break the video down for you folks as well, since it’s as good an opportunity as any to confront slut-shaming.

So let’s go over the ways this video is a problem.

Jenna states several times in the video that she just doesn’t understand why a woman would want to have a lot of sex with a lot of different people. But instead of using this as a starting point to acknowledge that hey, there’s a lot of sexual variation out there, or hey, we all have so much to learn about sexuality, she spends the rest of her video generalizing and making assumptions about “sluts.” Even though she acknowledges she doesn’t understand them at all.

She assumes that women who have a lot of sexual partners don’t respect themselves. But the thing is, how much sex someone has isn’t any kind of indicator of their sense of self-worth. Sure, it’s possible to have a lot of sex for unhealthy reasons, but it’s possible to avoid sex for unhealthy reasons too. What’s important is whether someone feels good about their sexual expression.

It’s worth noting that this idea, that sluts have no self-respect, like most of the bases for slut-shaming comments, is definitely gendered. Cis men who have a lot of sex are not generally accused of having low self-esteem, because men who have a lot of sex aren’t shamed about it a fraction as much as cis women are. That this video uses really gendered language is yet another reason why it’s a problem, since it erases the experience of queer and trans* people and expects different sexual behaviours from men and women, but it also underscores the fact that slut-shaming is in large part targeting straight, cis women.

Jenna goes on to say that monogamous women are more highly evolved than “sluts.” In fact, she compares sluts to her horny dog—to an animal—and then says that it takes more intelligence to decide to be with one person than to sleep around. By making this claim—which is based on nothing but her own preference for monogamy—she sets sluts up as a less-evolved, stupid, and animalistic other, different from smart, rational women like herself. When this kind of distinction is created, between the “good girls” and the “sluts,” it justifies a lot of the other slut-shaming that goes on in society. It allows people to treat women who have a lot of sexual partners badly—because hey, they’re stupid anyway. It stops people from seeing these women as autonomous individuals—because hey, they’re irrational, and deciding not to be monogamous isn’t a legitimate lifestyle choice.

At one point in the video, Jenna encourages viewers to ask a drunk woman being taken home by a stranger if she’s OK, to “help the sluts of the world make less bad, slutty decisions.” And looking out for the people around you, checking in with someone who looks like they might be in a risky situation, is an awesome thing to do. The problem is that a woman going home with a stranger and having sex with them when she’s black-out drunk isn’t making a “bad decision.” She’s being sexually assaulted. Someone who is drunk cannot consent to sexual activity. If someone does something sexual to a drunk person, that’s assault. And assault is never the survivor’s fault, no matter how much they had to drink, or what they were wearing, or how much sex they have.

The other problem with this suggestion is that, while unfortunately we live in a culture where it’s really important that we look out for each other to try and prevent sexual assault, the folks who are at a higher risk of being sexually assaulted—like, say, the ones who get called “sluts” by people like Jenna Marbles—really aren’t the ones who should be held responsible for rape culture. It’s the other people Jenna talks about in her video, the men who think it’s OK to have sex with a drunk woman, who need to be called out on their behaviour (again, note that this video makes assumptions about gender roles, casting women in the role of the victim and men in the role of the perpetrator). Perpetrators of sexual violence are the ones making bad decisions. They’re the ones who have the real power to stop sexual assault, because they’re the ones who actually make it happen.

But it’s also attitudes like the one on display in this video that perpetuate a culture where sexual assault is condoned and justified. Policing people’s sexual expression, implying that certain people are less worthy of respect than others because of how many sexual partners they have, is what gives some people the idea that they have the right to violate other people’s sexual boundaries. And that’s really just not cool.

victorias-secret-pink-consent-sabotage

On Monday, the internet was abuzz with the news that Victoria’s Secret Pink had released a new line of panties with slogans about consent. The line, which included underwear with mottoes like “No Means No,” “Ask First,” and “Consent Is Sexy,” was being promoted on a website called pinklovesconsent.com. The site also featured a section explaining how to practice consent and why it was important, and an explanation of why some previous Pink panty designs–“No Peeking” and “Sure Thing”–contributed to rape culture by suggesting that saying “no” was a good way to flirt and that consent could be presumed.

Victoria’s Secret, which made the news recently for appropriating and sexualizing Native culture in their annual fashion show seemed like an unlikely company to be fighting rape culture, even as a PR move. Sure enough, the website and fashion line turned out to be a hoax dreamed up by FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, an activist group that made headlines for projecting the words “Rape is Rape” on the US Capitol Building the night before the US presidential election.

As FORCE explained, “We could write a pamphlet about consent. In fact, we have written and distributed pamphlets about consent. But how many people are reading pamphlets about sexual practices and how many people are reading facebook post about Victoria’s Secret? Consent needs to become a mainstream idea.”

After Jezebel blogger Katie J.M. Baker broke the hoax story, many people expressed their desire for these products to be real. “I would buy the hell out of those!” read one of the comments. Not surprisingly, a lot of people like the idea of underwear that promotes positive sexual messages, not to mention campaigns featuring models of a variety of sizes and races.

But other comments on the site questioned whether such a campaign, had it really come from the lingerie line, would have been a tangible step to combating rape culture. “No “commodity feminism” from corporations that KNOW they will reap more from fueling [sic] & exploiting women’s insecurities, and promoting rape culture—than they would if they devoted themselves to fighting sexism,” read one comment. Another chillingly speculated, “I work with victims of sexual violence and I am just now having a grim daydream of a pair of these panties in an evidence bag, a case going to trial, and a defense [sic] attorney just LOVING IT. “Of course he didn’t rape her! She was wearing her ‘No means No’ panties! How could he not stop and ask?””

So—what do you think? Would “Consent is Sexy” panties empower people and bring consent culture into the mainstream, or is Victoria’s Secret too much a part of the problem to be part of the solution?

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