What It’s Like to Reclaim Your Sex Life After Sexual Assault

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Survivors share their stories.

By Zahra Barnes

When she was 16, Lindsay Marie Gibson was raped. After her assault, life continued, as it does. Years later, in college, she met the man who would become her husband. She fell in love. They got married. Life was good. Yet her assault from years before still wreaked havoc, here and there. If Lindsay, now 34, didn’t flinch when her husband reached for her hand, it was only because she didn’t realize he was touching her in the first place. Her mind-body disconnect, which had come about as what she calls a “self-protection” of sorts after she was raped, was that powerful.

Many people struggle to feel connected with their bodies after experiencing an assault.

Lindsay is not the only survivor to unintentionally rely on this coping mechanism in the aftermath of sexual assault. “It sounds odd, but sexual abuse actually makes you forget that your body is yours and not property or an object,” Lauren*, 26, a survivor who often thought of herself as a “body-less soul” after her rape, tells SELF. “The minute you realize your body is indeed your own, you are instantly reminded that it was forcefully taken from you

This physical numbness stems from an emotional one, and it’s a natural impulse after undergoing something as horrendous as rape. But it is also an intimidating force blocking many survivors from what they say is one of the most empowering parts of reclaiming their lives after rape: Enjoying sex again, or for the first time ever

The yawning chasm between mind and body can make it impossible to fully connect with another person, says Lindsay, who was only able to fall in love with her husband mentally at first: “In my head, I knew I loved him, but I couldn’t feel it in my body.”

Integrating the mind and body is essential for a happy, healthy sex life after assault.

“There needs to be integration,” Holly Richmond, Ph.D., a certified sex therapist who has counseled survivors at the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center, tells SELF. “The trauma happened in the past, and a new, healthy, sexual self is moving into future, but it’s all the same person—one body, one mind.”

The goal, says Richmond, is for the survivor to process the trauma so it does not affect her daily life, without compartmentalizing what happened to her to the point of suppression. Attempting to completely stanch the flow of painful memories can contribute to that mind-body disconnect, as well as anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

Unpacking that trauma in a healthy way is what helps survivors enjoy many facets of life—including sex, Indira Henard, M.S.W, executive director of the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, tells SELF. “Each survivor is different, and it’s a lifelong journey,” she says.

Survivors must navigate various obstacles on the journey towards integration.

For starters, they often struggle with feeling comfortable around men. “If I saw a man in an elevator, I would turn and run the other way,” Lindsay says. “I was fighting anxiety through all my dates—I would sit and stare as they talked, but my head was going, Run, run, run. Get away from this guy.”

When a survivor does eventually wrangle that anxious impulse and start dating someone, she’ll likely disclose what happened at some point. At first, sharing details about her rape would often send men “running for the hills,” Anna*, 36, tells SELF. Now she is in a wonderful relationship with a man who responded to her story with kindness.

Even once a survivor is ready to have sex, issues like anxiety and PTSD can still rear their ugly heads. “When you’re having flashbacks or intrusive thoughts about your assault or rape, it’s very, very difficult to want to have sex,” says Lauren, who has PTSD. “Or worse, if you are having sex when these things arise, sex can become scary and intimidating, not to mention triggering.”

Avoiding triggers after sexual assault can feel like a minefield.

For Jess*, 24, a nickname her attacker called her is now off-limits. When dating after her rape, hearing the nickname during sex could prompt her to “100 percent flip out and start crying,” she tells SELF.

And after being raped from behind, Anna has drawn a line at certain kinds of touch with her husband. “Sometimes, as much as he wants to touch that area, it’s just too much,” she says.

That decision brings Anna a measure of relief while also prompting guilt at times, which experts say is normal but unwarranted. No matter what a trigger is, having one doesn’t mean you’re weak or wrong—it means you’re human, says Richmond.

To manage triggers, assault survivors must regain control over their sex lives, which often includes absolving themselves of any wrongdoing.

In order to heal, it’s vital to set sexual boundaries and hammer out a definition of consent and what is or isn’t OK between two people, says Henard: “Survivors have a right to ask for consent and negotiate what that looks like for them.”

This requires survivors to let themselves off the hook, which many have trouble doing due to persistent feelings of shame, says Richmond.

“It’s about recognizing that you did not do anything wrong, that there’s nothing you could have done to prevent this, and that you are not alone,” says Henard. Richmond adds, “I don’t care if you were sitting naked on a street corner. The only reason you were raped is that you were in the presence of a rapist.”

“When you realize it’s not your fault, it’s kind of like a weight is lifted off of you,” Jennifer*, 44, tells SELF. That self-acceptance often gives survivors the feeling that it’s OK to articulate what they need in order to feel in control of their sexual destinies.

Once survivors have established boundaries, they’re one step closer to truly connecting with someone else, which is an integral part of moving forward.

“This is what so much of my therapeutic practice is about: being able to authentically connect with another human being without going into the shame, guilt, and anger brought up during and after sexual assault,” says Richmond. “There might be some bumps in the road, but when the partner can continue to offer security and safety, it’s an amazing thing

Jennifer recalls how comfortable she felt when she first met her now-fiancé. “He was very compassionate, and he was very patient,” she says. Her fiancé—whom she describes as very focused on helping her to associate sex with good feelings instead of bad ones—is the first person she’s been able to get fully naked in front of since her rape. “I’ve always been very self-conscious of my body, but I don’t feel that way with him,” she says. Now, sex feels freer and is without the tense fight-or-flight mode that marked other encounters after her rape.

For Lindsay, something about her husband’s energy quieted the alarms that would clang whenever she was around men. “The first time he looked at me, I didn’t feel like I needed to run,” she says. “For the first time ever, in my head, I was able to have peace.”

And, of course, pleasure plays a crucial role in this equation.

The best-case scenario, says Richmond, is that a survivor isn’t thinking about the assault when she’s having sex. Instead, the hope is that she feels safe, secure, connected, and is feeling pleasure. But that’s easier said than done

“I got to a point where I was able to be intimate, but I didn’t feel passion,” Lindsay says. “I knew in my head he was safe…I just kind of wanted to get through it and wanted him to be satisfied because I love him.”

Jess would similarly go through the motions, humming songs or making grocery lists in her head to get through sex

But eventually, many survivors realize they deserve pleasure, too, and that seeking it out is essential for healing. “I found the only way to truly move on was to be vocal and to speak up for myself,” Lauren says. Sometimes, she needs to halt all sexual activity. “Other times, I just need a second to re-ground myself and allow my body to remember its present circumstance and realize it is not in danger,” she says.

Having good sex is more than a marker of healing—it’s a liberating step in the process.

Some time after her assault, when Lauren felt ready, she dove eagerly into sexual exploration with her then-boyfriend. “Learning what my body loves and wants has been an exciting journey and one that is incredibly empowering,” she says

But after they broke up, the uncertain world of dating pushed her into more exploration than was ultimately right for her. “I decided to—no strings attached—explore sex just for sex,” she says. “The experience I gained was not worth the emotional toll. I realized sex cannot be, at least for me, something [frivolous] without thought and true emotional connection.”

Now, Lauren is in a happy marriage with a great sex life. “My partner encourages me to be vocal, and we spend a lot of time communicating our needs, our wants, and our thoughts and desires about sex,” she says. “Finding out just how sexually compatible we are has been amazing.”

After some time in therapy, Jess gave herself a mission similar to Lauren’s: “My goal was to have as much sex as possible [with my boyfriend] until I felt normal.”

It helped her make leaps and bounds in her recovery. “I can do everything that might be illegal in some states and countries, and I’m fine with that!” she says. “I feel like my body is special now—there’s no one who can tell me otherwise.”

Sometimes therapy, yoga, or even a tragedy is what helps survivors move forward.

Although not for everyone, many survivors cite therapy as a crucial part of the equation. It helped Lindsay cut her panic attacks down from five to six per day to maybe five per month, and Jennifer and her fiancé sometimes go to couple’s therapy to figure out the best way to approach her lingering anxiety and trust issues

Lindsay has also found solace in trauma yoga, which helped her reconnect her mind and body. Part of this involved a focus on clearing negative energy from parts of her body, like her ribcage and neck, that had ached since the rape due to injuries she sustained during the assault. “Once I became aware that’s what my body was holding, I haven’t had a problem since,” she says. The yoga also encouraged her to sit with her pain instead of trying to deny it.

But what helped Lindsay truly mend her mind-body disconnect was actually another tragedy—the pain she endured after a stillbirth of a much-wanted son. “Losing him burst me open,” she says. The visceral pain made it impossible to suppress her feelings. “My body was trying to go back into denial, but this time it was different—I couldn’t deny the fact that I loved him,” says Lindsay, who wrote about the transformative experience in Just Be: How My Stillborn Son Taught Me to Surrender. “I was actually healing for the first time.”

Now, thanks to that combination of factors, Lindsay’s sex life has changed dramatically for the better. “I’m able to be present and let go, and I can feel my desire for [my husband], which is a completely new thing.”

If you’re on this journey, remember: It’s a work in progress, but healing is indeed possible.

<It’s normal to grapple with mixed feelings about sex and sexuality after an assault. “I want to feel like a sexy person, and I want to feel like I can be more vocal about what I like and what I enjoy,” says Anna. “But at the same time, is that me being like the men that attacked me, in a sense? I know it may sound silly, but I don’t want to be that aggressive person

Confronting these feelings is part and parcel of working through the aftershocks of sexual assault. It sounds like an unfathomable burden, but survivors consistently rise to meet the occasion.

“Survivors are the strongest people I’ve ever met,” says Richmond. “Almost across the board, these people come out with more strength, more empathy, and more insight into the human condition.”

Although Anna says reclaiming her life is something she’s “still struggling with,” she’s determined to keep at it. “We have three children. I want them to know their mama is strong, resilient. There can be love, and a family, and more to life than [my assault].”

That focus on a better future, many survivors say, is part of what helps them form bonds with potential partners with whom they can have healthy relationships—and repair their relationships with themselves. “There is hope,” says Lindsay. “The physical pain, the emotional pain—all that stuff is passing clouds. Joy is the sky. It’s always there

Names have been changed.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can call the 24/7 National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). More resources are available online from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. To find a sexual assault service provider near you, visit RAINN.

Complete Article HERE!

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Silence has protected predators in too many institutions

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by Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA

The news that more than 300 Pennsylvania priests may have sexually abused more than 1,000 identifiable children during the last 70 years is shocking for the enormity of the accusation, but by now there have been enough of these tragic accusations against so many of our institutions that parents should be neither unaware of the risks to their children nor unwilling to confront those risks before their own child might be abused.

The grand jury indictments accuse the Catholic Church of covering up the abuse with criminal conspiracies of silence. Healthy institutions – and the family is the most basic institution of our society – need to break the silence about sexual health and safety, and there is never a better time than the present to do that.

Let’s start with a few basic ideas:

  • Children should have medically accurate, age-appropriate facts about sexual anatomy and physiology. Little kids should know all the external parts; as kids age they need to know the internal parts and all kids need to know that sexual arousal is an autonomic reflex. Too many predators entrap kids by convincing a child they were not a victim because they became aroused. Parents can neutralize the pedophile’s devastating, all too-common tool with medically accurate information.
  • Parents can open a conversation by reminding children that many people will put their own interests above that of someone else. Children may have already experienced that by being bullied or lied to or experiencing someone taking something of theirs. Abusing someone sexually is but one of the many ways people put their own feelings above those of another, and it’s one that can leave most damaging scars. Especially if faith plays a role in your family, you will want to address the difference between a person who espouses or teaches the words of your faith, and the meaning of those words. Widespread allegations of abuse can challenge the faith of both child and family, and this is a good chance to draw a defining line between the meaning of your religion and the actions of the accused priests and the people who protected them.
  • Focus on trust. Damage can cut the deepest when abuse is in the context of a trusted relationship. Pedophile priests are in our news now, but other trusted adults including physicians, educators, parental figures and coaches have been there, too. Parents can support their children to trust their own instincts when something doesn’t seem right, and to trust that their parents will listen to them and support them when they share those concerns. I’ve heard stories from peers growing up in the 1960s whose parents smacked them for speaking ill of a priest when the child tried to tell about sexual abuse. I hope those days are long gone—children deserve better, and parents can do better.

Too many parents still feel uncomfortable talking to their children about sexuality, yet research shows that parents consistently underestimate the importance children place on their thoughts. Parents may feel as if they don’t know to what say, but other professionals and I can provide resources to help you. Information from the American Academy of Pediatrics and my book The Sex-Wise Parent are but two of the places where you can find help. If you’re really uncomfortable, practice role playing with a friend, or ask your school or faith-based organization to schedule a parent workshop.

Our children deserve the very best from all the institutions designed to help bring them to healthy, productive adulthood. Parents can focus on their own children now, when headlines can be causing fear and confusion, but in the long term parents can focus on the policies, procedures and sexual climate of the institutions that serve their children.

Support for your children’s sexual health and safety must start at home and spread out into the community. Use this current spate of tragic stories to ensure there is no conspiracy of silence around sex in your home.

Complete Article HERE!

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Want to figure out the rules of sexual consent? Ask sex workers.

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by Jessie Patella-Rey

[T]he #MeToo movement has pushed issues of consent to the foreground of our cultural zeitgeist. Confoundingly, though, some of the movement’s most vocal champions seem to be the worst at respecting the very conventions they are espousing. Shortly after now-former New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman filed a lawsuit against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, for example, Schneiderman resigned in the face of four sexual-abuse allegations. In a public statement, he claimed that he had simply been engaged in “role-playing and other consensual sexual activities.”

If Schneiderman really believes that to be true, his understanding of what consent actually involves seems to be fundamentally confused. Consent demands thoughtful communication, careful reflection and sometimes takes practice. Few know this better than people who deal with consent every day as part of their jobs: sex workers, for whom negotiating consent and setting boundaries is central to the work of sex work. It’s our ability to tackle these issues that makes us good at what we do. As the conversation around consent moves ahead, it’s time others start learning from our own hard-won experience.

If turning to sex workers for conceptual clarity and moral guidance rings odd to you, it may be because we sex workers have been systematically excluded from these discussions. Many refuse to acknowledge that sex workers are even capable of exercising consent. This is the rhetoric of what anthropologist Laura Agustín calls the “rescue industry”— a term used to describe people and institutions who conceptualize all sex workers as victims in need of saving. Catherine MacKinnon has argued, for example, that “in prostitution, women have sex with men they would never otherwise have sex with. The money thus acts as a form of force, not as a measure of consent. It acts like physical force does in rape.” More recently, Julie Bindel has proposed, “In almost every case it’s actually slavery. The women who work as prostitutes are in hock and in trouble. They’re in need of rescue just as much as any of the more fashionable victims of modern slavery.”

This thinking casts sex workers as victims, entirely without agency of our own, while ironically speaking authoritatively about us without asking for our input. It’s a stance that parallels the hypocrisy behind Schneiderman purporting to champion consent for women while allegedly ignoring it in practice.

This is a mistake. As Lola Davina, former sex worker and author of several books, including “Thriving in Sex Work: Heartfelt Advice for Staying Sane in the Sex Industry,” put it to me in an email, she views “sex workers as soldiers on the front lines of the consent wars.” That squares with my own experience, which suggests that the lessons we teach may be broadly applicable. In my own work as a phone-sex operator, which I also write and podcast about under the name Jessie Sage, I’ve had numerous clients who have called me to rehearse future conversations or negotiations with their wives or partners. And my experiences merely scratch the surface of what’s possible.

With this premise in mind, I recently reached out to community organizer and writer Chanelle Gallant to ask what she thinks sex workers can offer. “Something unique about sex work is that consent is seen as a collective responsibility,” she said. “Sex workers organize to build their power and the ability to prevent abuse.” In some cases, that might involve exchanging information about bad customers, workplaces or managers. In others, it might be about collaborating to improve workplace conditions.

This collective organizing also translates to the interactions of individual sex workers with their clients. Stripper and journalist Reese Piper told me that she has had to learn how to avoid situations with people who will violate her. “Sex workers know how to walk away from people or situations that are dangerous or not worth our time,” she said. “It’s part of our job to detect dangerous customers. And it’s also our job to invest in customers that will value our labor.”

Alex Bishop, a sex worker and activist, talks about gaining these insights and skills as a gift that sex work has given her. She told me, “Before I did sex work, I didn’t think as deeply about sexuality and consent. I was still young and naive and slept with men because they bought me dinner or were nice.” It was her job that helped her change her way of thinking, so much so that she suggested she would like to see everyone try out sex work “for a few weeks,” if only to help open their eyes. To her way of thinking, “sex work instills a lot of confidence in those that do the work. It becomes easy to say no because you find yourself saying it all day long to clients.”

Piper agrees, telling me, “Stripping taught me how to value my time, my emotional energy and my body. It taught me how to stand up for myself. I never used to tell men who accosted me on the street to go away. Now it’s easy. I don’t feel bad about valuing my space and soul.”

Mistress Eva, who specializes in domme work, describes her interactions with clients as safer and defined than those outside of sex work. At the airport on the way home from DomCon, she took a few minutes to write to me: “I never have to hesitate about entering an interaction as a sex worker, because our interaction is always preceded by negotiation and an understanding of our combined desires and limits.”

Circling back to Davina, I asked for specific examples of how sex work has taught her how to negotiate consent. She explains, “Here’s what sex work taught me: I can say ‘yes’ to a lap dance then say ‘no’ to kissing. I can say ‘yes’ to kissing, then say ‘no’ to a blowjob. I can say ‘yes’ to a blowjob, then say ‘no’ to intercourse. … Saying ‘yes’ to one sexual act is saying ‘yes’ to that particular sexual act, and nothing more. Sex workers navigate these waters all day, every day.”

Recognizing that they can add a lot to our conversations around consent, many sex workers have taken it upon themselves to teach consent in their sex work practices. Ginger Banks, who has been a sex worker for eight years, told me, “After learning more about consent [as a sex worker] I see so many different ways that we violate it, possibly [unintentionally]. I think it is important to discuss this topic of consent with our fan bases.” Reflecting on her experience as a porn performer, she explained, “This is why I try and integrate the consent into my films, compared to just having it done just off camera. This way I can teach people about consent while they watch my films.”

It should be clear, then, that despite what the rescues industry assumes, we sex workers spend a great deal of our time both exercising and practicing consent. Significantly, we do so in the context of our relationships with clients. These sort of low stakes transactional interactions are fertile ground for productive consent work. Sex workers can, and often do, walk away from interactions with clients who fail to value consent. Accordingly, clients must practice negotiating consent in order for a transaction to continue. And, as my own experiences suggest, those are skills that they can transfer to their other relationships.

Given all of this, I’d argue that we need to empower sex workers to continue to do the sort of valuable, consent-focused work that we are already doing. In relationship to consent, we need to stop thinking about sex work as the problem, and start thinking about sex workers as part of the solution.

Complete Article HERE!

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6 Essential Resources for Victims of Sexual Assault

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This Sexual Assault Awareness month, share these resources who a friend who may benefit from them.

By Katie Mitchell

[I]n the past year, more people have felt empowered to speak openly about sexual assault. As most survivors know, sexual violence is an all too common of an issue and rape culture permeates our everyday lives. As we continue to consume stories about sexual harassment, rape and violence, it’s important to not forget that survivors deal with the aftermath of assault long after an article goes viral or an interview is aired. Often times, it takes survivors decades to heal properly, but healing is possible. Ahead, find six resources for sexual assault survivors.

National Sexual Assault Hotline

RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, has an online hotline for survivors, their friends, and their family. When you call 800.656.HOPE (4673), you’ll be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area. The trained staff member will give you confidential support and connect you with local resources, referrals, and provide basic information about medical concerns.

On Campus Resources

In recent years, there have been changes regarding how sexual assault on campus is handled. If you’re a student on a college campus, consider visiting the Center for Changing Our Campus Culture, which is an online resource that provides student-specific information regarding rights, instructions, and guidelines for when a sexual assault happens on campus, from how to file a complaint against a school, to how to help bystanders.

Anti-Violence Project

The Anti-Violence Project (AVP) is an organization specifically for LGBT and HIV-affected folks. AVP offers support groups, legal assistance, and even “arts expression groups” for victims of hate violence, sexual violence, and intimate partner violence. AVP’s direct action work is primarily in New York City.

The Network/La Red

The Network/La Red aims to end partner abuse in LGBT, BDSM, and polyamorous communities. Survivors can read through their manuals, which outline  how to identify partner abuse — especially how to distinguish consensual BDSM behavior from abuse. This organization even provides free, short-term housing for those in need residing in Boston.

Therapy

Therapy can help sexual assault survivors with their healing journey by acknowledging what happened and learning new coping skills. Most therapists have specialities, so when you’re choosing a therapist, consider asking them if they have experience working with sexual assault survivors. Therapy for Black Girls is great resource to find therapists in your area.

Healing Retreats

While most healing retreats aren’t specifically focused on sexual assault, it is so common that it’s likely to be what led several participants to the retreat. At healing retreats, you can relax, meditate, journal, do yoga, and much more in a non-judgemental environment with others who are focused on healing themselves as well.

This Sexual Assault Awareness month, share these resources who a friend who may benefit from them.

Complete Article HERE!

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How To Be A Good Partner To A Survivor Of Sexual Assault

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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

January 20, 2018 San Francisco / CA / USA – “Me too” sign raised high by a Women’s March participant; the City Hall building in the background.

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[T]he #MeToo movement has banded survivors of sexual assault together and forced a challenging discussion about how women and girls are treated in our society. But one of the toughest conversations still rarely seems to happen: how do you treat a romantic partner who is a survivor of sexual assault?

One in six women in the United States have experienced rape or attempted rape in their lifetime, so it is likely you may have dated, or are dating, a survivor. Still, few people, outside of trained professionals, are receiving an education about how to sensitively help their partners through the healing process.

“I think it can help to just normalize that [sexual assault] is something many people have experienced,” Laura Palumbo, the communications director for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), told A Plus.

The NSVRC, which provides resources and tools for people trying to prevent sexual violence and to help those living in the aftermath of it, also touches on best practices for being a partner to a survivor. Palumbo explained that for survivors of sexual assault, male of female, deciding whether to tell your partner is one of the hardest things to do.

Survivors may fear being criticized for their stories, or simply not being believed. They may also find it difficult to find the right time to confide in a partner, especially if it is a new relationship.

“It’s something that takes a lot of bravery and vulnerability to share,” Palumbo said. “That’s something for someone on the receiving end to consider: how you respond to someone who shares their experience of sexual assault makes a huge impact in how comfortable they are and their perceptions of whether or not you’re a safe person to talk about this with.”

The first step, Palumbo said, is simply believing what your partner is telling you. Do your best to make it clear that you trust their story, that you believe the assault happened, and that you know it wasn’t their fault.

“They may not want to talk about it in great detail either, and those are all normal ways for a survivor to feel,” Palumbo said. “You should follow their cue about what they are comfortable sharing and not press them for any more info or detail than what they have felt comfortable sharing already.”

If you’re in a new relationship, Palumbo says there are no tried-and-true telltale signs that a partner may have been the victim of an assault in the past. Some victims may have visceral reactions to scenes of sexual assault in movies or on television, but plenty of people who aren’t survivors have those reactions, too. The key is doing your best to pick up on certain signals that may repeat themselves, and adjusting your behavior accordingly. If a partner has a strong negative reaction like that to a scene of sexual violence, you should normalize the reaction and make it clear you noticed it — and then do your best to communicate to your partner that you’re happy to avoid that kind of content in the future.

National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC)

Ultimately, being a supportive partner is about listening with care and focus. The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape says you should avoid threatening the suspect who may have hurt your partner, maintain confidentiality no matter what, and — if the survivor hasn’t yet already — encourage them to seek counseling.

“The other step we can’t emphasize enough is really just about being a good listener,” Palumbo said. “What a good listener means in this context is just listening actively and listening to what your loved one is sharing without thinking about how you’re going to respond to them, if you’re going to be able to say the right thing or if you are going to have advice, because they really don’t need to hear that from you.”

There is no one way to approach this conversation, but the NSVRC’s guidelines provide a general rulebook. Palumbo says it’s also important to consider the misconceptions and stereotypes about sexual assault survivors and move past them, focusing on the individual you’re in a relationship with. Because of these misconceptions, many people believe survivors of sexual violence don’t want touch or physical contact and end up being less sexual. On the contrary, research shows that’s not the case. While some survivors do withdraw from sexual activity, most “continue to be sexual beings,” Palumbo said.

National Sexual Violence Resource Center

“People who experience sexual violence are just like the rest of us in terms of having different sexual preferences and needs and their level of sex and frequency,” she added.

One way to be sure about what your partner is comfortable with is asking for consent to physical touch, particularly during conversations about the their past assault.

“There are going to be times where they may be really receptive to being asked for physical support, such as a hug or other physical intimacy, and there are going to be other times where that is not their preference,” Palumbo said. “By asking and always checking in with the person and being aware of their needs, you can make sure you’re respecting their preferences and re-establishing their preferences of security, safety and control.”

Finally, Palumbo said, be aware that a lot of survivors remain sex positive after their assaults. Some are into consensual alternative forms of sexuality like BDSM, others are comedians who joke about their experiences on stage, and some remain angry or upset about their experience for a long time. Some studies have found that certain rape survivors even have sexual fantasies about rape later in life.

All of these, Palumbo said, are normal and common reactions.

“Survivors are, even after they experienced some form of sexual harm, still going to move forward in their life as a human being,” Palumbo said. “There really is no script. That is something that comes up when a person is talking about their values or expectations for a relationship.”

Complete Article HERE!

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‘If We Want To End Sexual Violence, We Need To Talk About Female Desire’

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“Good sex is about more than lack of violence or fear.”

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[I]t might seem strange to be talking about pleasure and desire when we are surrounded by stories of rape and harassment. Aren’t we getting ahead of ourselves? Shouldn’t we concentrate first on stopping those crimes before we ask for sex that might actually work for us?

I don’t think so. The worst men—and the worst lovers—I have known were the ones who didn’t understand that women, too, want things from sex. That sex is not simply something we give to men—or something men take from us.

These were the men who commented, with a mixture of surprise and revulsion, on how much I actually seemed to enjoy the sex we had, how I acted as though we were sexual equals, as though my own desire mattered—and how unusual that was. I’ve never known what to say to that. I’ve never known whether to pity their ignorance or worry about the other women they have been with, about how those women may have felt forced to deny their desire, to keep their sexual agency secret, even in bed.

Study after study shows that women want sex just as much as men do—but they’re often afraid of the consequences of saying so. The story we tell about how women should behave sexually is one of hesitancy, of submission, of waiting for the man to make the first, second, and last moves. Cajoling a woman into sex is considered normal, hence much of the confusion about women who are now complaining, often for the first time, about men who pressure us into sex we don’t want to have.

Good sex is about more than lack of violence or fear. But there are still too many people out there who believe that it is enough for sex to not be painful or frightening for a woman. One recent study showed that 32 percent of college-age men said they would commit or had committed acts of violence against women that courts would describe as rape, but when asked if they would ever rape a woman, most said no. This is rape culture; nonconsensual sex is normalized and, as long as we don’t call it rape, tolerated.

There are still very few societies that are truly comfortable with women having sexual and reproductive agency—in other words, the right to choose when and if and how we have sex, and when and if and how we have children. All over the world, including in the United States, the basic assumption made about women by their governments and employers and families is that we do not deserve to decide what happens to our bodies—and we cannot be trusted to tell the truth about our experiences. This is sexual repression, and we must fight it.

We must also fight against internalizing it. The consequences of capitulating to what our bodies seem to want—whether it be an orgasm or another slice of cake—are made very clear to girls long before puberty turns up the dial on desire. We must not be too hungry, too horny, too greedy for anything in life, or we will become ugly, unlovable. Women who eat too much, talk too much, shag too much—women who want too much—will face shame, stigma, and ostracism. We must not lose control.

When you’ve learned to be suspicious of your own appetites, it takes time to treat yourself and your body with more kindness. How can we be honest with anyone else about our desires when “slut” is still one of the worst things you can call a woman, when women who openly enjoy or seek out sex are shamed for it, and men who do the same are celebrated?

For women and queer people, for anyone whose sexuality has been treated as abnormal and punished, and particularly for those who’ve survived sexual violence, it can be very hard to be honest about what we might want in bed, even with ourselves. That’s alright. It’s okay not to know what you want, as long as you know that the wanting itself is okay. This isn’t going to change overnight. But I know I’ve had more positive experiences than negative ones when I insisted on making my desires clear. Being able to ask for what you want is the first step toward real sexual liberation. The sort that works for everyone.

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What’s the difference between sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment and rape?

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Physician Larry Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for the sexual assault of girls on the USA Gymnastics team.

By , &

[T]he terms “sexual abuse,” “sexual assault,” “sexual harassment” – and even “rape” – crop up daily in the news. We are likely to see these terms more as the #MeToo movement continues.

Many people want to understand these behaviors and work to prevent them. It helps if we are consistent and as precise as possible when we use these terms.

But what does each term mean?

We are three scholars who have specialized in the scientific study of sexual abuse, rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment over several decades.

Let’s start by defining each of these terms. Then, we can look at how these behaviors sometimes overlap.

Sexual abuse

The term that has been in the news most recently with reference to sports doctor Larry Nassar’s trial is sexual abuse, a form of mistreating children. Sexual abuse is mainly used to describe behavior toward children, not adults.

All 50 states have laws that recognize that children are not capable of giving informed consent to any sex act. In the United States, the age at which consent can be given ranges from 16 to 18 years.

Sexual abuse can include many different things, from touching a victim in a sexual manner to forcing a victim to touch the perpetrator in a sexual way to making a victim look at sexual body parts or watch sexual activity. Sexual abuse of a child is a criminal act.

Rape

In 2012, the FBI issued a revised definition of rape as “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” The revised law is gender neutral, meaning that anyone can be a victim.

When carefully examined, the FBI definition does not look like most people’s idea of rape – typically perpetrated by a stranger through force. The FBI definition says nothing about the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator and it says nothing about force. It does, however, say something about consent, or rather, the lack of it. Think about consent as your ability to make a decision about what happens to your body.

A perpetrator can compel a victim into a penetrative sex act in multiple ways. A perpetrator can ignore verbal resistance – like saying “no,” “stop” or “I don’t want to” – or overpower physical resistance by holding a person down so they cannot move. A person can penetrate a victim who is incapable of giving consent because he or she is drunk, unconscious, asleep, or mentally or physically incapacitated; or can threaten or use physical force or a weapon against a person. Essentially, these methods either ignore or remove the person’s ability to make an autonomous decision about what happens to their body. State laws vary in how they define removing or ignoring consent.

Perpetrators can’t defend against charges of rape by claiming they were drunk themselves or by saying they are married to the victim.

In November 2017, participants combined the ‘Take Back the Workplace March’ and the ‘#MeToo Survivors March’ in Hollywood.

Sexual assault

Rape and sexual assault have been used interchangeably in coverage of events leading to the #MeToo movement, and this practice, though unintentional, is confusing. In contrast to the specific criminal act of rape, the term sexual assault can describe a range of criminal acts that are sexual in nature, from unwanted touching and kissing, to rubbing, groping or forcing the victim to touch the perpetrator in sexual ways. But sexual assault overlaps with rape because the term includes rape.

Social and behavioral scientists often use the term “sexual violence.” This term is far more broad than sexual assault. It include acts that are not codified in law as criminal but are harmful and traumatic. Sexual violence includes using false promises, insistent pressure, abusive comments or reputational threats to coerce sex acts. It can encompass noncontact acts like catcalls and whistles, which can make women feel objectified and victimized. It includes nonconsensual electronic sharing of explicit images, exposure of genitals and surreptitious viewing of others naked or during sex.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is a much broader term than sexual assault, encompassing three categories of impermissible behavior.

One is sexual coercion – legally termed “quid pro quo harassment” – referring to implicit or explicit attempts to make work conditions contingent upon sexual cooperation. The classic “sleep with me or you’re fired” scenario is a perfect example of sexual coercion. It is the most stereotypical form of sexual harassment, but also the rarest.

A second, and more common, form of sexual harassment is unwanted sexual attention: unwanted touching, hugging, stroking, kissing, relentless pressure for dates or sexual behavior. Note that romantic and sexual overtures come in many varieties at work, not all of them harassing. To constitute unlawful sexual harassment, the sexual advances must be unwelcome and unpleasant to the recipient. They must be “sufficiently severe or pervasive” to “create an abusive working environment,” according to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Unwanted sexual attention can include sexual assault and even rape. If an employer were to forcibly kiss and grope a receptionist without her consent, this would be an example of both unwanted sexual attention and sexual assault – both a civil offense and a crime.

Most sexual harassment, however, entails no sexual advance. This third and most common manifestation is gender harassment: conduct that disparages people based on gender, but implies no sexual interest. Gender harassment can include crude sexual terms and images, for example, degrading comments about bodies or sexual activities, graffiti calling women “cunts” or men “pussies.” More often than not, though, it is purely sexist, such as contemptuous remarks about women being ill-suited for leadership or men having no place in childcare. Such actions constitute “sexual” harassment because they are sex-based, not because they involve sexuality.

Come-ons, put-downs: They’re both bad

In lay terms, sexual coercion and unwanted sexual attention are come-ons, whereas gender harassment is a put-down. Still, they are all forms of sexual harassment and can all violate law, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Historically, social attitudes towards all these hostile actions have assumed a continuum of severity. Sexist graffiti and insults are offensive, but no big deal, right? Verbal sexual overtures cannot be as bad as physical ones. And, if there was no penetration, it can’t have been all that bad.

These assumptions do not hold up to scientific scrutiny, however. For example, researchers at the University of Melbourne analyzed data from 73,877 working women. They found that experiences of gender harassment, sexist discrimination and the like are more corrosive to work and well-being, compared to encounters with unwanted sexual attention and sexual coercion.

We have tried to clarify terms that are now becoming household words. Of course, life is complicated. Abusive, assaulting or harassing behavior cannot always be neatly divided into one category or another – sometimes it belongs in more than one. Nevertheless, it is important to use terms in accurate ways to promote the public’s understanding.

Finally, we take heed that society is in a period like no other and one we thought we would never see. People are reflecting on, and talking about, and considering and reconsidering their experiences and their behavior. Definitions, criminal and otherwise, change with social standards. This time next year, we may be writing a new column.

Complete Article HERE!

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Consent doesn’t end with dating – husbands have to ask their wives for sex too

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Many of the female survivors I’ve worked with said that having sex with their husbands felt like rape. They would be shocked when I told them that their experiences had, in fact, been rape

Men are socialised to feel ownership over women’s bodies, regardless of their pain or happiness. Women are conditioned to accept degrees of male aggression

By Hera Hussain

[T]hanks to the #MeToo movement the topic of consent is now on the agenda. The conversation is centred on dating and hooking up, teaching us how to navigate those confusing moments between going home and actively saying, or hearing, the word “yes”. What isn’t being expressed is that consent is something that happens every time we agree to sleep with someone – whether on a first date, or after 30 years of marriage. At every point in a relationship someone has the right to say no, and to be listened to.

It’s frightening for many to think that partners we trust, love and may even desire might force us into something they’re enjoying, when we’re not, but it happens in too many relationships.

Many of the female survivors I’ve worked with have expressed, quite reluctantly, that having sex with their husbands felt like rape. They would be shocked when I told them that their experiences had, in fact, been rape. And these women aren’t an anomaly. One study reported that nearly one in three women has experienced sexual violence within an intimate relationship.

I can never forget when one woman I worked with asked me, embarrassed, how sex was for another married woman. She asked me if it was supposed to feel good. Or the woman who would go to extreme lengths to avoid sleeping with her husband, pretending to be sick or on her period. And another who would lock the door and sleep in the guest room when her husband would come staggering home from a night out. There are so many more stories like these.

As seen in the recent high-profile cases, women continue to face a higher standard of scrutiny for experiencing abuse than abusers do for inflicting it. “If it was so bad, why didn’t she just leave?” people ask me. There are many reasons why women don’t leave an abusive situation.

Psychological barriers can prevent recognition of abuse, women are socialised to fear the anger of men who don’t get their way, and, for many women, leaving simply isn’t an option as there’s nowhere to go. After all, in England alone, nearly 200 women and children are turned away from domestic violence refuges every single day.

Clearly, we’re going wrong somewhere. Men are socialised to feel ownership over women’s bodies, regardless of their pain or happiness. Women are conditioned to accept degrees of male aggression, and will often temper their response knowing that they risk being seriously hurt or even killed if they fail to comply.

If we’re serious about changing gender power dynamics for good, we need to take the NSPCC’s advice and teach children about consent from a young age. This begins with making PSHE education, including lessons on consent, taught by trained teachers, statutory in all schools.

Consent can’t begin and end with dates. Consent can’t be the absence of a “no”. It can’t be an extra. It can’t be a one-off check. Consent has to be affirmative and enthusiastic every single time, from the first time to the last time.

Complete Article HERE!

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What a leather convention can teach everyone about sex and consent

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I don’t think I’d ever realized just how “vanilla” I was, and how little I understood about all of the ways you can engage in fun, healthy, consensual, adventurous sex.

“Hotel is closed for private event” read the signs affixed to the front of the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill last weekend. A steady stream of people, mostly men, many in leather harnesses, some in collars and on leashes, and some simply in jeans and sweaters, walked in and out in an almost continuous stream.

Mid-Atlantic Leather (MAL), now in its 48th year, is a three-day long celebration of the leather community, a subculture that celebrates various sexual kinks, many centered around leather and toys. Bears, daddies, pups and others identifying with various subsets roam the Hyatt Regency, participating in conference-like demonstrations about suspension (BDSM where you’re bound and hung) and electro (BDSM involving electric shocks), buying handcrafted leather goods and sex toys, and, of course, partying. (Actual sex was not part of the convention but no doubt took place in private.) It’s a predominantly LGBTQ centric space, although look closely enough and you’re sure to find people on every part of the gender and sexuality spectrum.

My first MAL was in the winter of 2016. I’d just gone through a breakup and my friend had suggested that perhaps it would be good for me to explore life beyond my comfort zone. “Just get ready,” he’d said, “it may be more than your little vanilla heart can handle.” And he wasn’t entirely wrong. It wasn’t that I couldn’t handle it, but I don’t think I’d ever realized just how “vanilla” I was, and how little I understood about all of the ways you can engage in fun, healthy, consensual, adventurous sex.

That first year I met Adam, a dentist in town from Texas just for MAL. “You look like you could use a drink,” he said back in a hotel room he was sharing with a friend of mine.

“Do I look that out of place?” I asked. I’d put on a leather jacket to try to blend in.

“Not out of place,” he said, “just kind of shocked.”

And shocked I was. Not necessarily at anything that was going on at the hotel that night, but more so at the fact that for the better part of my life I’d allowed myself to believe that this kind of sexual openness was only available to a certain kind of person.

“Where I grew up, there wasn’t really anything like this,” said Anthony, a 30-year-old living in Arlington, Va., who grew up in Portsmouth. (The sources for this story preferred that only first names be used, for privacy reasons). “There was no kink culture, and I really wanted to explore it. Everyone here was super welcoming, and that’s why I keep coming back.”

This was a common sentiment. “It’s a different part of the gay family,” said Garret, 28, who lives in Washington. “We all have different interests … and if nobody else respects that, come to MAL because they do here.”

Respect, as it turns out, is a dominating theme throughout the course of the weekend. You might expect that when many attendees are walking around in only a jockstrap and a harness, but it is pleasantly surprising to see how strictly they adhere to that principle. In the era of #MeToo, when more and more queer folks are being vocal about the role consent plays in queer spaces, perhaps the leather and kink communities have something to teach the general public about active and enthusiastic consent.

Ask for permission before petting. Hold out your hand and let the pup come to you first. If the pup doesn’t, or turns or growls, let them be as they may not want to or have permission. This is rule No. 5 as listed on the board outside the 10th anniversary mosh at the MAL Puppy Park, a yearly tradition in which individuals who participate in pup play — a BDSM role-play wherein one participant acts as the “pup” and one as the handler — have an opportunity to interact with other pups. Other rules include: Nudity is not permitted in public spaces, genitals cannot be exposed and DO NOT pull on a pup’s tail or collar. It can cause injury and is disrespectful. Change some of the verbiage and perhaps these would be appropriate guidelines to post at the Academy Awards.

“It’s where I met my current roommate,” said Allyn, a 31-year-old originally from Wisconsin who now lives in Washington, of his first MAL experience. “It was exhilarating. I’d never seen anything like it. It make me feel brave and nervous at the same time.” He didn’t speak to his would-be roommate the first night they met, however. “I mean, I had a ball gag in at the time,” he recounted.

Zack, 23, from Baltimore, also used the world “exhilarating” when describing his first MAL experience. “I got chills coming down the escalator into the lobby of the hotel,” he said. “It’s the closest thing to Folsom I’ve ever been too,” a reference to the San Francisco street fair that’s the world’s largest leather celebration.

Everyone I spoke to talked about descending that escalator on the evening of the opening party. It is truly a complete sensory experience. The sight, sound and smell of wall-to-wall leather and latex on every kind of body, not just seen but celebrated and appreciated.

While I was talking to Garret about the weekend, someone he appeared to know approached him, whispered something in his ear and, after he nodded yes, lifted Garret’s arm and began to sniff his armpit. Garret continued to answer my questions without pause. “There may be something over here that’s not your thing, but then you’ll look over there and see something going on that you’re totally into,” he explained “Don’t be shy, don’t judge other people for something you don’t understand. And above all, come and have a good time. No one is here to be spectacled. It can be a learning and cultural experience.” The sniffer had moved on to his other armpit by the time he finished talking.

Although I have yet to be brave enough to buy and wear a harness to MAL myself, each year I attend I move closer toward that goal. At the very least, the event has highlighted for me the fact that there is an exciting world beyond the “vanilla” one I’d relegated myself to — and has given me a better understanding of the queer community as a whole. At one point, in the leather market, a man who had recently undergone top surgery was trying on a new harness next to a group of folks signing to one another, while feet away a $1,400 bejeweled pup hood was on sale. Only at MAL.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why do half of women have fantasies about being raped?

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[T]here’s a wide range of sexual fantasies people have, ranging from entirely unrealistic to applicable to real life, sex with Superman through to banging on a plane.

But the fantasy of being raped, also known as nonconsent and forced sex fantasies, is common.

Sexual fantasies let you explore your sexuality, they’re what we use to get off in those harsh, cold wifi-free winters, and we get to use them in roleplay scenarios to make our sex lives even more fulfilling.

But this common fantasy is one that few of us feel comfortable sharing. It puts people on edge and makes us feel a bit wrong.

Recent research indicates that between 31% and 57% of women have fantasies in which they are forced into sex against their will. For 9% to 17% of those women, rape fantasies are their favourite or most frequent sexual fantasy.

It’s natural if that makes you feel alarmed.

In real-life contexts, rape – meaning sex against your will – is deeply traumatising. It’s not at all ‘sexy’. It’s an intense violation that causes high levels of distress.

Content warning: Those who find discussions of rape and sexual assault may find this article triggering. 

It seems strange that we’d use rape as the basis for our sexual fantasies – and yet so many of us do.

And it’s incredibly important to note that while rape fantasies are common, this does not mean that women secretly want to be raped. There is a huge difference between acted out role-play, imagined scenarios, and real-life experiences. No one asks to be raped, no one deserves to be raped, and how common forced sex fantasies are in no way justifies unwanted sexual contact of any nature.

It’s difficult to know exactly what these fantasies entail, because, well, they’re going on in someone else’s mind.

But the women we spoke to mentioned that their fantasies of forced sex steered away from experiences that would be close to reality.

Rather than lines of consent being crossed by friends or bosses, we fantasise about high drama situations in which we are forced to have sex to survive, entering into sexual contracts rather than having our right to consent taken away from us outright.

Amy*, 26, says a common fantasy is being kidnapped and held hostage, then having one of the guards forcing her into sex to keep her safe.

Tasha, 24, fantasises about thieves breaking into her house and being so attracted to her they have to have sex with her against her will.

In both scenarios, the women said they start out by resisting advances, then begin to enjoy the sex midway through. It’s giving up the fight and giving in to desire that’s the turn on, rather than the very real trauma of real-life rape.

But for other women, fantasies are more true to life. For some it’s not about feigned struggle, but imagining consent and control being ripped away as a major turn on.

Why is this? Why are so many of us aroused by forced sex when we’d be horrified by the reality of it? Why do we find the idea of rejecting sex then doing it anyway a turn on?

Dr Michael Yates, clinical psychologist at the Havelock Clinic, explains that there are a few theories.

The first is that women’s fantasies of nonconsensual sex are down to lingering guilt and shame around female sexuality.

‘For centuries (and sadly still all too regularly today), young women are taught to hide sexual feelings or encouraged to fit narrow gender stereotypes of the acceptable ways that female sexuality can be expressed in society,’ Michael tells Metro.co.uk. ‘As a result sex and sexual feelings are often accompanied by anxiety, guilt or shame.

‘One theory is that rape fantasies allow women to reduce distress associated with sex, as they are not responsible for what occurs, therefore have less need to feel guilt or shame about acting upon their own sexual desires or feelings.’

Essentially, lingering feelings of shame around taking agency over our own sexual desires can make us want to transfer them on to another body, thus giving us permission to fantasise about sexual acts. In our minds, it’s not us doing it, it’s all the other person, meaning we don’t have to feel guilty or dirty.

This explains why most rape fantasies don’t tend to be extremely violent, and why the women I asked reported resisting at first before having an enjoyable experience (which real-life rape is definitely not).

‘More often than not, most people who have rape fantasies imagine a passionate scene with very little force, based around the “victim” being so desirable that the “rapist” cannot control themselves, while the victim generally does not feel the terror, confusion, rage and disgust of an actual rape,’ says Michael.

The second theory is down to the dominant narratives shown in media and porn. It’s suggested that because our media and porn so often show men being dominant and losing control around a meek, deeply attractive woman, that’s simply how we envision ideal sex in our fantasies.

Take a flip through classic erotic literature, or even just look at the covers, and you’ll be confronted by strong men grabbing weak, swooning women.

‘Although rarely do these novels portray rape or sexual assault explicitly, they do play into the idea of a female sexual role as succumbing to the dominant role of male sexuality,’ notes Michael. ‘One whereby men can act upon their sexual urges at the point they choose (with the female having little power to object).’

So that might be the why – but what about the who? Does having fantasies about being raped mean anything about us? Are certain types of women more likely to have fantasies of being raped?

As with most sexual fantasies, it’s really not something to panic about.

Complete Article HERE!

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When “No” Isn’t Enough And Sexual Boundaries Are Ignored

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Violence is so normalized that we often don’t even recognize sexual abuses in the moment.

By Sherronda J. Brown

[I] recently realized that sex is unhealthy for me. Not sex in theory. No, of course not. Sex is healthy for our bodies and even our hearts and minds.When I say that sex is unhealthy for me, I mean the kind of sex that I have experienced — an experience that I share with many women, femmes, and bottoms. The sex where my needs are neglected and my boundaries are ignored in favor of whatever desires my partner may have.

Not everyone experiences sex and the things surrounding it in the same way, for various reasons. Some of those reasons might include gender cultivation, (a)sexuality, choice of sexual expression, knowledge of self/knowledge one’s own (a)sexuality, or relationship with one’s own body. Some of those reasons might include how certain body types are deemed “normal” and acceptable while others are only ever fetishized or demonized.

Some of those reasons might include the fact certain folks are told that they should be grateful that anyone would even be willing to look at them, let alone touch or love them, while others are expected to always be available for sexual contact. Some of those reasons might include the fact that some people are afforded certain permissions to make decisions about their sex and love life without being eternally scrutinized, while others are nearly always assumed to be sexually irresponsible.

Some of those reasons might include past or current trauma and abuse. And a host of other reasons not mentioned here, or reasons that you or I have never even considered because they’re not a factor in our personal story.

I’m not straight. I’m just an asexual with a libido—infrequent as it may be—and a preference for masculine aesthetic and certain genitalia. Most of the sex that I have had is what we would consider to be “straight” sex, and I am fairly certain that I would enjoy the act more and have a healthier relationship with it if more sexual partners were willing to make the experience comfortable and safe for me. Instead, men seem to want to make sex as uncomfortable and painful as possible for their partners, whether consciously or unconsciously, regardless of whether or not that is what we want.

Many men seem to judge their sexual partners abilities the same way that they gauge how much we love them and how deep our loyalty goes — by how much pain we can endure. I say this based on my personal experience, as well as the experiences of many of the people around me who have been gracious and trusting enough to share with me their testimony. Many of us have been conditioned to measure ourselves in the same way, using our ability to endure pain as a barometer for our worth.

Not only do we need to address the fact that far too many women have sex when they don’t want to because it’s “polite”, but we also need to talk about how many of us, of various genders, are having sex that is painful and/or uncomfortable in ways that we don’t want it to be, but we endure it for the sake of being polite, amiable, or agreeable. Many times, we also endure it for our safety.

This goes beyond simply not speaking up about what we want during sex. It’s also about us not being able to speak up about our boundaries and limits without fear of the situation turning violent. The truth is that many of us have quietly decided in our heads, “I would rather suffer through an uncomfortable/painful sexual situation than a violent one, or one that I might not survive.” This is about too many men not being able to tell the difference between a scripted pornographic situation or a story of sexual violence.

There have been too many times when I have been engaged in sexual situations and told my partner that I did not want a particular sexual act done to me, and they proceeded to do it anyway, with no regard for my boundaries, comfort, or safety. I gave them a valid reason for why I did not want the particular sexual act done to me, but I didn’t have to. My “No” should have been enough.

I once had to blatantly ask a guy if he understood what the word “No” meant. He had been attempting to persuade me into performing a sexual act that I was not interested in and had already declined several times. Therefore, it seemed a valid question.

“Yea, I do,” He responded. “It means keep going.” His answer did not stop there, but I will spare you the totality of the violent picture that he painted for me with his subsequent vulgarities. His voice was steady with a seriousness I dared not question. There was anger behind it, but also excitement and pride. The very thought of ignoring my “No” seemed to arouse him, even as he was filled frustration at my audacity to ask him such a question. I abruptly ended the phone call, grateful that this conversation had not been in-person. A chill came over me and I felt the urge to cry. My head and neck ran hot and the rise and fall of my chest quickened. Anxiety gripped me as I remembered that he knew where I lived and my panic drew out for weeks.

This is only one of my stories. I have others that include blatant disregard of boundaries, harassment, and other forms of sexual misconduct. I spent much of the last year contemplating the many ways that I have been coerced, manipulated, or even forced into sexual situations or sexual acts in the past, and how this violence is so normalized that we often don’t even recognize these abuses in the moment. Instead, they come back to fuck with us days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries after the fact.

It took me more than seven years to realize that the first guy I ever had sex with coerced me into it. Literally trapped me in his apartment and refused to take me home until I gave in. After this, he went on to violate my trust and disregard my sexual boundaries in other ways until I ended our “friendship.” It took me months to name the time a former partner admitted to having once removed the condom during our encounter without my knowledge or consent as a sexual violation.

Unfortunately, I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t have stories like mine. And these stories belong to many people of other genders, or without gender, as well. This is our “normal,” and that is not okay. We need a broader understanding of what sexual violence and misconduct look like, and we need to deal with the fact that they are more a part of our everyday lives and common experiences than some of us are willing to admit.

We have to stop thinking of sexual violence and misconduct as something that only happens when someone is physically assaulted, drugged, or passed out. It’s far more than being groped by your boss, or terminated or otherwise punished for rejecting their advances. In a world where people do not feel safe saying “No,” not only to sex itself but also to certain sexual acts and types of sex, we cannot go on talking about sexual violence as if rape and harassment are the only true crimes. In doing this, we are leaving people behind.

The ways in which our bodies and boundaries can be violated are abundant. Too abundant. Fuck everyone who ever made another person feel like they couldn’t safely say “No.”

Complete Article HERE!

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What is tantric sex, and how can it help heal sexual trauma?

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By Brook Bolen

[C]onversations about sexual violence and trauma have long been overdue but are finally happening. Conversations about how survivors of sexual violence endure and overcome their trauma is of equal importance — and with symptoms ranging from emotional to physical to psychological, physiological, and sexual, there are a host of repercussions. Experts estimate that one in six women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape; similarly, while the precise number is not known, professionals estimate that one in four women will be sexually abused before the age of 18. For many of these women, some of whom have been victimized as adults and children, the struggle to maintain or achieve a fulfilling relationship with their sexuality can be chronic and long-lasting.

While traditional kinds of talk therapy, such as psychoanalysis and cognitive-behavioral therapy, are often helpful in overcoming trauma, they are not always sufficient — particularly where sex and sexuality are concerned. Somatic therapy, which is a type of body-centered therapy that combines psychotherapy with various physical techniques, recognizes that trauma can be as much a part of the body as of the mind. “Somatic” comes from the Greek word soma, which means “body.” According to somatic therapy, trauma symptoms are the result of an unstable autonomic nervous system (ANS). Our past traumas disrupt the ANS and can manifest themselves in a wide variety of physical symptoms. This type of holistic approach can be especially useful for survivors of sexual violence.

Staci Haines, somatic teacher, practitioner, and author of Healing Sex: A Mind-Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma, agrees. In a 2007 interview with SF Gate, she said, “Many people can understand intellectually what happened to them, but put them in a stressful situation like having sex, and their bodies continue to respond as they did during the abuse. … That’s why somatic therapy is so powerful for recovery. Survivors learn to thaw out the trauma that is stored in their body. They learn to relax and experience physical pleasure, sexual pleasure.”

Most Americans’ understanding of tantra is limited to Sting’s now-infamous boast about his seven-hour lovemaking prowess — but tantra is actually a type of somatic therapy. As such, tantra can be used to help people achieve the same types of goals as traditional talk therapy does, such as better relationships, deeper intimacy, and a more authentic life. Furthermore, while tantra frequently incorporates sexuality into its focus, it’s not solely about sex — though that seems to be how it is most commonly perceived in the West.

Devi Ward, founder of the Institute of Authentic Tantra Education, uses the following definition of tantra for her work: “Tantra traditionally comes from India; it’s an ancient science that uses different techniques and practices to integrate mind, body, and spirit. It’s a spiritual practice whose ultimate goal is to help people fully realize their entitlement to full pleasure. We also use physical techniques to cultivate balance. The best way I have of describing it is it’s a form of yoga that includes sexuality.”

Internationally acclaimed tantra teacher Carla Tara tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “There are about 3,000 different definitions of tantra. One of them is this: Tantra is an interweaving of male and female energies, not just one or the other. I start there. Having both energies means knowing how to give and receive equally. Its basis is equanimity. It’s the foundation for conscious loving and living.”

Using equanimity as a starting point for individual or couples therapy can be useful in every facet of life, but particularly for survivors of sexual violence. “Tantra is important to any kind of healing,” says Tara, “because it teaches you to be present through breathing. Deep, conscious breathing is nourishing for every cell of your body. And they were not nourished when you were abused; they were damaged. This kind of breathing teaches you to be present. These breathing techniques help stop you from returning to the past. This makes it so powerful, and that feeling is so important for people who have been abused. Most people go first to psychotherapy, but for people who have survived sexual violence, it takes touching, not just talk, to heal.”

Yoga’s mental and physical health benefits are well established, making the addition of sexuality an even more promising tool for people struggling to have a more fulfilling sex life. “We use somatic healing,” Ward, who teaches individual and couples classes on-site in British Columbia and internationally, tells Yahoo Lifestyle via Skype. “When we’re traumatized, the body can become tense and tight where we have been injured. We refer to this as body armoring, because the body is storing the trauma in its cells. That kind of tight defensiveness can be impenetrable. But here’s the beautiful thing: When the nervous system is relaxed, it releases trauma. And that is a healing practice. We know that trauma gets stored in the body. Through combining meditation, sexual pleasure, and breathing practice, the body can then learn to let go and release that trauma. And that can look like tears, laughter, orgasms. It depends on the trauma and the person.”

Single or partnered, tantra can be beneficial for anyone looking to have a happier, healthier sex life. “The most promising sexual relationship we have is the one we have with ourselves,” says Ward. “If we don’t have that, how can we expect to show up for our partners? We all deserve to have a celebratory, delightful relationship with our body, but if we have unresolved trauma, we bring all that to our relationship. A lot of relationships we are in tend to be dysfunctional because of our unresolved trauma and wounding.”

When it comes to using tantra to heal from sexual trauma, reading alone won’t cut it. Expert assistance, most often offered in person and online, is recommended. “There [is help for] certain muscle tensions, and things like that, that you can’t get from a book,” says Tara. “You need a person to guide you.” Ward echoes this idea: “Especially if you’re healing trauma, it’s best to have a coach. Humans learn best through modeling. Reading is great, but nothing can substitute what we learn from follow-the-leader.”

Healing from sexual violence is a daunting task, and everyone who struggles to do so has their own personal journey to healing. Each person’s recovery is unique, and tantra can help every survivor. “The body is designed to heal itself,” says Ward. “We just have to learn how to relax and let it happen.”

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Why society should talk about forced sex in intimate relationships, too

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[I]n the wake of the deluge of news about sexual harassment and alleged assaults by several high-profile and powerful men, it is important to look at the causes and consequences of forced sex in the workplace – but also in intimate relationships.

Although forced sex by a boss and by an intimate partner considerably differ, they have these two things in common: They both disempower women and make women sick.

Sex is a double-edged sword. It enhances our well-being and boosts our relationships if it is consented. It becomes detrimental, however, if it is forced.

My research on sexuality focuses on causes and consequences of forced sex in intimate relationships. My studies have been on individual and environmental risk factors that increase risk of sexual abuse by male partners. I have studied the co-occurence between sexual and nonsexual violence in intimate relations. Finally, I have also studied the consequences of sexual abuse on mental health and relationship quality among women.

The recent news events provide an opportunity to address forced partner sex, a long-overlooked but insidious practice.

All too common

Let’s look at the numbers.

According to one report, one in four women experiences sexual violence by an intimate partner. According to another report, up to 50 percent of all sexual coercions are done by intimate partners. Around one-third of adolescent girls also report that their first sexual experience was forced.

About 15 percent of women also experience sexual harassment at their workplace.

Worldwide, 30 to 35 percent of women in a relationship experience some form of violence by their intimate partner. In the United States alone, more than 12 million adults, mostly women, experience intimate partner violence each year.

A sickening effect at home

In addition to the moral and human right violations of individual women, intimate partner violence imposes huge costs to society. According to a CDC report, the costs of intimate partner violence, including rape, physical assault and stalking, in the United States exceed US$5.8 billion each year.

Sexual abuse has a number of health effects, including higher risk of suicide. Individuals who experience sexual assault are also at higher risk of several chronic diseases such as asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, chronic pain conditions and heart disease.

Individuals who are forced into sex by a partner show depression and high psychological distress. In fact, sexual abuse increases risk for almost all forms of psychopathologies.

Forced sex reduces women’s ability to enjoy sex in the future. Although some victims exhibit an increase in sexual activity, in most cases, forced sex is a risk factor for sexual avoidance.

Shame is a key aspect of the emotional suffering of those who experience sexual abuse. Shame is a core element of anxiety, depression and suicide, and is a barrier against help-seeking. As a result, victims typically continue to suffer in isolation. This is more so in societies where the rape victims are also blamed for their victimization.

My own research has shown a link between forced sex and relationship distress among married couples. By being forced to have sex, the women lose a sense of control of their bodies. Forced sex shakes women’s trust and attachment security.

Some believe that sexual violence is probably most depressing when it is committed by a spouse, partner or relative. When a woman is victimized by a stranger, she has to live with a frightening memory. When she is being forced into sex by a spouse or a partner, she lives with the “rapist” all the time.

A sickening effect at work

Sexual abuse can become chronic when it happens at the workplace. Given the imbalance in the power, fighting an assault in the workplace may be an uphill battle for women. Many powerful forces, such as human resources directors and lawyers, can serve to protect the company or to discredit and blame the victim.

Sexual harassment has a major effect on women’s careers. Some women leave their jobs to escape their harassing environment. Some people stay and fight. In both scenarios, sexual harassment causes career disruption for women.

Much of workplace harassment is a result of unbalanced power, and some scholars have called sexual harassment “gendered expression of power.”

This inappropriate expression of power imperils young, minority and poor women in the workplace in particular. Studies have shown that power differences can increase sexual abuse of young, minority and low socioeconomic individuals.

So who does force women into sex?

My research shows that sexual abuse does not occur in a vacuum. It tends to co-occur with relational dysfunctions as well as other types of violence. Women should consider psychological or verbal abuse by a partner, co-worker or boss to be a warning sign for future risk of sexual assault.

They should also know that men who show other types of violence, including verbal, psychological and physical violence, are more likely to commit sexual violence. Men who are very controlling verbally, economically and emotionally are also more likely to be sexual perpetrators.

And, it is important to know that alcohol and drug use contribute to sexual violence. Many men who force people into sex are intoxicated. Also, impulsive traits increase the risk. Men who express more anger and aggression are also at a higher risk of committing sexual violence.

Power plays a corrupting role

Social psychology research reminds us that power corrupts people, independent of their level of morality. So, when humans are given unconditional power, authority and dominance (over others), they are very likely to abuse it. Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment showed that it is not evil people who do evil behaviors. Evil action is often about unconditional power and authority that people gain, rather than their immorality.

This may explain why the list of high-profile people who have been accused of sexually harassing women is mostly composed of powerful white men. This is not, I would argue, because white men are immoral, but because white men have the highest authority, dominance, social power and job control over their co-workers.

While the U.S. is undergoing a surge in awareness around workplace sexual harassment and abuse, people should also be mindful that the same dynamics are playing out among intimate relationships.

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A new prescription for tackling sexual violence

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How some advocates are looking to dismantle rape culture using public health strategies.

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[W]hen Tahir Duckett talks about consent with elementary and middle school boys, he often talks about video games first.

“If I just hop on your Xbox without your consent, what’s your response?” Duckett says he asks the boys. Almost always, the young boys he’s talking to say they’d fight him.

“They recognize something about their consent has been violated,” he says, speaking with ThinkProgress. “We ask them to interrogate how it feels to have your consent violated. Is that anger? Are you hurt? Are you betrayed?”

And usually, that’s exactly how the boys say they feel. The question, then, is why those answers often change when Duckett presents a romantic or sexual situation where someone doesn’t consent.

“A lot of times we’ll talk about it in those types of concepts, and then we’ll shift to maybe saying, ‘OK, you’re going out with someone, your partner for two months, and [they invite] you over to their house, right? And their parents are out of town, have they consented to anything?’” Duckett says. “That’s where you’ll start to get more pushback.”

When presented with this situation, Duckett says the boys sometimes start to say things like, “Well, she knows what she’s doing by going over to his house while his parents are out of town.”

“And then you can dig in, and…talk about what we were just talking about,” Duckett says. “What’s the assumption, can [you] still say no?”

Duckett is the founder and director of ReThink, a group that works with adolescent boys (and, in some cases, older men) to help them rethink cultural norms about toxic masculinity and rape culture. The group has been working in schools in the Washington, D.C. area, holding sessions in which the ReThink team spends several days with adolescent boys talking about rape myths, consent, and toxic masculinity.

In recent weeks, their work has begun to feel prophetic.

Last month, a wave of allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein opened the door for a subsequent avalanche of accusations against other powerful men, including James Toback, Mark Halperin, Charlie Rose, Roy Moore, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), just to name a few. While a few have been punished or reprimanded, the majority have been able to escape any major consequences.

Additionally, a recent study done by researchers at Columbia University makes clear that the issue isn’t confined to rich and powerful titans of industry. The study found that 22 percent of students surveyed had experienced sexual assault since starting college, with particularly high rates for lesbian, gay, and bisexual students, as well as for gender-nonconforming students and those who had difficulties paying for basic necessities.

In other words, as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, backtracking after defending Conyers on Meet the Press Sunday, we’ve reached “a watershed moment on this issue.” It’s also prompting questions about what comes next, what avenues are available for justice, and how to cut rape culture’s long, toxic tentacles — which is exactly what ReThink is trying to do, starting at adolescence.

A public health approach

ReThink uses traditional public health strategies — data collection, treating high-risk individuals, changing behavioral norms — to address sexual violence with young boys, working to control the “disease” and change behaviors and beliefs of those who might catch it.

It’s a strategy that the authors of the Columbia study recommend, based on their findings.

“Our findings argue for the potential of a systems-based public health approach — one that recognizes the multiple interrelated factors that produce adverse outcomes, and perhaps particularly emphasizes gender and economic disparities and resulting power dynamics, widespread use of alcohol, attitudes about sexuality, and conversations about sex — to make inroads on an issue that stubbornly persists,” the authors write.

When ReThink visits schools, one public health-style tool they use is the Illinois Rape Myth Acceptance Scale (IRMA). IRMA presents different situations and myths to students, such as, “If girl is raped while she is drunk, she is at least somewhat responsible for letting things get out of hand”, or “A lot of times, girls who say they were raped agreed to have sex and then regret it.” Students are asked to rate the rape myths from strongly agree to strongly disagree.

“If you accept all these rape myths you’re more likely to commit an act of sexual violence,” Duckett says. “When we work with boys, after we do these exercises…[and] consent education, breaking down stereotypes, working on a wide range of healthy masculinity ideas…they reject these rape myths at much higher rates.”

This finding, Duckett says, is both discouraging and encouraging.

“We do pretests and posttests, and the pretests show the extent of the problem,” he says. “This is the kind of stuff that our culture has taught them… It’s everywhere, it’s in the TV that we watch, it’s in the music that we listen to.”

“To be completely honest we’ve failed a lot of these boys,” Duckett adds. “Very few even comprehensive sex ed programs have serious conversations about consent, what consent looks like and doesn’t look like, how to ask for it, how to listen for it, [and] how to look for it.”

ReThink’s mission, in public health terms, is primary prevention: trying to stop sexual violence. But, Duckett says, there’s still much more that needs to be done.

“I’ll tell you what,” he says, “I believe strongly, if we invested in sexual violence prevention as a public health issue — like we did with drunk driving campaigns, anti-smoking campaigns, teen pregnancy campaigns — if we put that type of money and emphasis into sexual violence prevention work, I strongly believe that we could cut our rates in half in a generation.”

The good news is that Duckett and ReThink aren’t alone in their efforts. Jessica Raven, the executive director of Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS), is working to address sexual violence as a public health issue as well.

CASS has a partnership with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to run awareness campaigns about harassment and assault on public transit; it’s also working on the Safe Bar Collective, which is a program that trains bar staff to recognize sexual harassment and stop it before it turns into assault.

Raven tells ThinkProgress that it’s not enough to call out and take down powerful men in Hollywood. “We have all had these experiences where we witness incidents of harassment,” she says in an interview. “It’s our responsibility to call that out in our friend groups, in our families, in our neighbors.”

Raven says it’s crucial to implement more programs like CASS and ReThink, which work with men to unpack preconceived notions of rape culture and masculinity, as well as safe rehabilitative spaces for aggressors.

“There are really no services for these men to heal,” she says, explaining that it’s vital to “create an environment where they’re able to be open about the changes they’re going to make.”

It’s important to treat the problem like any other disease, Raven adds. “How are we going to address alcoholism without providing rehabilitative services to alcoholics?” she says.

The problem with prisons

While Raven believes in providing more rehabilitative spaces, those spaces shouldn’t be inside prison walls, she says.

Both Duckett and Raven have chosen to focus on public health strategies to address the epidemic of sexual violence rather than the criminal justice system for several important reasons.

“I think we have to be really, really, really careful about our kind of knee-jerk [conclusions]…when it comes to some of these particularly tertiary sort of prevention questions, like increased incarceration, tougher sentencing,” Duckett — a lawyer himself — explains. “There’s not much about our incarceration system that is feminist.”

Prisons, Duckett notes, are one of the major centers of sexual violence in the United States. According to the Bureau of Justice, about 80,000 people are sexually abused in correctional facilities in the United States every year.

The actual number is almost certainly higher than official tallies. Just as a significant majority of rapes and sexual assaults in the United States go unreported, it’s highly likely that the same is true in the prison system. Statistics do suggest that rates of rape and sexual assault are higher among male inmates than female inmates; the same is likely true among African American inmates, who statistically experience higher rates of sexual assault than Caucasian inmates.

“The prison system is and will forever be biased against black bodies and to the extent that we create tougher sentencing laws,” Duckett says, adding that people of color will ultimately be punished much more harshly than their white counterparts.

“Sending someone to prison as we understand it right now, I have a hard time thinking of that as an objectively feminist act,” Duckett argues. “It’s not to say that someone who causes trauma and pain shouldn’t face consequences, but just from a prevention standpoint, I don’t think that prison is the answer there.”

Raven is of the same mindset. “CASS has always had an anti-criminalization position. We don’t see the criminal legal system as a strategy,” she says.

“For starters, we recognize that the communities most affected by gendered and sexual violence are the communities most affected by police violence,” she continues, specifically mentioning women, people of color, gender minorities, and LGBTQ people among those communities. “Prison is punishment, but it’s not accountability, [and] there are no studies that show that prison is increasing safety. The public health approach actually tackles the problems at the root.”

Expanding legal avenues

As ReThink and CASS work toward furthering progress on a public health front, other advocates are looking to expand legal avenues for victims, including abolishing statutes of limitations and expanding affirmative consent laws.

“The abolition of the statute of limitations is a tool,” Jill Stanley, a former prosecutor and district attorney who now focuses on celebrities and the legal system, tells ThinkProgress.

As Stanley explains, “We understand that there are times you can’t recall [an incident]. When you are strong enough or when you have a clear picture of who your assaulter is, we can have evidence.” At that point, Stanley says, no matter how long it’s been since an assault took place, the victim should be able to go to law enforcement.

Stanley also points to the expansion of affirmative consent standards as a possible way of strengthening legal avenues for victims. At present, affirmative consent — a “yes means yes” standard rather than “no means no” standard — applies only to certain colleges and universities.

“[Affirmative consent standards] are very narrow,” Stanley says. “It only applies to state-funded colleges in New York and California.”

Some private universities — including each of the Ivy League schools other than Harvard — have adopted the standard, but so far, New York and California are the only states to have enacted laws mandating all state funded universities use the affirmative consent standard.

Stanley notes that the expansion of affirmative consent laws could be especially valuable because victims often don’t have the capacity to consent.

“The bigger issue in all of these laws is that we need capacity to say no,” she says.

While she believes such a standard could be helpful, Stanley doubts changes will come on a national legislative level. “The country is very slow,” she says.

One way she believes affirmative consent could become the standard? By putting it in employment contracts.

Here, California State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D), who co-authored California’s affirmative consent law, agrees.

“That might be a great thing,” Jackson tells ThinkProgress. Like Stanley, she has her doubts, but remains optimistic. “Could we get that passed? We could try!” she says.

Jackson also believes it could be beneficial to pass laws aimed at making educational initiatives — similar to ReThink’s curriculum — the standard for children, starting from a young age.

“What we really need is…education, whether it’s in the workplace or with our youngest children,” Jackson says. “Our culture has frequently rewarded men behaving badly…. We have to change it.”

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Why teaching kids about sex is key for preventing sexual violence

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Sex ed can be awkward. It can also be life-changing.

[Y]ou may think of sex education like it appears in pop culture: A classroom of teens looking nervously at a banana and a condom.

Amid the giggling and awkward questions, maybe the students get some insight into how sex works or how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

While that’s valuable knowledge, comprehensive and LGBTQ-inclusive sex ed actually has the power to positively influence the way young people see themselves and their sexuality. It may also help prevent sexual violence when it teaches students how to value their own bodily autonomy, ask for consent, and identify unhealthy relationship behavior.

That possibility couldn’t be more important at a time when the public is searching for answers about how to stop sexual violence.

It’s a familiar cycle; one person’s predatory behavior becomes national news (think Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Donald Trump, and Bill Cosby), the outrage reaches a peak before fading from the headlines, and we end up back in similar territory months or years later.

 

Nicole Cushman, executive director of the comprehensive sex ed nonprofit organization Answer, says that teaching young people about sex and sexuality can fundamentally shift their views on critical issues like consent, abuse, and assault.

When parents and educators wait to have these conversations until children are young adults or off at college, Cushman says, “we are really doing too little, too late.”

Comprehensive sex ed, in contrast, focuses on addressing the physical, mental, emotional, and social dimensions of sexuality starting in kindergarten and lasting through the end of high school. There’s no single lesson plan, since educators and nonprofits can develop curricula that meet varying state standards, but the idea is to cover everything including anatomy, healthy relationships, pregnancy and birth, contraceptives, sexual orientation, and media literacy.

“Comprehensive sex ed builds a foundation for these conversations in age-appropriate ways,” Cushman says. “That [allows] us not to just equip young people with knowledge and definitions, but the ability to recognize sexual harassment and assault … and actually create culture change around this issue.”

Some parents balk at the idea of starting young, but researchers believe that teaching elementary school students basic anatomical vocabulary as well as the concept of consent may help prevent sexual abuse, or help kids report it when they experience it.

If a child, for example, doesn’t know what to call her vagina, she may not know how to describe molestation. And if a boy doesn’t understand that he can only touch others with their permission, and be touched by others upon giving his consent, he may mistake sexual abuse as normal.

It doesn’t take much to imagine how that early education could impart life-long lessons about the boundaries that separate respectful physical contact from abuse and assault.

 

Some adults, however, think children learn these lessons without their explicit help. While they do internalize signals and cues from the behavior they witness, that’s not always a good thing, says Debra Hauser, president of the nonprofit reproductive and sexual health organization Advocates for Youth.

If a child grew up in a household witnessing an emotionally, verbally, or physically abusive relationship, they may not feel they have a right to give or revoke their consent. They may also believe it’s their right to violate someone else. Moreover, young people rarely, if ever, get to watch as the adults around them navigate complicated conversations about things like birth control and sexual preferences.

That’s where comprehensive sex ed can be essential, Hauser explains.

“You want young people to learn knowledge, but you also want them to learn skills,” she says. “There’s a particular art to communicating about boundaries, contraceptive use, likes and dislikes. It’s not something you get to see that often because they’re private conversations.”

So while parents — and some students — grimace at the idea of role-playing such exchanges in the classroom, that technique is a cornerstone of comprehensive sex education. Staging practical interactions that are inclusive of LGBTQ students can help reduce the stigma that keeps people from expressing their desires, whether that’s to stop or start a sexual encounter, use protection, or confront abusive behavior.

But learning and practicing consent isn’t a silver bullet for prevention, Cushman says: “Plenty of young people could spout off the definition of consent, but until we really shift our ideas about gender, power, and sexuality, we’re not going to see lasting change.”

Research does suggest that a curriculum that draws attention to gender or power in relationships, fosters critical thinking about gender norms, helps students value themselves, and drives personal reflection is much more likely to be effective at preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

 

There’s also research that indicates that clinging to harmful gender norms is associated with being less likely to use contraceptives and condoms. And women and girls who feel they have less power in a sexual relationship may experience higher rates of sexually transmitted infections and HIV.

While researchers don’t yet know whether comprehensive sex ed can reduce sexual violence, Hauser believes it’s an important part of prevention.

“Comprehensive sex ed is absolutely essential if we’re ever going to be successful in combatting this culture,” she says.

But not all students have access to such a curriculum in their schools. While California, for example, requires schools to provide medically accurate and LGBTQ-inclusive sex ed, more than two dozen states don’t mandate sex ed at all. Some don’t even require medically accurate curricula.

The Trump administration is no fan of comprehensive sex ed, either. It recently axed federal funding for pregnancy prevention programs and appointed an abstinence-only advocate to an important position at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Research shows that abstinence-only education is ineffective. It can also perpetuate traditional gender roles, which often reinforce the idea that girls and women bear the responsibility of preventing sexual assault.

Cushman understands that parents who don’t want their children learning about comprehensive sex ed are just worried for their kids, but she says the knowledge they gain isn’t “dangerous.”

Even if some parents can’t shake the worry that it might be, the firestorm over Harvey Weinstein’s behavior and the outcry from his victims are proof that we need to better educate young people about sex, consent, and healthy relationships.

It’s simply unconscionable to teach girls and women, by design or accident, that sexual violence is their fault.

“We have an obligation to make sure [youth] have the knowledge and skills they need to make the decisions that are best for them,” Cushman says. “Sex ed really does have the power to shift our perceptions.” 

Complete Article HERE!

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