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Masturbation hacks and consent advice: how YouTubers took over sex education


With UK schools increasingly falling short, vloggers such as Hannah Witton and Laci Green have stepped up to offer guidance on everything from body confidence to sexual pleasure


When Lily was at school, she remembers the boys and girls being separated for a sex education class. The boys were given one booklet; the girls another. “In the boys’ booklet, there was a section on masturbation and there wasn’t in the girls’ booklet,” she says. “A girl put her hand up and said: ‘Why don’t we have that?’ and one of the teachers said: ‘Girls don’t do that, that’s disgusting.’ It shouldn’t be a shameful thing to talk about. It can be a bit awkward and embarrassing, but we should be talking about it.”

Afterwards, Lily, who is now 19 and identifies as bisexual, went online and discovered sex education videos on YouTube, particularly those made by a young woman, Hannah Witton. “Within my friendship group it has really opened up a conversation about things you don’t normally discuss,” she says. “In schools, LGBT sex ed is just not talked about. Sex was never discussed as a pleasurable thing, especially for women.” Magazines such as Cosmopolitan filled some of her knowledge gaps, she says, but most of her sex education has come from Witton.

YouTube sex educators are increasingly popular, and for the young people I speak to, such videos are where almost all their information about sex now comes from. Witton, who is 26 and British, is incredibly popular, with 430,000 subscribers to her YouTube channel and videos racking up millions of views. Why Having Big Boobs Sucks! has received 3.5m views; 10 Masturbation Hacks has had 1.2m. In the US, Laci Green has 1.5 million subscribers and her videos on, among many topics, nudity, vaginas, foreskins and pubic hair reach millions. There are several other hugely successful sex-ed vloggers, such as Shan Boody and Dr Lindsey Doe. In Poland, where sex education was recently removed from schools, young people are turning to vloggers such as Natalia Trybus, while the model Anja Rubik and a women’s rights organisation, Dziewuchy Dziewuchom, have also launched a series of sex education videos on YouTube.

Hannah Witton talks about masturbation on YouTube.

Amy, 16, says these videos are where almost all of her sex education has come from. “I only really started being given proper sex education in year 10 or 11, when I was about to leave school.” It would have been helpful to have had it earlier, she says. She started watching Witton’s videos when she was about 12. “Everyone around me seemed to understand sex stuff and I was completely clueless,” she says. What did she find most helpful? “Quite a lot of it was her masturbation videos. She presents it in a very positive way – female masturbation is a controversial subject when it shouldn’t be. It helped me understand that side of things. If I had questions, I could probably go on her channel and scroll back and see if she’d posted on it. I’m not that sexually active but I feel like I’m more understanding of what [happens]. I feel a bit more confident because I’ve learned about it in a way that isn’t porn. It’s helped me become more sex positive. It helps me feel like I can talk about it with my friends, whereas before it was like: ‘I can’t talk about that even though everyone’s going through it.’” Has it made it easier to talk to her parents, too? “A little bit,” she says.

It is not surprising that young people are turning to the internet for information, says Lisa Hallgarten, policy manager at Brook, the sexual health and education charity. “Partly because they get everything from the internet. But there is also the fact that in schools they’re just not getting what they need. Even in schools where they’re trying to do a good job, young people aren’t getting the information they need, when they need it. Young people are saying: don’t talk to us about contraception when we’re 17, because some of our friends are already pregnant.”

At the moment, personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) – in which sex education is often included – is not a statutory part of the curriculum in the UK, although schools are expected to provide it. Last year, the Department for Education announced that relationships and sex education (RSE) would be compulsory in all secondary schools, and an eight-week consultation on what should be included recently ended; the guidance has not been updated since 2000, during which time children have had to face then-unheard of things such as sexting, cyberbullying and access to online pornography. “What we would like is for RSE to be a mandatory part of PSHE and for PSHE to be a statutory subject and taught as a timetabled lesson,” says Hallgarten.

Some aspects of sex education are compulsory and taught in science classes. However, parents have the right to remove their children from RSE. “Most parents want RSE for their children but we are worried that those who get withdrawn are possibly the most vulnerable and the least likely to be in households where they get that information from their parents,” says Hallgarten. “They may well resort to looking on the internet of their own accord, and in that case more power to the vloggers. I think there are good vloggers and mediocre vloggers. Some of what people see will be misinformation. I think vlogs should be a supplement, not a replacement to classroom teaching.”

As it is, many teachers are not supported well enough to deliver great sex education lessons, she says. “I think there are a lot of teachers who feel awkward about talking about any aspect of RSE and that’s why we are lobbying hard to make it a real subject and provide real training. There are teachers who really love doing it and are really excellent, but lots of teachers don’t want to do it. If they feel awkward talking about it then it’s not really helpful for young people.” As Amy puts it: “Sex education isn’t seen as a positive thing. It’s seen as cringey. [Watching YouTubers] where it’s people who are only a little bit older than us and not like 40-year-old teachers, it might help people understand it better.”

Hallgarten identified particular areas in which conventional RSE is lacking. “Things like talking about sexual pleasure is something that lots of teachers would really shy away from. They are told about unhealthy relationships but they often don’t have a good model for what a healthy sexual relationship would look like. The vast majority of people will have sex at some point in their life and we hope that it will be a nice experience, but we don’t talk about that. That’s one of the things young people go online to try to understand.”

Some teachers have started even using YouTube sex-ed clips in a classroom setting. “We use a lot of the vloggers in our work,” says Eleanor Draeger, senior RSE trainer at the Sex Education Forum. “We go out and train teachers and show them a wide range of different resources they can use in their classrooms, and one of the resources is vlogs. The idea is that the teacher chooses the things they think will work with the students in their class.” Many of the topics might not be appropriate for secondary school age children; some of the most popular sex education videos are on topics such as encouraging stripping, and the use of sex toys and porn.

“One of the ways we might recommend using a vlogger is we show the video on whichever subject you’re teaching and then the teacher can explain anything the students didn’t understand or expand on the topic. If you were only getting your sex education from [videos] you might not get a rounded sex education. Having said that, I think they’re fantastic as an adjunct and I wish that kind of thing had been around when I was younger.”

Witton launched her first sex education video in January 2012 (she had been posting videos on YouTube for some time before that). It was a video on contraception, presented with a friend. “Sex education is pretty crap, at least in the UK,” she said in it, “so I wanted to make a mini series of sex education videos that hopefully you guys will enjoy and learn some stuff.” That “mini series”, as she endearingly described it, presented and filmed without her more recent polish, has turned into dozens of videos, millions of viewers, a book, and a full-time job as a YouTube star. Witton is smiley and chatty and presents her videos from her flat. She has covered sex toys, hormones, masturbation, porn, consent and open relationships (she doesn’t only talk about sex and relationships – in recent weeks she has been talking about undergoing surgery for ulcerative colitis and what it is like to live with a stoma).

“I was very much inspired by Laci Green in the US,” she says, “and I decided I wanted to start making content about that because I noticed that most of my audience were young women. I felt like I wanted to do something. In terms of my personal experience, [sex education] was very much lacking in school. I had more of an open household so I could talk to my parents, in theory. I remember meeting people once I got to sixth form, who had maybe been to a different school from me or had a different upbringing, who didn’t know some stuff I thought was really basic. I met someone who thought it was totally fine to not use a condom and just pull out. I was like, ‘nooo’.”

She is direct and funny. “I genuinely feel no awkwardness at all. It was one of the reasons I felt like it would be a good idea to start making videos like this, because I know some people don’t feel comfortable talking about these things. If I have a platform and I’m OK talking about them, I can use that platform for good.”

The videos that have done particularly well, she says, include those on masturbation, “especially female masturbation, which for some reason is still taboo. A lot of people either don’t want to admit it’s happening or feel too ashamed to talk about it. There is a general shame and stigma around that topic, in terms of actually doing it but also talking about it.”

Her main audience is women aged between 18 and 24, with 25- to 34-year-olds the next biggest group. People have to be 13 to have a YouTube account (or say they’re 13, and there will be many people who watch without an account) but the 13-17 age bracket makes up just 6% of her audience. Witton, who is an ambassador for Brook, is careful about accuracy. Are there sex education vloggers who are spreading misinformation? “I couldn’t [think of any] off the top of my head, but it’s the internet, so yeah.”

Does she feel that for many young people, she’s their main provider of sex education? “That feels like a lot of pressure, but I’m always really clear that I’m not a doctor. I like to think of my videos as a conversation-starter and from there people’s curiosity can lead them to other bits of information if they want to look into it further. I don’t want to ever take a didactic approach of ‘I’m the teacher’. It’s more of a peer-to-peer education thing.”

In the US, Green started making videos at university. Growing up as a Mormon, her only sex education at school was around abstinence. “A lot of the teenagers in my community just didn’t have the information and resources they needed, so I was a bit miffed about that. I didn’t really ever get sex ed in school. It was only in college, which for me was much later – I’d started having relationships, dating, having sexual experiences. I felt it was too late.” Her videos, she says, felt like “a good platform to have a conversation with other people who thought the same way I did and to share information. As I was trying to figure this stuff out, I was getting the information I needed and sharing it online.”

Around 60% of Green’s subscribers are young women. “I think a lot of the problems we struggle with in society fall around misogynistic ideas around women’s bodies and about relationships, and this is what women are supposed to be and this is what men are supposed to be, which feeds into homophobia and transphobia as well.”

She says around two-thirds of the people who contact her have had no sex education at school, or abstinence-based lessons. “Then the other third did have sex ed but didn’t have all their questions answered. I think a lot of people are awkward about sex. A lot of teachers in the US don’t know how to answer these questions, they’re very restricted in what they can say or do and that makes it really hard for them to have an honest relationship with their students.”

Thea, 19, started watching sex education videos by Green and then found Witton’s. “I definitely got most of my sex ed from YouTube videos,” she says. “Which is sad, because some of this stuff should be taught in school to educate young teenagers properly about sex, but also about the gender and sexuality spectrums. My parents weren’t a lot of help either. It’s really awkward to talk to them about that stuff and they’re another generation so they don’t even know most of it.” She says YouTube videos have changed the way she thinks about sex, sexuality (she identifies as “queer”) and herself. “I feel a lot more confident about my body and I feel a lot more comfortable talking about sex. I probably wouldn’t have been able to actually come to terms with my sexuality if it wasn’t for YouTubers talking about theirs so openly. Online, people aren’t as reluctant to talk about sex, their sexuality and their gender any more, and that’s beginning to be the case in the real world as well, which is awesome.”

Complete Article HERE!


An Erotic Artist on Censorship and Finding Spirituality in Sex


By Claire Valentine

You may have come across the work of Alphachanneling on Instagram before — with over half a million followers, the artist’s contribution to the landscape of erotic art has been accomplished in no small part due to the accessible nature of the platform. His “Utopian Erotic” drawings are a delicate expression of explicitly sexual themes; with soft colors, thin lines and psychedelic florals, Alphachanneling captures some of our rawest, most intimate moments as humans through a lens that is overtly and unexpectedly spiritual. PAPER caught up with the artist to talk censorship, divinity in sensuality and the role erotic art plays in our modern lives:

When did you first start drawing nudes?

The human form has always been a compelling subject for me. The works of Egon Schiele, Henry Moore, and Rodin were some of my first inspirations for figurative art, and I was introduced to the practice of life drawing from figure models as a teenager. The human body in art has a timelessness that transcends whatever historical cultural moment we happen to be in. It reminds us of the fundamental human nakedness, stripped from layers of self-conception. It reminds us that through all of time we’ve been the same creature, experiencing joy and suffering, love, sex and death.

Fellow Being Radiated by Babe’s Orgasm

Do you use models now or draw from imagination?

In figure drawing my attention was always on capturing the body, the form, the light. It was a very focused kind of effort, and while I deeply respect it, I found I was not expressing what was truly within me. It wasn’t until I dedicated myself to drawing my figures direct from imagination that things started to open up. Drawing without reference forces me to answer all kinds of questions on a personal level, like “what does the exquisite tension of lips pressed against a nipple look like,” “what does a sumptuous ass look like when it is seducing and inviting a lover towards it?” Without objective reference, the next questions become, “what do I want it to look like?” and “what about it is activating and exciting to me?” This kind of questioning leads me to a much more personal expression of the figure. I love the idea of bending and shaping bodies into forms that capture the sensation and experience of our realities; the physical, the energetic, the emotional, the spiritual.


What was the initial inspiration behind them?

The inspiration driving my art is the premise that desire is an expression of the divine, and therefore something to exalt and celebrate in all its forms. In the same way that a plant turns toward the sun, I believe my desire turns me on to that which nourishes me and makes me grow. This outlook is in part a reaction to living in a society which represses, condemns and reduces desire to behaviorism. I’d like to add that I’m speaking only of desire as I’ve experienced it in my life; I’m not speaking for anyone other than myself.


Where do you draw your erotic influences from?

The poetry of Rumi has been a big influence on me. It’s shown me that art can simply be praise and an expression of joy and love. This kind of ecstatic art released me from the idea that art had to contribute some kind of innovation on culture in order to be validated. Novelty isn’t the only form of value, one can repeat what’s already been said a thousand times, and the deeper and more sincerely it is expressed, the more its value increases. I draw my influences from a wide range of sources both high and low, from mysticism and the occult to folk art, outsider art and indigenous art, from pornography, kink and BDSM to yoga, tantra, and the healing arts.

Bad Kitty

It seems that for the most part you’ve been able to circumvent Instagram’s notoriously strict censorship rules. Why do you think that is?

I think my work has a kind of double nature that makes it confusing to define. It is as delicate and innocent as it is dirty and confrontational. I believe the intention with which something is said has greater significance than the words themselves. The same applies with visual language. Rather than being modest and subtle, I am overt and explicit with the sexuality in my art, but I like to deliver that provocation in the most gentle, graceful and reverential way, through the colors I use and my craftsmanship. Perhaps this has protected my art from tripping the censorship rules as much as it could given the subject matter. Regardless, my work still exists in a precarious place where it is flagged and taken down from time to time.

Living Temple

What role does erotic art play in our lives?

Erotic art can help normalize the natural sexuality that we experience as humans, but yet struggle to find social and cultural acknowledgment of. Erotic art can allow us to explore sexuality and desire in a way that feels safe and approachable and exposes us to a spectrum that may be new and unknown in our experience of our lives. Erotic art expands the language of love and sexuality and reminds us of the beauty of being alive, the beauty of living as a sexual being.

Love City

Complete Article HERE!


How to build sexual confidence



Having sex for the first time is nerve wracking but it isn’t the only time when the thought of sex can feel daunting. Many of us will go through periods of abstinence later in our lives and the thought of engaging in sexual activity again can spark feelings of insecurity.

There are a variety of reasons why someone might have experienced an extended amount of time without having sex (divorce, a breakup, the loss of a loved one, or difficulty meeting the right person) and often by the time we get round to having sex again it feels as if we are back to square one with our sexual confidence.

Here, we speak to Valeria Chuba, PhD, MS, ACS, a board certified clinical sexologist and a certified intimacy coach. She helps her clients overcome sexual shame and anxiety, achieve sexual confidence, and create pleasure-filled intimate relationships. She is the creator and host of the Get Sex-Smart podcast, which offers expert information and guidance to listeners around the world.

“Finding that special spark with a new partner can often take a long time,” she explains. “Regardless of the reasons why we may find ourselves without a lover, when the time comes to get back into the groove, most of us experience feelings of fear, anxiety and low self-confidence.”

So to help anyone who is feeling less than empowered about the idea of a new sexual encounter, we asked Valeria to give us some practical advice on how to feel less nervous and more confident when starting a new sexual relationship…

1. Learn from the past

Each new relationship offers a promising beginning, which means an opportunity to do things differently and better than before. “Now is the perfect time to look back at your past sexual experiences,” Valeria advises.

“What were some of the things that worked well (or didn’t work) in your intimate relationships? What partners were the most memorable, and why? What would you like to do differently this time around? For example, would you speak up more about your need for sensual foreplay, or share more of your sexual imagination with your partner? Getting clarity around your needs and boundaries will help you start a new sexual relationship in a more proactive way, which in turn will help you feel more safe and grounded.”

2. Know what gives you pleasure

“As a sexologist, I often tell my clients that masturbation is the foundation for partner sex,” says Valeria.

“The more you know about what turns you on and helps you experience pleasure and orgasm, the better you’ll be able to share these things with your partner, leading to a more positive intimate experience.”

Reacquainting yourself with your body in this way will help you to first accept and then to gain confidence when it comes to being with someone else. It’s easy to forget the positive things about our body when we are feeling insecure and focusing on the parts we don’t like as much.

“If you are new to self pleasure or just want to broaden your sexual repertoire, sex-positive books like Come As You Are or fun and instructional sex ed DVDs will both inform you and spark your sensuality. It’s important to note that you should always consider seeking professional help for specific sexual concerns, like trouble experiencing orgasm with a partner, early ejaculation, erectile difficulties, or performance anxiety. Working with a sex-positive, compassionate professional can be a huge boost to your sexual confidence.”

3. Communication is key

“I often tell my clients that they should begin a new relationship as they mean to go on; and good communication is a big part of any successful sexual relationship,” says Valeria.

“There are few things more attractive in a lover than the confidence to speak up about his or her needs and desires, and the ability to listen to his or her partner. Speaking up improves your chances of getting what you want from your sexual relationship; and being accepting of your partner will make him or her feel special and appreciated. Either way, you will come across as a generous and thoughtful lover, which is sure to boost your self-confidence.”

4. Focus on pleasure and not performance

Whenever we begin a new relationship, especially after a long time without partner sex, we tend to feel anxious about things like our attractiveness; our size, shape and weight; and how well we will ‘perform’ during sex.

“This mindset keeps us caught up in our heads and disconnected both from our bodies and pleasure, and from our lovers and the process of lovemaking. Whenever you feel yourself getting caught up in performance pressure, focus instead on your body sensations. Breathe deeply and if need be, slow down. Pay attention to how things feel as opposed to how perfect you appear to be. As a bonus, a lover who is focused on pleasure and sensuality comes off as a lot more empowered and confident than someone who is insecure about their ‘performance’.”

5. Have a sense of humour

Sex can be complicated and intimidating at the best of times, let alone when we’ve been celibate for an extended period. Because of this, we tend to forget that at its core, sex is about connection, pleasure and fun. And since partner sex happens between bodies, it can also be a messy, embarrassing and unintentionally hilarious experience. Using this as a point of connection with your lover, rather than something to be ashamed of, can help you lighten things up. Chances are your partner is also feeling nervous, so bonding lightheartedly over your shared anxiety and the absurdity of it all can be both relaxing and very, very sexy.

Complete Article HERE!


8 sexual questions to ask your boyfriend or girlfriend before you get it on


It is important to ask a few questions before getting jiggy with someone new.

Couple laying back to back in bed


No, you don’t need to treat it like a job interview unless of course that’s your thing.

But there are a few things you should find out about the person you are about to get intimate with.

Perhaps it is checking they are happy to partake in certain kinks or all important questions about sexual health and protecting yourself against unwanted pregnancy.

Lianne Young, qualified nutritionist and sex and relationship therapist, is on hand to help you work out what needs to be asked before you get it on.

1. What kind of relationship is this?

Lianne explains why this should be your first question: ‘Firstly, the most important questions to ask will help you work out if your chosen partner is looking for an emotional or physical relationship.

Make sure you are both on the same page because if one of you is looking for more or less from the relationship then it may be wiser not to jump into bed together and make things more complicated.

Sex therapist Lianne also suggests asking what they see as a relationship, for example, is it exclusive dating or can you date others?

And, if this is an emotional relationship, she suggests making sure your life goals match up before you get too involved.

Do they want children? What do they want out of life? What are their life plans?

While you wouldn’t ask the ‘kids question’ to someone you were just engaged with physically, going too far down the path with someone who wants something entirely different to you can end up hurting.

‘After all,’ says Lianne, ‘would you invest in something if you knew it was only temporary? Probably not.’

2. What protection shall we use?

‘Got a condom?’ might not be the sexiest of questions but it is the most important question to ask.

Whether it is just purely a sexual relationship or long-term commitment, once you have established where you stand it is important to both decide what protection you are going to use.

Strawberry condom in handbag

At all times use precautions and, particularly if this is a casual relationship, never believe them if they say they have regular health checks so have no STIs.

‘Remember condoms can break, so you will also need a back up plan.

‘Also, maybe one of you is allergic to latex or silicon-based condoms so you need to make sure you have the necessary protection ahead of time.’

3. Do you want to try…?

Sex is best when everyone is on the same page.

While you may want to do x, y or z in the bedroom, it is important to check that your partner is comfortable too.

Consent is incredibly important, so make sure you both agree on what you expect will happen and what you’re both happy to do or have done.

‘Remember, when it comes to sex, no one has a road map to get you to your final destination – the orgasm,’ says Lianne.

‘Talk openly about what you like so your partner can satisfy you and vice versa.

Do you like doggy style?’

‘The most important one is to remember sex is about fun not just about reproduction and it’s ok to enjoy yourself.’

If you’re a bit too shy to say these things face to face, sexting might be an easier what to start the conversation.

But always remember that what they might say to you over a text message, may not be something they would be happy to do in reality.

Start a conversation about it: ‘You said in messages you would like to [xxx], shall we try it?’

4. Does that feel good?

There’s no good you getting cramp in your tongue, thighs or whatever body part you’re straining to pleasure your partner if they are lying there wishing it would be over.

Check what you’re doing feels good for them and get them to instruct you if it could be better.

Same goes for you, if you’re not feeling a certain move let your partner know.

Be kind though ‘That feels awful’ will probably kill the mood where as ‘move your [xxx] left/right/wherever’ will help you and them out.

5. Is there anything you don’t like?

Lianne says it is important to ask because: ‘You need to know each others’ boundaries and have respect for one another.’

6. Do you play safe?

Photo Taken In Sofia, Bulgaria

If you are in a long term relationship, Lianne does not advise asking about someone’s sexual history – including their ‘magic number’.

‘It’s history plain and simple. It’s the future you should be concerned about.

‘However, if it is just a physical one then these questions are important to ask.

‘How many other partners do they sleep with, and do they play safe each time?’

Complete Article HERE!


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


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

By , &

The 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.


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.

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