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The film making us face the idea disabled people have sex

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‘Yes We Fuck’ is an uncompromising look at the reality that disabled people have sex lives too. We caught up with director and disability activist Antonio Centeno to find out more

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Yes We Fuck

As a society we’re becoming more accepting of sexuality in all its guises and forms – and rightly so. 2015 could be seen as the year when trans issues finally broke through into the mainstream after decades spent on the margins of society, while more and more women in particular are joining the sexually fluid revolution. And yet for all of our talk, there’s one conversation that we’re not having – about how disabled people have sex.

Spanish director and disability activist Antonio Centeno wants to tackle this prudishness head-on. His film Yes We Fuck (which is co-directed with Raúl de la Morena) is a no-holds barred look at the world of disabled sexuality, with uncompromising visuals (of people having sex) and a strong sense of moral purpose. Centeno shows human intimacy in all its forms, and what strikes you from watching the film is that the issues faced by disabled people when it comes to their sex lives aren’t so dissimilar to those faced by the rest of the population.

Watching the film, which recently showed at the British Film Institute’s Flare festival, at times makes for uncomfortable viewing. You’re discomfited by the fact that the sexuality depicted on our TVs and in popular culture almost uniformly represents one experience: that of heterosexual intimacy between two able-bodied, cis-gendered people.

Yes We Fuck is an uplifting, refreshing corrective to the narrative that disabled people are in some way sexless, made noble by the struggles they undergo to assimilate into a society that is in many ways ableist. The film isn’t perfect – sections are too long, and while Centeno wants to depict the reality of disabled people having sex, at times the camera lingers too long or in a way that feels intrusive. It’s clear that this is very much a passion project from the fledging director, and one which could perhaps have profited from tauter editing. Nonetheless, it’s rare to see a film which so profoundly makes you confront your own prejudices to recognize that we all of us share a common humanity and a common desire to express that humanity through the most natural act of all – the act of fucking, of course.

To find why we need to get on board with the fact that disabled people fuck like the rest of us, Dazed caught up with Centeno at the BFI. Below is the transcript of our conversation, which has been edited for flow and clarity.

 

Can you give us a bit of background as to why you made Yes We Fuck? Is this an issue that’s particularly close to home for you?

Antonio Centeno: By background I’m an activist and I’ve always advocated for helping disabled people, or those with functional diversity as we prefer to call them, to lead independent lives wherever possible. For us, this is a political issue. If we want people with functional diversity to have real lives – not merely to survive – then we need to be visible sexual beings. We need to break this infantilised image of us as children, to show that people with functional diversity are sexual beings, people who desire and are desired. So by giving them a sexuality, we politicise the issue.

You depict real-life intimacy in the film in a lot of detail. How did you get the participants to trust you?

Antonio Centeno: Many of the people in the film I’d met as activists throughout the years, so they trusted in me and what I was doing. And they understood that the film wasn’t just entertainment, but a political tool to help the change the realities of our society. I mean, of course it was difficult, to expose yourself and put your body out there. But it was only possible because of the trust I enjoyed from them, and the fact they understood what political message we were trying to put out.

What’s the reaction been like?

Antonio Centeno: In my native Spain and internationally there’s been a huge amount of interest and it’s generally been very well received. Some people find it too direct, maybe  there’s too much exposure, and some people thought there were some stories missing as well. But it’s been more difficult getting it out to a wider audience, outside of LGBT and specialist film festivals. And I think this reflects the way in which people with functional diversity live in our society. You know, we live away from the masses, from the general public. We live in ghettos. And by ghettos, I mean special residences, or with families that look after us. We go to special schools, because we have to. We work in special centres. So basically, we live in a parallel world, segregated from other people.

Would you like to see this segregation broken down so everyone is living side-by-side?

Antonio Centeno: Well, I’m not sure about ‘everyone’. I don’t like most people! [Laughs].

The title of the film is quite risque…

Antonio Centeno: In Spain, we have a motto which roughly translates as ‘Fuck as you live, and live as you fuck’. Which means that you can only have your own independent life if you have a sex life which is free, which is independent, which is rich. And you can only have a sex life that is free if you personally are free. If you have a free sex life, you can have a good life. You can fight for your freedom, for your independence. So the film is about how you can show, through sexuality, that people with functional diversity want to live like others, independently, not being cancelled out and made to delegate their decisions through family members or professionals.

What I found interesting about the film is that a lot of the sexual issues that people faced, like guilt or shame, are common to everyone, not just those with functional diversity.

Antonio Centeno: Well, our intention wasn’t just just to show weird people doing weird things. We wanted to deal with general issues, like desire, pleasure, our relationship with our bodies. But basically by focussing on this group of people with functional diversity, we produced this magnifying glass effect…I mean, the issues that they have aren’t so dissimilar from those the rest of the population have. But it’s just magnified in this group.

It’s historically very difficult to depict sex on film. Was this a concern for you? Wanting to show sexuality in a way that was honest without being gratuitous?

Antonio Centeno: Well, I want to start by saying that reality doesn’t exist, as such. We were constructing a reality. And that’s the powerful thing about porn, not that it represents reality but that it constructs reality. If we think about what people think about those with functional diversity, they think that we don’t have sex. So we wanted to put images in the heads of the viewers, so that those images were incompatible with the prejudices that they had.

Is there a danger that we risk sensationalising the issue?

Antonio Centeno: It’s a risk we take, definitely. But if the problem before was people with functional diversity being invisible, and now it’s us being sensationalised, that’s okay with me. For me, it’s important that we construct narratives which don’t just place people with functional diversity between two opposite poles. You know, we have the pariahs, the hopeless people, and then on the other end of the spectrum there’s the hero and it’s all very inspiring, but…I mean, no one actually believes that. It’s reductive. So there are lots of stories that have to be constructed in the middle about people with functional diversity. And that’s what I hope to do.

Complete Article HERE!

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‘Being a bottom does not mean being bottom of the pile’

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Gay men still face shame and stigma because of their preferred sexual roles, writes comedian Dom Top.

By Dom Top

Hello there, my name is Dom Top. I am a comedian and, more importantly, a bottom. Ironic, eh? You might now be wondering why I’d give myself this moniker. Well, aside from it being kind of a “LOL” name, I also wanted to challenge people’s ideas of masculinity, specifically why the role of “Total Top” is considered manlier by so many gay men.

Physically, I don’t fit the traditional idea of a masculine, powerful male; I am small in frame and light in weight. I have a beard but not a ton of body hair, slim arms but a sizeable rump. I have a strong London accent, but a soft tone. However, I consider myself to be powerful, strong and authoritative, so I don’t fit the wilting, weak popular image of the “pussyboy” passive that many men ask me to be as I bottom for them.

Personally, I’m fine with this contrast. I am an anomaly to many and I play heavily off that in my writing and performances. Hell, it basically pays my bills! But sometimes, when people find my stage name funny, it reminds me to examine exactly why that is.

First off, let’s have a quick look at some of the popular terminology to describe active vs passive sexual preferences. Top: dominant, aggressive, hung. Bottom: sloppy, dirty, messy, hungry, greedy, bucket, cum-dump.

The receptive person basically sounds like a desperate hole for dumping bio-waste in, while the active party resembles Jean-Claude van Damme after a round of testosterone injections. While I’d argue that it takes more strength and bravery to allow someone to put part of their body inside yours than it does to stick it in, it shows me that there is a clear problem with bottom-shaming in the gay community. And it could stem from a perceived lack of masculinity.

A friend pointed out to me recently that you very seldom hear bottoms engaging in dirty talk that puts us in the, ahem, driving seat. Saying things such as: “Did I break your dick with my huge, tight arse?” or “does your eager cock want my strong, firm hole to smother it?” sounds almost alien to our ears. Instead we encourage the violence of the top’s actions toward the bottom; a huge, monstrous cock forced inside a helpless body, ravaging a small sacred place it has invaded, plundering and vandalising it, yet with the victim still desperately craving it. “Yeah you love it, don’t you? You fucking slutty bottom, you want my big, hard cock splitting your little hole apart?” In this mindset, the top is in the position of power. You are weak, he is strong. You wanted it, he gave it to you. Gifted you it, even. You should be grateful for this. You cannot survive without what he has.

Of course, arousal is subjective and if that gets you off, then so be it. Power dynamics can be hot in the right sexual setting. But I’ve found this to be the default setting of many top guys, and it commonly comes accompanied by an attitude of near revulsion at the fact that our arse actually serves a completely different, but equally natural, function: defecation.

God forbid you remind a total top that you also poop out of that hole. Instead we must also go to great lengths to hide this fact and it is, pardon the pun, really quite shit. Douching is already an embarrassing enough exercise, no matter what method you use.

But years of stress and childish responses from sexual partners have, for some, created a mental obstacle so that often they can’t have sex unless given advance notice to clear out their colons an hour or so before, then pop an Imodium Instant for added peace of mind. All to ensure they can throw their legs in the air and not have to worry about a hint of that smell reaching their top’s nostrils mid-coitus, accompanied by a mildly repulsed “I think you’ve had an accident.” A statement which, aside from making you feel like an incontinent granny or helpless toddler, insinuates that you are solely responsible for the “mess.” Well no actually, my sphincter holds up fine when it’s not having the equivalent of a courgette jammed in and out of it at varying speeds.

While probably not originally coined in reference to bum sex, the term “take it like a man” is certainly representative of some of the mentality regarding bottom-shaming. The most “shameful” element of bottoming seems to come from it being associated with the sexual position of heterosexual females during intercourse: the receptacle. The hole. The bitch. The one being entered and invaded.

But there’s a distinct whiff of misogyny here. To the mind of the misogynist, nothing could be as low or undignified as allowing another person to do that to your body. And sadly this mindset seems to pervade many areas of the gay community.

In a world where machismo and muscles are fetishised, embodying a traditionally female role equates you with being lesser, but you’re still expected by many to conform to masculine aesthetic ideals if you want to be desired. In fact, being a skinny slender bottom can, in some places, render you persona non grata. If you don’t believe me, see Circuit Festival.

Of course, I don’t want to generalise. Not all active guys are, for lack of a better term, total arseholes. There are plenty of great guys out there who understand what it takes to bottom and also know how to be a considerate top. They’re called versatile! Seriously though, as I mentioned before, arousal is subjective. And some people will never be comfortable with putting a boy’s banana up their booty hole. But wouldn’t it be great if that didn’t mean they had a total and utter disregard for those of us who actually do enjoy it?

I love to take it in the rear till I’m blue in the face. I’m not ashamed of that fact and I’m not going to let someone else make me feel as if I’m any lesser a person because of it. Plus, in 2017 gendered roles are so passé. Take it like a man? No, thanks. I’ll take it like the proud power bottom I am.

Complete Article HERE!

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How giving up porn could help your sex life

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For many of us, watching porn can be like eating a tub of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream; regularly done, enjoyable – no doubt – but can also often leave us feeling, well, a tad ashamed…

by Edward Dyson

However, pushing aside those pride-deprived moments spent reaching for discarded socks, could it be true that by indulging our cravings for explicit material on the web – c’mon now, you all know the sites… – we might actually be damaging our mental health? Not to mention our sex lives (you know, the one we’re supposed to be doing… in person?)

Earlier this year pop star Will Young opened up about having a porn problem, sharing with fans that his childhood trauma and shame was at the root of his dependency on several vices. These included alcohol, shopping but – the one that grabbed the most headlines, predictably – was the revelation that he had developed an obsessive level of consumption when it came to pornography, which he believes he used to ‘fill a void.’ And if the rich and famous feel empty enough to be filling their voids with porn, exactly what hope is there for the rest of us – the great unwashed?

Admittedly, most of us probably won’t have thought into the matter too deeply, and while we might not be broadcasting the number of weekly web wanks we’re racking up, neither are we too worried that a cheeky three-minute viewing of a US College Boys video might, in fact, be a reflection of some underlying issue. Most of the time, it’s fair to say most of us have already forgotten about the content we’ve, ahem, enjoyed – before the Kleenex has even been safely disposed of.

But it isn’t just the original Pop Idol winner who began to wonder whether there might be a darker side to viewing all this badly-shot -and even more terribly acted – footage we’re apparently so fond of. Recent research suggests that by watching porn, we could be debilitating our ability to form healthy sexual relationships – in the living breathing world – and could potentially be inflating any pre-existing mental health issues we might already be dealing with, whether or not we’re aware of these threats.

Many psychological experts have repeatedly stated that – despite being laughed off by naysayers for obvious reasons – porn obsession is undeniably real, and forms as a type of process behavioural dependency. The reaction of the brain to this material can be very similar to the stimulation that happens after taking drugs. And in even more limp news, doctors have also reported on the growing trend amongst men who struggle to get an erection with a real-life partner because they’re so used to using explicit imagery in order to help them get off.

And, let’s face it, it’s all very much out there, readily available for the watching. According to the website Paint Bottle, 30 per cent of all data transferred online is porn, and Virginia lawmakers claim that all pornography is “addictive,” can promote the normalisation of rape, can lessen the “desire to marry, equate violence with sex,” as well as encouraging “group sex,” (not necessarily a bad thing… who are we to judge?) and –of course – “risky sexual behaviour and infidelity,” among other effects.

But are they all just taking it too seriously? Perhaps being a little too prude-ish… right in front of our salads?

Sex guru Jerry Sergeant – a self-confessed former sex and porn obsessed himself – believes that one vital component to a healthy sex life is to quit porn and traditional masturbating, and instead follow a tantric path.

Never mind cold turkey. This here is cold jerk-y. (Sorry.)

Speaking about the perils of consuming X-rated content to Gay Times, he warned: “Porn is dangerous, and people do get obsessed with it. I was for many years. At my worst, I was watching videos on the internet all the time, every day, four hours on end. When I stopped, it was like being a heroin addict going clean. It’s just a fantasy, but it means people are no longer looking in the most important places for what they want.”

And the damage it does to us when we are forming our ideas about sex during our younger years is difficult to reverse, he admitted.

“It’s almost a violation,” Jerry says. “I believe meditation, and tantric sex should be taught in schools. Unfortunately, the schooling system takes kids outside of themselves, and just pushes facts, figures and information on them.”

Tantric sex in schools? Well, beats PE, that’s for sure. But now, not only does Jerry not watch porn – (never, not even Justin Bieber’s nude leaks, for crying out loud!) – but he doesn’t even masturbate. No, never. Now that’s a hard one… (so to speak.) He explains: “What a load of people don’t know is, you can have the most incredible orgasm all on your own, without ever putting your hand on your penis. Masturbating tantrically is extremely powerful.”

But in an age where people are too busy to even pick up the phone and order their own takeaway – thanks Hungry House! – can we reasonably expect people to take the time to bring themselves to orgasm with just the power of their mind?

Jerry assures us: “It’s worth it. OK, so what you do is start with something that can be quite tough at first: you have to give yourself an erection without thinking of something sexual.”

Does the men’s rugby team count? Apparently not, as Jerry continues: “Perhaps think about a partner, or someone you know would like to be with, and imagine yourself getting to that state – then squeeze the muscles that are just between your anus and testicles, squeeze them for ten seconds, then release for ten seconds… squeeze again, release again. Eventually you’ll start getting an erection, and the more excited you get, eventually you will come to the point where orgasm happens.”

Blimey. Who needs porn when even the tantric guide is this steamy? “I’ve taught this to a lot of people,” Jerry says, unfazed. “Close your eyes, take long deep breaths, and settle into a space, and combine it with meditating if you can. You can light candles or incense, really relax and enjoy stimulating yourself. And it doesn’t have to be done alone, either.”

Phew. We were beginning to worry that all this tantric malarkey might be so enjoyable it might make the idea of partners redundant… “Another way, which is really cool, is to do this with a partner, sit opposite each other, breathing together, getting into a rhythm and building it up,” he shares. “Tense those muscles, and let them go, continue that process thinking of only each other, not physically touching each other, and then experience it together. The more you practise it, the closer you’ll come to reaching orgasm at exactly same time. It’s a mind-blowing experience – you connect on such a deeper level.”

This may be all very well and good for those who have enough time in the day for hour long sessions of mental self-pleasure. But how does it help with our actual sex lives?

Jerry promises: “Once you’ve learnt to harness and keep that energy inside of you, you’ll never go back to normal orgasms again. It’s like having a big carrot being dangled in front you, then nothing’s there – an anti-climax. It can last for at least 30 seconds, sometimes a minute and a half if you’re doing it and holding it… your whole body vibrates and vibrates. Compared to a ten second shot, which is wasted time, it’s just amazing. This will follow into your regular sex life, and this kind of orgasm will become your norm.”

He adds: “The beautiful thing this is, if you’re on the right frequency, you’ll meet the right person who will also be open to learning all about it.”

It’s certainly a tempting prospect. Jerry admits he’s not only more sexually satisfied now than he was when he was porn obsessed – spending thousands paying for sex and drugs – but he’s also generally happier in himself.

That doesn’t mean the journey is easy though. “I remember when I first found out, to start with – to masturbate while staying in your body and mind took a lot of practice,” he admits. “And I was practising a few times a day and would get it wrong; I was doing it two or three times a day, then once a day, then whenever I felt like it really. But I would suggest not having sex while you’re mastering this technique, then when you do, you can start experimenting, perhaps tantrically with a partner, or friend, in an open relationship, there are lots of options, and it can be really exciting.”

And even if the tantric route is not the right path for everyone, Jerry is adamant that quitting porn should be something everybody at least attempts. Basically, try to give a toss…

“I would suggest not watching anything for a month, first of all. Treat it like Dry January is to alcohol,” he says. “See how much you actually miss it. You might surprise yourself.”

To continue that comparison, highlighting the darker sides to the relationship you have with a certain vice, be it alcohol or porn, shouldn’t mean condemning every beer bottle – or every piece of voyeuristic sex – straight to Room 101. Plenty of people can enjoy a drink in moderation, and plenty of people also have a healthy relationship with porn. Most certainly, not everyone who partakes in a cheeky bit of ManHub or XTube is secretly turning into Michael Fassbender’s character in Shame – giving his tripod todger third degree burns from office computer misuse and compulsive masturbating. However, because watching porn is, by its very nature, a solo activity, rather than a social one – rarely discussed even with the closest of friends – as a habit that could spiral: it’s easy to take your eye of the ball, (or balls…)

Sure, we count the calories of our food, and the number of alcoholic drinks – that we can remember, anyway – largely due to fears that are related to social judgement and obvious physical effects. But usually, unless you’re really quite brazen, regardless of how much porn you’re watching, those around you will generally be none the wiser.

That’s why it remains, and will surely continue to remain, a habit that can only truly be monitored through maintaining a strong sense of self-accountability, and perhaps asking yourself some tough questions. Has your relationship with porn ventured into unhealthy territory?

Below are a few signs that your relationship with sexually explicit content might have got, ahem, out of hand…

So… do you have a problem?

1. Excessive time spent viewing porn

An obvious one, but a good place to start. Now, of course there are no NHS guidelines – like there are with alcohol – as to what counts as excessive. But a helpful question to ask yourself might be: does the time dedicated to this activity impact heavily on your day-to-day life? Signs could be: regularly finding yourself late for work because of watching porn. Watching inappropriate content on work (and not just NSFW gifs, we’re talking extended disabled lavatory visits….) Or cancelling on friends. Put simply, just because you have a wank doesn’t mean you have to be a wanker.

2. Notable negative consequences

Related to point one, but if you can link things that are going wrong in your life to your relationship with porn, then that’s a huge red flag that things might have got spiralled somewhat out of control. Are you left financially struggling because you’re spending so much of your income on explicit websites? Is it causing problems at work or in your relationship? This leads nicely to…

3. Loss of interest in sex

Whether in a relationship or not, if – like the growing trend that doctors have noticed emerging – your dependency on porn is so strong that you struggle to become aroused in real life scenarios, then this is definitely a major problem. Most people seeking a satisfying sex life with a partner – or multiple partners – should be fine to consume porn outside of that, usually privately, but if it becomes all you find yourself interested in, then this habit might just have slipped into compulsive territory.

4. A constant need to go further

Kinkiness is an interesting subject. We all have our little kinks, and it’s sometimes tricky to know how normal – or abnormal – these are. But a tell-tale sign that porn might be having a negative effect on your mental health is if you’re constantly feeling like you need to keep actively seeking more and more extreme, and unusual, content. If there’s material that a month ago was turning you on, and now you’re craving something that takes it on even further – and this is part of a pattern – then it also might be part of a problem…

Complete Article ↪HERE↩!

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5 Sex Positions That Work for Almost Every Couple (Lesbian, Straight, and Everything in Between)

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I’m a firm believer in the sexuality spectrum—that is, the idea that sexuality and gender roles aren’t necessarily binary (gay/straight; female/male) but rather, deeply fluid. Who we’re attracted to doesn’t have to fall into a clearly labeled, defined category like “lesbian” or even “bisexual”—it can be messy, gray, and constantly changing, and that’s perfectly fine.

In my many years of editing articles for women’s magazines and websites, I’ve produced plenty of gender- and sex-positive content—from how one incredible trans woman found her own personal style and why kinky sex makes people healthier to super-adventurous sex positions to try. And while we’ve always focused on being as inclusive as possible, it’s more challenging than you’d expect to find sex positions that work for couples of all gender combinations, sexual orientations, and lifestyles.

That’s why I’m especially excited about this particular sex position guide, which features options geared specifically toward lesbian couples. It’s not just because this particular demographic is underserved in this area (which, from my research and experience, it is), but also because if two women can do these moves, pretty much any other combination of people can pull them off, too. And the more people who get pleasure out of these positions, the better I’ve done my job, as far as I’m concerned.

So go forth, sex-positive, sexually fluid warriors, and enjoy these kinky moves and tips.

Wrapped Spoon

This cozy pose is one of the best for feeling intimate with your lover while also being efficient about getting the “little spoon” off. Big spoons can reach around and give the front partner plenty of digital attention, or use a strap-on until it’s time to turn around and face each other.

*Gay, lesbian, and hetero-friendly

North Face

Feel like taking control and getting your partner’s full attention? Then straddle his or her face and let them focus completely on pleasuring you (without putting your full weight on them, please!).

Then switch places and return the favor.

*Gay, lesbian, and hetero-friendly

Kneeling Scissors

You don’t have to be super-flexible to get the feel-good benefits of this position. Even if your leg doesn’t reach a 90-degree angle, both partners will feel the spine-tinglingly good effects of this high-friction position. Lady-on-lady couples: Once you’re warmed up, the strap-on is your friend here.

*Gay, lesbian, and hetero-friendly

Cradled Clam

We’ll be the first to admit that this position’s name is decidedly unsexy—but who cares? Once you’re in position, giving or receiving all kinds of pleasure, the name won’t mean a thing.

*Gay, lesbian, and hetero-friendly

Wrapped Spoon

This cozy pose is one of the best for feeling intimate with your lover while also being efficient about getting the “little spoon” off. Big spoons can reach around and give the front partner plenty of digital attention, or use a strap-on until it’s time to turn around and face each other.

*Gay, lesbian, and hetero-friendly

Complete Article HERE!

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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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When 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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