Sex education varies greatly from school to school, location to location – some places don’t teach it at all, while others teach abstinence only; some schools are much more thorough in terms of discussing safe sex and birth control. I went to Catholic elementary school, and I remember getting a textbook called Gifts and Promises, a few awkward anatomical diagrams, and dire warnings about ruined lives and sin. That was more than two decades ago, so I don’t know how the program may have changed since then, but there has been some encouraging news lately about public schools introducing increasingly comprehensive programs that address issues of consent and safety, as well as same-sex relationships and non-binary gender identities.
Then there’s sex ed in France. According to researcher Odile Fillod, the system has a lot of room for improvement, especially when it comes to the female anatomy. She’s not the only one who thinks so – in June, Haut Conseil à l’Egalité (High Council for Equality), a government organization dedicated to issues of gender equality, published a report indicating that sex education in France is still full of woefully outdated and sexist ideas. The information – or lack thereof – about one particular female organ especially concerns Fillod.
She turned to Melissa Richard, mediator of the Carrefoure Numérique Fab Lab at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie in Paris, who took to Blender to create a 3D model of an organ that remains a mystery to many, and one that’s still given little mention in many sex ed programs: the clitoris.
“The idea came as part of the preparation of videos dealing with non-sexist way of themes SVT program about sex and sexuality,” says Fillod. “In textbooks, the clitoris is often overlooked and is systematically misrepresented when it is. It was therefore able to show concretely what it looks like to talk about sexual anatomical and physiological bases of desire and pleasure remembering women, for once.”
Fillod has been working with V’idéaux, a Toulouse-based documentary film production company, to create a Ministry of Education-supported website dedicated to the promotion of respect and equality between men and women. V’idéaux wanted to include a video about the clitoris on the website, which is set to launch in January 2017, and Fillod realized that she could incorporate a film of the 3D design and printing process onto the site. You can see the video, which probably has the most sensual soundtrack you’ve ever heard in a film about 3D design, below:
It took a bit of work to find anatomically accurate drawings of the clitoris to base the 3D model on, showing that Fillod is correct in her assertion that this organ has been a highly misrepresented one. Once Richard had a realistic model designed, it was printed in PLA on a Mondrian 3D printer, and the open source file has been made available – the world’s first open source, 3D printable clitoris, if I’m not mistaken.
Fillod is hoping that 3D printed clitorises will be used by teachers and doctors to learn and teach about the actual structure, dimensions and function of this important part of the female body. Even though France has the reputation of being sexually progressive, Fillod told The Guardian, the focus is still mostly on male sexuality, to the extent that women and girls are largely uneducated about their own bodies.
“It’s important that women have a mental image of what is actually happening in their body when they’re stimulated,” she said. “In understanding the key role of the clitoris, a woman can stop feeling shame, or [that she’s] abnormal if penile-vaginal intercourse doesn’t do the trick for her – given the anatomical data, that is the case for most women.”
Will 3D printed clitorises start showing up in the classroom? We’ll see…but at least Fillod and Richard have brought some much-needed attention to the often-downplayed and still-taboo subject of female sexuality and pleasure.
My children’s first interactions around sex and sexuality are actually taking place in our home right now. I’ve worked hard to establish where we live as a safe place for them to grow, make mistakes and learn from them, and to inquire about life. It’s why I made the choice early on in their lives to make sure that they learned about sex from me and from their dad, and that in teaching them about sex, we taught our kids to be sex positive. As much as people warned me that the conversation around sex is awkward between a parent and child, I didn’t let the fear of being uncomfortable keep me from taking about sex with my 3- and 2-year-old children.
I’m sure that talking to a 3 year old and a 2 year old about sex sounds like it’s a bit young, but I feel like that’s because we’re so used to framing the sex conversation around the “birds and the bees” conversation. When I was growing up I never had that conversation with my parents and had to frame my own ideals about sex and sexuality through experience and age. I didn’t want that for my children, though. So I felt that a toddler age was actually a wonderful time to start talking to them about how to love their bodies and how to appreciate them. I felt like the intro into sex isn’t about diving head first into questions like “where does the penis go?” and “what is the purpose of the vagina?” I wanted to give my kids a foundation for understanding and respecting their bodies before I ever taught them how about the intimacy shared between two people.
More than anything, I wanted my kids to understand as soon as possible how to love themselves, to understand consent, and to respect others’ bodies. I believe that sex positivity isn’t just about the act of having sex, it’s also about learning that the experience starts with you and will eventually (if you choose) include others.
By the time I was 18, I had disassociated myself from my body because of how my parents talked about it. now I had the chance to do things differently.
My upbringing kept me from understanding what sex was. My parents sex hidden, far above my reach. I was told we’d open that box when I was old enough, but only when I was was getting close to marriage. I found this strange — even at 10 years old. I would look sex up in the dictionary and in the encyclopedia. I often wondered what sex was and what was so special about it — why was it something only adults could understand? I’d hear my friends talk about boobs, about liking boys, and wonder if I’d ever feel comfortable enough to be naked around another person I liked. At the time, the thought horrified me.
I was uncomfortable with my body. I didn’t understand what was happening to it, or why I was suddenly getting hair under my armpits and on my vagina. My parents were constantly telling me to “be modest,” and I felt so much pressure and responsibility to look and behave and act a certain way. By the time I was 18, I had disassociated myself from my body because of how my parents talked about it. now I had the chance to do things differently.
When I was 18, I was in love and I had sex for the first time. It was amazing, and I had no idea why I’d been so afraid and so ashamed. I was raised Christian and was taught to believe that sex before marriage was shameful. But after having sex for the first time, I didn’t want any forgiveness. I simply wanted to keep having sex, without feeling guilty because of it. After I’d gotten married to my then-husband and had two kids, I looked back on my own sexual experiences and realized that I didn’t want my children gaining their sex education from the world around them without some input from me. I didn’t want them feel ashamed of the fact that they liked having sex or pleasuring their bodies. I wanted my kids to know that they could always come and talk to me, that I would always support them.
I tell them dressing my body in things that make me feel confident makes me feel empowered, as if my body hold some kind of magic. They love that. So do I.
So I started to talk to them about celebrating their bodies when they were young. And because of that, I had deeper conversations with myself surrounding my own sex positivity. I had some sexual trauma in my past, which has always made it a bit difficult for me to grapple with wanting to be sexual and carving out safe spaces to practice having sex. I made changes in my personal life: I was more vocal with myself about my needs and wants, then with partners. It helped me shape the conversations I’d have with my children about how they can and should voice what they want, not with sex because that’s still a ways off, but when interacting with others. I wanted them to learn and understand the power of their own voices. I taught them to say, “No, that’s not something I would enjoy,” or “I would really like if we did this” in their everyday lives, knowing that these lessons will help them in their sexuality later on. We’ve focused on how important it is for them to speak up for themselves and to advocate for themselves.
Another thing we do in our house is walk around naked. I used to shy away from showing parts of my body, like my stomach or my thighs. I have stretch marks and cellulite — both things I’ve been told aren’t “sexy.” My kids, however, could care less about whether or not my body is sexy enough, because they just like how soft my body is. It’s soft for cuddling and for hugging, two things that are very important to them. My kids move so confidently with their bodies, both with clothes on and with clothes off. My daughter’s favorite thing is to stand in front of the mirror and compliment herself. She’s actually inspired me to do the same. I’ve taken up the practice. They’ve seen me in some of my lingerie, and tell me it’s beautiful. They don’t know that lingerie is “just for sex” or that it’s something I should feel wary of other people seeing. Instead, I tell them dressing my body in things that make me feel confident makes me feel empowered, as if my body hold some kind of magic. They love that. So do I.
I watch them be confident in their bodies. I watch them say “no” strongly to each other, and to others, and most importantly, I watch them hear and respect each other.
My kids are 6 and 7 years old now, and we’ve talked about what sex is. The conversation has changed as they’ve grown up. They understand that sex is a beautiful act, one that mostly happens when people are naked. They don’t really care to know more yet, but I watch them be confident in their bodies. I watch them say “no” strongly to each other, and to others, and most importantly, I watch them hear and respect each other. As a person who is non-monogamous, I’ve shown them that sex and love are not limited to one person. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. In turn, my children have taught me to respect and be proud of my body. They think it is magic — and I agree.
Lately, the children have been exploring their bodies, which I’ve told them is fine, but it’s reserved for their alone time. I’m trying to make sure that when we talk about our bodies and about sex that we do so in an uplifting, positive way. I don’t want my children to ever question or feel any shame around their bodies or their wants. I want to equip them with the right knowledge so that they’ll be able to enjoy. Most of all, I want them to be happy.
ATLANTA — Older adults in assisted-living facilities experience limits to their rights to sexual freedom because of a lack of policies regarding the issue and the actions of staff and administrators at these facilities, according to research conducted by the Gerontology Institute at Georgia State University.
Though assisted-living facilities emphasize independence and autonomy, this study found staff and administrators behave in ways that create an environment of surveillance. The findings, published in the Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences, indicate conflict between autonomy and the protection of residents in regard to sexual freedom in assisted-living facilities.
Nearly one million Americans live in assisted-living facilities, a number expected to increase as adults continue to live longer. Regulations at these facilities may vary, but they share a mission of providing a homelike environment that emphasizes consumer choice, autonomy, privacy and control. Despite this philosophy, the autonomy of residents may be significantly restricted, including their sexuality and intimacy choices.
Sexual activity does not necessarily decrease as people age. The frequency of sexual activity in older adults is lower than in younger adults, but the majority maintain interest in sexual and intimate behavior. Engaging in sexual relationships, which is associated with psychological and physical wellbeing, requires autonomous decision-making.
While assisted-living facilities have many rules, they typically lack systematic policies about how to manage sexual behavior among residents, which falls under residents’ rights, said Elisabeth Burgess, an author of the study and director of the Gerontology Institute.
“Residents of assisted-living facilities have the right to certain things when they’re in institutional care, but there’s not an explicit right to sexuality,” Burgess said. “There’s oversight and responsibility for the health and wellbeing of people who live there, but that does not mean denying people the right to make choices. If you have a policy, you can say to the family when someone moves in, here are our policies and this is how issues are dealt with. In the absence of a policy, it becomes a case-by-case situation, and you don’t have consistency in terms of what you do.”
The researchers collected data at six assisted-living facilities in the metropolitan Atlanta area that varied in size, location, price, ownership type and resident demographics. The data collection involved participant observation and semi-structured interviews with administrative and care staff, residents and family members, as well as focus groups with staff.
The study found that staff and administrators affirmed that residents had rights to sexual and intimate behavior, but they provided justifications for exceptions and engaged in strategies that created an environment of surveillance, which discouraged and prevented sexual and intimate behavior.
The administrators and staff gave several overlapping reasons for steering residents away from each other and denying rights to sexual and intimate behavior. Administrators emphasized their responsibility for the residents’ health and safety, which often took precedence over other concerns.
Family members’ wishes played a role. Family members usually choose the home and manage the residents’ financial affairs. In some instances, they transport family members to doctor’s appointments, volunteer at the facility and help pay for the facility, which is not covered by Medicaid. They are often very protective of their parents and grandparents and are uncomfortable with new romantic or intimate partnerships, according to staff. Administrators often deferred to family wishes in order to reduce potential conflict.
Staff and administrators expressed concern about consent and cognitive impairment. More than two-thirds of residents in assisted-living facilities have some level of cognitive impairment, which can range from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia. They felt responsible for protecting residents and guarding against sexual abuse, even if a person wasn’t officially diagnosed.
Co-authors of the study, Georgia State alumni, include Christina Barmon of Central Connecticut State University, Alexis Bender of Ripple Effect Communications in Rockville, Md., and James Moorhead Jr. of the Georgia Department of Human Services’ Division of Aging Services.
The study was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health.