talking to high school kids about sex- part III

so, today was the last day of a week long session of workshops and discussions at north high school. all my thoughts seem to be very dense and inextricable. it might be because i am awful at waking at at 6:45 and maintain a cogent line of thinking, or because there is so much to say.

even though i have been doing this for a while, and the information shared is similar in every workshop, the experience is always very different. even between one class and another the way people respond to the discussion varies greatly. the past week left me with many questions i struggle to have answers for. one of the classes in particular was very resistant to the idea that rape can mean someone freezing up instead of physically fighting , that if you are married you can still rape your spouse, and that making the first move does not equal to consenting to intercourse.

the people pushing these ideas forward happened to be male, white, and conventionally attractive and athletic-looking. i found myself battling my internal stereotypes as i was discussing with them, while trying to welcome other people in the conversation, and keeping the discussion respectful for all parties involved. it was not easy.

it left me wondering how i can engage men, as a woman, without making them feel like shit about themselves , but also challenging the myths that surround rape and sexual assault that i know to be hurtful. It feels like i am trying to tear down a wall with a bare finger. the ideas that man cannot be vulnerable or victims is still alive and well, as one of the piece of information that seems to be most shocking is that, according to the FBI (which is not one of the most progressive sources), one in 10 men is sexually assaulted or raped in their life time. it seems incredibly difficult to engage both genders in a conversation about consent and sexual assault, without man feeling like they are being accused of something.

why is that? do they just have an internalized guilt of being potential perpetrators? did they actually do something fucked up?

the other side of it is that, without fail, in every class there are men willing to challenge their peers, and to talk about masculinity. i met boys every day that are disgusted by rape, and angry at the social pressures they bear on their shoulders. these boys and men fit well outside the box of the expected intellectual sensitive guys, they are everyone.

Today i had a bulky, burly farm boy tell me about how aggressive his father is when he drinks, and that he has vowed to be different and responded vehemently to the other guys in the class claiming that what a woman wears can justify assault. This other kid that came in the first day with a tough swagger, and an air of being above it all, told me about the police coming to his house and not arresting his dad after he had beat his mother. he wanted to know more about the legal rights of people that are hurt by their partners.

so i finish my week feeling both drained and energized, defeated and victorious. and amazed at the infinitely complicated hues of human nature.

talking to high school kids about sex-part II
May 21, 2008, 3:03 pm
Filed under: Building Healthy Relationships | Tags: , , ,

i just finished my first round of workshops and presentation at a local high school, and i came out of it with a whole new perspective on the current american teenage experience. i went to school in italy until college, and we definitely did not have anything resembling abstinence education.

these kids, however, are bombarded with it. one of them showed me their health class book, in which sex was presented in two chapters: 1. “how to say no to sex until marriage”, in which sex was described like something that will break your family apart, strip you of your self worth and expose you to every imaginable danger. 2. “how to build a healthy marriage” in which a detailed description of the different phases of marriage appears, from the first stage in which the newly weds come to terms to the idealized image of coupledom they had before the nuptials, to stage 3, in which the loss of children to college has to be processed and dealt with.

oh, and as part of health class students have to sign a card (wallet sized for convenience) , in which they swear solemnly not to do the deed until after holy matrimony. now, i ask , how is this possible? how can any teenager trust any teacher when we are indocrinating them with outright lies, and making them feel like shit about their own bodies?

the time i had with them was awesome nevertheless. i was warned by the professor that some of the classes had “real trouble makers” in them, and to send them to the office if they mis-behaved. what i experienced was a diverse gruop of bright, curios and challenging individuals, that were just waiting to actually have a discussion about things that are relevant in their lives without feeling stupid.

we talked about how people are bombarded with contradictory messages about  either sex being bad and deadly, or that to be worth anything you have to be sexy and sensual, and that sex is the one thing you should want. only neither of these opposites offer any knowledge about emotions, mutuality and consent. what i saw were people so lost when it comes to relationships and sex, and eager to listen and share their genuine thoughts and fears.

it gave me hope, because it’s so obvious that people don’t want to be assholes, and many times when they are hurtful it’s because of ignorance, or social pressure or frustration. it gave me hope that this knowledge we shared can be something they can add to their tool belts and carry with them.