Monday, April 4, 2011

Why Talk Sex

[NOTE: This post discusses rape and suggestions for reducing "rape culture."]

A couple of weeks ago, I attended an event at my school called Clark's First Time. Sponsored by our campus sex-education group, Choices, it was a night for college kids to get on stage and talk about their first sexual experiences-- and other firsts, too. The goal in doing this was to encourage sexual openness on campus.

Now, I'm not giving you a ton of information here because I really hope you'll check out the article I wrote about it for Worcester Magazine. We would love your comments, and I really liked writing the article anyway. I think I took it in a direction really reminiscent of how I write on this blog, so I think you'll like it.

But I wanted to make a whole darn post about it because I think I learned some really important stuff in researching the article. See, I figured out halfway through the thing that the real story I wanted to tell wasn't just about the event and Clark students getting together to talk sexy. The real story is that most of the participants were women, and women in many societies are seriously discouraged from talking about sex, whether that means sexual health, activities, kinks, orientation or even assault.

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), the most common reason women cite for not reporting rape/sexual assault is the fact that it is seen as a personal matter. And in a way, yes, it is. Sex can be used so powerfully as a weapon because the sexual aspects of ourselves are so private and personal: not only does rape take away someone's bodily autonomy in the moments it happens, but talking about it involves discussing, in some sense, our sex lives, which is frowned upon. It is a crime that people don't like to talk about not just because it is traumatic, but because it is sexual.

But rape is not really sexual. It is a crime that involves sex-- a crime of power-- and in our society we treat that as taboo. And this is incredibly problematic. Women are, by far, the main victims of sexual assault, and they're also a group that is told that sex is something you don't talk about. It isn't ladylike. Women who have sex too much or in ways that aren't seen as normative are sluts. Women who get raped face inappropriate questions.

What were you wearing? What were you drinking? What time was it? What neighborhood were you in?

And even though there are some things women can do to help reduce the chance of assault, rape is never her fault. No matter what factors played into it happening, they did not justify attack in any way.

I believe, sincerely, that if we can create a culture in which women are allowed to express their sexuality in whatever way they choose, we can create a culture in which sexual assault can be talked about. If women feel that they have control over their sexuality and that their sexuality is not dirty or wrong, maybe they won't face the terrible shame many women feel over being raped and they'll report it without fear of blame. Rape should be shameful for the perpetrator, never the victim.

So what can we do?

-Talk openly about your sexual experiences. Sex is a normal part of life.
-Listen to people when they want to talk about their sexual experiences, and don't judge.
-Stop using words like "slut" or "whore," and call people out when they use them.
-Don't say "man-whore" either-- it doesn't equalize things. All it says is that a man sleeping around is acting like a woman behaving badly, so it still enforces damaging ideas about female sexuality.
-Don't use "rape" as a turn of phrase. I hear a lot of people say things like they got "totally raped" when their friend beats them at a video game or that they "rape the replay button" on a Youtube video. It's not cute, funny, or edgy.
-Acknowledge that men can also be rape survivors. For the purpose of this post, we didn't discuss it, but that doesn't make that experience any less painful or valid. Men are not immune to sexual violence even though we sometimes forget that.
-Help start a dating and sexual violence prevention group at your school (I wrote about Clark's here).
-Volunteer with a local Rape Crisis Center or a helpline.
-When you hear talk that aims to silence victims or to place shame on others' sexuality, speak up. Always.

What are you doing to create a more woman-friendly world?


Anonymous said...

This post is absolutely fantastic- there's this great video by Rape Crisis Scotland that made me think of what you're trying to say:

Rape is a violent crime, plain and simple.

Dana Udall-Weiner said...

This is a great post, and I'm so glad you're talking about the fact that rape isn't sex, and that sex is, in fact, healthy! I think silence contributes to a wide range of problems, and too often the only answer (at least from one side of the political spectrum) is about repression. I'm not sure that I'd ever fully absorbed the idea that society encourages us to focus on how not to get raped, as opposed to how not to rape. Thanks for your work!

D. said...

I am so proud to know someone like you.This is a great post, and now I'm off to Worcester mag to read the article.

Miss Peregrin said...

LOVE the article, and I think this is such a great cause! Being silent about sexuality really only fuels the problem. It's great to see someone making the distinction between consensual sex, and rape being a crime that just happens to involve sex.

Laells said...

There was actually a huge walk/protest just recently in Toronto, Ontario, called the "SlutWalk" and my fiance and I were talking to our friends about this kind of thing just last night. The G20 Summit thing happened a while back with all the rioting and a number of women were raped. After it was all over with an officer gave a speech somewhere and said that women "shouldn't dress like sluts if they don't want to get raped" or something to that effect.

Then all these women decided to do the "SlutWalk". Their point of view was that they wanted to take away the power of the word, raise awareness, etc.

It's just one of those things where it's just all shades of grey. In my opinion anyways. I was watching footage about the walk and one of the girls said that if she wanted to walk around with no panties on under her skirt and not get raped she should be able to, and I agree with that, I really do. But I also believe that you can't possibly know what someone else may decide to do in a split second reaction or thought or something. It's never the girl's fault but there really are crazy and unbalanced people in the world that just needed to see a flash of something provocative and suddenly you've got a stalker or something crazy like that.

That's where everything starts to get all grey, I guess. It's such a heavy topic to start out with anyways, eh?

Sarah Von said...

Fantastic post. What am I doing to create a more women-friendly world? Hmmmm. I absolutely will not tolerate anyone using the word 'rape' in any situation that is not discussion sexual assault.

And I also won't engage in, or allow those around me engage in, 'slut-shaming.' There is no shame in enjoying sex and as long as everyone involved is safe, happy and consenting, it's none of my (or anyone else's) business how many partners someone has had.

Always Something said...

I don't know why people think I raped this I rape that is appropriate. It makes me want to humanize it, to put it into detail. Oh, you used force to traumatize that English paper?

What's funny now?


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