Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Should Sex Ed Always Be Sex-Positive?

A friend sent me this link to a new Sex Ed web site called Sex.Really., sponsored by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Unlike some other sex ed web sites, it's geared towards women in their 20's, and is designed to
"provide food for thought, and for discussion. Sort of like a sex site for the brain..."

I love the idea of the site in theory – yes, people of all ages need sex education, especially those in their 20s and 30s (and even 40s, 50s and 60s) who are making up the 'rules' as they go. But most of the content seems to revolve around the work of author Laura Sessions Stepp. And as a post over at Jezebel so aptly describes, that means:

In the system of sexuality that Sessions Stepp seems to favor — the slow, steady, codified "running of the bases" within a relationship — women are always the sexual gatekeepers. This stance neatly sidesteps any notion of men's responsibility for, well, anything. In Sessions Stepp's view, women trade sex begrudgingly in return for access to the socially-protected role of "girlfriend" and the supposed privileges that come with it.

Putting aside Sessions Step's assumption that all sex is between men and women, or how ridiculous it is to task young women with protecting their chastity, exactly why can this approach be so harmful?

For that I turned to my friend Jessica* who has just started dating casually after getting out of a four-year relationship. When I showed her the site, she told me this:

It was weird for me at first to have sex with someone I wasn't in a relationship with, and I kind of freaked out and thought I was doing something wrong. But then I realized that "I feel like I'm doing something wrong" thing wasn't coming from me, it was coming from my fear of being judged by other folks.

For me I couldn't make sex contingent upon a relationship because I wasn't ready to get into a new relationship. But I did want to have sex.

It's weird, it probably would have been more unhealthy for me to force a relationship in order to have sex. But I think [Laure Sessions Step] would think that having a relationship was more healthy.

And she's not my only friend who's had this reaction, especially after getting out of a relationship.

I agree that it's good for sex ed to be holistic, and to talk about the emotional consequences of the decisions we make -- Planned Parenthood of New York City uses a model of sex ed that talks about body image, relationships and everything else in between. And I also agree that navigating just what kind of sexual relationship (no strings attached, long term relationship) you're comfortable entering into can be really tricky.

But sites like Sex.Really., with their warnings about the negative consequences of hook ups, don't do much to help the matter. And perpetuating the assumption that women always want an emotional commitment and men never do can't be good for either gender.

But maybe I'm erring on the side of being too anything-goes sex-positive. What do you think? Is there value in what Laura Sessions Step has been producing for the site?

* Yes, names have been changed to protect the newly-singe

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