It must be once a week that I hear a customer over the age of 40 talk about Fifty Shades of Grey while I’m pouring their iced tea.
And I’m not gonna get into why that book is ridiculous or problematic (except to say: read those links, safe words are important, and there is better smut for free on the internet trust me). But something that strikes me about these nervous, blushed conversations amongst friends that is not unlike what we were all doing at 13, giggling and bugging out our eyes over what sex is actually like and what it means for us personally. The thought is sweet.
It’s also the foundation of my argument: sex education should never be just something you did in the past, but something we are all always doing together.
Many adults don’t know how to negotiate consent in explicit ways, articulate boundaries or triggers, or feel supported or comfortable enough to explore their fantasies or kink. Yet the presumption is that if you’re an adult, you must have been having a lot of sex already and know what you’re doing going forward. Here, I’ll explore why that presumption is so dangerous and how to solve the problems it creates.
This realization for me presents a different problem of generations: by focusing exclusively on the education of school-aged children and young adults we are missing broad swaths of the population that need education today. Funding debates that get entirely centered on abstinence-only debates within public schools diverts attention and funds from developing programs that are administered to groups outside that demographic (and cultivate that educational environment outside the classroom). I recently sat in on a meeting where professors at my university discussed applying for new grants related to reproductive health education. We had a blank slate and nearly any idea could be on the table up for grabs. Immediately, the conversation predictably centered on how to, essentially, “keep young people from having babies”. As the youngest person in the room, I found the generational anxiety obnoxious and alienating.
This approach guarantees that youth still have little control over the kind of sexual education they receive in public school settings, as curricular control flows top to bottom from a largely sexually illiterate adult population. Creative solutions that address gaps like queer sex education on Tumblr, or integrating discussions about gender identity are vital for a generation developing a more technical, common language about queer identity and our sex lives. With new approaches to consent conversation strategiesand non-law enforcement accountability groups come from youth and young adults volunteering their time to benefit small circles of their peers, the future of dealing with sexual violence from an educational, prevention standpoint is incredibly promising. The volume of work done in forums, commenting circles, blogs, and intentional online communities proves that not only is this generation completely capable of revolutionary, pragmatic sex and consent education, but that it’s likely more effective, too.
I think serious theorizing needs to be done about how peer-as-expert, open-source style approaches to sex and consent education can also apply to adults. I’m not saying every person over 40 needs to get a Twitter account, and in fact adopting or using youth-based media might not be what you and your group needs. What’s important is the automatic association of “sexual education” and “adolescent” needs to be destabilized as often as possible. Your sexual education might happen over brunch or when you’re waiting at the laundry mat for your towels to dry. It doesn’t have to be in just one conversation (ideally there will be many!). Let’s just make sure they keep happening.
Jen is writing a how-to guide for fun, consensual sexting. If you’re interested in reading about developments (and the occasional nerdy gif) you can follow their tumblr here.
Trigger warning: discussion of rape and sexual violence.
After reading Katie’s post, “That’s What That Looks Like?! or How Knowledge is Part of Reproductive Justice” I got to thinking more about my own experiences with sex education in a red state. (If you haven’t already read it, why the hell not? Go do it now!)
I had very little understanding of my own anatomy after sex ed too. Basically, it was period class.