Sex Education Month

What we’re doing for Sex Education Month this October

One of Secular Woman’s core values is the right of everyone to comprehensive sex education that is age appropriate and non-shaming. That is far from a reality today in the U.S. to the detriment of our youth and the adults those youth become. Accurate, unbiased knowledge of sex, our bodies, and our sexuality helps us to construct a healthy, affirming sense of our own sexuality and desire. So, for this week and the next in October, Sex Education Month, we are highlighting the importance of Sex Education through articles on our website and two twitter chats on Sex Ed, one from 2-3 PM EST on the 26th and another on the 30th from 8-9 PM EST. Join us using hashtag #SexEd and talk about Sex Education, where it needs to go, why its important, share your resources, where you go for advice as an adult…bring your questions and your opinions!

Meanwhile check out the articles we’ve already published this week on Sex Education:

Like Voldemort to Wizards
I grew up in an almost alternate universe, where courtship methods of the Victorian era were popular and no one spoke of sex except in hushed or negative tones. Sex to Christian homeschoolers was like Voldemort to wizards — That Which Shall Not Be Named. I attended “purity” seminars at which homeschool celebrities like Josh Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, urged audiences of horny teenagers to focus on God and flee that nebulous human demon called Lust.

Catholic Values and Sexuality vs. Actual Sex Education
Of course, all sex before marriage is out and wasn’t even discussed. Contraception was briefly mentioned, but only to be told that it was bad and wrong and no one should use it. Natural Family Planning (NFP), otherwise known as the rhythm method, was introduced but wasn’t explained. STDs weren’t even talked about because when both you and your spouse are virgins then you have no fear of catching any diseases. The wedding night was discussed in detail and the whole idea that your body no longer belongs to you, but to your husband or wife was talked about glowingly. I could never get on board with the idea that my body, what I have to lug around all day, was suddenly someone else’s.

Reclaiming my Voice
My father was the true idea of a traditional and insecure man who could only see things black and white. A real woman was submissive and meek and enslaved. If you were not this, than you were less of a woman and not appealing to a man, which I was told many times. I was told “no man will ever want you if don’t change”. Our dinner times were accompanied by my father lecturing and criticizing my mother, if I interrupted or responded to this he would speedily come over to my side of the table and slap me across my arms and body. We were given a list of interests we were allowed to be interested in and sex was not on the list. Everything was handled with aggression, verbal abuse, and hitting. My voice was taken away, and with it my right to be curious about things and feel new things.

Catholic Values and Sexuality VS. Actual Sex Education

Catholic Values and Sexuality VS. Actual Sex Education
By Star LaBranche, blogger at Scrapbook of Truth

When I was a teenager my parents informed me that I was going to be attending a Catholic Values and Sexuality class at the church that my family attended. I had already been through several years of sex education in public school by that point and was curious to see what additional information the church was willing to impart to me. At that point I had already started to drift from the church and had begun to question that Catholic teachings that I had endured for so many years. I couldn't even imagine myself as an atheist at this point, but I was pretty sure that I wasn't a Catholic.

The class was one full day with a bunch of other bored teenagers and a married couple in their 60s as instructors. Anyone who talks about how the youth is on fire for Catholicism and they are going to save the church has clearly never been to the church I attended or any of the painfully stupid, ridiculously boring presentations that were supposed to excite me about religion. Anyway, the class started and we were soon being instructed in just what Catholics think that god wants for us when we get married.

Of course, all sex before marriage is out and wasn't even discussed. Contraception was briefly mentioned, but only to be told that it was bad and wrong and no one should use it. Natural Family Planning (NFP), otherwise known as the rhythm method, was introduced but wasn't explained. STDs weren't even talked about because when both you and your spouse are virgins then you have no fear of catching any diseases. The wedding night was discussed in detail and the whole idea that your body no longer belongs to you, but to your husband or wife was talked about glowingly. I could never get on board with the idea that my body, what I have to lug around all day, was suddenly someone else's.

Things got interesting when we started talking about abortion. We all know abortion is evil and selfish and when they discussed the procedure they went into every single gory detail about what happens to the fetus. Because something being icky is a precursor to it being morally wrong. We were given handouts about the link between breast cancer and abortion (which doesn't exist) and the link between suicide/depression and abortion (which also doesn't exist). Then we were told a cheery story about a couple who had decided to abort and then regretted it so much that they both committed suicide, leaving a note addressed to their murdered fetus. It was quite clear that if we ever got an abortion, this would happen to us if we had any conscious or humanity.

At this time in my life, I didn't know enough about abortion to refute any of these claims. My secular sex education had never covered it and it was at a time before we had the internet at my house, so I had yet to do any research of my own about it. All of the information that I had ever been given about abortion was Catholic-leaning and completely biased. At that age I was so terrified of the procedure that I thought it would never be an option for me at all because it was so barbaric.

At the end of the class they discussed things like saying no and sexual abuse. Saying no was easy. You would make Jesus cry if you made decisions about your body and sexuality and you had to remain pure for your wedding night. There was very little to it. Anyone who wanted you to break your vow of chastity was someone that you needed to break up with with a smart one liner.

The videos on sexual crimes featured young women being abused by their dads, family friends, boyfriends etc. The actresses tried to look dewy eyed and talked about how difficult it was to listen to their girlfriends talk about kissing boys when they had just been raped by their fathers. This was a time well before the sexual abuse scandal erupted in the church and looking back on it, the idea that I spent several hours listening to Catholics tell me how to avoid sexual abuse while their priests were the most cosseted and protected perpetrators of all makes me feel rather ill.

It goes without saying that there was no mention of any kind of sexuality other than heterosexual. Anyone who wasn't straight was completely whitewashed from the presentation. As far as the church was concerned, they didn't even exist and certainly weren't worth talking about. But I hadn't really been expecting a section on anyone who didn't identify as straight, so it came as no surprise.

The entire Values and Sexuality class contained nothing about the human body, how it works, or the nuts and bolts of actual sex. But why would it? We were teenagers and telling us about how sex works would have undoubtedly made us want to go out and try it, so best to keep us in the dark. I'm just thankful that the church I attended didn't have one of those ridiculous Purity Balls.

All in all, the class just backed up what I had already been taught. That sex was wrong and dirty, except in very specific, Catholic circumstances. That making your own choices regarding your body and your sexuality were evil and against god's ultimate plan for you. By the time I left the class, I was still confused about what I believed in a religious sense, but I knew that Catholic "values" weren't for me.

About the Author:
Star LaBranche is an atheist scrapbooker with an interest in women’s and gender studies, true crime, pop culture, and writing. She currently lives in the middle of nowhere with her fiance and their two dogs. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Women’s Studies, which qualifies her to write blogs about vaginas.

In her spare time she papercrafts, watches documentaries on Netflix, plays video games, and attends as many drag shows as humanly possible. Star volunteers in the community and works for scrapbooking company. Her favorite things in life are animals, cheese, learning new things, nice people and exploring the world. She currently writes for GodSwill Ministries, runs the blog Scrapbook of Truth, and guest blogs whenever she can.

My Body the temple, my body the toilet

Fifth article in Secular Woman’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month Series

by Jennifer Forester

When I was five, I decided that I wanted to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour, and I went through all of the motions: I asked him into my heart, assumed he accepted, and was baptized before the congregation. I remember vividly how afraid I was to be baptized; the thought of the water closing in over my head filled me with panic, but somehow I went through it, understanding that I had been washed in metaphorical blood and was now sin-free in the eyes of God. What was not possible for me to process in my gloriously naïve five-year-old brain was that, in return for the unconscionably horrifying experience of vicarious redemption, I had agreed to surrender my will to a being who could not express his will to me excepting through the men who controlled what ostensibly came from him. My body was to be a temple, a living sacrifice to God, and no one ever explained to me that, in the end, the difference between person as temple and person as toilet are negligible: they are both things. Neither have the will to decide what will and will not happen to or in them, and neither have the capacity to protest when their will is violated.

Naturally, being five, I didn’t hear much about sex, although I was raised much more openly than most of my Christian peers. The twisted fascination of the religious fundamentalist with the myriad manifestations of sexuality did not start to interfere with my awareness of the conflict between my Christian faith and my own desires until early in my adolescence as I—who had precociously noted the beguiling nature of my masculine peers years before my body signaled any sort of readiness for their attentions—became the recipient of male attention, welcome and unwelcome alike. As men began following me when I walked in public, as boys began to return my affections, the exhortations to purity began. Boys would want to do things to me, but I should not let them. I was to remember, at all times, that my body was a sacrifice to Christ and a gift to my future husband (who, presumably, would be returning the gift; at least there was no double standard in my household). What negativity did not seep down from my mother, who at the least had a truly egalitarian vision of mutual abstinence for Christians, worked its way in from elsewhere, poisoning my understanding of my body and its new, unfamiliar hungers. Sex was something that boys would want to do to me; it was not something that I would do or share. There was never any conception that I might be getting what I wanted out of some hapless boy; no, I was a vessel, for my God and for the men who would try to use me. My virginity would be a sacrifice to the man who would love me enough to wait until I was married, but a sacrifice it would be.

At fifteen, rather than losing my virginity in a thoughtless moment of passion as did so many of my fellow Evangelical kids, I made the calm, rational decision that I was ready to have sex with my fiancé who, at fourteen years old, was obviously as equipped as I was to enter into a healthy, mutually fulfilling sexual relationship. We spent days getting our plans together, making sure that we would have a plausible excuse to feed our parents—who were most certainly not in on this or supportive of it—and that we would have condoms, unlike our less fortunate peers who did not plan ahead. Although I was still a Christian, I never felt the cognitive dissonance, guilt, or fear that I should have had about this decision; somehow all of that didn’t leak down to me. No, what was missing for me was a concept as powerfully positive as the abstinence-only guilt is damaging: I lacked a model of consensuality. Lacking this, he and I, two children with only our religious and cultural messages to go by, proceeded to have sex in precisely the way that you would expect. He held me still while he painfully thrust in and out of me and then, while I lay on the floor bleeding and weeping, feeling every bit the living sacrifice I had pledged to be, he told me to put my clothes on so that he could play video games.

This never struck me as odd, never felt like the stab in the back that it should have; after all, I had simply transitioned from temple to toilet, and it was natural that he would use me in the same way that God used women: as an uncomplaining dispensary for bodily fluids and ideas about myself. The time before he finally, irrevocably raped me, under circumstances that I could point my finger at and say, “Yes, that was it!” was filled with a thousand little transgressions.

The time he wanted to have sex in a practice room and I was afraid that we would get caught, but he told me that I would do it if I loved him.

The time he convinced me to perform oral sex on him—an act I found repulsive at the time—by telling me that he would find someone else to do it if I wouldn’t.

The time I was about to move to another state and he broke down and cried until I would have sex with him in a movie theater because “he would miss me so much.”

The time he broke up with me but told me that he still wanted me and, as I wept, he pulled my shirt off of me and proceeded to use my unresisting body.

The times I fell asleep at his house and woke up with him rubbing his penis on my lips, the time his idea of experimenting with BDSM was to hold a butcher knife to my throat while I cried out that he was terrifying me.

This, all of this, building to the time when I would finally say the word “no” with enough emphasis that this constant, unrelenting assault on my body and mind became something that I would be able to, once and for all, definitively attach the word “rape” to, even if it took until a year later for me to be able to do so. I, the teenaged version of the good Christian five-year-old who pledged her body as a temple to the Lord, functioned as if I had pledged my body as a toilet for the boy-man whom I loved every bit as much as I had loved Christ before. My consent, my will, were irrelevant, and so I treated them as such, hollowed myself out to make room for the verbal abuse and the affection and the hatred and the jizz, if only he would love me the way that Christ had when I had given up my right to consent in my youthful naivete.

It’s enough to say that he held me down, that he called me a bitch, that he told me that I fucking wanted it and that I had it coming; it’s enough to say that I bled again this time and that I tried to fight him off. What’s striking isn’t the violence of what he did or the extreme duress under which it occurred. No. The part of what happened that is so shocking is that the only difference between the time when he finally raped me for real and the time when I consensually lost my virginity is that he cursed me and I fought back. The rest was the same: the bleeding, the pain, the fear, the utter disregard for my humanity, the casual walking away. There was little difference, to me, between what I called rape and what I called sex; I had never been given a model for it other than “what married people do,” leaving me with “crying and bleeding on the floor” as my default for what unmarried people did. My options were to consent to cry and bleed on the floor, or to be forced to do so. I laid myself out on the altar and called it consent, not knowing that there were other options. It was what good Christian girls did when abstinence failed them.


Comprehensive Sex Education Can Prevent Sexual Asssault

Third article for Secular Woman's Sexual Assault Awareness Month series

by Laurel Reed, follow her on twitter

As we enter into Sexual Assault Awareness Month, it is painfully clear that the youth of America are more unaware than ever. And we adults can directly blame ourselves for their ignorance. Sex education classes in the United States (where they’re available) are woefully inadequate. Only 18 states require sex education to be medically accurate. And, thanks to the overbearing presence of religion, most sex educators’ hands are tied when it comes to updating or presenting new material. We all remember the “Don’t Say Gay” bills that circulated through various mid-western state legislatures. If students and teachers can’t even say the word “gay”, how are they supposed to educate themselves and other people about different sexual identities?

Open dialogue about different sexual and gender identities is just the beginning of what American students are missing. According to a Guttmacher report, “half of students in grades 7-12 report needing more information about what to do in the event of rape or sexual assault”. So not only are students not educated on how to respond to a rape, they are also not told what rape is, what sexual assault is, and what consent is. This horrifying reality came to light during the recent Steubenville rape trial when one bystander stated, “I didn’t know it was rape- it wasn’t violent”. 

I believe that sex education should be about so much more than basic human anatomy or when and where is the best time to lose one’s virginity. As we see all around us, human sexuality is complex and always evolving. Due to lackluster education or bashful parents at home, or both, American teenagers are forced to make sense of their sexuality by themselves. This nation is so polarized by the issues of abortion, contraception, and condoms that we have forgotten that sex education should be about more than those topics. Parents are so busy thinking that their child would never assault or rape someone that they don’t bother to tell them that rape is wrong and that it is important to always get consent.

Unfortunately, for some teenagers, it doesn’t matter what they learn in a sex education class – they may have already been sexually assaulted. It’s important to these teenagers’ recovery that their assault is addressed and validated – either in a class at school, or by their parents or guardians. A person who has been sexually assaulted may combat many other resulting issues for a long time after the incident, such as sleep disorders, self-harm, depression, and flashbacks. It is vitally important to the health and well-being of our teenagers and us that we not only improve our current sex education classes, but also improve our response to sexual assault victims. We must always remind them that assault is not their fault, let them know that there are resources available to them, and that we are supportive of them.

During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, each of us should strive to remember that just because our teenagers’ sexuality or our own sexuality might make us uncomfortable, doesn’t mean we should hide information from our youth or teach them that their sexuality is something to be ashamed of. I believe one of the most integral solutions to every problem is open and honest communication. What better forum to encourage such communication than in a comprehensive, inclusive, and nonjudgmental sex education class?