Sunday, November 2, 2014
Dana's first blog!
Sexual education failed me as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, sexual assault, and abusive relationships. Though my county provided ‘comprehensive’ sexual education, abstinence was stressed as most important. Sex was portrayed as a shameful act. We never learned about healthy sexual relationships, consent, or self-determination in our sexual choices. These glaring omissions not only contributed to my abuse, but also made me blame myself and think that it was normal.
Though North Carolina requires “comprehensive” sexual education, abstinence is still stressed as most important. However, 71% of American teens report having sexual intercourse by the age of 19. It is estimated that 95% of Americans have sex before marriage. Clearly the message of abstinence is ineffective – and not pertinent to the majority of people.
Poor sexual education programs lead to reliance on the Internet for information, including pornography. In fact, the average age of exposure to online pornography is eleven. Aside from the mechanics behind the physical act of sex, pornography provides no useful education and go so far as to distort notions of sex. Men learn sexual dominance and women learn sexual submission.
Pornography, in addition to popular culture (think ‘BlurredLines’ by Robin Thicke), leads to “rape culture:” a society that delegitimizes rape and blames victims for the crimes committed against them. Facing this culture with no sexual education toolkit leaves people, and especially women, unable to stand up for themselves or even know that they have the right to determine their own sexual choices.
Sexual assault can only be prevented if people understand what consensual, happy sex is supposed to look like. I want to focus on how comprehensive sexual education can debunk myths about sexual assault, increase awareness, and motivate action. I take “comprehensive” to mean a consensual sex-positive discussion of sexual choices, pleasure, birth control, sexual assault, victim blaming, slut shaming, etc
I would want to work on developing curriculum for sexual education programs, as well as looking at any connection between sexual assault and poor sexual education programs. Since many schools would oppose comprehensive sexual education, I would want to work toward building an online, interactive toolkit that students could access on their own.
In addition to helping to end victim blaming, sexual education empowers people, and especially women, to take ownership of their sexuality. Sexually empowered women are better leaders. Sexual empowerment and self-esteem are closely linked. I once believed that since I was a survivor of sexual abuse and assault, I could never be a leader because I didn't deserve respect. Teaching women that sexual abuse does not preclude them from leadership is an important part of recovery.
The lack of comprehensive sexual education and incidences of sexual abuse are also issues at the national and international level. While my project will primarily focus on North Carolina issues, I do hope to look at sexual education national and internationally, focusing specifically on China (since I am studying Chinese).
Several organizations may help me in my endeavor. The North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NCCASA) focuses on sexual assault prevention. The Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina develops sexual education curriculum and partners with schools. The Stewards of Children program under Darkness to Light works to educate people about childhood sexual abuse.
I am both excited and nervous for my research on sexual assault and sexual education. I know that it may be triggering for me as a survivor, even though I do a lot of work with sexual assault prevention at Duke. I’ve become good at self-care – which is an integral part of doing this kind of work. Though I know this will be a challenge, I am ready to take on this work