Friday, December 17, 2010

SHEER is alive!

Hello Readers,

SHEER is alive!

Sexuality Health Education to End Rape (SHEER) is a survivor centered, sex positive, pro-consent coalition formed to prevent sexual assault, abuse, harassment and victim blaming and to address myths about rape by promoting an affirmative consent standard as the cornerstone of healthy sexual interactions. An affirmative consent standard calls for the use of enthusiastic consent that is active, mutual and ongoing throughout a sexual encounter.

SHEER is an anti-oppressive coalition that values open and ongoing dialog about the ways in which physical and mental ability, race, class, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity, among other factors, shape and inform our relationships with rape culture and with healthy sexuality.

Please learn more at The site is currently under construction, but I invite you to watch it as it grows.

I will be taking a break from this blog while SHEER gets off the ground. Please feel free to contact me via facebook or write messages to me through SHEER.

Thanks and Peace,

Friday, December 3, 2010


Currently untitled
[trigger warning]

He raped me
Told me it was sex
Told me I was crazy
Winked, and patted me on the ass.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


I was recently asked to speak at the Cook County Commission on Women's Issues on "Young Women, Sexual Health and the Media." My speech is below.

Hello, my name is Eva Ball and I am the Prevention Education Specialist at Rape Victim Advocates, the largest rape-crisis center in the city. I am also the founder of SHEER – Sexuality Health Education to End Rape, a new Chicago-based coalition to address sexual violence through sex-positive prevention education. I am here today to speak with you about sexual violence, the media and young womens’ sexual health.

I want to be clear about something from the beginning: I am not here to BLAME the media for sexual violence. Sexual violence undoubtedly has numerous causes, but I am not here to discuss where it came from. I am here to talk about strategic ways to prevent it and support survivors. I look to the media not as the cause of the problem, but as a potential solution.

We know that sexual violence has huge ramifications on women and girl's sexual health. One in three girls will be sexually abused or assaulted before her 18th birthday. And grown women don't fare much better: one in four women over the age of 18 will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. And we know that many of these girls and women will be assaulted when an otherwise consensual sexual encounter becomes non-consensual. I know first hand that this is the case, because I am a survivor of this type of sexual assault.

I want to take a minute to tell you some of my story. I was raped by a man with whom I had a previous sexual relationship. We had a great time together but did not engage in vaginal intercourse. I expressed to him that I was not ready to do that with him. But one night, he penetrated me anyway. Without my consent. I don't know if he meant to rape me or not. I don't know if that was his intention. But regardless of his intention, the effect was: I WAS RAPED. The person I'd spent 19 years becoming, died. I've spent the years since trying to pick up the remnants I can find, while simultaneously coming to accept that I will NEVER be that person again. In the act of raping me, he killed a large part of me. But despite the fact that I'd always been a loud-mouth, I didn't speak up or seek help for months. I didn't tell soul, because I was confused about what happened and because I was ashamed
. I felt worthless.

But I a not here to depress you all. I am here to motivate you. I want to start at the unlikely place of looking at media's portrayals of women today.

I google image-searched "women in magazines" and here are some of the first page results:

If you were an alien from outer space, and these pictures were all you knew about women, what would you think a "woman" should be? What would you think it means to be "a woman"?

  • Sexually available
  • Hyper sexual
  • Passive
  • Light Skin
  • Straight hair
So is it fair to say that these types of media images teach young women that it's good to be hyper sexual and sexually available? [yes]

Of course not ALL images in the media show women this way. But many of them do.

Now let's move away from visual images in the media and talk instead about language. I want to think of words used in the media and pop culture to
describe women and girls who have sex or are sexually active. What words have you heard in popular music, or elsewhere in the media?

  • slut
  • hoe
  • skank
  • whore
  • bust down
  • chicken head
  • stain
  • promiscuous
  • tramp
What do these words have in common?

They're all insults. So is it fair to say that the language used in popular media gives girls the message that it's a BAD thing to be sexually active? [yes].

Okay now let's put these things together:

  • slut
  • hoe
  • skank
  • whore
  • bust down
  • chicken head
  • stain
  • promiscuous
  • tramp

Visual images SHOW young women that they should be hyper sexual and always available to men. But LANGUAGE used in the media tells young women they are worth less if they actually BEHAVE the way we show them they should. It's the ultimate catch-22.

The result of these mixed messages is a type of social schizophrenia. Young women act sexually -- they're hormones are raging and they've been shown that that is how they should act -- BUT they feel ashamed about it because they've internalized the message that they are IN FACT worth less as people because it.

So let's connect this back to sexual violence. If we combine this internalized shame that comes with being a sexually active young woman, with the fact that many young women are raped during otherwise consensual "hook-ups" then we've got a BIG problem on our hands. We have scores of young women being raped and not being able to speak out or seek healing without the reasonable fear that she will be labeled "just a slut."

That's why I didn't speak up. I was scared of being labeled and devalued by others. And in the 8 years that I've been doing this work I've spoken to more young women than I can count who were silenced for the same reasons after an assault similar to my own.

Okay. So we know what the problem is.
So let's talk do we empower young survivors to speak up and get help?
I believe one solution is to give girls a clear message about what sexually healthy behavior looks like.And we need to be strategic in doing so. We must focus on finding out
WHAT WILL WORK to improve girls' sexual health? What will make unintended pregnancies go down? What will limit the spread of HIV? How we can empower young girls to speak up and get help when they are assaulted or abused?

I think the answer to all these VITAL questions lies in one simple solution: We stop the shame. We accept that raging hormones are a natural part of being an adolescent young woman, and that biology is nothing to be ashamed of

How do we do this? By being brave. By speaking up if you think young women are worth more than their so-called "virginity." If we believe that a woman's sexual history DOES NOT impact her worth as a human being, we need to shout it from the rooftops. So I want to know: who in this room believes that young women are valuable human being regardless their sexual history? Please, make some noise...

Okay, now that we've identified ourselves, we need to take this message and spread it whichever way we can. Tweet, facebook status updates, organization's websites, use it in fliers and advertisements. Let's come together and use the media to spread the message LOUD AND CLEAR that:

Young women are valuable human beings. Their value is not tied to their sexual history. Period.

Surviving isn't good enough for our young women. They deserve to thrive.
Thank you.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The power of penis.

You caught me! I'm watching a documentary titled: Kim Cattral's Sexual Intelligence. There are so many things wrong with this movie! Yet I am eerily drawn to it. Well, maybe it's not that I eerie. Maybe it's just that I (like most people) am interested in sex. And despite the comically cheesy script and the "interview" subjects who are clearly actors, the movie did get me thinking...

Maybe we've been too hard on men. Okay, I get patriarchy -- a system that gives more privileges to men than women. But an over-simplified analysis of patriarchy could lead a person (say, me as a sophomore in college) to believe that all men have it easy. But I tend to believe that if it's simple, it ain't true. And I think this oversimplification has negative implications on the ways men are viewed in our society.

Men are complicated people. Men have feelings. Men can be vulnerable. Men can be beautiful and sensitive and sensual and sweet and kind and loving and tender and imperfect and weak and silly and gentle, everything that "men" aren't; MEN are.

"Men" (in quotes) refers to the uber-masculine stereotype of what men "should" be. MEN (no quotes, with or without caps) describes what men actually are. And first and foremost, men are people.

Maybe that just sounds silly. But I think it bears stating: men are people. Women are people. People of all genders are people. That's why we call them people.

Some people are totally emotionally unavailable. Some of those people (perhaps most of them?) are men. But not all of them are. I'm blessed to know a lot of amazing, caring men. And no surprise, they have all the complex feelings and emotions that all people experience.

Men (in general) have to face some challenges that women (in general) don't. Penis' come with baggage. I was an awkward teenager. My hormones were raging and I was aroused by the most random and inexplicable things. Luckily, being a girl, no one was the wiser if I got turned on in math class. My male classmates' bodies did not allow for the same discretion. I cannot imagine the embarrassment that comes along with your classmates seeing you pitch a tent during freshman algebra. Oi!

Something all humans have to deal with is getting aroused when they don't want to or not getting aroused when they do want to. Either situation has the potential to totally suck, but people with penis' lack the option to keep it a secret. When you combine that exposure with the "Don Johnson" stereotype -- the myth that a man is only as good as his control over his penis (and over women) -- you get a tough situation for many men.

Men get messages that the size and hardness of their dick is what makes them a "man." If you buy into that myth, I can't imagine the performance pressure that comes along. And let's face it, this myth is so pervasive that it's difficult not to buy into it on some level. As such, I would like to see increased understanding an empathy for this, and other difficulties, that are unique to the male experience.

Is the patriarchy alive and well? Yes, without question. But when it comes to sex and sensuality we need to have complicated conversations about pressures experienced by people of all genders. And we need to have equally complicated conversations about sexual violence. Does the pressure put on men to be "men" contribute to perpetrators' desire to rape? Could shifting the way we understand men's sexuality, individual struggles and social pressures lead us to a more comprehensive understanding of human sexuality and sexual violence? I think it could.

Simple solutions hide untruths. People are not 1-dimensional. And the more dimensions we can examine and understand, the closer we'll be to creating a world without rape, a world in which all sexual interactions are communicative, pleasurable and consensual.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Yale Rape-Chant Video

If you haven't already, please take a second to view this video of Yale fraternity pledges chanting "No means yes. Yes means anal."

I don't have words for how disturbing this video is to me. It is distusting and vial. It is not, however, particularly surprising. My one year as a student at a University with the "Greek System" made me very well acquainted with the connection between fraternities and rape. I know that not all fraternities encourage rape in this way. But I doubt that Yale is alone in these types of practices, either.

In my opinion, Yale's response to this video was unacceptable. They called it "a lapse in judgment."

I wrote the following to Dean Mary Miller to urge her to take discinplinary action againt the fraternity in question. I encourage you to do the same. Just click this link to get started! (If you agree with me, feel free to use my language).

Dear Dean Miller,

I am writing you because I believe that you are in a powerful position to set a culture-changing precedent. My name is Eva Ball and I am the Prevention Education Specialist at the largest rape crisis center in Chicago. Thank you for taking the time to read this email.

In my experience, the connection between rape & fraternities is not a Yale-specific phenomena. And while I can understand and appreciate why Yale may take a self-protective stance on this issue and minimize the implications of this video, I urge you not to take this path. Instead, I urge you to take this as a historical moment, a moment in which Yale University takes a firm stance against rape and the systems that promote it.

I understand that there may be political consequences to taking punitive action against the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. I know this must not be a simple issue for the college to address. But I beg you to consider setting an example for universities to follow in the future, and take serious action against this fraternity. Not only will you send a strong message about your priorities to your students, but you will set a much-needed precedent that could prevent countless acts of sexual violence in the future.

You have an ability to make substantial progress in the way rape is addressed on college campuses. Please do not miss this opportunity.

With gratitude and respect,

Friday, October 1, 2010

Sex, Rape and the F-Word

I am glad I was raped in 2003 as opposed to say…1963. After realizing I was assaulted a few clicks-of-the-mouse connected me to helping services on my college campus and in my hometown. Infrastructure was in place and funding was set up to help people in my very situation. To me, having these resources available was life changing and life saving.

Had I been a young woman merely 40 years earlier, my situation would have been very different. It wasn’t until the 1970s that rape crisis centers, hotlines or advocacy programs even existed. Before the 1970s a rape victim (yes, “victim” – the term “survivor” was yet-to-be coined) had few options. They were lucky if they had a friend or family member to turn to, but without any public discourse about rape and without any helping services in place, they most likely had to suffer in silence. So yeah, I’m happy to be a young survivor now as opposed to then. And I will forever be indebted to the founding mothers of the feminist anti-rape movement who got those services started.

But despite amazing feminist accomplishments the word “feminist” has a polarizing effect when uttered in mixed company. The dreaded “f” word brings up mental images of man-hating bra-burners who are driven by anger and rage. And while anger and rage are warranted when you’ve been raped or otherwise abused I’ve worked with a lot of feminists, and I would like to testify that more often than not their work is driven by love. They love themselves enough to acknowledge they deserve to be treated better than doormats, blow-ups dolls or punching bags. They love each other enough to support their brothers and sisters who've been raped or beaten or used. They love humanity enough to strive endlessly to ensure a safer world for future generations. Yet they, we, tend to get a bad name. I want to clear that up.

Regardless of your gender, if you believe that it’s worthwhile to provide helping services to rape survivors, you’re a feminist. If you believe that sexual violence is bogus and the world would be better without it, you’re a feminist. If you think women are whole people and not objects to be fucked, you are a feminist. If you’re bothering to read this blog, you’re probably a feminist. And I encourage you to claim the “f” word as part of your identity. I am honored to do so and to align myself with people who call injustice by name and dedicate their lives to fighting against it.

But just because I’m a feminist doesn’t mean I agree with all the feminists in the world. And just because I don’t agree doesn’t mean we’re enemies. We can appreciate and value one another while disagreeing. For example, an older feminist recently told me she has a staunch anti-pornography and anti-prostitution stance. I disagree with her stance because I strive to live where idealism meets strategy. In 2010 porn is down-right mainstream. It simply isn’t strategic for young feminists to work to end pornography or the sex trade. It may have been a reasonable stance in the 70s, but I don’t think it’s a relevant approach to getting work done today. But despite our differing ideologies I respect her and the work she’s done. Heck! Without her work, I wouldn't be able to do mine.

That being said, it is clear to me that the anti-rape movement is in the midst of a paradigm shift. And when the movement successfully shifts to sex-positive, I hope we can do it with the understanding and support of the feminists who came before us. Similarly, us young feminists need to understand that our work may not be relevant or even appreciated by future generations. But that is okay. Because in order for feminism to thrive we need to constantly adapt to the changing world, and we must love and support one another through those changes. (Luckily, this plays to our strengths).

I was raped in 2003 by a friend, a man with whom I’d had a previous sexual relationship. I didn’t even know that what happened to me was rape. I was never explicitly taught that I should expect to be respected in the bedroom. No one told me to expect pleasure. So it didn’t immediately occur to me as problematic that neither of these things were happening. Months later I confided in a friend that “he had sex with me” and my friend responded, “did he have ‘sex with you’? Or did he rape you?” Before that, it hadn’t even occurred to me that I had been raped. But it was healing and relieving to call it by name. Yes, he did rape me. That is why I’m crying so much of the time. That is why I lost my appetite, my joy. That is why I lost my ability to find happiness in my first true love: music. Because he raped me.

I hope that future generations can take for granted the difference between rape and sex. I hope that the status quo becomes expecting pleasure, respect and most of all, CONSENT, regardless of your gender. Because as it stands, I truly don’t think you have to be a terrible person to commit rape. All you have to do is follow the status quo.

Thankfully, things are much better than they used to be. But we’ve still got a long way to go...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

See something? Say something.

I was sexually harassed tonight. My face is soaked in tears and I am feeling defeated.

I've been harassed before, plenty of times. But rather than getting "thicker skin" I feel as though the same scab is peeled off again and again, the wound growing ever deeper. I contemplate quitting my weekend job where much of the harassment takes place. But then I remember that this harassment doesn't happen because I'm a performer, because I dance in a short skirt or because my character appears to be drunk -- it happens because I am a woman. I've been sexually harassed walking down the street on a sunny day dressed to go to my grandmother's birthday party. It has nothing to do with what I wear or how I present myself. It has to do with the fact that the harasser thinks is a-okay to treat me with disrespect. Because I am a woman.

And why shouldn't he? Tonight there were literally hundreds of people witnessing the harassment, but did anyone speak up? Besides the lead singer of my band, no (at least, not to my knowledge). The fellow audience members were apparently good enough folks to not be yelling obscenities about my body, but not good enough people to shush-up or call security on the d-bags who were. So that leaves these d-bags with the message that it is okay -- it's okay to be a sexist, perverted asshole.

But it's not okay. Far from it. And I have faith that most people agree with me. Because I usually don't get harassed. I've played over 400 shows in the last five years, and despite the fact that I always wear a short dress, I always dance enticingly and my character always appears to drink Jack Daniels [coke + water = fake whiskey], only seldom does someone take those factors as an invitation for a verbal assault. So clearly it's not me -- it's them.

And if I'm correct that most people don't think sexual harassment is okay, I want to know: why do so many people condone it when it happens? Why don't more people speak up? Of course, there can be as many answers to this question as there are silent spectators, but my hunch is that most people don't speak up because they see it as normal. They see women being objectified on TV, billboards, music videos, movies and as a result, seeing it in real life may not seem shocking or even problematic.

But it is VERY problematic. Because I am a strong woman. And this shit puts me to tears. It makes me feel weak. It makes me feel like all my work to end sexual violence is for nothing. It makes me feel like I don't matter. It makes me feel unsafe in my workplace. It makes me feel like a victim. But I am a fucking survivor.

If you're reading this, you're probably my friend. And since you're my friend I don't mind asking you this favor: if you see something, say something. Please don't tacitly support sexual violence by bearing silent witness to verbal or physical assault. Speak up. Get security. Put the perp in their place. Intervene safely in a way that is comfortable to you. But for goodness sake, intervene. If you do already, thank you. Now consider taking it a step further and encouraging your friends to do the same. This shit won't stop unless we stop it.

Usually I end my posts with some words of encouragement. But they are escaping me tonight. Have you got any for me? I could use them.

I'd like to thank the members of Wedding Banned, past and present, for ALWAYS supporting me, being my advocates and never blaming me. I love you guys.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Rape, Sex and the Grey Area

It’s common for sexual assault survivors to disassociate (leave their bodies) during a sexual encounter. And we know as many as 1 in 4 women are survivors of sexual assault. (FYI -- Staci Haines’ book A Survivor’s Guide to Sex is a phenomenal resource for partners of/survivor’s dealing with this issue). But I imagine that many women who are not sexual assault survivors struggle to remain “present” and fully enjoy sex as well. After all, women's pleasure is all-but-disregarded in our culture. I can make arguments about why this is the case (male orgasm is needed to make babies, female orgasm is not), but I’d very much like for it not to be case. Because, to borrow from a sister’s post: “women are rarely encouraged to experience pleasure or taught how to do so, which relates to rape culture in that women often do not expect pleasure from sex and therefore consent to touch that they do not particularly want, or consent for reasons of convenience or guilt.”

Because women are not taught to expect pleasure it becomes normal for women to have sexual encounters that are not pleasurable. Given these circumstances, the best-case scenario is that these women will have unfulfilling sex lives. The worst-case scenario is that sexual violence will be normalized to them. Neither sound fun to me, but the latter is particularly problematic.

A 2009 study by East Carolina University, Virginia Tech and University of Houston found that when women do not acknowledge sexual violence as a violation they are more likely to be revictimized.[1] Basically, if you don’t call rape “rape” you’re more likely to be raped…again. Despite this, our culture encourages women to believe that in many cases rape is actually just “bad sex.” I've seen this confusion play-out in countless friends and clients who've disclosed to me over the past eight years. (I want to be clear here: I am not critiquing individuals for choosing to name/not name an experience “rape.” I am critiquing the culture that encourages this confusion between rape and consensual sex). Failing to value women’s sexual pleasure enables rape culture and renders sexual violence invisible and even permissible.

So, women: we need to learn to expect pleasure from our sexual encounters. We need to support our sisters to do the same. We need to stop slut shaming one another. When we're not getting the pleasure we expect we need to speak up about it. We need to get comfortable voicing our needs before, during and after a sexual encounter. We need to practice enthusiastic consent that is mutual, active and ongoing.

Partners of women: we need to know that our orgasm does not mean a sexual encounter is complete. We need to speak up, not only about our own desires but inquire about our partners' as well. We need to stop slut shaming, too. We need to be able to hear that what we've been doing hasn't been working, and we need to be ready to make changes going forward. We need to practice enthusiastic consent.

Consent can be a confusing thing, as such there may always be grey area between "sex" and "rape." But I'd like that grey area to shrink. One way to do that is to fight against the sexist and heterosexist notion that sex is/should be about men's pleasure. If we can cool-off our slut shaming and expect enthusiastic consent and pleasure from all actors in a sexual encounter we'll be on the right track. Plus, we'll be having a really good time.

Of course, no matter what we do or what our culture tells us, there will be people who enjoy raping other people. As far as I know, rape has occurred in all cultures throughout history. And I can't know with certainty that changing the way our culture views rape or sexuality will significantly diminish the occurance of rape. But I think it might and I believe it's a worthwhile effort. We may not be able to change people's biology, but we can change what they're taught to view as "normal." And I have great hopes that if we're taught that women's pleasure IS normal and coercive and/or drunk and/or forced sex IS NOT, that much rape would be prevented -- or at the very least, not be tolerated. What's happening now isn't working. 1 in 4 is WAY too many. We need a change.

[1] Psychology of Women Quarterly, 33 (2009), 34-42.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sex, Appeal and Self Acceptance

To find someone "sexy" is to find them appealing. This person leaves you wanting more -- one more glance, one more touch, one more thrust. You want conversations to last a little longer, your smiles to linger, your goodbyes to be postponed.

Popular culture tends to view "sexy" in very narrow terms. If you Google Image Search sexy woman or sexy man you'll see what I mean. A picture is worth a thousand words -- and these pictures show us that sexy women are skinny, white, sexually available, docile, "feminine" creatures. "Sexy men" on the other hand, are also white, but "masculine" -- big, muscled and sexually aggressive.

These qualities may be what mainstream media finds sexy -- but are they appealing to you? Perhaps they are (and that is totally okay). But I'd guess that most readers find a broader spectrum of attributes to be appealing. Even my male, heterosexual, non-feminist friends like women who voice opinions and showcase their personality. The alternative is just, well, boring. And it's my understanding that my friends who like men (myself included), like men who may or may not have muscles, but definitely have emotional intelligence.

The meaning of sexy has been depersonalized. It has been co-opted by corporations with something to sell. But what you find appealing is personal to you. Realizing and discussing this distinction can diminish the number of people who work tirelessly to attain impossible beauty standards. Virtually (if not all) personal attributes are appealing to someone. We need to encourage one another to just be yourself, and look for someone who finds you appealing. Confidence is appealing. Confidence is sexy. All aboard the just-get-busy-loving-yourself-and-appealing-things-will-come-your-way train! Choo! Choo!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Gender and Sexual Violence

Before I get into the "meat" of this post, I want start with a quick Biology/Sociology lesson: "Sex" is a biological term that refers to the bits you were born with (penis, vagina or intersexed). "Gender" is a sociological term that refers to identity. Check this out for a useful (and pretty awesome) visual definition.

Okay so...when folks talk about sexual violence its common to use the pronoun "she" for the victim/survivor and "he" for the perpetrator(s). This is not without understandable reason. After all, the majority of survivors are women and the vast majority of perpetrators (98-99%) are men. (It is important to note that while most perpetrators are men, most men are not perpetrators). But despite the statistics, I think our use of gendered pronouns (in general and in terms of sexual violence) warrants some examination.

Previous posts have discussed barriers to "coming out" as a rape survivor. The fear of not being believed or of being blamed are two barriers that can impact survivors of all genders. But for survivors who aren't women, common myths and misconceptions make it even harder to come forward.

For example, some folks believe that a man will be "turned gay" if he is raped by another man, despite the fact that there is zero scientific evidence which supports that theory. And plenty of folks believe that it's not even possible for men to be raped (even though 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused or assaulted before their 18th birthdays and that 1 in 10-33 men will be sexually assaulted within their lifetime).

For transgendered people the barriers to coming out as a survivor can be even greater. (Transgender is a new term to lots of folks. In short, it describes folks whose biological sex is not "in line" with their gender, as it is traditionally understood. If you're unfamiliar or would like more information please check out these sites). In addition to dealing with myths about rape, transfolk have to deal with prejudices against their very identity. Medical staff, legal officials nor the general population are given sufficient training about the specific needs of trangendered people. As a result, trans survivors may be met with misunderstanding, or worse, blatant bigotry when they seek support.

Since it's arguably harder for people who aren't both biological females and sociological women to come out as survivors, I think our movement needs to go out of it's way to give men and trans survivors more of a voice.

We, as a movement, have tended toward using language that indicates 1) only women get raped and 2) only two genders exist. In doing so, we are effectively erasing the experiences of many survivors. So let's cut it out already!

I propose we change the way we talk about rape. First of all, don't assume all survivors are female (or that all perpetrators are male). And when you talk about gender (in terms of sexual assault, or in general), change your language slightly to say things like "all genders" instead of "both genders." Of course, this is just a start. There is much more work to be done before trans and male survivors will have ready access to the support they deserve. But I've learned to appreciate "baby steps." So let's have at it!

Thanks to the very fabulous Cat for your help with this post (you really are VERY fabulous)!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Lady Love!

I've been lucky to be surrounded by supportive women throughout my life. Whether personally or professionally, the women in my life have been a major source of security and strength. So it always comes as a bit of a shock to me when I hear women say things like "I don't trust women," or generalizations like "women are catty." But maybe I shouldn't be surprised. After all, that is what we're taught to believe...

Through multiple sources, the media included, women are taught to mistrust and be "catty" toward one another. We are taught to keep secrets from one another -- to be nice to each others' faces then talk trash behind our backs. We're taught that we can build ourselves up by cutting each other down. And many of us believe what we're taught, at least some of the time. As hard as I try not to, I sometimes catch myself entertaining petty and useless notions about other women.

So I have to ask myself: who benefits when we cut each other down? I've got some theories (the billion + dollar cosmetics industry, for one) but rest assured we -- women as a group -- do not benefit from these catty antics.

So let's cut it out already! Let's choose to be happy for our sisters who are reaching their goals. Let's speak up when we hear women call each other nasty names. Let's defend our gender when we hear sweeping and negative generalizations about us.

I'd wager that our own insecurities are at the heart of catty behavior. So I can't help but wonder: if women spent as much time building each other up as we currently do cutting each other down: how many of our insecurities would be shifted to securities? I'd like to find out.

Let's not beat ourselves up for doing what we've been taught to do. Let's just stop doing it! Let's treat each other with love and claim sisterhood as the legacy of our generation.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sluts and Bitches and Whores...Oh My! (Part 3)

Part 3: Putting it all together

The anti-rape movement has done an admirable job of teaching us that most rape does not involve a stranger jumping out of the bushes. Strangers account for only 11-18% of rapes. From statistics and experience we know that lots of rape occurs between people who have been sexually interested in one another. Lots of rape happens among committed couples. Lots of rape occurs on dates. Lots of rape occurs during would-be "hook-ups." And as long as women are considered sluts, bitches or whores for being (or just "looking like" they're) sexually active, we are silencing women who have been raped by potential or actual sexual partners. (There are plenty of factors that silence survivors of other genders, to be discussed in future posts). After all, if you were raped while doing something only a "slut" would do you may not speak up or seek support.

Using words like slut and whore in common vernacular is an insidious manifestation of victim-blaming, the subtext being: if you hadn't acted like such a ____(fill-in-the-blank: skank, hoochie, etc.)_____ this wouldn't have happened to you. It doesn't matter that you're not insulting a specific survivor. Flippantly using derogatory terms for presumed sexually active women encourages shame and guilt to be associated with women's sexuality. In turn, this practice helps rates of acquaintance rape to flourish by allowing these crimes to be shrouded in silence.

Until we create a culture in which women can make choices about their sexual behavior without fear of social persecution, acquaintance rape of women will continue to occur at disarmingly high rates. The good news is: its easy to join the people dedicated to destroying this Rape Culture. To start, all you have to do is:

- Use respectful language for all people

- Engage in enthusiastic consent whenever you engage in sexual activity

It's fun, I swear! Thanks to y'all who are already on board.
Thank you in advance to those about to join us.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sluts and Bitches and Whores...Oh My! (Part 2)

Part 2: Bitches and Whores

Other words for sexually active or provocatively dressed women?
"Bitches" and "whores."
Mm. Just lovely.

In addition to being inflammatory for the reasons addressed in the previous post, I would like to look at the use of these terms in relation to sexual exploitation and the sex trade.

I grew up thinking prostitution was propagated by morally reprehensible women who chose to sell their bodies for sex. The reality is not nearly so simple. There are sex workers who do choose their career. There are sex workers who feel empowered by their work and who do it happily and safely. But it is my understanding that for most sex workers the word "choice" has little to do with their situation.

***Disclaimer: I am a beginning learner when it comes to sexual exploitation and the sex trade. The following information I learned through workshops with Young Women's Empowerment Project, Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation and My Life My Choice in May of this year as well as conversations with a co-worker who has collaborated with sex workers in Amsterdam, Las Vegas and Chicago. I welcome feedback and corrections. Thank you!***

Did you know...?

The average age of entry into prostitution is 12 years old. This means that even if you're looking at an adult sex worker, it is likely this person entered the life as a child.

Many or most sex workers have histories of sexual abuse. Stats are slippery, but we know pimps prey on trauma. After all, sexual abuse teaches young people the same lessons that a pimp wants you to to learn: to keep secrets, trust noone, to be used to isolation, that you have little worth and that others are entitled to you.

Within an average of 48-hours a run-away girl will be solicited for sex. And what other choice will she have than to acquiesce? How else can she support herself?

Sex workers are exploited by police. One common theme found among sex workers of various backgrounds -- multiple genders, races, street-based workers, "high class call girls," etc., is a variation of the following story: a police officer picks them up, he tells them he'll let them off if he's given a "freebie" in the back of the squad car. The worker cooperates. The police officer arrests the sex worker anyway.

Sex workers are raped an average of 47 times a year. To put this in perspective: there are 52 weeks in a year -- that's nearly once a week. Many people spend a lifetime recovering from the trauma of just one assault.

The average life-expectancy of a sex worker is 7 years after they enter the life. This means that if you enter at the age of 12, your life expectancy drops to 19. Wow.

Shows and movies like Pretty Woman or Confessions of a Call Girl glamorize prostitution. They allow us to believe fairytale-like stories rather than view the harsh realities that surround the sex trade. And if you're reading this blog, you're hopefully too old to believe in fairytales.

So please think about the word "whore," what it represents and the way it gets used. Casually using the word "whore" minimizes and erases the violent realities faced by most sex workers. In addition, it preys on the assumption that being a sex-worker is morally reprehensible -- ignoring that most children (not women) have little or no choice as to whether to enter the sex trade.

So please take your blinders off. And don't feel guilty about having had them on. Rather, shift guilt to gratitude. Feel grateful if you never had to choose between living in an abusive household and running away. Feel grateful if you've never had to consider selling your body in order to eat. Feel grateful if you can depend on police when you're in trouble. Feel grateful if your life expectancy is longer than your teenage years. You undoubtedly have a lot to be thankful for.

...and if you'd like to turn your guilt to gratitude to support, please check out the Young Women's Empowerment Project. YWEP offers safe, respectful, free-of-judgment spaces for girls and young women impacted by the sex trade and street economies. I cannot overstate how inspiring and brilliant the young people at YWEP are. And while they're completely capable of running the organization on their own they are always in need of financial support.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sluts and Bitches and Whores...Oh My! (Part 1)

Part 1: Sluts

I curse like a proverbial sailor. I'm not particularly proud of this fact (nor am I ashamed of it) but I have no issue with profanity, per se. I DO have an issue with hateful language, however.

"What are words used to describe women and girls who are sexually active?" I ask my high school classes. Their responses usually include:
- Slut
- Skank
- Hoe
- Bust-down
- Chicken-head
And a variety of other insulting names. Insulting is the key word here. According to students' vernacular, being a sexually active women is a very bad thing. (And please note, these words aren't reserved only for women who are sexually active, but for women who dress "provactivly"-- irrespective of their sexual behavior).

This would not trouble me if it were a simple matter of language. But it isn't. If you look at sexual violence on a spectrum, it's pretty easy to see how the language we use is connected to sexual harrassment, abuse, assault and exploitation. Bear with me here:

--> If we (society) call women "sluts" because they dress or act a certain way, it's easy to start thinking of them as "sluts" or being less worthy of respect.
--> If we think of certain women as sluts it becomes easy to treat them with disrespect, make unwanted comments or advances and even believe that such behavior is warrented or wanted.
--> If treating some women with disrespect goes unchallenged we excuse and justify sexual harrassment and abuse -- under certain circumstances.
--> If we excuse harassment and abuse under any circumstances we are participating in victim-blaming and upholding the myths that justify sexual violence, including rape and sexual exploitation.

All people regardless of gender, sexual experience or dress are worthy of respect. A person's sexual proclivities or wardrobe have nothing to do with their humanity. This is crystal clear to me. But does it sound crazy to you? (Sometimes I think I'm too entrenched in the movement to see things from a "normal person's" perspective, and I honest-to-goodness want your feedback).

I used to greet my girlfriends with an affectionate, "what's up slut?!" We liked to drink, party, and "hook-up." I think calling each other by that name was a reclamation of sorts.

But I've turned around on this issue. Until sexual harassment, abuse, assault and exploitation are understood by and handled respectfully in popular culture, I argue that these kinds of gender-based insults do much more harm than good.

So here is my charge to you: think about the language you use. Don't beat yourself up about it, just think about it. Assess whether changing the way you speak can do any good. (If you're not sure please read my upcoming post -- parts 2 & 3 of this entry). If you currently use offensive or hateful language, please consider making some changes in your vocabulary. And if you want to take it a step further, talk to your friends about why you're doing it. A bunch of small changes can make a big difference.

To close, please check out this new commercial from Scotland. I'd love to see ads with this message in the US!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

(the) Power (of love)

"You still don't get it. It's not about right. It's not about wrong. It's about power."**

And the thing about power is: those who have it do what they can to keep it.

Is it a stretch to say that every social movement in history was rooted in power struggle? I'm not enough of a history-buff to confidently answer that question. But I think it's a reasonable hypothesis. And, if it has all come down to power, I think we need to reassess our goals.

The Anti-Rape Movement taught us that sexual violence is about power and control. It's not about right and wrong. It's about people with power demonstrating how they intend to keep it. So if the Pro-Consent Movement is about gaining power, what will prevent us from replicating the choices of our oppressors as our movement succeeds? After all, memories are short and the movement is long.

Therefore, we need to be purposeful in stating that the goal of the Pro-Consent Movement is not to gain power. Rather, it is about spreading love. It's about learning how to love to the best of your ability, and helping those around you to do the same. It is about treating yourself and others with care and respect. We can only truly change the world if we stop playing by the rules of our oppressors. Rather than fighting to take what they have, let's teach them to value what WE have. It's as simple as being kind to yourself and kind to your neighbor. Easy-peezy-lemon-squeezy...

well, kinda...

To close, I leave your with a little Huey Lewis. Soooooooo gooooood!
Have a pleasure-filled day!

** Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Season 7, Episode 1.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Moving from "Anti-Rape" to "Pro-Consent"

Lot's of people who, according to legal or social definitions, have been raped don't call themselves rape survivors. In my years as an anti-rape activist I've heard more stories of this nature than I can count. And this used to frustrate me. The way I a saw it, every person who refused to call rape "rape," held back those who called it by name (and arguably, when you're within the "anti-rape" movement, that is the case).

But I see things differently now. I think individuals can and should define their own experiences. If you don't feel comfortable calling what happened to you "rape," by all means, don't! I can name about a million reasons not to, after all: it's painful, you're likely to not be believed, friends/family/legal & medical staff may blame you, if you were engaged in any sexual activity prior to the assault (especially if you identify as a woman) you may be disregarded as a "slut," "whore," or as "asking for it" -- just to name a few. Not to mention that plenty of people experience what's legally defined as rape without feeling traumatized by it.

I'm not trying to dissuade folks from coming out as survivors. If you want to come out, kudos to you! That is some brave shit!! But I'd like to call attention to the problematic nature of hinging a movement on individuals' ability to call an experience "rape" in a culture that tells survivors that it was merely "bad sex" and that if is was indeed rape, it was probably the victim's fault (their sexual history, dress and/or level of intoxication will likely be looked to as explanations).

We need a paradigm shift.

Let's start by finding some common ground:
Can we all agree that you should only engage in sexual activity with someone who wants to engage in that activity with you?


Okay, good. (Phew).

If you're in agreement then you are in favor of consent. And if you're in favor of consent calling yourself part of the "pro-consent" movement shouldn't be too much of a stretch. Using the language "pro-consent" doesn't necessitate survivors to come forward. All it asks is for you to have consensual sexual experiences. Period. And who doesn't want to do that?! One of my favorite Sexual Violence Prevention researchers Paul Schewe has wisely pointed out, if you engage in consensual sexual practices you'll likely have "more sex," and "better sex." Amen, brother!

Call your experiences whatever you like, but please know that not saying "no" is not the same as saying "yes." When it comes to our bodies and sexuality we have the right to be heard and respected. American culture does not support open communication about sex and sexuality so it's likely you haven't practiced enthusiastic consent in the past. But it's easy to start: if you're not sure if you have consent, just ask! (Thank you Jaclyn Friedman). By engaging in enthusiastic consent that is active, ongoing and mutual you are doing your part to end sexual violence and probably having a great time while you're at it! Everybody wins -- what's not to love!?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Men are the solution.

Thinking about rape sucks.

I mean, really.
It is no fun.
At all.

That in mind, I have crazy appreciation and respect for non-victims who've chosen to join the anti-rape movement. Shoot! I have crazy appreciation & respect for anyone who chooses to align themselves with the movement.

I am a survivor of sexual assault. I have to think about rape. Whether I like it or not, it is a part of every step I take, every sentence I write and every word I utter. Being a survivor of sexual assault is part of who I am. And frankly, if I didn't HAVE to think about rape I'm pretty damn sure I wouldn't. Because (as we know) it is no fun. At all.

And I like fun. To quote a wise friend from high school, "fun is awesome." And a world without rape sounds pretty fun to me. Idealistic? Sure. But certainly fun.

A world without rape. Think about it...picture it?....okay,, aaaaaaand [repeat].

Granted I am not sure how to create a world without rape. But I am fairly certain that the 1 in 6 - 8 women and 1 in 10-33 men who are survivors cannot do it alone.

Perhaps you've heard these statistics before. If so, you've probably heard them used as an educational tool or even a scare-tactic. But have you ever heard them as an invitation? If not, I invite you to.

So far, the business of fighting sexual assault has been pretty much left-up to survivors and their close family and friends. Please understand that it is draining to have your deepest wounds continually re-opened during your regular-work-week. (The plus-side of this is that you're generally forced to make great strides toward healing in a relatively short time. In my mind, the benefit outweighs the cost). As such, I think the movement could flourish (rather than merely survive) if we were joined, en masse, by people who weren't so darn 'drained' by it.

So please, join us!

Right now, I am not asking much. It's as easy a 1...2...3...

1. Please become a follower of this blog (see the grey follow button at right? yeah...that's the one...)
2. Check for updates now and again.
3. If you feel inspired to do so, leave a comment -- ask a question! Start a debate! Do a little bit of very-un-fun thinking about rape.

That is all I ask of you. And I believe the benefit could be great. I believe that if we're willing to make small, incremental changes we can collectively make a big difference.

Anthropologist & feminist Margaret Meade famously said, "never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Ms. Meade was right on. But we have a powerful tool that world-changers in the past lacked: the World Wide Web. So with respect for these "small groups" (to whom we owe so much), I say, let's shoot bigger.

Surviving isn't good enough anymore. We all deserve to thrive.

PS -- I should probably call attention to the (true but) misleading title of this entry. I think it's catchier than "everyone is the solution" (We are the World pretty much covered that territory -- jus'sayin).

Saturday, May 15, 2010

What IS "making love," anyway?

The Words We Use is an exercise I frequently do with high school students in my work as a Rape Prevention Educator. I ask the students to name 10 or more words used for women and girls who have sex or are sexually active, men and boys who have sex or are sexually active and then words used to describe having sex or being sexually active.

The results are consistent: the words used to describe women are generally negative, the words for men are complimentary and the words for "sex" are usually violent. It seems that "nailing," "drilling," "pounding," "banging" & "fucking" casually roll off the tongues of youth but the words "making love" leave them rosy-cheeked and embarrassed.

The cultural definition of "making love" usually refers to two people who are in love sharing their bodies in a sexual way (a blush-worthy definition for any high school student, to be sure). But I'd like to explore a more literal definition. I am wondering what produces love? Is it parenthood? Friendship? Romance? This is a bigger question than can be adequately addressed in this blog entry. Clearly. But for the sake of exploration, roll with me.

Parenthood, friendship and romance all have connection in common. I can argue that connecting & being fully present with others can produce joy and, depending on your definition, love.

My next question is -- what do we enter the bedroom to do, exactly? Is it simply to get off? If that is all, the other person is a mere accessory. You can "fuck," "nail" or "bang" your partner and you may reach your goal of orgasm in happy conjunction with them but you also run the risk of doing it at the expense of their well-being.

Countless songs, poems & visual works of art have been inspired by sex. Yet certainly many 'sexually active' folks have wondered "what is all the fuss about?" I don't claim to have all the answers, but I am pretty sure all the "fuss" did not stem from merely getting-off at the hands of another person [pardon the pun]. It was inspired by something more.

Instead of concerning ourselves solely with attaining orgasm or pleasuring our partner, I argue a more enjoyable experience will be had if we enter an encounter with the goal of connecting or being with another person. That connection can take many forms. It may be tender or rough, vanilla or kinky, it may be shared between lifelong partners or total strangers or anything in-between. But when partners connect with one another, when they check-in and make sure that their actions and behaviors are in-line with their partner's wants and desires, everyone leaves the experience feeling joyful and loving. In essence, you have produced, created, or in other words, made love.

The person who just had a fulfilling sexual experience is probably not the person cutting in line at the grocery store or flipping you off on the highway. They're more likely the person letting you cut in line because you have fewer items or leaving room for you to merge into their lane. In these seemingly small ways (and at the risk of sounding too "hippy-dippy") they are literally spreading kindness, joy, and yes -- love.

So okay, admittedly my definition of "producing love" is no less blush-worthy to an average high schooler than the standard definition of "making love." But I wonder what could be gained if, as a culture, we understood sex as a means of producing love and joy rather than a sinful and often destructive act that ruins young women and promotes young men to a false god-like status.

People have sex. Teens have sex. We can't change that. But we can change our cultural definition of what having sex is and should be. It should produce joy. It should produce love. If it does not, it's possible what we're doing isn't sex at all.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Peaches, young women, sex, drugs and drama

According to the lingerie company Miss Ultimo, the following images are marketed toward a "young female audience."

Web gossip today tells us about the most recent celebrity drug/sex scandal. Miss Ultimo apparently fired their cover girl, Peaches Geldof, this morning after rumors surfaced about a heroine-induced one night stand.

I enjoy a little celebrity gossip just like the next person, but what's notable to me about this situation has nothing to do with what was put in Geldof's body. What's notable to me is that a company publicly acknowledging that they market the images above to "a young female audience" is less newsworthy than a dime-a-dozen, celebrity-gets-partied-out story.

I'm not pro-censorship and I'm hardly a prude. But certainly I can't be the only person who thinks THESE IMAGES are NOT APPROPRIATE for a target audience of YOUNG FEMALES?!?!? Why isn't this a bigger deal?! (To quote Zoolander: "I feel like I'm on crazy pills!")

Let me be clear, I am not in favor of promoting drug use or unsafe sexual practices to young women. However, I think it should be noted that it is hypocracy for Miss Ultimo to both sell highly sexualized images of what-girls-should-look-like to young women AND fire their model for having a less-than-prudent sexual encounter. And the fact that Geldof was apparently high on heroine should not further condemn her as unvirtuous. Rather, it should help us call attention to the fact that a person cannot legally give consent while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This is a teachable moment that we, as a culture, are ignoring.

The way I see it, young women are caught in the ultimate Catch-22. On one hand, they’re expected to work to be attractive and sexual. On the other, if they meet these expectations they’re susceptible to being called a “slut” or a “ho,” rejected by girlfriends or worse, in the event of sexual assault, abuse or harassment they may be held accountable by peers and media who suggest, “you were asking for/deserve it.” (Even though sexual violence is NEVER the victim's fault).

We see this played out in the Miss Ultimo drama. The lingerie company was comfortable projecting highly sexually suggestive and passive images of Peaches Geldof. But when Geldof put those projections to practice, she was fired. We either need to show young women healthy images of sexuality and support their decisions to engage in healthy, age appropriate sexual activity, or we need to be consistent in the message that they're too young to engage. Personally, I vote for the first of these approaches.

We tell athletes to run fast -- they win games when they do. We tell children to study hard, they may get "A"s when they do. We tell men to act tough and they "get the girl" when they do. But what happens to girls who do what they're told?

They get fired from Miss Ultimo.

Something is terribly wrong here.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sexual Assault Awareness Month is coming...

April is
Sexual Assault Awareness Month
Please check with your local Rape Crisis Center and find a way to get involved.
(In Illinois you can find it here.)
I look forward to getting back to blogging in May, after SAAM preparation and events have concluded!
In peace,
Eva Su

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Good Touch / Bad Touch (Part 2)

Part 2: Good Touch

As a culture, we tend to believe that being a good lover is instinctual -- either you've got "it," or you don't.

I think this is a load of hooey.

Everyone has the ability to be an amazing lover. Everyone. All it takes is confidence and communication.

The challenge is that "confidence" and "communication" are much like the ol' chicken and egg.
- If you have confidence in your ability to pleasure your partner(s) you're more likely to feel comfortable communicating with them.
- At the same time, communicating with your partner(s) will increase your ability to pleasure them and, thus, boost your confidence.

So where do you start?!

The answer: start wherever you're at. If the idea of talking to your partner about sex makes you break into hives and cold sweats, it's probably best to start slowly.

So, first-and-foremost: be kind to yourself. Don't beat yourself up if this is difficult for you. Being a pleasing lover isn't instinctual, and neither is the ability to talk openly about sex. After all, we only know what we're taught. And most of us have not been taught to have open dialogs about our sexuality. So take it easy on yourself. Just that fact that you're open enough to consider talking to your partner is a pretty awesome step. So kudos to you!

Secondly, always be honest about your pleasure. This means never, ever fake it. I understand wanting to boost your partner's ego (or in certain cases, wanting to get it over with) but you do everyone involved a disservice if you mislead your partner regarding how much you enjoy their touch. If you'd like your sex life to flourish, you must be able to take for granted that you and your partner are honest with one another about pleasure.

If you've been faking it, it's time to come clean. If it's a "casual" partner, perhaps it's time to move on. If it's a long term partner, coming clean will likely cause short term problems in your relationship. But it will open you up for long-term satisfaction. (And isn't the definition of maturity something about "delayed gratification?"...)

Third, start small. You don't have to sit down with your partner(s) and draw a diagram. Inserting a sexy moan or suggestive phrase can put you on the right track. Or perhaps, send a link of this or another sex-positive blog to your partner and use it to trigger conversation.

Enthusiastic consent is the goal here. Enthusiastic consent assures you that your partner is into what you're doing together. It is important for at least two reasons:
1) It will help you have amazing, communicative, hot sex.
2) It eliminates the possibility of sexual assault.

Good touches make you feel good or happy. So if a touch feels good to you speak up! Be kind to your self, honest with your partner(s) and move at a pace that is comfortable for everyone involved. You are an amazing lover, or at the very least, you will be.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Good Touch / Bad Touch (part 1)

Part 1 - Bad Touch

During classroom presentations, I tell first-graders the following[1]:

Good touches make you feel good or happy. Bad touches make you feel bad or uncomfortable. Sometimes a bad touch gives you the "uh-oh feeling." It's important to listen to that "uh-oh feeling." It is there to protect you and keep you safe.

Once they understand these concepts, I continue with the following:

It's always up to the person receiving the touch to decide if it's good or bad. That means, even if your auntie pinches your cheek because she loves you, if it feels bad or uncomfortable to you, it's a bad touch.

The terms good touch, bad touch and uh-oh feeling are -- admittedly -- juvenile. But I'm learning that the concepts behind them are anything but.

I don't know whether good touch / bad touch was taught while I was in elementary school. But I am certain it wasn't taught when my parents were children. And even today it is not standard curriculum. This is worrisome. Because if we're not taught to differentiate between good touches and bad touches when we're young - when are we taught this invaluable lesson? For many Americans, the answer is: never. And for those who do learn it, it's likely the bi-product if a painful trial-and-error process.

Have you ever had someone brush up against you or lightly grope you, but ignore the icky feeling by convincing yourself it was an accident? Have you ever had a partner touch you in a way you didn't like at that moment, but kept your mouth shut so's not to offend? Have you ever stayed longer than you felt comfortable in a sexual situation in which nothing is particularly wrong, but certainly something is not right? I'm guessing many readers -- particularly female and women-identified readers -- can answer "yes" to all these questions. I'd love your feedback to tell me if my hunch is correct.

Ignoring "bad touches" or the "uh-oh" feeling that often results is routine to many folks. When the stranger on the bus or in the bar brushes up against us, it's easier not to cause a scene. When your partner persuades you to move faster than you're comfortable with, it's easiest to say "they love me and wouldn't do anything to harm me." And while it's true, they probably do love you and probably don't want to harm you, they are capable of causing unintended, negative consequences.

Here's the big what: regardless of the toucher's intentions, it's always up to the person receiving the touch to decide if it's good or bad. Even if that person loves you and wants to show it through physical attention, you always have the right to move at your own pace. You always have the right to say "yes," and you always have the right to say "no." Furthermore, saying "no" when you feel uncomfortable is not a reflection of your feelings for your partner. It is a reflection of your ability to respect yourself and your feelings.

This must be said: no one ever has the right to touch you in a way you do not like. If this occurs, regardless of if you said "no," it is not your fault. Sexual harassment, abuse and assault are never the fault of the person receiving the attention or advances. No exceptions. It doesn't matter:

  • where you were
  • what you were wearing
  • what you were doing
  • who you were doing it with
  • whether you'd done it before
  • whether you were engaged in illegal activity
  • whether you were drunk or high
  • whether you voluntarily put yourself in a "dangerous" situation
  • whether you lied about your age or marital status
Sexual assault, abuse and harassment are NEVER the victim's fault. Period.

So please do not confuse my message here. The point of this entry is decidedly not to put the onus on a victim to not be abused, assaulted or harassed. Rather, it is to point out the following:

Good touches make you feel good or happy. Bad touches make you feel bad or uncomfortable. Sometimes a bad touch gives you the "uh-oh feeling." It's important to listen to that "uh-oh feeling." It is there to protect you and keep you safe.

It's okay to assert yourself. It's okay to leave the room. It's okay to call security. It's okay to "make a scene." Because, in the end, your body is infinately more important that keeping the peace, not offending or being the source of gossip. The fact that many of us were taught that being inoffensive is more important than our bodies is frankly, completely bonkers. The good news is: it's not too late to learn it now.

We've almost all been told the following message: you don't matter. Whether directly by an abuser, indirectly by disrespectful treatment from a teacher or boss, or by images of our race/gender/people with our abilities/class/religion/citizenship status/sexual orientation or identity being shown as unimportant. We've almost all been trained not to speak up -- to keep the peace, not to cause problems.

But you and I are too important for that. You and I are precious. We matter. Our bodies matter. Our opinions matter. Our senses of humor matter. Our intelligence matters. Our desires for pleasure matter. Our feelings matter. Remember that next time you that "uh-oh" feeling. And respond to it, it's there to protect you and keep you safe.

[1] I have Carrie Wachter and Imagination Theatre's "No Secrets" Program to thank for the "Good Touch/Bad Touch" curriculum in italics.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

"Movement" Means ACTION!

Shifting from "No means No" to "Yes means Yes!"
The slogan "no means no" has penetrated the mainstream where it has been embraced by many but become "white noise" to many others. And for those who have embraced it, it problematically implies that absence of "no" is akin to consent. This is not the case.

To be clear: not saying "no" is not the same as saying "yes."
Further, if "no" is not an option, "yes" is meaningless.
Healthy sexual expression can occur only when "yes" and "no" are equally valued. In order to support healthy sexual expression, the Anti-Rape Movement must shift to a sex-positive framework.

A sex-positive framework can take various forms. However, in the context of the Anti-Rape Movement, the following should be applied:[1]

- Consensual sex is the opposite of rape. As rape is a negative force both personally and in society, sex can be a positive force both in personal development and in society at large.
- Communication, consent and pleasure are necessary components of sexual health.
- Sexual health includes engaging in sexual acts that are safe, sane and consensual.
- Consensual sexual expression is a basic human right, regardless of the form that expression takes.
- Sexual assault, pregnancy & STI transmission prevention are necessary components of healthy sexuality education.
- People have the right to accurate and straightforward sexual health information.

- It is inappropriate to judge others’ consensual choices regarding how they have sex, who to have sex with or how they define their sexual orientation and identity.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the sex-positive incarnation of the Anti-Rape Movement won’t be either.
But luckily, the foundation has already been laid. Jaclyn Friedman & Jessica Valenti’s 2008 anthology: Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power & A World Without Rape reflects the emergent dialogue about sex-positivity in the Anti-Rape Movement. In its 300+ pages Yes Means Yes! addresses many of the issues that will be addressed in this blog and does so with respect to the racial, economic and social diversity that was too-often absent from the 1970s Feminist Movement in America.

So what's holding us back?

Shifting to a sex-positive framework means addressing difficult questions that the movement has avoided answering in the past. For instance - since a person cannot legally consent to sexual activity while under the influence of alcohol: is all drunk sex actually rape? This author argues that it is not. But these are the types of questions that the movement has to struggle with in order to make this necessary shift to a sex-positive framework.

But struggle is not a bad thing. "Struggle" implies movement. And the Anti-Rape Movement needs just that: To Move. American culture looks vastly different that it did in the 1970s when the movement emerged. It's time to adapt. It's time grow. It's time to move and take action.

I propose we begin taking action with something every reader can do: start thinking about sex. Start thinking about how sex is represented in the music you listen to. Start thinking about how sex is represented in advertisements you see throughout the day. Think about conversations you've had or overheard about sex. What are the messages you've received?

Then think about this: rape is about power and manipulation. Sex is about pleasure at the expense of no one and to the benefit of you and your partner(s). Have you ever confused these things in your life? It's likely that you have. After all, we only know what we're taught. And we're taught to confuse rape with sex (see "Welcome" post). So this isn't about beating yourself up. This is about deciding how you want to proceed.

The first step is to imagine what you want. So lets get moving!

[1] Adapted by SHEER: Sexuality Health Education to End Rape, from Cory Silverberg, AASECT- Certified Sexuality Educator,

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Countless people commit rape every year without knowing they're a rapist.

Now that I have your attention, consider this: sexuality education is hard to come by in the United States. It's not taught in many schools. It's certainly not taught in most workplaces. There are stigmas attached to walking into a sex toy store or borrowing a sex education book from the library. And if you try to educate yourself online you must weed through pages of pornography before you're likely to come across a legitimate sexuality education website. The ignorance that results makes it possible for a person to commit rape when what they're seeking is sex.

The anti-rape movement teaches us that rape is about power and manipulation. Rape is not about sex.

True enough, right?

Well...yes and no. Rape IS about power and manipulation. But then, so are the images that we're shown about sex. Try to think of a scene in a movie, a song lyric, a music video or a personal conversation in which one person encourages another to drink alcohol with the hopes of "getting laid." For most people it's easy to come up with multiple examples of this, whether from personal experience or images in the media.

But by Illinois (as well as other states') law, a person CANNOT consent to sexual activity while under the influence of alcohol. In other words: having sex with a drunk person may not be sex at all. It may very well be rape.

This is just one of the countless examples of how we are taught to confuse sex with rape.

So how should we proceed?

The way I see it, we have a few options. We can educate people about rape (we've been doing this for about 40 years now and we've made great strides) OR we can educate people about sex. Option "B" certainly sounds like more fun but frankly, I don't think we should have to choose. So I propose a third option: we do both.

And that is what this blog is all about. By teaching people about sex, about how to communicate about sex about how to have hot, wonderful consensual sex, we are simultaneously teaching people how not to commit rape.

When I first joined the anti-rape movement I was met with this slogan:
"Imagine a world without rape. What are you doing to create that world?"
Starting conversations about how to have amazing sex is what I am doing -- and I'd love for you to join me. Please follow along as this blog develops, offer input or get involved in any way you can.