Why you don’t have to be sorry forgetting real with college students
It makes me so sad that the University of New Mexico felt the need to apologize for offering sex education to students last month. They apologized because we talked openly about prevention of some very palpable threats to safety on and off college campuses.
We—folks from the Women’s Resource Center and myself—bring sex education from a place of empowerment, consent, safety and pleasure. That last one really gets some people angry, because they’ve been taught to never talk about sex in terms of pleasure. (God forbid people actually enjoy it!) It is a clear sign of where we are as a culture to see upper-level administrators publicly pull their support for the programming of UNM’s inaugural Sex Week.
Officials apologized after they say they received around 50 complaints from a few parents and anti-abortion campus groups. They complained because we used “provocative” titles that couldn’t possibly teach students anything other than pure hedonism.
Really, I’m glad they noticed. We made the lecture titles eye-catching on purpose. After years of hosting sex education, I know it’s pretty rare that you get 75 people to come to a class titled “How to Communicate for Better Oral Sex.”
So we had a bit of fun with it and used workshop titles that would get attention and draw people in, such as “O-Face Oral,” which was a student-led workshop with standing-room only. Reid Mihalko’s “How To Be a Gentleman and Get Laid” drew a similar crowd. We even held off-campus workshops not paid for by university funds to educate people on “Negotiating Successful Threesomes” and other topics.
We aren’t alone in understanding that comprehensive sex education can lead to overall sexual health.
The World Health Organization defines sexual health as “a state of physical, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality. It requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”
If UNM students don’t have administrative support to access healthy sex education, UNM is ignoring a (potentially) really important part of coming into adulthood. Not to mention, they’re sending the message that students’ sexuality is something to apologize for, that sex is dirty, and we don’t need to provide this type of consent training to students. Obviously we do.
In mid-October, another UNM student was sexually assaulted at the Albuquerque campus. On Oct. 2, a student at Santa Fe University of Art and Design reported an incident of indecent exposure and threatening behavior.
During Sex Week, UNM released a Security and Fire Safety Report that showed a significant jump in reported sexual assaults on campus in 2013. In 2012, there were four reported cases, and in 2013, that number jumped to 11.
Even though conservative media like Breitbart and a group on campus called Students For Life had a field day by categorizing the effort as pro-abortion, many student groups have come forward to share their support for sex-positive events like Sex Week. Self Serve created a petition in support of Sex Week and received more than 1,000 signatures in under a week.
Then we got additional support when, at the end of October, both the Graduate and Professional Student Association and Associated Students of UNM passed resolutions in support of Sex Week.
I think Kat Haché said it best in an article about college sex weeks on the website Bustle. “The real danger here is not Sex Week,” Haché wrote. “The danger here is furthering the idea that sex is taboo and cannot be discussed in an open, frank manner. The danger is pretending that sex on college campuses does not exist. The danger is refusing to address issues like consent and boundaries when sexual assault is a reality for students… at universities across the country.”
We planned this event hoping it would get people talking about sex and sexual assault on college campuses. And we accomplished that goal. We knew some people wouldn’t support it, and that’s OK too. Now is the opportune moment for universities to embrace this type of education for the strides it can take to produce healthy, educated, well-rounded individuals.
This column was originally published in the Santa Fe Reporter on Nov. 4th 2014.
Here’s music to my ears! Santa Fe will be home to a new certificate program for therapists and counselors to get more training in sex and sexuality starting later this month.
We give health care workers (and people in general) the most basic information about sex, and that’s it. Without proper education, therapists and counselors don’t feel confident talking about the spectrum of sex and sexuality in a way that’s inclusive to everyone, especially LGBT, kinky and non-monogamous folks.
Ginna Clark, director of the human sexuality certificate program at Southwestern College, says students are requesting more comprehensive information on the topic, which was the inspiration for the program.
“They’ve made an effort to work it into the curriculum, but since there are so many things that licensing boards demand, sexuality often gets cut,” says Clark, a professional counselor and clinical sexologist. “This program is really designed to give people a little more than they get in traditional programs.”
Imagine you have a challenge or issue come up around sex or sexuality, and you want to talk to your therapist about it, but they have no idea that what gets you going is pretty normal. It’s easy for clients to feel uneasy about their choices and desires if a therapist has no idea how to talk to them about it.
“We don’t want therapists to be unleashed on the public and shame people by their lack of knowledge,” Clark says.
For example, even if counselors don’t practice BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism) in their personal lives, such training could help them feel comfortable talking to clients about it without automatically categorizing consensual BDSM play as abuse.
If we can’t talk to our therapists, friends or family about sex, then whom can we talk to? Hopefully this program will better prepare therapists and counselors to meet people where they’re at sexually, without shaming them and causing additional harm.
There are a few sexuality-focused programs for people who work in mental health fields, but we need more. Plus, it’s common that the information covered isn’t inclusive to the many flavors of sex and sexuality that exist.
“My bias is that not only do they need more education in LGBT issues, but they also need more education in thinking about sexuality beyond this pathologizing, dysfunction-based way,” Clark says. “We need a little more sex-positive psychology and less of the, ‘Let’s treat sex as bad behavior.’”
The certificate program has three required courses, which include SAR (sexual attitude reassessment) training, sexual development and clinical skills.
“The core courses are really designed to get people conversant in sex-positive language, anatomy and physiology and being comfortable with sexual language,” Clark says.
The school is also offering nine new elective courses. Over the next few months, those classes will cover pornography and the question of sex addiction with David Ley, using Gina Ogden’s ISIS Wheel in sex therapy and counseling, and Laura Rademacher’s pleasure literacy and erotic intelligence.
“Right now, predominantly in the field there is an interest and emphasis on sex addiction, which is just one corner or tiny sliver within the range of possibilities in the field of sexology, and it’s just a sliver of what clients might be struggling with,” Clark says. “One of the things I really want to have happen in this program is to be able to think psychologically about sex without falling into the trap of making it bad, or identifying a sexual behavior as automatically bad and working to change it.