High School Students Fight For Medically-Accurate Sex Ed: ‘We Have The Right To Know’

*Originally posted on Think Progress

Written by Tara Culp-Ressler

GTWS_nevada-students-sex-ed

High school students in one Las Vegas area school district are speaking up about why they deserve medically-accurate sex ed classes, saying they don’t want their curriculum to be restricted by parents and legislators who are squeamish about important sexual health topics.

There’s been quite a bit of controversy over sexual education in Clark County School District over the past several weeks. Last month, a small group of vocal parents raised concerns about proposed comprehensive sex ed resources that included factual information about topics like masturbation, abortion, and sexual assault. Following significant pressure from parents who said those subjects were inappropriate, district officials halted their plans to update the current curriculum — and instead instituted a series of school board meetings to solicit more feedback from the community about what to include in sex ed classes.

But this week’s public forum on the issue also included some push back from high school students who don’t like the direction the controversy is headed. A group of students pushing for comprehensive sex ed protested the meeting with signs reading “Knowledge Is Power,” Our Health Matters,” and “Students for Sex Education.”

Those students told 8 News Now that they support serious reform because their current health classes are too vague, too conservative, and don’t prepare them for the real-world situations they encounter in their own lives. For instance, junior Caitlyn Caruso — a survivor of sexual assault — said there needs to be more information imparted to students about healthy relationships and rape prevention.

“We have the right to know what’s going on,” Caruso says in a video produced by the Nevada Teen Health and Safety Coalition, a group in the state working to implement comprehensive sex ed. “I didn’t have words to name what had happened to me in the past and the experiences I had with sexual assault… I wasn’t provided with that terminology in my sexual health education classes here in Nevada. It took me years before I could access that information and could name what happened to me.”

Plus, according to Caruso, her school’s current emphasis on abstinence sent a damaging message to her as a rape survivor, since she had not made the choice to become sexually active.

“When I walked into my first sex education class, I was confronted by the immediate message ‘Don’t have sex until you get married’ and ‘If you have sex before get married, you’re not pure anymore,’ ” she recounts. “I felt ostracized and alienated and impure. I felt dirty, and like I didn’t belong there, and like I didn’t really belong anywhere.”

The Nevada Teen Health and Safety Coalition is collecting stories from other residents like Caruso who support better sex ed, as well as encouraging people to sign a petition urging the Clark County School District to give teens the “tools and information to lead healthy lives, make fully informed decisions, and prepare themselves to confront dating violence.”

Although public school districts started moving toward comprehensive sex ed in the 1990s, the pendulum has recently swung back in the opposite direction. As TIME reported this week, over the past 20 years, the number of states that require students to get some kind of sex ed in the classroom has been cut in half. Outrage about so-called “X rated” materials in health classes — as well as a renewed focus on religiously-based abstinence messages driven by groups like the Southern Baptist Convention — has led school districts to back away from the issue. According to federal health officials, most U.S. teens don’t receive formal sex ed until after they’ve already started having sex.

But teens across the country are fighting back. Caruso isn’t the first high schooler to speak up about the potentially damaging effects of inadequate sex ed materials. Last year, a West Virginia high school student named Katelyn Campbell made national headlines after protesting against a “slut-shaming” abstinence education course. And over the summer, a Canadian teen convinced her school to drop a course on sexual purity after she filed a human rights complaint against it.

 

Sparking Conversations on Sexuality at CatalystCon East

This weekend I returned to CatalystCon for the second time – this one took place in Washington D.C./Arlington, VA. From the first evening reception to the closing keynote speech, delivered by Robert Lawrence and Carol Queen, everything was just as amazing as it was last year – maybe even more so now that I have come to know what to expect.

The conference began with a lively warm-up and social lubrication by Maria Falzone and shortly afterward, it was time for the opening keynote plenary, moderated by Tristan Taormino. I was one of the speakers, along with Dr. Mireille Miller-Young, Dr. Hernando Chaves, and Ducky Dolittle. Tristan came up with some interesting questions to get us started, and we spoke of what inspired us, the recent things we have done exemplifying our missions and commitment to change, and so much more. After we spoke, we took questions and comments from the audience, and we could tell everyone was motivated and ready for the next two days.

How can I possibly describe what came afterward? If I condensed my explanation, I’d say two days of brain-stimulating conversations, panels, introductions, and non-stop communication between sex-positive people from many walks of life. I attended panels on Sex Workers and Disability, Sex from the Trans Perspective, Polyamory, and Feminist Porn… and soaked it all in. I tried to go to completely different panels than I did at CatalystCon West, to get myself out of my familiar zone, and instead into realms where I don’t have much experience. Feminist Porn was the most crowded panel I attended, and I spent the entire time crouched down on the floor in the back of the room, shoulder to shoulder with everyone else. The aisles were full as we listened in awe to Constance Penley, Tristan Taormino, Dylan Ryan, and Sinnamon Love. Having just finished the Feminist Porn Book on the flight from LAX to DC, I was excited to hear more from these women. They did NOT disappoint. Each discussed their contributions to the book followed by an intense Q and A session lasting until the next panel came into the room.

I spoke on other panels as well – one on Measure B where I discussed the reality of the “condoms in porn” law with Tristan Taormino and Michael Fatterosi. Originally, when I was pitched the notion of this panel, I didn’t think that people would still be so concerned, or even consider it relevant. I was wrong. The audience intuitively understands it is much more than latex on film, it is a violation of our sexual rights as human beings and could echo repercussions far into the future, and far into our bedrooms.

The other panel I spoke on was Slut Shaming in a Sex Positive Community. Initially, we wondered about the interest in this topic, which isn’t frequently discussed, but it was nearly as packed as the Feminist Porn Panel.  In my background I have experienced Slut Shaming over the years in different degrees, but to hear it from everyone on the panel: Serpent, Femcar, Carol Queen, and Crysta Heart was comforting and reassuring. We opened up the discussion to audience questions and comments, and in that instant, started something that could have gone on for hours. We provoked thoughts; we started open dialogue; we may have even inadvertently started a disagreement/fight. I think it is a panel that must be repeated.

And the evening entertainment!
I went to Girl Gasms by Ducky Doolittle – Take it Like a Man with Charlie Glickman, and then surrendered my “Dirty Bingo” Virginity to Ducky loving every second up until the time I went to bed, knowing I had panels the next day.

I was also a guest on Tristan Taormino’s radio show, “Sex Out Loud,” and had an amazing conversation with one of my all-time inspirations. We also had a studio audience as we recorded, something I’m not used to with my show, but I actually really enjoyed. It was agreed we needed a part two to our discussion, and she may be on my show in the future.

One of the highlights of the weekend was getting #ccon trending on Twitter. Not only did CatalystCon have a hash tag, but each panel had an individual hash tag as well, so people who were unable to make the trip were still able to take part by following along as some of the panels were being live-tweeted by the audiences.

Again, I’m so honored to have been included in CatalystCon East, and even more honored to be included in such an amazing group of people onstage for the opening keynote speech. My sincere thanks goes out to the founder and organizer Dee Dennis, who took a risk having me appear last year, but did it anyway, and also to the notorious Girl Gang & The Evil Sluts who, along with Dee, are truly the glue collectively helping hold CatalystCon together. They also owe me some Nutella.

xo,
jd

Slut Shaming Discussion at CatalystCon East

As I previously mentioned, I will be participating in the inaugural CatalystCon East sexuality conference in Washington D.C., March 15-17.

One of the sessions I will be presenting is titled, Slut Shaming in Sex Positive Communities.  I’ll be speaking alongside 4 amazing women: Carol Queen, Femcar, Serpent Libertine, and Crysta Heart.

Here’s a description of the session from CatalystCon’s website (www.CatalystCon.com):

Does “sex positive” always mean acceptance of the sexual appetites of others or other communities we’re not involved in? Why is it acceptable for sex-positive individuals to bash or criticize the sexual proclivities of others while claiming to be supportive allies? Based on our collective experiences within the sex worker, BDSM, swinger, poly, and queer communities, our panel will lead a discussion that examines some of the ways we’ve witnessed slut-shaming from those we’ve expected it least. Additionally, we’ll discuss why initiating conversations about these incidents can be even more challenging than speaking with folks in the vanilla world. By confronting this issue, we hope to find better ways to stimulate conversations among sex-positive individuals and learn how our words and actions can have an impact on others who lack understanding of our communities.

I believe this is an extremely important issue to discuss, and I am looking forward to the conversations it helps inspire.

xo,
jd