Rape Education

**This post was originally published on huffingtonpost March 18, 2016**

Two weeks ago, millions of people watched as 51 survivors - including myself and my fiancée- standing alongside Lady Gaga delivered an unforgettable performance of “Til it Happens to You,” an original song from the campus rape documentary The Hunting Ground. Introducing the performance, Vice President Joe Biden made a powerful statement against victim blaming, inviting viewers to join him and student activists in pledging to change the culture surrounding campus sexual violence. The Hunting Ground was just made available for streaming on Netflix, so people who haven’t yet had the opportunity to see the film- which screened on CNN last November and has been screened at over 1,000 colleges and universities in the last year- will be able to see it and learn more about the issue. I challenge anyone to watch the film, or Lady Gaga’s performance, and not come away sharing the Vice President’s belief that something, something needs to change.

Survivors on stage with Lady Gaga at the Academy Awards on February 28th, 2016

Survivors on stage with Lady Gaga at the Academy Awards on February 28th, 2016

So what is that something?

It’s tempting- and perhaps just- when we hear about the rape epidemic on campuses to want to focus on finding and punishing the perpetrators. A bill proposed last fall, the so-called “Safe Campus Act”- sought to address this problem by instituting “mandatory reporting”- demanding that if survivors turn to their school for support, they must also go through with filing a formal report to the police. Dubbed the “(Un)Safe Campus Act” by activists, dialogue over the bill showed that focusing on prosecution and punishment rather than support and healing raises questions of believability and probability of conviction for all survivors, who are held up to the myth of the “perfect victim” and are often re-traumatized in the process.

A side effect is that this focus on prosecution and “justice” causes us to minimize the vast majority of rape and sexual assault cases that do not result in conviction and punishment of a “bad guy,” asking survivors, “Well, did you report? Were they found guilty?” If not, doubt emerges. Legally, every perpetrator deserves due process. But every survivor deserves to be believed. The two are not in conflict if our response to hearing about rape does not require that we go out and find “the bad guy,” but instead, that we support the survivor in their healing process. The truth is that “solutions” to domestic and sexual violence do not occur in a vacuum, and can cause more harm if they do not account for the real root causes of violence.

My professor once told a story about prevention that I think is applicable here. She said, “if you were standing next to a river, and saw someone in the water, drowning, you would help that person. But if another person, and another, and 10, then 100 more appeared, you would no longer be able to help them all. And after a while, you would ask why all these people were in the river, drowning. If you asked them, and they told you that someone just upstream was pushing them it, you’d solve the problem not by finding a way to rescue them all, but by stopping the person pushing them in.”

How can we prevent rape, not just prosecute and punish those responsible? One policy change that has resulted from lobbying to address this issue is “Bystander Intervention” in which students are trained to intervene in situations that look “risky.” This runs the risk of confirming stereotypes about what assault looks like, and ignores the fact that over 60-80% of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows- a friend, or a dating partner. Someone who doesn’t look ‘suspicious’- someone the victim trusts.

“Yes Means Yes” chalked on the sidewalk at University of Michigan

“Yes Means Yes” chalked on the sidewalk at University of Michigan

Many activists would point to Affirmative Consent legislation, which was signed into law by the California legislature in 2014 and is becoming the standard policy on many college campuses. Just like the White House’s “It’s On Us” campaign, affirmative consent and “Consent Education” inform students of a shifting standard from “no means no,” to “yes means yes,” which means “If you don’t get affirmative and ongoing consent, it’s rape.” Sex is pretty complicated, though, and ‘doing it’ right- consensually, pleasurably- requires some pretty advanced communication and an understanding of issues from consent to anatomy, power dynamics to protection. Yes means yes... but yes to what? Anyone who’s had sex will tell you that “yes” is where the conversation begins- not where it ends.

These interventions are trying to resolve a symptom, without looking deep enough into the cause.They presume that it’s rapists who are pushing all these survivors in, and administrators and law enforcement who are neglecting their duties to identify and remove these perpetrators from campus. Or the government failing to enforce equal access legislation. Or careless students failing to look out for one another. All these may play a part in the problem- but to truly prevent this epidemic, we need to look at where young people- perpetrators and survivors alike- are learning about sex.

An “It’s On Us” commercial I’ve been seeing a lot of lately involves a variety of celebrities informing me, “There’s one thing you can’t have sex without- and that’s consent. Without consent, it’s not sex. It’s rape.” We are learning more and more about rape, but where are young people learning about sex? Primarily abstinence only educational programs that encourage students to “just say no,” to wait for marriage (even though 95% of Americans don’t)- and then engage scare tactics, or share medically inaccurate information. Meanwhile there is no shortage of sexual content in the media, never mind what young people can find on the internet. Beyond the movement to address sexual violence, other millennial feminists are raising awareness of a “bad sex” culture- in which hook ups look more like conquests, and intimacy and mutual pleasure are rare.

Me (on the right) with my fiancée/co-author, Nastassja Schmiedt, and Vice President Joe Biden holding our book Millennial Sex Education at the Academy Awards

Me (on the right) with my fiancée/co-author, Nastassja Schmiedt, and Vice President Joe Biden holding our book Millennial Sex Education at the Academy Awards

Legislation in Virginia last week mandated education about healthy relationships and consent at the high school level. After talking to young people and activists on campuses around the country, we believe that the best intervention to prevent rape is not just more education about rape- it’s comprehensive and inclusive sexual education. Without it, there is no way for young people to communicate and tell the difference between good sex, bad sex, and rape. We need to have conversations about what rape looks like and how to support survivors, but also conversations about how to have sexThat’s why my partner and I wrote a curriculum- entitled Millennial Sex Education- that models fictional stories about people engaging with the sexual culture with questions for reflection and dialogue. And that’s why we’re making an ebook of the curriculum available for free download on our website. Join us in this movement for comprehensive, inclusive sex education- and let’s end rape culture together.

Good, Queer, Feminist Millennial Sex

**This post was originally posted on Feministing**

The following is the preface to the collection of short stories MILLENNIAL SEX: I’ve Never Done this Before. The book is available in erotic or educational (16+) editions, and explores themes of consent, desire and millennial sexuality through the experiences of six fictional narrators of different identities engaging in the sexual culture. This is the authors’ imaginative attempt at inclusive, comprehensive sexual education. Let us know what you think in the comments!

“At your age, you’re going to have a lot of urges. You’re going to want to take off your clothes, and touch each other. But if you do touch each other, you *will* get chlamydia… and die.”

Coach Carr teaches Sex Ed, Mean Girls (2004)

Millennial sexuality is a two-sided coin, subject to much speculation and titillation from the arbiters of media and culture. On one hand, we millennials were raised in a hyper-sexualized culture saturated with explicit media from the time we were young children. Yet we were also raised in a culture grappling with the internalized shadow of Puritanical sexual shame. In the height of the culture wars of the 1980s & ‘90s, we were the children whose innocence & sexual purity were defended. When it came to sex education, Coach Carr’s iconic message was echoed in the hushed voices of our shame-based caregivers and peers:

“Nobody needs to see that.”

“Don’t have sex until you’re married.”

“Don’t have sex with the wrong person.”

“Don’t have sex with too many people.”

“Don’t be a slut.”

“Don’t be a prude.”

“Your virginity is like a new car; if you dent up your sexuality, no one will want to marry you.

This advice has not served us well. The effects of our sex-negative acculturation include a legacy of sexual illiteracy, unsafe sex, and what the authors would argue is an intensification of the rape culture older generations also passed down to us. In a perverse twist on previous generations’ aims to “protect our children,” nowhere is this rape culture more evident than in our schools, a new shocking story of egregious violation, of sexual betrayal and the complicity of relevant authority figures emerging each week, each day as the movement to end sexual violence, bullying, and harassment grows.

Where did our young people learn to do these things to each other? In a sex-negative culture saturated with extremely graphic and accessible sexual material. No, porn didn’t make them do it. But their attitudes of sexual entitlement, their willingness to dehumanize and objectify the bodies of those they deem vulnerable came from the unexamined legacies of a history of patriarchal colonization put into a crucible of sexual shame.

We have a serious vacuum when it comes to sexual education in American culture, and yet we know so much—too much—of the sexual status quo, of the racialized fetishization and conquest mentality celebrated in our mainstream media. We know too little of consent, of sexual intimacy, of shared pleasure, of making love; of healthy, mature sexuality, because many of us have rarely—if ever—experienced it firsthand.

But Millennials are having sex. We now live in not just a digital culture, or a “hookup culture,” but a digital hookup culture, which, like internet porn, takes everything to the next level. Cruising culture has intensified and become mainstream, with millennials engaging in online sexual marketplaces like Tinder, Grindr, Okcupid, and even the sketchy ‘Casual Encounter’ bowels of Craigslist. Here, we fall back on the scripts and scenes we have learned to eroticize, and the legacy of a de-historicized rape culture that has served as the linchpin of centuries of racial and sexual subjugation emerges.

We are fresh out of a century of industrialization and digitization that has stripped many of us of connection to our own cultures, histories, and identities within our materialist postmodern society. Yet this is no excuse to plead ignorance of our context: the defining feature and potential of our post-historical moment is to be self-reflexive, literate of our past; to dialogue with it, to choose our fate moving forward, lest we recreate the sins of our forefathers and squander our own evolutionary potential. We are the inheritors of this culture; we are shaped by its scripts and mythologies. These dynamics live on within us, to the degree that we choose to carry them, or, through our silences, to allow them to permeate our culture unchecked.

As two queer and gender diverse female survivors of sexual assault in a long-term relationship, these are the issues we, the authors, have engaged with for years: issues of intimacy and sexuality, trauma and healing, and we are pleased to be able to serve as a conduit in bringing what we have learned to a broader culture struggling with the same issues. We come from the trenches of the Movement to End Campus Violence, as well as the daily struggle for the freedom of women, people of color, and LGBT people in 21st century America, and as we set upon a journey towards our own freedom, we asked ourselves what we could do to imagine and create a better future for ourselves and our communities. We came up with a sex-positive solution that wouldn’t merely demonize the scripts of our culture, but instead would inspire people to new possibilities of sexual engagement: we decided to write some erotica.

Informed by the most common fantasies of Millennials, as well as our own subjective experiences and those of friends we’ve been fortunate enough to discuss these sorts of things with over many cups of coffee, glasses of wine, and occasionally something a little stronger, we wrote a book. Let’s be discreet and call it an erotic novel. Erotica engages the imagination rather than any of the material senses we may associate with sexual activity. There is no shame in reading erotica; no shame in fantasy: whatever shame you find within these pages is your own.

We strive to make the characters we write as human, as multidimensional as possible, while manifesting scenes that are archetypal, that are larger than any one of us in that they exist as the sexual mythologies of our culture. Real people, three-dimensional people are not like the mythical specimens that populate the stereotypes and scripts we each hold about “people like us,” or “people like them,” nor are they able to be reduced to their most vulnerable and painfully human moments. We feel that too often the moments that shape who we are exist in the unspoken shadows, in the quiet space of our inner being, unnoticed and unresolved. These are the moments we explore through the perspectives of our characters, through their hopes and fantasies, traumas and desires; through things they’ve never done before.

It is from this context that we present to you the first volume of the Millennial Sex Trilogy: “I’ve Never Done This Before.” We hope you enjoy it, but more than anything, we hope it inspires the reader to reconnect their heart, soul, body, and desire to the most powerful sexual organ of all: the mind, and to have more honest and trusting communication about sexuality with their friends, families, and of course, sexual partners.

With Love,

Nastassja and Lea