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Author Topic: Sex ed for / with abused kids
Soren
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Hi

This is a topic I've been thinking (and talking) about a bit, but I haven't yet come to good conclusions.
I thought this might be the place to brainstorm a bit or exchange thoughts & experiences about this?

So here's the thing.

I think the sex ed at my school was pretty good, actually.
Especially compared to what others write about their "sex ed"....
In elementary they started teaching us about anatomy and reproduction, in a penis-vagina->baby way, yes, but I also remember comics and talks about puberty and changes, menstruating, topics like penis sizes and body image, and boundaries, too.

In middle school we had sexuality as biology topic.
Our biology teacher arranged it as a student group project. She handed out presentation topics, provided condoms, div. stuff for demonstrations, infos, etc. and then we explained things to each other. (Genetics, Anatomy, Contraception, Reproduction etc). Unlike most student projects people were really motivated to make good presentations. Seems to me it's not the worst way to handle the topic.

We also once had like half a day with two specialised sex educators, who were not regular teachers at our school.
I don't remember that day too well, but I remember they were really well liked by the students, they were "cool" and everything, I remember them talking about LGTB themes, too, and it was not about biology, it was about feelings and troubles, and questions. They had this little box where we could put in questions anonymously, they'd read them and answer them later, that was cool, too.

And I also participated in a prevention/self defence class when I was, I think, 13? They showed us some self defence moves, and taught us some things we could do or say if we were in danger, showed some videos, gave papers and phone numbers.

I'm writing all this to show that I don't think my sex ed sucked,
and yet here's the problem:

So I was sexually abused as a child, at home for several years, and basically every time I had sex ed at school, I had this background of ongoing sex. abuse at home.

And even though sex ed was highly relevant to me, I felt a vast disconnect between what we were talking about in sex ed, and my life.
I do not feel that sex ed helped me in that aspect, or that I managed to use the informations taught in sex ed in a helpful way, reguarding the abuse?

Sex ed was school knowledge, it was theory knowledge, in biology it was graded knowledge, and I treated it as "normal schoolwork", like math, I learn it, I can reproduce it, but it's not about *me*, actually - it's stuff. Science or idk.

The "cool" sex ed, the not-biological one, the one where they hat the sex eds coming from outside the school and talking with us about sexuality, and feelings, and relationships, well, I felt that one was not for me?

It was for the cool kids, who were having first sexual encounters with each others, who were falling in love, it was about their issues and their questions and troubles,
love troubles or first time troubles,
and I was an uncool kid, with few friends and no love so - it wasn't about me.

I know it obviously also was about me, but still I did not make any connection, I did not feel that they were talking to/with *me*.

I don't know if what I'm trying to talk about makes sense here,
it's not very easy to put it into words,
but
I guess
what I've been wondering is why, even though I had all this really good sex ed, it did not really help me?

This is something that's really bothering me, especially because I believe in sex ed being super important, and also in ideally being preventive and helping in the fight against child abuse.

I don't know if it is even possible, in a few hours, at school, to reach kids that are already getting sexually abused at home - which would not even be *prevention* but more like "damage control" or idk - if sex ed could even help in these cases.

I know several people who say they don't remember their sex ed at school, they shut down during these lessons. Dissociated or whatever.
I mostly don't remember the "cool" sex ed very well either, even though I do remember the "biological" sex ed just fine,
so maybe many of us can't really be reached because we won't/can't listen to a topic too loaded.

I even had this prevention class, and they did not just warn us about dangerous strangers, they did mention that assault takes place in homes, by people near you, but I never connected the dots.

I knew sexual abuse existed, I just never associated the word (and the subsequent actions linked to this word like "tell an adult" and "use this phone number") to me.

In each sex ed class there must be some kids sitting there who are - at this very moment - getting sexually abused.
Who might also get taught that abuse exists or what-to-do-when-you-get-abused or how to prevent getting abused, and yet not link it to themselves.

I mean, looking back, the idea that I would use the self defence moves I learned at home seems super ridiculous, because it was.
And of course I wouldn't start talking about consent and contraception with my "partner", just because I got taught at school that this was the fun&right way to act. Obviously.

I understood (I think?) what they were talking about in class, but I couldn't really use it for myself.

If I try to explain how come -
I guess I felt that we were talking about fun and healthy sexuality,
and how sex is fun and healthy and how to have fun and healthy sex,
and I also felt because the sex eds were "cool", and generally adults were trying to be "cool" about sex ed,
it was for the cool kids and not for me (pretty much as un-cool as they come) -
and also not for me because I was having kind-of-sex,
but it was unfun and weird
and the abusive incestual relationship made it impossible to try out what we were taught in sex ed (talk to each other about what you like! consent! mutual fun and experimentation! ...)

But I do feel that the "ideal sex ed" would also talk to sexually abused kids, and help them, somehow? Not leave them out.

And I was wondering - what could or should be different,
how can sex ed reach abused kids, too.

I'm interested in all kind of thoughts, opinions, experiences, just, whatever might fuel ideas.

And I hope this is an okay place for this talk, but from what I read here I think it might be [Smile]

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Heather
Executive Director & Founder
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Hey, Soren, and welcome to the boards. [Smile]

I'm with you, this is really important and deeply matters. I think this is a great thing to talk about.

I think it'd be most interesting to hear from people who are students in sex ed on this first, more than teachers, but I can certainly get the ball rolling as an educator and say that I think a lot of this starts with the awareness you're talking about that ANYWHERE we're teaching sex ed, for any group, that groups is most likely to have at least one, and probably more than one, survivor of some kind of sexual abuse.

So, we need to talk and think about sex ed not with that as a maybe, and certainly not with that not even on our radars, but with it as a definite given. For me, in creating sex ed, that has not just meant making part of what I do creating materials expressly for survivors, but keeping survivors -- like yourself, myself, and so many of the rest of us -- in mind with all that we do in sex ed.

Of course, the model I choose to work with also doesn't give anyone sex ed when they're not open to it, or up for it, but that's obviously something an online educator can do that a school system really can't, or -- since I think elective sex ed offered more than once a year IS doable -- usually doesn't.

That said, while I hear your experiences with some of this and recognize them as real, I also know that not every survivor feels unable to engage in consensual sex with partners, use consent there, etc. So, I do think part of serving survivors (and current victims) well certainly needs to include what makes sexual interactions healthy and what makes them unhealthy.

I've not often heard from survivors that that seemed impossible or wasn't something they could even hear before, so I'd love to hear more from you, if you're up to it, about what you think you really would have needed for this to work better for you, be it timing, more address of abuse and assault in your sex ed, maybe even better differentiating between what sex is and what rape/abuse/assault is, since I hear you saying that when sex was discussed, you'd classified your abuse as "kind-of-sex?" Maybe more about getting help to escape abuse? Just throwing some things out there, but like I said, I'd love to hear your ideas.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Heather
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Also, I'm curious: with the time you had the opportunity to use the question box, did you ever put in a question asking about living with sexual abuse, or even about the sex ed being provided considering current abuse victims/survivors?

If you didn't, do you have any sense of why not?

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Soren
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Hi
>
I'm with you, this is really important and deeply matters. I think this is a great thing to talk about.
I'm glad to hear that [Smile]

>That said, while I hear your experiences with some of this and recognize them as real, I also know that not every survivor feels unable to engage in consensual sex with partners, use consent there, etc. So, I do think part of serving survivors (and current victims) well certainly needs to include what makes sexual interactions healthy and what makes them unhealthy.

Oh, I do not feel unable to use consent! (today)
I think back then, teenager-me was unable to, in my given situation,
but
I also want to stress that I think what I learned in prevention and sex ed class helped me in dealing with *strangers* or other situations - like, for example, one bus stop, drunken man getting too close - I could use what I learned about assault, my boundaries and my rights, then, to make me feel more self assured and safer.
Just stressing that here cause I don't want to give the impression that sex ed or prevention was generally "useless", is wasn't at all!

> I've not often heard from survivors that that seemed impossible or wasn't something they could even hear before, so I'd love to hear more from you, if you're up to it, about what you think you really would have needed for this to work better for you, be it timing, more address of abuse and assault in your sex ed, maybe even better differentiating between what sex is and what rape/abuse/assault is, since I hear you saying that when sex was discussed, you'd classified your abuse as "kind-of-sex?" Maybe more about getting help to escape abuse? Just throwing some things out there, but like I said, I'd love to hear your ideas.

The thing is my ideas are very vague at best, but.
Mhm, some thoughts, perhaps.

I think that the way we are addressed as a group matters, for example when talking about abuse and assault not only talking in a "be aware of it" kind of way, but actually say out loud: this might have happened to some of you. This might be happening to some of you right now.
This way the disconnect between "abuse" as something that "exists" and our life would be smaller, maybe?

I also feel that often things are implied, like at a given age they will imply that we are at a certain "stage" of interest in sexuality.
Like, maybe we are having our first crushes, our first partners, our first kiss, etc.
I feel like the "normal" (healthy?) (these concepts are loaded I know) development is implied. And "normal" dangers, like getting pressured into you first time by your partner are talked about.
And I guess it comes from talking to a group, and not individuals. Maybe just mentioning, in a side sentence - for some of you, it might be different, because _____ (you already were raped or w/e).
Perhaps not even making a huge deal about it at every step of the talk, just acknowledging the existence of it, of us, so kids might feel they, too, are talked to right now and not just "the others"?

The matter of what is abuse I super important I think,
I know I didn't understand back then, like, at all.

(Just btw @ the "kind-of-sex" - thing
Now that I think about it and really try not to say anything untrue: I remember actually *not* considering what was happening to me as being sex, I considered myself a virgin, even, which as far as I can tell is unusual?
And yet when we were talking about sex, my thoughts went directly to the abuse and what I "learned" there, and compared infos.
Which is the reason I wrote the "kind-of-sex" sentence, because during sex ed and sex talk generally I definitely was thinking about and comparing infos to my abuse at home and feeling super weird about all this.
This seems pretty contradictory - having these "sexual memories" and yet considering myself a virgin and as "knowing nothing about sex",
I guess the disconnect often already starts in our (my) brains? Idk how to interpret that contradiction, just writing down what I remember.
I don't really know *how* I saw the abuse, I did not see it as sexual abuse either?
Perhaps I saw it as a game, or bonding, or a screwed version of "sex ed" (my rapist used to explain things to me, about anatomy and positions and idk)

Anyway I think I understood abuse as something exceptional, and something that "happened" (to other, poor people, and as black and white.
I also think that the general sensationalist "pity rethoric", though that is not sex eds fault, confused me. Abused kids were objects of pity and generally unfortunate. I was generally privileged, so I couldn't be abused?
I imagined stories of weeping little girls, sitting in their bedroom at night, alcoholic evil father with their belts coming into her bed every night and she cries. You know.
Cliched stories, it took me super long, as an adult, too, to understand that - at least in incestuous abuse or abuse that lasts months or years (and is not a one time assault), there is so much more to the relationship between the people involved than just abuse, and the dynamic is more complicated than one abuser and one abused.
And that all the good and not-abusive parts of our relationship also were not fake, he did not just play soccer with me and help me with my homework just to better get into my pants.

Perhaps not framing the abuser as "evil" or "other", but as a person with whom you might share a lot of memories, good and bad ones, a person that might be important to you, and then there also is the abuse,
and this, this, this and that might be abuse.

>"better differentiating between what sex is and what rape/abuse/assault is"
I think this,
and also less differentiating between "rapists" and "normal people".

I also got the feeling that consent, boundaries, etc all was "my job".
I got the moves, I got the things I could say, I should be careful that I only do what is fun to me.
There is this phone number you could call.
etc.
There was not victim blaming of the "well then you should just have said no shouldn't you" kind, not really, and yet.

I just know I felt that all these things, too, were somehow "not for me", or not applicable to my life?
I think sometimes, when talking about consent and boundaries and how to avoid abuse, not just showing an ideal or how-to, but also acknowledging: You might feel it's impossible to enforce your boundaries, or as if you don't have a chance or a say on the matter - and you're not wrong. Or idk.
I guess it's difficult to on the one hand tell kids: You CAN do something about it! and on the other hand not tell them: and if you don't, you failed.
Telling them "Yeah sometimes you feel there is nothing you can do about it and you're right" is not a good thing to say either, because it promotes hopelessness, so.
I don't know, what's the right thing to do here, but I feel there is something important to consider there.

>with the time you had the opportunity to use the question box, did you ever put in a question asking about living with sexual abuse, or even about the sex ed being provided considering current abuse victims/survivors?
Sadly, I remember not putting anything relevant to me into the box, I think I was somehow afraid that even though it was anonymous my classmates would find out nevertheless? Or accuse me of it being me, even without any evidence or just generally tease. (They did not, everybody was super civil about that box, but I was wary)
I was not especially well liked at that time, so even anonymously I wouldn't dare? Who knows what might happen.

The sex eds did not even read the questions out loud, they paraphrased them, they said to protect the anonymity even better, which is a very good idea cause it was something I was really concerned about, they also did not just throw the questions away into the paper bin or w/e afterwards, which would be dumb but I thought adults might be dumb enough to do things like that.

Perhaps they should have done two "box cycles", after the first one: Okay now you saw how we handle this box thing, so now let's do round two. For the paranoid kids, like me [Wink]

But I also think I lacked the words and perspective, I wouldn't, couldn't have written something like "What do I do if I'm getting abused at home" or w/e. I would probably have written a "Is it normal that......" question at that point.

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Soren
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I just thought about something else concerning the topic of "what even is abuse" and misconceptions,
when reading some posts in the abuse section of this forum, it's this:

I felt that the usual child abuse/incest story, the one people talked about and warned us about, involved one child and one adult who *forced* and *threatened* the child,
it was "visibly violent",
if you tell anybody I'm going to kill you, etc.

I never really felt that way, I didn't feel physically forced or intimidated into doing sexual things -
I felt much more as if I was voluntarily prostituting myself for love and attention.
I needed love and protection, and I felt I couldn't get it any other way from him.

Of course it was all his idea, and I didn't like it, but it was a part of our life,
that had importance to me, too, because it made me feel important and loved, and I had conflicting feelings about it.

The "threat" was not, "I'll beat you and kill you if you tell anybody" but rather: "I won't love you any more, you won't be special to me any more, and you'll be all alone and I won't protect you from other (physically or emotionally) abusive family members, you will lose our alliance."

I think there lies one reason why I thought *other* children would get help and not me,
or *other* children would be taken seriously and not me, and generally why I thought that what was happening was not "really" abuse - or I didn't connect it to the word abuse and the usual abuse stories?
Because I thought abuse was when someone gets beaten up, threatened and brutally raped, and not what we were having.

This is something that probably could and should be addressed when talking about consent to kids. That you might have "sex" you don't want to have, because you want something other than sex (love etc), and
when it comes to children doing this with an adult, this is inherently abusive and never just a "mildly bad decision", because a child shouldn't have to provide sex to get love and attention or protection from an adult, and an adult should never, ever, accept this arrangement (sex for love and caring).
Like, even if it had been all my idea (because I had been taught that way), it would still be him abusing me.

Now from what I know of other survivors of child abuse/incest these kind of "arrangements" are not uncommon
as is the feeling that you are doing it "willingly" (cause you are not physically forced to),
as are feelings of guilt because after all you wanted it, too, apparently -
so it might be really important to not forget that part when talking about child abuse in sex ed?

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Heather
Executive Director & Founder
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Soren: this is all FANTASTIC stuff.

I'm not at the boards today, but doing other things. I certainly want to see what anyone else pitches in here, but I really appreciate how much you're sharing about this, especially as an educator and an advocate. I also know how hard it can be to share it all, even on an anonymous board: you're one brave bear. [Smile]

Maybe when the dust all settles with this thread, we can brainstorm something to do with this. When I tend to write about methodology with sex ed, it does tend to get read widely by other educators, so perhaps we can construct a piece around this to get out there? Or heck, you have so much to say and so many ideas, that if you wanted to write something about this and get it somewhere where it could be seen, I'd certainly be happy to help you with that.

I think a lot of what you're saying here is very specific to incest survivors and survivors of child sexual abuse, and I do think these ARE the victims that wind up kind of falling through the cracks of so many things, most likely because it's the kind of abuse people are least comfortable talking about and addressing. (I know that even from working so long to get people to try and rethink the "stranger-danger" framing of sexual abuse and assault, which it seemed like you experienced.)

I'll be back around the boards tomorrow!

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Soren
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Hi!

Wow! Thanks!
So, at first I was "just" interested in hearing other people's thoughts about this.

Many posts on the scarletteen site were really helpful and interesting for me,
and I also read a discussion about the inclusion of asexuality in sex ed on this forum, which I found really good and a great read.
So I was all like, okay this feels like the right place for this discussion. [Smile]

But right now I'm also really excited about the idea to actually "do something with this".
Which would be read by different sex educators, which could lead to actual small changes and improvements.
As opposed to "just talk" on the internet. Wow. I mean that's an opportunity here, right?

However, I would really like to hear the experiences and opinions of much more people, though, before I would feel comfortable in sharing any kind of "finished thoughts" on the matter. I have ideas, sure, but it's all very vague and confused in my brain.

I'd love more people and more voices, to help brainstorm, for starters [Wink]
but I also know many survivors are occupied with other problems than these,
and also how big is even the chance that they'd stumble over this thread and chose to write here...

The survivors I know (online) are not native English speakers, and mostly less willing than me to communicate in English, so I can't really usher them into here, but I'll ask them for opinions and thoughts on the matter.
(I'm so hooked now)

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Heather
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Sounds good to me! [Smile]

(In the meantime, Soren, if there's anything we can do for you per education/information you do want, know all you've got to do is ask!)

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Redskies
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Hi Soren,

I'm glad you brought this up, and I think it's important. It's something I've had thoughts about, and even more after reading what you wrote.

I'm a survivor myself, and I felt quite a few similarities with what you described.

I don't remember all of the sex ed that I had clearly, so I'm not a reliable reporter about some of it, but I think I can make clear the places where I'm unsure. I think that my not remembering some of it says a lot, because I remember nearly everything I learned at school crystal clearly.

The parts that we covered in biology I was fine with, and I remember fine. From 11/12 we learned some of the nuts and bolts, through to 15/16 learning about the hormones in the menstrual cycle and what triggers what (although that was imperfect, it was done on a 28-day-standard, without recognition that individual women have their own "standard" or making clear what variation might be expected). I guess I related to this like I did any academic subject, just absorbed what was in front of me. It was something to learn so I learned it.

I think I had very little "sex and relationship education". We had one hour of "Personal, Social and Health Education" every week, covering masses of different topics. I remember one session on contraception at 14, taught by our class teacher - it wasn't bad but it wasn't great either. It felt completely irrelevant to me but I think I approached that rather as "something to learn", too, and a fair amount of the information was new to me. We didn't get to practise with condoms or taught properly how hormonal contraception worked, only told most of the methods available, that they worked, were available from doctors and health centres, and we should use them. At 15, a mass presentation to 100+ girls on menstruation and menstrual products (way too late for nearly everyone, old news to me, again, not worrying).

This is where it gets hazy. At 15, we definitely had some kind of relationship education. I hardly remember it. I suspect we had more than one session, but it all runs into one for me. We had a video to watch, which I vaguely remember, and then we had a class discussion, which I remember absolutely nothing about. I remember being desperately uncomfortable. I don't believe I said anything, and I don't believe I took anything in either. I don't think we were actually taught about consent or healthy relationships. The teacher just enabled a discussion between the students.

Finally, a "scare-show" of unpleasant-looking slide pictures of STIs when we were 16.

For context, I was a survivor of past adolescent-on-child sexual abuse, which at the time I had never told anyone about, and which was just beginning to affect me particularly badly. I'd also spent my life in the midst of a monumentally bad relationship between my parents and was on the receiving end of some "invisible" abusive behaviour from both, all of which was a secret and I had nobody to share it with. I felt completely cut off from the world around me and was hyper-aware that I did not understand how other people related to each other and that I didn't know how to do it their way.

I think I was just absolutely incapable of relating to how other people talked about relationships. None of it meant anything to me. I also found that discussion deeply, deeply threatening, as I knew my own reality was So different I had to keep it under wraps, but at the same time I didn't even know what it was different From, so I had no way to pretend, because I had no idea what I was supposed to be pretending. I felt more isolated, miserable and just "wrong" than ever.

I don't think there's a way of making sex education guaranteed accessible to a survivor, because if a particular survivor is needing to blot certain things out (eg any mention of sex) at that point, nothing is going to change that. I think that a school setting is probably one of the least likely places for having a survivor feel secure enough to let scary information in, and even voluntary and/or self-selected youth groups might not be that successful either, just because of the proximity to other people, being scared of how we might respond in front of them.

I don't think I got anything out of the "sex and relationship" education. For me, at least, I think I'd've done better with some more concrete information, actually being taught by someone properly trained to do so about consent and healthy relationships. It didn't help that P, S & H Ed in general was a "joke" subject that we didn't have to take seriously or do any work for. The video didn't help because there was no-one on it who said "I've never had any kind of relationship, never even kissed anyone, even though I think about it sometimes and I'd like to, and I find talk about sex scary and threatening". Really, the young people on the video all just reinforced for me that I was a weirdo. The video made me feel more isolated, sad and confused. (There was a range of young people, but they all seemed to be comfortable with themselves and their choices and know how to navigate what they wanted out of relationships. They were all, of course, (apparently) straight.)

For me, a massive barrier was my dysfunctional home life. I didn't have the basics of how to feel safe while relating to other people. Abusive or unhealthy relationships are hardly uncommon, so I think it would be very helpful to be as explicit about the probability of some people in the room having experienced that as it is to acknowledge that some people in the room may be survivors. I think it might be helpful to have an explicit "do participate if you can, but if any of this is hard for any of you, that's totally ok, please just listen if you can".

I think I would've been helped by having some real quality information on healthy relationships and abusive environments to take away and think about in my own time, not just left in the subject file at school and never looked at again (which is what happened to any paper we did get in the subject. I don't think we got that information at all.) I also think I would've been helped by something addressing "is everything ok at home?" I don't think I would ever have realised that something talking about abuse would contain information that I needed, but I would've acknowledged that everything was Not ok in a heartbeat. I think it would be very important for every person to go away with a list of places they could contact for help if they needed it. School, or even other group settings, is absolutely not going to be the right environment for most people to begin asking for help, even afterwards. People who are bothered by these kind of sessions probably need the help later, when the information has sunk in a bit and they've had some time to process it.

I don't think I really related the abuse I experienced to the sex education. It wasn't "sex". I only remember my sex education talking about "having sex" vs "not having sex", completely ignoring the massive range of sexual activity. Hm, with maybe a very coy reference to "there's lots of other things we can do!" by an "abstinent" couple in the video.

Sorry, my thoughts are still very jumbled even after I've tried to unpick them. I suppose this isn't a very easy thing even to remember.

--------------------
The kyriarchy usually assumes that I am the kind of woman of whom it would approve. I have a peculiar kind of fun showing it just how much I am not.

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WesLuck
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Member # 56822

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Best wishes Redskies, and it's completely understandable if times of your life when traumatic things happened are hard to recall.

Btw: do you know that this Valentine's Day is a day of world action to end violence against women? Almost 48 hours of stuff all around the world. It has seemed to become a very hot topic since that horrific gang-rape of the student who died in India, which may have been the last straw. People all around the world are standing up and saying:

"Enough!"

[ 02-11-2013, 07:41 AM: Message edited by: WesLuck ]

Posts: 540 | From: Australia | Registered: Feb 2011  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Soren
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Hi Redskies!

Thank you so much for contributing to this thread! [Smile]

Sry this is such a short answer -
Just wanted to say that I've been super busy this weekend and will be with work and other RL stuff,

I'll tune back in with better concentration and actual reactions tomorrow or on Wednesday or so,

And also will relate some super interesting points that came up on "my" survivors forum, where "as promised" [Wink] I initiated a discussion about this topic ^^

Bye!

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