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How Can Sex Ed Prevent Rape?

I was watching a debate about sex education today, one rife with a lot of ludicrous statements, but the statement that quality sex education could not possibly help prevent sexual abuse stuck with me. It was all the more infuriating as someone who knows too well that a lack of knowledge about bodies and sex, and a lack of information about sexual consent and autonomy are some of the hugest reasons why sexual abuse is so prevalent.

Now, this is hardly a new form of cluelessness (nor is it exclusive to Canada: we've all but made an art form of it stateside). I've addressed this issue before, at Scarleteen and in some talks and interviews I have given over the years, and also in a piece a little while back for the Guardian in the United Kingdom.

Hopefully it's obvious the reason I, as a sexuality educator and activist, and Scarleteen, as an organization, provide sex education isn't just about preventing unwanted or negative outcomes, like unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, or rape. We are just as deeply invested in doing what we can to help people assure and create positive, wanted outcomes with their sexuality and whatever sex lives -- even if it's no sex life at all -- as we are in risk or abuse prevention. We want our readers not to just wind up with a life that is or becomes free of negative outcomes or traumas, but which is also full of enjoyable, enriching positives.

However, I'm of the mind that one of the many fantastic things comprehensive, inclusive and progressive sexuality education of care and quality can offer the world and everyone in it is the possibility or actuality of decreasing and disabling rape and much of what enables and perpetuates rape. I also think good sex education has the capability of helping survivors of rape and abuse heal and feel supported and empowered. I care about this aspect of sex education a lot, both as a survivor of abuse and assault myself, as someone who advocates for and supports many other survivors and as someone who simply really wants for all of us to be able to live in a world without rape and other kinds of abuse.

What are some of the ways good sex education can help prevent and dismantle rape? Here's the transcript of our impromptu Twitter feed from this afternoon on the subject:

  • Good sex ed can help counter rape by letting young people know what consent is and what mutually wanted, shared pleasure can look and feel like.
  • Good sex ed can let young people know they ALWAYS have a right to say both yes and no and a right to complete say-so with their own bodies, and that no one else has a right to take that away.
  • Good sex ed addresses healthy and unhealthy dynamics in sex and relationships so everyone can better understand the difference.
  • Good sex ed doesn't enable gender or sexual roles or stereotypes that enable and perpetuate rape/sexual abuse, it suggests learners strongly question them.
  • Good sex ed teaches and encourages solid and open communication and active and shared decision-making.
  • Good sex ed makes clear we are all wholly responsible for our sexual choices/actions and that if someone chooses to rape THEY are responsible.
  • Good sex ed recognizes ALL people, of all embodiments, as potentially actively sexual: it does not suggest any group is somehow designed for or deserving of victimization or passivity.
  • Good sex ed works to support and empower survivors of sexual abuse or assault: it does not encourage silence, shame or self-blame. Good sex ed holds those who rape solely responsible for raping.
  • Good sex ed also knows and makes clear that rape isn't "unwanted sex." It makes clear that rape is not sex for a victim, even when it is for the perpetrator.
  • Good sex ed recognizes everyone with the right to say no also has the right to say yes; that only empowering no isn't very empowering at all.
  • Rape is and has always been perpetuated by silence, shaming, and denying mutual pleasure and wantedness is VITAL in sex. Good sex ed supports this.
  • Good sex ed also equips learners with knowledge and language (anatomical, interpersonal) to recognize and report abuse with, and support to do so.
  • Good sex ed does not want to teach its learners to accept or perpetuate unhealthy/abusive sexual behavior: it's goal is healthy sexuality.
  • It should stand to mention that many of us who work in sex ed are rape and abuse survivors: we know how critically important good sex ed is in this respect.
  • Good sex educators are aware that some who oppose sound sex ed do because they want to keep personally benefitting from rape-enabling ideas. We're onto you, and we'll keep calling you out.
  • The opposite of rape isn't sex: it's no rape. But really understanding what sex is and can be makes confusing or conflating it with rape very difficult to do.
  • Want to push back against rape, to counter, disable and decrease rape and the all the trauma it creates? Make sure that includes support of good sex ed.