I have performed as an educator with Speak About It for 43 shows over the course of the last thirteen months. No matter how many times I’ve recited my lines, or listened to other educators say theirs, there are so many parts of the show that never fail to inspire and empower me to continue the important work of spreading consent-focused sex education. Most recently, I’ve been thinking about this one line:
We want you to make sexual choices that feel right for you, whether it’s being sexually active or not. The decision to engage in sexual activity is one you should make for yourself, not because you want someone to like you or to enhance your reputation, but because it’s what you truly want.”
I don’t know about you, but never in my sexual education or socialization was I ever told to examine what I truly wanted in my sexual life. Sexual education in our culture is largely about something I call shoulding: “You should only have sex if you’re in love;” “You should look like that actress if you want to get laid;” “You should have sex with that dude, he’s hot;” and “If you love me, you should have sex with me.” We’re told what we should want, but never asked what we actually want.
Many colleges and universities across the country agree that affirmative, informed, and enthusiastic consent is the baseline definition for legal consent. And “yes” is distinctively different than saying “sure” or “I guess.” But, in order to say “yes,” we need to know what we truly want. Such sexual self-awareness demands that we have the freedom to explore and establish desires and boundaries without stigma or shame. It requires that everyone have an equally loud and empowered voice with which to advocate for those desires and boundaries. Healthy relationships and conversations on consent must be built on a foundation of equality between and empowerment of all participants. Truly consensual sexual activity, therefore, is an act of social justice.
I recently asked my cast members what social justice means to them. This is what we came up with: “Social justice is conscious action, taken with the mission to better society and humanity through the promotion of equity, equality, and diversity.”
Cultures of affirmative and enthusiastic consent promote this mission. Consent demands that participants be equal in power, regardless of their race, gender, class, or any other identity. Everyone’s “yes” and “no” are validated and affirmed, and no one is objectified or shamed. Knowing and advocating for what you want and need and listening to and respecting your partner promotes the equality of all participants in a relationship.
Sexual justice, we could call it, creates a culture in which everyone feels fully loved and accepted in their own skin. It empowers individuals to deconstruct all the “shoulds” that society has placed on them, regarding both what they should desire, and how they should look and act in order to be desirable. It also creates space for participants to look beyond the heteronormative penetrative model of sex to redefine what sex is for themselves. Consent gives everyone an equal right to happiness, to sexiness, and to pleasure.
At Speak About It, we're not here to tell you that you can't have sex. We're also not here to tell you that you should have sex. We're telling you if you do want to have sex, you have the opportunity, through consent and healthy communication, to challenge oppression, objectification, and discrimination. Consensual sex can be empowering for all participants as it gives everyone agency or an equally loud, active, and engaged voice in determining what happens to them and their body.
During these tough political and social times, it might seem like all the powers in the universe are fighting against sexual justice. Sex and sexuality is all around us, but so much of it is shaming, disempowering, and oppressive. So I challenge you to think about all the “shoulds” that society has trained you to believe: about what is beautiful, what is sexy, what is desirable, and what is not. Now throw those “shoulds” aside and think, what does sexual social justice look like for you? What do you think is beautiful and sexy? What does sexual equity, equality, and diversity look like, outside of all those shoulds? And what does it mean to truly say yes to, and find empowerment in, your boundaries and your desires?
Get consent. Be radical. Speak About It.
Speak About It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that partners with high schools and colleges to educate, entertain, and empower students to create positive change within their communities, advocate for and practice healthy relationship habits, and prevent sexual violence.
Copyright 2016 Speak About It, Inc. Website by Alexandra Valleau