For day fifteen of the Blogging “Yes” project I read “Hooking up with Healthy Sexuality: The Lessons Boys Learn (and Don’t Learn) About Sexuality and Why a Sex-Positive Rape Prevention Paradigm Can Benefit Everyone Involved” by Brad Perry, who works in sexual violence prevention. Perry’s essay includes the story of his own first 13-year-old attempt to have sex and some information he’s learned in working in sexual violence prevention about how effective sex education works. What I found most interesting about the essay, though, was the idea of sex as a “game” that boys can win or lose.
It’s not surprising that adolescent boys are taught to think of sex as a game. Our culture tends to encourage boys to be the ones who make the first moves when it comes to dating and sex. We also encourage competition in all sorts of arenas, from school to sports to work to money. Our individualistic society tends to privilege getting ahead for oneself over caring for one’s community. Thus, it’s unsurprising that boys would think of sex as a game that they can win, of “no” as a sign that they need to try harder, and of girls as objects to be won over rather than part of a community that deserves respect.
I think, though, that this game mentality also extends to women. I grew up in a time when women were encouraged to do well in school just like the boys, to play sports, and to do well in a career. Women are often encouraged to balance both career and family, and all the obligations in many women’s lives make a competition mindset convenient. I find myself making to-do lists as if I were trying to “beat” myself at my own game, and stress and depression are frequently a result of “failing” to complete a day’s goals. When it comes to sex, women are also taught to play a game. We’re supposed to be coy, perhaps to be sexually forward but not too forward, to attract the notice of men with our newfound liberated sexualities so that they can then play out their part of the script.
One thing I absolutely agree with, though, is that sex education and sexual violence prevention need to be perpetrator-centered. Teaching women to say both no and yes, to embrace our sexualities, etc. is an important goal of sex education, to be sure, but it is incomplete without education for both sexes on how to resist peer pressure, make smart decisions, and only proceed with sexual activities when a partner is enthusiastically consenting. Men also need to be active in the prevention movement by providing positive role models or peer support to other boys and men, countering rape culture’s messages.