This Is An Enthusiastic Consent Appreciation Post

Picture the scene: you’re about to have sex. Good for you! But before you get going, there’s something you’ve got to do first. You need to get enthusiastic consent from your partner.

via The New School

April is designated Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This year’s campaign is about preventing sexual violence through conversation, and the tagline is: “It’s time… to talk about it! Talk early, talk often. Prevent sexual violence.” The focus is on child sexual abuse prevention, but it’s a lesson that can be applied to sexual violence prevention in general. The characteristics of healthy sexuality need to be taught so risks and harm can be identified. The sex education that children and teens receive places a lot of focus on STDs and contraception, and not enough on actual sex and its workings. If kids don’t know about consent, how can they respect it or practice it? If kids don’t know what assault is, how can they prevent it?

So, back to you, and your imminent sexual experience. You know, I hope, that if they said “no”, you need to stop, because anything you do after that point is rape. But you also need to realise that consent is much more than simply saying “no”. “No” can mean a myriad of things. It can mean that the person is too scared, too shy, too embarrassed to say anything else. It can mean that they’re too intoxicated to say anything at all. And if you have sex with someone who doesn’t want it, because you didn’t make absolutely sure that they did, then that makes you a rapist too.

We need to not only place a greater focus on consent, but move the focus away from “no means no” to “yes means yes.” Because “yes” really is the only thing that means “yes.” Silence doesn’t mean “yes.” “Maybe” doesn’t mean “yes.” “I don’t know” doesn’t mean “yes.” In fact, as far as you need to be concerned, they all mean “no.”

Unless someone gives you enthusiastic, informed consent, then you need to assume that they do not want to have sex with you, and until you receive that “yes,” you should not be trying to have sex with them. Even if they’ve been making out with you all night. Even if they told you that they wanted it earlier. Even if you’re in a relationship. Even if you’re married. Even if you’ve already had sex with them. Even if you’ve already had sex with them that night. Nobody is guaranteed sex with anyone, and nobody is obligated to have sex with anybody. You need to make sure directly before you have sex that whoever you’re with still wants it. And that includes not assuming that, if, say, they consented to oral sex, that they consent to sexual intercourse. Or that if they consent to having vaginal sex, that they consent to having anal sex.

Basically, you need to talk to them. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

So maybe you don’t get it. But that kills the mood! It’s not sexy, it’s awkward, to ask these sorts of questions. Which is funny (not really), because the fact that getting consent is considered so unsexy and awkward can be attributed to the pervasiveness of sexual assault in the first place. I mean, what could be more sexy than knowing that the person that you want to have sex with wants to have sex with you? Unless you want to rape, or, unless sex is something that you feel entitled to. All it takes is a simple question, a simple “wanna fuck?” or an “are you into this?” And what it achieves goes so much further.

But we’re in a relationship/we’re married, you say. I know their body language well enough. Which might be true. In fact, it’s possible to guess that someone you’ve never met until that night consents, judging from the signs they give off, too. But don’t take anything for granted. You can’t make assumptions, and like I said, it could result in you being a rapist. The fact that this could even be considered a worthwhile exchange for not asking one little question says way too much about society.

It’s a vicious cycle, too. If consent is considered unsexy to attain, then it must be considered unsexy to give. And if you feel obliged to have sex, and that the consequences of not doing so are worse than doing so against your will, why would you report that as rape? Make no mistake: it is. And this is why we need enthusiastic consent. More generally, this is why we need to talk about healthy sexuality, and why we need to teach it.

Consent, or the absence of it, is at the heart of sexual violence. It needs to be at the heart of ending it, too.

If you are interested in learning more about consent and healthy sexuality, the below resources are a great place to start:

Project Respect, a youth-driven program aimed at preventing sexualised violence

Sexual Assault Awareness Month’s 2012 campaign resources on Healthy Sexuality

Sexual Assault Violence Prevention, Vassar College’s initiative for the prevention of sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking on its campus

+ If you or someone you know has experienced sexual abuse of any kind, please don’t hesitate to talk to someone. Contact RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) for help and for resources.

Chicagoans organize around cases of police violence

Last Saturday, about 2,000 people filled the streets of downtown Chicago for SlutWalk, a global protest movement demanding an end to rape and the pervasive victim-blaming attitudes and policies that help facilitate violence.  It was the very first sweltering hot day of Midwest summer.  We talked excitedly about the power of bringing a public voice to this otherwise silent social problem, and we networked to organize for future events around sexual violence and institutional violence.  The energy and outrage from the crowd was absolutely palpable.  SlutWalk participants could feel that we were starting something much bigger than ourselves.

The symbolic reclaiming of the streets has a long history in liberation activism, and I think it’s an especially poignant act in Chicago, which still holds the coveted title of the most racially and economically segregated city in the United States.  Chicago’s history of systematic institutional violence once inspired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to report from the city’s streets, “I have seen many demonstrations in the South, but I have never seen anything so hostile and so hateful as I’ve seen here today.”  At a recent workshop hosted by the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP), Jerry Boyle from the National Lawyers Guild aptly described government-sponsored Chicago street politics as “low intensity warfare against marginalized groups,” especially organizers.

SlutWalk reminded Chicagoans: These are our streets, and we have the right to own them. And the message could not be timelier.

On June 1st, Chicago police officers Paul Clavijo and Juan Vasquez were both indicted on charges of criminal sexual assault and official misconduct for their actions against a 22 year old woman identified as Jane Doe.

While patrolling the 23rd District around Wrigley Field at 2am on March 30th, Clavijo and Vasquez saw the extremely intoxicated young woman crying and walking home alone.  They invited her into the marked squad car under pretenses of offering her a ride to her apartment two districts away in the Rogers Park neighborhood.  Jane Doe tried to take the back seat, but Clavijo insisted that he sit on his lap in the front seat, where he sexually assaulted her the first time while Vasquez went into a liquor store.   Clavijo and Vasquez then took Jane Doe to her apartment, where they sexually assaulted her until she pounded her fists on the walls and screamed for help, at which point a neighbor helped her.

Police reporting to the scene found Jane Doe “in a ‘hysterical’ state.”  The victim’s blood alcohol level was .38 by the time she received medical treatment at a hospital hours later.  That’s about five times the legal limit to drive in Illinois and, according to Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, it’s not possible for someone that incapacitated to provide consent for sex.

Several elements surrounding the accusations against these officers reveal some unsettling inferences about the culture of impunity for police violence.  Clavijo and Vasquez were heavily-armed, on-duty, uniformed, and using a marked squad car to pick up a drunk woman in a public space.  That kind of abandon suggests that these law enforcement officers were completely confident that they would get away with their “misconduct.”  In fact, it should not surprise those readers with even a cursory understanding of sexual predators that Officer Paul Clavijo faces a second sexual assault charge for almost identical actions against another woman just twenty days earlier.  These elements tell us a great deal about the lack of oversight and accountability for police violence in Chicago.

This case is deeply disturbing, not least of all for its capacity to completely demolish the cultural conception of police as trustworthy and protective figures.  It’s hard to adequately describe the psychic violence suffered by an entire community when police commit violence.  Our New York readers might know what I’m talking about.  The queer people, trans folks, homeless youth, sex workers, and people of color targeted by police know what I’m talking about.

Results from a 2009 study by the Young Women’s Empowerment Project found that police misconduct accounted for 22% of reported incidents of institutional violence against girls involved in street economies.  At SlutWalk, SWOP’s Crash Crawford reminded attendants what this means for Chicago sex workers:

Predators are often reassured of their impunity by society’s attitudes towards such ‘whores’ and ‘sluts.’ Many a serial-killer has admitted to targeting sex-workers because they felt they were ‘easy targets’; that they ‘wouldn’t be missed.’ […]  Also to be feared is the all-too-common ‘un-sympathetic’ agents of law enforcement; abusers in their own right; often extorting sexual acts at the point of a night-stick, or by threatening arrest. Sadly, it is not unheard of for officers to attack sex-workers overtly, especially those also in the transgender community.

So what happens to police who abuse the citizens they’re paid to protect?

According to a 2007 study by Craig Futterman at the University of Chicago Law School, the odds that a Chicago police officer charged with abusing a civilian will receive any meaningful discipline is only two in a thousand.  In more than 85% of the abuse investigations analyzed, Futterman found that the accused officer was never even interviewed before complaints were dismissed.  Alarmingly, about 75% of officers with multiple charges of abuse never received any disciplinary action of any kind whatsoever.

On Monday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel started the first leg of his “anti-crime” PR project by moving 150 police officers from administrative jobs to beat positions.  Not surprisingly, Rahmbo didn’t say peep about plans to improve oversight while our tax dollars pay police to target minorities in our own streets and homes.  Meanwhile, given this rape case, the actions of Internal Affairs who allegedly threatened Tiawanda Moore for attempting to report a sexual assault by a police officer and the zeal with which our State’s Attorney has pursued felony charges against her, those of us who used to feel safe with cops around might feel differently the next time we see those blue lights flashing.

We are sick of being treated like enemies in a warzone when we walk down the street.  A lot of us are fed up and, in the spirit of SlutWalk, we’ve decided to do something about it.

Jane Doe has filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Chicago and the two police officers who allegedly raped her, charging ten counts of assault and battery, failure to intervene, and conspiracy.  Doe’s attorney told Chicago Public Radio,

The city shares some of the responsibility and some of the blame for not having a good system in place to deter misconduct because of the failure of supervision and discipline.

Chicago advocates and allies agree.  This author is working with a highly energized, passionate group to help organize around police violence.  We want effective, thorough investigations into every allegation, oversight, accountability, and an end to cultural impunity for violence.  We want Chicago to know that a victim of rape is never to blame — especially when the assailant wields a gun, a baton, a tazer, mace, and a badge.

If you experience harassment or abuse at the hands of a law enforcement officer, call the National Sexual Assault Crisis Hotline (1-800-656-HOPE).  You may want to consider filing a complaint against the offending officer with the Independent Police Review Authority, in which case you should contact an attorney immediately.  If you’re not interested in pursuing action through the justice system, contact this author to participate in victim-centered, community-based strategic action and organizing around police violence in Chicago.  And stay tuned for updates as Chicagoans organize!

Badass-Activist Friday presents JESSICA SKOLNIK of SlutWalk Chicago!

It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire culture change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.

Feminism is an wide-ranging movement, and we at WIYL feel it’s so important to include activists working to broaden our perspectives and work in negotiating the complexity of intersectional oppressions, making the voices of marginalised groups heard. For this mini-series, we’ll be focusing on men and women who critique the gender hierarchy across all boundaries – cultures, race, age and medium.

So without further ado…

Here’s Jessica Skolnik of SlutWalk Chicago!

Jessica Skolnik is a Chicago activist, community organizer, musician, blogger, zinester, and all-around bad-ass.  Together with Jaime Keiles, Jessica is co-organizing SlutWalk Chicago, an international grassroots response to widespread victim-blaming and rape culture, on Saturday, June 4th at the Thompson Center Plaza.  Jessica is also an enthusiastic member of the Sexual Health Education to End Rape (SHEER) Collective, a new survivor centered, sex-positive coalition in Chicago, and the resident shredder of synth in the post-punk band Population.  Jessica’s spent the last ten years organizing several communities for sexual assault survivors and administering an educational workshop on enthusiastic consent, rape culture and issues of sexual assault within small communities, specifically within punk communities.

What’s your philosophy of anti-violence?

Violence is not just personal but structural. We live in a society that glorifies violence to the point where many of us are inured to it. I see interpersonal violence as often encouraged and exacerbated by a struggle for control and power that stem from structural inequalities (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc). Yes, we need to educate ourselves as to how to deal with specific and personal incidents, but we will not seriously change this society toward nonviolent ends until the entire playing field is leveled.

How did you become involved in anti-violence work and community organizing?

I am a survivor of multiple incidents of sexual assault and relationship violence. Combine that with growing up in DC in the early ‘90s with parents who encouraged my burgeoning interest in the DIY punk scene, and you have a recipe for a young riot grrrl who learned everything she could from the older activists at Positive Force and other activist collectives. I read as much as I could, learned as much as I could, and listened as much as I could.

Eventually I realized that activism would help me heal and allow me to help others. I realized that healing from trauma doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and connecting with other survivors is part of that process. I drew from my academic background in labor history and cultural studies, and I started thinking about how I could use my knowledge of organizing and education to change the dominant culture.

One of the sexual assaults happened when I was barely 13.  I brought the incident to my counselor at school who encouraged me to report it to the police. It was one of the most dehumanizing experiences I’ve ever encountered with bureaucracy — and that’s saying something. They questioned me in a way that implied that I was at fault — I didn’t behave like a “good girl,” I wasn’t dressed “correctly,” I was sexually active at a young age and I had “led them on…” It was as far from the myth of the supportive, understanding police from Law and Order: SVU as possible, and there was no follow-up on my report.

After I digested the pain and dealt with the feeling of being violated all over again by people who were supposed to help me, I realized that traditional structures may not be the answer for everyone. I decided that I would spend the rest of my life involved with alternative community organizing by other survivors and active advocates.

I’m really interested in the strategy and skills behind working within subversive counter cultures to create culturally relevant narratives of sexual violence. What strategies do you use in your workshops to help create punk communities free from rape and sexual violence? What are some obstacles to anti-violence work specific to punk culture?  Are there specific persistent attitudes or beliefs that have helped to normalize rape within punk communities?

The first strategy I use in my workshop model is to systematically debunk myths and narratives specific to punk culture, as well as the ones we’re more familiar with in mainstream culture, and examine how they are all connected. Punk communities are obviously not immune to rape culture, as much as we’d like to think we are.

One of the most pervasive myths about sexual violence in punk communities is that it’s not supposed to happen there, and that myth in and of itself is an enormous obstacle to ending violence. There’s this narrative that just because we’ve created this culture and community where the line between consumer and artist is less demarcated, where we control creativity as much as possible, that we’ve also created a world where oppression doesn’t exist. Anyone who’s spent even a cursory amount of time in the punk scene knows that’s not true. All the -isms and phobias from mainstream culture are still present, they just emerge a little differently – which makes them more difficult to recognize.

One thing that always baffled me is that, inevitably, when you bring up an allegation of sexual assault within the punk community, you’ll get an echo of voices asking why the person making the allegation didn’t call the cops. There’s a long history of punks resisting police brutality and police culture — it speaks volumes to me that the only time you’ll ever find punks trust the word of the police over the word of a fellow community member is when someone makes an allegation of sexual assault.

Nobody wants to believe that a member of a small, close community could perpetrate such a horrible act. There’s an immediate defensiveness that arises because the allegations are so serious. But violence happens at fests, within collectives, between activists and musicians… It’s hard to talk about rape when many of us don’t feel as if we have the right vocabulary for it. Regardless of our cultural participation in it, we still live in a world without adequate training about what consent looks like, what crossing that line looks like, and we need to trust the word of survivors. Yes, false accusations happen, unfortunately, but very rarely. The more we learn about consent and how to talk about it, the more equipped we are to support one another without immediately assuming that a survivor isn’t telling the truth.

How did you end up co-organizing SlutWalk Chicago?  What do you have planned for SlutWalk in Chicago, and what do you hope the event will accomplish?

I first read about SlutWalk on Tumblr through various feminist blogs as the Toronto organizers were putting together their event. I was outraged and frustrated by the persistence of this institutional attitude that I’d encountered when I reported to the police in 1992, the attitude that a survivor is responsible for an assault if she or he doesn‘t act in certain socially prescribed ways. I was inspired by all the photos and reportage from the Toronto event, and when Jamie Keiles (my co-organizer) posted on her blog that she was going to take on the challenge of organizing a satellite SlutWalk here in Chicago, I didn’t even think twice about emailing her to offer my organizing help.

We’re planning a really wonderful event here in Chicago — not just a march but a rally with live music, speakers, tabling by some of our ally organizations, and possibly other forms of entertainment. We’re looking into burlesque and comedy at the moment. We want this to be a chance to meet up with likeminded folks similarly interested in dismantling the culture of shame. SlutWalk will be a celebration of the work the sex-positive rape crisis and survivors’ community has done to change that victim-blaming dynamic and a celebration of our future potential as a united movement going forward.

We also have two after-parties planned, as we’d like to keep the momentum going from the event through the day. We’ve organized a patio party for directly after the walk at Zella. My band happens to be playing a show that night with two other great bands, Martial Canterel and Anatomy of Habit, and that’s our official after-after-party. There’s more information on our website as our plans unfold!

Has the reception for SlutWalk Chicago been pretty positive?  I’ve heard a lot of anti-violence activists question the use of the pejorative word “slut” for an event that’s supposed to be empowering… How do you respond to that?

I’m actually amazed by how positive most of the feedback has been — I was expecting a few more trolls, to be honest! Maybe they just haven’t come out of the woodwork yet, who knows. I credit the original SlutWalk in Toronto for paving the way and opening a dialogue.

The response from the anti-violence activist community has been roughly what I expected: positive but cautious. I was actually dubious about the use of the word “slut” when I read about the initial event and started organizing this one. At one point in my life, I was very much invested in reclaiming the word for myself, since I had been labeled a slut by others and found that reclaiming my enjoyment of sex was personally enormously healing. But that’s a goal I’ve found less personally profound over the years.

SlutWalk Chicago’s stance is that whether you find it personally empowering to reclaim the word “slut” or not, we stand with you. Using the SlutWalk name doesn’t just ally and align us with the work done by the amazing organizers in Toronto and all of the other satellites around the world, it really gives us a unique opportunity to talk about how sexual double standards and slut-shaming are cornerstones of rape culture and how a sex-positive attitude ties into the dialogue about consent, and I think that is enormously valuable.

What can our readers do to get involved with SlutWalk?  And do you have any advice for starry-eyed activists in-the-making?

Email us at slutwalkchicago@gmail.com to get on our volunteers’ mailing list. Ally your organization, business or blog with us! Print out the posters we have available and hang ’em everywhere. Invite your friends and post all over your social media about SlutWalk, connect with us on any number of social networking sites (all linked from our main website).  Enter our DIY SlutWalk poster contest!  We’re organizing a poster-making session before the walk, details are on our website.

Show up on Saturday, June 4th at the Thompson Center plaza (100 W. Randolph) for the SlutWalk step-off at noon! And if you are so moved, organize your own SlutWalk satellite in your city!

To activists-in-the-making: whatever cause and perspective you align yourself with, there is an enormous wealth of community resources and a world of movements to connect with, both locally and globally.  Before you strike out on your own trying to build a movement from the ground up, check out the work other folks are doing and see how you can get involved or build off of it. Listen and learn, as well as contributing your energy and ideas!

Remember to take care of yourself at every step of the process. Personal healing and growth are as much a part of an activist’s journey as larger community and cultural change. Everything is connected.

The Line Campaign is proud to ally with SlutWalk Chicago. We support SlutWalk’s mission to promote education about sexual assault and to make it known loud and clear that victims of violence are never the ones at fault and no one asks to be raped.

Feminist Porn Awards: Lauren Reports!

Note: Some links NSFW

This month, I went to the Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto, a three day event showing and celebrating porn focused on women’s pleasure and visibility for marginalized identities. The events included three nights of screenings, performance, discussion, and lastly an awards ceremony honoring the best in feminist porn this year. In an interview, the founder of the Feminist Porn Awards, Alison Lee said,

“Porn has expanded to include women and marginalized communities, and many people don’t know about the hot and artistic movies that are being made with a feminist sensibility. We are proud to promote these filmmakers, and excited about directing people to their work.”

The awards brought in a huge diverse crowd, and was successful in showing a huge array of films showcasing sexual diversity and sex-positivity.

In it’s 6th year, the events were truly inspiring. The guests were sex-positive, creative and radical folks who strived to revolutionize a largely sexist and transphobic industry. Notable guests and panelists included, feminist pornographer and educator Tristan Taormino, sex educator and filmmaker Jaiya, genderqueer pornstar Jiz Lee and filmmaker Cheryl Dunye.

One of my favorite parts of the events was the inclusion of men in discussions of feminism and responsible media making. Artist and filmmaker Carlos Batts spoke about the importance of making his models feel comfortable and consenting to everything they do in his shoots. Batts also includes varieties of body types in his films, expanding sex-positivity beyond the world of skinny white women. It was so refreshing to see a man in the industry who cared about these issues and is making politically aware ethical smut.

Drew Deveaux, who won the “Heartthrob of the Year” award is a Canadian, trans woman who noted her porn performance as a natural extension of her previous activism work. Not seeing herself represented in porn, she found this lack of diversity to be a problem. In an interview she said,

“My motivation for making porn was that I didn’t see many representations of trans-women…I put myself out there as an androgynous, post-op trans-woman. There were virtually no women who were like me in porn, but I knew so many hot, andro, queer trans-women. I was kind of doing it for them.”

Being cautious of the dangers of stereotyping, Drew is making porn to represent herself and her community.

The events really pointed out the importance of promoting feminist media and using it as a powerful tool for changing stereotypes and creating visibility.

For more about the awards check out the Good for Her website.

A revolution between the sheets

Nan Goldin, Simon and Jessica Kissing in the Pool, Avignon, 2001

To current and future lovers: I do not need to be coerced into having sex.

I know what you’ve been taught your whole life about gender roles and sexuality because I was taught the same lies.  Women never want it and men can’t get enough of it, right?  So this date is basically a game whereby you play your cards right and hopefully convince me to, well, give it up.  And women aren’t supposed to like sex anyway, so why should you care if I get off or even have a good time?  Then you win something and I lose something because that’s all sex is, right?  A zero-sum game or just an exchange of quantifiable goods, the act of one person conquering another, colonialism between the sheets… right?

Well, I don’t accept that.  It’s lazy and hopelessly antiquated – and dangerous.  Too many of our cultural narratives surrounding sexuality help to confuse sex with rape, and I see that crystallized in context more and more when I date casually.

Every time a new (usually cis male) partner tells me they’re surprised by how self-assured I am in my sexuality, I am reminded that our culture pretty much sucks at providing us with the tools we need to first recognize and then express what we actually want and enjoy from sex.  It’s not enough to assume consent to sex in the absence of opposition: if you don’t actively confirm that your partner is fully comfortable and enjoying every aspect of sex play, you’re doing it wrong.

I recently did something really outrageous, something I’ve never done with a partner before.  On a lazy rainy Sunday, we camped out in bed and created “Yes/No/Maybe” lists categorizing our comfort levels with different aspects of sex play.  I’m an adventurous kinda girl and I figure that, under the right circumstances, I could potentially be up for trying just about anything – which is obviously very different from saying I’m up for everything all the time.  So almost all of the sex acts on my list went under “Maybe,” which gave me and my partner an opportunity to talk about comfort levels for each act and explore fantasies surrounding those acts we’d never tried.  We discovered new intimate details about our selves and each other thanks to this amazing conversation about the fluid nature of consent and pleasure.

And readers, let me tell you that it was totally hot.

We have to talk about what makes sex great in order to have great sex.  It took me years to find a partner who asked me flat-out, “What turns you off?  What turns you on?  What gets you off?”  Great sex can be as simple as laying it all out at the beginning of a sexual relationship. Until I really thought about it and discussed it with someone who actually wanted to make me feel good, I didn’t realize how critical the basic question of pleasure is to healthy, consensual, great sex.

When we communicate with our partners about consent and pleasure, we create a precedent, and not just between us, also between the people with whom we have sex in the future.  When we talk about how to have great sex, we’re talking about how to not rape.  If I’m with someone new and the conversation seems more difficult, I always say that this is a learning experience for both of us.  And if they don’t agree, they’re just not ready.

Unlearning those lies about what sexuality should mean and what sex is supposed to be can feel impossible.  Defining your line and creating your own unique narrative about sex is a process of self-exploration.  It takes time, endless patience, mindfulness, constant movement, and speaking truth to power.

There are few things more empowering than knowing that you own your sexuality, and the journey is truly revolutionary.

Badass-Activist Friday presents: DR LOGAN LEVKOFF, Sexologist, Relationship Expert, Author

It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire culture change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.

One quick note – if you haven’t checked out Nancy’s new film xoxosms, about digital intimacy and Love 2.0  – you should! Pledge support now!

So without further ado…

Here’s brainy and beautiful Dr. Logan Levkoff, sexuality educator, Sexologist, and author, committed to a future of sex-positive education and healthy relationships.

Dr. Levkoff encourages honest conversation about sexuality and the role it plays in American culture. She makes it clear that sex and sexuality are not “dirty” words; she works to create an environment where people feel comfortable asking (and getting answers to) their most personal questions. Dr Levkoff empowers children, adolescents, and adults to embrace their sexuality and challenge the impractical, and often unhealthy, messages that they are exposed to.

Dr. Levkoff is the author of Third Base Ain’t What it Used to Be: What Your Kids are Learning About Sex Today and How to Teach Them to Become Sexually Healthy Adults (NAL/Penguin, October 2007), which helps parents to understand the role sexuality plays in their children’s lives and empowers parents to become better at-home sexuality educators.

How did you first get involved in sex-education? Did it begin in college, or high school, and how did your personal experiences play into your decision?

I started as a peer hiv and AIDS educator in the 10th grade. My parents enrolled me in our town’s first program. So, technically, my foray into sex education wasn’t of my own doing, but it couldn’t have been a better fit for me. As a fifteen year old who hadsn’t had sex of any kind, it was easy for me to talk about sex and sexuality. When I finally did have “sex” for the first time, I was surprised that it was even easier for me to talk about sex. Instead of feeling insecure about my own decisions, I embraced them. By the time I got to college, though, I found myself and my girlfriends (smart, sophisticated women) making stupid decisions about sex. And I don’t mean not having safer sex. We were all using physical protection, but we weren’t emotionally protected. We were in these one-sided relationships where we weren’t getting pleasure, reciprocation and sex felt like a chore – a means of avoiding an argument rather than an act between mutually respectful partners. It was that fine line between emotional abuse and having a generally shitty partner. It was the that I knew I had a mission. I wanted to help women find their voice – to speak up for their emotional and physical pleasure and protection.

You’ve done a lot of work in accessible media, particularly television. That’s interesting to me considering the consistently poor representations of teen sexuality and fear-mongering about sex – is this part of your strategy to get a sex-positive message out? Can you talk a little bit more about how media is especially important to your work?

There is no question that media messages about sex and sexuality are often inaccurate, biased, or exploitative. But I have found that in my own small way, I try to make a difference in that medium. Yes, media is essential to my work. I am privileged to get the opportunity to be on television so I am committed to getting a sex-positive and sexually healthy message across no matter where I am appearing (and yes, I will play in the lion’s den – I love debating on Fox News. It is a thrill and a pleasure, albeit totally frustrating.) But the media is important for me because it allows me to educate far beyond my classroom. I chose this profession so that I could speak out for issues and people that don’t always have a voice. And because I have a certain set of credentials and I look a certain way (and you can’t see my tattoos on television), I get an opportunity to be in public eye. I’m not saying that it’s right, it’s pretty damn pathetic, but I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge it. That being said, I will always use that privilege to do what’s right. And I will always take one for the team.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about young people and sex? Do you thing the sex panic of the older generation is legitimate? What do you think it stems from?

The biggest? Young people aren’t entitled to sex. Exploring your sexuality (regardless of whether or not you engage in any sex behaviors) is an essential part of adolescence. It’s as if adults have forgotten what that time was line. Sure, sex comes with responsibilities. But if you give teens the tools to make good decisions, they will use those tools.

Do you think there’s a connection between ‘hook-up’ culture and teen domestic/dating violence? How can this be remedied in a sex-positive way?

In my opinion, the sexual double standard and parent’s perpetuation of it (ie. suggesting that boys are only after one thing, omitting girl’s desire from the discussion, encouraging male experimentation but being overprotective of girls, suggesting to boys – again by omission- that they can’t be emotionally connected to someone else) creates an environment where girls believe that someone else “makes” them sexual – that they aren’t innately sexual. From there, it is easy to understand why there are so many unhealthy relationships. Girls are rarely taught to proudly own their decisions about sex, to speak up, or to have a voice regarding their sexuality. (They’ve never been told they even have a sexuality). If we don’t speak up, we don’t get the pleasure or protection we need and we certainly don’t get equality, respect and reciprocation in our relationships.

What are your hopes for Obama’s administration regarding attitudes towards sex-education? Where do you think it will go and what do you think are potential problems?

I am fearful still for the future of sex education. The house’s unconscionable vote to defund planned parenthood is a perfect example of how women’s health, sexuality and respect for all persons is not a priority for our government.

There’s been a lot of talk on our blog about sex-positivity being a mere ‘fantasy’ because of the intersections of sexuality with other oppressions such as race, motherhood etc, and the fact that sex seems so imbued in sexist views of male dominance and female submission. Can you talk a little bit about how you feel sex-positive activism is working, where it’s going and how effective it is?

Sex positivity isn’t a fantasy. For those of us who perpetuate it, it is very very real. That doesn’t mean that it is challenge-free, but nothing worth fighting for is. But we need to keep raising awareness, educating, challenging unequal message, and hopefully our youth will then feel empowered to challenge the beliefs of the generations before them. Look, I’m realistic. The battle isnt’ going to end any time soon. But while I’m here, I’m committed to fighting it.

Badass-Activist Friday presents: COLIN ADAMO of Hooking Up and Staying Hooked

It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire culture change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.

So without further ado…

Here’s Colin Adamo, director of Yale sex week and founder of Hooking Up and Staying Hooked!


As a recent graduate from Yale University, Colin Adamo helped coordinate a student group of health educators to teach sex-ed in local public schools, directed Sex Week at Yale, a biennial sex-ed summit, and authored a column on college relationships – and proves that young men are, should be seen as integral to the movement towards cultural change. He is currently working on developing the guide Hooking Up & Staying Hooked into graphic novel format and making his words of wisdom available to more and more young men.

1. Can you tell us a bit about how you start up the site Hookedupandstayinghooked.com? Did your experience as director of sex week at Yale inform your work after college? How?

I got to high school and was kind of desperate for any sort of advice when it came to girls, dating or sex. I found a lot of stuff in the bookstore but it always felt like it was for someone much older. After translating the info of these resources to fit my life, and a few years teaching health education to high school students while I was in college I figured I was in the perfect spot to put together the guide that I had always wanted when I was younger.

Through Sex Week I got to meet the most innovative and amazing people at the top of their fields be it specifically sex-ed, or adult entertainment, or even sex work. Being exposed to such brilliant minds and understanding their ambitions was a huge inspiration as well as a meaningful learning experience. It definitely gave me the courage to try new things with my work.

2. What is your target demographic, and what, typically, are their attitudes regarding consent, sex-positivity and boundaries? Why?

My hope is that every teenage guy across the country has the opportunity to sift through the content at H.U.S.H. as well as ask any questions they might be too afraid to ask their friends or parents. I write from what I know, so the advice is for straight guys 13-19, but I strongly advocate for education that is open to non-straight-identifying or questioning teens as well.

It seems like society wants to see these boys as positively-sexual – sex-obsessed and borderline dangerous in their pursuit to “ruin” the daughters of America with their uncontrollable hormonal lust. But I don’t think this is the case. I’ve met a lot of young dudes with questions, with insecurities, with the desire to find someone who they like and who really likes them back.

I think when you get down to it most young guys are open to feeling good and making their partners feel good. Unfortunately there is a lot of pressure to move at a pace that’s faster than they might like which often encourages them to push boundaries before they or their partners are actually ready and/or willing.

3. The attitude of most campus administrations regarding sexual assault and rape seems to focus on protection for women for which they are responsible – walking escorts, security etc. Do you think this is effective? What do you think are the problems of most of the violence education programs on campuses? What should change?

I think this attitude is totally whack and that is huge inspiration driving H.U.S.H. It seems like too often we’re looking for ways to “protect” girls from lascivious guys that are going to sexually assault them, get them pregnant or give them an STI.

It’s time we start talking to guys. Let’s quit treating them as potential assailants and instead address their desires and how to fulfill them respectfully and effectively.

Let’s ask guys what they want out of a sexual experience. Not many would say, “I want to get my rocks of regardless of whether or not I can find a partner who is willing.” Sure a lot of them might want to get laid, but most would probably want to do so in a way that makes them and their partners feel sexy, have fun, and get off. Giving them the tools to communicate with partners, give pleasure, and respect boundaries is the first step in creating healthier sexual environments on college campuses where heterosexual guys have sex (which is all of them).

4. How do you think activists can best involve and educate young men? What are the best ways to reach them?

My feelings are that activism is all about empathy, connecting to others on a person-to-person basis and discussing needs and concerns on both sides. It’s about reaching out and making allies, even if only one at a time, and having these guys accomplish your goals for you within their own community of friends and peers. Really supporting allies you acquire along the way might be the best method to bringing about change from within communities.

At the same time when educating or getting your message out you can’t write anyone off, paint any one person or group of people as the bad guy, or hand out any injunctions on how men have to act. You have to connect with them, see things from their perspective, and help guide them towards making the healthier decisions for themselves.

5. What is your favourite storyline/depiction of a relationship/sex/love for young people in the media? What makes it realistic?

I must admit my HUGE guilty pleasure addiction to Skins (I’m a loyalist to the UK version). It’s got teens hooking up in their bedrooms with their parents awkwardly milling about the house. It’s got teens getting messed up and hooking up when they shouldn’t. It’s got teens enjoying sex and intimacy and it’s got teens using sex as a tool or even a weapon. It has dramatically packed a ton of complicated feelings into a diverse cross-section of relationships.

Sure, I wish there was a little bit more depiction of them putting on condoms before going at it, and it normalizes drug use and rampant sex in a way I’m not completely comfortable with, but the roller coaster of feelings – the scariness, the desire, the hurt, the fun, the obsession, the excitement, the heartache, the ennui – capture a snapshot of adolescence in a way many have strived to, but ultimately failed. It’s completely unrealistic in its sensationalism but as real as ever in its portrayal of emotions that all seem so new as a teenager.

6. What frustrations have you encountered in your work? Or questions that you wish people would ask but don’t? Feel free to add anything else you’d like to say.

Too many people think young guys’ only concern is getting laid. It’s unfair. Few think that these guys need much in terms of guidance, or that they won’t seek out resources like H.U.S.H., or that they will only use it to get “what they want” out of girls. There is just generally an air of apathy or threatening desires that the rest of us assume young men have when few actually do.

I’d like to see more people asking, “what can we do for young guys?” I think it would make a big difference overall in the well-being of youth across the country.

another kind of coercion.


If a boy doesn’t respect me for recovering from anorexia, and instead uses my insecurities in his game, he’s crossed my line!

The thing is, finding a guy who respects me for the person I am today – a recovered anorexic – and who is proud of everything I have achieved, is really hard to come by.

I’ll be the first to admit that anorexia is an illness that is very difficult to comprehend. I would understand why a guy couldn’t deal with an anorexic girlfriend – but recovery is something I’m proud of. I was discharged from outpatient care in 2009; I have been an ambassador for Beat (the national charity in the UK for eating disorders) since September 2005. I speak about my eating disorder as honestly as I can in order to raise awareness of eating disorders as a symptom of unachievable standards of female sexuality and beauty. So my question is if I am not ashamed of my anorexia, why are other people?

I’ve been with a boy, only to find out he had joked about my anorexia behind my back to his friends.

I’ve had boys I’ve dated tell me they think they can be the one to ‘change’ me.

But most of all, I have had boyfriends – guys I have trusted, even one I was even in love with – play on the insecurities I still have and use them to their advantage. By refusing me compliments and speaking instead of all the other girls who were sexually interested in him, my ex began to chip away at my self esteem until I did everything he wanted – I didn’t like saying no to him; I didn’t want to lose him. To emotionally manipulate me because of these insecurities around body image was simply his way of coercing consent.

Never again will I waste my time on a guy who plays on my insecurities to his advantage or a guy who thinks anorexia is a big joke. These boys crossed my line and no one’s ever going to do it again.

In Praise of (Non)Imaginary Skins

MTV’s Skins has drummed up some serious controversy thanks to a wildly popular UK predecessor, an eye-catching advertising campaign and consciously salacious storylines. The Parents’ Television Council  and reviewers alike are up in arms about the more explicit nature of the series, which airs on a channel that daily attracts millions of impressionable teen viewers. Advertisers have already pulled out of Skins, in fact, for fear that underage actors engaging in simulated sex and drinking in just about every episode could be construed as child pornography.

As with any movie or series that depicts sex, there is also always that conversation about whether it’s gratuitous or not. In regards to the UK Skins, Feministing’s “7 feminist reasons” is worth checking out to understand how the show successfully toed that line:

6. Teen sex is portrayed with nuance and respect and without hand-wringing and slut-shaming. The lack of moralizing extends to sex as well. And there’s a lot of it in Skins. Some sex is between couples, some is between friends, some is between strangers. Some is emotionally fulfilling, some isn’t. Some is physically satisfying, some isn’t. The girls are just as likely to have casual sex as the guys, and the guys are just as likely to want a relationship as the girls. (Suffice it to say, Skins doesn’t buy into any myths about oxytocin.) Perhaps even more importantly, in Skins, characters of both genders have both committed and casual sex at different times. Kinda like in real life! And because neither guys or girls are defined by their sexual behavior, that’s not at all strange. Skins recognizes that a girl who’s been having lots of emotionally meaningless sex can still get chills when she touches the hand of the boy she’s falling for. As Samhita wrote yesterday, “We all have feelings and we all like to fuck…Deal with it.” And Skins deals with it quite nicely.

Really, I couldn’t have said it better. Yes, Skins can be graphic, but its inclusion of sex and drugs often feel like realistic developments for these teen characters rather than gratuitousness displays of wanton behavior. There seems to be something about showing teens engaging in risque acts that immediately makes it unacceptable, even if it’s realistic and complex.

Much criticism surrounding MTV’s Skins, ironically, is that it is gratuitous even after MTV watered it down from the original UK version. Ms. Magazine‘s blog, in fact, calls the first episode out as sexist. But the beauty of television is that the story and characters don’t stop at the first episode: if MTV plays its cards right, it could follow in the steps of the UK version and create a nuanced, layered world that actually goes in-depth on teen issues rather than stigmatize sex a la Secret Life of the American Teenager.

…OR it could be a massive disappointment and make no strides whatsoever. But only time will tell.

We Support Tristan Taormino!

Tristan Taormino, courtesy of sexartandpolitics.tumblr.com

Tristan Taormino, courtesy of sexartandpolitics.tumblr.com

Tristan Taormino, is an author, feminist, award winning pornographer and sex educator, who runs puckerup.com and directs pornography through a feminist lens for Vivid Entertainment. She writes of her professional goals as educating “people of all genders and sexual orientations in their pursuit of healthy, empowering, and transformative sex and relationships.” In tandem with these admirable and important goals, Taormino frequents universities giving lectures on queer issues, gender and feminism.

Recently, Taormino was asked to be the keynote speaker at Oregon State University’s Modern Sex conference, and was later revoked this invitation based on the content of her resume and website. Her impressive resume, which includes lectures at Yale and Columbia, the publication of several books, TV appearances etc. was part of the basis of her “uninvite.” Considering that Taormino is an accomplished author, filmmaker and educator, her silencing by OSU is alarming.

On the matter Taormino said,

“I’m extremely disappointed that OSU has decided to cancel my appearance…I have never misrepresented who I am or what I do. I am proud of all the work I do, including the sex education films and feminist pornography I make,”

Even though Taormino is completely public and unapologetic about her work, OSU deemed her unqualified for their funding after her appearance was booked and her travel arrangements made. (And mind you, without reimbursing her for travel expenses.)

A post on Fleshbot wrote,

“I value her voice and positive message of sexual empowerment and freedom…I’m also quite disturbed by the implication that her affiliation with the adult industry makes her unfit to speak on a public university campus.”

This brings up an important point. Any sex-positive educator or activist has to unfortunately face these challenges, but despite these roadblocks their voices need to be heard. Her censorship is alarming and unacceptable.

The stigma surrounding sexuality, particularly women vocal about sexuality never seems to lose its prevalence, but in pushing boundaries some brave individuals are hopefully changing this. A university setting seems to be a great place to bring up discussions of sex education, sex-positivitiy and sexual diversity, and OSU should be honored to have Taormino speak at their conference, being that she has a strong and prevalent voice on these topics.

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