My friend Jen was squashed into a packed lecture hall at the University of Colorado in Boulder, scribbling notes as her sociology professor elucidated the power dynamics underlying rape, when all of a sudden her stomach and pen dropped simultaneously.
She is right on that college is too late for students to begin to understand what rape is beyond a stranger jumping out of the shrubs wielding a knife and forcing his victim to the ground and then leaving her for dead.
Students need to understand enough about the power dynamics of rape to stop themselves from misusing power against others to get sex or sexual contact and to recognize when someone else is misusing power to hurt them or others.
Unfortunately, many adults don't even have a remedial understanding of the relationship between the misuse of power and rape.
One misunderstanding remains in this column. Ms. Martin wrote:
The abstinence-only sex education that most young men and women receive does not teach them how to articulate their own sexual needs and respect those articulated by their partners. (emphasis mine)The word "needs" is inaccurate and can be a dangerous ingredient when mixed with other common attitudes about sex. When a man says that he needs sex, he may use that "need" to justify coercing or forcing someone else to fulfill his needs.
Men don't need sex. Neither do women.
This isn't a call for absolute abstinence, it's a call to think about how we judge actions that meet our needs vs. actions that meet our wants.
We are likely to be empathic with people who steal the food they need because we know that if our needs aren't met, we will die. But we are much less likely to be empathic with people who go into a 5-star restaurant, order everything they want and then walk out without paying.
As long as we tell ourselves that men need sex, we are less likely to sympathize with women who help create the "need" in men but then won't help meet the "need."
That links into how we teach girls to prevent rape. They must not create sexual "needs" in men by wearing sexy clothes or by going out to bars or by flirting or by being available in any way. If they create a sexual "needs" in men then they shouldn't complain when men strive to have those "needs" satisfied.
When people talk about teaching girls to say no, what they are really talking about is teaching girls to say no in a way that can penetrate the fog that fills a boy or man whenever he is in "need" of sex.
This model gives boys and men a rationalization for taking sex from someone who doesn't share his need. The rationalization is even more dangerous when people believe that girls and women never "need" sex.
If she never needs sex, then her lack of a matching "need" is meaningless. If she seems to "need" sex then something is biologically wrong with her. She has become abnormal.
Because this sexual "need" model is so pervasive, there can be no such thing as accurate sex education without teaching students about what sexual boundaries are, where to go for help if their boundaries have been violated and how to avoid violating other people's sexual boundaries as well as teaching them when any sexual contact is a violation.
We must teach children that their own and others sexual boundaries trump anyone's sexual needs. The "need" for sex can never be a valid defense or reason.
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