Friday, January 19, 2007

Willful Ignorance, Need And Sex Education

Courtney Martin's article in Prospect entitled Willful Ignorance begins with:

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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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:02 AM   5 comments links to this post


At January 18, 2007 11:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Men don't need sex. Neither do women."

Wrong! Some men don't need sex. Neither do some women.

The world is not going to conform to your victimized perspective, sweetie. All you do is continually show your ignorance of what normal really is.

Before I discovered your blog, I supported the 'rape is power, victims are not responsible' dogma, but you have shown repeatedly that this doggerel if as rife with myth as the supposed rape culture.

Stop whining and get over it.

At January 19, 2007 8:21 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Anonymous, I'm sorry but your story isn't credible about ever supporting rape victims. That you see "victims are not responsible" as doggerel says everything about you and nothing about me.

You obviously don't understand the difference between something you need and something you want and desire. Or you don't want to understand that difference because need gives you permission that another person does not.

At January 19, 2007 2:20 PM, Anonymous Mahjan said...


Need = necessary for you to survive. Without this you will die.

Want/Desire = something you would like to have but that is not necessary to your continued survival.

Sex is not a need. Wanting someone does not give you any rights over them and if your lust is unrequited, then you deal - you won't die.

At January 21, 2007 2:33 PM, Blogger Sara E Anderson said...

I think it's fair to use the term "need" in regard to sex. To live a happy, healthy life, I need to be able to express my sexuality. This doesn't mean I need to be able to have sex with a certain person at a certain time, but it does mean that if I can't do that, I need other ways of letting out my feelings - through masturbation, through whatever. Every person is entitled to explore their sexuality, they're just not entitled to the participation of anyone else in that exploration.

At January 22, 2007 6:45 AM, Anonymous lyakahlo said...

"The world is not going to conform to your victimized perspective, sweetie"

And the award for Most Underhanded Rape Apologist post goes too .. . a total coward called anon!

If you would have read the very next sentence, you would know that your entire post is a rape apologist's strawman.


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