Thursday, October 15, 2009

Safety And Structure for Adult Sex Ed

I’m currently planning to teach sex ed to young adult peers in my community. Please see previous posts for other discussions of my thoughts and feelings while planning this project.

How can I plan this class so that it suits the realities of our lives and yet challenges us to take positive risks?

I think the first step is recognizing that for many, coming to even one session involves taking a positive risk. For others, arriving may be simple, but speaking up may feel momentous. I’d like to focus on these two challenges for now: attendance and participation. I want my expectations for both to be as flexible as possible to meet the varying needs of individuals and yet to be as consistent as possible in order to promote group cohesion. I have some ideas about how to approach this, and I would love some feedback . . .


Ideal: 10 to 20 people committed to attending each of the 14 sessions. We would get to know each other, develop the group dynamic that supports accountability and confidentiality, and their learning in each session would build on our previous work.

Reality: “Eek! Who has enough time to commit upfront to 14 sessions? What if I missed the first one – does that mean I’m excluded from the project altogether? I’m sorry, but my [work/ studies/ family/ other] takes priority, and I have to allow for that in my schedule.” –thoughts of a hypothetical community member.

Compromise: I encourage community members to attend as many sessions as possible. I also hope that newcomers will contact me before coming to a session so I can help them get somewhat caught up. Just arriving at session is great, too. What I do ask, however, is that participants come for an entire session from beginning to end – arriving late and leaving early can drastically upset momentum. Does this seem reasonable? What other approaches might we consider?


Ideal: Participants could share their thoughts, feelings and experiences without embarrassment, shyness or fear of affecting their reputation. Such sharing could lead to communal support, learning and growth.

Reality: Sharing can be very difficult and scary! In addition, all of us have biases and prejudices that can keep us from reacting in positive and supportive ways. For some, sharing with friends and community members feels easier than sharing with strangers. For others, it feels much harder.

Compromise: We’ll spend time at the beginning of each session discussing building blocks for a safe space and sharing expectations with each other. No participant will be required to share, and multiple avenues for reflection will be encouraged, including group discussion, pair-shares, private reflection, and anonymous feedback. What more can we do to work together to keep everyone feeling safe, comfortable, and able to take positive risks?

I look forward to hearing your ideas!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Dancing for Sexual Health

Responding to a question about my last post, paraphrased as: What is positive, empowering dance music, and what makes it much more fun to dance to than misogynistic, degrading dance music?

Some reasons I love dancing:

• I get to move my body, and that feels fantastic.
• What matters is that my body moves, not how big or small or curvy or tall it is.
• I can’t fail; the harder I try and the more energy I put into it, the better I’m doing, by definition.
• I get to emote: As I move, aggression and frustration exit my body, and the joy and celebration expressed by my movement enter deeper into my body, and I can feel that joy and celebration.
• I get to act: I’m very much in my own body, and yet I get to perform by acting out the lyrics I hear. I am myself, yet I have this opportunity to connect with characters and feelings outside myself. I feel a part of something.

Among favorite positive-coping pastimes, dancing stands out because it does not involve verbally expressing my feelings or any direct conversation with another person. I’m not journaling, I’m not talking to friends, and I’m not blogging. I’m not expressing myself through words, which is the best way to ensure that I have direct control over what is expressed about me in that moment. Instead, I’m more fluidly a part of the moment and a member of the scene. This silent membership leaves me vulnerable. When I’m not speaking, the “scene” has much more power to define who I am and what I’m expressing, especially given my way of participating in this particular scene, as outlined above.

A sketch of my experience while dancing to music with a great beat but denigrating lyrics: I pick up the beat, and start dancing. I recognize the lyrics, and start singing along. I’m moving, and smiling, and beginning to perform fabulously. But the lyrics I’m singing aren’t fabulous. Maybe I’m singing about how great it is to watch my big butt move while I dance. Or maybe I’m singing out my desire to get some stranger into bed that night. But wait, this isn’t my body and my desire, right? I’m just inadvertently singing along. My facilitator at the MVP training made the following argument: The singers don’t know who you are, personally, and that you wouldn’t actually say such a thing. No, the singers don’t know you at all. But they do sing about you. Yes, if you’re dancing along to their song, they are signing about you. And just as I dance and sing the anger and frustration out of my body, I’m dancing and singing these negative, hurtful messages right into my body. I’m internalizing them, quite literally, whether I’d like to or not. And that’s when I start thinking about my body as a vehicle for sex and attraction instead of joy and celebration. And that’s when I start worrying about whether I’m doing it right, whether I’m impressing others in the right way, whether I’m adequately sexy but not too much so, whether I’m wearing the right clothes or shoes or earrings. And that’s when it does matter how my body is shaped in comparison with everyone else’s, because that’s what the lyrics tell me. I’m getting insecure and being objectified and as the lyrics move on and on, it sounds more and more like I’m dancing in order to show how attractive I am rather than dancing for my own joy and celebration. Is this about dancing, or is this about thinness and availability and sex?

A sketch of my experience while dancing to positive, empowering music: The music backs up the exact reasons I like dancing. The lyrics emphasize emotional expression, personal rights, and the complexity of relationships. In acting out the lyrics, I celebrate characters and feelings that resonate with who I am and what I believe in. Expressing those lyrics confirms my personal desires, and I’m thrilled to imagine that these lyrics are about me and my life. I emote. Some songs help me express feelings of upset, anger or sorrow. Other songs help me seek joy. I celebrate my beliefs, my friendships and my body as I smile at the people I’m with, dancing sometimes with them and sometimes with myself. But I’m always dancing for myself, not for an onlookers or dance partners. Other people’s gaze and opinions need not provide me with validation. I find inner validation in how great it feels to move. I feel warm, happy and successful. I feel optimistic. I feel stronger and more ready to take on life the following day. I feel more connected to myself, my body and the people I’m with in positive, emotional ways. When I wake up the next day, I look up the lyrics from my favorite songs the previous night so I can memorize them, and sing them to myself when I need an extra moment of coping during the week. And maybe while I’m signing the song to myself, I’ll close my eyes and picture myself dancing to those lyrics in order to return, for the moment, to the scene of release and joy as celebration courses throughout my body.