In case you didn’t know, April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. The month was originally created to ensure that there was particular attention paid during one time of the year to the problem of sexual violence. This was in response to the almost total silence in mainstream media and everyday conversations during the rest of the year.
Recently it has been exciting to see all of the places in which there have been healthy, productive conversations about sexual violence and prevention. Much of this came in response to the high-profile Steubenville rape case, but there has also been some awesome momentum outside of that media firestorm! I cannot tell you how many awesome articles I have read in the past six months about healthy sexuality, positive masculinity, sexual violence awareness, prevention of sexual violence, and so on.
With the hope of contributing to that momentum, I figured I would talk to teh menz this week with a post about ways that we can participate more fully in Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Obviously there are countless ways that men can take part in the struggle to end sexual and intimate partner violence, so if you have suggestions, by all means leave them in the comments, but here are a few places to start:
1. Self Reflect
One of the best ways to ensure that your relationships are healthy and consensual is to have a strong understanding of yourself and your needs and desires. As I said in my article, “Want the Best Sex of Your Life? Just Ask:”
The single best thing we can do to encourage healthy, consensual sex is to know exactly what we want, how we want it, and how far we’re willing to go with any given person at any given time. If, before things get hot and heavy, you have spent some time reflecting (perhaps writing?) about what you want and how far you want things to go, you will have a much easier time communicating your needs and desires and will be much more willing to do so. Plus, if you know exactly what you like, exactly what gets you hot and gets you off, you will be able to tell your partner just how you want it. Ain’t nothing wrong with knowing what you want and demanding it between the sheets!
More than just knowing what we want in sex, though, self reflection is important in understanding what healthy sex and consent look like. Last night my friend and I were talking about sexual violence prevention, and she noted that not all of the sex she’s had in her life felt good and healthy. When I self reflect, I find the same thing. I’ve had sex when I didn’t really want to. I’ve likely pressured partners in unhealthy ways or left them feeling not-so-good about our encounter. When we take the time to reflect on these experiences, we come to a better understanding of what healthy sex feels like. When we know what it feels like (and doesn’t feel like), we can do a better job of practicing and advocating for healthy sexuality in our lives!
In this process, it’s also important to ask of ourselves questions like these:
- Are there ways that I encourage or uphold rape culture?
- In what ways can I be a better ally to those who have experienced sexual violence or are more likely to experience it than me?
- What sex and relationship-related patterns in my life are unhealthy? Which ones are healthy? How can I make the unhealthy ones look more like the healthy ones?
2. Talk to Other Men and Boys
For a wide variety of reasons, men are not a big enough part of the conversation about preventing sexual violence.
Some of those reasons are obvious:
- Men don’t have to think about sexual violence nearly as much as women because we’re less likely to experience it.
- Men benefit from the patriarchy that creates rape culture, so we don’t want to take part and are actively resistant to these conversations.
- Healthy communication is not exactly considered part of a normal masculinity, so we don’t talk about it much.
But considering that men commit the vast majority of sexual violence, it is time for us to own our role in preventing sexual violence, and part of owning that role means that we have to talk to other men. Women have been asking us to engage in these conversations for a long, long time, but too often, we ignore their voices. A key part of male privilege is that we never really have to listen to the voices, realities, and perspectives of women if we choose not to.
So we need men to speak out. We need men to talk to other men.
Whenever we hear men say something that degrades women, we need to challenge them on that. When you hear a man say something that challenges rape culture, we need to support them and echo their sentiment so that our voices are amplified. We need to talk to one another about masculinity and what healthy masculinity can look like. We need to talk to other men about consent and ways that we can practice enthusiastic consent in our relationships.
But we also need to talk to boys.
We need to engage the young males in our life to understand consent in age appropriate ways. We need to help young boys understand that they can perform their gender and masculinity in innumerable ways, and all of those ways are acceptable so long as they are positive, non-violent, and respectful. Model for them what healthy conversations look like and what positive, inclusive, and non-violent masculinity looks like. One of the best things we can do is to simply talk openly, honestly, and emotionally with men and boys so that we break the cycle of “masculinity = stoicism.”
If you need some help in starting those conversations, check out the work of Men Can Stop Rape. They do fantastic trainings and offer some great resources for helping men engage men.
Or check out the work of Jackson Katz:
3. Support Survivors Publicly
Too often men men are absent from the rallies, Facebook dialogues, or chats among friends and family members about sexual and intimate partner violence and their prevention. One of the most powerful ways that we can make our voice heard is to publicly show that we support and believe survivors of sexual violence and intimate partner violence .
Whether it’s something as simple as posting a status or challenging someone who questions the story of a survivor or as complex as volunteering for your local domestic or sexual violence shelter or response and prevention organization, you can have a powerful impact on rape culture simply by vocally and publicly supporting survivors.
4. Call Out Rape Culture
One of the most omnipresent obstacles to ending sexual violence is the existence of rape culture: social norms in which rape and sexual violence are common and are hidden, protected, normalized, excused, tolerated, and accepted widely thanks to prevailing attitudes, media imagery, and systems of power and privilege.
Simply put, rape culture is the cover under which rapists can hide to avoid accountability and sanction and that keeps survivors from talking openly and honestly about their trauma.
Every time you see advertising that treats women’s bodies like objects? That’s rape culture.
Every time you hear someone talk about a woman in a degrading way? That’s rape culture.
Every time you witness street harassment? That’s rape culture.
Every time you hear someone blame a survivor for their rape or that questions their story? That’s rape culture.
So what can you do?
You can call it out in your community. Whenever you hear people using degrading language, call them out! Any time you see someone post something on Facebook or Twitter that degrades women? Tell them you disapprove. Whenever you hear a rape joke, tell the “comedian” that they aren’t funny!
If you witness street harassment, refuse to stay silent!
Get creative! Follow Miss Representation’s example:
Play on memes to get your point across!
However you do it, find ways to call out rape culture and stand up to sexual violence.
5. Practice Enthusiastic, Consensual Sex
Best of all, Have Sex!
Have TONS of sex!
Or if you’re not having sex for any number of reasons, hold hands! Or MAKE OUT! Or play “slapsies buttsies!”
Just make sure that when you do so, you are practicing healthy, proactive, enthusiastic consent. Whether it’s with one partner or 1000 partners, whether it’s with one gender or a myriad of genders, whether it’s “vanilla” or “kinky,” practice enthusiastic, consensual sex.
Make sure in this process that you’re talking as much as possible. Talk with your partner(s) about what your needs and desires are, and ask them about theirs. Then make sure you check in constantly through fun and sexy ways to ensure the sex is fulfilling.
And talk to your friends about healthy, consensual sex. Obviously, respect your partner and don’t give away juicy details unless they tell you it’s okay, but here’s the deal: There is a long tradition of men talking about their sexual exploits. Let’s transform that!
Instead of, “DUDE! You should have seen the piece of ass I landed last night!” what if it were normal to say, “Dude! I discovered the hottest way to ask for consent last night!!”
Put plainly, sometimes the most revolutionary thing we can do is to transform ourselves and our relationships. If each and every one of us practiced safer, healthier, and more enthusiastic consent and normalized conversations about such sex, we would take some pretty fantastic steps toward ending rape culture and preventing the vast majority of sexual violence.