Booze, Booty Shaking, and Back Room Hookups: Making College Party Culture Sex Positive

I get to participate in some pretty awesome conversations as part of my work.

One of my favorites, though, is when I get to talk to college students about what makes for a mind-blowing, talk-about-it-for-years party.

I ask the question, and students just start shouting out things like:

“The perfect DJ!” “Everybody’s dancing!” “Booze.” “Drugs.” “Some non-alcoholic drinks/mixers.” “Sexy ladies!” “Sexier men!” “No drama.” “Food.” “Sex!”  “Everybody’s gettin’ lucky!” “SEX!”

Let’s be honest: By and large, one of the only things that college students love more than partying and sex is talking about partying and sex.

What’s phenomenal about this conversation, though, is the opportunity it provides to extend the dialogue beyond beer bongs, booty shaking, and backroom hookups.It provides an entry into a conversation about positive sexuality and sexual violence prevention.

With rare exceptions, no one who is throwing a party spends the time, energy, and money so that people will get assaulted. Yet there is a clear connection betweencollege party culture and sexual violence.

After all, 74% of perpetrators of sexual violence on college campuses were under the influence of alcohol when they committed the assault, and 55% of survivors of sexual violence on campuses were under the influence of alcohol when assaulted.

Unfortunately, on college campuses,  this dialogue translates too often into shaming and blaming of survivors for their decisions to drink or approaches to“prevention” that place the onus on potential “victims” to keep themselves from getting raped.

And to mitigate the risk, most colleges simply take a punitive approach (with varying levels of alcohol education – which is fantastic – thrown in) to alcohol on campus.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

In fact, we need to see college partying and the terrifying link to sexual violence as an opening to a different kind of conversation about the social time our young people are spending on college campuses or anywhere for that matter.

Shifting to Sex Positivity

Most of the college students that I work with have never heard of the concept of sex positivity.  I know I sure hadn’t when I started college.

But in any conversation about sex with young people, when I introduce the definition I work from, the tone shifts considerably, no matter how we were discussing sex before.

Here’s the definition I’m working from:

Sex positivity refers to positive, affirming, consensual sexual relationships, characterized by open, honest communication and attention to the needs and desires of oneself and one’s partner(s).

Sounds amazing, right?

Well, most of the young people I get to work with on college campuses all over the US think so, too!

So when I tell them that it’s possible to make simple changes to your average party environment that make it more sex positive, they are pumped!

But every now and then, I have the skeptical workshop participant (usually a dude, but not always) who says something to the effect of “It sounds like one giant cock-block to me.”

But without fail, whenever this sentiment is expressed, I don’t even have to respond!

Last time this happened, a young woman explained, “Unless you’re looking to rape somebody, this sounds like the opposite of a cock block. Nothing sounds hotter than dancing with someone at a party only to learn that they are a great kisser who asks first!”

Undoubtedly, we have to spend some time and energy thinking about the worst case scenario, understanding and exposing predators, and taking preventative precautions.

But sexual violence prevention, particularly as it relates to parties, can (and must)be so much more than that!

What Does Sex-Positive Partying Look Like?

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

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Rethinking Lisak & Miller – Checking the Math

Over the last month or so, I have received a lot of criticisms in personal messages and emails regarding the piece I published on the groundbreaking Lisak & Miller 2002 study.  In particular, many of the criticisms relate to the math done by Thomas MacAulay Millar in his piece, “Good Men Project’s Rape Faceplant, Predators and the Social License to Operate.”  Rather than continuing to respond individually to this concern, I figured it would make sense to post my response here as a quick blog post to further the discussion.

In his piece, Millar attempts to extrapolate the results of Lisak & Miller’s research to a larger population:

Let’s use Lisak & Miller’s numbers, with a population of a million men and a million women.  If 2% of the men are single-offense rapists meeting Lisak’s definition, and a further 4% are repeaters with an average of 5.8 victims, that implies that 20,000 of the men are single-offenders with 20,000 victims, and the 40,000 repeat offenders have 232,000 victims.  To oversimplify and assume that no women rape, no men are victims, everyone is either a man or a woman and there are no repeat victims, we then have 252,000 victims, or about a quarter of the population of women.  If we believe the various victim-report data, that’s about what we would expect.  So, while Lisak & Miller’s questions certainly will not capture every rape, they do capture the vast majority — they have to, unless she’s postulating a victimization rate much higher than the victim report data account for. If she’s saying that maybe half of all women are raped … well, you can say that, but where is the data to back that up?

If the reality of sexual violence were as simple as Millar’s “oversimplifications,” then his math would be spot on: The offenses committed by the men in Lisak & Miller’s study would account for 25% of women experiencing sexual violence, which reflects the common estimates of victimization rates.  Unfortunately, the reality of sexual violence is not so simple.

What does it look like to ACTUALLY stop rapists? First, we have to understand who the rapists are, and Lisak & Miller fall short.

What does it look like to ACTUALLY stop rapists? First, we have to understand who the rapists are, and Lisak & Miller fall short.

Millar’s oversimplifications are incredibly problematic if we are trying to understand the true nature of sexual violence.  To say that “no women rape” and that “no men are victims” ignores a few important realities: sexual violence happens in 14% of Lesbian relationships and 13% of Gay relationships, and approximately 8% of all men are raped by a former partner (both male and female).  Further, to simplify the gender spectrum by saying that “everyone is either a man or a woman” further hides the reality that as many as 50% of Transgender people , many of whom do not fit into the simple categories of “man” and “woman,” experience sexual violence.

Perhaps the most egregious oversimplification in its impact on estimates of sexual violence, though, is when he says “there are no repeat victims.”  In a review of the research on the subject, Classen, et al, found that two thirds of those who are victims of sexual violence will experience sexual violence more than once.  This is not one isolated study.  This is a review of the research, and TWO THIRDS of survivors are likely to experience sexual violence more than once!

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Preventing Sexual Violence – Rethinking Lisak & Miller

My friend Dave and I have a unique connection. Both of us work with young men in the effort to build more inclusive, less violent understandings of masculinity.  As a former sexual assault survivor’s advocate and someone who travels the country to talk to young people about healthy sexuality (among other subjects), I value the opportunity to talk to men like Dave, who regularly works with middle school or high school boys and men to re-envision masculinity.  I was anxious to get Dave’s opinion about a controversial subject I’ve been mulling over for a while: the oft-cited Lisak & Miller 2002 study.

Me: “Do you think it’s possible that 96% of rape is committed by 4-8% of men?

Dave: “It just doesn’t seem possible! Nearly every single man is brought up in a culture where we are taught to objectify, speak disrespectfully about, and sexualize women.  I, like many young men, learned about sex from porn and locker room culture.  How can someone be conditioned in this way and not be a risk for committing sexual violence?  We are not taught how to have responsible, healthy sexual relationships!  When I was young, I literally couldn’t conceive of a respectful sexual encounter because I had never seen one.  Until I was mentored to understand a more non-violent masculinity, I very well could have hurt a woman in a way that we would describe as sexual violence, though no particular memory comes to mind.  Until we teach young men how to understand sex through the lens of communication and non-violence, we won’t stop the problem of rape.”

Much has been said about the Lisak & Miller 2002 study (and Predator Theory in general), particularly in the wake of the “Nice Guys Commit Rape Too” piece at Good Men Project and the subsequent criticism, most notably over at Feministe.  In particular, many have argued that it’s impossible for someone to commit rape without setting out or intending to do so because, in the words of David Lisak, “the vast majority of rapes are perpetrated by serial offenders who, on average, have six victims. So, this is who’s doing it.”  This has left me unsettled, so over the past few weeks, I have spent a lot of time reading and rereading the Lisak & Miller study and the work that uses it to extrapolate the number of men actually committing rape.

My conclusion? Lisak & Miller and all of the studies they cite (as well as the McWhorter study cited in the phenomenal piece by Thomas Macaulay Millar at Yes Means Yes) are vitally important for understanding and isolating the “undetected rapists” who are committing a tremendous number of rapes.  As Millar points out, “We need to revoke the rapists’ social license to operate.”  We must change the culture of our social spaces, our parties, our relationships (particularly men’s relationships with men) so that those committing the kinds of rape discussed in the scholarship of Lisak & Miller have the rug pulled out from under them.

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In the words of my friend Sara, a former career sexual violence prevention specialist and survivor’s advocate, “It’s really important to think about the historical significance of Lisak’s work. He was doing this work back when ‘date rape’ was a new word and the common belief was that rapists were in the same category as psychopaths and murderers. The idea that a seemingly ‘normal’ man would prey upon women in social settings was a BIG deal for people that worked in victim services.  His study gave a voice to women who had been assaulted by men like the ones he interviewed and gave law enforcement a broader picture of who perpetrates rape. This was a big step in our understanding about the power and control dynamics of rape.”

That said, does the Lisak & Miller 2002 study (and similar research) describe all of sexual violence?  No.  Are there forms of sexual violence that are not and could not be captured by the study and the others that support its claims?  Definitely.  And to ignore this fact is tremendously dangerous, particularly if those who are adhering so closely to the findings of Lisak & Miller are the ones doing the daily, on-the-ground work to end sexual violence.

Limitations of Lisak & Miller 2002

“Several limitations of this study bear mention . . . Because of the nonrandom nature of the sampling procedures, the reported data cannot be interpreted as estimates of the prevalence of sexual or other acts of violence” (Lisak & Miller 2002).

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“Ask Me Maybe” – A Consensual Take on a Pop Meme

I was recently approached by the organizers of an upcoming sexual and intimate partner violence prevention conference called the Tennessee Rape Prevention and Education Institute. They wanted me to present a keynote on making prevention education fun and engaging. As I thought over ways that the often (and necessarily) heavy work can be made fun, I couldn’t help but think of the power of the internet meme for spreading a message (whether silly like Lolcats or more pointed like Skeptical 3rd World Child).

Since there have been so many recreations and lipsyncs of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” of late, I thought that would be a perfect way to engage folks in conversations about consent.

So my friends and I rewrote the lyrics and we recorded the new version. Then I approached friends and random strangers on the street to lipsync for the video!

And here’s the finished product!

Bullying, Hate Crimes, and Mother Monster

I love Lady Gaga.  I love her bizarre style.  I love her music (Born This Way is my JAM).  I love how unabashedly weird she is.  Whenever I hear about her or something she’s working on, I want to scream, “PUT YOUR PAWS UP!”

Lady Gaga understands that we currently face a culture and climate in the United States where it is just plain not safe to be young and gay.  While the number one cause of death among teenagers in the U.S. is an auto accident, the number one cause of death among gay teenagers is suicide.

In the midst of this, I appreciate Lady Gaga’s attention to the issue.  She has a HUGE microphone, and she is able to reach a lot of people with a message of acceptance and love while advocating action to end bullying of LGBTQ teens.

She recently wrote and performed the song “Hair” after 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer committed suicide because he was bullied.

However, in some of her advocacy around this issue, I think she is wildly misguided.  I’m sorry, Mother Monster.

She recently recorded this video for the students at Etobicoke School of the Arts in Toronto after they made a pledge to end bullying.

I was totally on board until she said, “I am going to be working as hard as I can to make bullying a hate crime.”

Now, while I find her sentiment a noble one, I find a lot of things problematic with her approach, as she tries to make bullying a hate crime.

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