[Content note: shaming of female sexuality, slut shaming, mention of rape/abuse]
Have I mentioned I have a great job? On Friday, we had an accessory swap to celebrate May birthdays. (Seriously...that's how awesome we are.)
After the swap we had an informal lunch together and a really interesting discussion came up about slut shaming, virginity pledges, and sex education. I got the chance to share my chocolate bar analogy story and I realized that in all the blogging I've done about this topic, I have never shared that story here.
The school district I grew up in contracted with a local Christian affiliated, conservative organization to teach our sex education classes in middle school. As I've mentioned before, of the few things my parents did right, sex education was one of them so I went into this program and learned very little. (Which was hugely to my benefit, in reality.) But one of the "lessons" that stuck with me the most was this: in a particularly sex shaming moment, the instructor asked us if we knew what happened to us when we had sex "too much." To demonstrate, she got out a Hershey's chocolate bar and said it would represent one girl's sexuality (she picked a volunteer. Let's call her Claire.) Claire was told that she had "share" her sexuality with a few boys in the room by inviting them to take bites of her chocolate bar. (I can't make this shit up, y'all.) So she shopped her chocolate bar around the room. The first few boys took bites, but soon the chocolate bar was more and more disgusting--chewed up and unsanitary. Boys 5-7 didn't want to take any bites.
That's right. The lesson was that the more sexual partners we have the less whole and the more disgusting we are. And it was no mistake that the chocolate bar represented Claire's sexuality and not Kyle's.
I remember at the time thinking that this was a really weird lesson--but I didn't have the words nor the perspective to appreciate just how truly fucked up it is. Now, with many more years under my belt, a feminist perspective, and the experience of teaching a non-shame based sex ed curriculum, I'm horrified, but not surprised, that my peers and I went through that "lesson."
The chocolate bar analogy is just one of many examples that shame based, abstinence only sex education instructors use to demonstrate that sex ruins a woman (although the most disgusting that I'm aware of!) Another involves a flower and each sexual partner plucks a petal from it to show how she is left with "nothing" after 6 or so sexual partners. Another involves breaking a cup and trying to piece it back together and showing how it no longer holds water. In another nails are hammered into a board and then pulled out the idea being that every partner "scars" you.
The problems with these analogies are obvious--they shame female sexuality while simultaneously reducing our worth down to just our sexuality. The way that these messages are specifically gendered really gets under my skin. It's not just the "wait until you're married" chorus; it's the "wait until you're married or the girl becomes a filthy slut" chorus which reaffirms all of the misogyny around us. I mean--there are some really messed up things people believe to be true about women and sex, even down to how it supposedly ruins their bodies (namely the whole idea that ciswomen get "looser" the more PIV sex they have.) This false and incredibly fucked up notion doesn't come out of nowhere; it stems directly from slut shaming lessons like the chocolate bar analogy.
Beyond that, since consent was never discussed in any of the lessons, anyone in that room who had been raped or abused was left with the implicit message they were damaged beyond repair. No one should be made to feel that sex ruins them, but the lack of distinction between consenting and nonconsensual situations coupled with this message is especially toxic.
And the thing is...shaming doesn't even curtail teen sexual activity. Abstinence only programs have been proven ineffective. Shame just drives sex further into the shadows where there is no good information, no discussions of consent and healthy communication, and no access to contraception. I mean, using my peers as an extremely anecdotal example, there were plenty of teen moms in my school.
Needless to say, I hope that we can move away from such misogynistic, stigmatizing, and shaming sex education lessons. And honestly, I just feel lucky that I didn't internalize these messages. But I have never looked at a Hershey's bar quite the same...
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