Thursday, September 23, 2010

sexual freedom

It’s National Sexual Freedom Day (wow, there’s a day!), and in honor of this great day, the Woodhull Freedom Foundation is hosting a blog carnival.

So it’s time to pick up a pen (or, really, my keyboard), and get down to the dirt of why I care about sexual freedom.

This week, I watched two different TV shows, both about parenting young children – “Modern Family” and “Parenthood.” Ironically, both contained plot lines where a couple was faced with how to talk to their young child about sex. In “Modern Family,” the five-year-old (or about that age) daughter started asking her parents about sex – specifically, if she came from her mom’s vagina, how babies are made, how eggs are fertilized, what the daddy “does,” etc. In “Parenthood,” a mom found a photo of a naked woman downloaded on her computer and believed her ten-year-old son to be the culprit.

In both shows, the parents had discussions about what to say to their child, and in both shows, there was a uniting theme: shame. One couple agonized about how many years it would take for their daughter to “live down” their explanation of sex – and the father speculated that waiting another 5-6 years before talking to her would be appropriate. The mother winced at any mention of the word “vagina” and “penis,” though she did try to push for honesty, while the father kept trying to change the subject. In the other show, the father told his wife that a mother talking to a son about sex would “scar him” and embarrass him; they both avoided discussing the subject and used bad euphemisms to try to get their points across. Granted, there were some comedic moments, but both couples implied that discussions of sexually are innately scary, embarrassing, shameful, and worth avoiding.


I’m fascinated by sex and sexuality because they are an integral part of most everyone’s lives, and yet, in America, we have such a love-hate relationship with sex. We use sex to sell everything, from cars to clothes to shampoo… and yet, many women couldn’t find their own clitoris, and most people can’t have a frank conversation about sex without using some euphemisms or making bad jokes.

Sexual freedom for me is the ability to discuss sex, to have sex, to navigate what sex means in our lives in an open and honest way. I want to live in a society where we accept sex and sexuality as a part of our lives – not dominant, not non-existent, but integral. I want to live in a society where we don’t speak of sex as shameful – where words like “slut” don’t exist, where “masturbation” isn’t whispered, where condoms aren’t behind glass lock boxes. I definitely think this kind of repression hurts. Countries like the Netherlands, where sex is discussed at an age-appropriate level with children and contraception is widely and easily accessed, doesn’t suffer the same teenage pregnancy and STI rates that America does. I think children without a sense of shame about their bodies and their desires lead happier, healthier lives. And I definitely know, from statistics and experience, that queer kids who grow up ashamed of their sexuality and their sexual practices suffer from higher rates of depression and suicide.

Sexual freedom means talking about consent – as a theory, as a practice, and as a personal interaction. It means talking about rape – and working to end rape and sexual assault. It means talking about sex in nuanced terms. It means discussing that sexuality is different for each individual, as is sexual practice, needs, desires, and expression. It means easy and affordable access to STI testing, gyno services, HIV/AIDS testing, contraception, barrier protection (like condoms), and doctors who are educated and communicative about sex, sexuality, and your body and mind. It means learning, teaching, sharing.

Sexual freedom is power. It is the right to consent or not to, to be abstinent or sexually active, to be monogamous or poly, to be queer or straight – and all of those choices and states of being to be respected and validated.

Sexual freedom is the ability to express your wants, needs, desires. To have those desires validated and met, in a healthy and consensual way.

Once a week, I volunteer with a women’s shelter in town. It’s a great place with an amazing staff, a really inspiring method for helping women and their families, and the only trans-friendly shelter in town. I could talk all day about this place. But this week, I met a new woman at the shelter. Let’s call her “Georgina.”  She’s from a small Southern Louisiana town, where the sheriff’s office flies the Confederate flag right next to the Louisiana flag. Yes, Virginia, places like this do exist in 2010. Georgina ended up at the shelter with her baby girl, “Stella,” after being fired from her job, kicked out of her home, and basically, run out of town…all because she is white and had a baby with a black man (out of wedlock), and she has continued to date black men.  Her family, friends, and neighbors put her out on the street because they didn’t agree with her sexuality due to racist motivations.

I want a society that doesn’t allow this to happen. Sexual freedom is bound up, tightly, in equality – racial equality, gender equality, and queer and trans equality. There’s a lot of emphasis in the gay rights movement on “love.” But I think for that movement to become queer – to align with Stonewall, to align with eliminating HIV/AIDS, and to align with the needs and rights of people across this country – this movement must also focus on sex. We aren’t just talking about the rights for people to get married or have children. We’re talking about the rights of people to hook up with whomever they choose, and to do so without judgment and shame. And yet, many try to distance the gay rights movement from talking about sex for fear of losing support from straight allies. Really, isn’t sex where this a lot of this started in the first place? And isn’t sexual freedom just as important as the freedom to love – as if the two can be separated?

In 2005, in Lawrence v. Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sex, in the privacy of one’s own bedroom, is not a state or policed issue. But yet, many people still enforce a measure of shame on sex – the act itself, the gender of the couple, the race/ethnicity of the couple, the marital status of the couple, and even the motivation of the couple. It’s people like Georgina and Stella (and hundreds of thousands of kids in abstinence-only classes) who lose when shame and hatred are held as more important than love, freedom, and humanity.

We all could benefit from more sexual freedom (and more sex!). :)

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