To prevent sexual assault, start by learning about sex, say educators

The #MeToo movement has a lot of people expressing confusion regarding which constitutes sexual assault and fear being the target of accusations. It also left a question mark on what can be done about the apparent epidemic sexual assault and harassment.

A step forward, according to health experts, would be to start funding better sex education programs in schools. Undergraduate women who took sex education classes before college were half as likely to be sexually assaulted in college, recent study found by Columbia University, compared to undergraduates who received abstinence-only education and saw no reduction in rates of aggression.

This is just the latest study to show sex education programs that focus on consent and healthy sex could help reduce the rate of sexual violence among young adults.

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Only 24 states demand sex education be taught in schools, and among these, only 10 states reference specifically “Healthy relationships”, “sexual assault” or “consent” in these programs.

Many states teach abstinence-only sex education, which discourages sex outside of marriage rather than educating students about premarital sexual safety. Congress approved $ 85 million in funding for abstinence-only sex education in 2016, according to a May 2017 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

To receive funding, these sexuality education programs must place “an unambiguous and overarching emphasis” on six sexual risk avoidance topics that “normalize the optimal health behavior of avoiding non-marital sexual activity.” .


“As a child, I was taught that men try to have sex with me, and my job is to say no.”


– —Andrea Barrica, founder of the online sex education platform O.school

These topics include what the program promotes as the benefits of abstaining from non-marital sex, including reduced likelihood of poverty, the basics of healthy relationships and healthy marriages, how drugs and alcohol increase risk. premarital sex, and “How to Resist Sexual Coercion and Dating Violence.”

However, these abstinence-only sex education programs can lead to shame and confusion surrounding sex, putting young people at a higher risk of assault and making them less likely to report such abuse. , said Andrea Barrica, founder and CEO of the online sex education platform the O. school.

“Conservative school boards don’t want to teach consent because they fear it opens the door to consensual sexual activity,” she said. “But when you teach children that all sexual feelings are false and shameful, rather than natural, it actually makes consent violations more likely. “

The question of what healthy sex and consent looks like has been the subject of renewed scrutiny during the #MeToo movement, which has prompted thousands of women to go public with their experiences of sexual assault and harassment.

But Barrica said abstinence-only education places the burden of consent almost exclusively on women, creating a culture of shame that keeps abuse hidden. “As a child, I was taught that men try to have sex with me, and my job was to say no,” Barrica said. “When we teach girls that their job is to say no, it puts the blame on us when we ‘fail’, which means we are less likely to report such violations. This internal shame is something predators rely on.

The US government spent approximately $ 2 billion to sex education only on abstinence programs over the past two decades, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit reproductive health organization.


“The whole question is how to minimize the damage, and the conclusive evidence shows that by avoiding talking about these problems, you actually make them worse.”


– —James Hamblin, Senior Lecturer in Preventive Medicine at Yale’s School of Public Health

Even programs that are not strictly focused on abstinence have been criticized for their inability to comprehensively cover sex education and consent. The Title V Sexual Risk Avoidance Education program and the Sexual Risk Avoidance Education program, which receive $ 75 million per year in taxpayer funding, place “primary emphasis” on “avoiding non-marital sexual activity,” according to the Congressional Research Service, the non-partisan research agency for the US Congress.

These government-sanctioned programs have very little evidence of their effectiveness, said James Hamblin, professor of preventive medicine at Yale University’s School of Public Health. “Sex will never be 100% safe of all kinds, from unwanted pregnancies to sexually transmitted infections,” Hamblin said. “The whole question is how to minimize the damage, and the conclusive evidence shows that by avoiding talking about these problems, you actually make them worse. “

Evidence shows that adolescents are more likely to delay sex and to have healthy, responsible and mutually consensual relationships when they become sexually active if they receive comprehensive sexuality education, rather than abstinence only, one. 2010 study by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) found.

For this reason, children should be educated about consent from an early age, even if they are not old enough to learn it in the context of sex, said Lucinda Holt, sex education expert at REPLY, a national sex education organization at Rutgers University and advisor for the Sex Education Platform AMAZING.

She recommended that when a family member wants to hug or kiss a child, make it clear to the child that they can say no. If a child in the playground says they don’t want to play right now, make sure they know they have to accept that answer the first time they say “No”.

“If we start teaching people from an early age not only what consent is, but also to respect another person’s boundaries, it goes a long way to creating a culture where we can’t stand people. hurt each other, ”said Holt. “We shouldn’t wait until someone is sexually active to talk to them about sex and consent. “

This story was originally posted and updated on December 13, 2018.




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