Should Sex Ed Always Be Sex-Positive?

Erica Sackin

Sure, I admire the intention of web sites like the new Sex.Really. But do you know how much harm you're really doing when you preach against a 'hookup culture'?

I’m sure you guys have all heard about the new web site called Sex.Really., sponsored by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Unlike some other sex ed web sites, it’s geared towards women in their 20’s, and is designed to

"provide food for thought, and for discussion. Sort of like a sex site for the brain…"

I love the idea of the site in theory – yes, people of all ages need sex education, especially those in their 20s and 30s (and even 40s, 50s and 60s) who are making up the ‘rules’ as they go. But have you read it? Unfortunately, most of the content seems to revolve around the work of author Laura Sessions Stepp. And as a post over at Jezebel so aptly describes, that means:

In the system of sexuality that Sessions Stepp seems to favor — the slow, steady, codified "running of the bases" within a relationship — women are always the sexual gatekeepers. This stance neatly sidesteps any notion of men’s responsibility for, well, anything. In Sessions Stepp’s view, women trade sex begrudgingly in return for access to the socially-protected role of "girlfriend" and the supposed privileges that come with it.

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Exactly why can this approach be so harmful?

As my friend Jessica*, who just started dating casually after getting out of a four-year relationship, put it:

It was weird for me at first to have sex with someone I wasn’t in a relationship with, and I kind of freaked out and thought I was doing something wrong.
But then I realized that "I feel like I’m doing something wrong" thing wasn’t coming from me, it was coming from my fear of being judged by other folks.
For me I couldn’t make sex contingent upon a relationship because I wasn’t ready to get into a new relationship. But I did want to have sex.
It’s weird, it probably would have been more unhealthy for me to force a relationship in order to have sex. But I think [Laura Sessions Step] would think that having a relationship was more healthy.

She’s not my only friend who’s had this reaction, especially after getting out of a relationship. 

I agree that it’s good for sex ed to be holistic, and to talk about the emotional consequences of the decisions we make — Planned Parenthood of New York City uses a model of sex ed that talks about body image, relationships and everything else in between. I also agree that navigating just what kind of sexual relationship (no strings attached, long term relationship) you’re comfortable entering into can be tricky. 

But so far, the content on Sex.Really., with its warnings about the negative consequences of hook ups and stark lines between sex and relationships, isn’t doing much to help the matter. 

But maybe I’m being too anything-goes sex-positive. What do you think? Is there value in what Laura Sessions Step has been producing for the site

* Yes, names have been changed to protect the newly-singe

This piece was cross posted to the PPNYC blog

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