Want to prevent sexual violence? Start with healthy sexuality.

If I walked up to 100 strangers on the street and asked them to define healthy sexuality, I’m guessing responses would range from uncomfortable laughs to puzzled looks to real responses. In my life, I’ve certainly had difficulty defining what “healthy sexuality” means and in fact, most Americans do. Pause for a moment and think – what is healthy sexuality to you?

Sexual violence is perpetrated because of unhealthy sexual norms: strict gender roles (men are sex seekers and women sex gatekeepers), the idea that communicating about sex is weird and embarrassing, and a host of other risk factors proven to be associated with sexual violence perpetration.

Healthy sexuality is the opposite of that. It’s important that we as a culture not only recognize “no means no” (which is important!), but we also should be providing young people – and let’s be honest, everyone else – with the other side of that coin. The other side is that consent is the presence of an enthusiastic yes.

A sexually healthy person:

  • Recognizes and respects those enthusiastic yes moments;
  • Recognizes and respects when someone says or implies (through body language and non-verbal cues) no;
  • Is comfortable with different forms of gender expression;
  • Knows how to define their own boundaries;
  • Understands and recognizes body parts associated with sex; and
  • Is comfortable with asking for what they want and being okay with getting it – or not!

Healthy sexuality is also important to survivors healing from sexual violence. When someone experiences sexual violence, his or her sexual autonomy has been violated. Part of healthy sexuality means gaining that sexual autonomy back. Taking control of one’s own sexuality and one’s own body can be healing for a survivor.

Healthy sexuality isn’t easy in a culture where we teach people not to get raped instead of teaching people not rape others. It’s not easy in a culture where survivors are still shamed for talking about their experiences with sexual violence. But so many wonderful organizations and people are doing great work to shift the language we use, to change the way we talk about sexuality and how we treat each other, and to challenge institutions where unhealthy sexual norms are rampant.

A sexually healthy culture can’t be built in a vacuum. Unhealthy messages reach all of us at a very young age. However, there communities all over the world are speaking about healthy sex and sparking dialogue that teaches people what to do instead of just what not to do. And, eventually, we’ll live in a culture where healthy sexuality is the norm.

And honestly, I’d give that an enthusiastic yes.

Cross-posted at Speak About It’s blog – go check them out!

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