This week we are pleased to be publishing a guest post from Kimberly Lux, who works with the group SHEER (Sexuality Health Education to End Rape) with Emily, one of the young women whose story was featured in Will You Stand Up on December 1st.
During ETD’s recent production of “Will You Stand Up?” one storyteller, “Emily”, described her experience of sexual assault – and how she survived it. Not just how she survived the actual assault, but how she found the strength to move toward healing.
Each survivor’s experience of healing is different, but no matter what, healing is damn hard work. Emily told it straight: “Recovering…really falls on the survivor…It takes a lot of hard work, figuring out...what makes you feel better, what heals you.” As a therapist and anti-violence worker myself, it has not been uncommon for me to see survivors find some of their healing through education, particularly education around rape or trauma. But what struck me about Emily’s story was that she found strength not only through talking to others about rape, but also through talking to others about SEX.
Now, if you’ve ever participated in a Take Back the Night Rally, attended a workshop on sexual assault, taken a gender studies class in college, or utilized any feminist-centered therapy, you’ve probably heard that rape is not about sex. Rape is not motivated by desire; it’s motivated by power and control. This has been the mantra of the anti-rape movement, and it’s an important one. When rape and sex become conflated (as it often does, particularly when the assailant is someone known to the survivor), society quietly grooms a rape culture. Survivors are blamed for being assaulted, and perpetrators (especially male perpetrators) are seen as either conquering heroes or merely horny assholes – two very different but equally false representations of rape’s perpetration. Thus, it should not surprise us that most anti-rape activists have worked very hard to
separate discussions of rape from discussions of sex. After all, rape is not a sexual experience; it’s a violent one.
Nevertheless, as Emily said, “People need to really understand what sex is…youth need to know that there is a line between a fun, safe, sexual experience and an unfun and unsafe interaction between two people.” Right on, Emily. The “line” Emily refers to boils down to one word: consent. Unfortunately, most public discourse on rape and most public discourse on sex omit any meaningful discussion of consent. Even themotto, “No Means No” – a succinct, important, easy-to-repeat, and easy-to-remember tagline of the anti-rape movement, fails to acknowledge the fullness of consent.
What’s more, even as society has grown collectively toward accepting this motto, society also
largely condemns those who say “yes” to sex (think, “slut-shaming”). And the more we put down people who say yes to sex, the less safe it is to talk about what it looks and feels like to enthusiastically say yes to sex. And the less we talk about it, the harder it is to imagine and understand what an enthusiastic “Fuck, yes!” looks and feels like. And when we have no real sense of enthusiastic consent, how can we be sure that we’ve distinguished consent from its absence? This is the most important question. Because we must be sure.
Which brings me to SHEER. SHEER is an acronym for Sexuality Health Education to End Rape. It’s a Chicago-based coalition of pro-consent activists and social justice workers who maintain that the motto “no means no” has been useful to the anti-rape movement but problematically implies that the absence of no is akin to consent.
Those of us who support SHEER think that “no means no” doesn’t go far enough. We think sex is great – and very, very different from rape. We think it’s time that rape education moves beyond “no means no” and into “yes means yes!” We work to create a world in which the lines between rape and sex are clear at individual as well as institutional levels- a world in which enthusiastic consent that is active, ongoing, and mutual is the expectation and the norm.
We move toward this world not only by talking candidly about rape, but also by talking openly and optimistically about sex. As Emily said, there’s an “utter awesomeness” that can arise when people talk together about consensual sex. If you want to join the discussion, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to learn more about consent, or growing the anti-rape movement into a pro-consent movement, check out these great blogs: