By Bethany Bair
Posted on December 3, 2021
TW: This article contains mentions of gender based violence, sexual violence and victim-blaming.
Some might turn the other way when they hear the words “sexual education.” It’s important to not turn away but to listen. Sexual education remains a sensitive issue in the Black community, which results in the lack of conversation about the subject. A couple of weeks ago I tuned into the Safe and Strong: Healthy Relationships workshop and panel on sexual education delivered by the Ontario Learning Development Foundation. It was an informative conversation on sex, sexuality, sexual violence and distinguishing between healthy and unhealthy relationships. The uplifting panel and workshop showed the importance of conversing about sexual education. Sex Information & Education Council of Canada (SIECCAN)’s Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education state that sexual health education is “effective in addressing discriminatory attitudes” towards such groups, improves gender-equitable attitudes and helps prevent physical, sexual and emotional violence in relationships. Therefore, at the appropriate age, knowledge of sexual education can help individuals understand consent, be aware of the health consequences and the impactful victim-blaming.
Knowledge of sexual consent helps prevent sexual violence. Consent is an important topic talked about in sexual education. From a kiss to a hug, asking for consent is vital. For example, teaching someone at a young age that they can say no to a hug goes a long way. Women are often put in situations in which they don’t realize they can take control when it comes to their comfort. However, some individuals aware of consent don’t understand that it’s used for any moment, not specific experiences. In many established relationships, partners believe that asking for consent is not necessary, but that is not the case. In sexual education, healthy relationships is a primary theme. An article from Harvard Medical School Primary Care Review mentions that individuals “learn positive ways to express intimacy and affection, communicate personal boundaries, and develop strategies to avoid or end unhealthy relationships.” Lacking the knowledge of these key points can result in individuals not being able to distinguish between a healthy or unhealthy relationship. Studies state that over a quarter of women aged 15-49 years who have been in a relationship have been subjected to physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner at least once in their lifetime (since age 15). Thus, sexual education aids people in being able to communicate with their partner on boundaries.
Sexual education is not always avoided but sometimes it is not being accurately taught. Many women who experience violence are not provided proper information about sexual education. As studies say, a large proportion of sexuality education programmes are not evidence-based or medically accurate. This lack of education can result in many health consequences from unintended pregnancies, induced abortions, gynecological problems and sexually transmitted infections. Women are forced to learn about their own selves without any guide or support from their community. An article from For Harriet mentions that “sex education doesn’t just prevent pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases, it enables Black women to make important decisions about their bodies and sexual and reproductive health.” Black women deserve to understand that they have power and can set boundaries over their own bodies.
Normalizing sexual violence and excusing its horrid nature causes shame to the survivor. Studies state that “victims who receive negative responses and blame tend to experience greater distress and are less likely to report future abuse.” Survivors of sexual violence can observe a public situation of victim-blaming and it will make it harder for them to come forward and report the abuse they experienced. Given the deep-seated nature of victim-blaming, how can we dispel it? All survivors need to know it is not their fault. Showing survivors that you believe their stories leaves such a huge positive impact on them. When people blame survivors, they’ll end up blaming their own selves. Believing them from the start and advocating for them helps greatly.
Next, it’s important to avoid assuming consent. Real consent is when someone truly wants to do something. There are many times a victim could have hesitantly replied when the perpetrator asked for consent. For example, saying “maybe” or “yeah sure” to their partner does not necessarily mean the person consented. However, a victim-blamer might say they did. Hence, sexual education would be helpful for Black women to understand there are differences and it is never the victim’s fault.
Society needs to change the dialogue on sexual education. Sexual education helps people understand even if boundaries are crossed, it does not mean the victim did anything wrong. Through learning vital sexual education, Black women and girls will be able to better defend themselves against sexual violence. At the appropriate age, sexual education can help them learn how to handle various situations that come into their life. As they say: knowledge is power.