Nina Funnell challenges her students – and others – to think through their sexual behavior and ask themselves, “Is this ethical?”.
Consider the following scenario: Lucy and Tom meet each other at a bar. They begin drinking and flirting. As the bar closes, Lucy suggests they go back to her place. In the taxi they begin making out. They arrive at Lucy’s place and Lucy pours them both another drink. They begin making out again. Tom asks “do you want to do it?” and Lucy replies “Uh-huh, but do you have a condom?” Tom removes a condom from his wallet and puts it on. They begin having sex. Tom is now feeling the effects of the alcohol and is having difficulty maintaining an erection. He reaches beneath the covers and removes the condom. In the dark, Lucy doesn’t notice. Tom continues having sex with Lucy. Now consider this scenario: Alex and Lee are dating. It’s Alex’s birthday and Lee decides to surprise Alex by booking an expensive restaurant followed by a night at a hotel room. Alex is really touched by Lee’s gesture but doesn’t really feel like having sex. Despite this, Alex is worried that saying ‘No’ would disappoint Lee and may even lead to an argument. Alex and Lee have sex.
These are just two of many scenarios that will be discussed by students at Melbourne University this week as part of Rad(ical) Sex and Consent week. The point of the scenarios is not to debate the morality of one night stands or pre-martial sex (those are matters left up to the individual), but to discuss the legal and ethical complexities of negotiating consent. Other scenarios consider how a person might request a specific sexual activity while avoiding the use of pressure, the ethics of repeatedly topping up a person’s alcoholic beverage prior to sex, hook-ups which occur when a person can’t get home and is forced to crash at a friend’s place, the ethics of lying to a person in order to get them into bed, and what happens when a person changes their mind or loses interest during sex.
Students are also encouraged to consider more than just the legal consequences of their actions. After all, ‘unlawful’ and ‘unethical’ are different concepts, and just because an act may technically be legal, it doesn’t automatically follow that it is also ethical. As a case in point, I recently heard a story involving a young woman who had engaged in consensual sex with a semi-famous musician. The moment the sex was over he called her a ‘slag’ and told her to ‘piss off’. Was his conduct illegal? No. Unethical? You betcha.
For many students, Rad Sex and Consent week represents the first real opportunity they have had to talk about sexual ethical dilemmas in a structured environment. Unfortunately, because most high-school sex education programs still tend to focus primarily on biology, puberty, reproduction and health risks associated with sex, many other important subjects go untouched, including intimacy, desire, consent, relationships and communication. The result is that students may be able to correctly locate and label a fallopian tube on a cross section diagram, but this does not mean they are adequately prepared to manage the complex world of relationships. Nor are they equipped to deconstruct pervasive cultural assumptions about sex, gender and dating. I was reminded of this recently, while researching my latest book for teens on intimacy and relationships. I was speaking to a group of Year 10 girls as they were debating what they would do if a boy pressured them to have sex. One girl commented that if “you’ve given a boy an erection, then you owe it to him to do it. Otherwise you’re just being a prick-tease.” I pointed out that a teen boy can get an erection from just about anything, including the bouncing of the bus (and does this mean the bus driver owes him sex?) and that no-one should ever have to do something sexual if they don’t want to. She looked relieved to hear this, and I felt sad that she clearly hadn’t been taught this before.
Young people both need and are entitled to more comprehensive and sex-positive information. Too often girls are taught to adopt a defensive approach to sexuality while boys are taught view their sexuality as inherently dangerous and exploitative. This isn’t empowering for either gender. Nor is it helpful that so many sex education programs either ignore the needs of sexual minorities, or worse, pathologize the owners of those needs as deviant. It’s wonderful to see that some university students are being offered the opportunity to discuss sexual ethics and reflect on their personal values. Now for the next step: getting those conversations into schools. Originally published on dailylife.com.au/news-and-views/ Find Nina on Twitter https://twitter.com/ninafunnell
—Photo Katie Tegtmeyer/Flickr