My husband and I watched the Oscars together a few weeks ago. I lounged on the couch and he thumbed through his FB feed. The award show was more background noise than anything. Then I heard the name Kobe Bryant. My husband looked up from his phone, confused. I sat up and turned to the TV, equally confused. Why was Kobe Bryant at the Oscars? He just won an Oscar, in fact. He won Best Animated Short Film.
“Isn’t he a known rapist?” my husband asked.
I grabbed my phone and googled to confirm. Indeed, he was accused of rape in 2004. The charges were dropped however, when the accuser refused to testify. But that’s not what really hung me up. As I continued reading the Wiki article, the part that really stuck with me was a description of their sexual encounter. In particular details that he enjoyed strangling his sexual partner during intercourse.
Now, regardless of the truth of those details it’s not the strangulation that ultimately bothers me. Sex can happen in all kinds of consensual ways. I’m not here to judge. Erotic asphyxiation is a type of S & M that is valid and some people enjoy it. Adults can choose to have consensual sex with each other however they want. Kobe said his “thing” was choking his partner during sex. The way he (supposedly) said it though came off immature to me. As if he would do this thing because it felt good but never really took the time to understand it. And based on the allegations, he had no clue how it might affect his partner. There’s something to be said for acting on an impulse because it feels good and knowing oneself well enough to understand the impulse.
The whole thing got me thinking about how porn is teaching our kids more about sex than we are. If there’s one glaring and seemingly under-discussed topic in the whole #MeToo movement it’s sex education. However, with this string of awful stories surfacing about men in power it’s no longer an option to let the sex talk slide. We need to talk about sex more now. We need to understand sex better. We need to share our knowledge and sexual experiences with younger generations. Right now, they are learning from porn or from YouTube or from each other. That, in my mind, is a recipe for a continuation of sexual assault.
When young girls don’t understand anything about finding pleasure for themselves; when they are taught by 50 Shades of Gray or any number of other sexually repressive cultural phenomenon, how will they even know what to ask for from their sexual partners? When young heterosexual boys don’t understand anything about a woman’s body, the entire sexual experience is ripe with opportunity for misunderstanding. When we can’t talk to them candidly about sex, how can we expect them to talk to each other about it?
We can’t be hushed about sex. We can’t use euphemism anymore. We can’t give body parts cute little names. We need to be open and honest about it with our kids. Girls need to know about orgasms. I’ve met an alarming number of adult women in my adult life that have never had an orgasm. How can that be? When there is shame and judgement and often times hostility aimed at a woman’s desire for sexual pleasure it is not surprising that she represses it. When we only go as far as offering condoms because the rest is too uncomfortable; when we squirm and blush and dodge deeper conversations, the only lesson we are teaching is that sexual knowledge is something to avoid. In our quiet acceptance of sexual taboo, we have been complicit. Young girls enter college, a place where one in four will experience sexual assault, armed with nothing but birth control (if they are lucky) and some scenes from movies. Young boys enter college, a place where the pressure to “become a man” peaks, with nothing but pornographic images of big tits and blow jobs. What kind of bumbling confused hormonal situation have we created for them?
I’m not making excuses for sexual assault here. Just because a boy doesn’t know what or where the clitoris is doesn’t excuse his choice to force sex with a woman while she’s unconscious. What I am saying is that our approach to the sex talk has to change. Our language around sex has to change. Our willingness to speak shamelessly about our own experiences has to become a priority. Sure, sex is complicated. Sure, they will make mistakes even despite our best efforts to educate them. But, if we can take away the confusion and the guilt; if we can correct the fabrication of pornography before it hits the sheets, then maybe they will learn to respect sex, to enjoy it and to talk about it honestly. Most importantly, maybe they will learn to understand their own sexual identities and inclinations better so that they can share them with partners in a fulfilling way rather than a violent way.