A Step Forward in the Fight Against Restrictions on Foreign Aid

Two of the things that pissed me off the most in the Bush Administration were the Global Gag Rule and a law that required US groups working internationally to fight AIDS to denounce prostitution in order to get federal funding.  I was very happy last week to hear that one court, at least, found the latter policy unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

Given the massive destructive impact of using funding to silence NGOs, I’m thrilled to hear that a court has recognized the free speech implications here.  Unfortunately, this only applies to funding for American groups, but it is a first step.  Why is this so important?

You can’t fight a disease without recognizing the circumstances under which it spreads and without understanding why people do or do not seek treatment for it.  Denouncing sex work is a pointless, moralistic requirement that actively harms a group’s ability to get treatment and prevention help to those who actually need it.  If we’re going to fight HIV and AIDS, we need to destigmatize both the disease and the populations it impacts.  We also need to look at circumstances that impact its transmission, including violently restrictive policies against sex work, widespread rape, unequal marriages, homophobia, transphobia, police abuse, and drug use.  We need NGOs to learn about the populations they support and understand context before providing resources.  We need to stop overlaying one culture onto the entire world.

I hope this ruling is just the first in a long series of steps in the right direction.

This post was originally published on the blog Sex Positive Activism, which has now merged to become the sex & relationships section of Queer & Now.

Sex-Negative Education and the Spectre of Rape

Another story to add to the chorus of voices on why abstinence-only policies promote rape.

Here’s my take: when you teach adults and children sex-negative messages, sex becomes an undifferentiated mass of “wrong.”  If all sex is wrong, then why try to tease out good from bad, pleasurable from painful?  When students are taught not to think about sex, they aren’t going to spend any time determining what they do and don’t want, or what they might be interested in.  Of course, they’re going to have sex eventually, but when it happens will they be able to communicate at all through the veil of guilt, shame, and self-loathing that sex negativity encourage?

Sex-negative messages don’t keep people from having sex.  They keep people from having good sex.  They keep people from having pride in their sexuality, from sexual self-awareness.  They keep people from asking questions about sex, and communicating with their partners.  They discourage experimentation.  They blur the lines between consensual sex and rape by framing all sex as an undifferentiated mass of “bad.”  They combine victim-blaming with generalized guilt about sex, so that perpetrator and survivor are equally culpable.  Basically, they take logic and reason out of the equation.

Sex doesn’t “lead to assault.”  Sex is not the culprit.  Silence is the culprit.  Shame is the culprit.  Educational institutions should teach young people how to communicate, how to express their desires and listen to what a potential sex partner is saying.  If young people have no language to communicate about sex, if sex is a furtive, secret, scary thing, then some of those young people are going to assault their peers because it is the only way they know to respond to their physical desires.  However, if young people are taught to speak clearly and honestly about sex, and to respect one another, then the sex that does take place will more likely be consensual.  It may not be possible to eliminate rape entirely, but the answer is not to put sex back in the closet.

This post was originally published on the blog Sex Positive Activism, which has now merged to become the sex & relationships section of Queer & Now.