It's time to ban the shaming analogies in sex ed

Grossly offensive and inaccurate interpretations of sex aren't only unhelpful, but may irreversibly damage young women's ...

Grossly offensive and inaccurate interpretations of sex aren't only unhelpful, but may irreversibly damage young women's self-esteem. Photo: Stocksy

In 2003, I followed the mass gap year migration and moved to Japan to teach English for a year. I was sent to Okinawa, which most people probably remember as the home of Mr. Miyagi. Okinawa accounts for around 1 per cent of Japan's landmass, but it holds 25 per cent of the country's US military bases. Basically, there are lots of men in uniform (which was good for me, but that's a story for another time).

My first night in Okinawa, I started chatting to a marine outside a ramen shop. We started talking about the supposed differences between men and women, and how he thought that women had a responsibility to act 'respectably' if they didn't want to be thought of as sluts. "Women have to be careful," he explained to me. "They shouldn't have sex with a lot of guys because it will make their vaginas loose." He went on to say that it was important for men to sleep with lots of women because then they'd know how to be good lovers.

I think we can all agree that someone who thinks vaginas get looser every time they have sex has no business being allowed near women let alone into their beds. The vagina is a muscle, not a piece of sugar taffy. Learn how to science, please. 

Unfortunately, this kind of thinking is not all that uncommon. The Age recently revealed that a public high school in Victoria was teaching its year 7 students that girls who have multiple sex partners "risk becoming like overused sticky tape". Students at Fairhills High School were given a booklet titled 'Science & Facts' which included such famous science facts as 'girls are needier than boys' and 'sluts are gross'. (Okay, so it didn't specifically say that second one but it may as well have.)

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The whole 'used vaginas are like old sticky tape' analogy is not a new thing. Some years ago, students at an American high school made a PSA for their health class which showed what happened to a piece of duct tape when it was stuck to different objects like the water cooler or a bin. Duct tape works by using an adhesive backing to stick itself to things, and it stands to reason that it becomes less effective with use. As the tape was transferred from item to item, it not only became less sticky - it also became dirtier and more residue laden. The not so subtle suggestion was that sex desecrates the sanctity of girls' bodies and turns them into garbage receptacles who nobody wants to touch.

A similar experiment is often used to depict the 'ugliness' of a sexually active woman and the supposed lack of respect her behaviour draws from others. In 2014, an article in Slate revealed that over 60 per cent of schools in the Mississippi high school district were encouraging teachers to use 'purity preservation exercises'. One such activity asked students to pass around a piece of chocolate to show how grubby and dirty it becomes the more people touch it. The chocolate is supposed to represent a girl's body, and the unwillingness that class members have to eat it at the end of the activity is supposed to show how unattractive she becomes the more people she permits to fondle her. Similar activities compare sexually active girls' bodies to chewed pieces of gum or dirty toothbrushes, and emphasise the disdain others will hold towards them if they allow themselves to become 'used goods'.

Such grossly offensive and inaccurate interpretations of sex seem typical of the heartland of America's Bible belt, where Purity Balls and virginity pledges reign supreme. They seem slightly less at home in Melbourne's outer east. But in the case of Fairhills High, the material was distributed during a weekly program run by Epic Youth, a subsidiary of the Pentacostal megachurch, CityLife. The real question is why a Christian ministry is providing any kind of educational influence in a public high school, let alone sharing offensive and sexist views on sexuality and women's bodies. (A cursory glance at CityLife's website reveals that the Church remains opposed to affirming homosexual attraction, which provides even further reason to keep them out of places where they can proselytise to groups that will invariably include same sex attracted kids.)

It seems absurd that we're still wrestling with institutional slut shaming in 2015. The idea that 'purity' is at all related to the number of sexual partners a woman has is disgusting, as is the notion that her sexual decisions are the business of anybody else in the first place. Women's bodies do not become dirtier and less valuable with the increase of sexual activity, and it isn't their responsibility to shield themselves from sex in order to 'earn' respect for their bodies. These kinds of attitudes do not protect women - they endanger them. And they endanger them because they send the message that sexually active women are less deserving of bodily autonomy, and therefore less capable of being sexually assaulted or violated. This is absolutely not the kind of message we should be sending to anyone, let alone children navigating their way through adolescence and sexual desire.

Sexual desire and activity is normal in both boys AND girls. The last thing we should be teaching anyone is to view women's bodies as disposable, or as products with a finite number of uses. Girls' bodies belong to no one but themselves. It's high time everyone stop creeping out over them and leave them alone to make their own decisions. Because frankly, I would rather eat a hundred smeared chocolates passed around by a thousand grubby hands than be forced to choke on any more of these revolting double standards.