Sex is used to sell almost every product there is, and yet conversations about healthy, respectful sexuality are hard to find. The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act has been in jeopardy for the last few months on Capitol Hill because it dares to expand protections to immigrants, and other nontraditional populations. And yet, a national talk show host recently repeatedly called a female law student a “slut” and a “prostitute” for using birth control. In this climate, some straight, sensible talk on this topic is important. I am grateful that this April, as we commemorate national Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center has decided to focus on Healthy Sexuality.
Healthy sexuality speaks to sexual interactions and relationships that are consensual, respectful, and informed. Sexually healthy people express their sexuality while respecting the rights of others, and engage in sexual relationships that are consensual, non-exploitative, honest, pleasurable, and safe. Healthy sexuality supports sexual violence prevention because it means understanding the harm we do to one another when we aren’t educated and don’t value one another.
Working at the YWCA Sexual Assault rape crisis center, we are inundated with stories of sex and sexuality that are painful, hurtful, coercive, abusive, and illegal. In the prevention department, we work every day to create a world that is free from rape and sexual harm.
It is just as important to work towards a world where healthy sexuality is celebrated, not just by companies trying to sell something, but by all of us.
I’d like to imagine a world where a woman’s sexuality is not so intimately linked with her worth, her morality, and what we feel she “deserves.” It’s a world where a man’s sexuality is not so intimately linked with his worth, his manliness, or his status. In this world men and women are free to imagine their sexuality differently. Let’s create a world where our sexuality is not taboo or shameful, but an integral, amazing part of what it means to be human.
In this sexually healthy world, sexuality is an act, it is an expression, it is a fundamental part of ourselves. We love our bodies, and the only shame that exists is the shame that belongs to those who violate the sexuality and desires of others. This month, as we continue to work for healing and peace for survivors of sexual violence, we are also imagining a better world for all of us.
YWCA St. Louis Regional Sexual Assault Center
YWCA Metro St. Louis