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Is it radical to teach boys not to rape?

The trial of former film producer Harvey Weinstein began a few days ago in New York. It has been more than two years since several women’s allegations against Weinstein of raping them became known to a wider public. Since then, the discussion about sexual violence in all its different facets has been in the media almost every day. In a 2018 study by the Pew Research Center, 65 percent of surveyed users in the United States stated that they regularly come into contact with content about sexual harassment and sexual violence on social networks. One can feel overwhelmed and dulled by the ubiquity of action. One can draw hope from the fact that the increased visibility of these incidents will also broaden knowledge about them and that this could ultimately contribute to the fact that sexualized assaults occur less frequently. That rape doesn't happen anymore. That it is no longer part of teaching girls how to defend themselves if someone attacks them or wants something different from them.

One obstacle to the fact that fewer people have this experience at some point in their lives, however, is the coverage of sexual violence. Because although much more has been written about it since the #metoo debate, journalists often focus on prominent cases, reports from the courtroom, and still reinforce rape myths in their texts. Too seldom do they represent the social context in which sexual violence is commonplace and not a spectacular individual case, committed by a monster. There are no stories about that victims can have a normal and happy life after rape, that perpetrators can re-integrate - stories of healing. The reports also usually lack the people who are familiar with the most important component that could reduce sexual violence: prevention.

If men stopped rape, the problem would be solved. And although that is the case - in 98 percent of the cases in Europe the perpetrator is a man - this thesis does not answer what can be done in detail to prevent men from becoming perpetrators. Often there is already a lack of imagination. Women's counseling centers and other experts have been trying for a long time to explain that the typical perpetrator does not exist. Men in all social classes become violent - the fact that someone has a university degree, can tie himself a tie and grew up in a harmonious family does not exclude him as a possible perpetrator. So when we think about what could be different in the upbringing of boys so that fewer of them later mistake violence for sex, we must first admit: It is also about their own sons. (Those who themselves could also be affected by a sexualized assault by their peers - parents shouldn't ignore that either.) In addition to a lack of imagination, there is also a lack of knowledge: How do you talk to boys about sexualized violence? How do you educate your son not to rape? In which educational guide can I find tips, in which class are boys taught this?

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I was about twelve when my parents signed up for a girls self-defense class. As a mother, I found out how I can make my toddler strong against abuse and how I can recognize signs should something have happened. These are offers so as not to become a victim. The fact that our society encourages girls and women in particular to protect themselves against assault and repeatedly blames them for experiencing sexual violence - also known as »victim blaming« - has long been criticized. Because to a similar extent, boys and men are not discussed about where their own behavior could be abusive or even fall within the scope of criminal liability. An equal sense of responsibility for children and adolescents would have to include two things: We not only protect those who may be affected from assault by making them strong, but also instruct those who might one day become perpetrators to behave differently. We currently do not educate young people about sexual violence on an equal footing. However, since defending yourself against undesirable behavior can only be the second step, the first step must be to avoid this behavior.

Kai Cheng Tom, Canadian writer and social worker, writes in a post on “Only when we admit that we are capable of doing harm, all of us, can we start talking about abuse and rape- Radically transform culture. Then we can evolve from merely reacting to violence and punishing perpetrators to preventing violence and letting our communities heal. "

But what level of knowledge are we as parents, caregivers and teachers? I am 35 years old and only got to know the term »consensual sex« sometime in the course of the # aufschrei hashtag. That was about seven years ago. It was only feminist discourses in social networks that gave me the language for the diffuse discomfort surrounding sex in my youth and sometimes into adulthood. The #Metoo debate has made it possible for many people to understand years later that what they remembered as maybe bad or weird sex was something that happened against their will. That it might have been sexual coercion, possibly rape.

Yet many adults find verbal consensus asking too much. People my age, not just men, first made jokes about "No means no", and the concept "Yes means yes" then went too far for them: "Now only written consent protects us from false accusations?" That In their sexuality, non-verbal communication has so far been sufficient to communicate beyond doubt, the critics of active consent do not see it as luck or coincidence, but incorrectly as a standard. The »enthusiastic consent«, on the other hand, could save many others from having bad experiences.

I can only talk about my educational instruction, which took place in the late 1990s, among other places, at a West German grammar school, and which in quantity and detail was far behind by the Bravo and other girls' magazines that I read. I don't remember anyone talking about consensus, having fun with sex, the many opportunities to misunderstand each other, and sexualized violence among peers. I have fond memories of my biology teacher, I liked her and could even imagine that she would have brought this sentence off her lips: »You can ask a girl if she would like to give you a blowjob, but if you take her head, pushing him down and laughing when she chokes, that's violence. ”But such a sentence was never uttered, it was about the developmental stages of egg cells. Would that be said like that in a school today? Maybe more in a sex blogger's Instagram stories. Probably the knowledge about consensual sex is higher among today's youth than in the generation of their parents.

Guardians have to deal with the fact that almost all male adolescents are influenced by porn in how they think about gender roles in sex and also about consensuality.

The Internet plays an ambivalent role in the sex education of young people. On the one hand, it enables young people to theoretically obtain better information than pre-digital generations. This benefits even more LGBTIQ young people, whose questions and needs are seldom taken into account in school lessons and who, unfortunately, are again significantly more frequently affected by sexual violence than heterosexual cis persons. On the other hand, it is a manifestation of sexualised violence when intimate recordings of students * by supposed friends * are digitally distributed; in some cases photos and videos even document assaults and deepen the emotional injury. A third digital aspect affecting adolescents' sexuality is the consumption of online pornography, the effects of which both adolescents and the adults trying to talk to them about sex should be aware of. These conversations are far more complex than you might think at first. Because what adults might see as the most important point, teenagers already know: porn doesn't show reality.

The author Peggy Orenstein, who spoke to more than 100 young men between the ages of sixteen and 22 for her book "Boys & Sex - Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity", published at the beginning of January, writes, everyone would have known that pornography does not represent the kind of sex they will have. Nevertheless, this knowledge does not prevent the large amounts of porn that young people consume today from shaping their expectations and desires. It is not only problematic that mainstream porn seldom portrays sex between men and women as a shared pleasurable experience, but rather as something in which the man's satisfaction predominates and his behavior is dominant, sometimes aggressive and even cross-border. Also, male adolescents would then have to understand that things that turn them on in porn or that give porn actress pleasure can differ from each other in real sex. That it is difficult for adolescents to make this distinction is shown in research showing that young men who watch a lot of pornography are less likely to be satisfied with their sex life and their own bodies than those who consume less. "I really don't know where they get control groups for these studies from," Orenstein said in an interview with the magazine "New Yorker" about research on boys and pornography - and thus indicates something important: preventing young people from watching pornography, is not realistic. Rather, legal guardians have to deal with the fact that almost all male adolescents are influenced by porn in how they think about gender roles in sex and also about consensuality. What adults could convey to them as something normal: The porn genre that you yourself most like to watch can have absolutely nothing to do with what fantastic sex with real sexual partners means.

Teens need to be encouraged to find out what they enjoy having sex for themselves, as well as asking their partner what they like. Porn can be a stimulus, but not a substitute for talking to each other and trying out what feels good together. To do this, young people also need information on where - if not in mainstream porn - they can find out more. Who to ask. A good place to start is, for example, the website "What's up with you?"

Consensus therefore goes further than a simple "yes" to sex. A "yes" to sex, for example, does not mean a "yes" to sex without a condom, to take a simple example.

Conversations with young people are all the more difficult if, as an adult, you may not know what you like about sex yourself - or you know it but have never talked about it with your own partner. If most people found it easy to talk about sex, then talking to their own children would be much easier. US homosexual journalist Dan Savage, who writes an advisory column on sex, advises straight people to learn from gays and to use the "four magic words" "What are you into?" Before trying sleeping together. Because with heterosexuals it is clear, he joked in a lecture, that after they had agreed on the "yes" they would have the typical heterosexual sex: vaginal intercourse. However, gays would have to talk differently about what they wanted to do with each other, and the question "What are you into?" Also implies talking about what one does not want to do, for example not having anal intercourse. “Imagine a man and a woman want to go to bed and the man asks, 'What are you into?' And the woman says, 'I don't like vaginal intercourse,'” Savage says while his audience laughs. And he has a point: Because of course there are girls and women who are heterosexual and still do not want to be penetrated. But how are boys and men supposed to know that if they don't ask, no one has ever told them and they watch the kind of porn that gives a simple-minded image of straight sex, in which perhaps the most common variation is how many men the woman has has sex at the same time?

Consensus therefore goes further than a simple "yes" to sex. When young people learn to talk about what they like and don't like during sex, not only will everyone involved enjoy it more, but crossing boundaries will also be more likely to be avoided. A "yes" to sex, for example, does not mean a "yes" to sex without a condom, to take a simple example. Therefore, educational instruction for adolescents should definitely include obtaining consent not only for sex per se, but also for the various actions.

Do young people want to talk about sex at all? Boys, Orenstein writes in her book, are indeed looking for more orientation and especially miss conversations with their father's caregivers. They have little use for general advice from parents, such as the sentence that they should respect women. Because what does that mean in concrete terms? Orenstein quotes a boy as saying: "It's like telling someone who is learning to drive not to run over old women and then giving him the keys to the car."

While it is important that adolescents know how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and unintentional pregnancies, these aspects, which have long been the focus of education, do not help adolescents to have consensual and pleasant sex with one another. Teens want to first and foremost explore their bodies and do something that feels good - and not reproduce. Shouldn't adults see this need for them first as well? In return, those who pass on knowledge about sex to younger people could rethink their attitude and swap the thought “If they have to have sex, then at least safe” for “If they are already having sex so young, then preferably sex that feels good who does not traumatize them «. This also includes safe contraception, but so much more. The writer Laurie Halse Anderson, who wrote a book for young people about a girl who has come to terms with her rape, has been attending schools for 20 years to talk to young people about sexual violence. In doing so, she learned, among other things, as she wrote in a text for the magazine "Time", that male adolescents very often do not know the long-term psychological consequences of sexual violence for those affected - they lacked important information. "Teenage boys want real-life conversations about sex," said Anderson.

"Rape must not be the punishment for getting drunk": Chanel Miller, a young American who was known by the pseudonym "Emily Doe", said this important sentence before she decided in 2019 about the time after her rape Writing a book on the Stanford University campus. Brock Turner, who was 19 at the time, stated that Miller had consented to sex before she passed out. In addition, young people, but also adults, should know different things: Alcohol can lead us to grossly overestimate the sexual interest of the other person. A smile in this case can be misinterpreted as: The person wants sex with me. Drunk people can overhear a "no" or overlook the fact that the other person is hesitating. Drunk young men are more likely to use pressure or violence to get what they want than if they were sober. So while many girls are advised not to drink too much in order to remain in control of their senses, boys must also be told that alcohol can make them do things that can hurt others, and that a "yes", that they believe that receiving a signal from a girl may not be a "yes". The reference to impulsive behavior under the influence of alcohol is still used to play down sexual violence and to blame the vodka, but not the perpetrator.However, if young men learn how their behavior can change with the consumption of alcohol, they get the chance to take responsibility for it, and we as a society get the chance to stop apologizing for violence with alcohol. The social context in which alcohol and heavy consumption of alcohol are considered normal, but also favor men violating the sexual self-determination of others, is an essential part of the discourse on sexual violence and also in critical reporting.

In addition, it is important to know that attitudes towards pushing someone to have sex and the role alcohol plays in this vary according to gender. A study by the US social organization Confi on attacks on university campuses under 18 to 25 year olds found that one in four young men believed that women should be persuaded to have sex. Only one in ten women believed that. 16 percent of men agreed with the statement that it could not be considered sexual assault if both were drunk, while only five percent of women agreed. These differences do not arise because there is supposedly a certain aggressiveness in the nature of men, but because our society still conveys and rewards the stereotype "the man as conqueror". For the vast majority of men, rape is something they would reject and never want to do, but our social norms are so deficient that sexual violence occurs even though men believe they respect personal boundaries and find the existing legal regulations right . This could explain why some men find it difficult to grasp that the sex they had with a woman was experienced by the woman as against her will, that she did not say "yes" and that they overlooked her rejection. This phenomenon is being told impressively in the US series "The Morning Show". The series is therefore absolutely worth watching as tutoring for adults.

It is therefore also worth knowing for everyone who wants to have sex: It is also possible soberly to misjudge whether another person wants to have sex or not. For example, if you rely on physical excitement. Sexology describes this as a "concordance problem": there is physical excitement that shows itself externally - that is, it can be seen or felt. In addition, however, there is a person's subjective sense of arousal, which can deviate from their physical reactions. The sex expert Emily Nagoski writes in her book "Come as you are" that in men, physical and subjective arousal only matched in half of the sexual encounters, in women only in ten percent. It would therefore be far too short-sighted for modern sex education to teach boys to recognize when a girl is aroused. Enthusiastic consent, which corresponds to subjective perception, can only be given verbally or through other actively given signals from the other person. Another effect of knowing about "Arousal Non-Concordance" is to reduce shame among adolescents as a whole: so that boys do not interpret a lack of erection as failure and girls do not interpret this in their sexual partner as "He does not get up me".

A much better knowledge of sex and a differentiated concept of consensus can therefore contribute enormously to the fact that border crossings become less frequent among young people and that what they do with each other contains above all positive experiences for them. From talking to each other more and being interested in the feelings and needs of others, empathic behavior as a whole also benefits - not just in bed.

However, knowledge alone is not enough. What could further reduce sexual violence, while making boys and men happier at the same time, are more flexible and overall more models of masculinity with which they can identify. Because when boys and men submit to rigid masculinity norms, they not only tend to harass or harass others more, they are also more likely to become victims of violence themselves. They drink more alcohol, are more likely to be in car accidents, and are more prone to sexually risky behavior.

While the pressure on girls to behave in a certain way in order to be accepted has decreased, the pressure on boys to behave within a narrow stereotype is still great. The results of a Plan International study from 2018 can only be called shocking in this regard: Seven out of ten boys perceived pressure from parents, teachers, and friends to be physically strong and emotionally tough. A third said they were expected to hide their feelings when they felt sad or angry. More than 40 percent said that the normal response to anger is to be aggressive or violent. 44 percent said they should be ready to hit someone who provoked them. One in three boys felt the pressure to behave in a dominant manner - a statement that correlated, among other things, with making sexual jokes and remarks about girls in groups of boys. Almost half of the boys had also listened when their father or another male family member talked sexually suggestive about women. Most of the boys Peggy Orenstein spoke to reported sleeping and bragging about girls in order to be accepted by their male circle of friends. Sexuality or emotional relationships with girls play a minor role in this case for boys, it is about group membership and status. In the context of an image of masculinity in which physical strength and aggression are considered values, the stories of conquest that contain these elements also promise the best response from the group. Boys may also value tenderness and want trusting relationships with girls - those needs are worthless to their social status and are therefore something they should keep to themselves rather than share with their friends. In a world where boys can be themselves, they shouldn't have to choose between their real feelings and the acceptance of their peer group. More opportunities to be a boy would allow them to behave differently towards girls.

Making diverse gender images also possible for boys is, however, not something that a few teaching units or workshops will be enough for, and not something that adults could teach children without changing themselves and thinking about which values ​​- especially male characteristics - are important for Have a high social status - set an example for children. Parents' concern that the discourse on “toxic masculinity” might make their sons feel that it is a bad thing to be a boy and that something is wrong with them may even be justified. Therefore, suitable prevention of sexual violence is less about teaching boys never to do something like that, but rather supporting them in developing their identity independently of group pressure and rigid gender stereotypes and being able to be happy. To educate them about the conditions under which unintentional assault are more likely and to talk to them about how to find out what kind of sex they and their partners like. It is very likely that adults will learn a lot from this type of education.

The ideas column turns into a podcast: Teresa Bücker in conversation about radical ideas for our society. Do you have any questions for the author? Gladly to Gladly email to [email protected]