Let’s talk about sex positivity

Meghan Joyce, A&E Editor

Were you leading them on?

What were you wearing?

Did you have anything to drink?

Are you sure you aren’t exaggerating?

Those questions and others like them are often asked in trials, blaming the victim and trivializing rape in the process. It’s easy to pretend that sexual assault and sexual harassment happen elsewhere, to others. But it can happen anywhere, to anyone. A burgeoning rape culture in which sex is trivialized and bodies are used without permission , is part of the problem.

The issue has come up among St. Paul Academy and Summit School students time and again this year: on the student Opinion Board, through the Students for Social Justice college rape policy letter writing campaign, in the Martin Luther King Jr. Assembly as rape relates to race, in classrooms, and in hallways. Sexual health is a concern, and it should be, considering 44% of rape and sexual assault victims are under age 18, according to RAINN: Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.


According to the United States Department of Justice, high school to college-aged women are four times more likely to be raped than any other female age group is. Sexual assault is the most common violent crime on college campuses today, and yet the USDJ has found that less than 5% of victims report the crime.

The primary impetus for such dramatic underreporting is a fear of being blamed or shamed for their traumatic experience. Sexual assault investigations conducted by universities are geared, in theory, toward determining the guilt of the perpetrator, but often focus more on the victim’s role in the incident. It’s much easier to target the victim, who has already made herself or himself vulnerable by reporting something so intimate, than the perpetrator.

“There are still students who don’t understand how damaging sexual harassment, objectification, and sexting can be to another person and to a community. There are people who very much downplay the seriousness of the issue,” Upper School Counselor Susanna Short said.
According to a study conducted by USA Today, a rape occurs on college campuses every 21 hours. “It’s something that students are going to confront when they go to college, for sure,” Short said. “Senior year [during retreat] we do self defense training for both men and women, and the men’s portion… also explores issues around [sexual] entitlement and consent.”

Part of rape culture is a general misunderstanding that consent can be implied, that not saying no is the same as saying yes. Short uses her Wellness class to address the distorted definitions of consent which students may have.

“In Wellness, we talk about what consent means, sexual decision making, the importance of communication… [consent] means an enthusiastic yes that hasn’t been coerced or influenced by drugs or alcohol,” Short said.

Despite this education, rape culture is still a problem at SPA. “I often see it [rape culture] in the hallways and areas of the grade levels, but I think there are a lot more people standing up against the people that are making the [rape] jokes,” sophomore Lutalo Jones said.

A Sex-Positive Solution

SPA has a fully comprehensive sex education program within the limited time frame of half a semester.
Sophomore Cara Pomerantz used to go to a public school which had much higher requirements, taking sex education classes all year for three years starting in sixth grade.

“At my old school, it was very upfront. Here, it’s more about expression…[every sex education program] should have both,” Pomerantz said.
Comprehensive sex education programs have been shown to be more successful sex education programs. A study by the Guttmacher Institute found that abstinence-only education actually leads to a decrease in contraceptive use and an increase in both teen pregnancies and STIs.
To combat rape culture, the concept of sex positivity has become popularized. According to Short, sex positivity is about acceptance and respect – respect for the choice to be sexually active, respect for the choice to abstain, respect for all sexualities and genders, and respect for privacy.
Where rape culture says that being sexually active degrades a person’s moral character, sex positivity says that sex is a positive thing so long as it is healthy and consensual and safe. Where rape culture victim blames, sex positivity provides victims with the support they need to move forward. Where rape culture advocates for abstinence-only education, sex positivity advocates for comprehensive sex education.


“A more sex positive approach [would help], not seeing sex as a taboo thing,” Brown said. “It’s very natural, and if we saw it like that, slut shaming wouldn’t be as big of a deal, it wouldn’t happen as much.”

Jones said that he agrees embracing a sex positive approach to sex education would help. “I believe some people are accepting but we still have some people that could be seen as threats [to SPA’s accepting environment]… we should have more open conversations in classes and grade levels,” he said.

However, Jones also said that he recognizes it would be uncomfortable at first to make things more sex positive. “I think because it’s become a social norm for it to be an awkward thing, people might be in environments that make them feel that way,” he said.

Taking Action

In the long run, all of the discomfort and adjustment could be worthwhile in that they have the potential to make SPA a safer place for all “If we get more educated, it won’t seem like as weird of a thing to talk about, there won’t be as many jokes and rudeness,” Brown said.

The fact that jokes about rape are being made here at all is evidence that rape culture has permeated the SPA bubble, and while the sex education program exists to combat that, there is always room to be more accepting

Even if it is easier to distance oneself from the problem, the reality is that most students will face it eventually.

Sexual Assault and Sex-Positive Resources

One of the best resources available at SPA to discuss sex positivity or help when struggling with rape culture is US Counselor Susanna Short or Dean of Students Max Delgado.

If you aren’t at school, The National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE provides support by connecting victims to local RAINN member rape crisis centers for information, support, and advocacy. All information provided is confidential and anonymous.

If someone you know is a victim:

  • Make sure the victim is safe and away from the perpetrator
  • Call 911 if the victim’s immediate safety is still being threatened or if the victim needs emergency medical care, and inform the victim that they can also call a rape crisis center
  • Don’t push the victim to say any more than they are comfortable with, but listen carefully to what they do share without any judgement and respect their confidentiality
  • Do what you can to support the victim, but don’t be afraid to seek help for yourself if you feel overwhelmed, taking care of yourself is still important
  • Encourage the victim to seek professional help if they need it