My last two posts have been somewhat negative – or rather me complaining about the vast seas of incompetence and ignorance out there.  So I sat down to write this morning determined that it be positive.  So follow me through my train of thought and we’ll take a nice little ride together.

First, this YouTube video was recently brought to my attention.  It stars a larger-than-average teenage girl in high school and talks about her struggle with body image and weight and her peers and her teachers.  It’s a fabulous watch.

Now, while I’m delighted by the message and the quality of the video, it essentially talks about a problematic aspect of American culture.  So my search for an inherently positive message or story continued.

Thinking about body image brought me back to thinking about a journal entry from a college student of mine.  We look at Greg Friedler’s pictures of naked and clothed people every semester as an avenue for talking about genitalia, gender, nakedness, assumptions, and body image.  Students often initially have verbal reactions to the range of humanness they see, but by the end of the activity, they’re no longer particularly surprised by anyone outside of the relatively narrow age and body shape category that Americans tend to think of beautiful and sexy.

This particular student, however, seemed to have a harder time letting go of her strong reactions.  A week later, she turned in a short paper to me where she described her experience.  She said that by the end of the activity she knew she was over reacting to the pictures, but she wasn’t quite sure why.

My student went home and thought about the emotions that were brought up as we looked at the pictures.  She said she realized they were deeply tied into her own fear of gaining weight and so she was wanting to cover the pictures up out of fear.  She also said she tends to have this same reaction when she sees people face-to-face who are larger than she feels comfortable with.  She realized that this reaction of hers was unkind to the people who were crossing her path and she’s now actively and consciously working on relaxing out of her fear when she comes across someone whose weight triggers these emotions in her.

I am amazed at this student’s ability to recognize her own issues, think through them, and work to move past them.  If only we could all have this level of metacognition!

And while I do think of this story as fully positive, it still wasn’t quite what I was looking for.  I wanted something idealistic, something that spoke to the highest level of humanity, ethically, morally, and spiritually.  And so I was browsing through the mountains of blogs that I typically read, not really thinking I was going to find much, when lo and behold, I came across a post titled:

Healthy Sexuality is a Human Right

and I had my topic.

The blog is a good one called Bitch Ph.D., and the post is a typically well-done analysis of an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times called Sex Ed in Washington.

I’m going to leave the politics and issues in both of these pieces for another time because – well, they’re not very idealistic and positive when it comes right down to it.  Instead, I’m going to pretend like I only read the title of the bog post.

When I talk with students about the legal issues around sex and sexuality, the focus is often exclusively on what we cannot do – we cannot have sex without consent, we cannot have sex with people of certain ages, we cannot marry someone of our own gender, we cannot pay for sex, etc.  When I ask my students what CAN we do, they are often flummoxed.  They generally hammer something together about we can have sex with a person within a certain age range who says they want to.  At this point I generally have them read the US Bill of Rights.  This document protects our basic rights, but says nothing about sex or sexuality.  I ask if we have similar inalienable rights around sex and sexuality that are an inherent part of our pursuit for happiness.  Generally it is agreed that there are.  Of course we spend some time talking about what those might be, but ultimately I ask the students to read the Declaration of Sexual Rights. I was going to merely link to this, but I think it’s important enough to put the whole text here:

Declaration of Sexual Rights
Sexuality is an integral part of the personality of every human being. Its full development depends upon the satisfaction of basic human needs such as the desire for contact, intimacy, emotional expression, pleasure, tenderness and love. Sexuality is constructed through the interaction between the individual and social structures. Full development of sexuality is essential for individual, interpersonal, and societal well being. Sexual rights are universal human rights based on the inherent freedom, dignity, and equality of all human beings. Since health is a fundamental human right, so must sexual health be a basic human right. In order to assure that human beings and societies develop healthy sexuality, the following sexual rights must be recognized, promoted, respected, and defended by all societies through all means. Sexual health is the result of an environment that recognizes, respects and exercises these sexual rights.

  1. The right to sexual freedom. Sexual freedom encompasses the possibility for individuals to express their full sexual potential. However, this excludes all forms of sexual coercion, exploitation and abuse at any time and situations in life.
  2. The right to sexual autonomy, sexual integrity, and safety of the sexual body. This right involves the ability to make autonomous decisions about one’s sexual life within a context of one’s own personal and social ethics. It also encompasses control and enjoyment of our own bodies free from torture, mutilation and violence of any sort.
  3. The right to sexual privacy. This involves the right for individual decisions and behaviors about intimacy as long as they do not intrude on the sexual rights of others.
  4. The right to sexual equity. This refers to freedom from all forms of discrimination regardless of sex, gender, sexual orientation, age, race, social class, religion, or physical and emotional disability.
  5. The right to sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure, including autoeroticism, is a source of physical, psychological, intellectual and spiritual well being.
  6. The right to emotional sexual expression. Sexual expression is more than erotic pleasure or sexual acts. Individuals have a right to express their sexuality through communication, touch, emotional expression and love.
  7. The right to sexually associate freely. This means the possibility to marry or not, to divorce, and to establish other types of responsible sexual associations.
  8. The right to make free and responsible reproductive choices. This encompasses the right to decide whether or not to have children, the number and spacing of children, and the right to full access to the means of fertility regulation.
  9. The right to sexual information based upon scientific inquiry. This right implies that sexual information should be generated through the process of unencumbered and yet scientifically ethical inquiry, and disseminated in appropriate ways at all societal levels.
  10. The right to comprehensive sexuality education. This is a lifelong process from birth throughout the life cycle and should involve all social institutions.
  11. The right to sexual health care. Sexual health care should be available for prevention and treatment of all sexual concerns, problems and disorders.

Sexual Rights are Fundamental and Universal Human Rights

Adopted in Hong Kong at the 14th World Congress of Sexology, August 26, 1999

My students are often astounded.  They get very quite, imagining how their world might be different if they had those inalienable rights secured by our government.  And here is where my idealism rests for today.  That sometime, somewhere, sexual rights will be held to be as important and relevant and inalienable as our rights to privacy, religious freedom, and the right to fair trial.

How would your life have been different if you had had these rights?  Feel free to post your thoughts in the comment section here, but if you don’t, at least take a minute to ruminate on it.