When maybe means…?

Last March I wrote a post about preventing rape through sex education.  It just got a new comment, so I went back and read my way through it again.

I recently used the story I described in that post of a date rape told from two very different perspectives in a college classroom.  We had a volatile and dynamic conversation about whether or not it was rape and who was at fault and when and where the evening’s trajectory could have been changed by either party.

The male students came into the conversation (after reading only the man’s description of the evening) with varying degrees of certainty about whether or not rape had happened.  The female students came into the conversation (after reading only the woman’s description of the evening) absolutely certain it was rape and absolutely certain that the man had gone into the date with the goal of having sex at any cost.

By the end of the class, the male students had all agreed that it was rape – but they wanted a different word to describe an event where the man had wanted to have sex and had mis-read the woman’s cues and had truly had no harmful intent.  The female students realized that the man on the date was a decent guy who had not intended to harm.  Everyone had good things to say about the problems with alcohol and unclear communication.

But I don’t know if, in the end, it will change any of their behaviors.  Will the women in the class be more forward about stating their sexual intent?  Will the men in the class be more forward about stating their sexual intent and demanding a clear response rather than relying on cues?  I just don’t know.

The semester is over now, and as an end-of-class party interested students and I gathered at a series of bars and clubs in downtown Austin to observe one kind of mating ritual that college students often engage in and to have fun.  The students danced, drank (I made sure they all had sober rides home before we started the evening), and generally engaged in more mating ritual than they observed.  I don’t think any of them considered the ramifications of their actions beyond the immediate.

I am sure that this class changed how many of the students think about sexuality – they’ve told me as much themselves.  But I’m not as sure that it has influenced their choices or actions to nearly the same degree.  And this is always the ultimate challenge for a teacher: How to influence not only the in-class response, but also the out-of-class actions and thought processes?  This is, of course, a particularly fascinating and poignant dilemma for a sex education teacher.

But hark, the un-graded tests and papers do call, so I will have to write more on this tomorrow.

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. Several of my male friends have told me stories of guys they knew in high school or college who had an attitude of “I’m going to get that girl and if she says stop I’ll just fuck her anyway.” My friends, as young men, were thoroughly shocked by this attitude, that it even existed, and did not understand it at all. As middle-aged men they are aware that it is widespread, but are still horrified by it. This suggests to me that sexual attitudes are ingrained at a very young age.

    I do have one male former professor who has had some success in talking to his male students about the wrongness of sexual aggression. Some of them, he says, can’t be reached, but most of them are at least a little bit bothered imagining their mothers or sisters or future daughters in that situation.

  2. […] sexuality: knowledge or skills based? On Tuesday I wrote about my community college students and their developing understanding of rape and how to prevent […]

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