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How Sex Education Is Evolving In The #MeToo Era

An illustration by Michael Emberley in the book "It's Perfectly Normal" by Robie Harris shows girls saying, "Stop," Jan. 25, 2018.
Megan Burks
An illustration by Michael Emberley in the book "It's Perfectly Normal" by Robie Harris shows girls saying, "Stop," Jan. 25, 2018.

Editor’s Note: This story includes some frank discussion of sexuality that may make some readers uncomfortable.

How Sex Education Is Evolving In The #MeToo Era
How Sex Education Is Evolving In The #MeToo Era GUEST:Jeffrey Bucholtz, director, We End Violence

THE #METOO MOVEMENT HAS HAD PEOPLE LOOK AT BLURRY SEXUAL BOUNDARIES AND MISCOMMUNICATION ABOUT SEX. WE ARE WONDERING IF THE NEXT GENERATION WILL FARE BETTER. SHE BRINGS US THE STORY ABOUT SEX AND IN THE ERA OF #METOO. A WARNING, INCLUDES -- IT INCLUDES FRANK DISCUSSIONS THAT MIGHT MAKE SOMEONE COVER. >> Reporter: WHEN IT COMES TO ALLEGATIONS, IT IS AS HAZY AS IT GETS. THERE WASN'T A RAPE, THERE WAS NOT A HARD KNOW FROM THE WOMAN WHO ACCUSED HIM OF A CRYSTAL -- AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR, BUT THERE WAS ALSO NOT CONSENT EXACTLY. BLAME WAS NOT EASILY PLACE. >> SHE HAD A TERRIBLE NIGHT OF SEX. SHE HAD A BAD HOOKAH. >> WHY DIDN'T SHE STOP? >> THAT WAS VERY WISE OF THE NEW YORK TIMES. THIS IS DEBORAH HAUSER. >> MY GUESSES -- >> SHE IS PRESIDENT AND ADVOCATES FOR YOUTH. SHE WEIGHED IN ON THE STORY VIA SKYPE. >> THE ABSTINENCE ONLY CURRICULUM WILL LITERALLY SAY, MANY OF THEM, BOYS ARE LIKE MICROWAVES, THEY HEAT UP QUICKLY. GIRLS ARE MORE LIKE CROCKPOTS, SO GIRLS HAVE THE RESPONSIBILITY TO SLOW BOYS DOWN, RIGHT? THIS IDEA THAT BOYS WILL BE BOYS, OF COURSE, HE WILL KEEP TRYING, OF COURSE HE WILL NOT HEAR HER, HER CUES. >> THE CURRICULUM CHALLENGES OF THESE IDEAS ABOUT GENDER, AND ACCORDING TO HAUSER, LAYS THE GROUNDWORK FOR BEGINNING AT AGE 54 SEXUAL -- HEALTHY SEXUAL RELATIONSHIPS. >> THINKING ABOUT CONSENT, THIS IDEA THAT YOU DO NOT STEAL A PENCIL, YOU ASKED FOR IT. YOU ARE ASKING FOR CONSENT TO BORROW SOMEONE'S PENCIL. >> THE FOCUS ON MEDICATION CONTINUES IN LATER YEARS. >> WHAT I FOCUS WHEN -- WHEN I STARTED MY CAREER, CURRICULUM WAS AROUND PEOPLE IN PLUMBING, AND IT WAS REALLY ABOUT YOUR PRODUCTIVE PARKS -- PARTS. THAT IS STILL IN THE CURRICULUM, BUT SO MUCH OF WHAT HELPS YOUNG PEOPLE TO USE THOSE SKILLS AND THAT KNOWLEDGE IS REALLY RELATED TO OTHER SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL SKILLS AROUND COMMUNICATION, AROUND UNDERSTANDING WHAT A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP LOOKS LIKE AND WHAT AN UNHEALTHY RELATIONSHIP LOOKS LIKE. TO MECCA TALKS ABOUT DIFFERENT SEXUAL ORIENTATIONS AS REQUIRED. THE LAW REQUIRES PARENTS WHO DO NOT AGREE WITH THE CURRICULUM TO OFFICE THEIR CHILDREN OUT OF SEX ED AS OPPOSED TO THE OLD OPT IN MODEL. SOME HAVE IN FACT OFTEN THEIR KIDS OUT BECAUSE THE ADVOCATES FOR YOUTH CURRICULUM IS DIFFERENT FROM PAST ONES IN THE KEYWAY. IT DOESN'T HOLD BACK. HERE ARE SOME OF THE VIDEOS ASSOCIATED WITH THE LESSONS. >> SOMETIMES, PEOPLE WILL EXPERIENCE SEXUAL PLEASURE AND RELIEF STRESS AND SEXUAL TENSION BY TOUCHING THEIR GENITALS. THAT IS CALLED MASTURBATION. SOMETIMES, WHEN YOU ARE ON THE INTERNET, YOU MIGHT ACCIDENTALLY OR INTENTIONALLY END UP ON A WEBSITE THAT FEATURES PORNOGRAPHY. SOMETIMES, -- >> THEY RETIRE THE LAST VIDEO AFTER US SCHOOL BOARD MEETING IN JULY. HE THOUGHT FERNANDEZ WAS A ONE IN A LONG LINE OF SPEAKERS BOTH FOR AND AGAINST THE CURRICULUM. THE STATED INTENT SOUND SO GOOD TO DEVELOP HEALTHY ATTITUDES TOWARDS SEXUALITY. WE DON'T WANT TO EXPOSE KIDS TO GRAPHIC CONTENT AND SAY PORN IS NORMAL. >> I FEEL THE KIDS DESERVE TO HAVE THE RIGHT TO HAVE THE LATEST, MOST HONEST UP-TO-DATE INFORMATION ABOUT THEIR BODIES. >> SHE PENNED THE BOOK FOR ANXIOUS PARENTS OF THREE DOZEN KIDS. IT IS PERFECTLY NORMAL -- SHE DEFENDS THE BREATH OF SEX ED. HER OWN BOOK INCLUDES A SECTION ON THE INTERNET AND NO HOLDS BARRED ILLUSTRATIONS ABOUT THE HUMAN BODY AND HUMAN BEHAVIORS, INCLUDING MASTURBATION. >> I WILL PUT ANYTHING IN THESE BOOKS IF IT IS IN THE BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILD. >> THEY SAY TODAY'S SEX AND AIMS TO GIVE KIDS A BROAD VOCABULARY THAT IS FREE OF TABOO SO THAT TOMORROW'S ADULTS CAN TALK OPENLY ABOUT WHAT THEY WANT AND DO NOT WANT INSTEAD OF TESTING BOUNDARIES ARE PLAYING GATEKEEPER. SHE SAYS HER NEXT ADDITION OF IT IS PERFECTLY NORMAL WILL INCLUDE A NEW WORD IN THE WAKE OF #METOO, HARASSMENT. IT IS DUE OUT NEXT YEAR. >>> >>> FOR MORE ON SEX EDUCATION, WE HAVE SOMEONE ON SKYPE WHO IS TEACHING STUDENTS ABOUT GENDER AND CONSENT. HE IS THE DIRECTOR OF THE GROUP WE AND VIOLENCE AND HE TEACHES A COURSE ON VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AT SAN DIEGO STATE. HIGH SCHOOLS LIKE LA JOLLA, I AM SURE ARE PACKED WITH ADOLESCENTS WHO ARE BEGINNING TO HAVE SEXUAL IMPULSES. WHAT DOES IT TAKE FOR SEX ED CURRICULUM TO GET THE RIGHT MESSAGE ACROSS IN THAT ENVIRONMENT? >> I THINK THE MOST CRITICAL ELEMENT OF ANY SUCCESSFUL EDUCATIONAL CURRICULUM IS GOING TO BE HAVING A CANDID AND HONEST CONVERSATION WITH YOUTH THAT IS AGE-APPROPRIATE AND UNDERSTANDS AND REFLECTS WHAT THEY KNOW ABOUT THE WORLD. I THINK ONE OF THE KEY ELEMENTS IS TO NOT SUGARCOAT OR TRY TO HIDE WHAT THEY ARE ALREADY EXPOSED TO. THE AVERAGE YOUTH WILL START ACCESSING PORNOGRAPHY IN THE U.S. AT AGE 11. EVEN IF YOU ARE NOT LOOKING AT PORNOGRAPHY, YOU MIGHT BE LOOKING AT SOMETHING AKIN TO WATCHING ABC-TV, NBC AT 10 PM OR 9 PM ON A WEEKNIGHT AND YOU WILL SEE LOTS OF IDEAS ABOUT SEX AND SEXUALITY. IT IS IMPORTANT FOR US TO HAVE CANDID DISCUSSIONS. >> HOW MUCH DO HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS UNDERSTAND OR EVEN PERSONALLY RELATE TO? >> I ASKED THAT QUESTION. I HAD ALL THE JUNIORS AT THE HIGH SCHOOL IN THE AUDITORIUM, I SAID HOW MANY OF THEM WERE FAMILIAR WITH THE #METOO MOVEMENT, AND THREE QUARTERS OF THEM RAISE THEIR HANDS. LOOSELY, BUT 75% OF THEM UNDERSTAND IT. MANY OF THEM UNDERSTAND THE IDEA OF IT BEING A SPACE TO CALL OUT THOSE THINGS ARE THOSE PEOPLE WHO HAVE DONE ABUSIVE OR UNSAFE HARASSING THINGS TO OTHERS. I THINK THEY UNDERSTAND THE CALLING OUT PART. I THINK THEY ARE ONLY BEGINNING SOME OF THEM TO GRAPPLE AND UNDERSTAND MORE THOROUGHLY THE LARGE, BROAD CONVERSATION THAT IS GOING ON -- THAT HAS BEEN GOING ON IN THE U.S. FOR GENERATIONS ABOUT VICTIM BLAMING, SUPPORTING ADVISORS OF SEXUAL ABUSE AND HARASSMENT, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, THEY ARE AT THE BEGINNING, LIKE OUR CULTURE IS, ACKNOWLEDGING THE #METOO MOVEMENT IS NOT ABOUT INDIVIDUAL STORIES, BUT ALSO ABOUT A BROADER, IMPORTANT NARRATIVE ABOUT HOW WE HAVE SILENCED SO MANY VOICES OVER GENERATIONS. TALK ABOUT IT, AS MEN, PUTTING A COMMA BETWEEN ME AND THE TOO. IT IS NOT ABOUT PEOPLE WHO HAVE EXPERIENCED THIS. IT IS ABOUT ME, TO IT -- TOO. I DO NOT HAVE TO BE A VICTIM FOR IT TO BE ABOUT ME BECAUSE FOR ALL THESE PEOPLE TO BE COMING FORWARD, IT INDICATES A LARGE CULTURAL PROBLEM AND THE CULTURE IS EACH OF US, EACH OF US PLAYS A ROLE IN THAT AND THAT IS WHERE WE CAN START TALKING TO YOUTH ABOUT THEIR ACCOUNTABILITY AND THEIR ROLE IN SHAPING A BETTER AND HEALTHIER ENVIRONMENT. >> WE HEARD ABOUT THEIR NEW SEX EDUCATION CURRICULUM. HOW IS WHAT YOU ARE DOING FITTING IN WITH THAT? >> IT BUILDS ON IT WELL. WE ARE TALKING SPECIFICALLY ABOUT STRATEGIES TO IMPLEMENT CHANGE, SO LOOKING AT WHAT IS REFERRED TO BY STANDARD INTERVENTION SKILLS, CRITICAL THINKING AND DISSECTING MEDIA. SO I THINK, REALLY, WHAT WE ARE TALKING ABOUT IS THERE IS NO ONE CLASS, NOTHING THAT WILL BE ABLE TO SHIFT A CULTURAL PROBLEM. IT WILL REQUIRE MANY CONVERSATIONS, DIFFERENT CONVERSATIONS, ENGAGING ON PEOPLE IN DIFFERENT WAYS, LOTS OF DIFFERENT MODALITIES AND THE MORE CREATIVE WE ARE, THE MORE WE INVOLVE THEM IN THE PROCESS, THE MORE OPPORTUNITY WE HAVE TO BUILD ONGOING DIALOGUES SO WE CAN GET TO THE DEPTHS AND RICHNESS OF WHAT THE SUBJECT IN OUR CULTURE, THE THINGS WE NEED TO PRESERVE, WHAT WE RESPECT AND NEED TO PROMOTE. THOSE CONVERSATIONS ARE MORE LIKELY TO HAPPEN IF WE DIVERSIFY THE AMOUNT OF TIMES WITH YOUNG PEOPLE THAT THEY ARE EXPOSED TO DIALOGUE. IF YOU WANTED SOMEONE TO BECOME A CHEMIST, YOU NOT PUT THEM IN ONE-TO-ONE AND EXPECTED TO BECOME A CHEMIST. THE NEED LOTS OF OPPORTUNITIES TO TALK ABOUT AND THINK ABOUT CHEMISTRY. WE ARE TRYING TO DO THAT WITH YOU TODAY. >> WHAT IS THE IMPACT YOU HAVE SEEN FROM THE PROGRAM, PROGRAMS LIKE YOURS, THAT ARE RESHAPING TEENAGERS IDEAS OF CONSENT AND SEX? >> THERE IS A GROWING BODY OF RESEARCH ON THE EFFICACY OF DIFFERENT TYPES OF PROGRAMMING AND WHAT I WILL SAY IS -- I WILL GIVE YOU SOMETHING MORE ANECDOTAL RATHER THAN SOMETHING BASED IN LITERATURE. WHAT I AM SEEING, AND DOING THIS CONSTANTLY ALL OVER THE U.S., IS THERE IS A GROWING, GROWING, GROWING NEED FOR THE CONVERSATION AND YOUTH ARE CRAVING IT. THAT IS WHAT I THINK IS REALLY IMPORTANT, WE HAVE JUST LEFT THIS NOT DISCUSSED FOR SO LONG AND WITH THE WORLD WE LIVE IN NOW, WITH THE HYPER EXPOSURE ON OUR MAINSTREAM MEDIA AND SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THOSE TWO, THERE IS NO HIDING FROM THIS ANYMORE. THE #METOO MOVEMENT IS A GREAT EXAMPLE OF THIS. YOUNG PEOPLE ARE CRAVING IT AND THEIR RESPONSE IS THIS IS NOT FAIR. WE DID NOT BUILD THE SYSTEM, AND NOW YOU'RE ASKING US TO CHANGE, WHICH IS COMPLETELY UNDERSTANDABLE, BUT THEN THERE IS HOPE THEY WILL TURN AROUND AND SAY THIS IS NOT THE WAY I WANT THINGS TO BE. THIS IS MESSED UP AND IF WE CAN CHANGE IT, WHY WOULDN'T WE? THERE IS A LOT OF HOPE. CERTAINLY, WITHIN THE AUDIENCE THERE WILL BE PEOPLE WHO FEEL LIKE THEY CANNOT DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT -- WE TALKED TO THEM ABOUT HYPING EACH OTHER UP. IN THE CLASSIC HIP-HOP JAMMER, -- GENRE, YOU CAN ENCOURAGE EACH OTHER. INTERACTION BECOMES MORE REALISTIC, A LOT MORE SAFE, AND A LOT MORE EFFECTIVE. WHEN WE TALK ABOUT IT IN THAT CONTEST, BACKING EACH OTHER UP, THEN INTEREST CONTINUES TO GROW AND TO SWELL INTO SOMETHING THAT FEELS LIKE A BASE FOR CHANGE. >> FOR THOSE WHO HAVE TEENAGERS, WHAT IS ONE THING THEY CAN DO TO TEACH THEIR KIDS ABOUT SEX AND CONSENT? >> FOR ANY PARENT WHO IS LISTENING TO THIS CONVERSATION, I WOULD ASK THEM TO MAKE SURE THEIR CHILD IS GOING TO GET EXPOSURE IN MULTIPLE LOCATIONS. TO MAKE SURE THEY ARE NOT JUST TALKING ABOUT IT, MAYBE THEY WATCH DOCUMENTARIES, AND THAT THEIR SCHOOL IS TALKING ABOUT IT. PARENTS CAN CALL THE SCHOOLS AND SAY THEY WANT MORE SEX EDUCATION. THEY CAN MOVE THEM TO CHANGE. THE BIG REASON I'M AT MY HIGH SCHOOL IS BECAUSE THE PARENTS HAVE DECIDED TO DO MORE FOR THE KIDS HERE. I THINK, FOR MOST PARENTS, IT IS MAKE SURE IT IS NOT A ONE AND DONE CONVERSATION. I WOULD SAY CAN EMPHASIZE TWO IMPORTANT THINGS, CONSENT AND RISK THAT GO HAND IN HAND. CONSENT IS A PROCESS OF RESPECTING SOMEONE'S CHOICES WHEN IT COMES TO THINGS LIKE SEX. THE OTHER THING IS TO MAKE SURE WE DO NOT ASSUME THAT ALL OF OUR VARIANCES ARE THE SAME AND HELPING YOUR KIDS LEARN TO LISTEN TO AND VALUE THE STORIES THE PEOPLE ARE DIFFERENT FROM THEM OR HAVE HAD DIFFERENT EXPERIENCES. >> I HAVE BEEN SPEAKING WITH JEFFREY, THE DIRECTOR OF WE AND VIOLENCE AND TEACHES ABOUT GENDER AND CONSENT AND ONLY A HIGH SCHOOL. JEFFREY, THANK YOU SO MUCH. >> THANK YOU, HAVE A GREAT DAY.

When it comes to #MeToo movement, the sexual misconduct allegations against comedian Aziz Ansari are hazy. There wasn’t a hard “no” from the woman who accused him of aggressive sexual behavior. But according to the report on babe.net, there also wasn’t consent.

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Blame wasn’t easily placed.

“She had a terrible night of sex. She had a bad hookup,” said New York Times opinion editor Bari Weiss on MSNBC.

“The thing I keep hearing is, ‘Why didn’t she leave?’ Nobody is really asking, ‘Why didn’t he stop?’” countered HuffPost Women writer Emma Gray.

This is Debra Hauser’s take:

“My guess is they both could have used some good quality sex education.”

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Hauser is president of Advocates for Youth, the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit behind San Diego Unified’s new sex education curriculum.

“The abstinence-only curricula will literally say — many of them — ‘Boys are like microwaves. They heat up quickly. Girls are more like crockpots, so girls have the responsibility to slow boys down.’ It’s this idea that boys will be boys. So yeah, of course he’s going to keep trying and of course he’s not going to hear her cues,” Hauser said of the allegations against Ansari.

Her organization’s curriculum, called “Rights, Respect, Responsibility,” challenges those ideas about gender and talks broadly about everything from sexual orientation to masturbation. Hauser said the goal is to prevent the kind of guarded communication and fuzzy boundaries that have come to light in the #MeToo movement by laying the groundwork — beginning as early as age 5 — for healthy sexual relationships in adulthood.

How Sex Education Is Evolving In The #MeToo Era

“When I started my career 35 years ago, a lot of the sex ed curriculum was really around what people would call ‘plumbing.’ It was really about your reproductive parts,” Hauser said. “That’s still in the curriculum, but so much of what helps young people use that knowledge is really related to other, sort of, social emotional skills around communication, around self image, around body image, around understanding what a healthy relationship looks like.”

Hauser said those messages begin to take root in the early grades by talking with students about friendship, bullying and asking for permission.

“You just don’t steal a pencil. You would ask for it. You’re asking for consent to borrow someone’s pencil,” she offered as an example.

That emphasis on social emotional learning isn’t limited to the Advocates for Youth curriculum. It’s peppered throughout the National Sexuality Education Standards updated in 2007 and San Diego Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s 2015 California Healthy Youth Act.

San Diego Unified adopted Rights, Respect, Responsibility in 2016 to comply with the Healthy Youth Act, which, in addition to requiring curricula discuss sex as a normal part of life, also requires parents who don’t agree with the curriculum to opt their children out of sex education, as opposed to the old opt-in model.

At a July 2017 school board meeting, a handful of parents and community members discussed their plans to opt out, pointing to another key way the Advocates for Youth curriculum is different from lessons past. It doesn’t hold back.

One speaker called the supplemental material that comes with the curriculum a “misogynistic porn primer masquerading as sexual health.”

Many zeroed in on a particular video from AMAZE.org that seeks to help children understand that many of the messages in pornography are unrealistic and potentially damaging. It cheekily, but graphically, shows animated characters engaging in sexual behavior.

“The stated intent sounds so good — to develop healthy attitudes about sexuality,” said former San Diego Unified parent Judy Neufeld-Fernandez. “In reality, (Advocates for Youth) is putting students in harm’s way by promoting porn as normal and exposing kids to graphic content not suited to their stage of development.”

San Diego Unified refined its list of supplemental materials, retiring the cartoon on pornography, but kept much of the curriculum in place after many parents and community members spoke in favor of it.

Robie Harris penned “It’s Perfectly Normal,” a book described by Amazon as "the definitive book about puberty and sexual health for today's kids and teens." She defends the breadth of today’s sex education. Her own book includes a section on the internet, and no-holds-barred illustrations by Michael Emberley of the human body and human behaviors, including masturbation.

“I will put anything in these books if it’s in the best interest of the child,” she said. “I feel that kids deserve and have the right to have the most honest, latest, up-to-date information about their bodies.”

Both Harris and Hauser said today’s sex education aims to give kids a broad vocabulary that’s free of shame, so that tomorrow’s adults can talk openly about what they want and don’t want instead of testing boundaries or playing gatekeeper.

Harris said in the wake of #MeToo, her next edition of “It’s Perfectly Normal” will include a new word: harassment.

It’s due out next year.

How Sex Education Is Evolving In The #MeToo Era
The #MeToo movement has forced Americans to reckon not only with the pervasiveness of sexual misconduct, but also hazy communication about sex. Will the next generation fare better?