Prevention Corner: Healthy Sexuality: Why It’s Important for Sexual Violence Prevention

Aug 22nd, 1970

By Rachel Yehoda, Program Coordinator (Prevention & Education) Healthy sexuality plays an important role in sexual violence prevention. By promoting healthy sexuality early on, we can help mitigate problematic sexual behaviors that contribute to the perpetration of sexual violence. In this quarter’s Prevention Corner article, we will examine how healthy sexuality and sexual violence prevention go hand in hand and how we can incorporate these discussions into prevention work. What is healthy sexuality? Why is it important for prevention efforts?  The National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s (NSVRC) guide Healthy Sexuality: A Guide for Advocates, Counselors, and Prevention Educators, defines healthy sexuality as “having the individual knowledge and sense of empowerment to express sexuality in ways that contribute positively to self-esteem and relationships with other people. Healthy sexuality includes approaching sexual interactions and relationships from a perspective that is consensual, respectful, and informed, and it is free from coercion and violence.”  Key characteristics of healthy sexuality include having respectful and consensual sexual interactions and promoting open communication with others. Many parallels can be drawn between healthy sexuality and sexual violence prevention. For example, emphasizing the importance of consent is an essential part of both promoting healthy sexuality and preventing sexual assault. Providing education on consent communication strategies and healthy relationships is an example of healthy sexuality as primary prevention. The interconnectedness between sexuality and sexual violence prevention is an important consideration when we are planning prevention efforts. Below are some tips on addressing healthy sexuality in prevention programming and educational efforts: Educate others on the differences between healthy and unhealthy sexual relationships: In primary prevention efforts, it is important to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy sexual relationships. Many individuals may not be able to recognize unhealthy sexual behaviors. Part of this problem is that we constantly receive messages from the media portraying unhealthy sexuality, which becomes normalized in our culture. To combat these messages, it’s important to teach others what healthy sexuality looks like.  As they learn what healthy sexuality is, individuals will be better equipped to recognize behaviors that might lead to sexual violence. Talk about consent early and often: Consent and healthy sexuality go hand in hand. In order to have a healthy sexual encounter, consent must be present.  It is important to start conversations about consent early in order for individuals to have a firm grasp of what constitutes consent and the communication skills needed to ask for consent before they are involved in a sexual encounter. Incorporating consent into prevention programming provides individuals with the knowledge and skill set to engage in healthy, positive sexual experiences. Address the problem of strict gender norms: Strict gender norms play a big role in sexual violence perpetration in our society.  We are constantly confronted with these norms; men and boys are taught from an early age to be dominant and aggressive, while women are taught to be submissive. Society’s acceptance of these strict gender stereotypes allows sexual violence to occur; men are expected to always want sex and act as aggressors in sexual activity. These norms also play into myths surrounding sexual violence, such as the misconception that men cannot be victims of sexual violence. Prevention efforts need to include discussions about how gender norms influence sexual violence and prevent healthy relationships from taking place. Promoting healthy sexuality in our prevention work is a key part of increasing positive, consensual, and respectful sexual behaviors and eliminating coercive and unhealthy attitudes and behaviors that normalize sexual violence. As advocates and prevention practitioners, it is critical that we commit to including healthy sexuality in our prevention efforts, and continue to work towards a society where healthy sexuality is the norm.   Resources  NSVRC SAAM 2012 Campaign Materials and Resource Guides on Healthy Sexuality: As a part of the SAAM 2012 Campaign, the NSVRC provided several guides and resources on how healthy sexuality is an essential aspect of preventing sexual violence. Resources include information on healthy sexuality for advocates and prevention educators, as well as fact sheets and materials promoting discussions on healthy sexuality. To learn more, click here.  PreventConnect Web Conference: “Preventing the Harm, Promoting the Helpful: Healthy Sexuality”:  This 2015 web conference focuses on how healthy sexuality can be utilized as a prevention method for addressing child sexual abuse. To access the recording and slides from this web conference, click here.     This article appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Frontline.

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