By Ashley Maier, See the Triumph Guest Blogger
As someone who has worked against sexual and domestic violence for over a decade, you might be surprised to hear me talking about sexual health. Or not. I remember vividly, a few years ago, the director of a local sexual assault organization asking me why I talk about sexual health so much. What does that have to do with sexual violence prevention? Well, I told her, a lot.
In any type of prevention work, we tend to talk about what we are against, what behavior we don’t want people to do. We don’t want you to make sexist jokes. We don’t want you to assault someone. But what do we want? That’s where sexual health, sometimes referred to as healthy sexuality, comes in. There is a growing recognition that if we are to counter harmful norms, those often unspoken standards for behavior that facilitate sexual violence, then we must replace them with positive norms. We talk about risk and protective factors – what factors increase (risk) or decrease (protective) the likelihood of sexual violence perpetration? We would only get half way to our goal if we focused solely on risk factors. We need both.
So just what is sexual health? While there are several definitions, I prefer to say that sexual health is the opposite of “all the bad stuff.” Official, I know. Sexual health of course involves the absence of violence and exploitation, and it is also something that is unique to each individual. Everyone has the right to experience their sexual life, sexual behaviors, the way they want to (as long as it’s all consensual). This includes not experiencing sexual behavior at all, if desired. It’s up to you and your partner(s).
This Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), as we work against sexual assault, let’s also work towards sexual health. Let’s create communities and environments where sexual violence cannot take root – communities that are healthy, safe and just. Sexual health lies at the root.
About Ashley: Ashley Maier serves as Training and Technical Assistance Coordinator as the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, primarily part of CALCASA’s prevention team. She has worked in the movement to end gendered violence for well over a decade. She began as a volunteer at a domestic violence shelter in Illinois, served as a hospital-based advocate in St. Louis, coordinated community health/family violence training programs for pediatric residents in St. Louis and San Diego, and managed Oregon’s Rape Prevention and Education (RPE) grantees. Ashley is a contributing author to Lantern Book’s 2013 publication, Defiant Daughters: 21 Women on Art, Activism, Animals, and The Sexual Politics of Meat.