Advocates are making the connection

Last week I had the opportunity to take the SAAM act on the road, and I was fortunate to be heading to one of my favorite places on the planet: Jersey. The great folks at the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NJCASA) host an ongoing training institute to educate and inform practitioners on sexual violence prevention and survivor-centered approaches. When NJCASA reached out to NSVRC and our partner Alison Bellavance from Planned Parenthood of Northeast, Mid-Penn & Bucks County, I was so excited to be returning to my home state to train on one of my favorite topics - healthy sexuality

Our training focused on “Making the Connection” between healthy sexuality and sexual violence prevention. Alison’s background as a sexuality educator and my experience in the anti-sexual violence movement really shape how we understand healthy sexuality and share this connection. Alison and I have had a few opportunities to co-present this topic, and it’s always cool to be able to see advocates and educators begin to make or strengthen the connection between these fields and frameworks. I’ll be honest, it’s also just really fun to present on a topic that sells itself: good sex!

Connecting the dots

So how did advocates connect the dots? Our activities, discussion and dialogue connected that healthy sexuality bolstered sexual violence prevention in the following ways: 
Healthy sexuality engages everyone. Sexuality is a part of each of us throughout the lifespan. Life enriching information and skills that support healthy sexuality are relevant to all of us at each stage of life. Sexuality is much more than sex, and all of us experience sexuality on emotional, social, cultural and physical levels. 
Healthy sexuality challenges social norms. Many of us were not taught about sexuality in a comprehensive or life enriching way, but that doesn’t mean society, media and corporations are not sharing messages about sex and sexuality. The problem is that these messages about sex are often negative and unhealthy. Healthy sexuality challenges these negative messages and critically examines the norms that create conditions where sexual violence is acceptable. 
Healthy sexuality dismantles oppression. Healthy sexuality validates the many voices, experiences and differences that are silenced and oppressed in mainstream messages about sex and sexuality. Characteristics of positive sexuality include respecting the rights of others and treating all genders, sexual orientations and identities with respect. When sexuality is expressed in healthy ways this challenges attitudes that objectify, sexualize or silence populations based on gender, orientation, identity, race, age, ability, income, or other factors.   
Healthy sexuality promotes self-care. A landscape of negative lesson, messages and values that often take center stage in society’s discussion of sex hurts all of us. For those working to end sexual violence and those who have experienced sexual violence this can be even more difficult. Embracing, sharing and promoting a positive framework for sexuality can be incredibly healing. Not only can healthy sexuality strengthen our self-care through positive reframing, but we also have the opportunity to imagine and encourage a healthier future for all. 
Healthy sexuality empowers us. Healthy sexuality is about the possibility and power of a positive alternative. It’s about the potential for social change and a future that is free from sexual violence. On an individual level, it’s the skills and behaviors that contribute to our wellbeing. But it’s also about creating a climate and context where we all have a voice to challenge negative messages and set a higher standard for communities, institutions, media and society. 
How do you connect the dots? Share a comment below telling us how you make the connection between healthy sexuality and sexual violence prevention.