Vassar: Sex education needs to acknowledge ‘grey-area’ epidemic

Ethan Vassar

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.  

Sex education has always been a huge point of contention. In college, the culmination of years of education regarding sex, consent and abuse are tested because of media representation of sex. 

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Most recently, public feminist, comedian and actor Aziz Ansari has been anonymously accused of sexual assault. His accusation and the testimony given by the anonymous “Grace” goes to show how desperate we need a form of sex education that works.

Grace’s testimony against Ansari was published by feminist website Babe with the harrowing title, “I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life.” The internet then sparked with debates regarding whether or not she had blown the whole night out of proportion. New York Times opinion columnist and feminist Bari Weiss met Grace’s claims of sexual assault with heavy skepticism. Weiss goes as far to write that throwing Ansari’s name into the same fire as the Harvey Weinstein’s of the world “trivializes” the #MeToo movement.

Weiss wrote that the biggest thing she gleamed from the testimony was that, “If you’re hanging out with a naked man, it’s safe to assume he is going to try to have sex with you.”

“if you’re hanging out with a naked man, it’s safe to assume he is going to try to have sex with you.”-Barry Weiss

In an open letter to Grace, HLN reporter Ashely Banfield points out how the accuser “continued to engage in the sexual encounter” even after protesting his advances. Banfield also notes that, by the accuser’s description, the encounter was nothing more than “unpleasant” and agrees with Weiss that the testimony belittles the #MeToo movement.

Sex education hasn’t prepared anyone for the awkward, gross and uncomfortable sexual encounters we will all, unfortunately, experience as young adults. Sex education only touches on the bare minimum (spoilers!) – penis goes in and out of vagina – and the absolute worst scenarios, so anything in between becomes confusing. This confusion, along with inaccurate media portrayals, often leads to many wrong assumptions and conclusions. These gray areas need to be addressed and defined in an effort to reduce uncertainty around sex and make it more fun and healthy for all parties involved.

It’s been long past time to figure out a system that works to prevent things like this. The answers to many questions about sex are at our fingertips, but so too are explicitly fallacious (that’s a pun, folks) depictions of sex. 

The sad reality is that no matter how much time and effort is spent educating the public on sex, there will still be rapists, still those that won’t take “no” for an answer or seize any alcohol-induced opportunity. This is the world that we live in, and sex education should acknowledge that. Debates about what would or should be part of an ideal world are frivolous because bad people exist.

Besides looking at old high school yearbooks together, sex is the most intimate act two people can engage in. Women should not feel vulnerable about, nor obligated to reward men with it. Men should not see sex as an achievement or a priority, something to be inevitably gained by coercion. Neither gender should feel pressured to have sex either. In a world where sex is held in such high regard, it is easy to feel worthless when your experiences or ideals differ from what is portrayed in the media as normal.

Media practices like the male gaze and double standards only make sex expectations more disastrous for both men and women. While some of these expectations can be attributed to the media (I’m disgustingly looking at you with my face hidden behind my hands, American Pie), current sex education and discussion take the majority of the blame. In a millennial hook-up and party culture, the faults of our current sex education are plainly apparent.

It’s clear that we need a better, more definitive language to discuss the nuanced spectrum of sexual activity. Shying away from such discussion and brushing it under the rug will do nothing but reinforce certain stereotypes and give the media more influence. Calling out the gray areas won’t be easy, but we must be ready to define them, measure them, and, most importantly, learn from them.

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Columnist Ethan Vassar can be reached at letters@collegian.com or online @ethan_vassar.