A few weeks ago I attended a presentation on Veganism. It was someone else presenting at my practicum site, so I wasn't there specifically to hear the program, though I generally don't have anything against the veg-eating folk. It's just not something I'm particularly passionate about. Call me neutral. The reason I decided to blog about it is that I left that presentation feeling attacked and completely alienated from the topic. I never want to make anyone feel like that in a presentation. Ever.
In case you aren't familiar with the arguments for Veganism, there are a number of very graphic videos on youtube depicting cruelty to animals. The presenter started with one of these videos and went on to explain how our bodies aren't designed to process meat and that raising animals for food hurts the environment. There was actually quite a bit of evidence that made sense for what was being put forward. The problem was, right from the very beginning, I was made to feel ashamed for eating and liking to eat meat. I have had discussions about Veganism before, as my former boss is vegan and she would explain her view on the subject. Not once did I come away from those discussions feeling ashamed for eating meat like I did from this program. I felt like I was being bullied and when you are in that situation you don't open up to new ideas – you get defensive and shut down.
What does this have to do with sexuality education? Well, there are many an issue that we as sexuality educators can come from a place of “I'm right, what you thought is wrong”. One example is sexual assault prevention. Often the message given to men on college campuses is that “no means no, no matter what”. What about the fact that women in our culture are often taught to play coy? That “no” might mean, “you're going to have to work for it”, or “make me want it”? If the only thing we teach is “no means no”, when often it doesn't, does that really get the students to listen, or do they ignore the message because it is contradictory to their reality?
Another issue that is at the core of my passion is fat sex. I realized half way through that program on Veganism that it would be incredibly easy to alienate participants from my ideas on fat sex because it is hard to give people the space they need to think, reflect and rethink their position about fat and fat people and then connect that to sex. I know that the first step is to own my bias (something the vegan presenter did not do) and let others know that this is not necessarily an easy topic to come around about.
So the questions I want to pose are, how else might I approach this topic without shutting people down? And what are some of your sensitive topics that you have encountered and how did you navigate the hard points well (or not so well)?