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This Sliding Bar can be switched on or off in theme options, and can take any widget you throw at it or even fill it with your custom HTML Code. Its perfect for grabbing the attention of your viewers. Choose between 1, 2, 3 or 4 columns, set the background color, widget divider color, activate transparency, a top border or fully disable it on desktop and mobile.

Can We Love God & Sex?: Religion, Media, & Young Women’s Sexuality

 

Over the past weekend, I attended the MOMENTUM Conference: Making Waves in Sexuality, Feminism, and Relationships in Washington, DC, to facilitate a workshop entitled “Can We Love God and Sex?: Young Women, the Media, and Making Room for Sexuality & Spirituality”.

This was my first time attending the MOMENTUM Conference, and I was glad that my workshop was accepted because the media and how we’re portrayed affect us all, and many of us may have grown up in households where religion was also encouraged and practiced. I wasn’t quite sure how the workshop would pan out (I technically put the workshop fully together 24 hours before I was scheduled to present), plus I’d never presented on such a complex topic before. I wanted to facilitate the workshop based on my own personal experiences. Even in my adult years, I still continue to work through my “stuff”: trying to remain a critical thinker in a society where it’s very easy to become influenced by what you see and read. When I was younger, I held onto the notion of being “the good girl”, and I was often told that I was the good girl. I wanted to continue to live up to that expectation, and I think in some ways we all want to live up to an image that is pleasing to others, and shows us in a favorable light.

Yet a few of my workshop attendees asked: What exactly is a “good girl”?

In the United States, we live in a contradictory society regarding sex and sexuality. Women are expected to remain virtuous until their wedding night while men are encouraged to be sexually experienced prior to marriage. Young men can be praised for their sexual prowess by having sexual relations with multiple young women, yet young women (and older women, for that matter) are expected to have as few sexual partners as possible to avoid be labeled a whore or a slut. (And not only does this confuses young women, it also places an unfair burden on young men who may feel pressure to live out this expectation).

And when you add the influence of the media into the equation, it all just sucks.

Sex is everywhere: magazines, books, television, music, film, and other forms of media. Sex is taboo in American society, yet many forms of media highlight unprotected sex…or, in the extreme sense, it stresses refraining from sexual activity until you’re married (with no mention of learning about how your body functions, contraception, what to do when you don’t want to remain pregnant, or encouraging preventative methods against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs.)

Instead of discussing the relationship between religious/spiritual views on sex and sexuality and how women and girls are portrayed in the media, many often go to great lengths to keep religion/spirituality and images of women in the media distanced from each other. This is often problematic for women and girls of color. Stereotyped images in the media of Black and Latino women in particular often emphasize the extremes—from the Black “video vixen” and “hot” Latina, to the Bible-toting mother of the Black Church and the rosary-clutching Latina Catholic—increasing the denial of voices to be heard on how we view our sexuality and spirituality. Although women have made great strides in advocating for positive images of women and of sex and sexuality to include that, indeed, sex is not “dirty” or “sinful”, the mindset that “good girls don’t have sex” is still deeply rooted.

Still the question remains; What exactly is a “good girl”?

This question was asked and discussed during the first activity of the workshop called “Three Corners”. This activity can be adapted to suit your needs, should you want to conduct this activity in your own workshop, class, meeting, or wherever you want to have an important discussion. Here’s how you do it: Designate three sections of the room that you’re in as either “YES”, “NO” or “MAYBE/NOT SURE”. Make a list of statements (that don’t necessarily have to have a right or wrong explanation). Read one statement aloud, and direct participants go to whatever section of the room that corresponds with how they feel about the statement. Finally, have participants share why they chose their designated section. What’s great about this activity is that it can be adapted to suit a variety of topics. Feel free to make it your own. Here are some of the statements I developed and read aloud for this workshop:

  • Good girls don’t have sex.
  •  I was raised to believe that sex before marriage is a sin.
  • I have been told that masturbation is dirty and wrong.
  •  The media can often portray the same act (i.e. teen pregnancy, abortion, single parenthood, etc.) differently based on race.
  •  It was easy to discuss topics such as HIV, pregnancy, sexual orientation, and sexual intercourse with my parents or parental figures while growing up.

This was an awesome activity as it really got the participants talking about their lives and the “stuff” they’ve had to sort through while navigating their feelings about sex and sexuality, race, gender, andreligious upbringing (or lack of).

The main activity of the workshop was called “Mixed Signals”. This was a critical-thinking exercise in which I divided the participants into 3 groups and passed out 3 different scenarios. Based on the scenario, each group was tasked to discussed their scenario and think about the following questions:

  • Does religion or the media play more of a factor in this scenario? Or both?
  • How does the conveyed message in the scenario affect how young women view their sexuality and image?
  • What are some ways to address the scenario, given the complexities regarding religion and how society portrays sex and sexuality?

Here are the scenarios:

  •  You are a guidance counselor at a local high school. The school district has approved an abstinence-only education curriculum, and most parents in the school district have given permission for their child to participate in the program.One day after school, a student that you meet with once a week expresses confusion about what she is learning in class. She tells you that the class instructor states that sex should be within a marriage between a man and a woman, yet you know through previous conversations that the student believes that she is a lesbian. Your high school is located in a state that has banned same-sex marriage.
  • A popular musical entertainer*** is interested in coming to your college to host a blood drive. The student government association agrees to partner with the entertainer. As student government association president, it has been brought to your attention that the entertainer has recently released a very sexually charged music video that displays young women of color in scantily clad clothing, in various sexual dancing positions with each other and with men, and voiceless throughout the video. When the SGA along with other female students express concerns over having the entertainer on campus, several male students dismiss the female students’ claims, stating that they (the male students) see their female peers behavior similarly in social situations, and that the entertainer is trying to do a good thing by hosting a blood drive on campus.
  •  You’re on the phone with a good male friend from school, who often speaks with you about a young woman whom he has romantic feelings for. He tells you that he believes that the young woman he’s romantically interested in may have had sex with a guy that he does not know. He tells you that “it really doesn’t matter” to him that she has had sex with someone; however, he states, “She goes to church. I didn’t think she was that type of girl.” Your friend (the male) has had several female sexual partners.

Similar to the “Three Corners” activity, there are no right or wrong answers. The beauty of developing activities like these is that your attendees will most likely come up with angles to the statements and scenarios that you may not have thought about.

Throughout the workshop, we discussed how contradictory images and messages from the media and from religious practices can often shape young women’s sexuality, as well as ways to help combat the contradictions. One solution raised was finding better ways to help young people become critical thinkers, to help them filter the messages they receive, and see what would be the most effective for them and their lives. Also, it was discussed that we as adults need to expand our own critical thinking skills. One way to do this (as recommended by one of the participants) is to call out messages in the media that perpetuate societal stereotypes. An example of this can be labeling young women of color as being “loose and wild” and expecting them to have higher rates of teen pregnancies, all the while not paying much attention to it; then seeing it as a national crisis when white teenagers suddenly begin having higher rates of teen pregnancies.

As for myself, I loved facilitating this workshop (and facilitating workshops in general) because you hear a variety of perspective and working solutions, while hoping that you’ve made some sort of connection with the participants. You hope to encourage participants to take what they’re learned from fellow participants back to their schools, places of worship, jobs, and communities. I observed that the participants at this workshop were very diverse in terms of religious experience (Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, agnostic, and atheist, among others) as well as life and work experiences (one participant shared that she’s a pastor as well as a sex worker!)

The biggest take-away message from this workshop is this: Sex is all around us, especially in the media, yet it often conflicts with the messages that we hear about in our households, in our faith-based communities, in our schools, and in our communities. A variety of factors—race, gender, sexual orientation, region, economic status, and religious upbringing—can often color how we view the world. It may be difficult to combat negative stereotypes and misinformation, but it’s up to us to help each other to find what make sense and what makes us feel good about ourselves.

*** This scenario was loosely based on the 2004 incident, in which many students at Spelman College protested rapper Nelly’s appearance on campus after many students viewing Nelly’s rap video “Tip Drill”.

Raise Your Voice: What has been your experience with navigating societal images of sexuality coupled with religious upbringings? What are some ways you’ve found in which the media and religion can be harmful in learning about sexuality? Also, what ways can they be seen as positive?

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By | 2017-05-21T19:01:18+00:00 April 5th, 2012|Categories: Workshop Design & Facilitation|Tags: , , |0 Comments