We are 6 graduate students in the Gender and Women’s studies department at Minnesota State, Mankato. During our first semester of graduate school we took a class titled, Collective Action. We needed to find a way to participate in activism collectively, and make a difference in our community. You can find us on Twitter @TeachSafeTouch.
We created Teach Safe Touch, which advocates for the health and dignity of all by challenging the current Minnesota sex education curriculum to include masturbation as a safe-sex alternative. because we collectively felt that current sex-education is lacking at a local and state level. Along with that sentiment, we wanted to create a safe and open dialogue, where students and teachers are able to openly discuss sex, sexuality, masturbation, and reproductive health.
We acknowledge that youth are having sex and we live in a society that is hypersexualized yet reaches abstinence only. Therefore, we collectively believed it was our obligation to start the conversation and challenge the current sex education curriculum.
Our project is needed now more than ever. In Minnesota in 2009, an average of 16 adolescents became pregnant each day. Although teen pregnancy is on the decline, the United States still has one of the highest rates of all developed countries. Furthermore, adolescent sexual activity is on the rise and condom use is on the decline, so while teens may not be getting pregnant as often, they still are not approaching sexual activity in a safe manner.
As we see the attack on women’s reproductive rights growing, we need to discuss alternatives to abstience-only sex education, which is clearly not working. Youth deserves to be educated on their bodies and be presented with factual information. We are also trying to remove the stigma that is attached to the word masturbation: even as female graduate students we had hesitation bringing up the topic. We have been socialized to view masturbation in masculinzed ways, if we are to discuss the topic at all.
The project itself has been extremely rewarding. We all collectively acknowledged that reforming sex education was necessary and throughout the process we realized we weren’t alone. It was amazing the amount of support we received from the campus community.
Also, we realized that even at the college level the misguided information about sex, sexuality, and masturbation was greater than we expected. We were asked questions such as, “Can you get an STD from masturbation?” or “Isn’t masturbation equivalent to an abortion?” These questions were from concerned college students. Answering these questions not only solidified the importance of our project, but also made us conscious of how misguided our sex education curriculum has become.
Some highlights associated with our project have been first, collectively working with 6 different women to create Teach Safe Touch. Another highlight has been the positive feedback from our project. We didn’t realize the impact our project would have on the community.
Lastly, it was rewarding to see people around the community wearing our buttons, patches, and t-shirts. As well as, signing our petition and promoting Teach Safe Touch. This was something that we had hoped for but didn’t realize the magnitude of the community acceptance, and we were grateful for that. All of these forces together kept our energy alive and solidified the importance of Teach Safe Touch.
Watch the Teach Safe Touch documentary (below) and then sign the petition!