The lesson we can learn from Brett Kavanaugh is that we’re teaching kids the wrong thing in sex-ed

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The lesson we can learn from Brett Kavanaugh is that we’re teaching kids the wrong thing in sex-ed


According to a new poll, nearly half of Americans think Brett Kavanaugh should not be confirmed as a judge on the United States Supreme Court. Put another way, it’s likely that nearly half of Americans think he may have done it — assaulted Dr. Christine Blasey Ford more than thirty years ago — or at the very least lied about his behaviour (namely, his alleged binge drinking) rendering himself unfit for the job.

A New York Times story published this week suggests there may be some truth to the latter belief.

From the Times: “As an undergraduate student at Yale, Brett M. Kavanaugh was involved in an altercation at a local bar during which he was accused of throwing ice on another patron, according to a police report.” I’m not an expert on bar fights, but I’m guessing somebody has to be more than just a little tipsy to start pelting people with ice.

In other words, I believe the judge is lying about his drinking habits.

But I’m not sure he’s lying about assaulting Ford, because if the stories about his legendary drunkenness are true (as numerous witnesses to it claim they are) it’s entirely possible the judge is telling his version of the truth. It’s possible he doesn’t remember assaulting Dr. Ford because it’s possible he was blackout drunk when the alleged assault took place.

Whatever he is, the whole affair points to a dark truth about our culture, specifically where it involves young men and alcohol. Kavanaugh isn’t the only guy on earth who may have gotten blackout drunk in college and hurt somebody. What’s wild, when you step back and look at this alleged assault in the context of North American drinking culture, even today, is that it’s likely that there are thousands of men walking around out there (some of whom may even be sympathetic to the #MeToo movement) who drank a ton in their adolescence and early adulthood and have no clue that while intoxicated, they committed sexual assault.

Imagine that: an entire demographic of clueless sexual predators.

I had an experience in my late teens similar to Ford’s alleged assault, albeit far less traumatic. (Apparently this Me Too thing has a way of inciting women to divulge their painful secrets, so who am I to buck the trend?)

One night, at a party, I passed out in a bedroom beside a guy I had been making out with and he groped me in my sleep. We were both very drunk. If a friend hadn’t walked in, waking me up, I can’t be certain how far this guy would have taken things, but I’m going to guess: all the way. Years later I decided to confront him. It turns out he had no memory of the incident and he became extremely defensive, not unlike Kavanaugh, when I insisted it happened. I told him I didn’t want to pursue anything legal. I merely wanted an apology, something he couldn’t give me because an apology would be an admission that he had done something wrong.

I imagine if Kavanaugh is confirmed to the Supreme Court, this guy, wherever he is, will be mightily relieved. Because such a confirmation would be a big win, not only for the judge himself, but for any man who long ago forgot the things he did when he was drunk. And a big loss for every woman who couldn’t.

But whatever the outcome, the question moving forward is what can we do to tip the scales in favour of women — to chip away at those staggering sexual assault statistics?

The obvious answer — and it’s a good one — is we promote progressive sex education that drills the message of ongoing consent into the minds of kids everywhere. But it’s my belief that this message isn’t effective unless it’s delivered in conjunction with another one: sex should be fun. And if your partner is unresponsive or frozen chances are they aren’t having any.

The discussion of pleasure in sex — especially women’s pleasure — is the crucial missing ingredient of so much sex education. And often, where it is present, it’s deeply flawed. A study from 2013 that examined mentions of “pleasure” in American sex ed curricula, indicated that in many cases “pleasure is presented as an obstacle to restraint, abstinence, and health.”

Researchers determined that by “focusing on prevention and danger, educators miss the opportunity to talk to adolescents about pleasure in the context of a good relationship, one in which the adolescent can take care of both her/himself as well as her/his partner.” When a young person is characterized as reckless “rather than as a human being who seeks relationship and pleasure within it, discussions of sexuality will be as superficial as the kind of sex these curricula are trying to prevent.”

Pleasure should never be presented as a barrier to a healthy sex life, or an afterthought. Pleasure — for all parties — is the whole point. Until young people know this as surely as they know the names of STIs and anatomy, the scales won’t budge.

Emma Teitel is a columnist based in Toronto covering current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @emmaroseteitel





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