How to Be Safe

In the US, we have this ridiculous concept called “abstinence only” sex education. Imagine taking driver’s ed and being told that the only safe way to drive is not to drive. Instead, you will get six weeks of learning, in a boring classroom setting, how a car works mechanically, since that’s most important thing to know about driving. But we aren’t going to teach you anything about how to actually drive the car, because that would not be safe.

Of course, it’s true that driving is unsafe. (Since I originally wrote this, several of my friends have had automobile accidents. Luckily, none suffered any major injuries.) On average, more people die in traffic accidents in the US every month than died on 9/11. But we don’t teach people not to drive, we teach them how to drive. We have to. Our society needs people to drive, far more than it needs them to have sex – at least not good sex. Because then they might not be so motivated to work hard to buy things they don’t need to impress the kind of people they want to have sex with.

Our society not only teaches people how to drive but also collectively enforces good driving. We require would-be drivers to pass both a written and field test before they are allowed on the roads. And if they don’t follow the rules, there are legitimate repercussions. Fines. Jail time. Loss of driving privileges. We have no such formal rules when it comes to sexuality. Perhaps we should. But who would enforce them? Do we really want the government to get more involved in our private lives? Look at the mess it has already made trying to legislate sexuality.

What we do have is high-quality information and expertise on sex and relationships, and we can teach people how to play more safely, just as we teach people how to drive safely. We can show them how to communicate with and evaluate potential partners, point out the warning signs of unsafe or manipulative people, demonstrate that healthy relationships (even when they involve power exchange) must start from a place of mutual respect and empowerment, and model how to learn from mistakes to continually improve one’s processes.

We can never make sexuality entirely safe. Despite all of the resources we commit to driver’s education, traffic enforcement, and vehicle safety, driving is still very dangerous. Even good and conscientious drivers can make errors or be the victim of other driver’s mistakes. But education can, and does, make a difference.