Sexual assault has reached a fever pitch in America’s news. Between the accounts we’ve heard about Harvey Weinstein, Aziz Ansari, and others, commentators have been adding to the cultural conversation as to what men and women need to do in the face of real assault, as well as avoid close-call scenarios.
Whether you feel understood in the #MeToo movement, or feel fear of false accusations, here’s some advice all people could benefit from to minimize both harm and heartache.
1. Practice actively listening to women.
This may sound basic, but a big part of the problematic culture is the treatment of women as objects; as things to be seen and not heard; as not worth understanding. To some extent the sexes will probably never fully understand each other, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get better at trying.
As it happens, there are many differences that both sexes can benefit from learning about each other, for general improvement in communication.
When it comes to avoiding situations in which women may become uncomfortable, it is remarkably invaluable for men to understand how women may experience more anxiety and fear than men. Grab a copy of the Man’s Guide to Women, brought to you by the duo of scholarly married couples Dr. John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman, and Douglas Abrams and Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams. In it, you’ll learn women often feel something most men rarely feel — fear for their safety. Just learning more about this can help men in efforts to make their physical stature more helpful and protective in nature and less intimidating.
If you needed any more encouragement, consider what award-winning singer Alanis Morissette said of the book: “No pressure gentlemen, but this book might just support you in leading us towards salvation and harmony.” Need I say more?
2. Listen to women’s stories at Take Back the Night.
Attending an event where you’re sure to be one of the few men in a room full of feminists might sound intimidating at first. But, after reading Man’s Guide to Women, you could consider this an exercise in practiced empathy, since you’ll likely have a newfound appreciation of how less frequently men feel fear and intimidation than women.
Jokes aside, attending a campus forum of women sharing their experiences of assault, such as “Take Back the Night,” may provide an eye-opening experience for what many women experience in sexual encounters that men may not realize.
Hearing their stories may be hard at first, but it could also help you be more sensitive to avoid any activity that might come anywhere remotely close to exploitative behavior.
3. Don’t watch porn. And if you have been, go on a detox.
A common misconception is that watching porn allows some men who would otherwise take advantage of women to get sexual release without touching a real woman. But this is just a thought experiment that has no basis in proof.
In reality, we do know that of the men participating in casual sex today, nearly all of them have watched porn. A 2008 study surveying more than 560 college students found that 93 percent of boys were exposed to pornography before age 18. This is concerning, since nearly 90 percent of porn scenes portray aggression against women, by one study’s count.
Another study found that those who had watched pornography were less likely to identify a rape scenario described to them, as a rape. It doesn’t help that some porn is actually produced with assault taking place on set; women who have survived the sex-trafficking industry have revealed that they were exploited in porn, and that their experience was a revolving door between that, stripping, and prostitution.
If you try to quit porn but find it hard to stop, you’re not alone. Consider seeking help through communities like Fight the New Drug, Sexaholics Anonymous, or consider seeing a therapist specialized in helping people recover from porn addictions.
4. Listen to some Theology of the Body wisdom from Christopher West.
Removing toxic media from your diet is a great step toward minimizing your carbon footprint in our sexual-assault culture. But it’s just as important to make sure you’re consuming good things, as well.
Thankfully, there are many resources that supply a richer vision of sexuality, and one that is rooted in respect for women and men equally. Author and speaker Christopher West, for instance, has taken John Paul II’s positive teachings on sexuality known as Theology of the Body and made it easily digestible in numerous videos and in-person conferences around the country.
5. Research has something to say, too.
Our culture likes to make light of sexual encounters, and sometimes I wonder if it’s because many of us have had some heartache associated with them that we want to cover up.
People surveyed often say they had undesirable first-times with sex, and wished they had waited longer. There’s also research that shows that the more sexual partners one has before marriage, the less marital satisfaction they report later.
Focusing more on the behaviors that lead to long-term healthy relationships, rather than fleeting pleasures of casual sex, is worth everyone’s time.
The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are doing a lot to bring this issue to light, but they can sometimes feel distant from real life for the rest of us. The truth is, all of us, male and female, can change the way we interact with others to combat this issue at a cultural level. We can all be part of the solution to put assault-culture in the past and minimize the risk of hurt for all people.