This page outlines our group's views on sexuality, with a focus on which values and practices about sexuality flow naturally from and are consistent with, our core beliefs. Why This Way has participants with a broad range of views on sex and romantic relationships, and a broad range of beliefs about the relationship between sexuality and various spiritual or religious concepts or values, such as marriage. Our views on sexuality thus encompass a broad range of different values and practices, yet while having clearly delineated beliefs and practices about certain key points.
Our goals about sexuality
The goals and driving purposes behind our beliefs and practices about sexuality are to have each person's sexual practices and beliefs, and the culture surrounding sexuality in society, contribute to a healthy state both for individuals and society, as expressed in our beliefs. In particular, our goals include:
- All sexual interactions are consensual.
- People view each other as whole people when sexually involved (in contrast to objectification, anonymous sex, or intense infatuation).
- People's sexual actions, communications about sex, and expressions of sexuality, are respectful to everyone involved.
- People communicate honestly in everything surrounding sex.
Our practices about sexuality
- Communicate to someone you could potentially become sexually involved with about your values and beliefs before becoming active.
- When sexually involved with someone, directly communicate as soon as you become aware of being uncomfortable with anything sexual and/or unsure of whether you want to do it.
- Use language in ways consistent with our values.
- Avoid and root out implicit "should" statements and their equivalents, in beliefs and values about sexuality and relationships.
Language and sexuality
Language, including slang terminology, can include the use of words which have assumptions and values built into their definitions, which are in conflict with our values. For example:
- In much of American society, it is common for women who have a lot of sexual partners to be labelled as "sluts" or by other similar words, whereas it is common for men to be labelled as "players". The term "slut" has a connotation of a lack of self-control, whereas the word "player" has a connotation of control and exploitation. Both are negative labels, and both imply an analysis of the person's intentions, thus violating our rules of communication in multiple ways.
Should statements in sexuality
People's beliefs about sex can include assumptions about people's behavior, which can include should statements or their equivalents. We think beliefs that are in the form of should statements can be unhealthy, and be a hindrance to people having healthy relationships and healthy ways to express and experience their sexuality. As an example:
- A belief that anyone "should" have sex or "should not" have sex, or engage in any specific activity, in any circumstance, can be harmful in a variety of ways. These sorts of beliefs can lead to negative judgments, or in more extreme cases, coercion, when people do not act in accordance with the belief. Although we see should statements themselves as being unhealthy, we recognize that they often come from legitimate ideas of what people want for specific reasons, but that changing them from should statements would be more constructive. For example, instead of saying "I should not have sex with this person," one could say "I do not want to have sex with this person because it conflicts with my values."
- A belief that someone "should" know what a certain signal means. This can cause all sorts of problems in communication, such as: "(S)he should have been able to tell that I was uncomfortable." or "(S)he should have been more assertive about saying no."
Our rules of communication specify to not assign negative labels to people or groups of people. This includes both labels like "slut" or "player" discussed above, but also includes the labelling of people who have committed sexual crimes, like sexual assault or abuse, as "sex offenders", "rapists", or other similar terms. The danger of these labels is that they identify a person solely on the basis of whatever crime they have committed, which can lead to demonization and marginalization of these people from society.
Our beliefs about punishment specify that we only support punishment for the purpose of preventing harmful actions. We could thus support keeping a person incarcerated if they were at genuine risk of sexually assaulting others, but we would not support the continued labelling of a person as a sex offender if and when they were deemed to not be at risk of assaulting others.
Responsibility vs. blame in sexuality
A common example of people placing blame occurs in cases of sexual assault or rape. Victim blaming is one particularly destructive form of blame, in which people blame the person who was raped or subjected to other types of coercive sexual acts. Victim blaming can be direct, like saying "It was her fault because she didn't do X." or implied through should statements, like "Well, she shouldn't have done X." In victim blaming, people typically focus on aspects of the person who was assaulted, like their intoxication with alcohol or other drugs, the fact that they were alone in unfamiliar surroundings, or how they were dressed. In some cases, people may be focusing on risk factors that do increase someone's risk of being sexually assaulted. We encourage people to take responsibility (in the sense of understanding what choices they make and which choices may increase their risk of being sexual assaulted), but we emphasize that because sexual assault is such a sensitive topic, it is of key importance to not push this responsibility on someone (verbally) without their consent.
Use of the term "victim"
We used the term "victim blaming" because it is a widely recognized term for a specific mentality or system of beliefs and practices surrounding sexual assault. However, in Why This Way, we avoid referring to people as "victims" and instead use slightly more cumbersome, but more specific language such as "people who have been assaulted", which emphasize the person's humanity and separate them from the crime or violence committed against them. This usage flows from a cautious interpretation of our rules of communication, which specify to talk about people as whole people, and not to assign negative labels to people.
"Victim" can be a subjective label assigned to a person, which identifies the person with the crime that they have been subjected to. In some contexts "victim" can have a negative connotation, such as in cultures that place a negative stigma on people who have been raped or sexually assaulted. We are also cautious of the possibility for a person to let a crime committed against them influence their identity, and we hope that the separation of the crime from the person can provide the person some degree of protection against secondary victimization or the formation of a victim mentality.
In cases where people do not agree on whether or not a particular action constitutes a crime or wrongdoing, the use of the term "victim" can also be problematic, because using the term can imply a certain analysis or judgment about what happened.
Views of people who commit sexual assault or abuse
Another example of blame includes remarks about people who perpetrate sexual assault or sexual abuse. When dealing with people who have perpetrated sexual assault or abuse, our emphasis is on helping them to understand what they have done and how it has impacted others, encouraging them to take responsibility for past and future actions, and to prevent them from causing future harm to the greatest degree possible. Many people who commit abuse have been abused in the past, and there are many other risk factors, including aspects of a person's belief system, that make it more likely for them to commit sexual crimes. It is often more empowering, in order to actually end or prevent abuse, to view it as a cycle, a manifestation of a system bigger and more powerful than the individual people in it, than it is to place blame on individuals and label them as "bad people", something contrary to our beliefs.