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This presentation contains responses to the following question: "If there was one thing you wish your mother would have told you about sex and sexuality, what would ot have been?" I hope these ...

This presentation contains responses to the following question: "If there was one thing you wish your mother would have told you about sex and sexuality, what would ot have been?" I hope these responses add to the dialogue on parent-child communication around sex and sexuality. Enjoy!

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What I Wish My Mother Would Have Told Me About Sex Presentation Transcript

  • 1. “ What I Wish My Mom Would Have Told Me About Sex” Nicole Clark Infusing Passion & Creativity to Improve the Health & Lives of Women and Girls of Color
  • 2. Contents
    • Introduction 3
    • Results/Analysis 8
    • Clear Information
    • Culture
    • Honesty/Openness
    • Pregnancy Prevention
    • Mother’s Journey
    • Shame/Guilt & Normalcy
    • Marriage, Religion, & Virginity
    • Distinguishing Love & Sex
    • Self-Esteem & Empowerment
    • Now What? (aka Conclusion) 31
    • Resources 32
  • 3. Introduction
    • In the work I’ve done with young women throughout the years, I’ve come across one important thing: while young people may build their thinking and decisions based on their interactions with their peers, many young people would actually prefer to get age-appropriate and correct information on sexuality and their bodies from family members and other trusted adults.
    • In February 2012, I wrote a post called “10 Reasons Why Your Daughter Won’t Talk To You About Sex” , and gave my blog readers who are mothers and women serving as older female figures in a young girl’s life (i.e., older sisters, aunts, grand mothers, older female cousins, etc.) some tips on how they can be more “askable” (the notion of being easier to ask a personal question to) to the young girls in their lives.
  • 4. Introduction
    • When I was younger, my mother didn’t really talk to me about sex and sexuality, and when she did, it was centered around pregnancy prevention, and less about sexually transmitted infections, the emotions associated with sex, or even pleasure. In fact, it was the lack of conversation around sex and sexuality with my mom that got me into the world of activism around sexual and reproductive health to help women and girls of color have more conversations around sexuality and their bodies.
    • At the same time, I remember not being comfortable at all about asking my mom anything closely related to sex and sexuality. I perceived that she would shut me down, accuse me of having sex though I was still a virgin, or believe that I wasn’t being truthful at all.
  • 5. Introduction
    • There are plenty of adults who want to have dialogue with their young people about sex and sexuality but either 1) feel they don't have the factual information to be effective, 2) don't know how to actually have the conversation, or 3) grew up in households where they didn't have parents comfortable enough to talk to them, and they inadvertently repeated the cycle.
    • In order to avoid repeating the cycle, we need to take our experiences, recognize them for what they were, and begin to have more open conversations about sexuality with young people that are affirming, honest, and easier to have.
    • So, I got an idea….
  • 6. Introduction
    • Between February 13-24, 2012, I asked the following question:
    • If there is one thing you wish your mom would have told you about sex and sexuality while growing up, what would it have been?
    • I asked friends, family members, colleagues, Facebook friends, people who’ve “liked” my Facebook page, newsletter subscribers, and my Twitter followers this question, and I got some cool, interesting, funny, and thought-provoking responses.
  • 7. Introduction
    • I invited anyone to respond to the question, and respondents could substitute "mom" with another trusted female figure in their life (sister, aunt, grandmother, guardian, neighbor, etc), if that applied to them. 
    • I’ve broken the responses down based on recurring themes. No identifying information is shared, and demographics such as age, race, sexual orientation etc. were not recorded. Completely unscientific, I’m sure, but I wanted to focus on content rather than “who” was providing the reflections.
  • 8. … And Here Are The Results! I noted the following themes that came up as factors in the respondents’ conversations with their mother figures around sex and sexuality: Clear Information Culture Honesty/Openness Pregnancy Prevention Mother’s Journey Shame, Guilt, & Normalcy Marriage, Religion & Virginity Distinguishing Love and Sex Self-Esteem & Empowerment I have placed the participants’ responses in bold , and I also share my brief analysis throughout on their statements. Of course, these responses can be interpreted in a variety of ways, and you will see that many of the themes are interwoven throughout the responses.
  • 9. Clear Information
    • “ What exactly happens [during sex], in detail? It was called “private parts” in my house, so I always thought it was a dark blur down there.”
    • One of the first things I wondered about as a kid when it came to sex was…well, what exactly happens? How does it happen? You hear about your hymen breaking (aka, your cherry popping), but how does that feel? What if it doesn’t tear, how will you know? How long does sex last? Is it just a penis entering a vagina? Are you having sex if you and your partner share the same sexual organ?
    • What is also key in the statement above is the mentioning of sexual organs being labeled as “private parts”. Adults have a tendency to give the correct terminology for hands, face, feet, etc., but when it comes to our sexual anatomy, young people (especially under age 5) may associate their sexual organs as parts of their bodies that need to be hidden and not discussed, which can promote shame as well as curiosity.
  • 10. Clear Information (con’t)
    • “ I wish I would have gotten more clear information from her. Most of my info came from "Our Bodies, Ourselves” and my own hits and misses.”
    • Our Bodies, Ourselves , by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, is an amazing book (the most current edition is 2011), with tons of information about the female body, sexuality, and women’ health in general. However, what I got from this response is that, while the respondent may have gained a lot of knowledge about her body, the missing component was the personal and intimate interaction between she and her mother-figure. Personal engagement coupled with factual information always wins out in the end.
    • “ I was lucky- my mom said the important thing- "masturbate lots-you'll get to know your body and no heartbreak."
    • Masturbation is a great way to learn about your body. What I got from this response was that the respondent’s mother-figure encouraged abstinence as well encouraged the respondent to learn how to pleasure herself before someone else enters the picture.
  • 11. Culture
    • “ There was a lot of threats, like how our ancestors were watching and would tell [my parents.] Or that we’d just die. But I always had this sense I was being misinformed, and got my ass to the local library. And as a girl, I was expected to wait until marriage [with] the perfect Chinese boy or I would be a disgrace. I devoured [the book] "Girls and Sex," and just had to read "Boys and Sex," too!
    • “ Growing up in an Asian household, talks about sex were pretty rare.. My mother didn't start talking to me about sex until I was in almost in high school…”
    • Culture can play a major factor in how parents and older family members discuss sex and sexuality with younger family members, and “culture” can mean several things. First, as in the responses above, many younger people are being raised in households where they may be the first generation of Americans in a family where the older generations may have migrated to the United States.
  • 12. Culture (Continued)
    • A second factor of cultural influence includes the societal landscape that American youth are living in. In the United States, discussions of sex and sexuality are often taboo, yet we are living in a society where sex is included in many thing we see on a daily basis, including advertisements, television, film, books, magazines, and music. For example, sexual innuendos in songs from back in the 1970s have been eclipsed by songs of today that blatantly spell out the sexual acts that the singers/rappers want to do.
    • Thirdly, compared to the United States, studies have also shown that parent-child communication is more honest and prevalent in households in countries such as The Netherlands. Studies have also shown that the rates of teen pregnancy and the rates of abortions are significantly lower in The Netherlands compared to the rates of teen pregnancy and the rates of abortion in the United States. Perhaps the United States can learn a thing (or several) from The Netherlands.
  • 13. Honesty/Openness
    • “ I always tell my students that I wish someone would’ve been honest and told me what I tell them about sex!”
    • Many parents may feel that being honest about sex may encourage their young people to “follow in their footsteps.” While the respondent didn’t specify what she actually tells her students, the fact that she, as an adult, can admit to her students that she most likely didn’t receive adequate information about sex shows a willingness to encourage her students to seek out factual and age-appropriate information from trusted adults.
    • “ I am so thankful to God for my mother. There is nothing I couldn't say or ask her. My mother encouraged all three of her kids to talk openly to her, she would never judge she just listened and gave her opinion or advice and trusted us to make the best decision with the freedom of having the choice to do the right thing.”
    • Of course, not everyone has had the same experiences. Despite the challenges of discussing sex and sexuality, many parents are open to having honest dialogue with young people (even if they fear they don’t have the most up-to-date information) and maintain an open-door policy for their children to continue to talk with them. This can be a direct result of the parents’ upbringing if they themselves had similar experiences with their parents, or it could be as a result of not having this type of openness with their parents and realizing the importance of having these conversations with their own children.
  • 14. Honesty/Openness (con’t)
    • “ My mom knew she didn't know it all, but she knew enough to enroll us in an mom/preteen sex ed class at the local woman's hospital. I'm thankful for that. Some [people] get embarrassed about not knowing. Real ignorance take hold when you don't admit you don't know.”
    • This is a very unique situation (at least for myself). It’s not a bad thing to admit that you don’t know something, and what better way to find more information than to take a proactive approach to making sure that both mother AND daughter are receiving the same information?
    • “ Because my mother couldn't be there for me during her darkest days, she made sure I was surrounded by strong, amazing women…. I appreciated her honesty with the things she could talk about and her making sure I had women I could talk to about sex.”
    • This respondent shared that her mother suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after years of sexual abuse, and also revealed to her daughter that she also once had an abortion before it was legal to do so. However, her mother made sure that her daughter still had other women in her life that she would be able to discuss sex with, which is also another highly proactive approach. Additionally, the respondent shared that it was her father who taught her about sex and encouraged her to seek out more relevant information.
  • 15. Pregnancy Prevention
    • “ My mother was a single parent and got pregnant in early adulthood (19) so conversations around sex focused on pregnancy prevention. She didn't want me to go through the same hardships she had to go through as a single mom. As a result, she prioritized conversations about sex narrowly focused on sex that leads to pregnancy. I'm grateful because I learned about sex at an early age, and it was age-appropriate and not too uncomfortable to discuss with my mom…Her own fears about pregnancy led her to focus on that aspect but I would have liked to have more candid conversations about what happens other than intercourse and how I could protect myself .”
    • “ My mom talked to me more so about sex leading to motherhood; needless to say it was a deterrent.”
    • “… She was more concerned about pregnancy than ST[I]s, she never addressed HIV/AIDS or herpes or anything like that. I guess to her, being a teenage mother was probably the worst case scenario, worse than any disease I could get.”
  • 16. Pregnancy Prevention (con’t)
    • Not surprisingly, this is a pattern that has come up in my life and in the lives of many women and girls I know. The most effective discussions around sex and sexuality include discussions on how to prevent unintended pregnancies as well as protecting oneself against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Becoming infected with an STI can sometimes be just as permanent as becoming a young mother; however, some STIs are curable, and in many cases, one does not know if another is infected with a STI based on the person’s appearance. While STIs and pregnancy carry equal amounts of stigma, pregnancy (especially outside of marriage) continues to carry a social stigma across communities and cultures. Shows like 16 and Pregnant and its spin-off Teen Mom are bringing more awareness to teen pregnancy and young motherhood, yet many times becoming a teen mother is often touted as a failure, with more programs centered on prevention compared to actually helping teen moms be successful in parenting while still pursuing their own goals. How can we address the stigma that is associated with teen pregnancy, while also addressing ways to prevent it as well as ways to give young mothers the support they need? Also, how can we get more adults to include STI prevention in addition to birth control and teen pregnancy in their discussions on sex?
  • 17. Mother’s Journey
    • “ I wish [my mom] had shared more of her personal journey. The things I have learned in recent years about [my parents] would have been extremely helpful to know earlier on. This insistence on "wait until your married" only to learn that no one waited would have helped the conversations be more genuine.”
    • “ I wish she'd share more of her personal journey. I also wish someone would've told me that no one really knows anything about sex. Each experience is one for learning and it's always going to be (or should be) about communication.”
    • “ Rather than just being told not to "do it", I wish I had been taught the emotional benefits of intimacy and a positive sexual relationship along with the negative emotional ramifications of having sex out of rebellion, just to lose get it over with and lose your virginity, or because everyone else is doing it.”
    • “ I wish she were more open about it. Our talk was "you can die from it!”
  • 18. Mother’s Journey (con’t)
    • Oftentimes, when the older women in our lives share their experiences, it often comes from a place of a “cautionary tale”, an attempt to make sure that the young people in their lives don’t “make the same mistakes” they believe they made. Which is completely understandable, by the way. However, what can be added to the conversation is the encouragement of gaining more knowledge on whatever the moms felt they lacked. In other words, discussing how moms themselves wish they would have learned more about empowerment, comprehensive sex education, partner communication, etc. in relation to sexual health can also open up dialogue with young girls as well as help moms seek out ways to make sure that their young girls will receive what they did not.
    • Also, in my own life, one thing I wish my mom would have shared with me was her own experience in navigating her way in becoming a sexually active adult. When a mother or mother-figure shares her own stories regardless of the personal outcome, it can create a relationship that fosters open communication and honesty between a mother/mother-figure and their young girls.
  • 19. Shame/Guilt & Normalcy
    • “ [I wish my mother would have told me] that sex wasn't a bad thing and nothing to be ashamed of. She made it seem like it was a felony offense punishable by death. I now know what NOT to tell my daughter.”
    • “ 1) that desire is natural, not a sin 2) making good decisions re: sex (not "just say no") 3) dealing with the emotional aspect.”
    • “ I wish my mom had told me that sex is not a shameful thing, that she and my dad enjoy it very much still, and that she hopes I will enjoy it very much in my future as well.”
  • 20. Shame/Guilt & Normalcy (con’t)
    • “ I wish my mother would've told me that my urges and sexual desires were normal. Her silence was jarring, and left me to explore my relationship with pleasure on my own. While I certainly knew abut condoms and a bit about birth control, beyond sexual health, I didn't understand how I could channel my sexual energy into beautiful, fulfilling relationships with partners that would honor my body and hunger for pleasure. For all young women, I hope that we as older peers, mentors, and elders can reshape conversations on sex to not only share our personal experiences and the negative risks that come with sexual activity, but also reaffirm the positive side.”
  • 21. Shame/Guilt & Normalcy (con’t)
    • As previously mentioned, in American culture (and in many cultures around the world), discussions of sex and sexuality are often taboo. It’s understandable that many adults don’t want teens to become parents at earlier ages. Yet, it’s important for adults to realize that sexuality is a normal part of the human existence. If we can place a high value on education, of making sure that children know enough to go on to college, why can’t we place the same value on knowing your body and the navigating through your sexuality as an adult. Surely, college is when many young adults experiment with intimacy and sex (oral, anal, and vaginal) for the first time.
    • Additionally, with the United States federal government giving millions of federal money to abstinence-until-marriage programs that are not effective instead of focusing on comprehensive sex education and positive affirmations of sexuality, we continue to promote the shame and stigma when it comes to discussing sex. Living in a society that highlights sex (oftentimes unprotected) while also promoting abstinence until marriage is confusing for many people, especially when many people cannot get married based on their sexual orientation and the laws of same-sex marriage in their state.
    • Also, when parents discuss sex with younger people, I’m pretty sure that pleasure isn’t even a factor in the conversation. How can we continue to generate conversations around sex and sexuality that are positive, affirming, informative, and leaves young people will a sense of their own power?
  • 22. Marriage, Religion, and Virginity
    • My mom brought home condoms for [my brother] & me. I was 14, he was 12. [She] told us we were young & should wait but "just in case." Mom warned us about STDs & HIV/AIDS. At the same time, she told us she waited til marriage, but times were changing…I thought she was crazy, but she gave us ownership of our sexuality & bodies. [She] told me to not depend on men to be safe.”
    • What’s interesting about this respondent’s experience was that her mother, while clearly stating her preference for her children to remain abstinent until marriage, understood that young people are bombarded with images about sex, and that abstinence may not be a realistic option for some. She wanted to make sure that her children were fully prepared in the event that they decided to become sexually active. Encouraging young people to delay sexual intercourse decreases the likelihood of unintended pregnancies and the transmission of STIs. Also, the fact that the respondent’s mother encouraged the respondent to take ownership over her body rather than be at the mercy of another person promotes empowerment and safety.
  • 23. Marriage, Religion, and Virginity (con’t)
    • “ [I wish my mother would have told me that sex] really didn't make you a grown-up. That it wasn't necessarily something to "save" for "your husband or fiancé.”
    • “ I once met a girl who didn't want, or felt the need, to learn about sex because she wasn't having it. So I think the religious component is interesting/important too, when asking parents to discuss sex with their kids. Especially if their particular religious faith isn't very open about sex in and of itself. Or if parents themselves waited. I think we forget about the people who wait until marriage or had sex later in life so they don't feel sex ed is AS important. ..”
  • 24. Marriage, Religion, and Virginity (con’t)
    • As mentioned previously, living in a society that highlights sex (oftentimes unprotected) while also promoting saving sex until marriage is confusing for many people. I believe that one way to battle the shame and guilt associate with sex is to have more conversations around sex and sexuality in the religious community…and advocate for state laws that give equal rights to LGBT individuals who want to marry so that every one is on the same page with having the same rights.
    • Additionally, the conversation around sex education itself is mostly about and for younger people, not adults. There are many adults who are waiting to have sex, and not for religious reasons, and some inexperienced adults might feel uncomfortable talking about sex. Some might feel embarrassed that they didn’t have sex as a teenager or young adult, and choosing to wait until later in life for sex may be for a variety of reasons that are not related at all to marriage. And even if an adult is already sexually active, it’s important that adult also keep up to date on sex education, especially as they older, become widowed or divorced, and continue to have sex.
  • 25. Distinguishing Love and Sex
    • “ I wish my mother were better able. That sex wasn't just a "don't do it til you can take care of a baby" conversation. My mother and others I've known never discussed any emotional or spiritual aspects of sex. I needed that. Once I was finally in the know, I came to believe virginity was the wrong point to focus on.”
    • “ I wish she would've told me that love & sex are different. She only told me to keep my legs closed.”
    • “ That sex & love are different things. Learn to distinguish early...and always be the decider about which it is.”
    • “… If there was one thing I wish she would have told me about sex, it would be that you can never use sex to snag a man or keep him in a relationship…it never works.”
  • 26. Distinguishing Love and Sex (con’t)
    • Distinguishing love from sex is a biggie. I have met many people across cultural backgrounds and lived experiences who believe that they should have waited to have sex. Not for marriage or fear of stigmas associated with pregnancy and STIs, but because they wished they would have waited until they were with a partner who was both affirming of them and of their sexuality.
    • This isn’t something that solely teen girls fall victim to. Many teens grow into adult women and continue to have the same experiences of being in sexual relationships with other individuals that left them confused and disappointed in themselves and in the individual. This isn’t also something that has a one-size-fits-all solution, especially when many adult women are making the same mistakes adults feel that young girls. Helping women and girls navigate their feelings before they make a decision to become sexually active with someone is just as important as making sure they have the most accurate information on how to protect themselves from pregnancy and STIs.
  • 27. Self-Esteem & Empowerment
    • “ I wish my mother did more to help me develop self-esteem. I found myself in a series of bad relationships, suffering not because of a lack of basic biological or mechanical knowledge but because I didn't have a strong enough sense of how I deserved to be treated. I didn't have a sense that it was my right and even my responsibility to exercise agency and control in sexual relationships, to decide who, how, what, and where rather than being subjected to the desires of a partner -- specifically, a man -- and submitting as he decided these things or generally objectified me.”
    • This response was one of the more touching responses for me, and I believe that it’s something that many women (myself included) have gone through at one point or another. What happens when you have all the information in the world regarding sex and sexuality, but lack a way of knowing how to expect to be treated in a relationship? A lowered self-esteem can often produce a low quality intimate relationship.
  • 28. Self-Esteem & Empowerment (con’t)
    • “ My mother was terrific about talking sex. She did not want me to be uninformed like she was. My mom was always open with me and answered my questions. I then became the girl that everyone came to with questions about sex. I even told my mother when I had sex for the first time!... My mom was a rock star when it came to talking with me about sex, relationships, my body and supporting me. I've tried to do the same for other young people in my life, including my cousins and nieces and nephew. I want them to have as much information and support as they need to make healthy decisions.”
    • “ I feel lucky my mother was open (& non-shaming) with me about sexuality; the older I get, more I appreciate that. Keep in mind my mom was raised in very conservative family, was abused, forced to wed, all that, she wanted opposite for us…My mother had "Our Bodies Ourselves" on the bookshelf in the living room! She was all for sex ed as empowerment.”
    • These are great examples of moms recognizing their own experiences, making sure that they break the cycle of lack of knowledge and misinformation in order to make sure their young people are more informed. It’s always great to see mothers and mother-figure make the decision to do this. It’s not always easy, but it benefits their young girls in the long run.
  • 29. Self-Esteem & Empowerment (con’t)
    • “ The most important thing about sex that I've learned that my mom wasn't able to teach me, was that sex is about sexuality, which for me means an expression of myself and a tool through which I can explore who I am.  Although I wish my mom and talked about this side of sex with me, I don't know if she could have.  It hasn't been her experience of sex, and maybe I needed to learn that on my own.”
    • We often separate the act of sex from the core of human sexuality. Compared to the physical act of sex, human sexuality encompassed the whole person, including who they are sexually attracted to, what sexual acts they are comfortable doing, when and how they are sexually active, as well as their gender, body image, perceived gender roles, identity, values, knowledge, and behaviors. Sexuality is ever evolving, beginning at birth and ending at death.
  • 30. Self-Esteem & Empowerment (con’t)
    • “ You don't have to do it if you don't want to.”
    • “ That it's MY choice - whether I want it consensually or don't want it from someone in ”authority”, my power my choice.”
    • What’s lacking in the discussion of sex with young people is the act of consent. When young people (and adults) are able to give their consent in all areas of their lives, including sexual activity, it positively affects their self-esteem and makes them aware of their safety. Young people feel respected, they place value on their worth, and they are honest with themselves and others. It’s important that adults take the lead in making sure that young people know when to draw the line (i.e. knowing what they are comfortable and not comfortable with doing), recognize the signs that something may be wrong or inappropriate, follow their instincts, and be encouraged to report unwanted advances.
  • 31. Now What? (aka Conclusion)
    • Now that you’ve seen some responses from a small collection of women on their experiences, what can you do differently? Here are some ways to get started:
    • Get up-to-date on the latest news on sexual health.
    • Recognize that “having sex” is something that is done by teens and the elderly alike.
    • Just like preparing for college, work with young people to make sure they know as much about their body as possible so that they can take care of themselves (and this includes pleasure).
    • Have more conversations around self-worth, self-esteem and consent.
    • Encourage sex education throughout the lifespan.
    • Work more to raise awareness of STIs and teen pregnancy without resulting to shame and stigma.
    • Recognize that culture does play a factor in how we communicate about sex and sexuality.
    • Use correct terminology for body parts. This is very important in decreasing shame around sexual anatomy in younger people.
    • Share your story! Regardless if you had a positive experience or not, being open and honest about your sexual experience can lead to better communication in all areas of your relationship with young women, not just sex.
  • 32. Resources
    • Advocates for Youth ( www.advocatesforyouth.org ): Advocates for Youth champions efforts to help young people make informed and responsible decisions about their reproductive and sexual health. AFY also helps parents become comfortable discussing sex with youth.
    • Bedsider ( www.bedsider.org ) : Bedsider is an online birth control support network for women ages 18-29, operated by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
    • Planned Parenthood ( www.plannedparenthood.org ): Planned Parenthood is the nation's leading sexual and reproductive health care provider and advocate.
    • Religious Choice for Reproductive Freedom ( www.rcrc.org ): The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice brings the moral power of religious communities to ensure reproductive choice through education and advocacy.
    • Scarleteen ( www.scarleteen.com ): Scarleteen is the highest-ranked website for sex education and sexuality advice online.
    • The Consensual Project ( www.theconsensualproject.com ): The Consensual Project partners with schools and universities to bring students a fresh understanding of consent.
    • The Line Campaign ( www.whereisyourline.org ): The Line Campaign is a non-profit organization & movement committed to empowering young people to create a world without sexual violence and helps young people to answer the question “Where is your line?” when it comes to consent.
  • 33. Thank You!
    • Thanks so much for supporting my work, and a special thanks to the respondents who participated in this discussion. I look forward to seeing you build conversations around sex and sexuality with the young women in your lives.
    • Thanks again!
    • Nicole Clark, MSW
    • www.nicole-clark.com
    • Twitter: www.twitter.com/msnicoleclark
    • Facebook: www.facebook.com/msnicoleclark
    • LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/msnicoleclark