Good Sexual Citizenship: How to Create a Sexually Safer World
Ellen Friedrichs (Writer)
September 24, 2019
We’re living in a #MeToo world where more people from marginalised communities are able to share their stories of sexual harassment and assault. Unfortunately, very few of the men accused of the crimes they have perpetrated will ever see the inside of a courtroom, let alone a prison cell. Why, only recently, Louis CK, who had been accused of sexual assault, played to sold out crowds in Toronto. So much for men losing their careers because of accusations.
So, how did we get here? Why are marginalised people, particularly trans people, LGBTQ+ people, and women in such danger of sexual assault? Why aren’t more men (and it is mostly men) more conscious of the needs of the people around them?
It comes down to good, or rather bad, sexual citizenship—what author Ellen Friedrichs’ defines as the “responsibilities individuals have to themselves and others in the sexual realm.”
In Good Sexual Citizenship, Friedrichs discusses five aspects of how to be a good sexual citizen:
- Erase biases around gender, sexuality, and race
- Sexual rights for marginalised people, and regaining control in the sexual sphere
- Consent, what it is, what it means, and why people need to get it
- Explaining sex and sexuality to children
- The teenage sex situation
Friedrichs emphasises how the little things build up to sexual assault—the every day harassments that make women, people of colour, and LGBTQ+ people feel unsafe; the gendered toys that stop girls from believing they can be superheroes or go into STEM fields; the ‘boys will be boys’ attitude that tells boys they should pursue what, and who, they want even when someone says no, and that in turn tells girls and women that they shouldn’t strive to say ‘no,’ or accept bad, uncomfortable, or dangerous sex.
Friedrichs describes all of the above in vivid detail, backed up by facts and figures that are startling, disturbing, and make for sobering reading. For those who don’t already know about the state of the sexual realm for anyone who isn’t an abled cisgender straight white man, this book has plenty of information for you.
Good Sexual Citizenship is aimed at people wondering about the state of sexual affairs in the world—specifically for people who might be prone to saying ‘boys will be boys’, victim blaming, or brandishing the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ banner every time someone accuses a man of assault.
Each chapter ends with a set of questions challenging readers’ perceptions of established sexual mores. These questions include:
- How comfortable are you with a woman initiating sex with a male partner?
- Do I ask my partner if they want to have sex every time I initiate it?
- Did my response ask what the victim/survivor wanted to do?
- Is there something about being LGBTQ+ that makes you uncomfortable? What is it? Are these feelings based on hostile assumptions and stereotypes?
When I was going through this book, I found myself agreeing with everything Friedrichs was saying. But I am also the kind of person who would want to read this book because it gives me solid facts and figures to backup the viewpoints and anecdotes I have.
But I am not the intended audience for this book—Good Sexual Citizenship is targeted towards people who don’t always agree with these viewpoints, or who are questioning the prevailing stances they come across on Twitter, via politicians’ views, and from their friends and families.
Will the man who picks a fight with activists on Twitter read this book to understand the issues of consent? Will the teacher who dress codes the girls in their school read this book to find out why they think girls’ bodies are dangerous and must be covered? Will the male gynecologist who dismisses a woman’s endometriosis complaint want to learn why they’re so dismissive of a woman’s pain?
In the final chapter, Friedrichs discusses how we can get to the good sexual citizenship stage, discussing the pyramid of sexual beliefs and expressions, how they impact relationships, and contribute to sexual harassment and assault.
This pyramid is one of the last items that Friedrichs mentions in her book, but it is the most visual representation of what she outlines and is something I wish could be plastered on all walls everywhere.
I find myself being drawn to books like Good Sexual Citizenship and Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk about Race, but I can’t help wondering whether the people who need to read these books are least likely to do so. We are all looking for affirmation of our own views—that’s why I gravitate to these books, because they share my views—and we want to stay far away from anything that posits the opposite of our beliefs.
However, books like Good Sexual Citizenship are excellent ammo for a conversation with people who don’t want to listen to different viewpoints. There are some excellent stats and references in this book—which I have highlighted for future use—that I can use if someone were to question any statements I make about the importance of consent and the need for better reproductive rights for everyone.
It definitely helps that Friedrichs looks at sex, sexuality, and sexual assault from a wider lens than just that of white women—she includes all marginalised communities in her discussions.
However, there is absolutely no discussion about body diversity in Good Sexual Citizenship—including the fact that some emergency contraception doesn’t even work on large women. I’m surprised that the impact of outlandish opinions on and fetishization of fat bodies isn’t discussed in a book that is as thorough as this one.
This is a massive misstep in an otherwise excellently-researched and hard-hitting book. Good Sexual Citizenship is a necessary read for anyone who looks at the #MeToo movement and worries about the men affected by it, instead of the victims. Are those people going to read it, though, that is my question?