I’m not a big fan of awareness months. There are so many these days that each month shares a long list of issues to be aware of along with a corresponding ribbon color. There’s even a Zombie Awareness Month. It’s May (gray ribbon) in case you want to mark your calendar.

Every October, when Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes around, I have an uneasy feeling. It’s not that I don’t think that domestic violence awareness is important. Of course it is. But I wonder what we are accomplishing. Does awareness actually lead to behavior change? Researchers say no.

I’ve seen awareness about domestic violence grow significantly over the years. That’s a great thing and it needed to happen. But I don’t want us to stop there. Now that people are aware, I want them to act. I want everyone to realize that they can be a part of the solution. They can learn about the resources out there so if someone turns to them for help they’ll know what to do. They can talk to young people about what a healthy relationship looks like. They can ask a friend “How’s your relationship?” and make chatting about this a normal part of life.

I’m not suggesting we all cancel our Domestic Violence Awareness Month activities. But let’s shift our focus to turning October into Domestic Violence ACTION Month.DVAM-logo

Many people equate BDSM with abuse, but in fact that community can teach us a lot of great lessons about healthy relationships. You might be shaking your head in consternation right about now. But playing with power dynamics or intense bdsmphysical sensation is not the same as being abusive, violent, or controlling.

In one of my previous lives, I worked for several years as a sex educator for a feminist sex shop. While I was relatively open-minded, I had a lot to learn. Because even if I wasn’t particularly interested in something for myself, I had to be able to speak knowledgably and non-judgmentally with customers, many of whom were trusting me with vulnerable information. In any given week, I might help a 70-year-old woman who’d never had an orgasm or a 40-year-old man struggling to open up to his partner about his desires to explore role play.

I learned a lot, not just about sex but about communication and boundaries and consent and exploration and healthy relationships. All things that you need to engage successfully in BDSM.

Most people, especially when playing with a new partner, have a get-together where they chat about their yes/no/maybe list. The “yes” list is filled with all the activities you know you enjoy, the “no” list is all about the things you do not want under any circumstances. And the “maybe” list can include things you haven’t tried yet but might be interested in or things that might be okay in certain situations.

This list is one of my favorite tools, and anyone—any gender, any sexuality—can use it, regardless of what kinds of sex they like to have. It’s a great way to think about what your own desires are. And when you do it with a partner, you get to see where your interests overlap, where you might do some new exploration, and where the hard boundaries are. This is just one way to get to that “enthusiastic consent” that so many people are talking about right now.

Or you can do a yes/no/maybe list about other kinds of physical and emotional affection. “Holding hands in public—yes! Hand on my neck—nope. Deep kisses—maybe, but only if we’re in a private place.” For survivors of abuse, this can be a useful bridge to regaining ownership of their bodies and their desires. Being explicit about what is and isn’t okay can help avoid triggering incidents and make them feel safer.

Using the list might seem a little silly or even boring, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. If you find yourself tongue-tied when talking about what you want, it can be a great way to lay your cards on the table ahead of time, when you’re more able to think clearly. Give it a try!

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

Our Refuse To Abuse® domestic violence prevention campaign with the Seattle Mariners was highlighted in the New York Times this past week, calling out the “proactive approach” and noting that “the campaign has promoted safe, healthy relationships.”

An important article on the racial parenting divide as the media continues to discuss Adrian Peterson.

Congratulations to Sarah Deer, named a 2014 MacArthur Fellow this week! “The MacArthur Fellowship will change my life in a number of ways, but more importantly it will allow me to do more focused work on the passion that I have for justice for Native women.”

“It’s okay, honey, you can say you’re a housewife,” said the county clerk when I was applying for my marriage license. It’s hard to explain the work I do and I’m often stumped when I have to fill in the “occupation” section of a form. Irked by the clerk’s assumption that I was a housewife, I was even more put off that she thought I would be ashamed of it.grandmagritschcropped

Standing in that courthouse this summer, I was aware that I had walked through the same doors my grandparents did in 1949 and my parents in 1974. I thought about how much things had changed over the past 65 years. But really, how different are they?

My grandmother got married during a time that being a housewife was considered a woman’s ultimate calling. Near the end of her life she told me (with a bitter undertone), “I did my duty. I had three kids. I washed socks.” In her eyes, being a housewife was not a choice, but an obligation.

Then came the era of the Do It All woman which sounds impossible and exhausting. Today, things are different but the same sexist expectations exist. My partner and I share household and financial responsibilities, but I know I would be judged if I chose to stop working. And when people come to my home it’s clear the judgment is on me as well. Many women in my generation are trying to figure out what works best for them, even if that means choosing to return to traditional gender roles. It seems whatever we choose, we are criticized.

I want us to stop judging each other and turn our focus on making sure women have options and the freedom to choose what’s best for them. Instead of shaming, let’s encourage each other to make healthy decisions, talk about how to communicate effectively with our partners, and support each other to have relationships that are supportive, caring, and equal.

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Introduction to Love Like This, Asking outMaking a moveKeeping in touch vs. keeping tabs, Jealousy, Fighting fair, Breaking up

Copyright WSCADV     Illustrations by Derek Sullivan

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LLT-logo

Introduction to Love Like This, Asking outMaking a moveKeeping in touch vs. keeping tabs, Jealousy, Fighting fair, Breaking up

Copyright WSCADV     Illustrations by Derek Sullivan

Verizon

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LLT-logo

Introduction to Love Like This, Asking outMaking a moveKeeping in touch vs. keeping tabs, Jealousy, Fighting fairBreaking up

Copyright WSCADV     Illustrations by Derek Sullivan

Verizon

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