Sexual Citizens – Helping Teens Make Mindful Choices

Sex, flirting, and romance are of central importance to teens—and, even in this time of social distancing, teens still need their parents’ guidance to navigate this important aspect of their l...

Sex, flirting, and romance are of central importance to teens—and, even in this time of social distancing, teens still need their parents’ guidance to navigate this important aspect of their lives.

Moving Traditions’ VP and Chief of Program Strategy Rabbi Tamara Cohen spoke with Jennifer S. Hirsch and Shamus Kahn, authors of the landmark study, Sexual Citizens, and Kol Koleinu Teen Fellows Maya Kendall and Hannah Bases, who shared their wisdom with parents about how to build healthy teen sexuality and prevent sexual assault, and discussed how the Moving Traditions teen groups do this within Jewish community, drawing on Jewish values.

Three Moving Traditions Tips to Foster Sexual Citizenship

According to authors of Sexual Citizens, Jennifer Hirsch and Shamus Khan, a fundamental outcome of the way that young people are socialized in our country that needs to change is that “some people feel entitled to other people’s bodies and other people don’t feel entitled to their own bodies.”

In their research with hundreds of college students at Barnard/Columbia, Hirsch and Khan found that, to a large extent, white cisgender heterosexual males are socialized to feel entitled to the bodies of women, but that many women and LGBTQ young people do not feel entitled even to their own bodies. In addition to gender and sexual orientation, the researchers also found that racialization impacts young people’s belief in their own sexual agency; Hirsh and Khan note that every single one of the many black women they spoke to had experienced unwanted sexual touch.

In Moving Traditions’ groups for teens of all genders, Rosh Hodesh for girls, Shevet for boys, and Tzelem for trans and nonbinary teens, we aim to teach sexual citizenship through a range of educational modalities, three of which we share here for you to use with your teen.

1 – Cognitive: Critically Watch TV and Movies Together

Whenever you are watching something together with your teens, you have the opportunity to react to the gender roles and messages about sexual citizenship that are being played out. Saying something short like, “Wow, he treated her like she was an object not a person,” can be enough. Sometimes less is more with teens. See this article recently published in Lilith Magazine, by Moving Traditions’ Rabbi Tamara Cohen for one take how to watch sexually explicit shows with your preteens and teens.

2 – Spiritual: Use Jewish Ritual to Share the Jewish Value of Respecting Boundaries

The Hebrew word kadosh, refers to something that is set apart, separate, and in that separateness, is holy. The whole idea of Shabbat as a separate and distinct day of the week is about creating and honoring boundaries—in this case the boundaries between work and rest, between doing and being. When you light Shabbat candles (signifying the beginning of Shabbat) or make Havdalah (includes lighting a special candle that signifies the end of Shabbat), share in your own words the importance of marking and respecting boundaries. Say something like, “It is so important to me as your parent that your boundaries are respected and that you respect the boundaries of other people. If you ever want to talk more about this, I’m here for you.”

3 – Physical: Encourage Dancing and Other Forms of Embodiment

During the pandemic, it is easy for teens to stay home in their rooms and not move their bodies much.  Encourage teens of all genders – especially girls and LGBTG teens – that help them feel empowered in their bodies. Without nagging, encourage music playing, movement, going for a walk or bike ride and anything embodied that your teen likes to do or might be willing to do. Model it yourself and speak about it. Say something like, “It feels so good to give my body what it needs even in this time when I have to do things differently.” It might feel awkward or get an eyeroll, but that’s ok.