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Waiting for a tour bus to take me on little drive involving glaciers, waterfalls, and a huge number of Icelandic horses, I picked up a copy of the alternative newspaper The Reykjavik Grapevine and came across a story about a program called ‘Fáðu já’ (“Get A Yes”)that has been implemented in the 10th grade for every student here in Iceland

One of the educators involved in the project explained a story she experienced in an Iceland high school, an experience that catalyzed her interest in producing the film:

To hammer the message home, ‘Fáðu já’ employs a lot of clever metaphors to remove ambiguity from any so-called grey areas, something that Þórdís Elva’s brought to the project in spades.

Þórdís wrote the critically acclaimed book ‘Á mannamáli’ which discusses sexual violence in Iceland in great detail. She tells me of one incident during her book tour at an upper secondary school in Reykjavík. She was taking questions, and one guy in his late teens asked whether it “wasn’t okay to finish if you were really close to coming but the girl wants to stop?” “I was taken aback by the question because it was totally sincere, and nobody in the class room reacted, or gave him a funny look,” Þórdís says. “Everyone just stared at me blankly, and I thought ‘oh god, we have so much work ahead…’

One of the important points the film makes is that previous sex education in Iceland was very good at teaching biological sexual function and emphasizing potential health risks, but not very effective at discussing the social or communicative aspects of dating and sex. In the United States generally and Montana specifically, too much of our health education information takes a similar approach, if sexual he alth is discussed at all.

Teaching students the anatomically correct names for their body parts and showing some slides of STDs is clearly insufficient. We need to make sure that our students are talk about the importance of communication, acceptable behavior, and, vitally, consent. In a country in which one in six women have been victims of rape or attempted rape–and in which 2/3 of rape victims between the ages of 18-29 knew their attackers, ensuring that young men and women understand these issues should be non-negotiable.

We’ve become too focused on teaching young women how to avoid rape. Some of this is well-intentioned advice about being careful about drinks in public settings and being aware of one’s surroundings, and some of it is just victim-shaming nonsense that seeks to place the blame for sexual assault on the behavior of the victim, not the perpetrator. In either case, we need to move past a model that teaches people they need to be on guard and manage their behavior to one that teaches potential aggressors to understand their behavior.

We need to shift our focus to a model that teaches young people about consent and respectful behavior. Popular culture and pornography (important sources of information about sexual behavior, whether we like it or not) simply don’t provide accurate information young people need.

Sex and communication about it can be very awkward and difficult for anyone, and doubly so for young people who often struggle with serious questions about identity and appropriate roles. I think both liberals and conservatives agree that we cannot abdicate our responsibility and let pop culture’s male-aggressive, never communicatively-challenged sex educate our children. Why not implement programs that give them the tools to have healthy relationships instead?

Having the courage to use programs like Fáðu já’sounds like an excellent place to start. The film is available (with English subtitles) here. While there are certainly some cultural differences, its approach–with frank, honest discussions about sexuality, consent, communication, and violence, offers the kind of program we need to make sure we’re making available to our kids.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

7 Comments

  • You are absolutely, totally correct. Enough already with boys-will-be-boys norms that reduce girls to running a disrespectful gauntlet that is only the beginning of a lifetime of second-class, disrespectful status.

    A woman can understand the disheartening, communicatively-challenged “morning after,” where she wakes up knowing she was taken advantage of, but also knowing “she should have known” he didn’t want anything but sex. If it was rape, she’d have struggled or called out. Because that’s just “how it is.”

    I just couldn’t agree with you more.

  • Yeah, that whole event was about Sandra Fluke’s apparent reinforcement of hookup culture, not women’s rights to contraception. C’mon . . .

    • While Ingy is as tasteless as ever, he almost has a point – does ‘hook-up’ culture and the credo ‘sex is just sex’ make it harder to emphasize the importance of getting consent? On the one hand there is the general liberal message that sex is sex, everybody does it, get over it and stop attaching such importance to a basic biological act, and on the other there is the message that it is so different than other acts that it must be accompanied by explicit consent, that intoxication invalidates that consent, and it is the responsibility of the male party to determine at what point that consent is invalidated and act accordingly. These messages are both valid and not inherently contradictory (despite what Rush or Ingy might claim), but I do think they are confusing, especially in the mind of a 16 year old kid (and his parents!).

      • I think you are making them confusing by saying things like “on the other hand” which imply some sort of contradiction.

        • On the other hand does not imply contradiction – indeed, in implies co-existence in spite of opposition (on the one hand, English is a difficult but on the other,it is quite interesting; the use of ‘on the other hand’ implies the truth of both statements, ) And the two messages are, in a certain way, in opposition: Sex is less of a big deal than it was a few decades ago, unless one or both of you is drunk, in which case it is a much bigger deal than it was a few decades ago. Again, not that either message is wrong, but obviously the ‘go a head and have sex!’ is the more popular one, and therefore complicates promulgating the all-important proviso ‘with explicit consent, because by the way ‘implicit consent’ is not legally valid, nor is it something you get to decide, nor is it something you’re likely to correctly identify in the heat of the moment, especially if you’re under the influence.’

  • Your asking a lot of adults in America, with all the insecurities they have about Sex themselves… to allow schools the right to teach something they are completely puritan about…..?

    I don’t know if they are ready yet. Its never been about the kids, I believe they would think this would help them immensely…. into adulthood, but some parents and religious organizations here, would just go flat crackers. Too stuck in some bygone era between Roman baths and woman suffrage.

    Good luck here… I find the europeans far more open minded to change for the best.

    Again, after watching the right party side of things unfold over the last couple of years…. I believe the extreme right wants woman wearing Burkas myself.

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