Updated: Jun 28, 2021
2019 (Cleis Press)
With her book Good Sexual Citizenship: How to Create a (Sexually) Safer World, writer and educator Ellen Friedrichs invites the reader to talk about sex. Really talk about it.
And by "sex", she means the entire spectrum which often gets conflated into this single word: from the bodies we are born with to how we identify; from the way we learn about sexual acts, to the disparate consequences for those acts between men and women, adults and teens, cishet white men and....well, basically everyone else, unfortunately.
And by "talk", Friedrichs means discuss these subjects, in-depth, from a variety of perspectives and viewpoints. There are personal anecdotes, such as when she re-watches John Hughes´ "classic teen ´80s comedy," Sixteen Candles, with her own daughter, and they have to keep stopping the movie because of how problematic its themes and subjects are. But Good Sexual Citizenship also contains lots of concrete data drawn from the law, education, psychology, and bodily health, helping the reader parse out personal bias and "myths" about a variety of subjects, from what the research actually reveals. For example, is the "panic" justified over teenagers seeming to have more sex today than ever before? Who legally has access to contraceptives and the morning after pill today, and who should have access to it? What are the limitations of a purely punitive approach to sexual assault cases? And how can we shift sex education (if it is happening at all, in some cases) for young people away from simply being able reproduction, and more inclusive of all sexual orientations and identities, with an emphasis on pleasure?
Friedrichs´ prose is clean and direct, and no less informative. Reading her book feels like having a front row seat to an in-depth seminar. Clearly, she is not only exceptionally knowledgeable about her subject, but Friedrichs is also an educator concerned with addressing these issues surrounding sex, gender, and sexuality with as broad of an audience as possible: from teens to adults, from LBTQ+ to heterosexuals, to teachers, parents, and anyone who is interested in sex.
Refreshingly, Good Sexual Citizenship provides not only comprehensive information about these multilayered, intertwined subjects. Friedrichs also includes frequent "in-class assignments" in the form of questions within and concluding each chapter. These engage this reader, anyway, to make a bridge between all of the complexities of the information provided within the book, and make it more concrete and personal in my life. How would I respond in these various situations? How am I going to apply what I´ve learned into real-life scenarios? How can I practice greater responsibility for myself and my community, with regards to the sexual realm?
"At its heart, good sexual citizenship espouses a very basic idea," Friedrichs affirms early on in her text: that "all sex should be wanted by all parties and enjoyed by all parties." Whether or not we participate in sexual activity, she seems to ask on each page, what are our own individual duties or codes in relation to gender, sex, and identity? What are our biases and prejudices, and are we willing to challenge some of these myths and get to the truth? What actions can we take today--not just in our intimate relations, but with our families and friends, our neighborhoods, our larger communities of people?
At one point in the book, Friedrichs emphasizes the role of the so-called bystander. Far from being "neutral", bystanders can shape the norms of a society, both by taking action and intervening (which says, "this is wrong") to looking away and saying/doing nothing ("this is tolerable, and therefore I don´t want to get involved"). As with each section within her excellent book, Good Sexual Citizenship calls upon each reader to aim higher, and contribute towards making our sexual landscapes more safe, more pleasurable, and more informed for all of us.
Like all excellent teachers, Friedrichs does not claim to know everything about everything. She is aware of how her identity informs her perception of the world as well as her own experience, as well as welcomes new information and viewpoints so she can continue learning. Rather than a road map with a fixed destination, Good Sexual Citizenship is a tool kit and a thorough start to a dialogue. Read it, and join the conversation!