For more sex education resources during the COVID-19 outbreak, check out our Better Sex Ed guide.
As a sex educator, I’m predisposed to see the relationship between sex ed and, well, basically everything.
I see these connections so frequently because sex interacts with so many parts of our lives: It touches on the physical, emotional, interpersonal, historical, and social aspects. “Good sex” doesn’t require fancy techniques or tools—it requires open dialogue, clear boundaries, and a desire to pursue a shared outcome.
Both sex and protests go better when you show up prepared.
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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Here are five key sex ed lessons that you can apply to protests. As with sex, the degree that these apply to you will vary based on who you are, what you’re doing, and the context you’re in. If you’re moving beyond protesting and occupying city hall or another government building in your city overnight, you can use these tips as a baseline and build up and adjust from there.
In sex ed, we teach students how to make the decisions that are best for them. It includes helping them understand the benefits and risks of particular options, how to mitigate those risks, how to communicate your needs, and how to affirm your boundaries.
Sexually speaking, coming prepared isn’t just about showing up with the supplies you need, it’s also about your mindset. What does “safety” look like for you? What level of risk are you willing to engage in? Who do you want to do things with?
The “come prepared” lesson also applies to protests.
If you’re considering going to a protest, be prepared with both supplies and information. Here are some questions to try to find the answers to:
- Who is organizing this event?
- How many people are expected to be there?
- How timeframe am I committing to?
- How will I get there and leave?
- Who will I bring with me?
- Who will I check-in with throughout the day? How?
- What supplies should I bring?
Just like you may bring different supplies with you to different types of sexual encounters, you’ll need different things depending on the type of protest you’re going to. Here are some of the basics:
- Face mask and two backups
- Non-latex medical exam gloves
- Hand sanitizer
- Weather protection
- Change of clothing
- Comfortable shoes
- Backup phone battery
Remember that not everyone is going to know how to find information or what things they should bring. Sharing is caring, so make sure to share the knowledge within your circle and pack some extra supplies in case someone else is in need.
Take proper care of your tools
One of the most common sexual health mistakes is improperly storing barrier methods: We want to be prepared, so we stash a condom in our wallet or purse, where it lives until it’s needed. Improperly storing barrier methods can make them less effective, though—they may have been damaged by heat, cold, an errant safety pin, or the packaging may have been popped.
The same is true of your protest supplies. Remember that list of basic tools we went over? If you want to make all that packing worth it, you need to put some thought into it.
For example, you wouldn’t want to toss your extra mask into the bottom of your backpack or clip it to a belt loop. Best-case scenario: You get three years’ worth of granola crumbs, mystery oils, and bacteria on it before you can even wear it. Worst-case scenario: Tear gas is deployed and your at-the-ready backup mask may not protect you.
Pack supplies like face masks, gloves, medical supplies, extra clothing, and even your phone (if you bring it) in individual plastic zippered bags.
This has three benefits: First, if you need to pass critical supplies to someone else, the contamination level is a bit lower. Second, if tear gas is used, your health and safety supplies are protected a bit more and may still be usable (once your hands and face are debrided). Third, bagging your supplies helps protect them from the weather—if you get stuck in a sudden downpour and your mask is soaked, you’ll have a dry one at the ready.
It’s also useful to pack a small trash bag or gallon zippered bag to put your used items in. Trash cans may be overflowing (or completely unavailable), so safely stash it so you can throw things away at home. (And remember: You shouldn’t flush condoms or other barrier methods; tie them off and throw them in the trash instead).
Know the value of the buddy system
You are your safest sex partner, but there’s value and safety in partnerships when it comes to going to protests.
Beyond literally sharing the weight of your supplies, protest partners can help keep each other safe and accountable. Work together to develop a plan about how you’ll find each other if you get separated, how much time you’re committing to the event, and a list of potential meetup spots along your anticipated route. You can also share other critical safety information with your partner, like if you have severe allergies and use an EpiPen (don’t forget to add it to your supplies bag!), need to monitor your blood sugar, or if you’re on medication.
The information you choose to share with your partner will depend on the type of protest you’re going to, but remember that safety is most attainable when everyone is informed and on the same page.
If you opt not to bring someone with you to an on-the-ground protest, there are ways to still incorporate the buddy system. Reach out to a friend or two and let them know your plans, like when you plan to leave and return, how you can communicate, and when you’ll check in with them. If you aren’t able to check-in around your designated time, your friends can start ringing the phone tree and make sure you get home safely.
They may not be able to join you in person, but long-distance support is helpful, too.
Plan for aftercare
Protesting is hard work, both physically and emotionally.
You’ll likely be spending long hours in extreme weather, walking much more than you usually do, and dealing with more human exposure than you’ve had in a while. And while the community that comes with protesting can help you feel really good and supported, you may also experience a bit of an emotional “hangover” in the days that follow, especially if the protest you went to escalated.
In all of our prepping for what we do during protests, we often forget to plan for what we need to do afterward, but caring for yourself and your teammates is essential to keeping your energy and motivation going in the long term.
While some people associate “aftercare” solely with kinky sex, it’s an essential part of any sexual experience. Aftercare, to put it simply, is taking time to intentionally check in with yourself and your partners. It’s a time to process emotions that have appeared and also taking care of your physical well-being.
Aftercare has both physical and emotional components—and they both deserve your attention. Here are some ways you can take care of yourself after a protest:
- Take a hot shower or bath
- Put your protest clothes and masks in the laundry
- Have an easy meal ready to eat
- Take a nap
- Pay attention to any physical injuries (and seek medical help if necessary)
- Self-isolate for two weeks and keep an eye out for COVID-19 symptoms
- Schedule a therapy session
- Videochat with people you care about
- Journal about what you’re feeling
- Plan for your next action
Aftercare isn’t only about caring for yourself, though—it’s also about caring for others. Plan for some ways to check-in with your protest partners and ensure they’re also getting the care they need.
Remember the other options on the menu
Heteronormative sex ed teaches people there’s only one “real” option on the sexual menu: penis-in-vagina intercourse. The reality is that intercourse is one of many things you can do sexually, none of those choices are more valid or real than any other, and they all have the possibility to contribute to the same outcome: pleasure.
Similarly, when you’re fighting for social change, protesting is one of many options on the menu.
Not everyone can physically go to protests, and that’s OK—there are many other ways to join the fight. If you want to be involved with protests in another way, you could donate money or supplies to the organizers. You could also support the protesters by having food delivered or making a pre-prepped meal for them.
If you’re looking for other ways to get involved, you could:
- Donate to local initiatives
- Fight against misinformation on social media
- Sign petitions
- Educate yourself about the issues at hand—and pass on the knowledge
- Organize a virtual fundraiser
And those are just some of the options. If you’re feeling stuck, overwhelmed, or confused, reach out to someone you know is involved and trust to give you accurate information. Ask how you can get involved when you can’t be on the ground. They can tell you what is needed and helpful right now.