Interpreting "Sex Signals"

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Joe McFadden
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs Office
Imagine this scenario: you're out on a date at a very nice restaurant. You've had a wonderful meal, you plan to go to a movie and see where the evening takes you.

Suddenly, your date pulls out a piece of paper and asks, "Would you mind signing this document stating you hereby give consent in the likely event that we engage in sexual intercourse tonight?"

I'd bet your reactions would range between outright laughter and utter disgust. It's an unusual approach, but at least it's clear: there's no confusion about your date's expectations for the night.

With all the information and statistics about sexual assault thrown at male Airmen like myself, I began to think this is the direction we are headed. The idea may clear legal issues, but it's one step away from installing cameras and tape recorders in our heads, which nobody wants.

Yet legalese and Big Brother-type surveillance will not eradicate the problem of sexual assault in the Air Force. But I left the door open for the proposal when I went to the Commando Auditorium at Hurlburt Field March 29 to attend "Sex Signals," an improvised, two-person presentation geared to educate Airmen about the stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding sexual assault. Talking about sex in front of strangers isn't easy, especially when you're trying to make it both entertaining and informative. So my hat was off to them for trying.

Before the show began, I, along with more than 200 Airmen, mostly male, walked into the briefing with the statistics stacked against us. According to the most recent Department of Defense report, more than 90 percent of the Air Force sexual assault victims were female and 98 percent of the assailants were male. Most of those Airmen were between the ranks of E-1 and E-5, in which I fit the demographic to a "T."

The show began in earnest with the introduction of the two presenters, a male and a female. They started by pointing out how men and women hear and think differently. (When she asks "Do you have a breath mint?" he thinks "Oh, she wants me.")

They asked the crowd for pick-up lines which produced more groans than laughs. "That's a nice shirt. It would look great on my floor." (Does this honestly work for some people? Really?)

The comical mood soon switched gears when the presenters staged a scene where a male Airman took one date too far. Some members in the audience showed some apprehension, either because it was too graphic or it hit too close to home. I can understand why it bothered them, and it's something that's always bugged me about these presentations.

We watched similar slideshows and videos in Basic Military Training that reinforced the concept of the male as the aggressor and the female as the victim. I know the statistics back this notion up, but wouldn't it be more productive to view individual males from their history of good behavior rather than their potential to do harm? Wouldn't it be more respectful to empower women to make good decisions instead of depicting them as powerless prey?

Sadly, sexual assault exists in the Air Force - and even one victim is still one too many. Educating Airmen is the key to lowering statistics, but I worried the show would descend into stereotyping, thus causing the predominantly-male crowd to tune them out.

And that's when the presenters made the fundamental point that sex and relationships should never be legal issues, but human ones. Rather than always showing the male as the aggressor, the team emphasized relationships should be built on mutual trust, respect for the other person's character and open communication. If you don't have these things first, why are you wasting your time with that person at all?

As April is nationally recognized Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I felt this was a step in the right direction. "Sex Signals" wasn't afraid to talk to us on our level about the uncomfortable topic of sexual assault. They showed us all respect as individuals with the ability to express love, not just monsters capable of causing harm.

This was so refreshing to have someone not talk down to us through facts and figures but actually ask us what we thought, even if it meant enduring bad pick-up lines. By doing this, the presenters not only made us laugh, but they treated us as part of the solution, and not just the problem. And that's light years ahead of any awkward legal contract.