Lesson plan: conceptual models of sexual activity: baseball is out; pizza is in.
The idea for this lesson sprang from my reading of "The Power of Language: Baseball as a Sexual Metaphor in American Culture" by Deborah M. Roffman. (SIECUS Report, Volume 19, Number 5, June/July 1991). Roffman prompted readers to "Chang[e] the way we think and act by changing the way we speak." This started me on a journey to develop a new language and then a new conceptual model for sexual activity. I am indebted to her for providing the inspiration for this new idea.
Specifically, this lesson examines baseball's use as a conceptual model for sexual activity in the United States. It explores the messages about sexual activity set forth by this commonly used model and asks participants to consider these messages and their reactions to them. It then introduces an alternate conceptual model for sexual activity based on pizza. Participants examine the messages about sexual activity set forth by this alternate model and are asked to consider these messages and their reactions to them. In comparing the baseball and pizza models, participants are prodded to think about the "rules" they carry with them about sexual activity and whether those rules will lead them to positive or negative experiences of sexual activity.
* Examine baseball-related words and phrase used to describe sexual activity.
* Understand the differences between the baseball and pizza conceptual models of sexual activity.
* Listen to and discuss the merits and drawbacks of the messages about sexual activity offered by the baseball and pizza conceptual models of sexual activity.
* If they chose to do so, express their feelings about the messages conveyed by the baseball and pizza conceptual models of sexual activity.
* Newsprint and markers or Chalkboard and chalk.
1) Ask the participants if they've heard these phrases (or phrases like these) before:
* "Did you score?"
* "I got to second base last night."
* "I hear she plays for the other team."
2) Ask the participants what these phrases have in common. Possible answers include:
* They are about baseball.
* They are ways to talk about sexual activity.
3) Tell the participants that in the United States, baseball is used as a conceptual model to think about and talk about sexual activity. If participants do not understand the term conceptual model, tell them a conceptual model is a concept (an idea) used to tell us what something else is like. In the United States, baseball is used to explain what sexual activity is or should be like.
a) Tell the group that baseball is a problematic model to use for sexual activity because it sets up activity and relationships that are unfulfilling, restrictive, and inequitable.
4) Tell participants that in this lesson we will explore the baseball model and also a new model that may lead to more satisfying, healthy, diverse, and equitable sexual activity and relationships.
II. Examining the Baseball Model:
5) Ask the participants to list all of the baseball-related words and phrases they have heard applied to sexual activity, and what those words or phrases mean in that context. Tell them they cannot invent new terms for this part of the activity but should only share words and phrases that they know are actually used.
a) Remind the participants that sharing a word or phrase does not carry the assumption that they use that world or phrase in their own conversations. There is no judgment involved in this piece of the activity. The goal is simply to generate as many baseball-related terms for sexual activity as possible.
b) Record the responses from the participants on the newsprint or chalkboard. Possible answers may include:
* "pitcher" = the active (penetrative) partner in sexual activity
* "catcher" = the passive (receptive) partner in sexual activity
* "first base" = kissing or "making out"
* "second base" = "feeling up the shirt"/fondling the breasts
* "third base" = "feeling inside the pants"/fondling the genitals
* "sloppy second base" = stimulating the breasts with the mouth
* "sloppy third base" = stimulating the genitals with the mouth/oral sex
* "score" or "hit a home run" = to have vaginal intercourse
* "strike out" = fail to get as far in sexual activity as one hoped
* "bench warmer" = someone who isn't involved in sexual activity (with the implication that they are not "good enough" to do so)/can also be a term for a virgin, whether by choice or inexperience
* "bat" = penis
* "nappy dugout" = a vagina
* "a glove or catcher's mitt" = condom
* "if there's grass on the field, play ball" = if a woman has public hair she's old enough for sexual activity
* "switch-hitter" = a bisexual person
* "plays for the other team" = a gay/lesbian person
NOTE: language, especially slang, is regional and cultural. The meanings of terms or the terms themselves may be different from what is presented above. For example, what constitutes "first base" may differ from one community to the next. Participants should be the authority for the language used in their school, area, or culture.
6) Looking at the terms generated, ask the participants what messages about gender and sexual orientation are conveyed by the terms.
a) Possible answers may include:
* The terms are sexist. They imply that men are the active partner in sexual activity and women are the passive partner.
--Men play the game and women are the field upon which the game is played. Good example of this is that the term "second base" only refers to touching female breasts and not male breasts.
* The terms are heterosexist. They assume that sexual activity is a male-female activity. Further, the terms for bisexuals, gays, and lesbians place them outside the "home team."
b) Tell the participants that this language reveals some of the problems with using baseball as a conceptual model for sexual activity, but to explore the issue further we will need to strip baseball down to its essential elements.
7) Ask the participants to imagine that aliens have come down to earth from a far away planet. These aliens have heard of baseball but know nothing about it at all. They have come to ask for the basic ideas of baseball, not the rules, but the basic concepts (ideas) behind the game. What would you tell them are the basic concepts behind baseball? Record the responses from the participants on the newsprint or chalkboard. Answers will vary. Direct the conversation so that the following seven concepts are generated. (This can be done by offering the ideas yourself, leading the participants to these ideas, or helping participants shape or reshape their ideas to closely fit with one of the following concepts). Other concepts may be included, but these seven are important to the lesson and should be included.
a) Baseball requires two opposing teams:
* The nature of baseball is competitive; teams play against each other.
b) Baseball involves a series of offensive and defensive maneuvers:
* Offensive maneuvers involve getting onto the field and then returning home.
* Defensive maneuvers involve keeping the offensive players off the field.
c) Baseball has a strict order of play:
* Bases can only be rounded in a specified order.
* Each player has a set position which focuses on a limited part of the field.
* There is a strict batting order for offensive players.
* Umpires are employed to make sure all rules are followed.
d) Baseball has a specific goal to be achieved within a designated length of time. (Baseball is a goal-directed activity):
* The goal is to score more runs than the opposing team during the time of play.
* No ties are permitted; one team must win and the other must lose.
e) Baseball requires specified equipment and a specified skill set:
* Materials are needed to play baseball properly (bases, gloves, balls, bats, etc.).
* Specific skills are necessary to play baseball well (throwing, catching, running, hitting, etc.). Players whose skills are weak may find themselves in the position of "bench warmers," sitting on the sidelines and never getting to play at all.
f) Baseball is a team sport:
* It is difficult, if not impossible, to play baseball by yourself.
g) Baseball is seasonal:
* "Real" baseball (the games that count) are played during a specific season.
8) Ask the participants to remove the word "baseball" from each the seven ideas above and replace it with the phrase "sexual activity." The facilitator should then explain the resulting messages to the group, making clear what is being suggested about sexual activity by the baseball model.
NOTE: These messages may be written on newsprint or chalkboard as they are discussed, or a prepared list of the messages can be shown at this time.
a) Sexual activity requires two opposing teams:
* Sexual activity is a competitive, oppositional activity.
* The participants are playing against each other; they are not on the same team.
b) Sexual activity involves a series of offensive and defensive maneuvers:
* One partner (gender scripts would suggest the man) tries to move the sexual activity forward through a series of offensive moves.
* The other partner (gender scripts would suggest the woman) resists or tries to slow the sexual activity with a series of defensive moves.
c) Sexual activity has a strict order of play:
* Sexual activity should take place in a particular order (the bases): kissing, fondling, oral sex, finally vaginal intercourse.
--This sets up a hierarchy of behavior where vaginal intercourse has the highest importance. Stopping sexual activity before engaging in vaginal intercourse would be to leave the game unfinished.
* Each player has a specified role that must not be violated. This is most obvious when gender scripts are applied to sexual activity.
d) Sexual activity has a specific goal to be achieved within a designated length of time:
* Achieving orgasm through vaginal intercourse ("getting to home plate") is often seen as the goal of sexual activity.
--This point may also encourage the elusive goal of the simultaneous orgasm so that the game ends at the same time for both teams.
* Although a strict time frame for sexual activity may not exist, the end of the game is often seen as the completion of vaginal intercourse through orgasm.
e) Sexual activity requires specified equipment and a specified skill set:
* Having proper equipment may be positive message if applied to safer sex practices or contraception.
* The equipment message, however, is often related to body size or shape (especially penis size as men brag about who has a bigger, more powerful "bat").
--This may lead to body shame and insecurity about one's ability to satisfy his/her partner if s/he thinks his/her equipment doesn't measure up.
--Note again the inherent sexism in this, as vaginal size does not usually enter into this discussion, and when it does it is not in a positive way.
* The idea that a specified skill set is necessary for "proper" sexual activity can lead to further insecurity as people wonder whether they know the "right" way to pleasure their partner.
* Once one's skill set or equipment is seen as deficient, one should "get out of the game."
--This can lead to the denial of sexual activity among seniors, the disabled, those with chronic diseases, or anyone who is not at the top of his/her game.
f) Sexual activity is a team sport:
* It is not a solo activity; thus, masturbation is not considered "real" sexual activity and self-exploration as a form of sexual activity doesn't put one "in the game."
* Another aspect of the team sport concept, especially for men, is that of sharing stories of one's prowess on the field with other team members.
--Men get to offer a play-by-play for their "fans" and fellow teammates.
--When sexual activity becomes a spectator sport intimacy and privacy between the partners are not valued and may be lost.
g) Sexual activity is seasonal:
* There are certain times and events when sexual activity is "expected" to occur (e.g. prom night, the wedding night, after a big date, when parents are not home, etc.).
9) After reviewing these messages about sexual activity, ask the participants whether they see sexual activity being talked about and thought about according to the seven concepts just reviewed. It is important to note that even if people are not using specific baseball-related language, they may still think sexual activity works according to the "rules" the baseball model suggests.
10) Invite the participants to discuss briefly (5 minutes) the merits and drawbacks of the messages about sexual activity offered by the baseball model. Tell the participants that opportunities for more discussion will come after the new model is presented.
11) Ask the participants, if they want, briefly (5 minutes) to share their feelings about the messages put forth by the baseball model.
NOTE: Sometimes students have feelings of anger, frustration, or other negative emotions after going through the messages about sexual activity offered by the baseball model. Releasing some of those feelings may be helpful in their moving onto the next part of the lesson. Some students will want to defend the messages put forth by the baseball model. This is also fine at this point.
III. Examining a New Model:
12) Tell the participants that in searching for an alternative conceptual model for sexual activity, it is important to find something that is as universally understood in our culture and as accessible as baseball (or even more accessible). It should be based upon something that people usually associate with a positive and satisfying experience.
a) Suggest that a possible replacement conceptual model can be built around pizza.
13) As done previously with baseball, ask the participants to imagine that aliens have come down to earth from a far away planet. These aliens have heard of pizza but know nothing about it at all. They have come to ask for the basic ideas of pizza. What would you tell them are the basic concepts behind pizza? Record the responses from the participants on the newsprint or chalkboard. Answers will vary. Direct the conversation so that the following seven concepts are generated. (This can be done by offering the ideas yourself, leading the participants to these ideas, or helping participants shape or re-shape their ideas to closely fit with one of the following concepts). Other concepts may be included, but these seven are important to the lesson and should be included.
a) Pizza is a food used to satisfy hunger:
* We have pizza because we want to have pizza. It is what we think will best satisfy our present hunger/desire.
b) Pizza offers many choices; discussion or dialogue is important before ordering/making it:
* Debate or negotiation may be necessary beforehand to make sure that everyone will get a pizza that fits what s/he wants.
* Sometimes people have a "usual," but even that often involves both parties agreeing to get the "same old thing" or the "old favorite."
c) Pizza comes in a variety of shapes, sizes, and styles and may be eaten in a variety of ways:
* Some styles and varieties of pizza may be more popular than others, but there is no established hierarchy of pizza. Choice is based on personal likes and dislikes.
* Pizza can be eaten in a variety of ways. While people may have their favorite ways to eat pizza, there is no right or wrong way to do it.
* There is no specific equipment or skill set needed to enjoy pizza.
d) At its best, pizza arrives appealing to the senses:
* All of the senses are engaged, stimulated, and can ultimately be satisfied with pizza.
e) If there is any "goal" to eating pizza, it is simply satisfaction:
* The amount of pizza that will satisfy varies from person to person and experience to experience. Overeating often leads to feeling bloated rather than satisfied.
f) Eating pizza can be a solo, shared, or group activity:
* It is OK to eat pizza by yourself, but it is also OK to share it with others.
g) Pizza is readily available and not bound by any season:
* There is no "right" time to eat pizza. People enjoy at all times of the day and in all seasons.
14) Ask the participants to remove the word "pizza" from each the seven ideas above and replace it with the phrase "sexual activity." Note that this may involve a slight alternation of the statement, as the messages do not translate exactly as the baseball ones do. However, the intent of the message should not be changed with any alteration in wording. The facilitator should then explain the resulting messages to the group, making clear what is being suggested about sexual activity by the baseball model.
NOTE: These messages may be written on newsprint or chalkboard as they are discussed, or a prepared list of the messages can be shown at this time.
a) Sexual activity is used to satisfy hunger:
* Sexual activity should spring from desire to satisfy some need (hunger) we experience. This may be the need for pleasure, intimacy, relationship, or something else.
* Sexual activity should not be something entered into out of obligation, or worse, coercion.
* Engaging in sexual activity should be a conscious choice based on one's values and morals, and guided by sound decision-making. Just because we are feeling sexual desire does not necessarily mean that we should engage in sexual activity. Each experience of desire should be noted, considered, and evaluated.
b) Sexual activity offers many choices; discussion or dialogue is important before any activity takes place:
* Sexual activity requires communication and negotiation before any activity takes place. Couples who are able to set parameters, negotiate behavior, and discuss their sexual activity before the activity takes place will experience greater intimacy, enhanced communication in their relationship, and more enjoyable sexual activity together.
* Discussion may also result in a decision not to engage in sexual activity. This may result from a number of reasons. The decision to refrain from or limit sexual activity at this stage in the process could be a very healthy decision.
* Even agreeing to the "same old thing" in terms of sexual activity is important before the activity takes place.
* This communication can limit the chance of negative consequences such as sexually transmitted infections, unintended pregnancy, or emotional upset that can result from different expectations about what sexual activity might mean.
* This conversation is not about who will ultimately "win," but rather a way to ensure that everyone's needs are met. This removes the oppositional component of the baseball model.
c) Sexual activity comes in a variety of shapes, sizes, and styles and may be performed in a variety of ways:
* Sexual activity contains a wide range of options, all of which are acceptable and equally valid. This removes the hierarchical system of sexual activity in the baseball model. People select their activity based on their individual preferences and goals not on a set of preordained rules.
* Sexual activity is valid no matter the gender or sexual orientation of the participants.
* There is no required equipment or skill set so sexual activity becomes open to all, regardless of age, ability, body type, or any other factor.
d) At its best, sexual activity is appealing to the senses:
* Sexual activity is a whole body experience. All of the senses should be engaged; sights, smells, touches, tastes, and sounds all contribute to a satisfying sexual experience. There is no hierarchy of senses to be found here and no priority is given to the genitals.
e) If there is any "goal" to sexual activity, it is simply satisfaction:
* With satisfaction as the main focus, participants are free to create sexual activity that involves as many or as few sexual behaviors as they wish.
* Participants define for themselves what amount of pleasure makes them feel satisfied and what is considered their own appropriate ending point. The end point of sexual activity may fluctuate from experience to experience.
* Sexual activity becomes directed not by a set of external rules but rather by the needs, desires, and decisions of the people engaged in it.
f) Sexual activity can be a solo, shared, or group activity:
* Masturbation and sexual self-exploration is sexual activity. This allows those for whom partnered sexual activity is unwanted or unavailable to be included
--No one is forced to be a "bench warmer" in the pizza model.
g) Sexual activity is readily available and not bound by any season:
* Sexual activity should not be ruled by set seasons or schedules. No event (a date, the prom, or even the wedding night) can dictate when sexual activity should take place.
15) After reviewing these messages about sexual activity, ask the participants whether they see sexual activity being talked about and thought about according to the seven concepts just reviewed.
16) Invite the participants to discuss briefly (5 minutes) the merits and drawbacks of the messages about sexual activity offered by the pizza model. It is natural at this point for students to compare the pizza and baseball messages. It is fine to entertain that discussion or to keep it strictly to the pizza model's messages.
17) Ask the participants, if they want, briefly (5 minutes) to share their feelings about the messages put forth by the pizza model.
NOTE: It is common for participants to want to invent pizza-related words and phrases to talk about sexual activity. This may be a fun activity; however, make sure to remind students that the language generated should convey the values of the pizza-model. Often the language created sets up the same hierarchies, uses the prejudices about gender or orientation, or otherwise conforms to the values of the baseball model.
18) Remind the participants that sexual activity can be used to bring out the best in us. It can help us to create pleasurable, intimate, constructive, and fulfilling interactions and relationships. In order for sexual activity to do this, it must be based upon a model that is open, equitable, and respectful of differences. An examination of the conceptual model that drives our personal idea of sexual activity can be an important first step in making sure sexual activity brings positive results.
19) Thank the group for their attention and their participation in this lesson.
RELATED ARTICLE: NEW SIECUS PUBLICATION FOR TEENS!
SIECUS is pleased to announce the release of our newly updated publication for young people, Talk About Sex. We wrote Talk About Sex to provide young people with basic information about a range of sexuality topics and referrals to reputable websites for more information.
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Al Vernacchio, M.S.Ed.
Created by: Al Vernacchio, M.S.Ed. Based on a work already published by Al Vernacchio in J.P. Elia, A.J. Angelo, and I. Chen, Contemporary Sexuality: A Reader, 2nd edition (Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.) SIECUS Report readers can contact the author at ALVFCS@aol.com.