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Opinion Dr. Liz’s Relationship Academy: So much work remains to be done

This was the year I thought we'd all treat each other fairly. The year I could close Dr. Liz's Relationship Academy and retire from my job as a NASA-trained professional relationship counsellor. Sadly, no. So much work remains to be done.

We had just closed the door on 2014, with its sexual-assault scandals and acts of misogyny large and small. Who came trampling onto the clean snow of 2015 but Bill Cosby, former human teddy bear, now accused of assaulting up to 18 women, with accusations including drugging and rape. Mr. Cosby's lawyers call the allegations unsubstantiated, but it's starting to look like Mount Unsubstantiated.

In London, Ont., on the middle stop of a three-city Canadian tour, Mr. Cosby made an off-the-cuff joke about the allegations (perhaps while wearing the magical cloak of obliviousness given to all privileged men at the age of majority). "You have to be careful about drinking around me," he said Thursday night to a woman in the audience who was leaving her seat to get a drink. Some audience members laughed; others gasped.

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From where I sit at the teacher's desk, it looks like we need a crash course in basic interpersonal civility – the kind of lesson that would have been obsolete 50 years ago in an ideal world. This is not that world.

I'd like to invite Mr. Cosby to attend my Relationship Academy but I fear he's too busy with his lawyers. I'd also extend the invitation to those dental students at Dalhousie University, who are now suffering the consequences of their sexist Facebook postings.

First, let's look at "hate sex," a term that came up in the Jian Ghomeshi allegations and in the student dentists' postings. This is new terminology to us at the Academy, and frankly, quite baffling. If you are having "hate sex," you might be doing sex wrong. Love sex, lust sex, Nutella sex – sure. Hatred should be reserved for winter and automated phone systems, not for an object of carnal desire. Understanding the hostility implicit in the phrase, rooted as it is in history and cultural practice, is sadly beyond the reach of our curriculum.

The second lesson is aimed at the young men in the class, to whom I would say: The camera in your pocket is meant to record life's fascinating and strange moments, and pictures of yourself in any conceivable location. It is not a tool of degradation.

If a stranger starts dancing on the subway, if your dad makes a particularly embarrassing drunken toast at your cousin's wedding, by all means get a video of that sucker. If someone in authority is abusing that authority, take a picture and post it for the world to see. If, however, a woman is being sexually exploited, the correct response is not to giggle, press "record" and then forward to everyone you know. The answer is to put down your phone and ask, "What the hell are you guys doing?" (This question will be on the test, and it's not multiple choice.)

This brings us to the issue of consent, which is a muddy bog in terms of the law, but pretty clear cut in life. Enthusiastic consent is easily recognized by all parties involved, and requires those parties to be conscious. Rejoice when you see it. By contrast, someone who is passed out next to an empty case of beer is incapable of giving consent, and should be placed in the recovery position, with her friends in attendance. Do not attempt to pursue the relationship further. The question of why you would want to have relations with someone who is comatose in the first place will be addressed in a later class, with psychiatrists attending.

While we're on the subject, we may as well talk about coercion. Coercion is a tool reserved for dogs and small children. Both of those groups respond well to bribery and threats of punishment (no more walks, or toys.) Adult women, not so much. Please do not attempt to cajole, bully, harass or intimidate your way to your goal. If your sexual advances are rebuffed, chill out: You can always seek out another partner, or go home and have sex with yourself. No one will hold it against you. Literally.

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Although this really should not need saying, I will repeat it here, in case you missed all the previous classes: You are not allowed to drug anyone but yourself. This is something your parents and your conscience should have taught you, but if not, I'm here to lay down the law before the judge does. (There is an exemption for the parents of toddlers on long flights, but not for famous comedians.)

Finally, it is not cool to leverage status or wealth, if you have them, in return for sexual favours. This is the last refuge of the sleazeball. As they teach in Harvard Business School and Dr. Liz's Relationship Academy, jobs offered at 2 a.m. over Jager bombs are not likely to lead to a seat on the board of directors. Here, I defer to the holy scripture of Tina Fey, who said: "When choosing sexual partners, remember: Talent is not sexually transmittable."

We'll end the lesson on that wise note. There is no homework, except to go out and be good to each other.

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