Category Archives: SexualPolitics

Kickstart Slut: A Documentary Film

The grassroots-funded documentary film, Slut, all began with middle school diary entries shared on Tumblr.

I had teachers not only laugh when I was called a “slut” or a “whore”, but also had teachers join in. I also had a teacher hit on me because of my “title.” The worst experience was when a kid would grope me every day in class, and my teacher would yell at me for yelling at him or smacking him. The teacher who hit on me has been since fired, but the rest are still teaching there. – Anonymous, The UnSlut Project (cross-posted with permission).

As we’ve discussed elsewhere, intersections of sexual education and storytelling can be powerful. Story opens the imagination. It draws connections between people and deepens understanding of ourselves and each other. The UnSlut Project shows that story can unsilence the ill-effects that certain tropes and attitudes have on us all.

The “slut” experience shared above is one of hundreds by girls and women submitted to the UnSlut Project. This collaborative space of story sharing and support (see their community advice page) all started by co-founder Emily Lindin posting on Tumblr her very personal diary entries of being sexually bullied as the middle school skank. The response has been enormous and now hundreds of girls and women have voiced their own experiences of sexual bullying that, in some cases, have led to isolation, depression, cutting, and suicide attempts. Read the stories for yourself.

 

Image from their Kickstarter Campaign

Image from their Kickstarter Campaign

There are many entries like the one above that testify to the extent to which slut-shaming permeates our school systems and communities. It is not simply lack of sex education in public schools (although this is a very important aspect to consider in debates about what constitutes “comprehensive” sex ed). Teachers, counselors, parents, and peers are all implicated.

It leads to a few important questions: Who in North America hasn’t been exposed to slut shame? How much does the “skanky” stereotype influence the way we censor and manage our own desires and sexuality? How are our schools (and sex education curricula) complacent and, in many cases, actively supporting sexist values and behaviors?

These are questions that Slut: A Documentary Film will explore. Emily Lindin and Jessica Caimi want to convey to a wider public how normalized sexual bullying is in our schools, communities and media, and what we can all do to eradicate it. They’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the filmmaking. During the next 11 days (as of writing) people are having an ongoing discussion about the film production and what voices should be featured in Slut.

Consider supporting this cause to raise public awareness. Maybe you have an experience with slut shaming to share, as well.

http://www.unslutproject.com/

http://www.unslutproject.com/

Sexual Health & Relationship Education via Life Stories

A riart Grrrl, a folklorist and a condom monologuer get together to discuss the phenomenon of real-life storytelling in the context of sex education

The three authors of this post come from different trajectories in the field of sex and sexuality but we share the belief that real-life storytelling should play an intrinsic role in sexual health and relationships education (SRE).

storytelling pieceHere we discuss the need for real-life stories that address safer sex practices and how to navigate health risks in relevant ways. Dr. Jeana Jorgensen and Xaverine Bates both explain that sharing real-life stories has transformative power to validate perspectives which may be overlooked or silenced in public discourse. Storytelling has the ability to convey scenarios that one may never have imagined before. Hence, they raise awareness about social issues and invite people to learn and unlearn ways of looking at bodies and desires. As stated by Xaverine Bates, founder of riart Grrls and aGender, “The power of storytelling is crucial for truly effective sex and relationship education (SRE), with a firm emphasis on emotional health in order to foster a deep understanding of what constitutes a healthy relationship.”

Taboo Manages How We Talk about Sex

Dr. Jeana Jorgensen, folklorist and writer at MySexProfessor.com, argues that due to social taboo towards talking publicly about sexual experiences, these life stories

“are limited to settings where the teller doesn’t have a professional or personal stake in the listeners’ reactions. I think this is unfortunate, because personal narratives are really potent genres for education. When someone tells a personal narrative, they not only educate the listener (by conveying facts about their life), but they also invite the listener to empathize with them and consider their values.”

Jeana continues, “So, because of the taboo on oversharing about one’s sexual activities in many settings, people tend to share personal narratives on sexual topics within their peer groups, age groups, friend groups, and hobby groups. This guarantees that if you’re making yourself vulnerable by sharing sexual information, you’re probably doing it to a sympathetic audience. But it also means that you risk living within an echo chamber, and you’ll only hear stories that confirm your own set of values. To that end, I think it’s really important for people from diverse backgrounds to learn each other’s stories and thereby gain empathy for how different life circumstances can lead to a variety of life (and lifestyle) choices.”

The internet is one place where people subvert this taboo and overcome issues of access. At Condom Monologues we’ve circumscribed a bully-free space that aims to be as inclusive as possible allowing anyone to ask questions and share their experiences with safe sex (see our archive). Whether the admins agree with the storyteller’s values or choices is not the point. However, we do not represent everyone’s experiences and have our limitations. One can never control how stories are appropriated and re-purposed in the digital world, and that is a risk all storytellers face. But there are ways to protect identity as well as mediate discussion around sharing stories, such as workshops like aGender (explained below).

Teaching Which Facts with What Stories…

The taboo Jeana highlights also affects the way in which sex education informs students. Narratives in class are rooted in political interests and social fears around sexuality. Pleasure and desire are rarely mentioned even as a side-issue. Instead, young people are fed a platter of warnings and doom-laden data about STI epidemics and teen pregnancy. One need not look further than this and that mandatory abstinence-only assembly to be told horror stories about how boyfriends used “condoms that had holes in them” or told girls that if they use birth control “your mother probably hates you.”

KnowledgeIsPowerEducators rarely offer information about safer sex beyond vaginal-penis intercourse. Diverse sexuality and the spectrum of (trans)gender identity are excluded. Addressing issues such as STI stigma, homophobic, transphobic and sexist language, cyber-bullying, sexting and sexual anxieties are inadequate at best.

Medical information is often presented without context nor provide students with diverse options on how to apply these facts in real-life sexual relationships. And that’s if we can call them “facts” to begin with! In the US, only 13 states require sex education to actually be medically accurate, according to a 2012 study by the Guttmacher Institute. Meanwhile, in the UK, Xaverine explains that “there is currently a bias towards the biological side of SRE” which “favors plain biological facts” without focus on issues of enthusiastic consent and emotional confidence.

What Young Adults are Saying

Students’ experiences in sexual health class are telling. As a college instructor, Jeana hears young people share their experiences in sex education which, she explains, “constitutes their own type of personal narrative. The topics that people remembered tended to be biological rather than emotional; physiology was covered, but not necessarily relationships or pleasure.”

Xaverine agrees. She points to testimonies by 19-21 year olds who participated in women’s-only focus groups that examined the effectiveness of SRE (Kavanagh, 2011).

For example, one participant said,

I was like scarred by sex education at secondary school, they came in with like these big blown up pictures of STIs and stuff and said, you know, if you have sex and stuff this is what will happen to you. It was horrible…(ibid, p-13).

All focus-group participants commented on the lack of relationship education in schools with an emphasis purely on the biological. As one put it,

I think relationships and morals and respect need to be put back in place, for everyone, not just males or females, and I don’t believe in the saying nothing (abstinence teaching) because I think if everybody was to turn around to me and be like, you’re not doing this, you’re not doing that, I’d do it…I’d rebel (ibid, p-15).

“Comprehensive” SRE is in dire need of revision. Negligence of these topics results in an unsafe, non-engaging space that silences and restricts young people’s sexuality and gender identity. Students are left inarticulate about what they want, what they need and how to manage risks. Thus the vicious cycle of sex-shaming continues and proliferates the spread of STIs and unhealthy sexual relationships.

Changing Narratives

Failures in sex education programs are the reason why organizations like aGender exist. In an attempt to move beyond standard curricula, Xaverine states that “opportunities need to be made for young people to talk about their fears, expectations and experiences of sex and relationships in a healthy and supportive environment…without fear of embarrassment or repercussions from peers, teachers, parents or carers. This is what we are aiming for at aGender.”

“aGender is beginning its pilot project this month, which consists of a series of workshops to complement an exhibition, txt, at Claremont Studios in St Leonards, which will be a collection of contemporary visual artworks that incorporate written word. The exhibition will explore the tension and complexity created when a word is used not only for its literal meaning but also as a visual cue to lead through to layers of subtext and implied meaning. In light of the current reports on the psychological impact of texting, sexting and cyberbullying on young children, SMS messaging and the power of seemingly innocent words to imply malicious, threatening messages- it is anticipated that the challenging nature of the artwork will be both engaging and inspirational for them both as viewers and as participants in the workshops.”

Storytelling as a Transformative Process

Storytelling has played an important role even during the preliminary stages for aGender. Xaverine explains,

“As part of our research in planning the workshops, which cover texting, sexting & cyber-bullying, we have had many discussions within our focus group about how best to tackle such a difficult subject. As a result, we have shared many of our own experiences of sex education, our own relationships, previous abusive situations and much more, all through the medium of storytelling.”

Image from Xaverine Bates' blog depicting one of her live art performances on gender stereotyping and class.

Image from Xaverine Bates’ blog depicting ‘Peepshow 2’, one of her live art performances with Miranda Sharp on gender stereotyping and class.

She continues, “It will be fascinating to hear the young peoples’ stories . We are planning to have a multi-platform element to the workshops, incorporating social media of their choice (e.g. instagram, twitter, etc.) to encourage young people to engage with the subject in the days between workshops. This way we will hopefully elicit more stories that they may feel uncomfortable in telling us directly, as many feel more comfortable revealing personal information via social media, which ironically is one of the reasons that the problem of sexting has arisen in the first place – the illusion of anonymity and neutrality has enabled young people to feel that exposing themselves in their bedrooms is acceptable to post online, to potentially thousands of viewers. This false sense of security is what leads to the repercussions as seen in aggressive bullying and cyberbullying.”

Read updates about how the work shop went.

aGender’s project is one example in which artful use of information and communication strategies can re-engage public awareness and find new ways to talk about being a body, being sexual, and negotiating healthy relationships. Jeana also pinpoints the transformative phenomenon of personal storytelling and listening. She describes how sharing experiences of sexual assault can help challenge shame and affirm agency over one’s narrative. Jeana states,

“One of the most powerful things I’ve witnessed when it comes to sexual storytelling is the importance of processing trauma through storytelling. Specifically, sexual assault survivors are often able to work through what happened to them by narrating the events in a way that is transformative and therapeutic. One of my mentors at Indiana University, Dr. Nicole Kousaleos, did her dissertation on how women who have survived sexual abuse can, in narrating their stories, experience greater agency in their lives. Narrating a story is also an invitation for listeners to respond, and in this case, the audience can help reinforce that the survivor was not to blame (since one of the biggest stigmas that prevents sexual assault survivors from speaking out is the tendency in our culture to victim-blame). I’ve observed this phenomenon informally, among multiple friends and acquaintances, and thus I believe that overcoming the shameful silence surrounding sexual assault is an important part of the healing process for many people.”

“Additionally, since one of the functions of personal narratives is to create intimacy and empathy, listeners can learn more about the reality of sexual assault. The numbers are already shockingly high -such as the CDC’s estimate that nearly 1 in 5 American women have been raped at some point in their lives- but numbers are abstract, whereas people telling their stories are concrete, real, human. Storytelling about sexual violence puts a face on the problem and helps to humanize it, and that’s why I believe it’s so powerful.”

Conclusion

People are inherently story-driven. The way we understand the world is through narrative. That is why first-person stories are very powerful in facilitating awareness and understanding, especially when they offer an experience of the world never previously imagined. What’s lost in the public discourse of SRE are the real, everyday lives of youth and adults, and making medical facts relevant to their complex needs and desires. The three authors here advocate for more opportunities for people to engage in safe and participatory spaces to actively listen and reflect upon stories.

Because there are so few authentic first-person narratives in sex education (especially a lack of non-heterosexual voices), storytelling provides us with non-stereotypical and often unexpected representations of people, gender roles and relationships. Stories should not be seen as merely anecdotal but as a potential source of knowledge for both the storyteller and the audience.

———–
Kavanagh, K. (2011) ‘Priming Pubescent Sexualities; Sex and relationship education, without the relationship education?’ [unpublished].
For recent reports on cyberbulling and sexting refer to Ringrose J, Gill R, Livingstone S & Harvey L (2012). “A qualitative study of children, young people and ‘sexting’”. NSPCC.

Why Condoms Get a Bad Wrap: Renewing emphasis on pleasure

Is it correct to suggest that condom-bashing is more common than condom-loving?  From personal experience, when I speak with people about safer sex the following is often used to describe condoms: “It keeps my partner and me from getting close”, “It disrupts intimacy”; “…It’s unnatural”, “…a mood killer”, “I can’t feel anything with a condom on”, “it hurts”, or “I can’t get off with condoms”.  Sound familiar?  In fact, rarely do I hear positive things like, “I love using condoms!” and “Condoms make me horny!”

Some argue that male condoms simply suck. Period. Others point to social attitudes as the greater problem and that people are trained to hate condom, states Debbie Herbenick in The Daily Beast.

Can new condoms solve the Condom Problem?

Why do condoms get a bad rap?Of course, sexual pleasure and condom use warrant serious discussion. According to a 2013 survey, only 60% of teenagers claim to use condoms regularly. And condom use declines as people grow older.  Much media praise is pouring over the “Grand Challenge” pitched by the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation to develop a “next-generation condom that significantly enhances or preserves pleasure.”  Thousands have applied for the $100,000 prize grant.  It’s got people talking (again) about widespread dissatisfaction with existing condoms.

There’s been ideological backlash from condom defenders.  Reported in an article by Slate.com, the Gates’ competition is razzed by Gwaker and Salon, who have labeled condom complainers as “creeps” and “pervs” that are just “whining”. But these righteous attacks do not help.  In fact, their points only reinforce shame around sexual pleasure, thus hindering discussions about sexuality and sexual health.

Fingers are also pointing at condom researchers for overlooking the importance of pleasure and narrowly focusing on disease prevention and risk, as assistant professor Joshua G. Rosenberger told The Daily Beast. The narrative surrounding the Gates’ competition has reinvigorated the pleasure factor, but honest discussion about condoms should not end there.

Pleasure-focused condoms already exist!

What’s overlooked in this media coverage is that condom companies have focused on pleasure for decades! One need not look further than the crowded condom market to see where emphasis lay. Navigating through all the pleasure bumps, pouches, dual action lubricants, and “twisted” pleasure condoms can be a confusing (and fun!) task. This is not to deny that there are limits in male condom choice (not to mention severe limits of dams and female condoms!).  Indeed, most are latex based. Non-latex is more expensive and difficult to find off-line (see our post about buying condoms online). And all existing condoms roll on and off in the same way (although prototype Origami condom might change that).

There is more to condom use than bananas

Another aspect overlooked in discussions of condom hate is the way in which students are introduced to and informed about condoms in sex education.  Condoms talk is often devoid of any discussions regarding pleasure. But instead of limiting condoms to banana demonstrations, educators and prevention providers can play a valuable role by explaining some special condom features that already exist to suit individual needs, including allergies, lubrication, the health warnings of n-9 spermicide, flavors, and different condom shapes and sizes.

The point is that there are thousands of condom types already.  What we need is pleasure-inclusive sex education so that young people and adults access information about options, how to find the right condom, and different ways to use condoms well.  This can help increase consistent and correct use, hence reduce health risk while nurturing healthy and satisfying sexual lives.  Everyone wins!

Condom haters are in the minority

There is plenty of alternative evidence out there to suggest that the physical differences between unprotected sex and sex with a condom are minor to non-existent.  The Kinsey Institute’s annual National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (2011) found that adults who use condoms for penetrative sex tend to report the same degree of sexual pleasure as those who have sex without condoms. Another study that measured physical sensation (and only physicality- excluding other factors like perceived trust or sexual history, etc.) found that most men do feel a slight decrease of sensation with a condom.  However, if used and fitted correctly, a condom should never decrease a man’s sensitivity to the point of pain, numbness, or loss of erection. For women, it is rare to experience any dulling, which (as Scarleteen wisely points out) is not surprising, because the vagina has far less nerve sensory compared to the clitoris and frenulum, and therefore is less receptive to finer differences like skin compared to latex. Yes, there are women and men who experience physical irritation, drying, gross tastes and weird smells.  But there are ways to overcome these problems. It’s not like safe sex is a chore that one just has to deal with! 

Understanding sexual pleasure

i love youThere’s the argument that people are trained to hate condoms. Check out our post about the lack of positive representations of condoms in popular culture and entertainment. From our searches, we could not find any peer reviewed scientific studies that conclude that condoms severely detract from physical sensation.  We did find studies- including Randolph et. al. (2008), Mizuno et. al. (2007) and Boston University School of Health Our Bodies Ourselves Collective (2011)– in which more men than women reported that condoms did cause sex to feel “less good”. However, all three studies find that those who report negative feelings towards condoms are people who rarely use them. This seems like an obvious finding, but what’s more nuanced here is that those who believe this is so tend to be less-experienced with condoms (some of which have no actual experience). While many people do report that unprotected sex feels better than protected sex, in general, people who use condoms frequently and are confident about how to use them well tend to experience greater satisfaction with protected sex then those who do not use condoms.

This implies that sexual pleasure when using condoms cannot simply be reduced to basic physics of vaginal or penile sensation.  Of course, “sexual pleasure” is a fluid concept that means many different things to different people in different contexts.  There is more to consider when measuring degrees of satisfaction and pleasure than just what a condom touches, such as how we feel emotionally and intellectually about ourselves, our bodies, our relationships, and sex as an integral part of life. Many studies argue that attitudes and beliefs toward condoms greatly influence one’s experience of using them.  So, it may be fair to say that claims of “not feeling anything” have more to do with lack of experience using condoms (lack of experimenting), or not using them properly.

The catch is that when people know what type of condom they like, know how to use them correctly, consistently, and different ways to increase sensuality (i.e. experimenting with lubes, ribbed condoms, having a partner put on the condom for you), there is greater overall satisfaction.  As Heather Corinna writes, “…it’s the people who don’t use them at all that tend to complain about them the most.” Thus many people’s negative attitudes place them in a self-perpetuating cycle: If you approach condom use with pessimism, then you set yourself up for aversion.  This cycle will discourage from experimenting with different condoms and discovering what types and lubricants you like, and what methods are most comfortable and exciting; in general, it’s the mind set that is often the mood-killer.

How to make condoms sexy

The Next Generation condom is a positive competition that will hopefully lead to innovative and improved technology.  But this alone cannot solve public perceptions and negative sentiment towards condoms. In another post, we have suggested that media, from soap operas to popular how-to magazines to porn must include more positive representations of condoms for vaginal, anal, and oral sex to help normalize safe sex.  We also suggest basic condom usage techniques and ways of making condom usage a sexy part of sex, rather than a disruption. And of course, access to education and knowing which condoms suit one’s individual needs (and their sexual relationships) is vital to loving the glove.  Here is our fitting guide to help those who experience particular fitting problems.

Tell us what you think from your experience or teachings.

Have a Merry Masturbation!

What better way to summon the season of twitterpating than by celebrating May Masturbation Month! Here are some fun facts about Annual– now International- Month of Masturbation and some great links to help you…participate.

Dr. Jocelyn Elders. Image from US National Library of Medicine

Dr. Jocelyn Elders. Image from US National Library of Medicine

1) The true poster child of Masturbation Month is former US Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders. Following a speech at the 1994 UN World AIDS Day, Elders was asked about masturbation as a way to discourage youth from engaging in partnered sex. She responded, “I think it is something that is part of human sexuality and a part of something that perhaps should be taught” (EmpowerHer, 2010). Gasp! The result: Elder was forced to resign from government.

But this sex shaming and conservative wrath backfired with a whole month dedicated to public talks, workshops, dancings, plays of all thing Masturbation! Thanks to Good Vibrations, the guru of sex toy shops. National Masturbation Month aims to encourage people to talk freely about it, to end the guilt associated with it and dispel the notion that it is “second-best” to “real” sex (Good Vibes’ official statement).

2) The celebration of #radical self-love has taken place every year since. The ever-so-climatic Masturbate-A-Thon is its biggest fundraiser. It encourages people to collect pledges and raise funds for sex-positive non-profits. Masturbate-A-Thon was originally hosted in San Francisco by Good Vibration and has spread to other cities like Portland OR, Washington D.C., London, England, and Copenhagen, Denmark. For it’s 14th Anniversary, the Thon will be held in Philly, PA, and funds will be used to benefit local LGBTQ inclusive sex-ed organizations, Pleasure Rush! and ScrewSmart. These guys established a CrowdRise fundraiser to help raise $3,000 from 1 May to May 27th, 2013, in order to help pay for the end of the month party, festively named Creamium.

Both Pleasure Rush! and ScrewSmart believe that the Philly Masturbate-A-Thon 2013 has the power to deliver the following:
-Reduce stigma and shame around sexuality.
-Promote sexual health Create a community of dialogue around the importance of pleasure. -Give you an excuse to jerk off for hours!” (Crowdraise).

Masturbation Month Poster made and sourced from The Buzz, Good Vibrations Magazine, www.GoodVibes.com

Masturbation Month Poster made and sourced from The Buzz, Good Vibrations Magazine, www.GoodVibes.com

3) In honor of International Masturbation Month, the Center for Sex & Culture (CSC) in conjunction with Shilo McCade’s “I Masturbate…” photo exhibition (summary about the photo project), is facilitating a writing class on the power of masturbation. Participants will spend a few hours writing response to photos and sharing stories about orgasms, self-love, and other aspects of sexuality. Proceeds support the CSC.

4) Ever heard of Betty Dodson? She is only the Queen of Masturbation and a pioneer in sexual liberation. Here is a great article by a woman who attended one of Betty’s 5-hour masturbation workshops and learned new types and ways of orgasm.

5) The student run news source, The Interloper @ USC is running its first ever masturbation writing contest. Winner gets a vibrator. You can read the first story: You Are Sleeping Inside Me.

6) Think you’re a master of masturbation? Test your knowledge with this 14 question quiz!

Taboo History Brief: Why we should celebrate

Image from article by William Bell @ BlogHer.com

Image from article about Masturbation Month by William Bell @ BlogHer.com

Masturbation Month is growing in profile but it stems from a long history of societal hush-hush syndrome. In fact, masturbation didn’t receive any attention on prime time television until Seinfeld brought up the taboo topic in 1992. In the episode (wikilink), George Constanza is caught by his mother masturbating. He confesses to Jerry, Elaine and Kramer and the conversation results in the four entering a contest to determine who can go for the longest period of time without masturbating.
No one wins. What’s interesting is that while the topic is quite blatant and insinuates that everyone masturbates (often!), the word “masturbation” could not actually be spoken. NBC thought the topic wasn’t suitable for TV, so the taboo is described in a series of hilarious euphemisms.

As Good Vibrations writes, “Almost everyone masturbates, but all too few of us are willing to admit to enjoying this simple pleasure – mostly because of the taboo against masturbation in our society, which has its roots in historical misconceptions that have survived to the present day.” During the 18th, 19th, and 20th century in Europe and America, masturbation was believed to be a debilitating wastes on energy that could result in exhaustion, impotence, insanity, epilepsy, etc. People obsessed over ways to prevent and treat the destructive urge.

For example, Dr. John H Kellogg advocated that circumcision should be performed with no anesthesia in order to deter children from “self-abuse” (cracked.com). Yes, this is Kellogg of the Kellogg’s cereal. Grape-Nuts, and later Corn Flakes, were invented to prevent “fire in the blood”. As early as the 1800s, masturbation experts believed that certain foods stimulated the urge, so people were recommended certain diets that eliminated instigators like pickles, candy, and eggs, and designed non-stimulating alternatives like cold breakfast cereal.

For more investigation into the rabbit hole of bizarre anti-masturbation treatments, Cracked.com offers a great article that covers all methods from Boy Scouts’ cold showers, to leeches, and spiked penile rings, bondage belts, and clitoridectomy.

So Happy Masturbation Month Everyone!

Let’s be thankful that our notions and acceptance of the deed has evolved from spiked penis restraints to Masturbate-A-Thon fundraisers! It’s great that there are many more sex positive resources out there that help normalize masturbation for us all. In some ways, it is a political act. It’s the ultimate safe sex, it increases awareness of your body and own sexual response, it relieves cramps, and it’s fun! So celebrate!

Do you have any fun facts or masturbation resources to share? Please comment below.

It’s always nice to know if you like what you’ve read. Please let us know by tweeting this or liking us on Facebook.  

Special thanks to Good Vibrations, BlogHer, EmpowerHer, and Bitch Mag for the images and information.

 

The “Condom Girl”: Condom Policing is Gender Policing

“What do you do when you’re detained by powerful officials, everything you say is presumed deceptive, arbitrary “evidence” is held against you, and you’re treated like a moral deviant? And what if its 2013, you’re a woman, and the “evidence” is that you possess condoms?”- Clay Nikiforuk 

NYC_condom-in-handcuffs_zps66258bf1

Say no to condoms as legal evidence. Image from Photobucket.

In March 2013, Clay Nikiforuk was detained at the Quebec/Vermont boarder under suspicion of being a sex worker.  The evidence: about 8 condoms and some sexy underwear.  Hours of questioning passed over the possible relationship between her lingerie and condoms. Clay was eventually allowed into the US, but found out two weeks later that she had been flagged as a suspected sex worker.  A series of consequences followed including limited visa permits, about $1000 in extra travel fees, and more police interrogations.

It’s easy to point at the sexist double standard here.  If a young, stereotypically “masculine” man traveled with a pack of condoms and nice underwear his moral integrity would not be questioned.  But there is something else at play than slut-shaming alone. Condom policing reinforces standards of what is appropriate female and male sexuality (a.k.a. heteronormativity).  And wrapped up in those messy assumptions are racial and class stereotypes.

We have posted other monologues about condom policing before.  The NYPD’s tactic of condoms-as-evidence systematically results in gender-based violence.  The victims are overwhelmingly non-white transsexual women. This discrimination occurs daily.  The news media picks it up from time to time- maybe once a year by questioning whether condoms-as-evidence of sex work is constitutional.  In fact, a bill to stop this legal practice has been struggling to pass congress for nearly a decade.

But when condom policing happens to a white, educated young woman (read privilege) the media takes up the issue in a new way- through innocence.  Clay writes a response to the media’s representation of her story on Rabble.ca.

“I wasn’t featured nationally in Metro as “Uneducated girl is accused of sex work” but rather as “UBC student.” I didn’t join CBC’s Daybreak show as “Sex worker/adulteress treated as second class citizen” but rather, “Woman files complaint after border crossing nightmare.” So long as I was positioned as privileged, and, sometimes by proxy, innocent, my story had shock value. Because when bad things start happening to innocent, educated white people, they could happen to anyone — or rather, other privileged people. And that is very, very scary.”

“….I’ve stopped answering the point-blank question of whether or not I am, was, or ever will be a sex worker. I like to entertain the half-mad fantasy that no matter whom one has consensual sex with or why, one is irrevocably a human deserving respect and rights. The point is: when sex and sexuality are criminalized, people are made illegal and their rights made moot.”

“….If I were a sex worker, I might have “deserved” the treatment I received, or my detainment might have “made sense.” If I were from a minority group or were not as educated in the English language, my story might not have provoked the shock and outrage that it did. And rather than receiving the reaction “That should never happen to anyone,” often the reaction I still get is “That should never have happened to you.”

Read the entire article at Rabble.ca  For more information on the campaign to stop condoms as evidence by police and in court, check out The Red Umbrella Project and End the Use of Condoms as Evidence.

Advice: Dealing with condom rejection

This post is for anyone who has a partner that always moans (in a bad way) about using a condom; for anyone who has experienced condom hating; and for anyone who refuses to wear a condom.  This is to equip you with reasoning and responses to possible excuses for not using condoms.

A fact we need to face:

When you insist on using a condom you are doing the right thing!  Condom usage is about caring for yourself and caring for your partner.  Many people get uncomfortable in the condom situation or give-in to not using one because the other doesn’t want to.  It is your right as a human being to assert your health needs with your partner.  As Heather Corinna puts it: “Asking someone to care for you in any way is not a barrier to intimacy: it’s not asking that keeps space between you…sexual health or even just how to use condoms and use them in a way that works for both of you is not something that keeps people apart, but that brings people closer together.”

In other words, caring for yourself should be a caring partner’s want.  If your partner can’t respect your desire to be safe than that is a relationship-red-flag.

Here are some responses you can give to whatever your partner dishes out.  Some of these scenarios are from sex educator, Laci Green.  For more advice, check out her post and watch her entertaining and informative video on how to deal with sex safety.

Responses to Condom Hate

________________________

Partner: “It doesn’t feel good.”  “I can’t feel anything”.
You:“I can’t enjoy sex if I don’t feel safe.” “The safer I feel, the hotter the sex.”

Note: Those who say that they can’t feel anything with a condom are a) being dishonest and/or b) have a lack of experience and are not using condoms properly.  Check out our post on the myths of condom hate.

________________________

Partner: “You think I have an STD”. “You don’t trust me.”
You:“This isn’t about me thinking that here is something wrong with you; this is about both our health.” “Don’t you care about the same thing?”

_________________________

Partner:I want to be closer to you/feel you.”
You:I can’t feel close to you if I don’t feel safe.”

_________________________

Partner: “Just this one time.
You:We’ve got all these condoms.  Let’s do it more than once!” “Once is one too much for me.”

_________________________

Partner: “They never fit.”
You:There are so many styles of condoms, let’s try them out and see which ones are best!”  “If it’s too big for a condom, it’s too big for me.”- Laci Green

Note: Check out our condom fitting solutions chart for help finding the right condoms. 

_________________________

CondomWrapperHeart

 

For more advice and ideas check out Laci Green’s website.  Scarleteen is pretty great too.

What other excuses and responses are out there?  What have you experienced?

 

Walking While Trans: police profiling and abuse of LGBTQ communities of color in Queens

LGBTQ 003.  In this entry of our LGBTQ-Logue Initiative, posting mementos of sexual justice issues, we share narratives from participants in a study about the gender-based violence that police regularly commit against LGBTQ and gender nonconforming people.

Illustration by Molly Crabapple.  Posted with permission. Found on Vice Mag.

Illustration by Molly Crabapple. Posted with permission. Found on Vice Mag.

In response to the rise of complaints about hate violence and police abuse against LGBTQ people in Jackson Heights, especially among people of color, the community-based organization Make the Road NY (MRNY) and the Anti-Violence Project (AVP) conducted a preliminary study to ascertain the extent of the problems with police. Between 2011 and 2012, MRNY and AVP collected over 300 surveys with LGBTQ and gender nonconforming people in Jackson Heights.  Interviews were conducted by outreach workers and volunteers through street, bar, and nightclub outreach, as well as within support groups and community meetings.

They found that LGBTQ, and transgender respondents in particular, reported higher rates of police stops compared to non-LBGTQ respondents.  Transgender residents of color were the most likely to experience police harassment and physical abuse when stopped.  46% of transgender respondents reported some form of physical abuse from police compared to 28% of non-LGBTQ respondents.  Narrative evidence obtained through interviews reveals the kind of physical harassment experienced such as handling, pushing, shoving and sexual harassment.

These are not just selective, one-off narrative accounts.  On the contrary, they are shared because they reflect general tends respondents experience with the NYPD in Queens.

Carolina describes being intrusively searched by police:

About 2 years ago something terrible happened when I was out in Jackson Heights. My girlfriend and I were on our way to a club when the police stopped us.  It was about midnight. The police stopped us and asked for our IDs.  My girlfriend had hers but I didn’t have mine with me at the time. At that moment the police started to frisk me and search my pants.  Because I dress very masculine they started telling me to ‘shut up you fucking dyke.’ They started to feel my breasts and search in that area (they were male cops and they’re not suppose to do that). They then proceeded to put me against the wall and told me to spread my legs.  They searched me between my legs like I was a criminal. I told them that I didn’t consent to their search.  But they said that they were ‘the authority’ and that they could do ‘whatever the fuck they wanted’ with me. I felt humiliated because I knew that even if I said something no one would believe me.  Also, because of my immigration status I was afraid to say anything and get deported.- Lesbian woman, Jackson Heights (MRNY 2012, pg. 20)

Another interviewee, Juan, reported being drag by her hair down the block.

I was walking down the street with my partner on 34th Avenue and a police car pulled over and told us to get near the car.  When the police officer saw that I was dressed as a woman he pulled my wig, held my hair and dragged me down 34th Avenue for 1 or 2 blocks. – Gay Latino man who cross dresses at night, Queens (Ibid: pg. 20).

Other narratives reflect violence committed by police and the unjust treatment carried out while in custody.

I was getting out of a club and heading to a friend’s house in a cab.  When I got to her apartment, I found that the police were stopping her and asking her to produce ID. They were talking to her in English. I intervened and told the officers that she didn’t speak English and that her ID was in her apartment, which we were in front of. I told them that I could get her ID from her apartment. The officers told me to shut up and arrested both me and my friend. The police used a lot of force while arresting us and said some homophobic and transphobic remarks in the process.  They put us in the back of their car and started laughing at us with other police officers who were also there.  I asked one of the officers to please open the window a bit more because we were out of breath, to which he responded by pepper spraying my directly in my face and mouth. Since we were trapped in the back of the car, the pepper spray also started asphyxiating my friend. I started kicking the car door and asking them to please let us out.  They opened the door and dragged me out of the car and started beating me up outside the car, while using transphobic and homophobic remarks. It was a very confusing, demeaning and unjust experience, I ended up being in jail for two days without representation and was intensely harassed by officers while I was in custody.- Transgender Latina woman, Queens (Ibid: pg. 18).

Part of that harassment involves arbitrary stops on suspicion of prostitution, which takes place in the form of a charge of “loitering for the purpose of prostitution”- a misdemeanor that allows for broad officer discretion.  The profiling of transgender women as sex workers is so common that there is a term for it: “walking while trans”.

Arrests can be made on the basis of how tight one’s clothing is and how many condoms are on the person, which will be used as evidence in court.  If convicted for prostitution, the person will lose social benefits like food stamps and subsidized housing.  As a result, transgender women are especially fearful that any condom in their possession will be used as evidence against them.

The survey participants commonly reported stops that seemed to be without basis but in which the police officers later justified the stop by charging the person with prostitution because condoms were found on their person.

Cristina explained how the police did not believe that her boyfriend was not a patron and the officers confiscated three condoms off of her.

One night I was with my boyfriend at a club in Jackson Heights, Queens.  At around 4am we left the club together and walked home. We were walking next to each other. At one point an undercover police van stopped next to us.  Eight undercover cops got out from the van and some of them threw me against the wall. While they were handcuffing me, my boyfriend was also through to the wall and they frisked him. They told me I was being arrested for sex work. I told them that I was not doing anything like that. After they frisked my boyfriend, they frisked me and found three condoms, after seeing the condoms they asked if I was sure that I was not working.  I told them that I was with my boyfriend and they said that he was not my boyfriend. I told one of the female cops to help me and that I was not doing anything wrong. She said that she couldn’t help me out. My boyfriend came to the 110th Precinct where I was held and spoke to the captain; he tried to explain that I was his girlfriend and that I was with him. But the captain said that he couldn’t do anything. I was taken to court and was accused of sex work.– Transgender woman, Jackson Heights (Ibid: pg 21).

Another interviewee describes being jumped by undercover cops and experiencing repetitive humiliation and harassment while in custody:

Last week, I went out dancing at a small night club on Roosevelt Avenue.  After having a good time and feeling ready to go home, I contacted my friends so that we could meet at a small taqueria before we all headed home.  Meeting up at the taqueria after a night out is routine for us because the tacos are really good, and it’s also the only way we know that our circle of friends is safe.

While on my way to the taqueria, I was approached by a dark colored car driven by a middle-aged male.  As the male pulled alongside me, he said something I couldn’t hear properly.  As I did not hear what the male was saying, I inched a little closer to his vehicle and he repeated, ‘Why are you so beautiful and yet alone?’ Before I knew it, two undercover officers jumped out of a van that was parked along the street and told me that I was under arrest.  When I asked the officer’s why they are arresting me, they told that I was ‘engaging in prostitution’.

They cuffed me and the officers questioned me further, took my purse away from me and placed me into the unmarked van.  Although I had nothing on me and did nothing wrong, they still took me, transferred me into another police van filled with about a dozen trans-women and then took us all down to the 115th Precinct where we were fingerprinted, written up and later transferred to the central booking.  My experience in the holding cell at central booking was terrible.  I was humiliated inside of the holding cell by the guards and the men who occupied the cell with me.  The guards would not all me anything other than bread and water to eat and I was not allowed to use the toilet when I needed to go.  Tears streamed down my face as for the first time I was encountering the daily harassment that transwomen face for just walking home.-Transgender Latina woman, Queens (Ibid: pg. 17).

And it doesn’t just happen at night after clubbing.  It also happens while doing routine daily activities such as walking the dog or grocery shopping.  Here is just one testimony of many from the MRNY study.

I am transgender.  I was walking to the store near my house on Roosevelt Avenue when two cops stopped and arrested me.  When I asked why I was being arrested, they replied, ‘Because you are pretty.’ They charged me with loitering for prostitution when I was only walking down the street.- Transgender Latina woman, Queens (Ibid: pg. 17)

This profiling and abuse has been documented extensively across the US by Amnesty International (2005), the PROS Network (2011) and Human Rights Watch (2012), to name a few.  All studies conclude that there needs to be more done within the legal system and law enforcement culture to address homophobic and transphobic attitudes and discriminatory policing against LBGTQ people.  Suggestions include LGBTQ liaison units to police forces and integrating LGBTQ issues into officer education and professional development.

There is also a bill to end the use of condoms as evidence of sex work.  Since 1999, a coalition of people in the sex trades, allies, and community-based organizations have been working to pass the No Condoms As Evidence bill into law in NY state.  In 2012, a report by the PROS Network and Sex Worker Project revealed how the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution is creating a public health crisis because it is deterring targeted populations from carrying condoms.  This is “deeply concerning”, writes Emma Caterine of the Red Umbrella Project, as people in the sex trade and gender nonconforming people are often most at risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections. “To combat this violence and promote safer sex, we must stop the use of condoms as evidence by both police and prosecutors (RH Reality Check, 2013).”

On April 23rd, 2013, Red Umbrella Project will be lobbying in Albany, NY to get the No Condoms as Evidence bill passed by representatives.  For more information on this bill and how you can get involved, check out their website.

Video Storytelling about ‘Coming Out’ by a Mormon

1409273_cross_collageLGBTQ-Logue 002.
“So, are you dating anyone.”
“Nope.” I shamelessly replied.
“Well that’s not good.” my bishop said.
“I don’t want to date anyone.”
Then my bishop looked at me, “Do you experience feelings of same-gender attraction?” What?!  All I said is I don’t want to date anyone, how does he…?  ‘This is real.  Oh gosh, this is very real.’  I paused a good while.  I looked at my bishop and in a weak voice replied, “Yeah.”
I had never wanted to die more than that moment.  Finally realizing the fact.  Affirming the fact.  Loathing the fact.  Breaking through the denial was almost more than I could take. A few words were exchanged and then my bishop looked at me and with genuine empathy said, “That sucks.”A Gay Mormon Coming Out, Jimmy Hales

Coming out can be a big event- or not.  It is a process that’s as individual as you are.  And so are the ways of remembering and expressing what coming out is like.  Jimmy Hales (blogger and student at the Mormon university BYU) decided to “come out” publicly through video.  And a very entertaining video indeed.

Over the course of a year, Jimmy recorded the reactions of his “coming out” to his sister, mother and friends.  Many of them don’t believe him at first.  Some say they’ve had their suspicions.  Overall, it’s an upbeat and chipper mini-doc.  And it works to address some fears and misconceptions about coming out and about homosexuality. On his blog, Jimmy explains that he wanted to show others (gay or not) that a Mormon “coming out” isn’t that bad.  It can be positive.  He also explains how the Church excludes non-heterosexuals by not addressing what is expected of a gay member of the church.  Do the rules of celibacy apply to gays? He had to search long and hard and alone for answers.

We thought this was an important memento to share for #2 of the LGBT-Logue Series because there are virtually no representations of -and by- openly gay young Mormons. Do enjoy.


ORIGINAL: by Jimmy Hales. Found on Upworthy

Remembering Stonewall: Excerpts from the First Documentary Made on the Riots

LGBTQ-Logue 001.

“The archives of lesbian culture…created four years after Stonewall, owes, at least for my part, it’s creation to that night and the courage that found its voice in the streets. That night, in some very deep way, we finally found our place in history. Not as a dirty joke, not as a doctor’s case study, not as a freak- but as a people.” – Joan Nestle, Co-founder of Lesbian Herstory Archives (Remembering Stonewall, aired 1989 on PBS Radio).

Image sourced from wikipedia.org

image sourced from wikipedia.org

For some, modern history is indexed by the pre-Stonewall and post-Stonewall eras.  The 1969 Stonewall Upraising is marked as the first time the LGBTQ community resisted routine police raids and arrests at a time when it was illegal for queers to congregate in public.

All great movements require catalyst- whether it’s premeditated or unplanned- a bandwagon that cements conviction in the will of those affected by injustice; when people discover they are not alone.  What starts a movement will be determined by different (sometimes opposing) perspectives, most of which will never be recorded in popular history.  Stonewall is one of those seminal events in which thousands who were involved (directly and indirectly) have never had their experiences recognized in official documentation…until 20 years later. StoryCorps founder David Isay with Michael Scherker produced the first documentary of any medium about the Stonewall uprising.

This radio documentary premiered on NPR’s All Things Considered Weekend Edition in 1989.  It records multiple testimonies of the event including drag queens who stood up to police, a police marshal who led the raid, and young activists who founded the Gay Liberation Front on the third night of the Stonewall Riots.  You can listen and download the broadcast for free at Sound Portaits.org and read the entire transcript here.

The recording begins with participants describing what it was like to be “gay” in the 1960s, before Stonewall.

JOAN NESTLE, Co-founder of Lesbian Herstory Archives:  [T]here was regular weekend harassment, which would consist of the police coming in regularly….[I]n the Sea Colony, we had a back room with a red light. And when that red light went on it meant the police would be arriving in around ten minutes. And so we all had to sit down at our tables, and we would be sitting there almost like school children, and the cops would come in. Now depending on…which cop was on, if it was some that really resented the butch women who were with many times very beautiful women, we knew we were in for it because what would happen is they would start harassing one of these women, and saying, ‘Ha, you think you’re a man? Come outside and we’ll show you.’ And the woman would be dragged away. They’d throw her up against a wall and they’d say, ‘So, you think you’re a man, let’s see what you got in your pants.’ And they would put their hand down her pants.

SEYMOUR PINE, Deputy Inspector of the NYC Public Morals Squad: “[Before Stonewall] you tell [patrons in gay bars] to leave and they leave, and you say show me your identification and they all take out their identification and file out and that’s it. And you say, okay, you’re not a man, you’re a woman, or you’re vice versa and you wait over there. I mean, this was a kind of power that you have and you never gave it a second thought.

SYLVIA RIVERA, Transgender activist: The drag queens took a lot of oppression and we had to…we were at a point where I guess nothing would have stopped us…we were ladies in waiting, just waiting for the thing to happen.

Image from Gender Anarchy Facebook Page.  Original from The National Center of Lesbian Rights

Image from Gender Anarchy Facebook Page. Original from The National Center for Lesbian Rights

Those who witnessed and participated in the riot recount the electricity felt in the air as eight police officers arrived at the Stonewall Inn at midnight June 27th, 1969.  They describe fire, anger, joy, beatings- by police batons and high heels alike.

BIRDY, Protestor: My name is Robert Rivera and my nickname is Birdy, and I’ve been cross-dressing all of my life. I remember the night of the riots, the police were escorting queens out of the bar and into the paddy wagon and there was this one particularly outrageously beautiful queen, with stacks and stacks of…Elizabeth Taylor style hair, and she was asking them not to push her. And they continued to push her, and she turned around and she mashed the cop with her high heel. She knocked him down and then she proceeded to frisk him for the keys to the handcuffs that were on her. She got them and she undid herself and passed them to another queen that was behind her.

RIVERA: I remember someone throwing a Molotov cocktail. I don’t know who the person was, but I mean I saw that and I just said to myself in Spanish…’oh my God, the revolution is finally here!’ And I just like started screaming ‘Freedom! We’re free at last!’ You know. It felt really good!

Remembering Stonewall also offers rare insight and expression of how the revolutionary event impacted across personal lives and politics.  For example, Gene Hardwood, who at the time of this recording was in a 60 year partnership with Bruce Merrow, explained,

GENE HARWOOD: When Stonewall happened, Bruce and I were still in the closet, where we had been for nearly forty years. But we realized that this was a tremendous thing that had happened at Stonewall and it gave us a feeling that we were not going to be remaining closeted for very much longer. And soon thereafter, we did come out of the closet.

JINNY APPUZO: …In 1969 I was in the convent. And when Stonewall hit the press, it hit me with a bolt of lightening. It was as if I had an incredible release of my own outrage at having to sequester so much of my life. I made my way down, I seem to recall in subsequent nights being down on the, you know, kind of just on the periphery looking. An observer — clearly an observer. Clearly longing to have that courage to come out. And as I recall it was only a matter of weeks before I left the convent and started a new life.

PINE: For those of us in Public Morals [police division], after the Stonewall incident things were completely changed from what they had previously been. They suddenly were not submissive anymore. They now suddenly had gained a new type of courage. And it seemed as if they didn’t care anymore about whether their identities were made known.

We were now dealing with human beings.

As shown by Stonewall and earlier campaigns against police raids and entrapment, NYC has a fraught history of with the LGBTQ communities.  While great gains have been made, LGBTQ people, and particularly LGBTQ people of color, continue to be targets of police profiling and abuse.  This includes profiling transgender women as sex workers, “gender checks”, physical and sexual abuse, and detention of transgender people under dangerous conditions.  Check out LGBTQ-logue 003 for narrative accounts of LGBTQ interactions with the NYPD in present-day Jackson Heights, Queens.

Where to Go for Safer Sex: Our Resource Recommendations

HaveAcondom (1)We are celebrating Valentine’s Day 2013 by acknowledging some of the most lavish, smart, and intriguing safer sex resources out there and giving them our thank yous for their hard work.

For safer sex guidelines we applaud and recommend you check out the following…

Planned Parenthood: A non-profit health organization that offers reproductive health care and advice on contraception, safe sex, and family planning.  They’ve been around since 1939 and in many cases are the only place where one can access birth control, STD/STI testing, sex education, couples counseling, etc.

The Body: A medically-based HIV/AIDS resource in the US which provides information on everything one needs to know about HIV/AIDS, including advice on prevention, HIV testing, treatment, safely navigating a mixed-status relationship, HIV/AIDS policy and activism, and the latest research on HIV/AIDS and other STDs.  This humongous site offers everything from Blogs, podcasts, bulletin boards, “Ask the Experts” forum, first-person stories and interviews, conferences and news coverage, and library resources.

SEX ETC: Who better to understand high school sex politics than the peers who are living and experiencing it themselves.  The blog, magazine, and stories on this site are written by and for teens and young adults across North America.  It provides different media to engage with sexual health info, such as videos about safe sex, forums where teens can participate and moderate discussions with other teens, a 400 words sex glossary, a state-by-state reference to info on birth control, health care access and your rights to sex education in “Sex in the States” guide, and a range of surveys and guides to sex ed activism.

Scarleteen:  A progressive sex-ed site written for teens who are female, male, genderqueer; gay, straight or somewhere in between.  It provides over 200 articles about sex, health, and relationships, covering everything from STIs to sexual orientation, body image, self-esteem, to birth control, masturbation, misogyny, sexual abuse, and technical advice from French kissing to BDSM.  The site also provides interactive question-answer-discuss services, including their new live help feature providing safe, anonymous live chats with Scarleteen’s staff and volunteers.

SEX-ED LOOP:  Another great resource for teens, based in Chicago, that gives up to date information on sexual health, rights, and identity through a range of social media channels including a weekly text messaging service and clinic finder that will identify health care services throughout Chicago.  Also provides helpful articles about gender identity and sexual orientation.

HIV InSite: A non-commercial, well-established source developed by the Center for HIV Information at the University of California San Francisco.  The site offers an extensive collection of original material including a complete textbook about the clinical management of HIV/AIDS.  It is also a great resource for global HIV/AIDS research, statistics, and policy analysis.

Our Bodies Ourselves: A global non-profit that promotes evidence-based information on girls’ and women’s health.  The information provided on the site is vast and includes excerpts from their famous book on reproductive health, as well as first-person blog stories that range from topics like body image, nutrition, menstruation, pregnancy and much more.

Well, that’s a handful of some of our favorite safer sex resources from sound sexual health organizations. Do you have any resources to share?  Please let us know in the comments below!