Tag Archives: interview

Gwenn’s Condom Research and Personal Use

There’s been a lot of talk in the past 12 months about women’s preferred contraceptive methods. With the coining of the “Pull Out Generation” and the launch of the ACA’s (Affordable Care Act) contraception mandate, much of this talk has been centered around birth control. This is an important discussion that pleases many sex educators: it’s about applying informed choices to people’s lifestyles and relationships, and determining the method that best suits that person’s circumstances.

However, hardly any time in this discussion has attended to those women who use the simple condom as their primary contraception. Even less attention is given to STI testing and prevention. These important topics have been swept aside and treated as a separate issue that seemingly doesn’t apply to long-term sexual relationships.

I spoke with a woman who fits within that cohort of condom-using relationships. Gwenn Barringer is part of the well known sexual health and HIV activist duo, Shawn and Gwenn. Gwenn wrote her Master’s thesis about condom usage in short term and long term relationships among college women.  Now she is a public speaker and vlogger busy busting HIV ignorance. Her approach?  Using her 15+ years sexual relationship with her HIV positive partner, Shawn, to teach others about sexual health.

Over email, we talked about Gwenn’s research findings on the likelihood of condom use in “trusting” relationships. We connected her thesis to her personal life and the contraception strategies that she’s chosen. First, Gwenn lays out the terms of her research and main findings:

Yes, Gwenn found that women in shorter relationships depended on condoms more than women in long term commitments. This wasn’t a big surprise. What was striking was deciphering the meaning of “short” and “long-term”.  Gwenn states, “I found across the literature that a short term relationship was defined as 3 weeks or less, and therefore a long term relationship was defined as more than 3 weeks. This is what I used in my study to define relationship length, so when we are talking about condom use being decreased in long tern relationships, we are talking about a month or so.”

Gwenn continues: “My findings had a lot to do with the vague notion of trust. Women felt like they trusted their partners at the magic 3 week mark. I wish I had more time back then to go further with the trust notion but that was beyond my scope at the time. I do find anecdotally that college women feel that time spent with a partner equates to trust. And while I understand this, I try to encourage STI testing as a trusting experience.”

Gwen makes a key point- notions of trust and sexual health are intrinsically linked. This is a fairly general statement because what “trust” actually means varies from person to person. But all contraceptive methods- all consensual sexual acts -involve degrees of trust. “Pulling out” relies on a partner to be in control of his climax. Condoms are also about partner cooperation and protecting each other.

However, when it comes to public discourse around birth control in long term (heterosexual) commitments, male condoms are often portrayed as unpopular. In fact, some people struggle with getting their partner to use a condom because the other views it as a symbol of distrust in their relationship. Gwenn responds to this contradiction:

“As far as my thoughts on the condom paradox of trust, I do think that is an interesting observation. I feel like it has to do with trust but also has a lot to do with breaking some fantasies that people have about new partners. When you are in a new relationship often times it seems like everything is perfect and magical. Thinking about or discussing a condom inserts the realities of life into that which isn’t always fun.”

We ended the interview by Gwenn reflecting on the prevention regime Shawn and her practice. She is quick to debunk the notion that condoms connote distrust and non-commitment.

“My own relationship has an incredible deal of trust. I don’t think you can really be in a healthy relationship without trust and I certainly don’t think you can be in a serodiscordant relationship without a great deal of trust. That trust for Shawn and I came out of much communication about sex before we ever had sex.”

“Our prevention strategy is condoms each time we have sex. When we first were together, I was also on hormonal birth control but discontinued that (for reasons not related to Shawn’s status or our sex life) about 6 years ago. So we are also using condoms at this point as pregnancy prevention as well. We have discussed the issue of Shawn’s “infectiousness” due to his undetectable viral load and while we haven’t made any major changes to our sex life because of that, we do feel another level of security because we know it would be highly unlikely for him to transmit HIV to me even if there were a break or slip.”

There is no single birth control that suits everyone.  However, condoms remain the only birth control that prevents STI infection. The issue of transmission should not be glossed over when discussing contraceptive methods. Furthermore, the conversation needs to include and represent serodiscordant couples and relationships in which both or one partner carries STIs.

You can read and watch more of Gwenn at her blog and YouTube Channel, Shawn and Gwenn.

Galen Fous’ #MySexPositivity

You may never imagine how unconscious symbols, fantasies and archetypal personas inhabit and drive your sexual desires until you open your mind to this unique sex positive approach to understanding the many depths of erotic expression. Pychotherapist and fetish sex researcher, Galen Fous, believes we are in a new era of human sexuality in which more people than ever before are discovering their sexual uniqueness in spite of cultural shame. He is weary of a trend in some sex positive circles that values only clinical, so-called objective science of sex, thus dismissing the emotional depths of erotica and fetish. The beautiful metaphors he invokes are worth a read.

1) Identify one or two trends, or influential people in the Sex Positive community that you identify with (or are inspired by) and those trends which you relate to not-so-much.

Galen profile picAfter centuries of repression, fear, persecution, misinformation and denial, Eros is showing up all around the world in a way that is unprecedented in the history of civilization. The “normal” range of human sexual expression and desire has shifted profoundly. Millions of people across the globe have already crossed the threshold of previous cultural, moral and spiritual norms for acceptable sexual behavior. Millions more stand at the threshold, eagerly peering in.

New tribes are finding each other to participate in, express and explore every range of kinky perversity imaginable, while others seek to connect with a spiritual path of ecstatic consciousness, centered in a sense of divine regard, achieved by channeling their sexual “energy” through the nervous system.

These early-adapters, and there are tens of millions of you currently, are exploring the wilderness of Eros that has been taboo, forbidden, inappropriate and off-limits to the general population of every age since the rise of “civilization“ and organized religion.

Human sexuality is like a gold mine, buried deep within us, that culture, religion, morality, superstition, law and fear has kept secret. Thanks to the Internet, the secret treasure is gushing out of the depths in a volcanic torrent, stoked by the millions of humans digging for and finding the gold within their Eros.

Eros is finally being embraced and recognized as an integral aspect of the human psyche. It is a vast territory, largely unmapped, but rich and alluring in the promise of great sex. While the allure is an irresistible, lusty come-on, it is just the gateway to the depths that are now known to be available. These new pathways have brought about conscious practices that allow you to be in integrity with your values and agreements while being true and authentic in who you are erotically…no matter how dark or perverse, or as light and spiritual you might seek to be.

This new era of Eros offers us the opportunity to: communicate honestly and openly with our partners about our most taboo desires; safely, authentically express, embody and engage our darkest erotic edges; heal the inevitable psychological wounds of sexual repression and shame our cultures embed in us; learn techniques to be more fully present, aware, embodied, enlivened, connected, intimate, and cultivate Eros as a personally sacred experience; develop tolerance and give support and encouragement to those on other sexual paths; and learn to integrate being liberated sexual creatures into our everyday cultural, family and spiritual life.

In other words, the opportunity to live our lives as if our sexuality is normal!!

There are many other researchers, educators and therapists I would like to mention that promote tolerance and sex-positive views that support each person to find their own shame-free truth, sexual and otherwise. But I will limit it to two here:

Stanley Siegel has devoted over 40 years to sex-positive views as a therapist and author. He has recently started Psychology Tomorrow magazine that offers insights and analysis of many current emerging aspect of sexuality.

Another is personal coach and writer Pamela Madsen, author of Shameless:How I Ditched the Diet, Got Naked, Found True Pleasure…Pamela works primarily with women to resolve deep shame around their bodies and sexuality, and embrace their authentic desire from an empowered place.

A trend I find disturbing is people seeking to find safe ground for the mystery and complexity of their erotic desire within the standard socially acceptable frameworks such as scientific, clinical and evidence based theories. On the whole at this point, these tend to remove or dismiss much too much of our human, emotional, embodied erotic experience. I am concerned people will miss out on the mythic ecstatic depths offered by experiencing their own epic erotic psyches and personas, by only focusing on or acknowledging what can be stated within the parameters of the “science or brain chemistry behind this or that”, or the “evolutionary survival rationale” as the reason for all manner of sexual variation, or a “recent clinical study” shows that…”!

This “Science of Sex” approach, in my judgment, may keep us in a heady, rational experience and removes the mythic potency from the soul of our experience. These approaches mask or discount the depths of emotional intimacy, trust and connection that are occurring, the personally meaningful primal mythic journeys that are taken, and overlooks the profound somatic/ecstatic depths of the human erotic experience.

2) How do you define “sex positivity” for yourself and your work? In other words, what is your primary passion and how do you distinguish your writings and interests from other branches of thought within the sex positive movement?

GALEN-Eros-is-finally-being-embraced-Quote

Eros, the god of love

I feel “sex-positive” means to be supportive and tolerant of sexual diversity and to be committed to discover, embrace, and cultivate one’s own personal sexual identity.

My focus within the sex-positive realm as a psychotherapist and sex-researcher is on what I call Fetishsexuality.

A Fetishsexual is a person driven to orgasm or other deep erotic states through their innate, inherent, life-long desire for a particular range of kink, fetish, Dominance, submission, sadism, masochism or other alternative erotic expressions. Just as gays and lesbians are a distinct sexual identity considered to make up 8-10% of the gene pool (Kinsey, 1948), I believe Fetishsexuals are a distinct sexual identity making up a similar or higher percentage  of the gene pool. This is an unverified rough guess extrapolating from my anecdotal review of internet search term data found on sites like porhub.com and similar sources. The PEM survey is a preliminary work that I hope may initiate future scientific studies about Fetishsexuality.

I believe Fetishsexuality operates through both conscious and unconscious aspects of the personal and collective psyche. In this regard, it is my experience that someone with Fetishsexual identity also has what I define as a Personal Erotic Myth (PEM) that is engaged, from within the unconscious, when they become sexually aroused.

A PEM contains the fantasy imagery, storylines, mythic personas, props, attire, dialogue and actions that drive a person who has a PEM to orgasm or other deep erotic states. This mythos is often expressed in Fetish, Kink, and D/s-BDSM oriented sex, where symbol, myth and archetypal personifications abound.

Some people are quite aware of their PEM. For others it is still buried in the unconscious but shows up in private masturbatory reveries or brief moments in the rush right before orgasm, within sexual engagement with a partner. Many may have caught glimpses of their PEM, or more, engaged it secretly, even well before puberty. In a recent survey, I conducted with over 600 anonymous respondents drawn from a sex-positive and alternative population; nearly 60% stated that they had begun having distinct sexual fantasies before 10 years of age. Furthermore, 40% stated they were already masturbating to their fantasies by 10 years of age. Over 70% self-identified as believing that their sexuality was driven by their PEM.

Some may also have multiple PEMs that ebb and flow in their sex life. For many others, it is still an unconscious but compelling force, just below acknowledged awareness, that drives their sexual desire. This is the aspect of their Eros that they may not have looked at nor engaged in consciously; however, during sex, in the moments right before orgasm, their authentic erotic persona, or “sex creature” as I sometimes think of it, can flood into the body in wild, fierce gestures, accompanied by profane, blasphemous invectives—sound-bytes from their PEM.

My ongoing statistical research project on the nature of Fetishsexuality, the “Discover Your Personal Erotic Myth Survey” has broken new ground in developing a theoretical and therapeutic psychological model in this emerging aspect of Eros. This initial glimpse into the nature and depth of peoples’ Fetish, Kink and D/s-BDSM desires, their origins, and what resists their desires has been illuminating. My mission is to expand and deepen this initial research. You can learn more about participating in the completely anonymous online survey here.

From my work with clients and groups over the last 13 years, I have developed The 5 Keys for Fetishsexuals to consciously engage their darkest edge and find fulfillment in sex, life and relationships. These are: Sexual AuthenticitySexual Honesty, Sexual Empowerment, Sexual Shadow and Paradox. An in-depth definition of these and other aspect of integrating your fetishsexual desires into your everyday life can be found on my site.

3) What directions do you think sex positivity will take within the next 5 – 10 years? Or what topics and with what platforms would you like to see sex positivity develop more thoroughly within the next 5 – 10 years?

I believe the full range of sexuality is heading mainstream. The next few generations will gradually feel the effects of the diminishment of sex-negative attitudes and the expansion of sex-positive attitudes. Hopefully this will make it easier for people to find, embrace and embody their sexual authenticity in a conscious way.

The biggest obstacles will be to shift embedded institutional psychological and moral models of human sexuality. Key areas are in the academic education of undergrad and grad level psychologists and therapists, and in the actual revamping of the psychological and therapeutic models themselves. These are currently well behind the curve of understanding the panorama of sexuality being lived by people in the current era, and will not serve those in the future.

Opinions shared are the author’s own. Want to participate in this interview series? What is your sex positivity?

#MySexPositivity with Kali Williams

This sex positive is all about action and open access. Kali is a BDSM expert with 13 years experience in the adult industry and has devoted herself to sexual education for adults. Her sex positivity is to enable informed choices. She founded the Kink Academy in 2007 and branched out to Passionate U, both education websites for adults of all levels of experience. She is also the founder of the Fearless Press, which explores the intersection of sex and other aspects from everyday life from relationships to spirituality and personal style. She wants to see more inclusion of Kink in the mainstream and sex workers’ legitimate voices taken seriously in academia. 

1) Identify one or two trends, or influential people in the Sex Positive community that you identify with (or are inspired by) and those trends which you relate to not-so-much.

It’s exciting to see Sabrina Morgan growing in her public writing about the sex positive community and the sex worker perspective. She’s really insightful and gets straight to the heart of whatever she’s talking about. Also, Charlie Glickman has always been one of the most inspirational people in the community in my opinion. He manages to talk about really complex issues, particularly regarding sexuality and gender identity, in a way is easy to relate to and understand.

As far as trends go, I’m excited to generally see a lot more people actively interested in being sex educators. Even more importantly I’m excited to see some nationally known educators doing trainings for up and coming sex educators. When I started doing BDSM workshops there weren’t any ways to find mentors or learning specific to the sexuality field.

I’ve been thinking about it and while there are trends that I don’t relate to as part of my personal identity, I am still excited to see progress that’s being made in those other areas of the sex positive community.

2) How do you define “sex positivity” for yourself and your work? In other words, what is your primary passion and how do you distinguish your writings and interests from other branches of thought within the sex positive movement?

For me, the definition of “sex positive” is the same as it is for “feminism”… it all comes down to choice. Even the Kink phrase “safe, sane & consensual” is pretty subjective, at least the “safe” and “sane” parts. The #1 requirement is consent, and more specifically, enthusiastically informed consent.

For-me-the-definition-of-sex-positivity-KALI-QuoteSo the “informed” part has become a driving part of my personal mission and is the reason I founded Erotication in the first place. There are a lot of “risky” activities in creative sex, but that doesn’t mean we should shy away from them. There are a lot of risky things in any aspect of living life outside of a closet! But to educate ourselves in every and any way possible opens up the possibility for a lot more successful (aka positive!) sexual experiences.

In terms of how that distinguishes my work, it has been particularly important to me that “sex positivity” is reflected in the wide range of topics made available on Kink Academy and Passionate U. It can be easy to censor based on my own preferences and interests, but instead I look at whether the people teaching and being taught are highly considerate of physical and mental health, safety and consensuality.

3) What directions do you think sex positivity will take within the next 5 – 10 years? Or what topics and with what platforms would you like to see sex positivity develop more thoroughly within the next 5 – 10 years?

My biggest personal and professional hope is that sex positivity both within the community and in the mainstream will continue to give kinksters more acceptance. I truly believe the ‘kink movement’ needs to take a similar path to the ‘gay movement’ in coming out and talking with others. When more people realize they know someone who is kinky then the stigma will finally start to fade. I also hope that sex workers become more recognized and respected within the academic sexuality arena. It’s been beyond frustrating to be left out of important discussions because of what I like to call ‘in the field’ work. When sexuality professional organizations acknowledge the kind of learning and insights that can come from being a sex worker, there will be a lot more potential for cross-over activism.

Obviously, I have a bias but I hope that video-based, online learning about sexuality continues to grow. I believe it’s like the VCR for porn. It opens up this huge opportunity for private learning on the user’s end and massive reach for educators.

Regardless of all the online community that’s building these days (which is an awesome thing!), in-person events will always play a big part in both activism and education. I think using videos and forums to create a strong foundation allows the face-to-face time to be more meaningful and efficient.

Opinions shared are the author’s own. Want to participate in this interview series? What is your sex positivity?

#MySexPositivity with Erin McKelle

For this young e-activist, sex positive is a way of being in the flesh (and in the virtual). While her topics range from slut shame to reproductive health, she is most interested in how sex positivity manifests in our day to day interactions with each other. Through self-reflective vlogging and digital writing, Erin builds a bibliotech of critical feminist self-love. Her prolific writing is sure to inspire. 

1) Identify one or two trends, or influential people in the Sex Positive community that you identify with (or are inspired by) and those trends which you relate to not-so-much.

Something I can really identify with is ending victim blaming and slut shaming. We’re all taught to view women as these sexual provocateurs who need to not tempt men with their bodies. Meanwhile the media is objectifying women’s bodies and glorifying the virgin/whore dichotomy. I remember growing up and being really confused by all of this. I was also very in touch with my body and sexuality from a young age; but I was hearing these “sex is bad, and especially bad for women,” messages all around me, which caused a lot of internal conflict. Sex positivity, for me, is to reject these ideas and cause society to question our gendered and sexist views of sexuality.  And people are starting to listen.  Take for example The UnSlut Project and the recent book Slut! Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation by Leora Tanenbaum that are now making big waves.

Something I don’t identity with is Kink. I think it’s great that the sex positive community is busting myths and stigma around it, but it’s not something that I personally am interested in!

 2) How do you define “sex positivity” for yourself and your work? In other words, what is your primary passion and how do you distinguish your writings and interests from other branches of thought within the sex positive movement?

I define “sex positivity” for myself as a philosophy, a of way of being that is centered on the idea that sexuality is healthy, beautiful and courageous. This has in turn influenced my work- all of my activism, writing, and blogging is rooted in this core principal.

My primary passion is definitely reproductive rights. Without them, there’s no way that feminism could have ever made as much progress for women as it has! There’s also been a constant threat to those rights for the last 50 years, so it’s really important that this issue isn’t seen as already “won”. A recent example of this is the lawsuit that Hobby Lobby has filed to avoid covering contraceptives on their employee’s health care plans, that could result in employers deciding which contraceptives employers have access to, if they choose to offer birth control coverage at all. Another is the recent abortion restrictions that have been legislated throughout 2013 in Texas, Ohio, North Dakota and North Carolina, which beg the question of what right, if any, do we have to ‘choose’ anymore.

I mainly distinguish myself through my feminist spin that comes with all and any analysis that I do. Also, I tend to focus on how the dynamics of relationships work to reinforce patriarchal and oppressive social constructions. I believe that our day-to-day interactions with people really shape our interactions with the world and how we feel about ourselves. There’s always a lot of talk about large, institutional problems, like the lack of access to sex education in schools or the fact that in most States only heterosexual couples can get married, but never much talk about how our day-to-day relationships are central to our identities and oppression(s). I want to change that. My sex positive feminism gives me the critical tools to think through these seemingly “normal” and habitual daily practices.

3) What directions do you think sex positivity will take within the next 5 – 10 years?  Or what topics and with what platforms would you like to see sex positivity develop more thoroughly within the next 5 – 10 years?

I think sex positivity will really start to embrace a lot more ideas from queer theory (not that it already doesn’t) and this will define more of the movement. Deconstructing the structures of sexuality that exist throughout society will act as a liberator for everyone and become more mainstream.

I would really like to see sex positivity collaborate with other social movements and make connections between other forms of oppression (like poverty, racism, environmentalism) and how they perpetuate sex-negativity. I think that most social movements are working under very similar philosophies and goals. The more we connect and collaborate, the more power and influence we’ll have.

Opinions shared are the author’s own. Want to participate in this interview series? What is your sex positivity?

#MySexPositivity with Abby Rose Dalto

For this sex positive parent, kinky sexuality does not automatically make you progressive….and feminism is not mutually exclusive from the sex positive movement. Part of her sex positivity is turning the term “slut” inside out from it’s negative accusations into an armor of choice. 

Abby Rose Dalto is a freelance writer, editor and social media consultant. She is the author of two books and numerous articles on a variety of subjects. Abby is co-Founder of ESC Forever Media and co-Founder/Executive Editor of the blog Evil Slutopia, where she writes about pop culture, politics, relationships, feminism, sex and more under the pseudonym “Lilith”.

 1) Identify one or two trends, or influential people in the Sex Positive community that you identify with (or are inspired by) and those trends which you relate to not-so-much.

You-can-be-sex-positive-even-ABBEY-Quote (1)A trend I’ve seen lately that I just love is the inclusion of asexuality, “vanilla” sexuality and monogamy into the realm of sex positivity. I don’t think this is something new, but it has definitely been overlooked in the past. So it’s nice whenever I see people who understand that there is a difference between being sex positive and being kink-friendly or polyamorous. It should be common sense, but too often I hear the terms used synonymously and it can be alienating to those who don’t identify as such. We need to stop with the idea that poly relationships are more evolved than monogamous ones or that if you’re not into BDSM or kink it’s because you’re just afraid or too uptight.

There are so many different ways to express your sexuality and they’re all valid as long as everyone involved is consenting.

A trend that frustrates me is the idea that feminism and sex positivity are contradictory or that they’re even ideologically different. Feminism has so many negative connotations that a lot of women are afraid to identify as feminists, but if you believe in gender equality then, in my opinion, you’re a feminist no matter what you call yourself.

I view feminism in the same way that I view sex positivity; it’s about equality, freedom, choice and acceptance. So it annoys me when people act like “sex positive feminist” is an oxymoron.

2) How do you define “sex positivity” for yourself and your work? In other words, what is your primary passion and how do you distinguish your writings and interests from other branches of thought within the sex positive movement?

Follow Abby Rose Dalto @LilithESC

Follow Abby @Lilithabs on Twitter and @Lilithabs on Instagram.

There’s a misconception that if you like sex, then you’re sex positive… or if you have a lot of sex, then you’re sex positive. As I said above, I think it’s more about equality, freedom, choice and acceptance. You can be sex positive even if you’re not having sex at all, as long as you don’t judge others for their sexual choices or try to control their sexual choices. Our society is so obsessed with what everyone else is doing in bed. So to me, sex positivity is about acknowledging that we’re all different, we all like what we like, and that’s okay.

On Evil Slutopia, we’ve written about reclaiming the word “slut” in order to take the power away from those who would use the word against us. I like to think of it as an expression of choice: I’m going to do what I want and as long as I’m not hurting anyone in the process, no one can make me feel bad about that. If being who I am and doing what feels right and sleeping with whomever I want (even if it’s no one) makes me a slut in someone else’s eyes, then that’s fine. The word can’t hurt me if I own it and if I know that I’m living my truth.

I don’t write about specifically sex positivity that much anymore but I find that being sex positive still influences my work and my life every day. Right now, I’m really passionate about sex positive parenting. I have a 13-year-old daughter and I find myself constantly toeing the line between trying to keep her safe and not wanting to attach any shame or stigma to sex. I think that even in the best schools, sex education is seriously lacking. There’s a lot of emphasis on not getting pregnant, not getting a disease – which is really important information – but there’s very little taught about pleasure, about consent, about mutual respect. I don’t want my daughter to have sex before she’s ready, but I don’t want her to wait for the wrong reasons. I don’t want her to buy into some old fashioned construct of virginity  or expect to live “happily ever after” with some guy she meets in high school (nod to Therese Shechter’s “How to Lose Your Virginity”).

(For more about sex positive parenting, Airial Clark aka the Sex-Positive Parent, is an excellent resource).

3) What directions do you think sex positivity will take within the next 5 – 10 years? Or what topics and with what platforms would you like to see sex positivity develop more thoroughly within the next 5 – 10 years?

I hope that within the next 5 to 10 years we will finally see nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage and other strides made in the area of LGBT rights. I think the next logical step is legalization of polygamy or at least wider acceptance of poly relationships (Polyamory Weekly is dedicated to building a socially conscious and healthy non-monogamous community). I don’t think it will happen that soon – because sadly, I don’t think America is ready for it – but to me it’s the obvious next step to marriage equality.

Opinions shared are the author’s own. Want to participate in this interview series? What is your sex positivity?

#MySexPositivity with Takeallah Russell

Representation matters. This author shows that sex positivity and the adult market are no exception. Intersectional feminist, Takeallah Russell, is challenging the ethics of fantasy by speaking out against the fetishization of racial stereotypes. She takes the legacy of Zane to the next level, carving out sexy, explicit spaces to celebrate bodies of LGBTQIA folks and people of color in diverse and dignified ways. Her sex positivity is about building communities in which fetish no longer capitalizes on racial stereotypes.

1) Identify one or two trends, or influential people in the Sex Positive community that you identify with (or are inspired by) and those trends which you relate to not-so-much.

Follow Takeallah Russell @TheBurningBra

Follow Takeallah Russell @TheBurningBra

As a Woman of Color, I have always admired Zane and her novels! To be so bold and explicit and market specifically to the African American community, who can be quite conservative about sex, is beyond honorable. Zane’s work inspired me to launch my own sex-positive, inclusive site, “The Erotica Cafe.” From watching porn, to reading blogs and novels, all that is seen is white, cisgendered, heterosexual characters. White, cisgendered, heterosexual people are not the only people that fuck! The erasure of people of color and LGBTQIA people in the sex-positive movement has greatly contributed to ongoing negative stereotypes (i.e. bisexual people are greedy, asexual people do not exist, etc.) and fetishization. With “The Erotica Cafe”, I plan to debunk these negative stereotypes and contribute to making sex a normal, healthy aspects of many people’s lives; Not an instance where one turns red whenever “sex” is mentioned. It’s time we all stop shying away from human sexuality and embrace it.

As sex positive as I am, there is one aspect of sexuality that I despise– fetishization based upon one’s race or ethnicity (particularly women of color). Being fetishized based upon one’s skin color and false expectations is a dehumanizing, demoralizing act, which only leads to more negative stereotypes and more sex negativity. We are not monolithic, exotic, hypersexualized beings. We deserve to express our sexuality in a healthy manner while being given respect and maintaining our dignity.

2) How do you define “sex positivity” for yourself and your work? In other words, what is your primary passion and how do you distinguish your writings and interests from other branches of thought within the sex positive movement? My sex positivity is Afro-Latina and Native American, and holds Women of Color in the highest regards. My primary passion in sex positivity is normalizing Women of Color and debunking negative fetish-based stereotypes, which distinguishes my writings and interests from other sex positivists.

3) What directions do you think sex positivity will take within the next 5 – 10 years? Or what topics and with what platforms would you like to see sex positivity develop more thoroughly within the next 5 – 10 years? WomenOfColor-Quote

Within the next five to ten years, I would like for sex positivity to be more widely embraced and common. I hope to see more white, cisgendered sex positivists more knowledgeable about people of color and queer people’s struggles in the sex positivity movement and make their brands more inclusive. For example, people of color in porn would not just be a niche fetish, but rather normalized across all genres. The early 1990s work of Jean Carlomusto is a star example of alternative pornography, particularly of lesbians of color. Also, feminist, comprehensive sex education should be required in all schools, nationwide and male and female/internal condom should be readily available for students.

Opinions shared are the author’s own. Want to participate in this interview series? What is your sex positivity?

3 Tips for Decoding Condom Size

A guide to understanding how to convert penis size for best condom width.

Knowing condom size is one thing.  Knowing what size best fits is another. Condom shopping is a daunting task no thanks to marketing gimmicks. Even looking past the clutter of overused adjectives like “thinnest” and “most sensitive”, you still need to decode the actual size dimensions (if they are labeled at all!).

Companies typically report the condom width only.  This is determined by laying the condom flat, so it does not match penis circumference.  So how are you sure that this one-dimensional measure will match your three-dimensional penis?

It’s not like you can take a box of condoms to the changing room and try one on before you buy.
HowManyBoxOf3

One blogger has taken on this condom conundrum by collecting numerous studies. “Alex”, the creator of Condom Sizes & Facts, is not an expert, but he has organized findings from various scientific surveys to allow readers come to their own conclusions about condom sizing. We got the opportunity to ask Alex about some of his personal conclusions.

He breaks down three things you need the know about average penis size surveys before you start believing that you are abnormal, and he gives pointers to keep in mind when condom shopping.  Also, he fine tunes the magic number 2.25 from our formula:

Penis girth / 2.25 = approx condom width

We begin with republishing this data from his blog. The table matches penis to condom size. From this data, you may understand why an “average” size man may fit a magnum condom. These numbers are approximate guides from the research on Alex’s blog. Fitting may vary depending on condom elasticity and personal preference. Affiliate links within. 

Penis Girth to Condom Width Chart

Penis GirthCondom WidthPenis GirthCondom Widthe.g. Major Brand Condoms
InchesMilimeters
3.70 - 4.131.8594 - 10547-
4.14 - 4.331.85 - 1.97106 - 11047 - 49LifeStyles Snugger Fit, Caution Wear Iron Grip, Durex Enhanced Pleasure
4.34 - 4.531.93 - 1.97111 - 11549 - 51Glyde Slim Fit, LifeStyles 3SUM, RFSU Mamba, Beyond Seven
4.54 - 4.721.97 - 2.09115 - 12050 - 53LifeStyles Ultra Sensitive, Kimono MicroThin, Beyond Seven Studded
4.73 - 4.922.05 - 2.17121 - 12552 - 55LifeStyles SKYN, Trojan BareSkin, Durex Love
4.93 - 5.122.13 - 2.24126 - 13054 - 57Trojan Magnum, LifeStyles KYNG, LifeStyles SKYN Large, RFSU Grande
5.13 - 5.312.20 - 2.36130 - 13557 - 60Glyde Maxi, ONE The Legend, Magnum XL
5.52 - 5.912.36 - 2.52141 - 15060 - 64
> 5.912.72>15069Trojan Naturalamb, FC2 internal condom

View the original table which also explains the research behind these figures. To view more condom size, check out our condom size calculator.

Condom Monologues: First of all, how would you like to be credited?

Alex from Condom Sizes and Facts: That’s a perfect first question. I don’t want to be credited because I am not an expert. Data I have collected are public and I did not produce them. I barely used them to make my opinion and decided to share it.

CM: In your investigation into penis size, you explain that very few studies sponsored by condom companies actually produce sound scientific data. In fact, average penis size may be smaller and more varied than companies have previously reported. Please cite which penis size survey(s) you trust the most and why?

CSF: First I would like to be perfectly clear: penis size is not interesting “per se”, especially length, which is what most people mean when talking about size. You have 3 kinds of studies:

1) self-reported measurements: men report their penile dimensions. The averages are typically 15.6–16.6 cm for length and 12.2–13.6 cm for girth.

Examples: Kinsey study, Internet survey by Richard Edwards, Durex survey.
These studies are of poor interest and rather have readers feel inadequate due to the somewhat high over-estimates.

2) pharmacological measurements: measurements are conducted by researchers , either directly or by men after a proper training. The averages are typically 12.9–14.5 cm for length and 11.9–12.3 cm for girth.

They are of great value, but one needs to get the whole article to judge the quality: some have been performed on men with erectile dysfunctions, some use a very small sample, where representation is heavily questioned, methods of measurements often vary (base, mid-points, under the glans, “bone pressed” or not), or the measurement itself is different (width, circumference, and mode of erection).

The Wessells and the Schneider studies are very good examples.

3) The last kind is a hybrid between a) and b). These are the self-reported studies where:
the sample has been carefully selected (or big enough to cancel the possible bias),
a harmonized measurement method is clearly explained to ensure standard practices and avoid inconsistencies, men are motivated to measure their penis carefully and to report accurate data.

The averages are typically 13–14.2cm for length and 12–12.2 cm for girth.

The Herbernick and TheyFit studies are good examples. Their values reside in the huge samples from which they get the data.

There is no survey I trust the most. Rather, it is the consistency through the various serious surveys which should be trusted.

CM: In order to determine proper condom width, would you recommend dividing penis circumference by 2.25? How do you arrive at this approximation? And what do people need to consider about elasticity?

CSF: Actually, researchers (Gerofi for example) have come to the conclusion that a condom should be stretched about 10 to 20%. This, translated in ratio between penis circumference and condom width gives a 2.2 (10%) to 2.4 (20%) division factor.

2.25 represent a 12.5% condom stretch. And to be perfectly honest, it is only my personal taste, with my preferred condom brand. I really don’t like condoms fitting too snugly, but I do want a minimum grip to ensure safety.

The above values are calculated from an average elasticity, one has to know that it is the consequence of 1) condom thickness and 2) latex recipe.

You may not know these parameters when buying a condom. But be sure they do vary a lot between brands and condom types because companies use different ingredients. For example: TheyFit recommends a 2.37 dividing factor for its condoms.

The most important thing to understand is that you can use these figures as a guidance, but be sure to do your own research and trials. Real experience should always be the deciding factor.

CM: What is the most surprising thing you’ve come across in your penis-condom size research?

CSF: Two things: Condom latex recipes change drastically and thus vary condom elasticity.

Second, like many men, I discovered late that the fitting problems I was experiencing were not “normal” (not just something I had to put up with) nor a consequence of an inadequate technique. I was truly surprised the first time I changed my condom size and discovered what a good fit could mean: no more anxiety, all gone in one breath!

Have comments? Questions? Still not sure what condoms will fit? Leave a note below or message us on FB or Twitter.

Sex Positivity According to the Sexpert

We’re excited to kick off the interview series with a personable and fun blogger: The Sexpert. She knows first-hand the extraordinary role pleasure plays in health. Her conservative religious upbringing equips her with unique insight for dismantling psychological structures of shame. Her blog is a fortress of trust and anti-taboos. Just don’t say she “looks like” a feminist! (wink)…Here’s why.

1) Identify one or two trends, or influential people in the Sex Positive community that you identify with (or are inspired by) and those trends which you relate to not-so-much.

I really find the idea of feminist porn to be an important one. When you learn about the original debates within feminism in the 1970’s that regarded whether or not sex-positivity was acceptable to women, so much of the debate centered on pornography. For feminists to say that pornography is an acceptable expression of sexuality they must be willing to provide alternatives to a market flooded with porn containing themes that are degrading to our gender. It is for this reason that I particularly admire Jincey Lumpkin for her founding Juicy Pink Box (NSFW) and column of editorial pieces with the Huffington Post. I also think the Good for Her Feminist Porn Awards is another soldier in the fight for ethical pornography.

I was absolutely floored with love and admiration when I first saw the work of Sophia Wallace. The message behind her Cliteracy project is something I find truly inspiring and I make time to listen any time she is giving a media interview. My tank top purchased from her studio in Brooklyn is a prized possession of mine.

As far as my sex advice column gig, The Sexpert – it is clearly modeled after so many who have gone before me. As an aspiring therapist wishing to specialize in issues of sexuality it was a natural fit to want to support and educate those in the community who are dealing with confusion about their own sexual practices. A lot of friends have asked me if I want to be Dan Savage or Dr. Ruth. The answer is, if only!

Who am I not that thrilled with? People who focus on the bodies of feminists. What makes one look “feminist” is a woman’s ability to choose for herself! Feminism is for every body. It is for curvy, skinny, and in-between women. It is for waxed, shaved, and au-natural women. It is for butch women. It is for femme women. It is for CEO’s and stay-at-home moms. It is for pansexuals and asexuals. Feminism is for boys, the intersexed, and men. Feminism does not look a certain way.

The “feminist” Blurred Lines spoof really bothered me (Video). This is the first time I have said this publicly as I know it was being popularly circulated and many enjoyed it. I understand perhaps it was so ridiculous for the sake of satire – yes, I do understand what satire is. However, content like this supports the “angry feminist”/”feminazi” stereotype. Feminists have MUCH to be angry about (the song Blurred Lines being a great example), but feminists are not women who attempt to emulate patriarchal men. Feminism is not about women treating men the way patriarchal men treat women. This behavior defeats the social change feminism is fighting for.

2) How do you define “sex positivity” for yourself and your work? In other words, what is your primary passion and how do you distinguish your writings and interests from other branches of thought within the sex positive movement?

Sex positivity, for me, is advocating the view that sex is a natural, beneficial, and enjoyable part of life. The taboos, shame, and embarrassment that are placed on certain practices (or sex in general) throughout society are sex-positivity’s enemy. This is because they serve no helpful purpose to the individual. I will often reference my conservative religious upbringing, and yes, growing up in an environment where people had a narrow view of sex as the “passion” behind my sex-positivity. I have seen first-hand how being ashamed of the natural and inescapable part of your own humanity can damage you.

The reason for my curiosity on this topic were the inconsistent and conflicting messages the lifestyle I was raised in offered me from a young age. “God created sex; it is a wonderful gift.” “God created your body; it is a wonderful gift.” So why then are we only allowed to use these gifts in a restricted way? Someone said so and it wasn’t even the “God” who is supposedly being adhered to! Studying psychology and theology simultaneously just dug me in deeper with being forced to confront inconsistent messages about morality. I learned in psychology classes that empirical evidence suggests that people do not have a choice in their sexual orientation. I learned in theology classes that scripture should be interpreted while fully considering the author, the audience, and the cultural context in which it was written. So why was the message all around me so pervasive that sex had to look one specific way in order to escape an inherent shame? I had to form my own opinions because those offered to me by others did not seem to add up!

What’s more, I didn’t have people in my life who were able to set an example of celebrating sex. Once I broke away from the “Sex is only for heterosexual married couples” rule I had been taught as a child, I never the less was struck by the amazing force and power sex has! No it wasn’t glue that bound my soul to my spouse’s for eternity – but sex was still pretty damn amazing. I wanted to celebrate it and help others find means to give themselves permission to celebrate it as well.

I have always sought to keep my writing and social media outlets both fun and informative. Sex is meant to be fun and thus I see The Sexpert as needing to reflect that. I also think The Sexpert will lack purpose if it is not informative. As I mentioned, my heart goes out to those who are blindly in the dark about how great sex can be! My online presence is filling its highest purpose when it is helping someone in that predicament safely gain information they may not be getting from anyone else in their lives. I do my best to conceal my “real” identity because I think people have an easier time approaching a faceless “Sexpert” in cyberspace with what they perceive as their shameful and stigmatizing concerns. I would rather be of help where there is no help than gain any amount of notoriety. Perhaps things will change as my fan base continues to broaden and my professional credentials change – who knows.

3) What directions do you think sex positivity will take within the next 5 – 10 years? Or what topics and with what platforms would you like to see sex positivity develop more thoroughly within the next 5 – 10 years?

Ideally sex positivity would have an impact on society to change the way people are commonly educated about sex. I also would hope that different fields (medical, social, psychological, etc.) would expand their research efforts to include topics of sexuality and studies such as these wouldn’t have trouble finding funds. With more knowledge gained from research, the public could be supported with better information in regards to sex. I have seen that, socially, people are more open to discuss sex and their own pleasure. Items used for sexual stimulation are readily sold in unstigmatizing places these days (ie. Walgreens and Target vs. Adult Video Stores). This is a change that has taken place in my lifetime and it is my hope that society will continue onward down this path. Openness about sex for purposes of pleasure facilitates better quality and more useful conversations. That is part of what makes Condom Monologues so great! Nobody tells high school students how or what type of condom to use to enhance their sexual experience; just, “You better wear one!”

I think another helpful factor is that the public is more health conscious. Television shows like Dr. Oz, The Doctors, and Dr. Phil all air segments on sexual health from time to time. The truth about sex (and masturbation!) is that it supports physical, emotional, and mental health in countless ways. I hope with that truth being publicized it will influence more and more people to be able to see why sex is something worth celebrating! Sex deserves an honored and intentional place in our lives. A place where we can move and speak with confidence, creativity, and joyfulness.

 The opinions shared are the author’s own. Interested in being a part of this interview? What is sex your positivity? 



12 Reasons to Love Female Condoms

Today is the day to celebrate possibly one of the most important inventions since humans started having sex!

Global Female Condom Day (#GFCD) is taking place in over 50 countries across the world to raise awareness and tackle misconceptions about this safer sex option. This is crucial because it is the only protection of its kind that puts power in the hands of the receptive partner and prevents against both STIs and pregnancy.

Learn how to participate in this day of action by going to http://www.nationalfccoalition.org/gfcd

Use this as your facebook cover page for the day. Learn more about how to participate by going to www.nationalfccoalition.org/gfcd

In North America, most cities will celebrate through community outreach and other educational activities. The makers of FC2 (the Female Health Company) have launched a text messaging program to help locate female condoms in the local area. People can text FC2condom to 877877 to find the nearest location to buy female condoms.

Some cities are also launching film screenings of the winners of the international “Female Condoms Are…” Festival. You can view these short films on PATH’s YouTube channel. Or you can vote for a fan favorite here.

Why is there #GFCD?

Despite being around for two decades, the female condom (aka “internal condom”) continues to live in the margins. It is rarely taught about in public school sex education and is not as readily available at local grocery stores like its male counterpart. Access and demand are two major challenges. In our email interview with Sarah Gaudreau, Project Director of the Washington AIDS Partnership’s Female Condom Initiative, she explains that the higher cost of the female condom won’t go down until there is a greater demand or a competitor. In this regard, there may be a competitor very soon if the FDA approves the Origami condom (undergoing human trials now).

As for access, many health organizations and grassroot activists are pressuring local pharmacies, community clinics and health departments to carry female condoms. This action is desperately needed because currently only select Walgreens have committed to stocking female condoms nationwide, but even then not all stores carry them.

FC2-packshot1

You can buy FC2 in packs of 3 online and from select Walgreens stores. Our personal review of FC2 coming soon!

Still, making condoms more accessible isn’t enough. In order to confront fears and apprehensions that accompany any new technology, there has to be information sharing and more conversations surrounding female condoms. Increasing demand means talking with potential partners and friends about female condoms- how and when they get used, and how to use them in ways that enhance sexual experience. This is why distribution initiatives like the Washington AIDS Partnership in collaboration with the Health Department, and generously funded by the MAC AIDS Fund, aimed to get the conversation going by handing out condoms in social places like barber shops, beauty salons, clothing stores and liquor stores. Learn more about the initiative from this NPR interview.

To commemorate this day of awareness, we wanted to help tackle these fears and misconceptions by highlighting all of the amazing and important advantages that the female condom offers. We’ve come up with 12. Feel free to add more in the comment section below.

1) It can be inserted hours before sex! No erection needed.

The design on an internal condom opens the door to a whole new world of safe sex. No interruptive “wait, let’s find a condom” moment. No fumbling to stretch one over the penis in an attempt at foreplay. And, perhaps most importantly, the receptive partner can be preemptive and put one on without negotiating protection in the first place.

gif man and women

2) Negotiation power is altered.

The receptive partner can take control of their safety independently.

A number of health organizations in North America and abroad have been working to increase access to female condoms for sex workers and communities with high HIV infection rates, where use of traditional roll-on condom is low despite abundent availablilty.

Yaaaaah

3) Increases female sexual pleasure.

Contrary to many first impressions, this device can actually enable sexual pleasure rather than dull it. In our interview, Sarah Gaudreau highlights a yet unpublished study from Washington D.C. that found women were more likely to orgasm with a female condom than with a male condom. Some women even reported multiple orgasms.” transfer body heat immediately. Also, the outer ring is this soft rolled material that fits over the outer lips and rubs the clitoris, which can function as an added

female pleasure

4) Helps you know your body better.

Some women have compared their first experience with the female condom to learning how to use a tampon. Greater awareness of one’s body is intrinsic to personal agency. The female condom can help women be in control and responsible for their pregnancy and STI prevention.

dancing friend

5) May be used for anal sex (but it is not FDA approved for this use).

No condom (male or female) currently available on the market has actually been tested for protective anal sex (in fact, only until this year has the first FDA testing for protective anal sex ever taken place). Despite the fact that the Female Health Company does not advocate using FC2 for anal sex because it is not FDA approved for such use, there are still men, women and transgender folks who do use it for these needs.

i'm so happy i deserve this

6) May be used for oral sex.

Protective cunnilingus is another benefit that the female condom offers but of which it has not been officially tested for. Gaudreau explained in our interview that some prefer using the FC2 for oral sex. “The outer ring helps keep the female condom in place and this allows hands-free operation. With a dental dam, you have to hold it in place.” Furthermore the FC2 has no flavor or lingering latex after taste, so some prefer it to male condoms or dental dams.

oral sex

7) One size fits all.

The female condom forms to the internal walls of the body, not the penis. This means that the size of the condom (and penis) is irrelevant, so that knocks off a list of popular excuses not to wear a roll-on condom. As Gaudreau explains, female condoms can be a better alternative for some men.

“The size of a man’s penis has no impact on the FC2 [female condom]. The FC2 is larger because as it warms to body temperature, it lines the vaginal walls which in turn provides a very natural feeling. We hear from many men that it feels like they are not using any protection at all which they like. I guess if a man can’t find a male condom that fits, the FC2 is a great option as it fits the woman’s body and not the man’s.”

dancing couple

8) Effective dual protection against pregnancy and STI transmission.

This is an obvious advantage, but we had to emphasize just how effective condoms are at prevention. With consistent and correct use, the female condom is 95% effective at preventing pregnancy and transmission of many STIs. This makes it one of the top most effective methods of birth control and STI protection.

Furthermore, because the outer ring covers some of the labia and perineal region it can be more effective than male condoms at preventing skin to skin transmission of STIs such as genital warts, HPV and herpes.

sucessful encounter with a man

9) It’s non-hormonal with no side effects.

A recent article in NYMag discusses a curious decrease in hormonal birth control preferences among the Millennial generation. More and more young women are ditching the Pill and favor methods that don’t effect periods, cause weight gain or depression.

The female condom comes with no hormonal side effects. Also, it doesn’t require an appointment with a clinic or a prescription. You can easily buy female condoms online. In the United States, select Walgreens supplying FC2. They are also available at local HIV/AIDS organizations and family planning clinics, like Planned Parenthood. If your local pharamacy or clinic doesn’t carry them, ask them to!  Here are sometalking points (pdf) to help you initiate the conversation.

excited on bed

10) It’s hypo-allergenic.

The FC2, the only internal condom currently available in North America, is made of nitrile polymer, a material similar to latex in softness and strength, but better because it does not have that funky latex scent or latex allergens. Furthermore, it transfers body heat more efficiently which heightens sensitivity and feels more natural.

monsters inc

11) Water-based, oil-based & silicon. FC2 is compatible with all lubes!

Lubricant is an important companion and it’s even better when you have variety of choice. Unlike latex condoms, the FC2 is compatible with all your favorite lubes including oil-based ones.

freshprince

12) It’s another option.

The more choices available to you the easier it is to pick and choose what is the best safer sex method for yourself in different circumstances throughout your life. Gaudreau states,

“It’s important to note that people (women and men) want more choices. Female condoms are not going to replace male condoms and that’s okay. But having more options is good. Studies have shown that having both male and female condoms as an option increases protected sex and that’s always great!”

i'm so excited

Everything You Need to Know

To learn more about female condoms, including how to use them and where to buy them go to the National FC Coalition. Click for information about Global Female Condom Day and activities near you, as well as many simple and innovative ideas for how you may participate in #GFCD. Send out a tweet, vote for an awareness video, contact your local pharmacy about supplying female condoms.

Gifs credit to gifsee.com

Why Not Have Sex With Someone Living With HIV?

 “Positive Sex ideally would involve disclosure being met with acceptance and understanding, not rejection and stigma. Positive Sex would involve the elimination of terminology that is discriminatory on the dating scene and a shift within the public whereby people would consider dating a person living with HIV, without fear or stigma.”- Gail from the HIV Disclosure Project.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic of the 1980s led to a surge of condom campaigns. Now when we hear the term “safe sex” we immediately associate it with male condoms, the Pill, unwanted pregnancy, STIs. HIV transmission is discussed in sex education, but what’s neglected are the specifics about HIV as it is today: how it is manageable, what “undetectable” means, why terms like “clean” are harmful, what the hell is PReP (Pre Exposure) and PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis). And we certainly never discuss the possibility of having a healthy sexual relationship with a person living with HIV.

The reason is because, frankly, there is still fear associated with the virus. People like Gail, Jessica and Jolene, founders of the HIV Disclosure Project, know that HIV stigma persists just as it did 30 years ago. It permeates our fears of “death, dying, contracting the virus through protected sex, casual contact, fear of dating a person who is living with HIV as others may think they are positive as well (guilty by association). Fear that people living with HIV are highly contagious”, Gail describes in our interview. “Many people know the facts about transmission and yet are afraid that there might be some “unusual” accident which will lead to infection.”

The Stigma Cycle

Safe sex messages have traditionally been built on fear and as a result, the campaigns have failed miserably; from that fear is born stigmatization and prejudice against people who are HIV-positive. People who choose to disclose their status risk being verbally and physically abused, risk rejection and isolation, risk discrimination by being “outed” (loss of control over who knows their status), risk discrimination in the workplace, schools, with housing, health care and violations of basic human rights. People are deterred from getting tested and treated regularly; it results in silence about one’s status; thus the virus continues to be transmitted. “It’s what we refer to as the Stigma Cycle,” Gail explains.

To fight the stigma born out of fear, the HIV Disclosure Project facilitates open discussions about how to make the dating scene more inclusive of people living with HIV. “We provide a safe, non-judgmental space for people living with HIV to role play, practice a variety of techniques for disclosing if they choose to, while aiming to empower individuals to have options, externalize stigma and challenge public perception of people living with HIV. We want to have PSAs (public service announcements) that ask the question – Why not have sex with someone who is living with HIV?”

HIV DisclosureThe HIV Disclosure Project

The idea for the Project started with three colleagues- Gail, Jessica and Jolene -who saw a need for a supportive workshop where people living with HIV could “discuss, disclose, practice disclosure, find comfortable and timely ways to gauge when to disclose or not, and to process feelings that derived from stigma and rejection,” Gail says.

“People living with HIV also needed a space where they could challenge and change dating terminology which perpetuated stigma and fear of HIV, including terms such as “clean”, “disease free” and “dirty”. New terminology was needed to describe one’s status that excluded negative connotations and included acceptance, tolerance, and a willingness to consider dating a person who is living with HIV.”

At the time, there were no written manuals on disclosing HIV to sex partners. Granted funding from ACCM (AIDS Community Care Montreal), the three colleagues wrote a manual titled “Positive Sex” and designed a pilot workshop that resulted in much success. The Disclosure Project received further funding from the CIHR (Canadian Institute on Health Research) through CTAC (Canadian Treatment Access Council) where Jolene works as Program Manager. Workshops are now being implemented across Canada in collaboration with ACCM. Jessica facilitates these workshops.

I asked Gail how we might de-stigmatize sexual relationships for people living with HIV. The answer might seem controversial but it reflects upon the fear tactics that are often utilized in government supported sex ed programs and why we need to adopt Positive Sex frameworks in public health.

“What needs to be reinforced in the mainstream are the basic facts about HIV transmission and repeated public service announcements and education which tells the public that it is socially acceptable to have safe sex with a person living with HIV, that having sex with a person living with HIV does not mean they are going to contract HIV. There are many sero- discordant couples who have been in long term relationships where the HIV negative person remained negative.”

“Positive Sex” is the new “Safe Sex”

Image from http://www.ctac.ca/positive-sex

Image from http://www.ctac.ca/positive-sex

Gail, Jessica and Jolene bring up an important point about the meaning of “safety” that is taught in sex education. What’s often overlooked are issues of emotional safety, such as consent and self-esteem, that are both cause and effect of sex. Few curricula teach consent or communication in a way that is relevant to sexual diversity. Instead, outdated sex education shames discussions of sexual pleasure and desire, and the different types of relationships humans are a part. The Disclosure Project views this type of shaming in opposition to what is positive sex.

As Gail explains, “Positive sex to us means finding ways to successfully disclose one’s HIV status while not feeling threatened, stigmatized or experiencing any negative reactions while disclosing. Positive Sex also involves challenging and changing public perceptions of people living with HIV. In the past, safe sex campaigns were based on fear and as a result, thirty years into the pandemic, there are many misconceptions that perpetuate fear and stigma which need to be challenged.”

“Positive Sex ideally would involve disclosure being met with acceptance and understanding, not rejection and stigma. Positive Sex would involve the elimination of terminology that is discriminatory on the dating scene and a shift within the public whereby people would consider dating a person living with HIV, without fear or stigma.”

To learn more about The HIV Disclosure Project follow them on twitter @sexpartnersHIV. Like their Facebook Page for daily prose, thoughts and poems related to HIV and disclosure.

For information on HIV transmission, prevention, safety and risks refer to ACCM and CTAC.  There are a lot of them, but other helpful resource are: CareXO.com, the YAHAnet (Youth, the Arts, HIV & AIDS Network) and The Life Foundation. There is also an excellent article by The Body.com with medical information about the risks HIV transmission when having sex with someone who has undetectable viral levels.  Keep yourself informed!