Tag Archives: sex education

Why We Still Need #CondomWeek

What is condom week?

Condom week is a national campaign to raise awareness not only about the importance of safer sex, but also how condoms can add to your sexual pleasure. Yes, contrary to popular belief, condoms don’t make sex less good. Many studies have found that those who report condoms reduce pleasure are men and women who do not use condoms, or don’t use them often. In other words, people who use condoms often- because they approach it with a better attitude and because they’ve learned what condoms they like- report greater pleasure with protected sex. Attitude, condom education and experience all play a role in sexual satisfaction.

That, my friends, is why we need National Condom Week.condom week

Condom Week lands at a time in our calendar when people are puckered up with Valentine’s sweets. From Valentine’s Day to February 21st, while the air is plush with intimacy, what better time to integrate safer sex into the national conscience and give out lots of free condoms!

Condom Week originally began at the University of California in the 1970s, and has grown into a educational event for high schools, colleges, family planning organizations, AIDS groups, sexually transmitted disease awareness groups, pharmacies and condom manufacturers. Planned Parenthood and Advocates for Youth are just a few of the hundreds of non-profit organizations who participate in Condom Week, setting up sex education booths at universities all over the country and distributing over 50,000 free condoms. These booths, as well as open public seminars, will discuss topics such as safer oral sex, using lube with condoms, internal condoms, consent, and how to talk safer sex with your lover.

So again, if National Condom Week has been celebrated to raise awareness since the 1970s, why do we still need it today?

Because…

– Only 19 states require that, if provided, sex education in school must be medically, factually or technically accurate. That leaves schools in 31 states without fact-based sex education oversight!

Over 19 million people in the United States are diagnosed with an STI. That number increases dramatically if we account for those who do not know their status.

Two-thirds of all individuals who acquire an STI are younger than 25.

– In 2013, 66 percent of sexually active male high school students reported that they or their partner used a condom at most recent sexual intercourse, compared to only 53 percent of females.

More than 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV infection, and almost 1 in 7 (14%) are unaware of their infection.

– The United States continues to have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world (68 per 1,000 women aged 15–19 in 2008)—more than twice that of Canada (27.9 per 1,000) or Sweden (31.4 per 1,000).

If I haven’t convinced you yet to celebrate National Condom Week, jump over to this article by Heather Corrina which debunks all the condom myths you’ve probably faced.

Do your part in public health and stay aware.

3 People and An HIV Positive Baby?

The problem is so common there is a term for it. Andrew shares his personal struggle trying to deter the “bug chasers” from his “gift” (NSFW).

drewsmonologueI have been around the block quite a lot and I thought I had seen and read everything and that nothing would shock me…but I was wrong! A few years ago I was chatting with friends on Gaydar when a bisexual husband and wife started talking with me. At first all was going well- just casual chats. Soon this changed to a very sexually infused conversation so I told them I was HIV+. I thought that this would be the end of it and that I would get the usual comments back when I disclosed that I carry what some had labelled “THE GAY PLAGUE”.

But much to my shock they got even more eager and horny saying ,“Oh please fuck us bareback!”

Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t even here looking for sex, let alone sex without a condom. I tried getting rid of these people who seemed to be looking to become positive but this didn’t work. So I tried explaining to them the downsides to having a disease like this: the tiredness, the slow healing, stigma and losing friends and family due to misunderstandings. None of this sunk in. If anything, it seemed to turn them on even more. By this time, I had resorted to my basic instincts and frankly told them where they could insert their desires and that I wanted nothing to do with them.

Now I’m not a fan of children in anyway and avoid them and their screaming like a medieval person would avoid a plague infested rat, but on this occasion I had to act.

You see, what got anger levels way up was they had said above all else they wanted me to fuck the wife bareback filling her with my “poz seed” and making sure that she fell pregnant by me so that they could have a positive baby! I felt sick and disgusted and so scared of the fact that there were people that not only wanted to be “POZ” themselves but would actively seek to create a new life- a baby who would be born with this terrible life-altering disease.

So I did what any decent human being would; I blocked the people, warned the room, and even spoke to Gaydar themselves, letting them know that the profile in question was seeking to purposefully contract “HIV” and to get the lady pregnant with a “positive” baby.

Gaydar said that it wasn’t within their control and that they didn’t have the right to tell people what they could or couldn’t do on their website and that I should just ignore them. Now I wasn’t satisfied with this outcome so I turned to the charity which offers advice to people about “HIV” and other STIs, ‘Terrance Higgins Trust’. I thought that they would agree with me and make a stand; tell Gaydar to block these people from the site and at least help educate people more. But no. They said as well that they couldn’t control what people did and that it wasn’t their place to tell Gaydar what to do.

I was lost and didn’t know what to do about this situation aside from carrying on telling people who wanted bareback with a positive person that they would be very sorry and have to deal with so much grief both from stigma and dealing with side effects of medication. Most people saw how stupid what they wanted was and changed their minds but some still went on looking and would search out those that were known as “Gift Givers” who would infect these “Bug Chasers”, as they called themselves.

Due to this situation, I have avoided Gaydar. Once people had learned I was HIV Positive they were drawn like bees to honey and it depressed me so much seeing their stupidity time and time again that I would at times cry.

There were a few things I realised due to this terrible event. The education of sexually communicable diseases needs to be increased and made openly available along with better display of condoms in shops, and that websites and other places that people can go for sex take more responsibility for dealing with people who are actively searching for the “GIFT” of disease from those people who are infected.

Monologues are independent stories and the opinions shared are the author’s own.

 

The Birth of Momdoms (includes actual birth)

As a child, did an adult ever “catch” you looking through books of a sexual nature, like human biology texts or porn? Did the adult respond in shock, embarrassment, anger? For the brothers of Momdoms, their mother’s reaction was the spark that set off their company’s mission today. Here’s Wayne Simpkins telling that story:

MomDomGraphic-v2Penis. Vagina. The words that made us all giggle in our childhood years. But for us, it went way beyond that.

Our mom was a nurse who had no problem saying those words more often than your average mom. So often, that we would even have contests to see who could get her to say the word “penis” the most times.

Our mother would openly explain to us what was happening to our bodies as we were growing up, and how, when the time came, “The Talk” about sex was more of a conversation. No biggie.

There are four siblings in our family, three boys and the youngest a girl. Needless to say, we were always getting into things. When we were around the ages of 8-13, we found a box in our garage of our mothers old college nursing books, at that age we immediately honed in on the anatomy books. Our mother came down and “caught us”, we were mortified. Somehow, despite our young ages, despite sex positive parenting, we already knew the feelings of shame around sex.

But in true fashion of our mother she said, “Well don’t just sit there, bring them upstairs so we can look through them. We can talk about any questions you have, just please don’t color in the pictures.”

Our family has always used humor to get through awkward situations and this was no different. When you are a child, your mind is imaginative and you draw your own conclusions based on things you see and hear. Many questions were cleared up that day. Questions like:

“Do you have to pee in a girl to get her pregnant?” Followed by Eeewwwww and laughter.

“If our sister’s clitoris grows, will that turn her into a boy? Is it like an inside penis?” Eeewwwww and laughter.

“So the baby doesn’t come out of the butthole?” “Haha – you said butthole!”

This prompted my mother to to sit us down and watch a program that showed an actual child birth. We sat there in shock, but mostly awe.

As adults, my bothers were the coaches for their wives when they gave birth. I am the oldest son and gay. My sister asked me to be her birth coach– she wanted to be sure that I would be able to experience it for myself. Twenty years ago it was not quite the “norm” for a gay couple to have or raise a child.

Without our mother being as open and honest about sex and sexuality, our lives would be very different, certainly not as fulfilling. Thankfully, this mindset has been passed on to the next generation in our family.

With Momdoms, we wanted to reach families that were not quite as open as our family, by offering a tool for them to use that makes the “smart sex” conversation a little less awkward.

Momdoms has a humorous assortment of 1950s-style condom storage tins complete with tips for parents on why and how to talk about sex with their kids. Each tin includes six FDA approved lubricated latex condoms and can also be customized with your picture in place of the illustration. Turns out that moms and sex are an interesting combination, making anyone get a kick out of Momdoms. Check ’em out!

 

Our Hippie Secret Teasure

The first time I saw a condom I was nine years old and slightly too old to be playing pretend. This sounds wrong, but let me explain:

I was sitting in my friend’s parents’ 1992 Subaru station wagon and we were playing a game called “Hippie Road Trip” where we were two hippies driving across America. I’m not sure what this game entailed besides my friend sitting in the driver’s seat of the parked car and turning the wheel every so often to not crash into imaginary pedestrians and animals. While looking through the glove box for a map (we had gotten lost) I came across a box of condoms.

TreasureBox-CM

“There was something so thrilling about finding evidence of the adult world.”

I had heard about the legendary pieces of latex in class from the school nurse. She was a portly woman with red hair who had clearly been uncomfortable explaining “the birds and the bees” to a class of fourth graders. Her perspiration and rushed tone, however, had made the topic more exciting, more mysterious. And so it was no wonder then that finding a box of condoms to us was like discovering buried treasure.

“They’re my parents’,” explained my friend, who had christened herself ‘Sparkle’ whilst playing pretend. I too had taken a new name for my character, the most beautiful name I could think of, which at the time happened to be ‘Crystal’. Her parents were in fact real hippies and as a result Sparkle was somewhat of an expert on the subject of sex.

“Here– let me see those,” she said, extending her hand. She opened the box and grabbed a small, plastic square before tearing it open. It was long and cylindrical with a strange almost soft texture.

“Can I have one?” I asked excitedly.

It was not so often that I had such easy access to illicit objects. There was something so thrilling about finding evidence of the adult world. She handed me a small plastic square of my own. Pretty soon the entire box had been completely emptied and every one of the six condoms was unwrapped. It turned out that condoms could fit over your hands, your feet and even the stick shift of a 1992 Subaru station wagon.

Finally, tired of playing with them, we folded and stuffed all of the unwrapped condoms back into their box and into the glove compartment.

Sparkle readjusted her seat and went back to concentrating on driving. I stared out the window of the un-moving car, satisfied with our new found hippie secret treasure.

Monologues are independent stories. Opinions shared are the author’s own. Also, you should know that glove compartments are a terrible and risky place to store condoms. The heat from the car can breakdown the latex and render condoms useless. Do you remember your first encounter with condoms or dams?

Lessons from Watching Lesbian Porn in Class

LesSexMonoThe first time I had sex with another woman I had no idea what I was doing. As I started to take off her panties, she said down to me, “Gloves?”

I remember thinking: “What gloves? What for?”

The practice seemed so esoteric to me. From then forth my whole orientation with safer sex altered. As a teen, I had not fully realized my sexuality and only had sex with (cis) guys. I was surrounded by sexual health messages that greatly encourage safety:

Understand birth control options, communicate with partners, get tested, use condoms.

But there was no enthusiasm for queer sexual safety. Saying, “Use gloves” or “Use a sex dam” is very different from “Use a condom”. None of my education went beyond the scope of heterosexual sex; specifically, penis-vagina penetration.

Clearly, this education ill-equipped me for the “real world”. But it also served a deeper function. Excluding information about safer lesbian sex, or more inclusively, sex between people with vulvas, maintained and reinforced the attitude that it’s not “real sex”, and that women-who-have-sex-with-women don’t really need to practice safety.

As a bisexual (cis) woman who has had penis-vaginal sex before, where did I fit into risks? Do people really use dental dams? Are gloves always necessary for manual sex?  If so, why aren’t gloves promoted more among heterosexually-based safety messages? What sexual acts are less risky than others? I soon realized that I was not alone in the confusing and silent knowledge gap. The most powerful moment of this realization happened during a university course lecture in which we watched lesbian porn.

The class was titled, “The Sociology of the HIV/AIDS Pandemic”. That day we were covering the 1988 ACT UP protest of Cosmopolitan Magazine for publishing an article which (very erroneously) claimed that women were unlikely to contract and transmit HIV. The professor then dimmed the lights and switched on a porno short. Current Flow by Jean Carlomusto stars Annie Sprinkle and Joy Brown getting it on with an array of safer sex props ranging from condom covered vibrators to eating pussy with sex dams. The women fuck on the couch while a broadcast of the ACT UP protest faintly play on the television in the background. This video was specifically made to counteract Cosmopolitan. It was one of the first lesbian porn made by and for women that explicitly shows how to have safer sex.

The professor then bluntly asked the class, “Who here actually knew how to use a dental dam or understood the function of latex gloves prior to this video?

Only a few raised their hands. Among a group of predominately queer, early twenty-somethings this felt horrifying and shocking.

That activist porno is just as relevant today as it was 24 years ago. Lesbians and women who have sex with women, including those who are FAAB (female-assigned at birth), continue to be overlooked in the HIV epidemic. According to a 2009 review by the GMHC, very little research has devoted to the study of lesbian sexual play yet we are still learning new degrees of STI risks associated with different acts such as manual sex, fisting, tribbing, sharing toys and oral sex.

I’m lucky that my first time having sex with another girl was one that encouraged safer practices. Safety wasn’t optional. It was ethical. And it was hot. It opened up my world and cemented my desire to learn more, inform my options, and talk about safety confidently with other partners. But I know not everyone (and lesbians in particular) experiences such enthusiasm- including a lack of concern from medical professionals who assume “queer* women*” experience almost zero risk of HIV and other serious sexually transmitted infections.

For me, safer sex has developed a whole new dimension of excitement because of the political protest attached to it. Feminist mantra: “The personal is political”. It’s partly an acknowledgement that the sex I have with another woman is very real despite hetero-sexist attitudes. It’s also an intimate act of caring for and protecting each other.

Monologues are independent stories. The opinions shared are the author’s own. For more information on sexual safety for lesbians and women-who-have-sex-with-women, the National LGBT Health Education Center is a good place to start. Please do comment and share other recommended resources below.

Understanding Consent

Follow @Condommonologue and @Radsexpdx

To share this poster, simply copy the HTML embed code below and paste into your blog post, tumblr or anywhere else that uses html:

Let us know how and where you share the poster and we’ll swing by.

This poster is inspired by one of the most progressive pieces on consent yet. “The Consent Post” by Elena Kate exposes the inherent problems of the “No means No” approach and re-frames consent as “Yes means Yes”. What’s more, she goes beyond simple definitions by acknowledging nuances and complexity. It is contrary to what most sex education programs teach (if consent is mentioned at all!); consent is not a single uniform act of permission. Elena writes that consent is an on-going, “cooperative investigation of options, and a careful, considerate selection that is approved and preferred by all parties involved”.

What do you think?

Check out more illustrations by the Condom Monologues collective!

#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?

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/

Why the Birds & Bees Just Won’t Cut It

Hymen myth, sexist magazines, pleasure-shame: obstacles which have helped build my dream of opening a Sex+ Sex Shop. May it one day be normal to celebrate sex!

That awkward first sex talk.

Plenty of kids seem to share the same dreadful story about their parents or teachers stumbling through “the birds and the bees” speech.

Sometimes you come across a few folks who have learned the ins and outs of sexuality from peers instead. Mostly this information is collected from whispered conversations amidst giggles in bathroom stalls. Or late at night during sleepovers in which the details of how to perform perfect oral are spewed out for all the untrained friends gathered around.

I remember one of my partners and I spent hour’s Googling how to make women orgasm. He even drew me a diagram of where he figured my clitoris must be located (he made sure to describe it as ‘a little man in a boat’). I guess that means to some people that clitoral hoods look like boats?

He tried so hard to learn about sex the only way he felt comfortable. This meant turning exclusively to the internet. Needless to say, that was one lesson that would have been nice to learn from someone we trusted instead of turning to random wikihow articles. Wikihow your partner to multiple orgasms! Conversations regarding sex and sexuality ultimately mean more when they are done so face to face. This holds true despite the awkwardness which will undoubtedly ensue once you begin to imagine your parents or children wrapped up in deliciously compromising positions.

There was one time he did have a conversation with his parents about sex. This occurred when they washed his jeans and found a condom wrapper in the hamper. He summarized the gist of the conversation, with his dad issuing a stern warning about the dangers of pregnancy during premarital sex while his mom cried on the couch. Off-putting to say the least. Nor was it the least bit helpful or practical. A conversation about sexual health shouldn’t be focused on dread and fear. They need to begin to describe the creative, diverse ways that sex can be had, with whom you can have sex, and the ways in which each individual will enjoy(or not enjoy) different things.

A later partner I discovered enjoyed anal stimulation. He was so ashamed by it because when he looked it up, all accounts made out that heterosexual men did not, should not, and could not enjoy anal stimulation.

He believed blogs written by anonymous sex gurus from Maxim and of course the piles of Seventeen Magazines and Cosmopolitans his female roommate kept in their adjoined washroom. The messages he received from these sources, from his parents, from his male friends and from what little porn he did confess to watching, made any encouragement of anal play useless.

The messages these individuals took so much to heart had an adverse effect on me as well. The person that I had sex with for the first time actually dared to question my virginity after we had penetrative sex for the first time. This, because of myths he had internalized about hymens.

Immediately after the act I was basking in the glow of it all. We had oral and manual sex so often that I was eager and ready for vaginal sex. Further, I had the delight of not feeling any pain throughout my first experience. I told him that I was happy, that it hadn’t hurt. I was smiling on the couch next to him, when I glanced up and noticed the shocked look on his face. Bothered, I asked,“did it hurt you? I am so sorry if it did!” Luckily, it hadn’t. Rather, his disturbance was due to the fact that I hadn’t bled. I told him I too, was surprised and relieved. He wasn’t satisfied with this kind of a response. He thought that virginity was very important and also had some misguided beliefs about having to ‘pop the cherry’ in order for the act to be legitimate.

Fortunately my relationship with sexuality was slightly more positive than many, but mostly because I was so curious that my parents didn’t even need to sit me down. I’d just come to ask whatever was on my mind; often to their embarrassment. Speaking of which, years after my “birds & bees” chat with my own mother, I gave her a phone call to share the exciting news that I had achieved my first orgasm with a sex partner. She had never known before that I was having difficulty, and I think she was shocked that I had called her to celebrate the occasion in the same kind of manner my sister often does about a job offer or an excellent mark on a term paper.

Now I’m not saying at all that my parents were shy about sex. My mother has become quite comfortable sharing details of her life with me that I think, unfortunately are quite taboo in many other parent/child relationships. However, what my point boils down to is that unlike celebrations over achievements or a lesson well learned, there was no celebration when we discussed sex.

I want that to change for everybody!

I can completely comprehend if some people feel uncomfortable teaching their own children how to put on a condom or how to properly use a dental dam. I’m sure the majority of parents are a little unprepared for a consultation with their offspring about what size packer looks most comfortable under their slacks.

This sort of unease is one of the main reasons I want to co-own a Sex+ Store & Education Centre. Our community members need a safe space to gather in which they can learn about sex, celebrate sex and enjoy themselves while exploring healthy sexuality. If there had been a place where I could have gone as a preteen to delve into birth control options with some sort of enthusiastic advisor I would have been all over that!

Unfortunately, the sex stores near my home weren’t all that inviting. Most of them had reputations as sleazy joints with back rooms full of pornography. Needless to say anyone under 18 wasn’t welcome inside the door.

Then there is the concerning number of young women I know who claim to have ‘suffered through’ their first few attempts at intercourse. If we all felt comfortable exploring our own bodies, asking questions, communicating openly with our partners about our desires, these kinds of things wouldn’t happen quite as often. We need to stop demonizing sex, especially sex amongst our youth, our elderly and the specially abled. Sex is natural, it is beautiful and if I ever have children I want a phone call, or HELL, maybe even a party to celebrate their first orgasms! Better yet, if children were encouraged instead of shamed when caught masturbating, couples would have far less trouble achieving orgasms with one another in the first place.

Owning a Sex Positive/Queer Positive Shop is my way of giving back to the community that embraced me and helped me bloom into a colourful sexual being. It is my way of giving all of the future (and past) generations a place to come and learn without the additional weight of secrecy or taboo. Our education systems will be slow to change their policies on Health and Sex education. I attend a Catholic University as a don and one of my forbearers was fired when he decided to distribute free condoms to his residents. This kind of injustice needs a grassroots solution. What better way to overthrow a stagnant heteronormative, anti-pleasure system than by creating our own affiliation-free safe spaces to explore sex.

Hopefully the entire world can eventually be a sex positive space one day, but we’ll take it one row paddle at a time in the right direction.

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.

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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.