The Blind Leading the Blind: Is Abstinence-only Education to Blame for Parents Who Can’t Say “Penis”?

From Mean Girls (2004)

From “Mean Girls” (2004)

Abstinence-only education does not exist in a vacuum. There is an important history in the United States in which certain laws and federal funding began supporting fear-based curricula. This stems from the belief that if you tell students the biological consequences (i.e, STIs, unwanted pregnancy, death) and social consequences of sex (i.e., specifically for girls, loss of purity and respect) it will encourage student to delay sexual activity. But studies show this is not the case. Despite all abstinence-only efforts, teens are not engaging in less sex, and the prevalence of STIs among 15-24 year olds remains high.

As sex educator, JoEllen Notte points out in this article, avoiding fact-based approaches to sex and sexual relationship education only leaves students ill-equipped to make safer choices.

In this article, she makes a strong argument that abstinence-only sex ed has produced a generation of parents today who are not only incapable (or unwilling) to discuss sex in a healthy, positive manner with their own children, but who also have not established a positive relationship to sex for themselves. Hence the need for more adult sex education to undo the damage and shame instilled by the abstinence-only model.

Here are important points to take away. Be sure to read through the entire article as there are some juicy links within:

  • Abstinence-only teaches girls that their value is based on their “virginity”.
  • Abstinence-only promotes the myth that condoms don’t work and that “sex” is limited to penis-vaginal intercourse.
  • People, parents and children alike, are unclear about terms of consent. We need to teach it!
  • Sex education does not stop after high school. Parents need it too. They need guidance about how to talk to their children about sex in a way that does not shame or reinforce misinformation.

This article was originally published on theRedheadBedhead.com

BY JOELLEN NOTTE | theRedheadBedhead.com

A couple weeks back there was a rash of stories about a baby doll that had some parents all up in arms. Why, you ask? Was it unsafe? No. Racist? No. Prohibitively expensive? Not that I’ve heard. The big problem? It has a penis. You know, like a human. People were PISSED. The ire was vented in the now-common manner- facebook posts- where folks are declaring that the “company makes me sick” because little girls “don’t need to know about anatomy” etc, etc.

Barely a week later a petition started circulating demanding that the Fremont Board of Education remove a book called “Your Health Today” from schools. Parents were outraged (outraged!) that the book: “exposes youth to sexual games, sexual fantasies, sexual bondage with handcuffs, ropes, and blindfolds, sexual toys and vibrator devices, and additional instruction that is extremely inappropriate for 13 and 14 year-old youth.”

All accounts indicate that while the book did, in fact, indicate that sex can be enjoyable , none of the information was prevented in a salacious or provocative manner. In fact, Slate describes it as “the most boring prose imaginable” including lessons explaining that students should only ever do what “they are comfortable doing”. But that wasn’t enough to keep parents from freaking out. My favorite complaint is the one that is about one of my favorite parts of the book: Parent Asfia Ahmed, fretted to the San Jose Mercury-News, “There’s a section that tells you how to talk to your prospective partners about your sexual history, how does that relate to a 14-year-old kid? I don’t see it at all.” *

I wish this August was some kind of sex-negative anomaly but it’s not. Earlier this year, there was a similar wave of discussion in reference to teaching children the proper anatomical terms for their body parts. That’s right. People have been getting upset because their children were given factually correct information about their bodies- they were, for example, exposed to words like “vagina”.

So, what gives? How did people become convinced that accurate education was heinously inappropriate and something to shield their children from lest their innocence be destroyed.

I have a theory.

I blame abstinence-only education.

But not the education of this generation. I think this generation of parents who thinks they can shield their children from their own genitals and that they shouldn’t talk to their teenagers about sex, lest they get ideas is the result of the previous generation- the first one that was highly likely to be presented with abstinence-only education in their schools.

Let’s take a quick history break: Abstinence-only education started receiving limited federal funding in 1982 through the Adolescent Family Life Act. After the passing of the Welfare Reform Act in 1996, which included a mandate that 50 million dollars yearly be allocated to abstinence-only education, it spread rapidly as cash-strapped schools decided that receiving the funds was more valuable than, you know, teaching kids anything about sex.**

exposed to similar nonsense in schools. We need to be the antidote to abstinence only education. Right now, there is a generation of parents who, when it comes to teaching their kids about sex, are basically like the blind leading the blind and, as educators, let’s be their guide.

Continue reading at The Redhead Bedhead.

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JoEllen-NotteJOELLEN NOTTE is helping to share the gospel of better living through better sex ed (amen!) – serving as both the Education Coordinator & Lead Sex Educator for the Portland Academy of Sex Education and a co-Emissary of Sex Geekdom Portland. Working as an adult retail consultant, she is working to help promote better sex through better adult retail. JoEllen first began fighting sexual mediocrity on her site theRedheadBedhead.com. Follow JoEllen on twitter: @bedheadtweeting

How To Start Providing Sex Education in Your Home

Photo credit: Rob Allen

Photo credit: Rob Allen

Sex education involves more than just penetrative intercourse. It involves how we feel about ourselves, our gender/sexual identity, and the relationships we engage in with others.  It is a central part of being human.

In this article, Dr. Melanie Davis offers practical tips for providing sex education in your home. This is an especially useful read if you have never discussed sex with your child or teen, or you are a new parent seeking advise for your child’s future.

Here are some key points by Melanie.

  • Sexuality education begins before you know it. Children are socialized around gendered norms from the moment they are born.
  • Communicate honestly and consistently with your child about sex and sexuality. It’s not a once-in-a-life-time talk. By starting the conversation from a young age, you cultivate an environment in which they are comfortable talking to you about sex/gender and sexual relationships.
  • Parents really do make a difference in sexual health. Research shows that parents are the greatest influence in a teen’s decisions about sex.
  • Review Melanie’s list below for questions to ask yourself (and your co-parent) as you engage in this important role in your child’s life.

This article was originally publish on Melanie’s column, Sex Ed in Small Doses at Psychology Today.

BY MELANIE DAVIS, PhD | MelanieDavisPhD.com

Upon hearing that I teach sexual education courses, a new father commented, “That conversation is so far off, I can’t even think about it.” He was quite surprised when I suggested that the conversation about sexuality began the moment he and his partner became parents.

The minute parents hear, in the delivery room, “It’s a boy,” “It’s a girl,” or “Your child may be intersex,” they begin communicating ideas about sexuality to their children. Consider how many parents bring newborns home in a pink or blue outfit or use the phrases, “He’s all boy” or “She’s such a Daddy’s girl.” These gendered messages are part of your child’s sexuality education.

The “birds and bees” story of old—a confusing analogy that uses flower pollination to describe human reproduction—alludes to only a small fragment of human sexuality. In reality, sexuality includes, but isn’t limited to, gender identity, sexual orientation, eroticism, the ability to love and feel loveable, self-image, interpersonal relationships, sexual physiology and health, sexual manipulation, and, yes, sexual behavior and reproduction.

You may wonder why you would need to introduce all these concepts to your child. It’s not a matter of introducing the information—that often happens without parental intervention—rather, it’s a matter of helping children put the information into perspective. Without your guidance, your children may have a hard time understanding their bodies, their feelings, the images they see, or the words they hear.

You can help your children become sexually healthy individuals who value and respect themselves and others by communicating honestly, consistently and intentionally about sexuality. I use the word “intentionally” because you’ve already been communicating about sexuality even if you haven’t meant to. You have done it if you have:

  • selected your child’s clothing and toys according to “girl colors” or “boy colors,” “girl toys” or “boy toys”;
  • assumed you know your children’s sexual orientation;
  • created rules about nudity or privacy in your home;
  • discouraged or encouraged your children’s exploration of their own bodies:
  • displayed, or avoided displaying, physical affection for your partner;
  • responded to questions about sex comfortably or by changing the topic.

Who do you want to teach your child about sex?

It’s important to talk with your children about sexuality because if they aren’t hearing from you, they are absorbing someone else’s messages. And whose messages are those? Siblings and friends, grandparents, babysitters, teachers and doctors as well as video games, toys, television, magazines, movies and newspapers.

Messages about sexuality may be healthy or innocuous, confusing or disturbing. You can’t control every message your children receive, but you can help them put the information into the context of your values. Research has shown that children want to learn from their parents early on; as they age, they tend to look to their peers for information. By starting the conversations at an early age, you can encourage your children to keep talking with you as they mature.

Many years ago, my daughter, then age 10, attended a birthday party during which the girls watched an R-rated film. She told me later that the film included a scene in which a boy tries to rape a girl at a teen party. Her father and I had talked to her about sexual boundaries and consent, so she knew the male character’s behavior was unacceptable. I can’t say the same for all the other pre-teens at the party, whose parents may never have provided sexuality education at home.

What had we done right? We had talked with our daughter about sexual relationships and the importance of mutual consent, respect, maturity, and protection. What had we done wrong? We hadn’t gotten to know the girl’s parents or their values; in addition, we hadn’t asked what the party entertainment would include.

Monitoring children’s media access is harder today, since many children and young teens have near-constant access to cable TV and online content. It’s all the more important for you to serve as your children’s primary sexuality educator, ready to share your values and wisdom gained through life experience.

Getting Started

Use the topics below to spur discussion between you and your co-parent or teens and other adults who play a significant role in your children’s upbringing. Jot down responses and ideas that will improve communication with your child.

  • What messages did you receive about sexuality when you were a child?
  • Did you have an adult to discuss sexuality with, and if so, what helped create that trusting relationship?
  • What were some of the biggest questions you had about sexuality, and by what age did you want answers?
  • If you would have preferred to learn about sexuality differently, and if so, how?
  • What kinds of messages would you like your child to receive about sexuality, e.g., no-holds-barred access to information, or a more moderate or conservative approach, and why?

Next, make a list of the some of the sexuality information sources in your childrens’s lives, including caregivers, friends, relatives, television, magazines, internet, etc. Consider ways you can support or counterbalance those outside sources so your values and sexuality education play a primary role.

Learning More

For more tips about parent-child communication, see my eManual, “Sexuality Talking Points: A guide to thoughtful conversations between parents and children.”

melanie_davisMELANIE DAVIS, PHD, consults with individuals and couples to help them build sexual knowledge, comfort, and pleasure through the New Jersey Center for Sexual Wellness. Through her firm Honest Exchange LLC, she provides professional development in sexuality. She’s a popular speaker on self-esteem and body image, and the sexual impact of cancer, menopause and aging. She’s an AASECT-Certified Sexuality Educator. On Twitter @DrMelanieDavis

Quick Tips on Talking Condom Use with Your Teen

Image from Bedsider

Image from Bedsider

Most parents are not comfortable talking to their teens about sex, and some make the mistake of relying on school education to teach their kids how to protect themselves using condoms. The fact is that teens often name their parents as the number one influence in their decisions about sex. According to Planned Parenthood, teens who report having good conversations with their parents about sex are more likely to delay sexual activity, have fewer partners and use condoms and birth control when they do have sex. So this is one of the most important topics a parent can engage with their child.  And seriously, it doesn’t have to be awkward.

Dr. Karen Rayne offers practical tips for parents to cultivate a conversation with their teens about condom use. In this article she emphasizes:

  • Create a time to talk with your teen one on one.
  • If you know your teen is sexually active, the conversation will be easier. Before you have the conversation, reflect on what you do and don’t know about your teen’s sex life.
  • Your teen may have a different definition of “sexually active” than you. Unpack this term with him/her and actively listen to their opinion.
  • Consider starting the conversation about condoms with the simple question: “What do you think about condoms?”
  • Seek resources to support your conversation. There are many great websites and videos online such as Laci Green’s channel, Scarleteen and Sex, Etc.

This article was originally published here

BY DR. KAREN RAYNE | KarenRayne.com

Melissa White over at Lucky Bloke recently asked if I wanted to provide content for her new safer sex education website, and of course I was delighted! But when I went back to look through my blogging archives (both here and at www.karenrayne.com), I found that I had written terrifyingly little about condoms. So here I am, rectifying that problem with Condom Week, on both sites. Here at Unhushed I’ll be writing about parental concerns about condoms. At KarenRayne.com I’ll be writing about teachers and other educators’ issues about condoms in the classroom. Interested in receiving Unhushed blog posts as they happen? Sign up here. You can sign up to receive KarenRayne.com blog posts here.

Starting a conversation about sexuality with your teenager generally can be tricky – but a specific question about contraception and condoms can be both simpler and more stressful. You know what you’re getting at, but how to bring it up delicately?

As with all conversations about sexuality, just diving in at an inopportune time can be problematic, and your teenager can shut down. So find a time when it’s just the two of you and you’re both relaxed. If need be, if your home life is such that these moments don’t come around often, then fabricate one. If you struggle with this, find a YouTube clip or a movie that talks about condoms and watch it with your teenager as a way of introduction. (For example, Juno, where condoms aren’t used, or one of the many condom fashion shows with clips on YouTube.)

When you bring up the topic of condom usage, don’t hedge around the topic, just bring it up like you would anything else you want to have a conversation about. There’s no reason to treat sexuality as a forbidden or taboo subject matter, just a sensitive and potentially emotional one.

Before you start the conversation, it’s important for you to consider how much you know about your teenager’s sexual activity because they require slightly different approaches. Do you know if your teenager is sexually active? Do they know you know? Do you suspect, but don’t have any actual proof? Do you wonder, but aren’t really sure? Do you think not, but you want to start these conversations earlier rather than later (and good for you!)?

If you know your teenager is sexually active – and your teenager knows you know – then the conversation is easier. You can jump directly to contraceptives, but remember that it’s a conversation, not an interrogation. Offer support in obtaining condoms. Make it clear that sexual health is a value that you have and that you will follow through on.

If you don’t know for sure whether your teenager is sexually active – or they don’t know that you know – the conversation is a little trickier. Making any assumptions about your teen’s sexual activity level can feel presumptuous to them and make them shut down. Give your teenager enough room for plausible deniability around their sexual activity. For the context of this conversation, whether your teenager is actually having sex is less important than an upfront conversation about contraception: what it does, how to access it, how to use it, how to talk with a partner about it, and more.

You don’t need to know the answers to all of these questions yourself, but you do need to know where to find the answers. I recommend Scarleteen and Sex, Etc. as the best places to go with your teenager or to send your teenager to find sexual information online. Facilitating a conversation about condoms is really the most important part of this process. And it can start with this question, regardless of any other part of your process: “What do you think about condoms?”

rayne2sm DR. KAREN RAYNE With a doctoral degree is in Educational Psychology, Karen provides advice and support to parents on how to educate their children and teenagers about sex and sexuality. Karen’s knowledge about adolescent development and education provides her with a solid background for guiding parents through these tricky conversations. And, as a college professor, helping young adults grapple with sexuality, she is known to change student’s lives. On twitter @KarenRayne

Should I Let My Teen’s Boyfriend Sleep Over?

Photo credit: Laura Smith

Photo credit: Laura Smith

This is one of the most frequently asked questions sex educator, Dr. Karen Rayne receives from parents. Most American parents are squeamish and concerned about their teens having sex. The thought of teen sex “under the parent’s roof” is even more unappealing. But Dr. Rayne argues that allowing teen “sleep overs” may actually open the way for more responsible sex education and healthy parent-child relations. Because if a teen feels safe telling a parent what they are doing and feeling, then they are more likely to ask parents for advise and help. This allows parents to have more positive influence.

If you are grappling with this issue as a parent, Dr. Rayne suggest by starting with a few basic, yet personal question for your teen.

Here are some ways to prepare for and approach the dreaded sleepover question:

  • Talk with your teen about their gender identity, their sexual orientation, and that of their friends.
  • Asked them who they are romantically interested in and discuss the differences between romantic and friendship-based relationships.
  • Discuss the benefits of sleepovers. What makes sleepovers fun? How can you help them achieve those benefits?

This article was originally published on UnHushed.net 

BY DR. KAREN RAYNE | KarenRayne.com

In a world with flexible gender and sexual identities, what’s a parent to do?

I’ve been asked about sleepovers through two channels in the last few days, so it seemed the right time to finally write a post about it.

This question comes up all the time – first in the wake of the sudden awareness in the US that in other countries parents actually allow their teenagers to have sleepovers with boyfriends and girlfriends (see Dr. Amy Schalet’s 2011 book, Not Under My Roof, her NYTimes piece on the topic, and the millions of blog posts/articles/insanity that followed) – and as more and more youth come out to their parents as gay, queer, bisexual, trans, etc.

“WHAT DO WE DO??” is the stressed-out question from so many parents, and I wish I had an easy answer.

This question really speaks to a feeling of unsettlement that comes with relinquishing clearly defined gender norms and the associated assumptions about sexuality that parents have been so accustomed to falling back on throughout their adolescents and even now in their adult lives.

Our cultural assumption is that girls and boys have sleepovers in single-sex groups. With children, this is because children are primarily friends with kids of the same sex, and so is driven by the children themselves. As children grow into teenagers there is another cultural assumption that they will continue to be friends with same-sex peers and date opposite-sex peers, thus making the sleepover decision easy.

Young people, however, are re-making the meaning of so many of the words in that last, italicized sentence as to make it sound old fashioned, to say the least. The line between friendship and girlfriend/boyfriend/boifriend/partner is getting thinner. Opposite-sex becomes a misleading term, at best, when you’ve acknowledged the wider range of gender identities. Many teenagers spend at least a short amount of time pondering their attraction to others across a range of gender identities rather than assuming from the start that they are heterosexual.

So what’s a parent to do in a world that, from the outside, appears to have gone crazy?

The goal of single-sex sleepovers among teenagers was generally to provide a sense of safety to parents of both young people that the teenagers wouldn’t be having sex. That sense of sexual safety is no longer there regardless of the sex or gender of the young people – but it wasn’t really there before either. Ask many adult gay men and lesbians whether they had sex with their same-sex friends as teenagers. While not all of them took advantage of this, enough did to make a notable sample!

So now, parents, you are aware that your teenager could, in theory, be sexually attracted to someone they’re asking for a sleepover with. Or that person could be attracted to your teenager. The answers are no longer cut and dry.

It is time to face that musical ambiguity and embrace it. Talk with your teenager about their gender identity, their sexual orientation, and that of their friends. Ask them who they’re interested in romantically and how that’s different from being interested in friendship with someone. Acknowledge that these are not one-time questions because the answers are likely to be evolving. Understand that your teenager is likely to have sex – that most people have sex – and that having sex for the first time in the context of a sleepover in your parents’ home is generally better than first time sex in a car.

I could go on and on about the things you should talk with your teenager about. But they all come down to this: What are your fears? STIs? Pregnancy? Heartbreak? Being sexual in ways they aren’t ready for? Assault? Pin them down, those fears, and then address them specifically with your teenager.

You can also talk about the benefits of sleepovers with your teenager. What’s fun about them? How can you help them achieve that goal of fun? (The answer might be to stay out of the way and have fun on your own. This is not an insult.)

Both of you will be better off for the conversation.

condom ad condoms too loose

rayne2sm DR. KAREN RAYNE With a doctoral degree is in Educational Psychology, Karen provides advice and support to parents on how to educate their children and teenagers about sex and sexuality. Karen’s knowledge about adolescent development and education provides her with a solid background for guiding parents through these tricky conversations. And, as a college professor, helping young adults grapple with sexuality, she is known to change student’s lives. On twitter @KarenRayne

Why, What, How to Talk to Your Sex Partner

Photographer Jaded One

Photo credit: Jaded One

No matter how much you study up on sex, without communication your relationship is sunk! Sexual communication isn’t easy and what we see in the media is rarely useful in terms of real-life scenarios. Scarleteen is here with comprehensive pointers on communication as a whole, and specifics on what to look for in productive sexual communication.

This article is meant to help you navigate the challenges of talking about sex with sex partners— from how to talk and to what to look for in the talking. Here are some main points to take away:

  • Clear sexual communication keeps both partners physically and emotionally safe.
  • Before engaging sexually with a new partner, look at how you communicate with them about other things.
  • Pick emotionally safe and neutral spaces to talk about sex.
  • There are several keys to productive dialogue- don’t miss the list below!
  • If you feel like you don’t feel comfortable communicating with someone, consider holding off on partnered sex with them until you do.
  • If you start with open communication and keep talking, it will get easier and more comfortable.

Read the original article at Scarleteen.

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

You can read everything from the Kama Sutra to The Joy of Sex, watch porn vids until your eyeballs fall out, have a ton of sexual experience or psychically channel Mata Hari or Casanova, but if you don’t know how to openly communicate with your partners, with your words, chances are neither you nor your partner are going to have really healthy, beneficial and satisfying sexual experiences, especially in the long-term.

Communicating clearly and well about sex and relationship issues, before and after you become sexually active with someone — the whole works, not just when whispering sweet or saucy nothings into a lover’s ear — not only puts you in a place where you can have satisfying sex and sexual relationships, short and long-term, and feel good about them, it helps keep everyone safe and sound both physically and emotionally.

If you have a car, you know that you’ve got to keep a pretty good eye on the oil in the engine: if you run out, no matter how great of shape your car is in, it’s not going to keep working, and may well explode in your face. Solid communication is the oil that keeps the engine of your sexual relationships running smoothly.

How to Talk About Sex

Talking with your partner about sex isn’t just about asking what one person has or hasn’t done before, wants to do, or about what gets everyone hot under the collar. Talking about sex with a partner also involves discussing what pace you’re comfortable with, your sexual health and your partner’s health, what you want or need to be comfortable engaging in a given sexual activity, how you masturbate, how you feel about your body, what feels good and what really doesn’t, safer sex and birth control, your sexual ethics and beliefs, relationship model negotiation, the works. Good sexual communication means you are creating and maintaining an environment in which you and your partner(s) can really talk openly about sex — in and out of bed — even when what you have to say isn’t very sexy or isn’t what the other might want to hear. It means being able to say no and having no be accepted and easily respected without pressure to say yes: it means being able to say yes knowing it doesn’t mean you or they have to say yes every time.

It’s no big shocker that talking about sex openly and intimately isn’t very easy. Most of the media around us doesn’t portray sexual discussion realistically or wholly: we’re shown either only the super-fantastic earthshaking stuff or Very Big Problems, not all of the shades in between that make up most of our sexual experiences. Most of the talking about sex we see in the movies only happens when people are having sex, and tends to consist of little but monosyllables or the standard “That was great,” after sex is done. And it isn’t just teens who have a tough time with sexual communication. Many adults in long-term sexual partnerships don’t have the hang of it, and plenty still prefer to avoid sexual discussions rather than practice them. A rare few of us grew up in households where sex was discussed healthily and openly. Good sexual communication generally requires more than a single word response. For a lot of people of all ages, honest and open sexual communication is brand new terrain.

Before you become sexually active with someone, take a look at how you communicate with them about other things. Are you able to talk openly and freely about your feelings for each other, about relationship models, time management, previous romantic/sexual relationships and peer and family relationships, and deal with crises? Are you friends: do you talk like friends? If not, it’s wise to take a pause and evaluate if that partner is a smart sex partner for you yet: after all, if you don’t feel comfortable talking about needing a little more time together (or a little more space) or what’s going on with your family, it’s going to be a serious challenge to talk about wanting to be touched more here or there, to need to change how the two of you are practicing safer sex or birth control, or about having a yeast infection. If daily communication, especially about things which are very close to your heart, doesn’t feel pretty easy just yet, work on that first, or consider that that person may not be an ideal partner for you.

Look at your own existing sexual communication in other parts of your life. Are you able to discuss sexual issues with your friends or your physician with a decent level of comfort and honesty (even if things sometimes feel a bit awkward)? Can you use language for sexuality – like the correct words for your sexual parts, or real terms for sexual activities – comfortably?

If you’re already at those points, then you’ve got a great foundation for sexual communication. You can lay it down from the onset – before you have any kind of sex at all — just by saying something like, “Before we have sex together, I want us to aim to always talk about sex honestly and freely, even when it seems weird. I feel like that’s important for both our physical and emotional safety as well as so that we can have really great sex.” Just making your intentions clear like that opens the door, allowing both you and your partner permission to talk about sex with maturity and be honest when you do.

Want to try on a few basic conversations one might have with a partner or potential partner that are pretty common, just to get an idea of how we can have them, and how hard it really ISN’T? CLICK HERE, and have a look at how some varied talks about sex with a partner can go.

Those sample conversations don’t have to be literal scripts for you, and my vernacular may not sound like the way you and your partners talk: I’m 37, and you’re probably not. “Gag me with a spoon,” and “Like, totally, that’s grody to the max,” were part of my teenage lingo: thank christ, they’re probably not part of yours. But the basics remain the basics: sound sexual communication is all about being honest (even when it feels awkward or embarrassing — but, if you’re going to be naked and/or sexual with someone things are going to be awkward and embarrassing sometimes, no matter what), being forthright and open (which anyone can do while still being kind to the other person), owning your own stuff (and the other person being able to do the same), and accepting that sometimes, because we need to communicate important things, sex might not seem so sexy for a bit, and we may even shelve sex we were going to have in exchange for talking about it. Even if that seems like a bummer at the time, I can guarantee you that it’ll mean the next times you DO have any kind of sex, it’s far more likely to be emotionally, interpersonally and physically better.

Where to have a talk? Pick emotionally safe, neutral spaces to talk about sex in. Often, it’s best to talk about sex in-depth when you’re not in the middle of having sex, when no one is naked (since most people feel more vulnerable that way), and when you’re not in an environment which can make it feel like having sex is more important than talking about it. Obviously, too, talking about sex between two people very personally isn’t a conversation for when you’re in a big group, hanging out with friends, or in the busy halls at school, where even the walls tend to have ears.

Suffice it to say, there will be times that it either feels just fine to talk about sex while in bed, and times when it’s also unavoidable. For instance, if you’re setting a limit on what you want to do in the midst of your partner starting to do that activity without asking, you need to set that limit right there and then. Or, if you two are laying around after sex and strike up a conversation about your sex life and it feels safe and comfortable for you to have it then, then no problem.

Check out some general themes we usually see in productive and communicative sexual conversations:

  • “I” statements. In other words, “I feel that…” rather than “You make me feel like…” Or, “When you do X, I experience Y,” instead of “You do Y to me.” “I feel ready for sex,” not “My friend Joe is having sex with HIS girlfriend.” When you’re speaking for yourself and about yourself, frame it that way. Even if you are calling out a partner on their behavior or actions, people tend to stop listening when an expression sounds more like an accusation.
  • Acknowledge the awkwardness. In so many ways, anything sexual between people IS awkward, and talking about it often is, too, especially when those conversations are being had for the first time. You can let a lot of the air out of the balloon just by saying that you feel awkward, and by being okay with that: it helps make it okay for your partner to feel awkward, too.
  • Same goes double for accepting that sex talk can be loaded. As a longtime sexuality educator – completely outside of my personal life – I’m acutely aware that people can fly off the handle pretty easily when talking about their sex lives, and that most people are pretty hypersensitive about sex. That’s unsurprising: sexuality is very personal, it makes us feel very vulnerable and exposed, and there’s an awful lot of pressure in the world to be sexually perfect, no matter how unrealistic that is. Prime the pump (as it were) and make sure your partner is in the right headspace to have a discussion about sex at a given time, just by asking if they are, and if they’re not, just make clear you need to soon, and would like them to let you know when it is a better time for them. Reinforce care for them by letting them know that you love and care for them and that you like being with them: you just want things to be as good between you as possible. Be aware of their personal sensitivities and insecurities and speak with kindness. “I think maybe your penis is too small,” for instance, is not a sensitive thing to say (and probably not even the real issue). “I’m feeling like this would feel even better with something fuller, maybe your hands?” is a serious improvement. “I’m having a hard time working out the difference between our reality and what I see in porn,” is far more accurate, sensitive and productive than “Why can’t you do what everyone in porn does?”
  • Watch your language.Part of communicating well (whether you’re talking about sex or something else) involves using terms which both people know the meaning of and are comfortable with. You may hit roadblocks to productive sexual communication if, say, you’re talking about “tea bagging” or “fingering” and your partner has no idea what you’re referring to (hint: when you say tea-bagging and they ask if you prefer herbal or black tea, they don’t understand you), or if your partner calls your genitals a “pussy” or a “prick” and those terms seriously turn you off or are gross to you. Be sure that when you are talking about sex, that you do so without making too many assumptions, and with care to what language you are using to express yourself; be open to making changes or clarifying in order to better that communication. Ask about what words work for your partner; tell them what words and language feel best to you. Everyone also has different levels of comfort when it comes to pillow talk — talking about sex during sex. Some people may like a partner to “talk dirty” during sex who either isn’t comfortable with that in general, or who is comfortable with that, but not yet. Plenty of people have a hard time — or just don’t like — talking about sex during sex, for the effect of heightening arousal, in general. Again, these tend to be matters of compatibility, and by discussing them — even in advance of sexual activity — even partners with some divergence of opinion can often find middle ground that works for both of them.
  • Make sexual communication an ongoing process. In other words, don’t expect one talk about one thing to be the only talk you’ll have or to net instant results. Most people tend to need time on their own to mull talks about sex over, since partnered sex can be so complex and sometimes tough to sort through, and a lot of the time you won’t have “The” talk, you’ll have a series of evolving talks about any given issue. As well, folks may not want to have a six hour gab-a-thon about a sensitive or emotionally loaded issue. It might be better to talk a bit about something one day, then suggest you go do something mellow and unloaded and talk about it more in a few days.
  • Expect the Best. If you walk into a sexual conversation anticipating that it will go poorly, it’s much more likely to. You’ll probably be more timid than you would otherwise, won’t do the best job of really stating your case, and may be less likely to be honest. If, instead, you walk in with the expectation that what you have to say is productive and important, and your partner can absolutely handle talking about sex (and if they’re having sex, they’d better be able to talk about it, too!) and listening to you, you’re more likely to communicate well and most honestly, and your partner is going to hear your confidence and trust in them in your voice.
  • By all means, accentuate the positive. Unless you’re talking with someone who is being abusive or is not minding your boundaries, when you have an otherwise positive sex life with someone, you can make them feel at ease and secure by being sure that even in areas you may be being critical, you’re also acknowledging the good stuff. For example, let’s say that you really enjoy sex with your partner, but their utter lack of communication makes you feel clueless as to what to do to be sure they’re enjoying it too. To keep positives in there, you might say something like, “I love being with you, and I love how you give me clues about what you like with your body. I think things could be even better, though, if you could also tell me, with words sometimes, what you like or want.”
  • Don’t ditch your sense of humor. Obviously, there are some conversations in which humor just isn’t appropriate – like when a partner is seriously stomping over your boundaries, or a partner needs to talk about previous sexual abuse with you. But in a lot of conversations about sex, it’s fine to have moments of lightness, and it’s helpful to inject a little laughter to help everyone feel more comfortable.

There are some people who strongly feel that any kind of talking during or about sex kills their buzz. Trouble is, we just HAVE to talk about sex at least sometimes, and if we’re really fully present with sex, then talking about it shouldn’t be a huge bummer. Someone who feels that way may also not be in the healthiest headspace: maybe talking kills things for them because they’re trying to pretend something is fine when it really isn’t. Maybe they’re trying really hard to avoid being vulnerable or close (in which case it’s mighty silly for them to be having sex, which is all about that), or want the sex they’re having to be more about a fantasy than the reality. Maybe they don’t want you to talk because they don’t want to leave you real room to say no or have a say. Maybe they’re really just not ready for sex with someone else, because being able to communicate is a big part of being ready.

If it feels to you that sexual issues cannot be discussed by you or your partner — either because you don’t feel ready, or because you think talking about them will spur on anger, upset, jealousy or massive insecurity — then you might want to wait for partnered sex with that person until you both do feel able to talk more comfortably, and have more practice doing it outside of bed, where any conversation tends to be a lot more loaded. Suffice it to say, if it feels patently unsafe to ever talk to your partner honestly about anything to do with sexuality, that’s just not a safe person to be with sexually at all.

Often, it also takes a few tries — and sometimes more than that — before we meet someone whose needs and wants are compatible with ours, or can work with a partner to find middle ground that works for both people. Because of that, it can be tempting to try and let things go unsaid we really need to be talking about, like limits and boundaries that aren’t being respected or communicated, wants or needs that aren’t being met, relationship models we know we can’t deal with, or sexual velocity that is just going too fast. Resist that temptation if it happens: you don’t want to set patterns or precedents for things that aren’t okay with you or aren’t working for you, because that makes it even harder to work them out in the long run. Put your limits and boundaries onto the table as soon as they come up. Even if it’s difficult, awkward, or feels risky to do, it’ll be a lot easier to set limits earlier rather than later, and taking risks to better understand each other is always a healthy risk to take with a good chance of delivering something positive and healthy.

Once you have some basic solid communication practices and dynamics down, it’s just a matter of basic care and feeding: if and when you do start having partnered sex, you’ll keep talking to one another, all the time, and it should become second-nature to always be communicating, sharing ideas, feelings and experiences without trying too hard. It’s not unusual, when you first start having partnered sex to go without heavy verbal communication for a while, because it’s new (and that newness can make things so exciting that even sex that isn’t physically so great is made better by the rush of something new), because you’re both caught up in all the things that feel good, and because things that aren’t yet as you like them, will just take more time. But over time, not only are you likely to need to talk more, you’ll both probably want to talk more, too.

Partnered sex is one of those things that tends to get better the longer you do it with someone, but part of why is communication that increases over that time. So, communication is important, but the sex you’re having also doesn’t need to feel like a lecture series to be healthy. You’ll probably find – as most people do — that when you start from a place of open communication, and keep communicating regularly and as needed – just opening that door not only makes communication become easier and easier over time – and when you get good at it with one partner, it tends to get easier with other partners over time — those regular habits will allow you to have more times when body language and monosyllables do you both just fine, and all the better than they would have if you didn’t have great verbal communication, too.

(Adapted and expanded from S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College)

heatherHEATHER CORINNA is an activist, artist, author and the director of Scarleteen, the inclusive online resource for teen and young adult sex education and information. She is also the author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College and was a contributor to the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. She’s received the The Champions of Sexual Literacy Award for Grassroots Activism (2007), The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Western Region’s, Public Service Award (2009), the Our Bodies, Ourselves’ Women’s Health Heroes Award (2009), The Joan Helmich Educator of the Year Award (2012), and The Woodhull Foundation’s Vicki Award(2013).

 

scarleteenSCARLETEEN is an independent, grassroots sexuality education and support organization and website. Founded in 1998, Scarleteen.com is visited by around three-quarters of a million diverse people each month worldwide, most between the ages of 15 and 25. It is the highest-ranked website for sex education and sexuality advice online and has held that rank through the majority of its tenure.
Find Scarleteen on twitter @Scarleteen

Best Lines of Defense Against Partner’s Excuses Not to Practice Safer Sex

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This post is for anyone who has ever complained about condoms/dams, or has faced complaints from a sex partner; or you are new to safer sex (or you’ve been out of the game for a while) and want to start practicing. In many ways, this post is actually for everyone! We’ve pooled together resources from Condom Monologues and Lucky Bloke to help prepare you with the best lines of reasoning and defense to common excuses against protective sex barriers.

Note: Negotiating safer sex is not confined to heterosexual relationships in which the female is making the male do something. This is an issue that happens in all types of relationships and power dynamics across genders. Knowing how to assert health boundaries is a tool for everyone (of all genders) to have:

Partner: “Condoms never fit me.”
You: “If you’re too big to fit any of these different sizes than you are too big for me.”

There is a deluge of condoms on the market today, all in a variety of smells, tastes, materials, and yes, sizes. There are condoms that are as small as 1.25″ in diameter and ones as large as 2.3″ in diameter. You would be hard-pressed to find a sexually active man who didn’t fall in that range! Need help determining his condom size? Find it here: http://www.luckybloke.com/choose-size

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

or

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

Condoms, dams and lubes have come so far that, in a lot of ways, sex can actually be enhanced with these safety tools. Most importantly, you can feel safe knowing that you have greatly reduced your risk of catching STIs or getting pregnant when you aren’t ready to. Think of protective barriers as sex accessories.

Heather Corinna explains it best: “Asking someone to care for you in any way is not a barrier to intimacy: it’s not asking that keeps space between you…sexual health or even just how to use condoms and use them in a way that works for both of you is not something that keeps people apart, but that brings people closer together.”

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

You know what? Using a condom and other protective barriers shows that you both care about yourselves and each other! Having unprotected sex is not an act that builds trust. Instead, it is an act that can occur as a result of already-built trust. Knowing that your partner will be there for you if sex results in a pregnancy, and knowing that your partner is not exposing you to a sexually transmitted infection, are what enables you to trust them with the act of bareback sex. See how that works? Trust is earned.

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

Being prepared with a variety of condoms/dams will be a great help. It is everyone’s personal responsibility to take care of their own health. Don’t assume one partner will be prepared, unless you have talked and made this arrangement with them.

It’s best to prepare with a variety of shapes, textures and flavors, latex and non-latex, because you want to find barriers that suit both you and your partner best. Plus experimenting adds a whole new dynamic to play. There are variety sample packs, like the one’s curated by Lucky Bloke, that can help you on your safer sex discovery.

condom-monologuesCONDOM MONOLOGUES SexEd, Activism, Storytelling and More… Condom Monologues dispel harmful myths about safe sex and sexual stereotypes that permeate our ways of understanding what is “healthy sexuality”. They accomplish this through sex-positive, pleasure-focused approaches to sexuality that affirm the diversity of people- genders, sexualities, kinks and relationships. Find them on twitter @CondomMonologue

Teenage Sex Myths: The Best Argument for Sex Ed

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Sex education is important no matter how you look at it. That belief can be strengthened even more just by spending a few moments looking over some of the pervasive myths that still exist among teens, particularly in the USA.

Some teens still believe things like jumping up and down in a hot tub after sex may prevent pregnancy and that condoms are manufactured with holes so won’t protect you anyway!  Lies. Throw in other myths involving Mountain Dew and it makes you want to prioritize sex education with English and Math!

In this article, JoEllen the Redhed Bedhead, deciphers 10 Common Sex Myths that illustrate why we need to teach teens (6th – 12th graders) matter-of-fact reproductive health.

This article was originally published on The RedHead Bedhead site.

BY JOELLEN NOTTE | theRedheadBedhead.com

One of the weirdest things I think about this time of year is the time a few years ago when I was talking to my middle-school teacher mother who had, over the course of the previous year, spoken to me several times about her shock at how much sexually activity was going on between her 6th-8th grade students. She was talking about her students again but this time she was shocked to find that a number of them still believed in Santa Claus. Now, I’m not going to lie, I mined this for some comedic gold (“Okay, I’ll go down on you but if I end up on the ‘Naughty List’ for this I’ll be so mad!”) but it really does highlight a huge fundamental flaw in our (and by “our” I mean “America’s”) attitude toward children and sex ed. These kids are engaging in sexual activities while still in a very, young, naive and vulnerable place, a place where they still thought it was plausible that an obese man and some reindeer magically delivered toys to the entire world every December 24th. So, what else might they believe? What they need the most is education, information and guidance but, as we live in the world of  abstinence-only education that says sex is something kids should be shielded from they are left to draw their own conclusions, with some frightening consequences.

I’ve rounded up 10 sex myths that I think really illustrate why we need to be teaching kids how this stuff works. These range from things I heard growing up, to things my mom’s students say now, to things that are making the internet rounds.  Almost half of these relate to how one can or cannot get pregnant. Now, I know there is a ton kids need to be learning about but as the country with a teen pregnancy rate that is the “highest in developed world” this seems like something we want to get on addressing.  Check it out:

“I can’t get pregnant the first time I have sex.”
Nope, every single time can get you pregnant. Particularly cruel as teenagers are extra-fertile.

Read the full article at The Redhead Bedhead.

JoEllen-NotteJOELLEN NOTTE  is helping to share the gospel of better living through better sex ed (amen!) – serving as both the Education Coordinator & Lead Sex Educator for the Portland Academy of Sex Education and a co-Emissary of Sex Geekdom Portland. Working as an adult retail consultant, she is working to help promote better sex through better adult retail. JoEllen first began fighting sexual mediocrity on her site theRedheadBedhead.com. Follow JoEllen on twitter: @bedheadtweeting

How to Tell a Sex Partner I Have an STD

Photographer Caralin Walsh

Photographer Caralin Walsh

A prerequisite to loving, healthy sexual partnership is trust and honesty. Thus, it is important for you and your sex partner to talk about your STI history and status (if one of you don’t know your status, why not get tested together?).

Initiating disclosure can feel worrisome. How can you avoid rejection? Jenelle Marie of The STD Project offers her approach and shares experiences from others.

There are effective ways to disclose. Here are main aspects of Jenelle’s approach:

  • Do it face-to-face.
  • Honest information is key. Share the facts and contextualize them with a positive attitude.
  • Give the other person time to digest the information.
  • The person’s decision to end the relationship due to an STI is not about you. Don’t take it personally.

The original article was published here.

BY JENELLE MARIE | theSTDProject.com

So, you have an STD.

You might even being learning to live with yourself by now (you certainly should be, but I know this takes oodles and oodles of time) and you might have finally resolved to regard the experience as a phenomenal learning opportunity – one you wish you wouldn’t have had to learn first hand, sure, but a learning opportunity nonetheless.

Consequently, you’ve started to date! Cheers!

Or maybe someone came on to you while you were dutifully trying to swear off relationships for the rest of your life?!?!

Either way, the time has come to have ‘the talk’. NO ONE wants to have the talk with anyone EVER, but you must have it if you’re ever to develop a loving, healthy relationship with someone again – at least enough to get in the sack with them that is!

It may shock you, but sex is still fantastic with an STD.

Do your best not to worry too much about that right now, I’ll get you there.

Anyhow, now what? What in the world are you going to say to the potential love of your life to get them to not run for the hills?!!?!

Well, I’m sure there are many ways to go about telling someone you have an STD, however, not all of them will help you keep the other individual.

Albeit, what I’m about to share is certainly not a guaranteed method, by any means; it’s just what I think works best. I’ve had quite a bit of luck in this approach; I’ve been married, I’ve had great long-term relationships, and I’ve never lost a partner simply because of my STD. So, in some ways, I’m proof there’s a good way to do this kind of thing. Others tend to agree and I talk about their perspectives in depth here.

In the end, only you will know what works best for you, but in the meantime, you can try this approach on for size until you do.

No Text Messages, Emails, or Singing Telegrams

First of all, it is my belief that any mode of telling someone you have an STD other than face-to-face is bad form and would give that potential someone all the more reason to say, ‘thanks, but no thanks.’

I know, it would be so much easier to have Barney show up at their door singing about loving people despite their differences, STDs are ok, just love one another, etc., etc….

But, this is one conversation where today’s ingenious and creative technological approaches just won’t cut it. Besides, even though the conversation is tougher/more embarrassing in person, it provides you an opportunity to gauge their initial reactions and it allows them to see how sincere you are.

All in all, in-person is a win-win.

However, and this is a very big however, where you tell someone you have an STD is just as important as how. What I mean is, the place you choose to sit someone down to have this conversation should be fairly neutral and a calm atmosphere.

At the bar, while babysitting your best-friend’s two year old, or at Starbucks are all HORRIBLE ideas.

In my experience, I’ve made a special trip over to the individual’s home while they were alone and not in a hurry with the pretense of, ‘Hey, can I drop by for a few minutes, I’d like to chat with you about something?’

Telling someone in the comfort of their own home or in private serves two purposes. It allows the person an opportunity to react how they would naturally without being influenced by on-lookers or having to ‘put on airs’. And, this leaves the individual in a comfortable environment to ask as many questions as they like or to do their own private research without pressure, which, leads me to my next point.

Be Honest, Positive, & Resourceful

In sharing your status, it’s incredibly important you’re as honest as possible.

I’ve always shared how long I have had genital herpes, how I got it (or, at least what I know about how I got it), what I’ve learned from the experience, how hard it’s been at times, and what it means for my health. Many times, I’ve told my story in tears – not with the intent of playing the sympathy card (although, I’m sure it could have been perceived that way) – because, quite honestly, it’s an embarrassing and scary conversation to have and re-telling my story generally re-surfaces some old emotions. Regardless, I think that is all O.K. because it’s honest.

From there, I share the facts and figures and let them ask whatever questions they’d like to know. I give them the information I know, what herpes does and doesn’t mean for me, and the very realistic truth that an STD has been manageable for me and has not hindered anything in my life. I have passed my STD on to others, understandably – not all of my partners have contracted it (quite a few have not) – and the risk is still very real.

I also share with them some of the resources I’ve used to gather my information. Letting the person know there’s a lot of information on the web and encouraging them to do some research on their own is always great. This let’s the individual know you respect their opinion and that this kind of decision takes some thorough consideration.

Then, I leave.

Often, I’ve shared my story and then said something along the lines of, ‘I know this is a lot to take in, and I’m not expecting a reaction or response immediately – no matter where you want to go from here, I respect that entirely, of course. Do some research, and then let’s talk about how you feel when you’re ready.’

Give Them Time

Everyone is different.

Some people have responded immediately with an incredibly surprising, ‘You mean, that’s all you had to tell me? So what? This doesn’t change how I feel about you.’ Others have needed more time to digest, to come back and ask me questions, and then to digest some more. Because of the taboo nature of STDs, it’s hard to decipher how anyone will react.

As a result, it’s nice to let them know they can have as much time as they need.

In the end, some people may choose not to continue the relationship.

This is an understandable reaction even though it will probably break your heart.

Consider yourself lucky to know why they do not want to go further. You could probably care less about the silver-lining to all of this when your heart is broken…. But remember, most people never know why a person stops calling them or chooses to see other people; they are stuck analyzing everything they did and wondering if it was their looks, their personality, their family, etc.

Should someone choose to end the relationship as a result of your STD, know it actually has nothing to do with you. They were scared – rightfully so – and the relationship had not developed enough for them to be willing to take the risk. Sucks, yes, but it’s not the end of your dating career and it means you’re still awesome despite your STD.

Believe me, it’s true. 🙂

And, for those of you who like bullet points, here’s the abridged version of how to tell someone you have an STD:

– Tell them in-person while in a calm and quiet environment – their home could be a good choice
– Be honest about your experiences, be positive about yourself and your STD, let them ask questions, share the facts and figures, and point out some good resources
– Let the person have some alone time to do their own research and to decide how they would like to proceed.
– Don’t take their decision personally

If All Else Fails…

Should you be in a situation where you have already put a person at risk and you cannot bring yourself to discuss your STD face-to-face, should you feel telling the person would put your safety at risk, or for any other reason you are not able to have a conversation directly, there are a handful of websites designed to notify partners of your STD for you and anonymously.

These are great sites designed for those in fear of judgement but wanting as much as possible to do the right thing.

In fact, the guys at Don’tSpreadIt.com, in particular, are on The STD Project’s facebook page and I’ve chatted with them frequently – they’d love for you to take a gander at their site! 😉

1533882_446848112083407_2051712922_n THE STD PROJECT is a multi-award-winning independent website and progressive movement eradicating STD stigma by facilitating and encouraging awareness, education, and acceptance through story-telling and resource recommendations. Fearlessly led by Founder, Jenelle Marie, The STD Project is committed to modern-day sexual health and prevention by advocating for conscientious and informed decisions. Find them on twitter @theSTDProject