Why We Need National Condom Week

HaveAcondom-1National Condom Week 2015 is here!  From Valentine’s Day to February 21st, we are celebrating by providing a new article every day by prominent sexual health advocates focused on condom use and education. To kick it off, here is a little trivia for you:

If National Condom Week started campaigning in the 1970s, a time when the birth control pill had come into fashion and the HIV crisis was just around the corner, how is it still relevant today?

Here are seven important reasons why Condom Week remains pertinent today.

This article was originally published here

BY LARA WORCESTER | CondomMonologues.com

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 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 Corinna which debunks all the condom myths you’ve probably faced.

Do your part in public health and stay aware.

condom ad condoms too loose

LARA WORCESTER is co-founder & editor at Condom Monologues and a Lucky Bloke contributor. She’s a published social researcher with a Master’s in Gender & Sexuality studies and has worked with various HIV/AIDS organizations including Stella and the HIV Disclosure Project.

condom-monologuesCONDOM MONOLOGUES Affirming safer sex and sexuality one story at a time… 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

4 Reasons Why Grown Ups Need Sex Ed Too

94- grown up sex ed

When we think “sex education”, we tend to picture a class full of awkward teenagers. We don’t image adults sitting in class. Most 20-somethings have a basic understanding of where babies come from; most have already experienced sex with someone else. And yet few adults feel comfortable talking about sex with their partner(s). Sex educator, Kate McCombs knows this all too well. She explains that many of us (adults) don’t know what we want sexually and therefore, don’t know how to communicate our desires.

The purpose of this article is to challenge the notion that sex education stops after adolescence. Kate McCombs highlights that our bodies and sexual desires change throughout life and this requires access to information that can help us navigate those changes. Here she offers four solid reasons why adults need opportunities to expand their sexual knowledge.

Here are her main points:

  • Not everyone enters adulthood with the same quality of sex education. And rarely does our national sex ed curriculum adequately prepare us for adult romantic relationships.
  • Good communication about sex takes continued learning and practice. It cannot be readily taught in a textbook.
  • Let’s halt the expectation that adults must be “experts” at sex. Instead, let’s promote sexual curiosity with willingness to listen and learn.
  • Many adults feel alone in what they are experiencing. Accessing  informative spaces in which adults can ask personal questions is an important health need.

BY KATE MCCOMBS | KateMcCombs.com

A week does not go by that an adult does not ask me a very basic sex question. I’m delighted to offer an answer – it’s my job – but it does strike me that something is off when otherwise educated people have big gaps in their knowledge about something as nearly-universal as sex.

Adults need sex ed just as much as young people do. Sexual desires, needs, and physical functioning evolve over time and because of this, we humans need information to help us navigate those changes. But how do you learn such things when you’re an adult and you’re not connected to an institution like school to provide the sex ed? I’d like to normalize the idea that adults need opportunities to expand their sexuality knowledge too.

In major cities, many sex positive retailers and organizations offer grown-up sex ed workshops. Here in New York City, we have a number of progressive sex toy stores that offer classes.

But what about communities that don’t have these types of resources? Although there are a growing number of adult sex ed outlets, there is still a gap between the need and the services to meet that need. Here are four reasons we need more grown-up sex ed:

1. If we don’t get the information during school, we need to get it as adults.

As most of us know, sex education for young people – if it happens at all – is rarely adequate at preparing them for their adult romantic lives. If we’re not properly educating youth about sex and relationships, how do we expect them to fare as adults? For some examples of this education gap, take a look at Melissa White’s article where she asked adults what they wish they’d learned in sex ed. Even if people received sex ed in school, it’s unlikely that it included messages about pleasure or healthy relationships.

In-home sex toy parties fill some of the need for pleasure education, but the consultants doing the presentations sometimes know more about selling the products than they do about sex education and communication. While I love teaching about sex toys, I also suspect that many people in need of good sex ed might not feel comfortable in a sex toy retail environment.

2. Communicating about sex can be hard.

Many people struggle with basic questions like, “How do I tell my partner I’m interested in _____?” or, “How do I tell my partner I don’t enjoy ____?”

People in my workshops frequently tell me that they struggle to talk about sex with their partners. They’re sometimes afraid to seem like they don’t know enough or, for some women especially, they worry that they know “too much” (internalized slut-shaming at its finest).

Sometimes the challenge is that they don’t have enough clarity about what they do want, which seriously compromises their ability to communicate their desires. Other times they don’t want to “ruin the moment,” as if talking about sex is somehow anathema to having good sex.

Good communication – about anything emotional and interpersonal – is challenging for many people. It takes learning and practice, as well as vulnerability and empathy. Those things are challenging to teach in an article or a one-off workshop.

3. Adults are often expected to be “sexperts.”

I’ve encountered many folks who believe that part of being an adult is being an expert at sex. Linguistically, we even use the word “adult” as an all-encompassing euphemism for “sexual.” Many of the articles in mainstream magazines reinforce this idea when they talk about “mastering techniques.” There’s an incredible diversity of things people enjoy sexually, and the only way to really know is to ask.

Instead of encouraging people to become “sexperts,” I encourage people to embrace their inner “sex geek.” Being geeky is about being curious, which allows you to acquire proficiency through asking questions and researching things about which you want to learn. Asking inviting questions – and listening with empathy – goes far in making you awesome in bed.

4. Many adults feel alone in what they’re experiencing.

When I teach workshops, one of the most common type of question I get is some variation on, “Am I normal?” This is true whether I’m teaching college students or menopausal women.Vast-Majority-250x308

I recently taught a workshop to a group of moms in Dallas, Texas, that was hosted in someone’s home. I spoke with many of these women one-on-one, and it was remarkable to me how many of them seemed embarrassed to ask their questions.

They asked me things like, “Is it normal to have bladder control problems after having a baby?” and, “Is it weird that I don’t orgasm from intercourse?” The answer to both of these things is yes, totally normal. I think it’s important to highlight that these were professional, educated women. If these women don’t have access to this kind of information, how can women with less access get the information they need?

~~~

Clearly, there’s a giant education gap in the skills people need in order to navigate their sexual lives. While there are some fabulous resources in some communities, there is still an unmet need that I’d love to see remedied.

kate_mccombsKATE MCCOMBS is a NYC-based sex educator, writer, and maker of puns. Ultimately, all of Kate’s work is about helping people feel more comfortable talking about sex. She believes that meaningful conversations + accurate information can help us create a healthier and more pleasure-filled world. Kate writes articles and teaches workshops about sexual health, pleasure, and communication. Follow Kate on Twitter @katecom

SEXLIBS: When Condoms Make You Uncomfortable

condom libsBY DR. KAREN RAYNE | KarenRayne.com

Lots of people don’t like using condoms – they don’t even like talking about condoms.

Talking about condoms is complicated, filled with societal judgment and dogma, and thus can feel hard to bring up.

So what to do when a lover or a student or anyone else rejects a condom conversation when you feel it is important – or maybe even required?

CONDOM SEXLIBS, that’s what!

Work through an entire Sexlibs about condoms (please see below!), and you’ll have started some of the more difficult condom related questions, as well as some of the sillier ones, and there’s nothing wrong with whimsy about sex, especially if it makes talking a little easier:

Condom Love

The first time I ever put on a condom I was _____________ years old, and I put it on a _____________.  Afterwards, I felt _____________. I told _____________. I was hoping they would react by _____________.

When I think about using a condom during sex, I think that sounds _____________. My favorite thing about using a condom is _____________, and my least favorite is _____________.

If I were designing my own condom, it would be _____________ and _____________, and secretly I think it would be even cooler if it could be _____________, although I know that’s not possible.

My favorite way to put on a condom is _____________. To make sex with a condom even sexier, it’s best if you _____________.

I think it would be hilarious if someone took _____________ and filled a condom with it. But it’d be even funnier to have a fight with condoms filled with _____________.

My favorite brand and style of condoms is _____________ and _____________.

(More Sexlibs, including a book, are forthcoming by Dr. Karen Rayne.)

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

EVENT: Choosing Condoms for Pleasure with Melissa White

SHE logo_hi-resJoin Melissa White of Lucky Bloke as she explains: How to Choose Condoms for Ultimate Pleasure

As CEO at Lucky Bloke, converting non-believers to a better sex life with condoms is Melissa’s passion and expertise. So if you would file yourself in the love-to-hate condom category, you’re sleeping with a partner who is a condom foe, or even if you’re just curious about better sex with condoms, Melissa’s here to empower you with a workshop that is guaranteed to radically improve your safer-sex pleasure.

She’ll also get to the bottom of lube, the perfect condiment to much hotter sex. If your past experience was a sticky mess or you simply have no idea where to begin Melissa’s workshop should be your first stop!

WHAT:  Join Melissa White, CEO of Lucky Bloke, for a crazy fun session at SHE, the Sexual Health Expo, that will change the way you think about both condoms and lube — forever.

While the drugstores would have you believe that there are 3 choices and 2 bottles, that’s not the truth at all.

Bring your sexy brain and your sense of humor and discover:

  • Why 70% of people are using the wrong sized condom

  • How to choose the right condom, from material to size to texture and taste

  • Why the lube you’re using might be the wrong one for your type of play

  • Why your bathroom has the one tool you need to get you into the right sized condom
    (hint: it’s not your scale)

All attendees will receive the Lucky Bloke Ultimate Condom or Lube Sampler of their choice!

WHEN:   Saturday, January 17th at 11:30am

WHERE:   Sofitel Hotel in West Hollywood, CA.
Event tickets: $25 per couple, good for 2 days at the Expo > Get them here.

WHO:  As the CEO of Lucky Bloke, Melissa’s mission is to help legions of condom users across the globe have the very best sex possible by introducing them to condoms that are specifically ideal for them. Lots of people are fumbling the safer sex thing. Melissa has a knack for showing you how to choose just the precisely right condom for you – and how that translates to much better sex.

While it’s true that Melissa did not know during the career unit in 7th grade she’d eventually end up a condom expert, it’s undeniable that there are few things that make her happier than turning a condom skeptic into a condom lover.  

Often found online fighting sexual health stigma and misinformation – Melissa is the internet’s favorite condom crusader. Her expertise of making sex education sexy can be found at Huffington Post, Think Progress, Mother Jones, Men’s Health, the Good Men Project and RH Reality Check (to name a few), as well as Lucky Bloke’s recently launched SaferSex.Education, an online resource providing accurate, progressive advice from leading sex educators –created to support everyone navigating sexual relationships and choices.

When she’s not thinking about how to spread the condom gospel through Lucky Bloke’s global condom reviews and safer sex awareness initiatives, there is an 87% chance Melissa is considering what song she will choose for her inevitable Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon lip sync battle.

About SHE – Sexual Health Expo

Experience an open environment where learning the latest facts about sex and intimacy is celebrated with style and flair! What better location to explore the diverse sexual landscape than the colorful city of Los Angeles? Featuring today’s leaders in sex, intimacy and romance, Sexual Health Expo (SHE) will deliver a crash course in understanding modern relationships with must-attend workshops and captivating intimacy product showcases- all with the chic backdrop of the stylish Sofitel Hotel in West Hollywood, CA.

SHE will showcase the best that the sexual wellness and intimacy products marketplace has to offer with top experts to guide you. SHE’s exhibition area will allow you to immerse yourself in the exploration of today’s top intimacy products with product demos and special events alongside like-minded singles and couples.

SHE is set to uncover the ins and outs of sexual health, intimacy and the evolving needs of couples and sexually active adults of all genders and sexual orientation. This groundbreaking event will bridge the gap between men, women and their understanding of sex.

Event Website: www.sexualhealthexpo.com

What Does Sexual Consent Look Like?

Image from Bedsider

Image from Bedsider

When it comes to sex, consent is essential. As JoEllen Notte of the RedHeadBedhead.com writes, consent is to sexual play as a doorbell is to a home. We do not question the validity of houses having doorbells. And yet, the topic of sexual consent generates heated debate.

What does consent actually mean? What does sexual consent look like? Do I have to sign a contract with my partner about everything we do together before we take our clothes off?

This confusion is not surprising. Movies typically portray sizzling sex scenes without any talking. The characters are so in sync with each other that communication seems unnecessary. In the article below, JoEllen points to ways in which “enthusiastic consent” is the brunt of media jokes that poke fun at anti-harassment activists as out-of-touch, over-the-top PC mood killers.

How did we get to this political climate around consent?

According to JoEllen, it all begins from a faulty model taught from a young age: The “no means no” model.

In this clever piece, “I Got Your Consentlandia Right Here“, JoEllen runs through the flaws and harmful effects that longstanding approaches to consent have had in our media, our legal system and our personal well being. Then she demonstrates practical ways that consent takes place and how it looks in different contexts. When you’re done reading, you’ll never think of consent as a drag again.

Here are key points to take away:

  • “No means no” perpetuates the stance, “They never said no”, as a valid response to sexual harassment and rape charges.
  • The new model, “Yes means yes”, implies collaboration. Real consent happens only once there is an active, voluntary “yes” or “F*ck Yeah!”.
  • Consent is an on-going process that requires constant communication.
  •  “Yes means yes” allows for no confusion, no mind reading, and much better sex!

This article was originally published at theRedheadBedhead.com

BY JOELLEN NOTTE | theRedheadBedhead.com

The topic of consent has been weighing heavy on my mind this last week. I’ve watched people wrestle with it, spring into action around it, snark about it, debate it, discuss it and even mock it, dismiss it and reduce it to a meme. A conclusion that I’ve come to (a conclusion that I’ve come to many times before) is that most people— even the ones who want desperately to help— don’t really get consent. The fact that the topic breeds debate and frequently causes people to get angry (“What, do I have to fill out a form before I touch someone now?!”) is actually absurd because when it comes down to it, consent is just about not violating boundaries. That shouldn’t piss us off. We’re not outraged that houses have doorbells rather than coming with the assumption that we can all just walk on in, right? Right. But somehow when you suggest to people that they may want to ask before stomping all up into another person’s space, there is backlash. So how did this happen?

Think back to how you were taught about consent. Odds are you weren’t really. You were more likely taught about “no”. If you were born with a vagina, you were probably taught to be careful because people might rape you and you should say “no” or, if you were born with a penis, you were told that “no means no” and if you hear “no” then you should not proceed because, rape¹. What has happened here is that you learned a couple of things:

  1. One partner should charge ahead until they get the red light from the other.
  2. Listen for a cue to stop, rather than a cue to start.
  3. If you don’t hear a “no”, you’re good to go.

This model has proven disastrous in myriad ways. From lawyers who argue that unconscious victims weren’t raped because they didn’t say the all-important “no”, to people who have no idea how to communicate sexual needs because everything we’ve been taught is based in negatives (i.e. what DON’T we want), to the general pattern of blaming victims not rapists because, obviously, they didn’t “no” hard enough, to the fact that no one knows what the hell “yes” looks like, to this bizarre idea that if we ask people if we can touch them before we touch them we will never touch each other again/it will be super-awkward and not fun.

Folks, it’s a steaming pile of horse shit. All of it.

Seriously.

As you may have noticed, I’m a bit consent obsessed and, while consent is not always about sex (in fact, a lot of what we’re talking about applies to most non-sexual situations and, ahem, communities), I’m happy to report that my own life got way easier, more comfortable, more fun and, frankly, sexier once I figured this consent business out….

Continue reading at The Readhead Bedhead.

Unsure what size

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

Sexuality: WTF Is It, Anyway?

Photo credit: Cobalt123

“The Circles of Sexuality are an altering flux of different parts working together.” Photo credit: Cobalt123

Sexuality is made up of various working parts, all of which are fundamental to being human. It involves a vast array of experiences including family and peer relationships, dating, physical development, emotional development, sensuality, gender, body image, media, and so much more. That is why it is such a difficult term to define. What one person deems important to their sexuality will be different from another person.

So how can we understand sexuality in a way that is inclusive to people’s diversity?

One way to think about it is what some sex educators call the Circles of Sexuality. Heather Corinna explains in detail how this model works.

Here are key points she covers in the article below:

  • There is no one-fits-all model. Definitions are not fixed and change dramatically over time as we learn more about about people’s sexuality. If this model doesn’t resonate with you, this does not reflect something wrong with you; rather there is a problem with the model.
  • Think about the Circles of Sexuality as an altering flux of parts. Each of the five circles can change from the size and position in which they overlap. For example, one person’s sexuality might be more influenced by their experience with reproduction, while another person will see their sexual orientation as more important. And it’s not just between people that this varies, but also across one’s individual life.
  •  Sexuality is made up of any or all of the following: physical, chemical, emotional, relationships, identity-based, intellectual, and sociocultural. Read below for a comprehensive explanation of each.
  • For more information about sex and sexuality, check out Heather Corinna’s book, All About S.E.X.: The Scarleteen Book.

This article is originally publish at Scarleteen

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

WTF-sexuality-v2The term “sexuality” can be used a lot like the word “sex.” They’re both terms we say and hear a lot, but which often aren’t clearly defined, or even defined at all. We can take for granted that everyone, including ourselves, knows what terms like this mean, a heck of an assumption to make with something that covers a lot of really important things and can feel as murky as Lake Erie.

So, what is sexuality all about? You might say it’s about our bodies or our hormones, about our feelings and our relationships, or about touching and being touched. You might think it’s about doing or engaging in one kind of sex or any kind of sex, or about wanting, seeking out or experiencing certain kinds of pleasure. You might say it’s about parts of our identity, like our gender identity or sexual orientation. You might say it’s about reproduction: about making babies (or not). You might say it’s about our desires to be close to — or far away from — other people in ways we define or experience as sexual, or about feeling horny, lusty, tingly, mingly, hungry, itchy, twitchy or whatever words you use to express a strong feeling of “I can haz sex NOW, plz.”

If any one of those things were your answers, you’re right. If all or most of those things were your answers, you’re even more right (and may not even need to read this article at all: go get outside for a change, wouldya?). Sexuality is BIG. Mount Everest big: that’s why trying to scale it without a guide or two doesn’t go so well for most people. It’s a lot bigger than it can look and certainly a lot bigger than it’s often presented by most places and in most ways we see it presented. It’s complex as all get-out, both because it’s so big, and also because it’s about everyone, and as a whole people, we’re all incredibly different so something that’s about all of us is always going to be seriously complicated, not simplistic.

As with anything this big, there are a lot of ways we can talk about what sexuality is and can be. There’s no one exactly-right model when it comes to defining sexuality: we’re going to talk about it a couple of ways here, based on where we’re currently at with definitions in comprehensive sex education and sexology, but if neither of them feels right to you, that probably means these models just don’t fit you well, rather than meaning you’re wrong. Models or definitions of sexuality can and often do change over time, especially as we learn more and more about everyone’s sexualities. Even in just the last 50 years, the way we talk about sexuality and the models we create for it have changed a lot: in the next 50 years, it may change, too.

Sexuality, as we know so far, is a mix of many different things in varying proportions: things that are physical, chemical, emotional, interpersonal, identity-based, intellectual, social and cultural, and that mix is different for, and unique to, everyone. Sexuality also isn’t something that is technically “adult,” or something that pops out of the blue when anyone reaches puberty or a certain age: no one isn’t sexual one day, then the next day, suddenly is because they’ve reached a certain age, had sex with a partner or sprouted hair in places they didn’t have it last month. Even though the sexualities of people tend to vary when it comes to age and development — infant sexuality, for instance, is a very different thing than adolescent or young adult sexuality, which can be a very different thing from the sexualities of people in their 60s or 70s — it’s been with all of us in some way from the day we were born, and maybe even before, believe it or not.

Sexuality: Key Ingredients for a Very Adaptable Recipe

What can sexuality be made of? Any or all of the following:

The physical: The development, health and function of what are considered our internal and external sexual organs and reproductive systems and our unique experiences with that development, health and function, our brain and nervous system (the biggest drivers of sexual arousal and function), and the whole of our bodies. The experience of our senses — of hearing, tasting, touching, feeling and seeing — are also part of our sexuality, even though they are part of our whole lives and life experience, not just our sexualities. The experience of our sexual responses and something often called “skin hunger,” the human desire to be touched. Advocates for Youth points out that teens and young adults often experience less touch from family members than they did as children, and so people often don’t recognize how big a part just wanting to be touched can play when it comes to young people and their developing sexuality.

Another part of the physical aspect of sexuality is information about our sexual anatomy, and our experiences with and of reproduction and our reproductive systems, of our reproductive and sexual health are also part of the physical part of sexuality, as well as playing a role in other parts of our sexual whole, including the chemical, social and cultural.

The chemical: AKA, hormones. Hormones take the blame all too often for hasty or poor sexual choices: choices there seem no other way of accounting for, as in “Those dirty hormones made me do it!” Hormones are not anything close to all of what our sexuality is — nor are they things that can make people do sexual things against their will or are a sound scapegoat for poor sexual decision-making — but they can certainly play a part. “Sex” hormones include testosterone, a big chemical libido driver for everyone, and estrogen, but there are also others which take part in sexuality that you experience even without sexual activity, like progesterone, adrenaline, serotonin, vasopressin, oxytocin (which is a real thing, but has been the source of many a myth), dopamine and endorphins. When people talk about sexual chemistry, some of what they mean is how we do or don’t neurochemically respond when it comes to sex and sexual feelings, something — unlike our sexual behavior — we don’t have any control over and often may not even have much awareness of.

The emotional & intellectual: Our feelings, values and ideas about sexual development and sexual changes through life, body image, gender identity and sexual orientation issues, sexual desires and fantasies, sexual activity with oneself and/or with partners, sexual relationships and sexual self-image, the ways those may drive us sexually, and the way we feel about sexuality and sex as a whole, not just our own. How we may or do feel sexually attracted to others and how they may or do feel attracted to us is another piece of the emotional and intellectual, and our sexual fantasies are part of this, too, as are our sexual ideals: what we feel sex and sexuality are supposed to be or should be, either for ourselves or for everyone. Our gender identity and our sexual orientation are also big pieces of the emotional and intellectual aspects of our sexuality, as well as part of the social and interpersonal, cultural and physical parts of sexuality.

Feelings are a part of our sexuality in every and any sexual interaction or desire. Sometimes we’ll hear people say they’ve had or want to have sex “without feelings,” but the only way we could do that, really, is to cut our heads off. While we may not have, be open to or experience the same kinds of feelings in every sexual interaction, when we’re alive and conscious at all, emotional feelings are always some part of the picture. We can’t magically turn them off during any part of life, including with sex and sexuality.

The social and interpersonal: Your sexuality in the context of your relationships — sexual partners or potential partners, but also friends and family — and the influences those relationships have had and have now on your feelings about your sexuality, your sexual wants and needs from others, and your sexual choices with others and your ability to make them. This includes experiences with taking the emotional risks we do whenever we expose or express ourselves sexually with someone else: what has happened to us, for instance, in sharing sexual feelings or interest, or in being out about some part of our sexual selves. How others have expressed themselves sexually to us, including when we weren’t expressing ourselves sexually with them, also plays a part here.

This piece is about what, if any, sexual relationships with others a person wants, seeks out or experiences, but also about all kinds of other relationships that tend to play a part in our sexuality, like the relationships we had and have with family members and friends. How all the people we are in any kind of relationship with treat or react to our sexuality is also a piece of this and the cultural aspects below.

The cultural: None of us can live in the world without being influenced by it. How the rest of the world — including our peers, local and larger communities, your government, the media — views sexuality, and all the parts of our sexuality, like our gender, our bodies, or the kinds of sexual relationships or experiences we have or want, is a part of our sexuality, as are our feelings, attitudes, and conformity or resistance to those views. How the world or some in it view our sexuality when it isn’t even ours at all, but only their idea of it is also part of cultural influence on our sexuality.

In other words, this part is about what messages about sexuality we get overtly and covertly, what we feel or experience our culture allows and disallows, idealizes (says is good or right) or punishes (says is bad or wrong), what our culture tells us to feel comfortable with and tells us to be afraid of, the effect and influence it has on us, consciously and unconsciously, and where and how we and our own sexuality, sexual identity and ethics, body image, gender identity, orientation and relationships fits or doesn’t within cultural attitudes towards, approaches to and presentations of sexuality. To give you one easy example, a lot of the words, the very language, and the approaches you’re reading here are, themselves, cultural: someone from a very different culture or cultures than my own may write or conceptualize all of this very differently.

You might have noticed a lot of overlaps with things in each of those groups above, and for good reason. That’s because we can’t really compartmentalize those things much: we can’t really put them each in tiny little boxes where everything always stays neatly in each box. One model for defining and explaining sexuality that’s really helpful, and illustrates that overlapping well, is the Circles of Sexuality model, designed by Dr. Dennis M. Dailey. There are a lot of versions and explanations of this model, but the one I like best is from the Interagency Gender Working Group , which is what our version of the circles here is adapted from.

What’s Inside the Circles of Sexuality
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Sensuality: “Sense” is the key part of this word: we’re talking about your physical senses and your awareness and experience of them. Sensuality also involves our awareness and experience of our bodies as a whole, including our body image, and our experiences, if any, of physically exploring the bodies of others, and not just with certain kinds of sex, like intercourse, recognized as capital-S Sex. Sensuality is about pleasure: seeking, exploring and experiencing pleasure, both as something we may receive or have, and as something we may give others or share with others.

Intimacy: Intimacy is a word sometimes people use as a euphemism for sex, like by saying someone was “intimate” with someone else to mean they had some kind of sex with them. Intimacy is certainly a part of the whole of sexuality and often part of people’s experience of sex and sexuality through life, but when we say intimacy here, we’re talking about the ability and desire for emotional closeness with other people, and as a part of sexuality, not as the whole of it. That can include sharing, caring, emotional risk-taking, and vulnerability. Emotional intimacy may not always occur with every sexual experience, and when it does, it doesn’t always look or feel the same way for everyone, or with every experience — including for two people sharing a sexual experience together at the same time — nor happen to the same degree for every person or with every sexual experience. When and if we seek out sex with other people, we are usually seeking out intimacy, even if it’s not the same kind of intimacy every time, or the same kind of intimacy someone else may be seeking. We’re usually all looking to share something in which we’re close to someone else in some way.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity: This is about a person’s feeling, sense or understanding of who they are when it comes to their gender — their feeling of being a man, a woman, neither, both, or a different way of experiencing gender altogether and the ways they express those feelings — and when it comes to what gender of people, if any, they feel sexual desire about: who, based on (or not) gender, they feel sexually attracted to, whether or not they seek out or have the opportunity to be in sexual relationship with or not. Sexual orientation — our sense of being queer or straight, homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual or asexual, and so forth — and gender identity are obviously involved with each other, because they both have to do with gender, but one doesn’t automatically determine the other, and how linked they are for each person can vary, as can how big a part they play in a person’s sexuality.

Our biases, stereotypes or fears can play roles here, too, just like they can in all the other circles. In other words, ways that we think about other people or ourselves when it comes to gender or orientation — just like ways we may think of others when it comes to ability or disability, race or ethnicity — can also play a part in our sexuality. If that’s tricky to get a grasp on for you, a good example of that is the idea some men have that that only gay men want to engage in receptive anal sex: many men of all orientations may have the desire to explore that or know they have enjoyed that, but those with that bias can find the bias plays a part in their sexuality around that activity, either making it something they desire but don’t do because of homophobia and that makes them feel bad about their sexuality, or something they may find even more exciting, or taboo, because of that fear or bias. Ravishment fantasies can be another example of that, as can people using pornography that turns them on, but where doing what they’re watching is something they’d feel disgusted by in real life. Sometimes things people feel most afraid of, or repulsed by, can be things that turn them on a lot.

Sexual and Reproductive Health: One’s capacity or ability (or lack thereof) to reproduce, feelings about and experiences with reproduction, and the behaviors and attitudes that play a part in sexual health and enjoyment. This includes the information we have about sexual anatomy, sexual activities, reproduction, contraception, STI prevention, and self-care, among others and the messages that information has given us about all of those things. This circle is also about our experiences of sexual wellness or illness, and how they influence our sexuality and sexual desires or experiences. Healthy sexual relationships are also a part of sexual and reproductive health.

Sexual behaviors and practices: This is one of the easier pieces to grok: it’s about what we or others actively do sexually to enact or express our sexuality; about who is doing what when it comes to their own body parts and/or those of a sexual partner or partners, sex toys or other objects. This part of sexuality won’t always be a “do” or “have done” for everyone: some people may want or desire certain behaviours or practices, but not engage in them, or not yet engage in them, for any number of reasons, whether that’s about lack of opportunity or ability, fear or something else. Even if someone doesn’t or hasn’t yet actively done something sexual, the behaviours and practices they are interested in or want often play a big part in their sexuality. This also isn’t just about sex with partners: masturbation is part of this, too. What we do not want to do sexually can also be part of our sexuality and how we experience it, too.

Power and Agency: Power is the ability or capacity to do something, and can also be about strength or force, or the ability or capacity to exercise control over oneself or others. Agency is a sociological or philosophical term that addresses a person’s capacity to act: what a person has the right, ability or power to do. How much power or agency each of us has in general and in specific situations varies a whole lot, in really big ways — like based on what power and agency we may or may not have in the world based on how rich or poor we are, what color we are, what our gender is, how our bodies do or don’t work — and then in smaller, more situational ways, like in one given relationship.

Power and agency play a huge part in all aspects of sexuality, in the healthy stuff and the unhealthy stuff, which is why this version of the circles puts it right in the center. We can experience power and agency, and have them influence our sexuality from a “sense of self-worth and understanding of one’s [sexual] preferences and values, which enables a person to realize sexual well-being and health.” We may or may not have, or may have or feel varying amounts of power or agency to influence, negotiate, decide, consent or decline when it comes to sexual experiences. We or others may also use power or agency to manipulate, control or harm others in our sexual experiences, too.

Not everyone’s sexuality or the way they express it is healthy, and what’s emotionally healthy or isn’t tends to have a whole lot to do with power and agency. If we feel and use whatever power and agency we have when it comes to sex to care for ourselves and others, to seek out mutual pleasure and well-being, and it comes from an emotional place where we give ourselves and others high value and worth, then chances are good we’re using or enacting our power and agency sexually in healthy ways.

On the other hand, people can also sexually use — or more to the point, abuse — power and agency to do others harm. For sure, sometimes people can use power and agency to try and influence others sexually in ways that aren’t about trying to do harm — or being so self-centered that one doesn’t even consider the other person, which makes doing harm very likely — or trying to control them, like flirting, which is usually harmless even though it is about trying to influence someone else around sex. As well, some people bring powerplay into their sexual lives in ways that in another context would usually be about doing harm, but where consent and mutual pleasure are present and prioritized, instead of dismissed or discounted, like for people who engage in consensual, mutually wanted BDSM activities.

But sexual violence like rape, molestation and incest, sexual harassment, forced prostitution, withholding sex as a way to try and manipulate harm or control (rather than declining sex because it isn’t wanted), sexualization: these are all some things that come from an emotional place of devaluing, or not having value for, oneself and others, and about using power in ways with or around sex that are not healthy, neither for the person doing them or the people that person is doing them to. Power and agency is also in the middle of all of those other circles because how much power and agency people have, and what they do with power and agency, as well as how they are impacted by it, is connected to all of those other issues.

Phew! It’s a lot to think about, we know. And there’s more.

It might help to look at a model like that one and figure that the size of those circles might not all be the same for each person. For instance, one person’s sexuality may be very influenced by reproducing or their experience with reproduction, while it may have little to do with someone else’s. Some people’s sexuality may not have yet involved, or may not ever involve, engaging in sexual behaviors with themselves or others; one person’s sexuality may involve a lot of intimacy, while someone else’s may not. And of course, how a model like this — and the size of the circles and the places they connect — looks for even one person may be very different when they’re 15 than it is when they’re 55. Our sexuality does not stay the same throughout our lives, so how it looks and feels, and what parts of it seem bigger, and which smaller, will often shift quite a few times in each of our lives.

Sexuality is a lot like an ecosystem: one change to one part of the system usually impacts other parts of it, and one tiny shift in one place can sometimes change the whole thing quite radically. And just like with ecosystems, the same shift in one system won’t always have the same impact as it would in a different one: the great diversity of people, our lives and experiences — and all of those pieces we’ve been talking about — means that sexuality is also greatly diverse.

Even the language we or others use to describe our sexuality tends to reflect the kind of vast diversity we’re talking about when it comes to sexuality.

When someone uses words to describe their sexuality, they may mostly or only use terms about sexual orientation and gender identity, like heterosexual (straight), homosexual (gay or lesbian or queer), bisexual or pansexual (queer, bi, pan, omni), asexual or questioning; or terms like cis gender, femme, butch, fey, trans, agender or genderqueer, or stick to terms about chromosomes or how people are assigned sex, like male, female or intersex. Or they might use words that talk more about their sexual behaviours or practices; about what they actively do sexually or find arousing in terms of sexual activities, like kinky, vanilla, foot lover, oral sex fangirl, pictophiliac (someone aroused by visual pornography) or arachibutyrophiliac (someone aroused by the sensation of peanut butter sticking to the roof of one’s mouth: shared primarily to give you the most winning Scrabble word of ever).

Some people use terms that are about a sexual role they like to play, like bottom, top or switch. Some people may include their reproductive status or experiences in their terms for their sexual identity, like if they’re a Mom or Dad, or if they’ve chosen to be childfree. Some may use words that focus on the kind of relationship they are in or want. Some people feel that one word describes, or should describe, their sexuality, like “male” or “straight,” while another person feels like a word like that is way too broad to be useful or feel like it says anything at all about their sexuality. Of course, some people may, and do, use more than one of those kinds of terms based on what their sexuality feels like and how they identify with it. Someone might define their sexuality or their sexual selves as a trans-femme-lesbian-vanilla-Mom, for instance, while someone else may define themselves sexually as a hetero-kinky-poly-dude. Some people may not use any terms at all.

Too, one thing that trips a lot of people up is trying to figure out how to separate their sexuality from all the other parts of themselves and their lives; where sexuality ends and everything else begins. When I did our version of the circles, I made the text in them bleed outside the circles for a reason. I did that because often, we’re not going to be able to draw very clear lines between our sexuality and the rest of who we are, what we feel and the lives we live. Sometimes it is clear-cut: sometimes we can identify things, situations or feelings that very clearly don’t incite or involve our sexuality in any way. We can sometimes do the same with some things we know are a part of our sexuality, and seem to only or mostly: like things that we find very sexually arousing, but find totally boring, ridiculous or offensive in any other context.

Just like with models for sexual response, you get to come up with your own if you don’t read or see a model that sounds like it really works for you. Sexuality itself involves some things we can’t control or direct — like our life histories, our feelings and our attractions — but for the most part, a lot of our sexuality, and certainly how we define and direct it, is very much a Choose Your Own Adventure.

One person’s sexuality, experience or understanding of sexuality can be radically different from another person’s, but that doesn’t mean one person is right and the other wrong, or that one person has a sexuality and the other doesn’t.

Like anything made of people and our collective lives and experiences, sexuality is hella diverse, and while some sexualities (or more accurately, the way some sexualities are expressed or acted out) are physically, emotionally or interpersonally healthier than others, there’s no right way of having one; no one sexuality that is the default, or the way sexuality “is,” while others are deviations, derivatives or “perversions.”

While it’s important for any of us who talk about sexuality to define what we mean when we use that word, sexuality is really something we’re often best defining on our own, for ourselves, and understanding as something that, while it has a lot of common threads among all people, is tremendously individual and unique. If it were anything but as diverse, varied, big and complicated as it is, people would have gotten bored with it long before now, and no one would ever come to a website like this one.

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).

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.

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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