Fearless Sexuality Educator

Sexuality education, without fear and with pleasure.

Friday FREAK OUT! Choose Purity, OR DIE!

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Making the rounds this week is a story about yet another Purity Ball (purity balls have in fact been happening since 1998), in which young girls pledge that they will abstain from sex until they get married, often pledging themselves to their fathers until their wedding day (creepy, right?!). This particular Purity Ball, ‘Choose Purity’, is getting a little more attention, though, because it was co-sponsored by a PUBLIC AGENCY, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Can I say that again? It was co-sponsored by a government entity, which has absolutely no place hosting an event that is steeped in religiosity and drenched in FEAR mongering.

The Las Vegas Sun reported that the event featured the “Toe Tag Monologues” in order to drive home the message that engaging in premarital sex means death- complete with someone being rolled out in a body bag.
20140509-185105.jpg So what does this purity ball tell us happens when you have sex? The Sun summed it up really well:

Typically four things: sexual assault, gangs, drugs and prostitution.

This is wrong on so many levels that I can barely explain it. (For some other great posts on this, click here, here, here, here, and oh so many more so just google ‘Choose Purity’ May 3, 2014.) Here are five thoughts that I can construct about this:

*Yes, there are risks involved in having sex. But so are there risks crossing the street- but people still do it. Safely. (Well, some more safely than others.)
*Yes, abstinence is a great option for some people, but not for everyone and it’s certainly not a panacea.
*Yes, we need to talk about those risks, but in a REAL way, not in an extreme, overdramatized, this-will-never-happen-to-me way.
*Yes, we need to talk about how people can be safe, by using actual, real-life, ordinary examples- because that’s where the tough stuff sits.
*Yes, it’s possible that having sex isn’t such a bad thing after all, when it’s safe, consensual, mutual, and pleasurable. (gasp!)

I guess that’s why my blog is about being fearLESS.

For more about the icky purity ball scene, check out:
Welcome to the Bizarre and Beautiful World of Purity Balls, on the Huffington Post
Purity, a photography book by David Magnussun
The Purity Pledge and America’s Modern Virginity Movement, a documentary available on YouTube, for FREE
and I’m not gonna leave this out out:
Many Teens Don’t Keep Virginity Pledges, an article outlining research results also showing that pledgers are also less likely to use condoms when they do have sex.

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Friday FREAK OUT! What can we learn from First Kiss video featuring strangers kissing

Earlier this week a video was posted to Youtube called First Kiss (also known as 20 Strangers Kissing). Within 24 hours, it had over 20 million views. As of this post, it’s got over 44 million.

That is basically the definition of VIRAL. It’s been called beautiful, touching, gorgeous, and strangely sweet. It’s also be described as cringy-cute and a bad first date- probably because it was soon learned that the video is actually an ad for Wren, a clothing line. (Note, it’s being described as a viral win.)

But once you get past that the video is actually an advertisement and the individuals in the video are actors (selected in part for their attractive looks) and are not representative of your average human being and that it’s incredibly staged, there ARE lessons about sexuality that can be learned:

  • Mike Domritz, on the Date Safe Project website, points out that the video demonstrates that asking for consent- something demonstrated throughout this video- doesn’t have to ruin everything, and can in fact make everything better.
  • Daniel Garza, from the Examiner, points out that the video highlights that “you are a living, breathing, sexual person with needs.”
  • Marcie Bianco, on PolicyMic, points out that the video “gives credence to the idea of sexuality as an act, or an action. There is no difference between the nerves or intimacies of the men kissing women, the men kissing men or the women kissing other women.”

As with all my Friday Freak Outs, I encourage sexuality educators to use popular media as teachable moments. This video can spark interesting discussions around consent, sexual being-ness, and inclusivity. It could also spark discussions around intimacy, hook-up culture, and the use of sexuality in advertizing.  (It can also spark parody videos, like this one that is NSFW, or this one, which IS safe for work.) The possibilities are really endless.

Friday FREAK OUT! Johnny Weir’s Olympic Fashion Win takes him to the Oscars

The 2014 Sochi Olympics have come and gone, and there certainly were some outstanding athletic performances. But Johnny Weir, NBC figure skating commentator and former Olympian, clearly won the gold in fashion.

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His outfits got a ton of media attention, especially on Twitter and Instagram, and his fashion has been named a highlight of the games. Posts like Weir Watch and Johnny’s Outfit Tracker kept the public up to date on a daily basis. You can check out his full collection here.

His fashion and commentary has not ended with the Olympics, though. He and Tara Lipinski, his equally charming co-commentator and fashionista in Sochi, will be hosting the red carpet for the Oscars on Sunday night.

However, not everyone was super thrilled with Johnny’s style…gay CNN Don Lemon said, “No one likes a gay minstrel show.” For clarification, Lemon was referring to “someone who is flamboyant and over the top and all of those it seems those are the people who get the attention but they don’t represent all of gay America.”

Now that Weir is out and about and not going away, this can certainly become a teachable moment. There are so many ways that Johnny’s Olympic experience can be used in a sexuality education setting. Johnny models amazing self confidence and security in self identity, especially in an environment that posed considerable risk. Johnny demonstrates resilience after being criticized by big media outlets and individual Twitter users alike. Johnny also was a human- with challenges in the fur industry and his fishing debacle. All these qualities- confidence, resilience, humanity- are so important to remember when in a relationship, a sexual situation, or even when teaching!

Friday FREAK OUT! A big week for #MarriageEquality

This week has had so many incredible things happen that I can’t limit my post to just one story.

First, on Monday Michael Sam, a strong N.F.L. hopeful, announced that he is gay.

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Dale Hansen, a sportscaster from ABC News 8 in Dallas, TX hits it on the nose with his 2minutes and 15 seconds of commentary about how several officials from the NFL think it would be uncomfortable for someone to be gay in pro football- they wouldn’t be welcome in the locker room.

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This video has gone viral, with nearly 4 millions views on YouTube (and I think at least 5 of my Facebook friends posted it on their walls!) In his video he quotes Audre Lorde, “It is not our differences that divide us, it is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” to which he adds,

I want to beleive there will be a day when we do celebrate [those differences].

AMEN!

Then on Wednesday, a federal judge ruled that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. The ruling states that the government may define marriage and attach benefits to it, but cannot “impose a traditional or faith-based limitation” without a sufficient justification for it.”

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And on the heels of this landmark decision comes another court ruling that Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. “Our Constitution declares that ‘all men’ are created equal,” wrote Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, in Norfolk. “Surely this means all of us.” If the decision holds, then it could have significant repercussions in other states with constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage.

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Oh and let’s not forget that on Saturday Attorney General Eric Holder announced sweeping changes in the way that federal government treats same sex couples in the criminal justice system. They will no longer be treated differently in terms of filing bankruptcy, testifying in court, and visiting someone in prison.

So this was a BIG WEEK for EQUALITY (one of my favorite words!). And just in time for Valentines Day and #RespectWeek. Woohoo! Now go eat some chocolate and watch a sappy romance movie.

Friday FREAK OUT! Revenge Porn King, Hunter Moore, arrested by FBI

20140123-222525.jpgHunter Moore, described as the revenge porn king and the most hated man on the internet, has been arrested, charged with ‘conspiracy to access a protected computer’, among other charges. Moore was the founder of the now-defunct website isanyoneup.com, where users posted pictures (usually of ex-girlfriends/boyfriends, usually with little/no clothing) without the knowledge/consent of the photo’s subject. Moore’s site was particularly nasty, since alongside that compromising photo, the subject’s name and other identifying information was included, so it would be certain to come up in a google search. After much public and private backlash, threats, and serious ‘come-to-jesus’ sit-downs with the FBI, Moore sold the site to an anti-bullying website, bullyville.com.

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Moore’s arrest is some great news for advocates who have been trying to outlaw revenge porn in the first place, such as End Revenge Porn. Yes, Moore has been indicted on charges of actually hacking into personal computers to get his content- which is definitely illegal, while revenge porn sites themselves remain lawful in many states (for now). But Moore’s arrest brings awareness to this issue and highlights the need to talk about using technology in healthy ways- not as a method to take revenge on a partner, not as a method to relish another person’s humiliation, and not as a method to take advantage of someone’s vulnerability. I don’t have a legal solution to revenge porn- there are so many legal intricacies regarding free speech, right to privacy, etc, that it’s definitely in a lawyer/policymakers realm, and my expertise is in education.

SO how can educators help prevent revenge porn from ruining someone’s life?
– Talk about what revenge porn is. By defining and describing it, you will raise the awareness of its impact.
– Discuss how revenge porn can affect a victim. Share some stories of people who were subjects of photos posted without their permission.
– Examine the reasons why someone would post a photo as an act of revenge, and then encourage alternative approaches to responding to hurt feelings.
– Explore what part consumers of revenge porn play. Demonstrate how if there is no audience for revenge porn, then its value will decrease.
– Ask how peers can influence each other to make responsible choices regarding taking photos, having photos taken, and consuming photos.

Be mindful that while you may be tempted to come down hard on revenge porn and denounce it left and right (as I would like to do!), it may not open the door for behavioral change for those who are already engaging in revenge porn (as a poster and/or consumer). As an educator, facilitate the discussion with a neutral perspective and let the criticism come from the participants, as it surely will. I’m no fan of revenge porn and the thought of it makes me cringe, but we have to put those cringes aside in order to reach those who have already bought into it.

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Friday FREAK OUT! ‘Rape Insurance’ law passes in Michigan…can we find a new hashtag for this?

20131213-153630.jpgThis past Wednesday, Michigan lawmakers passed legislation that bans insurance companies from covering abortion services, even if a woman’s life is in danger. Women who want abortion services to be covered would have to purchase a separate rider. This legislation, “Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act”, has been labeled ‘rape insurance’ by opponents because a woman would purchase the rider ahead of time in anticipation of the possibility of being raped. Michigan Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer shared her own story of sexual assault, calling attention to the needs of survivors.

This is not the first time the legislation has been proposed- last year Governor Rick Snyder (R) vetoed it. But this year it’s different because it’s a citizen’s initiative, having gotten over 300,000 signatures on a petition. Right to Life of Michigan and other proponents of the bill argue that the legislation stops taxpayers from subsidizing the cost of other people’s abortions. In reality, this legislation is just another iteration of attempts to limit access to abortion services- something that many states, like Virginia and Texas, have faced this year.

Much of the media attention regarding this particular legislation is focused on the need for a separate insurance rider in the case of rape (inspiring a significant freak out), but Jessica Valenti makes an incredibly valid point:”

the term “rape insurance” does a disservice to women—and to the reproductive justice movement. It is not just sexual assault survivors who need their abortion covered. Yes, there is an added dimension of cruelty when you’re talking about denying women who get pregnant as a result of rape care and coverage. But we cannot create a hierarchy of “good” and “bad” abortions. Or of “deserving” women. One in three American women will have an abortion, and the circumstances behind that pregnancy is none of our business—and it certainly should have no bearing on whether or not women can afford to access care.

Yes, this legislation is abominable. Yes, it limits access. Yes, there is a reason to be concerned about victims of rape who get pregnant and wish to terminate a pregnancy. In no way do I want to minimize the experiences/needs of someone who has been raped- but is it really rape insurance? While it may not generate quite the freak out that #rapeinsurance has, framing the discussion around access to services and limitation of rights more fully captures the broader issue at hand. So the call to action is finding a hashtag that will gain the attention we need to influence legislation to INCREASE access.

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Sexuality educators can use this as a lesson in both rights to services and health care, and the power of framing an issue. To tease out this concept of framing, use the following questions for discussion:
– What do you think of when you hear the term, ‘rape insurance’?
– How can framing abortion legislation in the context of rape/assault change the dialogue?
– What would be an effective hashtag/tagline that would more fully represent the issue of abortion access?
– What would you say to legislators that were considering a bill that limits access to abortion services?

Friday FREAK OUT! #lookadouche gets called out by some gutsy Texas teens

OK, so picture this. You’re in high school, and you and your classmates are shepherded to an assembly. In your head you’re thinking, I could get a solid one-hour nap in, or sit next to my latest crush, or maybe, just possibly LEARN something. Instead, you are subjected to old-fashioned misogynistic views on gender and relationships. You are so outraged, that you turn to Twitter to express your opinions:

That’s right, the student body was clearly upset over speaker Justin Lookadoo’s presentation, and their commentary on Twitter using the hashtag #lookadouche captured national attention. NY Mag makes an excellent point right off the bat: “There’s nothing like a bunch of righteous teens to make you believe in the democratic power of Twitter again.”

So the high school students are freakin out, the parents are freakin out, the media is freakin out, the Richardson High School administration realized they should have been freakin out, and why? Because this guy should never have been giving his presentation in the first place, especially not with public dollars.

20131115-230907.jpgOne glance at his previous publications and website will reveal what many are calling sexist, creepy, religious leanings. Lookadoo is being strongly criticized for content on his website, such as his Datable Rules, such as, for girls, “Be mysterious. Dateable girls know how to shut up. They don’t monopolize the conversation. They don’t tell everyone everything about themselves. They save some for later. They listen more than they gab.” For the guys, rule No. 1 is, “Being a guy is good. Dateable guys know they aren’t as sensitive as girls and that’s okay. They know they are stronger, more dangerous, and more adventurous and that’s okay. Dateable guys are real men who aren’t afraid to be guys.” (I hope you’re freakin out just reading that!)

However, one Richardson High School student is right: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, including Justin Lookadoo, regardless of the extent of our disagreement. Her post provides an excellent summary of why Lookadoo’s presentation was so egregious, but I think she was a tad forgiving at the end. We should judge him for presenting his opinions as information. Sure, he was sharing his opinions (and per the assembly agreement did NOT mention his dateable rules), but from the students’ accounts of the assembly he presented his opinions and ideas as factual statements in the context of an educational presentation on relationships and dating violence, and from what I have gathered from the other articles, he made blanket assumptions about an entire gender rather than providing examples of individual experiences. In contrast, a mindful, effective educator should present actual facts and engage their audience in critical thinking about cultural assumptions while also affirming individual expression of gender and sexual identity within a diverse range of experience. Granted, this is tough to do in a one-hour, school-wide assembly, so the complimentary recommendation is to engage youth in smaller groups so that meaningful discussion can help individuals come to their own conclusions about the topic. Take-home message for schools and educators: assemblies are not an effective method of learning about a complex topic such as relationships.

Props to those students for standing up, walking out, and calling this guy out. This is an excellent example of how freakin out can make change happen…people are calling for the cancelation of Lookadoo’s upcoming presentations, and I bet he doesn’t have another assembly any time soon.

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Friday FREAK OUT! Access to abortion services in Texas CUT OFF

Late last night, three republican judges (all appointed by former president George W. Bush) at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated legislation that requires Texas clinics offering abortion services to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles in order to perform abortions on-site. This ruling comes on the heels of the news on Monday that Judge Yeakal ruled that that part of the law was unconstitutional.

What does this mean? That abortion clinics are calling up patients and canceling appointments, and many clinics will be forced to close completely. Only 5 clinics out of the 42 in Texas meet the requirements of the new legislation, meaning that women will be forced to travel far to get the services they need. Some fabulous organizing efforts have already been put into place, such as Fund Texas Women, which is raising money to help give financial assistance for bus tickets and hotel stays for women. Texas Equal Access Fund (TEAFund) also helps women financially, and they are keeping us updated on closures and the status of clinics on their twitter feed and Facebook wall.

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While I am all about prevention and education, sometimes I have to turn my attention to policy, advocacy, rights, and services. You bet I’m freakin out about this one, and I hope others are too. Part of me wants to pack up my bag and join the efforts in Texas to elect Wendy Davis and help women regain their rights. I am so glad that women ARE mobilizing.

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So the takeaway for educators is that young people need to know how to access services, and what to do if those services are limited. One experiential educational activity could be giving each student a ‘profile’ of someone who needs a particular reproductive health service (including, but not limited to abortion), a city and state (not just Texas but maybe a variety of locations), and some life details (in school, job, health insurance coverage). Then assign them the task of finding a service provider, the cost of the service, the hours that they are available, the distance they will have to travel, the transportation method and cost, if they will need hotel/housing (and cost of that, too!), and how that will impact the rest of their life (do they need childcare for a child already in the family? will this force them to miss class? how will this affect their job?). This person could be a woman, or a man- maybe it’s the boyfriend, the brother, or the father of someone who needs these services. After they have found the information, pair up with another person and compare notes. In having to find the information, the participants will learn not just what services are (or aren’t) available, but HOW to access them. Just remember, the goal isn’t to scare them or make them afraid of needing an abortion, it’s to prepare them for accessing services they (or someone they know) may need in the future. They will also hopefully learn the value of laws that ensure ACCESS to reproductive health services. (BTW, this may already be a more polished lesson plan that someone has written and published. If that’s the case, please share that info!)

Texas isn’t the only state affected by these egregious laws, but it’s certainly getting lots of attention. I hope that we can use this opportunity to bring to light the negative impact of all sorts of TRAP laws that reduce access to vital reproductive health services across the US.

Friday FREAK OUT! Why Vaginas are Important

This year, students at Connecticut College are trying for a new angle raising awareness for their February 2014 production of the Vagina Monologues: men telling the world why they think vaginas are important.

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You can watch nearly 7 minutes of video with 100 Conn College men sharing their responses to the question, “why do you think vaginas are important?” They said things like…

Because without them, I wouldn’t be here.

They look good in cartoons but better in real life.

They are key in the process of consensual love.

Vaginas make the world go round.

They give women a power that no one else can have.

Vaginas are all different and beautiful and wonderful.

Vaginas are all about peace and love and happiness.

They are the original honeycomb hideout.

I care about people, and quite a few people have vaginas.

Vaginas are powerful.

Balls are weak, vaginas are strong

Vagina is the best thing ever made. Everyone should cherish vaginas.

Vaginas have stories to tell.

They’ve helped me to become an advocate, an ally, and a better man.

Thank you to all the vaginas!

And it’s working! The video has shown up in several places on the web, including Huffington Post, Jezebel, and Dailylife.com. Much of the commentary points out that the young men in the video often appear awkward and uncomfortable, however, by the end of the video it’s clear that they all became a lot more comfortable simply saying the word vagina- one big step forward for them, I bet. The exercise in and of itself helps normalize the use of female anatomical terms that are often considered taboo. (Although, I wonder if these young men know the difference between the vagina and the vulva.)

However, this video deserves a good freak out. Not because vaginas are something to freak out about (don’t get me wrong, we should FREAK OUT about a lot of body parts in lots of ways-good and bad), but because this video demonstrates that many young men value women. A lot of men get a bad rap for disrespecting women (especially college boys), and a lot of women are the ones hatin’ on men. It’s always a pleasure to see and hear men articulating the importance of women in their lives. I applaud efforts to recognize the importance of both men and women working to end violence, and respect each other. Violence is a societal problem, not a women’s problem. And until we can honor and respect anyone and everyone no matter their sex organs and gender identity, we will likely continue to face gender-based violence. It’s time for men to respect women, and women to respect men. Now, do you think there’s a group of students willing to make a video about the importance of a certain male body part?

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Friday FREAK OUT! Chris Brown

20131011-233601.jpgLast Friday, the Guardian published an exclusive interview with r&b pop star Chris Brown, who is best known as the violent abusive boyfriend in the Chris Brown & Rihanna ‘show’ from February 2009. This article shows a personal side of Chris Brown, and explores some of his childhood. In particular, the article reveals a significant milestone in Chris Brown’s life:

He lost his virginity when he was eight years old, to a local girl who was 14 or 15. Seriously? “Yeah, really. Uh-huh.” He grins and chuckles. “It’s different in the country.” Brown grew up with a great gang of boy cousins, and they watched so much porn that he was raring to go. “By that point, we were already kind of like hot to trot, you know what I’m saying? Like, girls, we weren’t afraid to talk to them; I wasn’t afraid. So, at eight, being able to do it, it kind of preps you for the long run, so you can be a beast at it. You can be the best at it.” (Now 24, he doesn’t want to say how many women he’s slept with: “But you know how Prince had a lot of girls back in the day? Prince was, like, the guy. I’m just that, today. But most women won’t have any complaints if they’ve been with me. They can’t really complain. It’s all good.”)

However, the article does not point out what many others have: That Chris Brown was in fact raped.

It does not seem as though Chris Brown sees it that way, but Virginia law is pretty clear about the definition of rape, where the age of consent is 18. And although his confession was an admission of victimization, this fact seems to be overlooked, possibly because so many people dislike him.

What is interesting is that Chris Brown uses this experience as a way to demonstrate his sexual prowess, rather than a way to gain sympathy or understanding. Which is maybe exactly what he needs. The truth is that men can be sexually assaulted, and raped by women, as is described in a thoughtful article posted on CNN. I am not by any means saying that Chris Brown be let off the hook for his previous acts of violence, but maybe he could use some support. I’m not sure that his court-ordered anger management program really provided that…

He says his court-ordered 52-week programme of anger management helped him learn to keep his temper. But then he adds, “I think the actual class I went to was a little bit sexist.” What does he mean? “It was beneficial because it made me cater more to a woman’s thoughts and a woman’s needs, and how to handle situations. But the class itself, no disrespect to the class, but the class itself only tells you you’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong.”

So what does this freak out, or non-freak out according to many, remind sexuality educators to do?
-Be gender neutral in your discussions of sexual assault when talking about both victims and perpetrators because anyone can be affected.
-Emphasize the definition of consent- both the legal definition and what it means in a sexual encounter.
-Encourage the examination of all sides of the story without getting into a debate.
-Focus on behaviors, which can be changed, rather than putting down a person.
-Be compassionate towards all individuals, even if it’s someone you dislike or disapprove of their actions.

If we are too preoccupied hatin’ on Chris Brown, we’ll overlook the support and understanding he needs. And we might miss some wise words that can be an important lesson…

“No, I’m not going to walk around every day of my life depending on the opinions of other people. Because if I do that, I’ll just be trying to please everybody and that’s not what I’m here for.”

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