Tag Archives: sex education

Teaching dating skills to elementary students

Dear elementary school teachers,

My daughter is dating. I know she’s dating because she told me. We talked about it.

I asked her what dating meant to her and what it meant to her dating partner. I asked if they had talked about it before they agreed to date, if they’d discussed what that word, that concept meant to them, what they wanted from their relationship, why they wanted to add this label to it. I asked if they had discussed boundaries and expectations. I asked if they had talked about what this label would change about their relationship with each other – and what it might change about their relationships with other people.

I made sure that my daughter understood that dating someone should not mean that you have to give up other friendships, and that if the person she is dating asked her to stop being friends with others or got jealous of other friendships, it was time to have The Talk – to remind her partner about mutual respect and trust, and boundaries and expectations, and the fact that we don’t own each other, not even when we’re dating.

I know this is unusual, for a parent to have this kind of conversation with their elementary school student about this topic. I wish that wasn’t the case.

Because, you see, this is the exact same conversation I have with my daughter every time she tells me she has a best friend.

Kids in love1

At this age, in this setting, there is very little difference between having a bestie and dating someone. Both need to be grounded firmly in open, honest, respectful communication. Both need to start with conversations about what this label means and why each person entering into it wants to take their relationship to “the next level.” They need to talk about what they want from this next level relationship, what it means for them, what it looks like and how it will affect things like recess activities, lunch time, class activities, etc. Often I even ask if they’ve considered what will happen if/when they “break up” because best friendships rarely last forever. (I always assumed that was the reason all the “best friend” necklaces came with the hearts pre-broken…)

My best friend broke it first.

Today my daughter came home and told me that dating had been banned at school. That the teachers had gotten everyone together and announced that there would be no more dating, that school was for learning and that they were all too young to date anyway. “Maybe when you’re in high school, or college…” As if human beings are ever too young to form and negotiate relationships.

I asked her if “best friending” had also been banned. Her eyes got wide as she made the connection I’m making here. No, they hadn’t. And wasn’t that odd? Why was she being taught that one kind of relationship forming was something she was too young for, too immature to handle? Why was she being taught that romantic love was too complex for her to navigate, while still being allowed, encouraged even to create “best friend” relationships that often devolved into battles for control, bullying and trauma. Why was one form of relationship being legislated away while another with equal potential for harm was being lauded and upheld? Why was she being taught that this one way of identifying with and relating to other students was “bad” or “inappropriate?”

She wanted to know why her teachers seemed so hung up on this word, this concept: dating.

I could only assume that it was because somehow we’ve equated dating to sexual intimacy, and that might scare teachers who are unprepared to see their elementary school students as physical beings who crave physical affection (not sexual attention, just physical touches like hand holding and hugs and heads resting on shoulders – and yes, even kissing because those things feel good…) Or perhaps it was because teachers thought about what dating meant to them as adults, or even high school students when hormones and a lack of real information pushed it toward the sexual and they couldn’t bear to think about their sweet elementary students in that way. That’s fair, but… elementary students by and large aren’t there yet either.

girlfriends

I told her I could only imagine it was because they had forgotten the sweet innocent puppy love of elementary school, the tender hand holding, the doe eyed looks, the silly gifts, the little ways of learning to say I love you, the little ways of learning how to hear I love you, the little ways that felt and what it meant.

I told her I thought maybe her teachers had forgotten this age of exploring, dabbling, trying on new words, new identities… What does it mean to date? What does it mean to be a best friend, to have a best friend? What does it mean to be a girlfriend, a boyfriend? Is it okay to have more than one dating partner? Is it okay to have more than one best friend? What do these words mean? How can be negotiated so that everyone gets what they want from the relationship in a respectful and mutually affirming way?

boyshugging

What does rejection feel like? How can they handle it? What can they do if someone they like doesn’t like them back, or doesn’t like them as much, or not in the same way? What are appropriate responses?

These are all really valid and important questions and skills that students need to practice and learn before they become adults, before they become tweens and teens even, before the hormones kick in and flood their brains and make them forget that before they get sexual, they need to get real. They need to check in and make sure that they are operating under the same set of assumptions, expectations, desires, goals and boundaries as their partner. Whether that partner is purely platonic, romantic or physical is irrelevant IF students have learned to start their relationships from a place of open, honest, respectful conversation and IF they’ve learned how to handle rejection when it comes, because it will come.

I know you all have a lot on your plates already and I’m sure that the idea of having this kind of conversation about dating with your students is terrifying. I imagine you are already hyperventilating over imaginary phone calls from outraged parents.

But what if we simply backed it up. What if we went back to that moment when you heard that students were dating. What if, instead of banning it, you asked the students what it meant to them? What if you led them with questions like the ones I led my daughter with, the same ones we should be asking of students who are forming best friendships, and listened to what they had to say? What if you helped students to think critically about it themselves?

What if you used this moment to remind your students that all relationships – friendships, work partnerships, relationships, marriages, benign acquaintanceships, all of them are founded on the same basic principles, the same foundation of mutual respect, trust and vulnerability. If those are in place, the rest can build from there, but without those it all crumbles.

What if you used this moment to remind students that if they aren’t comfortable having those challenging conversations and being honest with each other about what they want, what they need, what their boundaries are and listening to and being respectful when someone else tells them the same – they aren’t ready to take that next step – whatever it is.

Respect

It’s not their age that limits them, it’s their skills.

So let’s help them practice, now while it’s safe, now while the stakes are low, now while we’re not actually worried about the sexual aspect or the physical aspect. Let’s help them build their emotional relationship skills so that when they start dating “for real” and those hormones have kicked in, communication is a habit, respect is a habit, honesty is a habit, listening is a habit, setting and respecting boundaries is a habit, coping with rejection in healthy ways is a habit…

Why not use this time to make sure that all the elements of forming healthy relationships are there, ready to be utilized before things get messy.

We talk about “teaching to the test” so often, but we forget, life has bigger tests with higher stakes than any politician could dream up. When I look at the statistics on teen dating abuse, on teen sexual abuse, on teen pregnancy and STI rates – what I see is that we are failing our students. I know there is all kinds of weird baggage around the idea of teaching elementary students sexual health education – I get that. (I hate it, but I get it.) But this isn’t that. This isn’t about sex education. It isn’t about sex. It’s about relationships.

How to negotiate them. How to form them. How to maintain them. How to renegotiate them as they grow and change. How to end them if they become toxic. How to spot if they are becoming toxic.

Toxic

This is about the health of our students.

Banning them from interacting with each other in ways that feel natural to them, ways that they see modeled all around them is a failing strategy. But teaching them how to interact in healthy ways, that is something we can all pitch in and do. Helping them slow down and think about the words they are using and the meanings they are creating, that is a life long skill, and its one they desperately need. We all do.

Friendship

Imagine how much pain you would have been spared if someone had only taught you this lesson instead of making you piece it together on your own.

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Filed under Kids, Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work

Where are all the periods?

I have two amazing books that I desperately want to review now that I’m done writing my 12 Days of Candy series over on my kitchen blog, but first, I need to talk about periods.

Not the punctuation – but the sometimes messy, often awkward, all too often hidden thing that most women experience every month and entirely too few of us really talk about.

Disclaimer – this is a TMI post. It’s been building for a while because I was worried about writing it, worried about squicking people out and losing readers – but fuck it. Periods happen to 50% of the population and as such I think we need to talk about them. Most important – I think writers need to be writing about them, so while there will be some personal shit in here, this is mostly a post about middle grade and young adult books and a certain something that seems to be missing from an awful lot of them.

menstrual flower

I’ll just leave this here…

It’s on my mind for a couple of reasons – the first is that my oldest is in middle school and many of her friends have started going through puberty and many of them have begun getting their periods – so… the horror stories and drama is starting to trickle in. Girls with cramps so bad they have to go home, girls whose periods show up unexpectedly and bleed through their clothing, sending them home embarrassed and in tears only to have to return the next day to taunting and teasing… Girls being called sluts when people find out they’ve started getting their periods as if having a period is any indication at all about what you are or are not doing sexually…

The second reason periods have been on my mind is because mine has been acting up lately (told you this was a TMI post.)

My period used to be like clockwork – I knew exactly when it was showing up, exactly how heavy it would be on each day it was here and exactly when it would end – by exactly I mean to the second.

Then I had kids and it shifted around a bit – as did EVERYTHING in my body – but I adjusted and got reacquainted with “Aunt Flo” and we fell back into a regular and predictable rhythm. And then… Lately, she’s just been mucking things up. It’s like I’m back in middle school, never quite sure if today’s the day she’s going to arrive, if she’s going to be heavy or light, if I have one hour per tampon or four…

Last month The Bitch (That’s what I call my period when it fucks something up for me, Aunt Flo is just an annoying interruption, and my period is what I’d like it to be…) showed up three hours early and trashed my favorite pair of sheets. I haven’t lost sheets to Aunt Flo in decades.

Today I took the dog for a walk to the post office. The line lasted longer than my tampon/pad combination so by the time I walked back home… Well, it was messy. And once again I felt like I was in middle school. I was embarrassed – I mean, I should know better by now.

As I walked home, knowing I would need a shower and a change of clothes, I kept thinking about all the young adult and middle grade literature I’ve been reading lately. I thought about all the epic female led dystopia that is all the rage in book stores and on the big screen and all the awesome female protagonists that are cropping up across genres and I realized what’s been bugging me about them all – There are NO periods.

None.

Katniss does not go on the rag. She does not bleed in the ring or have to worry about grabbing the napsack with pads and tampons when the games start. All she needs is a bow and some arrows. She doesn’t have to get Haymitch to ask sponsors for emergency period supplies or midol. She isn’t incapacitated by cramps, no one can track her because she’s dripping menstrual blood through the arena… (If you think that’s unlikely talk to someone with a heavy period sometime.)

No one in the Lunar Chronicles seems to have a period either. Cress, the Rapunzel character has been trapped in a satellite for decades, there’s no mention of her captor needing to, or forgetting to bring menstrual supplies. As Cinder and Scarlet fly around Earth they are never slowed or stopped or inconvenienced by the sudden appearance of their period. They never have to steal tampons off a shelve during a supply run.

In Moira Young’s Dust Lands series, Saba travels across her globe, multiple times. She is captured, detained, forced to cage fight, escapes, travels some more… And never once has to stop to deal with her period. Never has to fashion a cloth pad, or gather moss, or slow down for a day or… (Spoiler alert if you haven’t read the series) I remember when she had sex with the wrong guy in book 2, my first thought was, “Great, now she’s going to get pregnant…” But she didn’t, and it sort of makes sense, because if she wasn’t menstruating, then she couldn’t get pregnant. But why wasn’t she menstruating?

No one menstruates in The Uglies either. You’re an Ugly, then a Pretty, then a Wrinkly. And people there ARE having children, so… Someone is menstruating, but it sure isn’t the teens. The Smokies (rebels living in the woods) don’t have to fashion menstrual pads from moss or scraps of cloth or anything like that. There’s no Red Tent situation going on where they all take a few days off together and just bleed and talk and hang out… Because there are no periods.

Annabeth in the Percy Jackson books doesn’t have a period.

I don’t think Hermione ever got a period. (However, I admit, I never finished the series. Please don’t kill me. Just tell me in the comments if I’m wrong about Hermione’s lack of menstruation.)

In fact, there’s basically only one book that I can think of off the top of my head that talks about menstruation and periods – and that’s Judy Blume’s Are you there God, it’s me Margaret? Which is known by most kids as, “The Period Book” because it’s the only one. (Well, aside from Stephen King’s Carrie, but I hope no one is giving that to their pre-pubescent kids as a puberty primer!)

And here’s the thing – I think this matters. I think that this is a serious issue, because I’m watching my daughters and their friends grow up and I’m seeing how much weirdness and shame and misinformation is flying around out there about periods and… It’s not that hard to combat.

Just fucking writing it into the story, because most girls and most women will get their period at some point in their lives and they will have to deal with things like cramps and bleeding through their clothes and having it show up early and being unprepared, and having it show up late and wondering what that means (It’s not always pregnancy! First, you have to have had sex for that to be a possibility, and then there about a million other reasons periods are late.) Most women and girls will have to deal with weird low energy days where it feels like sitting around menstruating is all they can manage, anything more than that just feels overwhelming… Most women will have to deal with things like changes in breast size and tenderness. And yes, many of us have to deal with moodiness and hormone induced emotional fluctuations.

These are real things that most girls and women have to deal with and it would be GREAT if more books could help us be comfortable with it, talk about, and know how to problem solve when it happens to us.

AND I would LOVE for guys to read books where women have to deal with this stuff, it might help the average uninformed guy be a little more comfortable, a little more compassionate and a little more understanding when it comes to periods. We might not be moody because of PMS, we might be moody because we know we are bleeding through and we need you to stop talking to us so we can go to the bathroom and try to salvage the situation, but we don’t know how to tell you that because society has told us we’re not allowed to say, “Shut up, I’m bleeding and I need to go deal with that.”

I would love to read a book where a girl bleeds through and can’t call home and has to stay in school and cope – how does she manage it? Does she borrow spare clothes from a friend or the office, does she tie her jacket around her waist for the rest of the day, does she hide in a supply closet and pray no one finds her, does the teacher she always hated come to her rescue and earn an ounce of respect in the process? What does the next day look like? How does she deal with the ignorant and thoughtlessly hurtful teasing from her peers? What does that gauntlet feel like, and how do you survive it at a time in your life when everything feels like a matter of life and death?

I don’t need a whole book about it, we have Judy Blume. But I think periods need to feature a little more in books and movies with biologically female protagonists. Whether they’re in space, (Seriously, where did Ripley hide her tampons – and no, you can’t store them all up there at once, it doesn’t work that way.) or a dystopian future, or right here, right now, today… Most women and girls have to manage their periods every single month – shouldn’t that be something that most female characters have to manage at least once a book? Shouldn’t that be something more male characters are made aware of from time to time, after all most men know someone who menstruates…

What about the best guy friend who has to buy tampons for his female friend? Can we have that scene? What about the guy who thinks his girlfriend is super aroused only to discover her period has started, what does that look like, for both of them? What about the male sidekick who knows they are in a hurry, the clock is ticking, the fate of the world is resting on her shoulders – and he has to help her cope with debilitating cramps?

This shit happens in real life. Why isn’t it happening in books?

It’s interesting, the book I just finished reading, Every Day by David Levithan should have covered this, it covered SO MUCH else about the human experience, but not this super basic, absolutely common thing that 50% of the bodies his protagonist inhabited would have experienced… A should have had to deal with a period. At least one. The odds damn near insist on it. And yet… All too predictably… No one menstruated in that book either.

When I included a scene in my YA novel where my protagonist makes a point of stocking up on tampons before ditching her mom’s credit card and going into hiding 99% of my beta readers told me those tampons better mean something. It wasn’t enough to have her simply be aware that she’d be getting her period and want to be prepared. It wasn’t enough to simply remind the reader that this is a thing that most women have to deal with. No, it had to mean something.

And yet… I can think of half a dozen MG and YA books that talk about morning wood, spontaneous (and often inconvenient and ill-timed) erections that cause embarrassment for a male protagonist – not because it means anything, but because that is a thing that happens to many adolescent males. Sometimes it is put in for humor, or character growth, occasionally it adds to the conflict and plot development, here’s one more thing this poor kid has to deal with – but it’s there, it’s talked about. It is present. And therefore, so are the coping mechanisms, the survival guides, the tips and tricks to getting through it.

Girls need that too.

They need a guide to tell them how to talk to their peers about periods, to explain what it does and does not mean (It does mean they are developing physically, it does not mean they are sexually available or sexually active.) The same with breast growth – it is an independent bodily function that has no bearing on who the person growing the breasts is, what they are interested in, how smart they are, how capable they are, or whether or not they’d like anyone to try to get in their pants.

The state of sexual health education in this country is abysmal. So, writer friends – we need to help. We need to include little moments of reality in even our most fantastical works. We need to remember that periods and nocturnal emissions and breasts and morning wood and hormone induced emotions are things that are happening to kids as young as 9 and they continue through high school and college and into adulthood.

We need to include these little inconveniences and embarrassments and challenges into our characters – what do they do with them, how does it change them, how do they learn and grow from these experiences?

My family makes fun of me for always being overprepared. But I can trace that character trait straight back to a day very much like this one. A day that ended in a bit of a mess and an emergency shower and a ruined pair of pants. That was the last day I ever left the house without tampons and a pad.(Even if, 23 years later I couldn’t get to a bathroom to use them in time… Sigh.)

A HUGE amount of my inner strength and resilience and ability to take on most challenges stems from the shit I survived while menstruating in middle school. Kids are fucking ruthless. Uninformed & misinformed kids are a thousand times worse.

A few good books sure would have helped.

So, dear readers who made it to the end of this messy post – please – drop the names of any novels you can think of that deal with periods and menstruation in any way in the comments. I’d love to start making a list.

And dear writers who are still reading, please see if you can include a little more of the nitty gritty reality of growing up in your MG and YA novels. The kids these days could use all the help we can give them.

 

 

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Filed under Books, Kids, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

What does abortion cure?

This post was inspired a few days ago on twitter, where else.

It started with a guy asking “What disease does abortion cure? None. Abortion is not health care.”

Setting a broken bone doesn’t cure a disease, but we still consider it to be valid medical health care.

Then came the Melinda Gates post explaining why even though she wants to help women plan their families and stop dying from preventable pregnancy related complications, her foundation does not fund abortion because that is a separate matter, ie; not legitimate health care.

So, here’s the thing – abortion is health care. Not only does it actually, literally cure a few things, it also treats potentially lethal conditions and can provide a compassionate end for a non-viable fetus.

abortion care

Abortion is reproductive health care.

Here are some things that abortion cures: Preeclampsia & eclampsia (which is defined as an acute and life threatening complication of pregnancy.) Abortion cures gestational diabetes, which if it gets bad enough is also life threatening. Abortion cures severe cases of placental abruption and placental praevia, both of which can cause severe uterine bleeding leading to enemia and threatening the life of the pregnant person. Abortion cures pregnancy related high blood pressure which can lead to death. Abortion can cure certain types of sepsis, or infections, caused directly by the fetus. Such as the recent death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland where a woman who was spontaneously miscarrying was denied an abortion to complete the miscarriage and ended up dying of sepsis caused by the dying fetus.

Now, granted – not all women who experience these conditions and diseases of pregnancy experience them at a level where an abortion is medically indicated. BUT SOME DO. And the decision to end a pregnancy to save the mother needs to take place between the woman and her doctor. Period. Full stop. Politicians don’t need to step in, unrelated citizens don’t need to step in, uninvited family doesn’t need to step in. This is the WOMAN’S life – she gets to decide, with her doctor, what her pregnancy risks are and how close to death she wants to risk getting in order to give life to another human.

Then there are the other conditions that abortion cures. These are more black and white. When this happens there is exactly one choice. Save the mother, or let her die. There is no wiggle room.

Depending on how “pro-life-of-the-fetus-no-matter-what” you are, abortion could also cure an ectopic pregnancy. For those of us who are more “pro-life-of-the-mother” we don’t consider that to be an abortion because ectopic pregnancies are NOT VIABLE EVER and if left untreated can kill the mother. AND YET – some Catholic owned hospitals are not allowed to treat ectopic pregnancies because even though the pregnancy is not viable, they consider ending it to be an abortion. So, you know, kill the mother even though the fetus won’t live, because the Catholic church is pro-life.

Then there is my friend who required a uterine ablation, a procedure that removed the lining of her uterus permanently. The result is that any future pregnancy will be life threatening for my friend. The only way to save her life would be for her to have an abortion. Her husband got a vasectomy, but nothing is 100% and vasectomies have been known to reverse themselves, there is also the disturbingly real risk that my friend could get raped and become pregnant if either of these scenarios were to happen, my friend would have no choice but to terminate her pregnancy or widow her partner and leave their children motherless.

I have another friend who was diagnosed with cancer six weeks after learning that she was pregnant with a very much wanted pregnancy. Her type of cancer and the stage that it was at left her with two choices – keep the pregnancy and forgo treatment (because Chemo kills fetuses) which would allow the cancer to grow and spread beyond what modern medicine has a hope of curing, or… End the pregnancy, get treatment and try again once she was healthy. She had to choose – her life, or a baby.

Those are just a few of the direct, clear-cut medical reasons for abortion to save the mother’s life.

There are also some reasons to have an abortion to save a baby or child from excruciating pain.

Before I dive in, I want to remind everyone that as a parent now I have not only the right – but the obligation – to make medical decisions for my children. If they are in a horrific accident and are in a coma with little chance of ever waking, I am given the option to remove life support. If they are diagnosed with a terminal disease that will kill them slowly and painfully, in some states I have the right to allow a doctor to help ease them from that suffering. There are many reasons that I, as a parent, would have the right to compassionately end the suffering of my children.

As a pregnant person, whose body is being used as a life support mechanism and who will be a parent if the pregnancy is viable and a live child is born from it, we too should have those same rights of compassion.

If at, or after, 20 weeks it is discovered that our fetus has a condition or disease that makes it incompatible with life, we should be allowed to end that pregnancy and end any suffering that fetus might experience as the pregnancy progresses, not to mention our own suffering in carrying a pregnancy that we know will not produce a live child.

If we learn that our fetus has a condition that will force them to spend their entire life, no matter how long or short, in severe, crippling pain, we should have the right to end that suffering.

This is a decision that should be made between a doctor and the woman – and no one else. Not politicians, not strangers, not uninvited family or people of another faith who purchased the only hospital in town. This is a difficult, emotional, medical decision and it is a decision the parent carrying the fetus must make with the information provided by the medical people she has hired to assist her.

There is also the case of a woman who sought an abortion because she was in an abusive relationship. She told her doctor that her husband was abusing her and beating the children they already had. She did not want to bring another child into that life.  The doctor would not perform the abortion without the husband’s permission, which the woman could not get. The baby was born and within a month the father had killed it in a violent rage.

Those are cases of what I would call compassionate abortion. Terminating a pregnancy to end or avoid undue suffering.

There is another category of abortion.

We, as a nation, have been talking a lot about mental health. What with all the shootings and stabbings and whatnot. And granted, most of those conversations are about all the angry white guys – but… Women have mental health issues too.

postpartum depression is a real thing, and it can kill. For women who already suffer from depression, or who are experiencing it for the first time because of the circumstances of their pregnancy are at a very real risk for developing severe postpartum depression, or even severe depression during the pregnancy. This depression could cause the pregnant woman to commit suicide, or could lead the mother to kill her child after the birth.

These, to me, are the clear-cut examples of times that abortion is health care. This is when abortion saves lives, or helps to end them compassionately.

These are all instances when a doctor and their patient should be left alone to make the decision that is right for the people whose lives will be affected.

There are plenty of other stories of when abortion is helpful and is health care.

Last, it is worth noting that illegal and unsafe abortion is one of the three leading causes of maternal death world-wide – which is to say that safe, legal, and accessible abortion cures unsafe and illegal abortions and the maternal deaths that they cause.

illegal abortion kills

Making abortion illegal or inaccessible doesn’t stop abortion, it just kills women.

Safe, legal and accessible abortions SAVE LIVES. Women’s lives.

That is why abortion is legal in the USA, that was the basis for the supreme court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. Women have the right to access abortions as part of their reproductive health care because abortion is a medical procedure that helps women who need it remain healthy, physically, mentally and emotionally. That is why abortion should be covered by insurance, including medicaid. That is why Melinda Gates foundation should fund abortion if she really does care about reducing maternal death world wide.

 

 

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Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

Age Inappropriate

I got in an argument on twitter a couple of nights ago. Shocking, I know.

It was about a topic that I’ve been trying to address for a while now, and that night it boiled over. My brain stayed awake all night working on this post while the rest of me tried to sleep.

It’s once again about semantics, about words and phrases not meaning what people want them to mean.

In this case, age appropriate sex education.

There are two parts to this that people seem to need to get their heads around.

First – too many people hear “sex education” and interpret that as, “teaching kids how to have sex.” Which is super weird to me, because – no. That’s not what it’s about. AT ALL.

In fact, these days it’s mostly only telling kids to “Just say no!” which is completely unhelpful and often harmful.

Kids need, and deserve more than that. Kids have the right to know about their bodies and how they work. They have a right to know about relationships, about intimacy – and all the forms that can take. And they have a right to that information BEFORE it is too late for them to use it, not AFTER the adults in their lives are comfortable sharing it.

And that is the second part that people need get get their heads around. “Age Appropriate” is not what most adults think it is.

This is how the twitter “discussion” started. A very angry man was yelling at an abortion provider that teens shouldn’t be having sex and therefore shouldn’t need abortions. A supporter responded, “So you support universal sex education?”

He screamed back, “Of course, but what’s the point of teaching younger and younger children this? Wait until they’re old enough.”

My response infuriated him. “8 year old girls are getting their periods & being pressured into sex. They need to be educated BEFORE, not after.”

He interpreted my statement to mean that I thought 8 year olds should be having sex and we should teach them how.

Seriously? That’s what you read?

It didn’t matter how many times I sent him the link explaining that we know unequivocally that educating children about their bodies, including the correct names for all their body parts helps predator proof them and protect them, he could only see that I said 8-year-olds were having sex. He just kept shouting back that that was illegal, ignoring my distinction that it is less about it being illegal for an 8-year-old to have sex, and more that it is illegal to have sex with an 8-year-old. Feel the difference – don’t blame the 8-year-old. They don’t know any better, because WE ARE NOT TEACHING THEM.

Here’s the thing –

Our youth live in a world where they are constantly bombarded with highly sexualized images. They are constantly given messages that women should be sexy and crave male attention, that to be a successful male you have to be “getting some” from a hot girl. Sex is everywhere, all around them.

fast cheap sex sells

Wait, what are they selling!?

Watch the Disney channel sometime, and think about the words of Peggy Orenstein who wrote a book about the Princess to pole dancer trajectory that Disney has created for girls. The idea that for girls sexuality is something they perform, it’s about how they look and how they make other people feel, not how they themselves feel or what they want for themselves. And look at the messages those same shows are giving boys about their role, how it shows that they should be the instigator, the aggressor and how no means maybe and maybe means yes.

Dominate

Sexuality – a public performance, or an intimate experience?

Right now the adults in charge seem to be interpreting “Age Appropriate” as “The age WE are comfortable thinking a child might use this information.”

We need to knock that off and start thinking about age appropriate as, “The age a child is curious about a thing.” “The age BEFORE a child NEEDS to know.” “The age when a child is introduced to a thing by society at large and might need help understanding it.”

I had a deep and wonderful and safe conversation with my 8 year old about sex and rape and consent last year, when she was still seven. I didn’t start the conversation, she did. I just answered her questions, with honesty – and yes… I threw the ball a little high. I discarded the tired advice that you give children only enough information to barely answer their question. Instead, I pushed a little, opened the door a little wider and gave her MORE.

That conversation has helped her feel safer about the images she sees in the world around her, it has helped clarify the boundaries that she can set for herself and the ways that she can do that, it helped make her feel strong and empowered and capable. It gave her the words to set boundaries, not just with a firm “no!” but also with an emphatic “yes!”

(Because one of the problems for girls is that we have told them they are the gatekeepers of sexuality and that their job is to say no. Has anyone else ever considered that perhaps the reason girls “tease” or sometimes start out with no, and slide into maybe, and finally cave into yes – thus fulfilling the damaging and rape enabling stereotype of no means maybe and maybe means yes – is because girls by and large have not been taught that they CAN SAY YES? Because girls who say yes are sluts and whores and BAD GIRLS.)

The other thing this conversation did, is it told my daughter that I was safe, that her home was safe, that she had a person and a place where she could discuss anything without shame or fear, where she could get information BEFORE it was too late to use it.

I’ve had similar conversations with my oldest daughter.

These conversations did not destroy my children’s childhood. I did not ruin them by answering their questions respectfully or by giving them a safe space to ask them. Because this is an argument that is thrown at me ALL THE FREAKING TIME when I advocate for educating children about their bodies, about sex & sexuality.

“Why not just let them be kids?” This was the heart of President Obama’s ignorant comments against selling emergency birth control over the counter to all females of reproductive age.

As if giving a child who is clearly already having sex (or they wouldn’t need Plan B) access to medicine to help them not become a mother ruins childhood! Um – BECOMING A MOTHER RUINS CHILDHOOD.

I want to cyber shout that over and over and over again.

You want to protect childhood – you make damn sure children aren’t becoming parents.

“Let them be kids” is the same argument I hear when I advocate for open, inclusive sex education that discusses homosexuality, trans* people, and the full spectrum of gender expression, and other non-reproductive, heteronormative sexual issues.

As if some kids don’t already have parents who don’t fit that narrow heterosexual box. As if some kids don’t already know that THEY don’t fit in that narrow hetero box. As if those kids don’t also deserve healthy, accurate, truthful information about their bodies, their sexuality, their gender expression.

As if we don’t already have kids being bullied to death because they don’t perform their gender and sexuality the way society at large tells them to.

Refusing to teach kids about their bodies, refusing to teach them about sex, refusing to create safe spaces for them to ask questions and get honest, medically accurate answers because it makes US uncomfortable to think about IS NOT HELPING. Refusing to teach ALL kids about the WHOLE rainbow of human sexuality is NOT HELPING.

You may disagree with 9-year-olds having sex – most of the 9-years-old having sex also disagree with it – but denying them information, medical services and a safe space to talk about what is happening is NOT protecting their childhood. It is simply denying them agency in their own lives. And it is creating more space for predators to work.

You may be scared of homosexuality, or not understand trans* people, or be confused by all the variance that exists outside of a very narrow one man, one woman in wedded bliss sexuality – but denying kids information about it, doesn’t help them. It hurts them. And it allows room for bigotry and hate to spread.

Denying a reality you don’t like won’t make it go away. It just makes it darker and harder for the people living it.

I remember a friend who found out in middle school sex ed that she’d been being abused and raped for 3 years. She didn’t know because she didn’t have the words. She didn’t know because it had started so young. And even afterward, it took her months before she was able to really believe it and to feel safe enough to speak it, to name it, to ask for help.

I could share countless stories of kids with parents less liberal than mine who only realized AFTER they’d been abused, assaulted, raped that that was what had happened, because sex ed came too late for them. Or who didn’t feel like they could call it rape, even after they learned the words, because they hadn’t actually said no, because they didn’t know how to say no safely, they didn’t know how to say no without putting themselves in further harms way. Or they didn’t say no because they didn’t really understand that what was happening to them was sex and that they could say no!

The common denominator in the vast majority of child sex abuse is that the children didn’t have the words, the information, the power to get help.

The common denominator is that WE FAILED THEM as a society, because we did not educate and empower them.

And it isn’t just the victims we are failing. I remember a boy in my middle school who really didn’t know that he was walking the halls sexually assaulting girls by grabbing their breasts, who was genuinely shocked when my friend accused him of rape and prosecuted him – because the last girl he’d had sex with that way hadn’t said anything, and anyway my friend had already had sex with another guy, so how could he even have raped her? He didn’t have the words either, he was just doing what the world around him said he could and should do to “be a man.”

While I don’t want to create wiggle room or excuses for people who commit sexual assault or rape – the brutal truth is, they are often victims of social conditioning. Conditioning that tells them that THEIR JOB is to get sexual favors from other people, that tells them their self-worth is counted in the number of notches on their bed post, that tells them that in order to “be a real man” they have to get the girl – at any cost.

Just as many victims of rape are additionally victims of social conditioning which never gave them the tools to be more than passive recipients of sexual attention, that says their self-worth is tied to the number of men who want to “tap that”, that tells them in order to be a “real woman” they have to be pleasing to men – no matter the price.

alcohol date rape drug

Don’t ask, just get her drunk…

This is rape culture.

This is the battle we are fighting. It isn’t about saving kids from sex. It is about educating our youth about this culture. It is about giving them the tools and information they need to make healthy decisions. It is about breaking down the millions of messages they get in the media every day telling them how to perform their sexuality.

sexuality images

Is this the idea of sexuality we want our youth to carry?

So we have a choice – accept those messages and let our children embrace them as Truth, or push back.

And we push back with education. Education that empowers them. Education that helps them question the way the world is presented in movies, on TV and radio, on billboards.

We push back by creating more safe spaces for children to ask questions and get real answers, by empowering more adults to become askable adults.

We do it by ending the wall of silence and shame that surrounds genuine sex and sexuality in our culture and replace it with vast open spaces for real discussions.

We push back by teaching children about their bodies, about bodily autonomy and sexual empowerment, and about the whole rainbow of gender and sexual expression that exists in this world.

We do it by teaching them the truth that sex is supposed to feel good for everyone involved, that the primary reason adults have sex is BECAUSE IT FEELS GOOD, and that if it isn’t feeling good – it’s time to call a time-out.

We push back by preparing our children to live in the world we’ve created, rather than trying to protect them from it.

Face it – if telling our children the truth about our world will destroy their childhood, then we’re doing it wrong and we need to change the world we’re creating for them, not put blindfolds over their eyes and then blame them when they stumble.

 

 

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Filed under Kids, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

The Big Long Young Adult Pregnancy Post

I spent Saturday at perhaps my favorite event of the year – the Colorado Teen Literature Conference in Denver.

This was my fourth year attending and my third year as a presenter.

I was honored this year to be asked to present two discussions, one on gender representation in Young Adult fiction and another on pregnancy and abortion in YA.

In the discussion on teen pregnancy, I realized I wanted to bring the conversation to a larger audience. This is a big topic and it deserves a bigger light.

Because the conclusion that I came to – after MONTHS of reading very little outside of YA fiction about teen pregnancy and teen parenting is that:

WE NEED MORE STORIES.

The vast majority of books covering this topic that I found covered it from a white Christian perspective. Those weren’t the only stories, but if you took all the books covering teen pregnancy and put them on one set of shelves, covered your eyes and pulled a random book off the shelf, you’d have about an 85% chance of grabbing a book written from a white christian point of view.

Because of this, there were some troubling common themes throughout the majority of the books I read. (Note not all of these themes are Christian, or Caucasian – but seem to reflect a larger cultural zeitgeist. One which does not include a great many people or their stories.)

They include such tired ideas as: “It’s all her fault.” No matter that there was a dude involved – only stupid girls, or very manipulative conniving girls, get pregnant.

Things like – Even though it’s all her fault, and she is the one who will have to carry the physical, mental, emotional (and at least half of the financial) burden of whatever comes next, the guy should have final say in what she does. (Though this theme came up many times, I am happy to say that by the end of these books, the girls almost always made their own choices. But doing so almost always resulted in a loss of support from the guy, from her parents, from her school, etc. The majority of these books implied that there were no good choices available to girls who got pregnant, only varying degrees of bad choices. The guys by comparison all got off pretty easy, even the one who chose to parent the child without the mother had to sacrifice very little to do so.)

One of the books, Detour for Emily by Marilyn Reynolds summed up the overall message best, “I think once you let yourself get pregnant, you have a lot to feel bad about, whether you keep the baby, or have an abortion, or put it up for adoption, you’re left with some bad feelings.”

This is problematic on a couple of levels – one, “let yourself get pregnant”… Most of the couples in these books were using some form of birth control. There were a couple of instances of “heat of the moment” unprotected sex, but overall, I wouldn’t say these girls “let themselves” do anything but have sex. Which leads back to another common theme – pregnancy as punishment for having sex out-of-wedlock. As if a wedding ring has magical powers to make it so you only get pregnant on purpose.

wedding birth control

“With this ring, God shall protect you from unwanted pregnancy…”

Second – while I agree that unplanned pregnancies are a challenge for most people, I disagree that the choice people make has to be riddled with guilt. It reminds me of the time I applied for a job with an organization working to end sexual assault. In order to interview I had to read and agree to a list of beliefs about sexual violence one of which was, “All forms of sexual violence are equally devastating.”

Reading through my own lens I read that as, “You must be devastated by your rape.” Which I wasn’t, and which I refused to be. I brought up their wording in my interview suggesting they make a small change, instead of stating unequivocally that all sexual assault IS devastating, why not say, “can be” which leaves more room for survivors to navigate and accept their own process.

I didn’t get the job, and they didn’t change their mission statement, but the lesson in language stayed with me – language matters. Word choice matters. Messages matter. And the messages we send teens matter a lot.

Which brings me to another disturbing theme in these books. The first question out of every male mouth when the girl first tells them, whether it’s the girl’s sexual partner, his best friend (in the instances where the partner died before the girl learned she was pregnant) or her father.

“Are you sure? How do you know it’s mine/his?”

Because… The very first reaction to a girl becoming pregnant in most of these books was to label her a slut. No matter if she got pregnant the first time she had sex, with the only person she had ever had sex with, or after a string of sexual partners – girls who get pregnant are clearly sluts in the eyes of their peers, and often in the eyes of their parents.

 

good girls get pregnant too

This is NOT a helpful message.

This reaction from the men in these girls’ lives ended up making them highly unsympathetic. Also, from a teen reader point of view, if I was in that vulnerable state and reading books to try to get help deciding what I should do – the message that was repeated over and over was – don’t go to any of the men in your life for help or support! That is a VERY harmful and dangerous message to be giving young women.

Moms in these books had at least a 50/50 shot at responding in a helpful manner. Best female friends seemed to be the best bet though.

The final major theme showed that most girls who choose abortion won’t go through with it because they will get to the clinic and suddenly realize that abortion is wrong! ACK! I’m not saying that there aren’t people who believe this – but most wouldn’t make it as far as the clinic to begin with. According to statistics, most women and teens who choose abortion follow through with that choice – whether that means that they must attend multiple counseling sessions, listen to their doctor read them a script filled with false and scary misinformation about abortion, wait three days, view an ultrasound, travel hundreds of miles, raise the money on their own, use unapproved and unsafe methods to self abort… Women who know they can’t have a child right now, know they can’t have a child and they will do what they need to do to not continue their pregnancy.

So after two months of reading, sighing a lot, reading, screaming, reading, throwing books across the room, reading, remembering and reading some more… I have come up with a partial list of stories that are not being told, that need to be told, that deserve to be told. Partial because, clearly I can’t think of all of the stories. There are approximately 3.4 million unintended pregnancies in the USA each year according to the CDC. Of those, 840,000 are teens. That means that each year 840,000 new young adult pregnancy stories are being lived.

Here are just a few that were missing or severely under represented in the YA books that I studied:

Islamic stories. Jewish stories. Buddhist, Hindu, Mormon and Catholic stories. Animist stories. Pagan stories. Agnostic and Atheist stories.

Latina/Hispanic stories. African American, Asian American, Indian American and Native American stories. Stories from all the many ethnicities, racial identities and cultural backgrounds that exist in this melting pot.

Immigrant stories. What about the stories of undocumented teens for whom accessing medical care is already tricksy. Now they must also deal with this. What about documented immigrants, still new, still struggling with language barriers, additional cultural barriers and uncertainty of their place.

What about the teens who don’t have health insurance? While that number is going down – those people still exist and pregnancy, prenatal care and birth all are ridiculously expensive in this country. Or what about the ones who are insured, but whose PRIVATE insurance isn’t allowed to cover abortion care?

Stories about girls who get pregnant as the result of rape. What about girls who get pregnant via rape in one of the 31 states where rapists are granted legal parental rights? How does that change her choices? Her options? What does that mean in practical terms?

Stories about girls who live in states which require parental consent for an abortion – and for whom that is not a safe option. How does a vulnerable teen navigate the court system in time? How does she afford an attorney to represent her case and convince the judge that asking her parents for permission is unsafe? What does that story look like?

Stories about girls who choose to keep their baby only to discover that their pregnancy is killing them – or that their fetus has complications that are not compatible with life – but only after she is 20 weeks along, when getting an abortion in her state is no longer a legal option. What happens to those girls?

Stories about pregnant teens for whom abortion is not an option – not because they believe it is wrong, but because where they live, there is no access to abortion. This is an increasingly common true story in America. It is one that I have witnessed.  There are many ways this story can go, they are all deserving of their place on the shelf if for no other reason than to remind people that there is nothing “pro-life” about letting women and girls suffer or die because they cannot access medical care.

How about telling a broader range of adoption stories, including girls being pressured and coerced into putting their children up for adoption. Or the girls who choose adoption and then give birth and change their minds? It’s not a common story, but it’s at least as common as girls who choose abortion and then change their minds – and that story was told in many of the books I read, so why not choosing to keep the child after previously agreeing to give it up for adoption? And what are the legal and social ramifications of that?

What of the kin-adoptions, which is the most common form of voluntary adoption, where a close relative adopts the baby? How does that play out? How does it feel to interact with the child you birthed while it is being parented by someone else? What if you don’t like the way they parent?

What about miscarriage and still birth? Or are those seen as taking the “easy way out” because they don’t force her to choose and then live with her choice? But what if she did choose and then, just like with a planned pregnancy that act of nature undoes her choice?

What about the planned teen pregnancy? Yes – they happen. What goes into making that choice? What does that process look like? Is the outcome any different than the teens who become pregnant on accident? Do these teens have parental support for their choice? Financial support?

What about the trans* teen who becomes pregnant? What do that person’s options look like? How are they treated?

Where are the stories about disabled teens who get pregnant – what do those stories look like? How does it change if the father is the one who is disabled, how does that change the conversation?

What about the girls who don’t choose abortion, or adoption, or parenting – what about the girls who find another option, a hidden option…

There was one book which talked about “Option D” for an unplanned pregnancy – infanticide. A book called After by Amy Efaw peeled back the curtain on the teen mother who throws her newborn infant into a dumpster. We tend to call these women monsters, this book helps make them human again.

We need more stories that are compassionate toward pregnant teens and teen parents – whatever road they end up walking.

Also – There are a ton of contemporary YA books dealing with teen pregnancy, but where is the fantasy, the sci-fi, the horror? Where is the genre fiction that deals with, touches on or explores teen pregnancy and teen parenting? We have Unwind by Neal Shusterman. Twilight or whatever the last book was called. Thumped and Bumped by Megan McCafferty, which I haven’t read but seem to be The Handmaid’s Tale but humorous and written specifically for teens.

What of high fantasy dealing with teen pregnancy? Or teen pregnancy in a space opera? Or the Rosemary’s Baby of teen pregnancy books?

And, because it isn’t all bad – what about the stories of teens who get pregnant and aren’t destroyed by it?

What about a story of a girl living her life, reaching for her goals, who gets pregnant and makes her choice and is able to continue with the rest of her journey? What about a story where a teen pregnancy is a part of the story, but it isn’t THE WHOLE story?

What about a story where a teen gets pregnant and makes her choice and feels good about it, and gets support for it from her sexual partner, from her family, from her friends and school. What about a story where a teen gets pregnant and it’s not a crisis?

How about a story about a teen who gets pregnant and is not required to give up her dreams and goals because of it? Nor even to delay them. One of the books I read, No More Saturday Nights by Norma Klein, followed a boy who sued his pregnant ex-girlfriend for custody of the child when he found out she was giving it up for adoption. He was then allowed to keep his scholarship to Columbia, move to New York City with a 5 week old infant, find housing and child care – which he could afford – go to class, maintain his required GPA to keep his scholarship, etc. Not a single book about a pregnant girl gave her this option to “have it all”. In part, that is because none of the books I read offered any of the girls the level of privilege and support that this boy received. So many people were willing to help this boy, give him a chance, offer him support that all he had to give up was wild Saturday nights and a little sleep.

There are so very many stories out there to choose from. Even something as simple as changing the point of view changes the story completely.

One of the books I loved most out of the mix was Things I Can’t Forget by Miranda Kenneally, author of Catching Jordan. Things I Can’t Forget follows a teen girl who was raised in a strict fundamentalist Christian home and church. She is grappling with herself and her relationship with God after helping her best friend obtain an abortion – something she believes with all her heart to be sinful and wrong. She is struggling to reconcile what she did, and why she did it with her beliefs about her God. It is a very compassionate and caring book. If it had been told from the POV of the girl who had the abortion, it would have been a completely different story.

Miranda’s acknowledgements sum it up nicely,

“When I left Middle Tennessee and moved to Washington, D.C., I found that my beliefs began to change. To this day, I don’t really know what I believe, but that’s okay. With this story, I want to show you (teenagers) that your beliefs matter – no matter who you are or where you come from. Your opinions matter. You matter.

“To me nothing was scarier than understanding that my truth wasn’t everyone else’s truth. It took a while, but I discovered that’s okay – it’s better if I do the things I want to do and believe what I want to believe. I hope you find your truth.”

Ultimately, that is the take home from my months and months of reading non-stop pregnant and parenting teen books – there are many stories, many truths. They are all equally valid. They all deserve to be told. And they all come together to help others understand that their story is not the only story, their truth is not the only truth.

We are all here on this marble just doing our best, trying to get by the best we can with the tools we have. And we could all, regardless of our circumstance, regardless of our choices, use a little compassion, a little understanding.

A little less “Are you sure?” and a little more “How can I help?”

And one of the ways we can all help is by expanding the story to let more people in.

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Kids, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

Why are we so scared of vaginas?

This morning I’m checking out some books that I borrowed from the library – doing some research to see what’s already out there in the way of sexual health education for kiddos.

I picked up these two books designed for middle-schoolers. One for girls, one for boys. They’re from the same series and designed for the same audience, so I am comparing apples to apples here.

I started with the girl one, it’s about dating and dealing with boys. At least that’s what the cover claims. But the whole first half is about being a girl and stereotypes. And while it sort of calls them out, the way it was written mostly reinforces them.

Like the section on sex. It opens with, “Vagina. Okay? You can take a deep breath now or have a laugh. The word will NOT be used again in this book. Phew!”

vagina costume

Surprise, it’s a vagina!

Because, you know, in a book about girls and puberty and dating and sex… vagina is an irrelevant word? Or a bad word? Or a scary word?

Meanwhile, in the boy book the word penis is dropped into a regular sentence, no big deal. We haven’t even gotten to sex, we’re still in puberty and we find, “Your penis is getting larger and your testes are producing sperm, just in case you haven’t checked lately.”

male puberty

Natural growth

No warning, no giggles, no promises to never mention that body part again.

I’ve wondered about this for a long time – this weirdness around women’s vulvas and vaginas. Is it just because they’re less obvious that we don’t talk about them? They’re sort of secret and hidden away visually, so… we just decide to pull the curtain all the way down around them?

vulva curtain

Closing the curtains

I mean the girl book never once mentions that women’s vulvas and vaginas also change during puberty. There’s a whole page about breasts and bras (complete with the assumption that ALL girls will be wearing bras, because – nipples!) But no mention that the vulva tends to grow as well, that the labia change during puberty, becoming more full and larger. That they, in fact, change throughout the menstrual cycle.

vulva project

Vulvas come in many shapes and sizes

It talks about periods and menstruation, without ever mentioning that the blood comes out our vagina. Or that that’s where the tampon goes if you choose to use one.

Nothing – just one use of the word vagina that reinforces how awkward we should all feel about it. The word isn’t in any context, it’s just thrown in our face and then we are reassured that we won’t have to talk about that yucky thing again. Phew!

Back to the boy book, on the page following the first introduction of the word penis, which you’ll remember was used in a helpful and informational context, not for shock value – We find a section on size.

“Every guy who goes through puberty becomes self-conscious about his body, and probably the number one body part he worries about is his penis.”

We get a mini-discussion of erections, wet dreams, reassurance about size and shape.

“The truth is that just like the other parts of your body, your penis goes through changes during puberty.”

Next we come to myths about masturbation like, “If you masturbate your penis will fall off.” This myth is promptly debunked.

For girls masturbation only comes up once, in a quiz.

Masturbation is…
a. a natural way of exploring your own body
b. illegal in some states
c. something that girls do if they don’t have a boyfriend
d. none of the above

The answer the book gives is a. Exploration.
You’ll notice that arousal isn’t mentioned. Women just masturbate to, you know, explore their body. Not for arousal (EW!), not for pleasure, not because it feels good – but just to ya know, get an idea of what’s “down there.” (Which is NOT a vagina, because we don’t use THAT word.)

In fact in the entire book on girls, puberty, dating and sex – female arousal is mentioned exactly ZERO times! (Can you feel my rage!?!)

Then again, we’re not allowed to say that girls who masturbate often touch their vulva, clitoris and vagina, because we aren’t allowed to use those words.

So here we have a book, claiming that it is trying to get girls ready for the world – and specifically ready for the world of dating and sex and yet the word vagina is used exactly once – with no context, as a disembodied *EW!* body part. It’s thrown in our face purely for shock value.

gross vagina

This is NOT helpful.

Meanwhile in the boy book the word penis is used 4 times, in context, with useful information about the changes it is going through, the concerns many boys have about it, the questions they are asking and the myths that are being spread.

This is not a fluke.

Vagina is a hard word to say in our culture. Penis – well, I mean, that body part hangs out, guys have to touch it a few times a day just to urinate. Penises are normal, they aren’t scary or mysterious.

The book on girls had a section called, “Mirror Mirror” and I’ll give you one guess what it DIDN’T invite girls to look at.

vagina dress

Maybe if they were just more visible we wouldn’t be so squeamish?

If you snapped a crotch shot of every boy in a class and tacked them up to the wall, I’d put money on every boy being able to correctly identify his in a matter of seconds.

Girls and their vulvas… Not so much.

Actual vulvas were photographed in the making of this cover.

Actual vulvas were photographed in the making of this cover.

They’re “down there”, hidden between our legs. The only way to really get a look is to squat over a mirror, or hold a mirror between our legs. And outside of a few hippy circles, we’re not exactly encouraged to do that.

From tampon and maxi-pad ads that use blue liquid to simulate menstrual blood – we’re taught that what goes on “down there” is kinda gross and that we don’t really want to explore too deep. We’re sold scented douche products to get rid of our natural odor. Scented pads too.

flower merkin

It’s not supposed to smell like flowers. It’s supposed to smell like PUSSY!

We wipe with toilet paper, wash with a cloth, use tampons with applicators and often masturbate with vibrators or other toys that make it so we never actually have to touch ourselves.

Many women and girls I talk to have said they would never ask a man to give them oral sex, “Because, you know, it’s just so icky down there.” But they assume that it is their job to give their dude a blow job.

Can we talk about “fromunda cheese” for a minute? Or spunk? I mean seriously, any person who has ever given a coffee drinker who smokes a blow job can tell you about some serious funk! But, penises are normal. Male ejaculate is normal. We see it splattered across the chests and faces of porn stars all the time.

Female cum? Female orgasms for that matter… We hardly ever see those. What does an aroused vulva look like? How many of you know that the labia of an aroused woman become engorged similar to the way a penis becomes engorged? How many of you know what a vagina looks like in the throws of orgasm?

We have to start talking about vaginas. And vulvas. And clitorises. And female arousal. We have to start normalizing these body parts, the changes they experience, the fact that they feel pleasure too.

Half the world population has them.

Maybe if we talked about them a little more we wouldn’t be so scared of them. Maybe we wouldn’t think they were icky and gross. Maybe we’d have a little more respect for what they can do and the people who have them.

vulva love

There’s so much to love!

Hey, a woman can dream, right?

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Filed under Kids, Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant, Things that work

A promise to do better.

This is the post where I mostly beat myself up, so if you see yourself here – my apologies. I’m not attacking you. I’m attacking me.

I want to start with a big, giant ARGH!

I read this article about what people want from sexual education.

It’s the same things we hear over, and over, and over again when we ask youth what THEY want.

Coincidentally, it’s also the same things that we hear over, and over, and over again when we ask adults what they want their children to learn.

AND YET…

That is NOT what is being taught in the majority of schools across this country.

80% of parents want comprehensive, inclusive, sexual health education being taught in schools.

Meanwhile, only 22 states in the nation mandate that it be taught, and only 12 states mandate that sex education be medically and scientifically accurate.

What’s up with that?

If the vast majority of parents and students want it – why isn’t it happening?

I was thinking this over when I had my ARGH moment and started kicking myself.

Because, despite my new vocation – I am part of the problem.

do better

I promise to do better.

An example – two years ago I donated some books to the school library.

The books were written for elementary aged children.

One was about bodies.

One was about where babies come from.

My kids didn’t need them anymore, they agreed that their friends most certainly DID.

The librarian agreed.

BUT… She wasn’t allowed to put them out where the children could access them. She was only allowed to put them in her office, where teachers and parents could check them out.

banned books

Books: Too Dangerous For Children

And… I let her!

I didn’t ask her to tell me who made this decision so that I could contact them and demand an explanation for keeping age appropriate, medically accurate information out of the hands of children.

I didn’t even blog about it here.

I did exactly nothing.

I let the censorship brigade win.

I pandered to the lowest common denominator – FEAR.

Fear that one child would take home those books and one parent would be upset and yell.

And I treated the fear of that scenario as a reasonable justification for keeping important, valid, potentially life saving information out of the hands of children who need and want it.

I’m sorry.

But I’m learning – and I’m working to correct my mistake.

Here’s what I’m doing – I wrote to the librarian to ask if anyone had checked out those books, and who was the final decision on whether they got shelved. (Mind you this same library is allowed to stock the full unabridged Bible which is full of rape and incest, so a children’s book about body parts really isn’t that scary by comparison.)

I have also written to both the school board and the superintendent of the school district to remind them of my state’s laws about sex education, including the updated bill that was recently passed and which asserts that all children in our state have the right to medically accurate information about their bodies and their sexuality so that they can make safe and healthy choices for themselves.

I am awaiting answers from all parties.

waiting by the phone

I hate waiting. But it seems like fair penance for screwing up.

The other thing that I think we all need to do is challenge the challengers.

We need to make it so that one upset parent does NOT have the power to remove books, media or other sources of information from our schools.

Instead of a school reacting to an outraged parent by banning a book or removing it from shelves and denying access to ALL of the other children, the school should sit that ONE parent down and explain why that book is there in the first place – the same reason the school is – to educate children, offer them new points of view, give them information about things that interest them, answer questions, encourage their quest for knowledge, spark conversations…

Because here’s the thing, our society already offers parents who want to bubble-wrap and protect their children from the influences of the world many options for doing so.

They can go full-bore and home school, limiting every facet of their children’s education and worldview to what they, the parent, deems acceptable. (Personally I think this is a form of child abuse, but I have had many, many friends tell me that it is FREEDOM!)

They can enroll their children in charter schools or private schools that cater to their world view.

They can also OPT OUT of things like sex education and send in notes letting staff know that their children aren’t allowed to check out certain books or access certain types of material. If they’re paying attention, they can pre-read assignments to make sure the content is suitable for their delicate flower.

It is not the school’s job to protect children from the world. It is the school’s job to PREPARE them FOR the world.

In order to do that, they have to be able to teach to the needs and desires of the highest seeking students. They have to be allowed to reach for the stars, not be tied to the tracks.

And the only way that’s going to happen is if we get as vocal as the fear mongers. If we challenge the schools to stand up to the bullies. If we have their backs when they do.

Parents have threatened to pull their children out of school if the schools taught the word penis. So the schools stopped.

I know, for so many of us, we think, well, okay – I can teach my child that at home, it’s no big deal…

But it is – it’s a REALLY big deal. Because what happens to other people’s children affects you. It affects all of us.

We need to reach out – with all the love and wisdom in our hearts – and we need to educate the people who don’t understand that penis isn’t a bad word, vagina isn’t a bad word – and they aren’t bad body parts either. They are normal, natural, healthy parts of who and what we are and our children deserve to be able to name them.

If we want these things being taught, we need to rise up and demand it. We need to get loud, get vocal, get organized and we need to hold our schools accountable.

We are the majority, and they need to hear from us.

teach the youth

Youth have a right to accurate information.

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Filed under Kids, Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant, Things that work