All posts by Ben

What’s Sex Got to Do with It?

Check out this awesome article about the importance of educating girls about sex by Kavita N. Ramdas from the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Ramdas makes a pretty convincing argument that our attempts to educate girls are severely hampered by our refusal to talk to them about sex. In her words:

So we want to educate girls, but we don’t want to talk about sex. We want girls to read, but we don’t want to provide them with information about their bodies. We want to save girls from female genital mutilation and rescue them from brothels, but we don’t want to know why they choose to sleep with their boyfriends or trade sex for commodities or affection or grades. We want girls to get married later, but we don’t want to talk openly about contraception or abortion.”

There have been a number of blog posts here about the importance of comprehensive sexual education to our future as a nation and this article makes it very clear that sex ed should be a priority in our schools:

…if we want our daughters to grow up with confidence, courage, and competence, we must make sure that they grow up with knowledge about and access to contraception. We should build schools, fund libraries, encourage teacher training, and support free tuition, but we also need to push for comprehensive access to sex education for both girls and boys, not just abroad, but right here in the United States.”

The Shocking State of Sex Ed in New York

The New York Civil Liberties Union recently issued a report highlighting the failure of New York’s schools to provide their students with comprehensive sex ed. Although the state published sexual health instruction guidelines in 2005, they are not binding on New York schools, leaving decisions of what to teach and how to teach it in the hands of individual school districts and teachers. The report is based on sex-education materials from 108 different school districts (excluding New York City which recently adopted binding sex ed guidelines) and contains some truly appalling results.

The NYCLU ultimately found that in addition to inaccurate or incomplete lessons on reproductive anatomy, basic functions, and pregnancy and STI prevention, the curricula largely ignore or even stigmatize LGBTQ students, exhibit a heavy heterocentric bias, and perpetuate gender stereotypes. Many curricula also contain moral overtones and deliver a shame-based message on sexuality and teen pregnancy and parenting. The study also revealed a clear gender gap, with programs addressing male anatomy and orgasm more than twice as often as their female counterparts.

A number of fairly shocking handouts found in the report have been showing up all over the internet today being attacked for their depiction of gender stereotypes, and rightly so. Handouts describing women as “hazardous materials” that are “highly ornamental, especially in sports cars” are both unfunny and seriously damaging to young people. It may seem excessive to condemn teachers for what was (at least I hope) meant as a joke but when less than half of the sex ed programs in the study address gender role stereotypes and less than 20% cover gender identity we don’t really have time for jokes.

The report is shocking but ultimately not all that surprising. There’s a clear lack of comprehensive sex ed throughout the country and it’s reflected in our national discourse. We’re appalled when people like Todd Akin voice inaccurate and offensive opinions about rape, but we don’t require our schools to teach the facts about sexual assault. The most important part of the NYCLU’s report isn’t the shocking handouts or the appalling statistics, it’s their detailed recommendations for improving sexual education, advice that’s helpful no matter what state you live in.

Sex ed is bad, but it can be better. Contact your local school board and your elected officials and demand comprehensive sexual education standards today.

Sex Charts From OkCupid

OkCupid pulled data from their user base to make a bunch of awesome charts about sex, including some interesting facts about twitter users and the relationship between body type, sex drive, and self confidence.

Check them out here at OkCupid’s blog!

The Transgender Equal Rights Law Takes Effect!

On Sunday, Massachusetts became the 16th state to enact a law protecting the rights of transgender residents. The law, which passed last November but only just came into effect, makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity with regards to housing, employment, lending, and public education. This is a huge step for Massachusetts towards equality for people of all identities and will help bring an end to the discrimination faced everyday by transgender people.

You can read more about the law and transgender rights in Massachusetts here at the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition

Sex Week at the University of Pennsylvania?

Arielle Pardes calls for a sex week at Penn in this great piece from the Daily Pennsylvanian. SHEATH co-presidents Hazel Lever and Martha Farlow had this to say about the value of Sex Week:

Sex Week is absolutely educational! Our schools don’t teach us, our parents don’t teach us, our peers have only warped and incorrect knowledge [about sex] — so these events become the perfect outlet to give students the information they desperately need.

The Friend Zone

When you spend as much time on the Internet as I do you run into the idea of the “friend-zone” with frightening regularity. Let me begin by saying that I hate this idea more than I hate soccer (and boy do I hate soccer).

I’m a guy. I have platonic female friends. As a matter of fact, many of those friends started off as romantic interests. Does that mean they “friend-zoned” me?

Hell no. It means that I realized a romantic relationship wasn’t in the cards for whatever reason and I decided that I was still interested in them as a friend. Sure I’ve started a friendship in the hopes that it will turn into something more but when it doesn’t I move on. I don’t delude myself into thinking that she is somehow at fault for not wanting to be more than platonic friends. Because that’s really what the friend-zone is when you get down to it. It’s blaming someone for not wanting to date you. Anyone else find that a little insane?

If you really have a problem with being in the friend-zone there is a very simple solution:

Say something about it.

Seriously.

That’s all you have to do.

Don’t whine online or to friends about how unfairly you’re being treated, just man (or woman) up and tell them how you actually feel.

Yeah, it’s scary, and yes, it can be painfully awkward but until you’ve actually told them straight up that you want to be more than friends you have no right to complain. If you haven’t told them how you feel then they haven’t put you in the friend-zone, you have.

Interview with Sex Week Speaker Lisa Wade

We interviewed Sex Week speaker Lisa Wade about her work in sexuality and what she’ll be doing at Harvard this March:

What made you decide to participate in Sex Week at Harvard?

I’ve been studying sexuality since I was in college and am always thrilled to have the opportunity to talk to college students about the topic.

What inspired your work in sexuality?

I’ve always been good at thinking and, for some inexplicable reason, good at talking about sexuality.  While a lot of people would shy away from these topics, I was always drawn to them.  I took my first college-level sexuality class during my first year.  From then on I was the go-to-girl in the dorm whenever someone had a question about sexuality.  I remember counseling a student who was terrified that she’d gotten pregnant… from oral sex.  I would pull out my books and give anatomy lessons.  I was occasionally the first person that a fellow student would come out to.  It was, as you might imagine, incredibly rewarding!  So I kept with it.

You’ve done a lot of work with sexuality as it affects college students and teens. What draws you to that type of work? 

I think it’s hard for a lot of people to be objective about sex on college campuses.  Your parents and many of the other adults around you still want to protect you.  And, to be fair, there is a lot to worry about!  And while you probably think you’ve got it under control, the typical college student doesn’t have a lot of experience negotiating sexuality.  This worry has meant that there is a lot of fearful and panicked writing about “hook up culture.”

This means it’s my turn. Social science helps us observe the social world from a different, less-personally-invested point of view.  We’re less interested in you and more interested in how what’s going on with you can teach us things about sexuality and society more generally.  And, since social scientists like myself have turned their attention to hook up culture only very recently, there’s a lot of opportunity to learn something new. As an academic, that’s very exciting.

On March 26 you’ll be giving a presentation on hook up culture on college campuses. Do you think the average college student has a healthy attitude towards sex and sexuality?

I do think that the average college student has a healthy attitude towards sex and sexuality.  I really do.  The problem is that the context in which college students get the opportunity to have sex and explore their sexuality is not so healthy.  That’s a pretty tough situation and some of what I’ll be talking about during Sex Week.

How do you see hook-up culture impacting our society?

So far “society” seems to pretty undisturbed by hook up culture.  It’s good fodder for articles in news magazine and the occasional talk show segment, but it’s not taking over the world.  You may hook up in college, but nearly all you will start “dating” once you graduate and eventually get married and have kids.  In other words, even if you seem to have pretty unconventional sexual behaviors in college, the vast majority of you will live rather conventional lives once you leave campus.

What is the biggest misconception that people have about hooking up in college?

The biggest misconception is that everyone likes it that way.  Most people think that most other people want casual sex and nothing more.  In fact, most students want to have some sort of emotional connection with the person they’re sleeping with; the majority would like to be in a monogamous relationship.  But almost everyone thinks that they’re the only person who thinks that… and most people only tell their close friends what they really think.  So the pervasive misconception about what everyone else wants continues.

Is it possible to have casual sex in a way that is sexually and emotionally healthy?

Of course!  But the word “casual” implies that it should be easy; and it’s not.  In a society that is kind of sick about sex, developing a healthy sexuality takes work.  And that work is ongoing.  So, if one wants to have casual sex in a healthy way, it’s an ongoing job to figure out how to do that.

Likewise, we have this idea that being “friends with benefits” should be easy.  But, in fact, having a great friend with benefits takes meeting just the right person and investing your time and energy into that person.  All relationships need to be nurtured.  Relationships do, friendships do, and friendships with benefits do. The mistake is thinking that relationships are somehow more fraught with emotion than friendships.  They’re not; does anyone remember middle school?

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Hook Up Culture

Interesting video by Sex Week speaker Lisa Wade on the facts behind college hook up culture: