The Blog

Can We Talk?

This post comes to us from the folks at Minna Life

SEX. SEX. SEX.

There we’ve said it. You were probably already thinking about sex before we even mentioned it, weren’t you? Let’s face it, it’s natural and, of course, we all do. It’s part of being a healthy human being, but the important question is not if we think about sex, it’s how we think about sex and how we learn to navigate intimate relationships. As many people take their cues about sexuality from media images or online pornography, it leads to inadequate information on basic anatomy, natural sexual responses and relationship expectations. Even most academic health classes seem to offer less than the whole picture or as campus sex-crusader, Dan Savage, notes, “Too often reproduction is simplified into basic biology terms. In classes they’ll just say, there’s an egg, there’s some sperm that gets ejaculated and maybe you’ll create a baby, and there that’s sex. Sexual education needs to be more about how you have sex, how to talk to women to have sex, how to be responsible, how to know what consensual sex is. If we taught drivers ed the way we taught sex ed, no one would survive! We would teach them about the car engine, but nothing about how to drive.”

So what’s the answer to this conundrum? Simple. Let’s talk about it. Talk about the mechanics of sex. Talk about safer sex. Talk about how to respectfully discuss your desires with your partner. Open, frank, non-innuendo’d dialogue is the only way to dispel misconceptions, educate, enlighten, and allow individuals and couples to explore their own unique path to healthy sexual experiences.

Continue Reading →

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.”

Some Thoughts on Sex Ed at Harvard

By a male first-year student

As part of the dichotomy between its exceptionalism and its commonalities with the concepts of higher education, Harvard both flees from and embraces what it shares with other colleges. We distinguish ourselves in academics, the University says, but we share the common nature of life and our students are as happy and as equipped with opportunities as any other campus in the nation. To a large degree, this assertion is quite correct. Harvard is not like any other United States institution—will any other college that is 375 years old please stand up?—in terms of its pedagogical history and the staff is littered with Nobel Prize winners and experts in their relative fields. The academics are noteworthy and the college is ranked no.1 on the all-important scale to mothers of high school seniors everywhere—U.S. News and Report. The school’s newspaper, The Crimson, is a million dollar enterprise; for every dorm there is a name every student knows who has lived in it. Matt Damon, Natalie Portman, Al Gore, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, the list goes on and on.

Yet in many ways, Harvard is no different from many other institutions. As part of the American college system, Harvard is not immune to the symptoms of the American college dating scene. The ideas of rape and alcohol-induced illicit and possibly nonconsensual sexual activity are not gone at Harvard. This summer alone, there were two rapes in the Harvard yard. With the frequent consumption of alcoholic beverages, a staple on every campus no matter the history, bad decisions can easily be made. Harvard makes a concerted effort to teach students about this in opening week with seminars and the humorous and slightly tasteless Sex Signals production.

However, it is important for the college to acknowledge that sexual education in our country is horrendous and it is very possible that most Harvard students have not received the same sexual education. Some may be sexually experienced; some may not. Some may be sexually knowledgeable; some may not. Education should be more comprehensible on this front and the emphasis should be on voluntary seminars that encourage students to pursue knowledge that they don’t already know. Instead of passive e-mails that most students skim over, it is important to make proctors announce these to their entryways and make students aware of what is being offered to them.

Continue Reading →

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.

Enough is enough

By Kate Sim ’14

Texas turned down $35 million in federal funds for Medicaid Women’s Health Program. This means that at least 300,000 low-income and uninsured women in Texas will have no or greatly-reduced access to basic reproductive health care. A proposed bill in Arizona requires women to prove to their employers that they need birth control in order to treat a medical condition if they want their prescription to be covered by their insurer. Today, women pay 50% more than men for the very same health coverage. Being a woman is not a pre-existing condition.

These proposed bills have real-life effects. Last week, an article written by Soraya Chemaly from The Huffington Post recounts many unbelievable ways women’s lives are affected by the “personhood movement”:

“Ms. Rowland was charged with murder after one of her twins was stillborn, allegedly as a result of her decision not to have cesarean surgery two weeks earlier. Yes, you can be imprisoned like Bei Bei Shuai, a woman living in Indiana who attempted suicide while pregnant (committing suicide is not a crime, by the way). Friends managed to save her, and although Ms. Shuai did everything she could, including undergoing cesarean surgery, her newborn died shortly after birth. She was arrested and charged with murder and attempted feticide and locked up without bail. (A Free Bei Bei petition was recently launched on Change.org.) Your 11-year old daughter, if raped and pregnant as a result, would be forced to carry the pregnancy to term or face criminal charges. I don’t have the time or space here to go into what happens to a pregnant woman who is already incarcerated. Consider Amanda Kimbrough, a woman struggling with meth addiction, convicted of chemical endangerment under a statute making it illegal to bring a child into a meth lab. She is only one of more than 40 women in that state alone imprisoned for substance abuse while pregnant. The salient aspect of their persecution is not their drug use, it is their pregnancies.”

Personhood USA defines “personhood” as “the cultural and legal recognition of the equal and unalienable rights of human beings.” But, as stories of Melissa Ann Rowland, Bei Bei Shuai, and Amanda Kimbrough show, the equal and unalienable rights of mothers, daughters, and sisters are in jeopardy. From unwanted cesarean sections and murder charges to transvaginal ultrasound probing and employer permission to use birth control. Enough is enough. This has got to end. 

When women are likened to farm animals and caterpillars, we cannot wait for lawmakers to come to their senses. We have to act now. On April 28th, women and men across the country will unite for reproductive justice. Unite Against the War on Women is a national grassroots movement happening in the capitals of all 50 states across the country on the same day. The goal is to show the legislators that we will not stand by and let them pass laws that limit and restrict the lives of women in this country. We have a voice and we are going to use it to put an end to body policing. Here in Massachusetts, the demonstration will take place at Boston City Hall at 10am on April 28–I hope to see you there. Meanwhile, here are a few things you can do:  

  1. Call your state legislators 
  2. Publicize the rally: distribute posters and fact sheets in your community. 
  3. Educate: organize a forum on women’s health 
  4. Donate to organizations that support women’s reproductive freedom, such as Unite Women and Planned Parenthood.
  5. Join the movement: bring at least 10 people to the rally. Here is the official MA demonstration event page

We need to act now. See you on April 28.

Note: Thanks to all our guest bloggers! If you would like to submit a guest blog entry, email sexweek@hcs.harvard.edu.