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Recently, the Vatican published a document that said that people can’t choose their gender. This is accurate. Gender identity is about how a person feels inside and for some people, this does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. For some, it is more fluid. However, the Vatican is also insisting that someone’s gender identity—which, again, is not chosen—should match their biological sex or sex assigned at birth. They reject the idea that for some, this is not the case.

Gender fluidity can include having a gender identity that fluctuates between two genders, having no gender or being multiple genders. The document from the Vatican, called, “Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education” and issued by a department at the Vatican dedicated to Catholic education, says that people can identify solely as men or women because these genders correspond to traditional ideas around procreation and how kids are made. This is consistent with what Pope Francis has said in the past. The document—intended for Catholic schools and teachers—refers to “an educational crisis” when it comes to a more accepting and flexible view of gender. But isn’t it more of a crisis to insist that people force themselves to identify as something that does not represent them?

Since this document was released during Pride month, a lot of people have criticized it for fueling hatred and discrimination toward trans and gender-nonconforming people during a period of honor and celebration and for potentially further confusing people who might be questioning their gender. An advocacy group for LGBTQ Catholics called New Ways Ministry found fault with the document because it seems to express that gender is solely determined by genitalia, but gender identity is about how a person feels inside as a masculine or feminine person, a blend of both or something else altogether.

Other advocates took issue with the lack of representation of LGBTQ people in the document and hope that this criticism opens a conversation about gender in the Catholic Church. For instance, activist and Jesuit priest Rev. James Martin said, “The real-life experiences from LGBTQ people seem entirely absent from this document,” according to an Associated Press article. He then voiced his expectations for future inclusivity in the Catholic Church.

Gender fluidity is important because it allows people to express their gender in a way that feels most affirming for them. To deny this is to deny people’s true identity and experience.

The post The Vatican Rejects Gender Fluidity appeared first on Sex, Etc..

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“New name, same game: SHAME.”

That’s just one of the rallying cries for the #SRAisAbstinenceOnly campaign, which is challenging funding and support for sexual risk avoidance (SRA) programs. SRA is a new name for an old concept: abstinence-only sex education.

“Abstinence-only” describes a sex education curriculum that teaches only abstinence, or refraining from sex, until marriage. These programs don’t provide accurate information on birth control or safer sex, and they usually exclude LGBTQ identities entirely. Consent, communication and healthy relationships are also not included. What is included? Explaining sexuality to young people using faulty, outdated and hetero- and cis-normative language and metaphors. Shaming them by comparing sexually active young people to objects like a shredded piece of paper or a cup full of spit. Students are told that someone who has premarital sex is like a piece of chewed-up gum or used toothbrush and that no one will want them.

Shaming and scare tactics are harmful to young people, and they just don’t work. Abstinence-only programs have not been shown to delay sex among teens, while sex ed programs that provide all of the accurate information people need to make healthy decisions have. Abstinence-only programs actually increase the teen birth rate in conservative states, according to a recent study in the American Journal of Public Health. In spite of this, Congress has spent over $2.1 billion on abstinence-only programs since 1996, a number that continues to grow.

But the abstinence-only agenda has grown unpopular among many. Polls have shown that the majority of American adults want teens to learn about both abstinence as a choice as well as topics like safer sex and birth control. That’s why abstinence-only promoters have rebranded themselves as “Sexual Risk Avoidance,” even though it’s the same old shaming, inaccurate thing.

“Over the past several years, proponents of abstinence-only programs have been working to enhance their brand and reframe their approach,” writes Jesseca Boyer in a report by the Guttmacher Institute. “Nevertheless, most of the ‘sexual risk avoidance’ curricula…are the same as the ‘abstinence education’ curricula…and have the same goals.”

In response to attempts to rebrand abstinence-only as SRA, over a dozen organizations from across the country, including Answer—publisher of Sex, Etc., have teamed up to promote honest, accurate and nonjudgmental sex education and to reject the SRA agenda through the online campaign #SRAisAbstinenceOnly.

“Don’t be fooled by [SRA’s] deceitful appropriation of new rights language,” says the #SRAisAbstinenceOnly website. “It’s the same old shaming, inaccurate lectures. These lessons do nothing but harm young people by reinforcing harmful ideology and stifling honest discussion about sexuality.”

Want to speak out about harmful abstinence-only programs? Use #SRAisAbstinenceOnly on social media, spread awareness about the intentions of SRA and contact your elected officials to demand comprehensive sex education. When it comes to your body, you deserve to have reliable, accurate information delivered in a non-shaming way so that you can make educated decisions about what’s right for you.

The post #SRAisAbstinenceOnly: Same Old Stigma and Shame appeared first on Sex, Etc..

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May 24th marks Pansexual Awareness and Visibility Day. Yay! Created on Tumblr in 2015, it means a lot to people like me who identify as pansexual. This day matters because pansexuality is an important part of the LGBTQ rainbow.

Pansexuality is not well known to everyone. As someone who identifies as pansexual, I feel it’s important to help clarify what it is and isn’t. So what does the term “pansexual” mean? Being pansexual means that you can be romantically and sexually attracted to a person regardless of their sex or gender identity.

I previously identified as bisexual. As I learned more about myself and the spectrum of both sexual orientation and gender identity, I now identify as pansexual. You might be asking yourself, “What’s the difference between being pansexual and bisexual?”

Identifying as bisexual typically means that you can be romantically and sexually attracted to two different sexes—male or female. Some say that bisexuality is focused on the gender binary of male and female. While some may argue that pansexuality and bisexuality are similar, others choose to identify as pansexual to include an attraction to those who identify as non-binary or gender nonconforming.

Pansexual Awareness and Visibility Day may not be a well-known holiday, and you may or may not identify as pansexual. Nonetheless, encourage others to learn about pansexuality. Learning about how others identify can help you understand different perspectives and allow for a more inclusive understanding of the wide spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations. No matter how you identify, why not celebrate it?

The post Celebrating Pansexual Awareness and Visibility Day appeared first on Sex, Etc..

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Prom culture is a huge part of high school, and the prom is a classic event that’s often romanticized in cheesy teen-centered films. Being a hopeless romantic that grew up on said films, prom was one of the first things on my mind when I approached junior year. When I told my dad that I wanted to go to junior prom with my girlfriend last year, his first concern was whether it would be safe. After all, LGBTQ teens have historically been left out of events like the prom, discriminated against or even banned. Not to mention, my girlfriend was still closeted to adults and her parents, so she wanted to keep our relationship relatively private. By the time prom rolled around, I realized why my dad was concerned. As couples took photos together and got romantic on the dance floor, I felt forced to keep things more conservative. In fear of parent chaperones and judging eyes, we never truly acted couple-y. I felt like I missed out on the full experience.

The Prom, a new Broadway musical nominated for seven Tony awards, explores a similar conflict, with Indiana student Emma hoping to take her closeted girlfriend, Alyssa, to the school prom but ending up being banned from the event altogether. With the help of four washed-up Broadway actors, the story goes viral and introverted Emma is pushed into the role of an LGBTQ rights spokesperson. The musical acknowledges the struggle so many LGBTQ teens go through and makes them feel seen. Due to its popularity, The Prom is also receiving a book adaptation and a version of the show is being filmed for Netflix.

For our anniversary, I took my girlfriend to see The Prom. It was a fun date but also a way for me to try to experience what my prom experience had lacked. I was surrounded by an LGBTQ audience of all ages. I felt comfortable exchanging kisses with my girlfriend throughout the show and cuddling with her in the cushioned seats. I got a kick out of the Broadway industry-centric jokes and catchy songs while my heart connected with Emma and her story. Her simple wish to dance freely with Alyssa is turned into a political statement.

I held my girlfriend’s hand and didn’t care how tight my grasp might have been. I felt seen on stage and knew that I wanted to channel Emma’s strength. Going into senior prom this year, The Prom helped me feel a lot more confident in myself and my relationship, and it helped me realize that I don’t have to compare us to other couples.

The post The Prom Gives LGBTQ Teens Their Own Prom appeared first on Sex, Etc..

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“Don’t you know that masturbation causes hair loss?” my friend says, as he pulls up an article online. “Look, it says that masturbation increases testosterone in the body, which creates DHT, a hormone that leads to male pattern baldness!”

For those of you who are now worrying about balding because you have masturbated before, keep reading. Masturbation does not cause hair loss. There is no scientific evidence that supports this claim. This is just yet another masturbation myth.

There have always been lots of myths like this about masturbation, such as “Masturbation will make you go blind.” Since May is National Masturbation Month, we are going to debunk some of these myths!

MYTH #1: Masturbation causes infertility, meaning you’ll lose the ability to get someone pregnant or be pregnant.

TRUTH: The testicles will keep producing sperm no matter how many times you masturbate. Masturbation will also not affect a female’s ovulation, menstrual cycle or ability to get pregnant in any way.

MYTH #2: Only guys masturbate.

TRUTH: Regardless of your gender identity, almost everyone wants to enjoy pleasure. On average, 78 percent of Americans age 14 and older report having masturbated at some point, according to the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior.

MYTH #3: You should not masturbate if you are in a relationship.

TRUTH: Just because you choose to masturbate doesn’t mean you’re not also interested in sex with a partner. Masturbation is a completely separate, pleasurable experience.

MYTH #4: You are masturbating too much.

TRUTH: Unless it is interfering with your personal life, this isn’t likely. You can masturbate once a month or once a week or once a day or more, it all depends on your preference. Whether you masturbate daily or never masturbate is completely up to you!

And the biggest myth of them all is that masturbation is bad or wrong. For the longest time, masturbation has been seen by some as taboo. However, it is a normal sexual act and has many benefits. In addition to pleasure, masturbation can actually relieve stress, elevate mood, enhance sleep quality and boost your concentration! Also, it’s a great way to discover what you sexually desire and are interested in. Finally, masturbation is a way to experience sexual pleasure without the worry of sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy. If you choose not to masturbate, that’s fine as well.

Just know that if you do decide to masturbate, it will not make you go bald!

The post Ending Masturbation Myths appeared first on Sex, Etc..

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Photo credit: Take Back The Night Foundation

While scrolling through my Facebook timeline recently, I saw that some of my friends were interested in an event called “Take Back the Night.” I’d heard about it in previous years but was never able to attend. This year I clicked “going” on the Facebook event page. My friends started reaching out to me and now, all 20 members of our school’s Women’s Issues Club will be attending the event! We’re excited to take part in a national movement with others who care about sexual assault awareness.

“It’s an amazing event that I love to participate in,” says Bella, 18, of Highland Park, NJ. “You can just feel a sense of community, it’s moving. Now I look forward to participating every year.”

Take Back the Night marches and rallies are held every April, in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness month. Did you know that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

    • More than one in three women and nearly one in four men experience sexual violence involving physical contact during their lifetimes
    • One in three female rape victims and nearly one in four male rape victims experienced it for the first time between 11-17 years old

Plus, according to the latest National Crime Victimization Survey, about three out of four sexual assaults go unreported.

These numbers are devastating and unacceptable. Events like Take Back the Night can help bring awareness to how common sexual violence is as well as urge people to be upstanders (realizing when something is wrong and saying or doing something to help, as opposed to being a more passive “bystander”). Change starts with conversation. If sexual violence is not talked about, people will not recognize it as the major issue that it is.

There are Take Back the Night events taking place across the country. These marches provide an opportunity to speak out against sexual violence as well as bring awareness to the subject. Look out for a march near you! Check out their event page to get more information.

The post Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Take Back the Night appeared first on Sex, Etc..

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Did you know that April is Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Awareness Month? Thanks to this campaign, the month of April serves as a reminder of the importance of taking care of your sexual health, which includes you and your partner communicating about your sexual histories, getting tested for STDs and practicing safer sex, if you choose to have sex. STD Awareness Month can also help bring attention to the work being done to better treat and cure STDs!

First, some numbers. Around 20 million Americans get an STD each year, with young people ages 15 to 24 making up about half of that number, according to the American Sexual Health Association! But, according to a recent survey, only 12 percent of young people had been tested for STDs in the prior year. Campaigns like STD Awareness Month hope to change these numbers.

STDs can have serious health consequences, but this can be avoided with open communication. Even though it might feel a little awkward, it’s very important to talk to your partner about getting tested before having sex and using safer sex methods, like external or internal condoms and dental dams, if you choose to have sex. Talking to a health care provider when it comes to testing and treatment is equally important. In order to take charge of your sexual health, you should be open and honest with your health care provider about your sexual history and any symptoms you may have (and keep in mind that there are often no symptoms when it comes to STDs). By being proactive with a health care provider, you can work together to figure out the best plan of action.

Something else to be aware of when it comes to STDs is the amazing research that’s happening around the world. For instance, for the second time in history, a patient with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has entered remission following a stem cell transplant. Although many point out that this may never be a large-scale treatment for HIV because of its risks, this shows that a cure for HIV is possible! A researcher at the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) in Mexico City also recently presented another surprising discovery. She reported on a non-invasive treatment for human papillomavirus (HPV), some strains of which can lead to cervical cancer. Her method, which uses a form of light therapy to kill infected cells, is currently being tested further. (Just a reminder that the HPV vaccine protects you from certain strains of HPV that can lead to cancer.)

Continued research hopefully will improve STD prevention and treatment. In the meantime, remember—you can minimize your risk of contracting an STD by communicating with your partner, getting tested and always practicing safer sex.

To learn more about how to start a conversation about STDs, check out our communication tool. And to find a health center near you, visit our clinic finder.

The post STD Awareness Month: Talk About It! appeared first on Sex, Etc..

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Gender Spectrum, an organization whose mission is to create a gender-inclusive world for all children and youth, has just released a report about gender-inclusive health education classes.  One of the areas they cover is the benefits of having health classes that are not separated by gender. I remember when I was in sixth grade, and my class was split into two rooms one day. All the boys went to one room and the girls to another. In the room I was in, the talk was mostly about menstruation. As for the boys, I’m clueless as to what they discussed, although my guess would be erections and puberty for people with penises. Back then, I didn’t have an issue with the split rooms, but now that I think about it, being together would have benefited me, as well as my peers.

The report from Gender Spectrum states that, “When we separate students for this critical experience, we deprive them of much of the story they need to hear.” It recommends that students be together when it comes to puberty and health education. When students are divided, they remain uninformed about others’ experiences and get a message that “bodies unlike their own are taboo and should remain mysterious.” Not only does this limit learning, but it can also cause bullying. For instance, I’ve seen girls get made fun of by guys for a period stain or told they were “PMS-ing” if they were irritated about something. Separating students can reinforce stereotypes like this and also make students of different genders less understanding of each other. These stereotypes often get carried into adulthood.

Having students together can also give them a “guided experience of communicating about potentially sensitive topics with peers whose bodies and gender differ from their own,” while segregated sex ed—where students are separated—may encourage students not to talk about these things with peers whose bodies are different. This can later cause issues when it comes to communicating with partners about things like consent and prevention of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Another benefit of gender-inclusive health education is the possibility of increased conversation about what’s traditionally considered “masculine” or “feminine” and why people don’t fit into these neat little boxes. Being in the same room and sharing ideas can help others understand that gender stereotypes can be harmful and inaccurate. There is no such thing as being too “girly” or “manly.” Who’s to say what is “masculine” or “feminine” anyway? Gender-inclusive health education classes can be beneficial for every student, no matter your gender identity.

The post Gender-Inclusive Health Education: A Win for All Students appeared first on Sex, Etc..

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You, one of Netflix’s newest series, follows Joe Goldberg (played by Penn Badgley), a man that becomes obsessed with a woman he’s romantically interested in. During the series, his abusive behavior escalates from being overly protective and excessively jealous to stalking. Some viewers have romanticized Joe’s dangerous actions, thinking that this behavior is acceptable in a relationship. Badgley has responded on Twitter, shutting down the glorification of his character and explaining why Joe’s behavior is absolutely not OK.

While You might be an example of an extreme dating violence scenario, abuse is a serious issue in teen relationships that is unfortunately common. February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, bringing attention to the signs and effects of abusive teen relationships. Other than physical or sexual abuse, manipulative actions like demanding social media passwords or constantly wanting to know the whereabouts of your partner are some of the signs of an abusive relationship. “One in three teens in the U.S. will experience physical, sexual or emotional abuse by someone they are in a relationship with before they become adults,” according to LoveIsRespect.org.

An example of abusive behavior from You is when Joe steals his partner’s phone, justifying it by saying he needs to “protect her” from who he says are the bad people in her life. That kind of behavior is rooted in a lack of trust and respect for his partner and is not OK. In another episode, Joe attempts to engage his partner sexually in public without her consent. Consent is all about communication. Some people think non-verbal cues (such as eye contact or body language) are a green light to go further, but consent is more complex than that. A clear verbal “yes” or “no” is just the beginning when it comes to consent. Partners have to talk through what they do or don’t want to do to ensure neither partner is feeling pressured to say yes. Pressuring or coercing someone to finally say “yes” is not consent.

While shows like You might make abuse seem glamorous, dating abuse is a serious and scary situation. The romanticization of Joe’s abusive behavior highlights how necessary understanding teen dating abuse is and why recognizing signs of unhealthy behavior is so important.

You are not alone if you are experiencing dating abuse. There are resources for teens who feel like they or someone they know might be experiencing an abusive relationship. Websites like BreaktheCycle.org, LoveIsRespect.org and SafeVoices.org can help you learn and identify the signs of dating violence. For immediate help, visit TheHotline.org or call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, a free 24-hour resource.

The post There’s Nothing Romantic About Teen Dating Violence appeared first on Sex, Etc..

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Condoms. Perhaps the most well-known form of birth control and the only form of protection against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) besides dental dams, they are key when it comes to having safer sex. But for some teens, purchasing condoms isn’t always as simple as grabbing the first box they see on the shelf at the drugstore. (I am referring to external or “male” condoms here; internal or “female” condoms are not always available in drugstores.) In honor of National Condom Day on February 14th, let’s focus on an aspect of external condoms that we don’t often hear about: what to do if you have a latex allergy.

Your typical external condom is made out of rubber latex, a material that stretches to accommodate the penis. Latex condoms are available at drugstores, convenience stores and grocery stores (as well as online) in a wide variety of styles and even flavors. Some health centers may even provide them at no cost.* The problem with latex condoms is that not everyone is able to use them; some people are allergic. There are condoms for people with latex allergies—it just takes a little extra thought to get ahold of them.

For instance, Ruby, 18, of Takoma Park, MD, has dealt with this issue since she became sexually active. She had been aware of her latex allergy for years and realized she would need to find a different type of condom before starting to have sex. She knew that her options were condoms made from either lambskin or a synthetic latex alternative, like polyurethane or polyisoprene. She decided against lambskin since it’s not effective at preventing STDs, but it can prevent pregnancy. Ruby notes that polyurethane and polyisoprene have similar properties to latex: they also stretch and they also wear away if used with an oil-based lubricant such as baby oil or Vaseline. That’s why it’s important to use a water-based lubricant, like K-Y Jelly, regardless of the type of condom you choose.

Luckily, Ruby was able to find the brand Skyn (made from polyisoprene) at her local drugstore. She was disappointed when she found out that they’re more expensive than latex condoms, but says she was willing to pay because “safe sex is necessary.” For teens with latex allergies like her, Ruby advises not to let any partner pressure you into having sex unless you are able to use a condom. While she acknowledges how frustrating it can be to navigate condom use in a world where latex is the norm, she says that even if you have to go above and beyond to have safer sex, “It’s extremely important to understand that’s how you take care of yourself…because you deserve it.”

For more information on how to use a condom properly, check out our condom game!

*To find a health center near you that may provide free condoms, visit our clinic finder.

The post Condoms Are for Everyone appeared first on Sex, Etc..

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