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STD

Ask Trixie: Should I be scared that I can contract an std?

Hi I'm kind of freaking out so we are both virgins but I'm not sure if she was born with an std or not I'm having s panic attack because I'm pretty sure she doesn't but when I asked her she said "my parents would have told me" I only stuck the tip in because it didn't fit. Should I be scared that I can contract an std????? –Will

Hi Will - There's a simple way to stop freaking out and that is for you both to get tested. Go to your doctor, or a clinic, or a Planned Parenthood if one is nearby. Or go to your school's health clinic.  It's not a big deal and people get tested all the time.

Since it takes time for STDs to develop, ask the person testing you how long you should wait before you have any kind of intimate contact again. People can contract STDs from more than intercourse, and if you're going to have any kind of sex, you need this information. 

Scarleteen has several services that can help you navigate this and hopefully find a place to get tested. They also have articles on all aspects of STIs and STDs: http://www.scarleteen.com/tags/sti. In fact, there’s so much info, you may have to go through a few pages to find exactly what you want. 

Also, check out Bedsider for STI basics at https://www.bedsider.org/features/555-stis-and-relationships-what-you-need-to-know

You'll probably both be fine but you won't know for sure unless you get tested so do it right away and get yourself some peace of mind.

Ask Trixie: I've never had consensual sex and was only taught abstinence. So, what should I know?

I've only been raped before so I consider myself a virgin since I've never had consensual sex or a consensual first kiss. only taught abstinence and about STDs so what should I know? –locandload

Hi locandload -

I am so incredibly sorry that you were raped. I’m also sad what’s passed for sex ed has only been about abstinence and STDs. I don’t know very much about your own story, but knowing what I know about abstinence programs I feel like the things you learned about sex were mostly based on fear and shame. I hope I can offer some help.

Your question ‘what should I know’ is so big, I can’t really do it justice in this post. Because there’s so much to know! A great start would be checking out Scarleteen, which I (and many people) think is the best sex ed site in the world. Scarleteen has really great (and very kind) info, and here are just some of the links to their topics: bodiesgendersexual identityrelationshipssex & sexualitysexual healthpregnancy & parenting and abuse & assault

Scarleteen also has Direct Services, including one-on-one answers to your questions, as well as message boards and more. I hope it’s a good start to finding all the info and support you need. 

Got a question about virginity, sex, relationships, feminism or filmmaking?  Ask Trixie here . Find Ask Trixie here on most Mondays.

Ask Trixie: "I'm scared to lose my virginity because I'm scared I will get pregnant."

I'm scared to lose my virginity because I'm scared I will get pregnant the first time I ever do it because that's the kind of luck I have – Anonymous

Dear Anonymous – I’m really glad you asked this question. Sex can be amazing, but being ready for any kind of sex is more than just making physical and emotional connections. It also means you and your partner are taking responsibility for using the right contraception and STI prevention–which I know can sometimes be confusing and awkward.

I have TOTALLY been there myself, and I’m really ashamed to say that the first time I had intercourse I used no birth control at all. So stupid and scary, and I was very lucky to not get pregnant or get an STI*. I did NOT make that mistake again. I immediately scheduled my first gynecologist appointment and decided to go on the pill (and never got pregnant). That was the right choice for me at the time, but everyone's situation is different.

One little thought: Having any kind of sex for the first time can sometimes be scary, or make us nervous. Think about whether fear of pregnancy is masking some other deeper concerns about being intimate. I'll leave that there for you to ponder and get on to the birth control info.

First of all, the best way not to get pregnant is not to have intercourse (Jane The Virgin doesn’t count) but if you do want to have intercourse, birth control should never, ever be a matter of luck. It’s about educating yourself on the best BC option for you, and then using it exactly as directed. Despite what abstinence-until-marriage programs teach, contraception is safe and effective when used correctly (and a lot safer than going through a pregnancy). 

A great place to start is with this handy guide from our friends at Scarleteen. It walks you through questions about what’s most useful and healthy for YOU and gives lots of suggestions on what to use. Planned Parenthood also has a great guide as does Bedsider.

Once you have an idea of what works best for you, go see your health care provider. If you’re lucky enough to live near a Planned Parenthood office, they’ll be happy to help you, and it will be less expensive. Stay way clear of Crisis Pregnancy Centers which advertise the same services but then give you misinformation and shame instead of contraception.

One other thing to consider: If you’re having sex within a relationship and your birth control costs a bit of cash, it’s only fair that your partner helps pay for it. Just because you’re the one who can get pregnant, it doesn’t mean it’s not his responsibility as well. 

*Don’t forget Sexually Transmitted Infections, which can be an even bigger risk than pregnancy because you don’t have to have intercourse to get infected. Condoms are the only way to protect yourself against those so have your partner keep using them. Also, because no BC is absolutely 100% effective (although many come very close), condoms can be a great backup.

Got a question about virginity, sex, relationships, feminism or filmmaking?  Ask Trixie here.

V-Card Diaries: Dru "Losing your virginity in the Bible Belt is a huge deal, something girls instantly regret afterwards"

Today we're highlighting Dru in North Texas, who thought the inaccurate advice she got in Sex Ed was appalling and disgusting. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here.

A little about myself:

I am 21 years old, a woman, and I live in North Texas.

How I define virginity:

The first sexual act between me and the partner of my choice.

Here's my story:

I may be the only 21 year old woman in my small town that has yet to lose her virginity. Losing your virginity in the Bible Belt is a huge deal. It is something that girls instantly regret afterwards, and guys revel in. The girls go to school the next day and tell their friends, not with a big smile on their face, but with a face full of regret and sadness. And the guys get to go to school with a smile and twinkle in their eye, and when telling their friends, the get high-fives and hugs. I never wanted to regret it, and I never wanted to be the reason some asshole got a high-five.

Everybody around me told me that having sex before I was married was a shameful thing to do and that my virginity was so precious that if I gave it away to just anybody that I was trash in the eyes of god. The only sex education that I received was that if you had sex with multiple partners that you would most definitely receive an STD. They showed us pictures of genital warts and told us exactly how they were "removed." It scared the shit out of me.

They taught us that condoms didn't work, and that birth control wasn't healthy for girl's bodies. Now that I look back on the sex ed that I received, I am appalled. They taught us that when we got older, the man that we would marry most definitely wanted a "new product" and not a "used one." That if we had pre-martial sex, then we would be taking something away from our husbands that "belonged" to them. It was disgusting. And the even more disgusting thing was that I completely believed them. I completely believed the lies that they jammed into our brains.

And now, I am a proud feminist and a proud atheist. I no longer believe that my virginity is "god-given", and that it "belongs" to my future husband. I no longer believe that I will most definitely get a STD if I have sex with multiple partners. I acknowledge the fact that I could receive some kind of STD, but that if I use condoms and speak up about getting tested, then the probability of me receiving one is lowered. I believe that my body belongs to me and when I do decide to have my first sexual encounter with a man that I trust, then nothing inside me will change and I will still be Dru.

Talking Virginity with Adjoa Sankofia Tetteh: "If their kids have lost their virginity, it affects the way these parents see their children"

From time to time we republish our favorite posts. This originally ran in June 2012.

We caught up with Sexuality Educator Adjoa Sankofia Tetteh at MomentumCon in DC and asked her about how her clients dealt with virginity issues. She told us that parents really do drag their daughters to clinics and ask doctors to check if they are still virgins. The video is here.

Follow Adjoa on twitter @adjoasankofia

Watch our other MomentumCon interviews with Carol Queen, Charlie Glickman and Jaclyn Friedman.

When it comes to losing their virginity, are boys more romantic, more ignorant or just more honest?

From time to time we republish our favorite posts. This originally ran in April, 2012.

"The proportion of all American adolescents in their mid-teens claiming sexual experience has decreased, and for boys the decline has been especially steep" writes Amy Schalet in her excellent New York Times article about boys becoming sexually active later than expected. It's a very timely conversation to be having about modern young men, one that's also going on at Sociological Images who posted the above chart. It's also the tip of the iceberg for me, and begs so many other questions:

Are guys really becoming sexual later, or are they lying about their sexual status less than they used to? Doing the film and this blog, I hear from lots of guys who would much rather have sex within caring relationships. I also hear from a lot of guys who are not sexually active well into their 20s and 30s and far beyond. Most guys are actually not the walking hormone bombs of popular culture, so has the pressure to 'perform' masculinity become less overwhelming?

Is it healthy concern over sexual health, or total ignorance at how such things can be prevented? The story says that romance is *not* the main reason for delaying sex, but terror of getting STIs or becoming an unplanned daddy is. Given how shitty our sex ed is, and how prevalent abstinence-until-marriage programs are, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of teen guys don't quite get that you can have various kinds of sex and not get pregnant or infected with something awful. Also, if intercourse is going down, what are the numbers for oral sex? Haven't they gone through the roof in the last 10 years?

Does this make any difference in how sexually active women are perceived? Even if guys are choosing to become sexual later, they still are judged completely differently for their choices. Schalet references the slut/stud division, which has changed not one bit. Listen to any any conservative commentator and you can hear it loud and clear in our culture, and only a much larger re-thinking of the 'consequences' of women's sexuality is going to change that.

Are boys really losing their virginity more like girls? I'm not sure I'm down with the basic premise of the story's lead: Why are boys behaving more “like girls” in terms of when they lose their virginity? For guys to truly be losing their virginity more "like girls" (and we're in hetero-land here), their experience would be more like this:

Confusion over how to respond to mixed message that tell them to look sexy but not actually desire sexual pleasure, guilt from authority figures telling them they're now dirty and no one will love them, little to no actual pleasure in the sex act, possible pain and bleeding, fear that their partner might overpower them and engage in non-consensual acts, and the list goes on. I'm not saying that having sex for the first time is uniformly awful. It can also be lovely or just meh. What I'm saying is that for women it's heavily freighted with things a young man will likely not experience.

There is one behavior that is more 'like girls,' of course: Fear of pregnancy and STDs. Whether the fear is healthy and educated, or borne of ignorance of how bodies work, that's one responsibility it's about time everyone shouldered together.

NOTE Just a reminder: We’re getting amazing feedback for our work, but it won’t get finished without your support. Please consider backing the project on Kickstarter. Thanks!

V-Card Diaries: Paul "I'm shy and socially awkward, and still happy to be a virgin at 29"

Today we're highlighting Paul, a 29-year-old man in Atlanta, who believes that staying a virgin has helped him avoid STIs. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here. Tell us about yourself:

I am a 29-year-old male that lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

How do you define virginity?

A virgin is someone who has not experienced a consensual, sexual encounter where one or both persons is partially or fully nude and one or both persons is brought to orgasm.

Tell us your story

I am a shy and socially awkward male with a poor presentation that does not attract females. I am still happy to be a virgin at 29 because I have had more time to educate myself about the risks of sexually transmitted infections. I feel if I had sex when I was young, I would have contracted something. However, I feel virginity is overrated, the important thing is to practice safe sex with a loving partner.

V-Card Diaries: Sarah "I don't agree with my mother that the doctor took my virginity when I got a pap smear."

Today we're highlighting Sarah from Newfoundland. She's 26 now, but this tale of doctors, mothers and pap smears happened when she was a couple months shy of 17. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here. Tell us about yourself:

I'm a 27 year-old Canadian who has happily immigrated to the antipodes. While I wouldn't change anything about my life thus far, it is still important to point out the things that were messed up about the community I came of age in and the general attitude towards teens and sex that existed.

Tell us your story:

I grew up in a town with a high teenage pregnancy rate as well as the highest occurrence of syphilis in the province–not to mention other STDs. I was in grade 11 and about to head off on my first full summer away from home without my parents when my mom decided that, in case I get raped, I should go on the pill.

For some reason, my mother brought me to the emergency ward of our small town hospital to get this prescription instead of to my parents family doctor. When I finally see a physician, he tells my mom that he will need to perform a pap smear.  I was cool with this, and when I think back on it, he had my health at heart and likely had to deal with a lot of young women who either kept their sexual activity a secret from their family or were uninformed about STDs.

My mother, however, freaks the fuck out, repeats to him and all the staff that I am a virgin (which I was,  a fact which disappoints me almost a decade later). So, after four hours spent at a hospital, we come home empty handed and mom finally calls the receptionist at her usual clinic. I get in the next day and get my pills without an exam.

Flash forward two years later and I am in university on the opposite end of the province. My mother constantly told me that she rather I come home with an STD than an engagement ring, but the moment I mention that I'm going to change my pill prescription and have a pap appointment booked, she starts to cry on the phone, sobbing that I shouldn't let a doctor take my virginity.

How do you define virginity?

Well, I certainly don't agree with my mother that the doctor took my virginity, nor did I lose my virginity when I bought a hilariously oversized dildo for the sole purpose dealing with my hymen (you know, to remove my anxieties about bleeding/discomfort in anticipation for real first time sex). For me, I define my virginity as a time when I was unable to engage and connect with people, when I felt unattractive and definitely projected to people that I was unavailable and unattractive.  I was embarrassed due to being a virgin in my 20s and the most true to life quote I have ever heard has come from the character George Lass from the late,great show "Dead Like Me": Death is kind of like sex in high school. If you knew how many times you missed having it, you'd be paralysed.

V-Card Diaries: S.O. "We were just making out one minute, and the next minute, we were having sex. No lube. No condom. No desire. No conversation."

Today we're highlighting S.O. from Boston, MA, who discusses a relationship she describes as abusive and manipulative. We thank her for sharing this difficult story. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here.

Tell us about yourself:

I'm a 30-year-old female raised in a fairly hick town by fairly Irish-Catholic parents. This upbringing most definitely impacted my experience with sex and sexuality.

How do you define virginity?

I think virginity is a dying concept that will hopefully one day be obsolete. Virginity can't be based solely on penile-vaginal intercourse. There is no way anyone could argue to me that two lesbians in a sexual relationship are virgins. The concept of virginity has been used in damaging ways for way too long. However, at the time that I "lost" (where did it go!?) my virginity in the "male-penetrating-my-genitalia-with-his-genitalia" kind of way, I did think of it as the moment I was no longer a virgin.

Tell us your story:

I was in a (seemingly) fairly healthy and communicative long-term relationship with a boy the end of my junior year of high school and through the first semester of college.

He was the first boy I had any sexual contact with beyond kissing.  In a lot of ways, he taught me everything I know about sex, and our experiences inform my sex life even now—in healthy and unhealthy ways. I wasn't interested in him romantically the first time that we kissed. He was a friend and I had a crush on his best friend. However, all of our friends had left for college and I figured, why not, we have to entertain ourselves somehow. Even though I was tentative on many levels, kissing him was fine and compelling. That first day he kissed me, he also fingered me for a minute. It was dry and straight all the way in, all the way out. There was nothing even remotely stimulating about it and I was terrified.

Eventually, we ended up in a comfortable sexual relationship. He took it slow, helped me figure out what I liked, bought me a vibrator (terrifying!), taught me how to use my hands too when I was going down on him. Overall it was fun and interesting and exploratory. I trusted him because he was more experienced and I thought he was in love with me.  I don't know if I was ever in love with him.

I didn't have penile-vaginal intercourse with him for about a year.  I did "everything else" with him and thought it was fun and playful.  But there was always the nagging. He really wanted me to have sex with him. By this time, he was 19 years old and I was 17. He had already had intercourse (apparently with 19 women, I later found out).  To him, when you loved someone and you were in a sexual relationship with him or her, there was no reason not to cross that line. To me, it was terrifying. I was raised to believe you would go to hell if you had sex before you were married, not to mention STDs or pregnancy. Already what I was doing was questionable in the eyes of God, my parents and my religious teachers. None of my close peers were having intercourse, so they weren't helpful in providing guidance. My parents would have been horrified if they knew I was even making out with him, so I was incredibly secretive about the entire relationship.  I had no one to comfortably talk to about sex except my boyfriend. And all he was saying was "Get over it, let's do it!" from day one.

A year into dating him, on the night of my graduation from high school, it finally happened. I didn't agree to it. We didn't talk about it. I wasn't even sure what was going on. We were just making out one minute, and the next minute, we were having sex.  No lube. No condom. No desire. No conversation. The next minute, I was sobbing uncontrollably. He hugged me and held me and told me it was okay. The problem was that once it happened, it became an expectation. The fun and playfulness of other aspects of our sexuality were cut short because it was assumed as soon as we started kissing that we would move on to "real sex." I never once consented to this happening but felt trapped by the situation. There were times I would be lying on my stomach crying and he wouldn't stop. It took looking back and reflecting years later for me to know just how abusive and manipulative the relationship was.

Any thoughts on virginity in our society?

I think virginity is still unnecessarily glorified. Here is the thing: teenagers are having sexual relationships. If I wasn't made to believe it was such a huge deal, I would have been empowered to make better decisions about it, had more people to talk to, and felt comfortable with the entire concept. The idea of waiting until you are married is silly and outdated. What an awkward and unpleasant honeymoon.  Virginity is a way to control women's sexuality and desires through societal norms.  You can't give it away. You can't lose it. It doesn't matter. You just need to do what is right for you and take care of yourself. Everything else is nonsense.

Want to tell your story? Go to our submission page.

V-Card Diaries: Mia "I wanted to be in love with the guy, because who knows how I'd react—what if I fart or cry?"

Today we're highlighting Mia from California, who gives us a major wallop of wisdom on why losing virginity shouldn't just about penis-in-vagina sex–especially if that's not the way you get off. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here.Tell us about yourself:

I am a 22-year-old sex-positive feminist, about a 0.5 on the Kinsey scale, though I've yet to act on my attraction to women.

I was a late bloomer, not getting my first kiss until I was almost 20. This was frustrating because I was a sex-educator through Planned Parenthood in high school, so there I was, teaching about birth control and STIs while I couldn't even get kissed. However, being a sex educator, knowing the facts, and teaching abstinence as an equally valid choice (even though I hadn't exactly chosen it) made me feel more comfortable with being an inexperienced virgin.

I used to say I hoped to one day have many one-night stands, but for the First Time I wanted to be in love with the guy, because who knows how I'd react—what if I fart or cry? But that view didn't last.

How do you define virginity?

Usually instead of defining virginity, I dismiss it as a harmful social construction. I define virginity ex post facto by if I feel like I can claim I "lost" it after a sexual act. There are multiple virginities, for example, for a hand job, penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex, penis-in-anus sex, phone sex, etc. And that's keeping it vanilla.

To define virginity by only PIV sex excludes queer sex and ignores my sexual reality, which is that I (and many women) get off on clitoral stimulation, not from vaginal penetration. I don't like a definition of sex that is phallocentric, one-sided, and doesn't factor in my own sexual agency.

Tell us your story:

When I was 21, I was fooling around with a boy and gave him a hand job and he orgasmed. I considered that a form of sex, yet there was nothing penetrative about it, so I felt a little uneasy telling people that I was no longer a virgin. (Interestingly, two years before, a guy touched my vagina but didn't penetrate, but I didn't consider that to be as valid, perhaps because I didn't yet think to question the validity of virginity.)

A few months later I met a guy and really clicked with him. I had never clicked with a guy so quickly and so intensely before. On our second date I went to his place to watch a movie and ended up sleeping over, both literally and metaphorically. He put his fingers and his tongue in my vagina, and I rubbed my vulva against his penis, and after that I decided that I wasn't a virgin. I wanted to have PIV sex but he wanted to wait, out of concern that it was my first time and we weren't really together. Our relationship ended a few days later, and I regretted that we hadn't had lots of PIV sex so I could definitively end my virginity and improve my skills.

I'm seeing someone now and have told him that I have had sex but not a lot of it. He probably assumes that means PIV sex, and I haven't corrected him yet; I'm not sure if I will. When we do have penetrative sex for the first time, I will tell him to go slow.

Any thoughts on virginity in our society?

Just because a person has had (PIV) sex once, and thus isn't a virgin anymore, doesn't mean they know what they are doing now or will be any good at it, or that sex will no longer be painful for the penetrated partner. There will always be a First Time with each new partner or sexual act, and it's always important to check in with your partner and have active consent, whether it's the first time or the 96th. Instead of thinking of virginity as this monumental milestone to take or lose or bequeath, it should just be synonymous with "first time." If you do something once, so what? It's not like that makes you an expert. Keep practicing!

As a frustrated late bloomer, I was relieved to cast off my virginity. A part of me worried that, as a virgin, I didn't have as much credibility when I said virginity didn't matter, as if people would think I only held that view to minimize my shame of being a virgin. Now on the other side, I wonder if people will assume I discount virginity to minimize my supposed shame at not being a virgin.

Want to tell your story? Go to our submission page.

Crosspost: Teenagers and group sex: A cause for concern? by Dr. Petra Boynton

Note from Therese: The media's been full of breathless hype over a study describing a trend of young women being coerced into multiple-partner sex. The coverage prompted commenters to actually suggest dealing with these 'immoral girls' by pushing early marriage and something akin to purdah. We're really happy to crosspost Dr. Petra Boynton who has a fabulous breakdown of the study and how we think about female sexuality, pornography and consensual sex. I think even more importantly, she shows us how to think critically before swallowing and regurgitating any media reports on teen sex.

By Dr Petra | Published: 21 December, 2011

Last week saw the publication of a paper Multi-person Sex among a Sample of Adolescent Female Urban Health Clinic Patients in the Journal of Urban Health (sadly not open access). This tackled the issue of young people having Multiple Sexual Partners (MSPs) and in particular raised concerns over coercive sexual practices.

Predictably the media reported on this story with scary headlines like:

Teen girls who engage in group sex are often coerced, study says – NY Daily

Group sex is the latest ‘trend’ for teenage girls, disturbing report reveals – Daily Mail (The research excited upset the Mail so much they ran coverage of it twice)

Teens as young as 14 engaging in group sex, study finds – ABC News

‘Sexting’ is related to teen group sex trend, says study – New Jersey News Room (the study doesn’t say this at all, in fact recent research suggests the phenomena of teen ‘sexting’ is over exaggerated).

While we sadly are used to the mainstream media sensationalising sex research (particularly on young people), other sex blogs and medical news outlets covering this study have been equally remiss at reading the original research and critiquing it. Which is depressing.

So let’s do the job the mainstream media should have done. Let’s critically appraise the research and see if we do need to worry about MSPs and young people.

First, a quick disclaimer. Researching young people’s sexual experiences is important. Such work should focus on their needs, report faithfully any adverse issues they may be at risk from, and take their mental and physical wellbeing seriously. Research on teens should always involve young people at all levels and avoid being a top-down process where adults define teenagers’ experiences. In critiquing this research I am not suggesting young people are not experiencing problems within their relationships. I am also not saying the researchers were anything other than well intentioned.

Strengths of the research The paper’s plus points are that it tackles a topical issue. While group sex among young people is (as this paper acknowledges) pretty unusual, it is something that has gained media interest over the past few years. So trying to collect any data about this phenomenon is important to reassure and also to direct sex education and public health programmes. The researchers seem to have developed the study over time, basing the survey they used on a series of in-depth qualitative interviews. The paper does acknowledge early on that multiple sexual partner experiences may be consensual and non consensual (more on this in a bit).

Sampling and sample size Participants were recruited from a youth sexual health clinic. This is not unreasonable at all. It’s an excellent place to find out about young people’s sexual health. But it does mean those going there may be in need of help or support so might not be representative of teens generally.

The authors acknowledge this but I suspect that fact will pass a lot of journalists by when they report this. Media focus, I imagine, will be on all teens, rather than a subset of teens.

The paper tells us researchers were aware of 1224 female clients at the youth clinics, with 747 identified suitable for the study. Why the other clients attending the clinic weren’t suitable for the study is not explained. That, I think, is a problem. Information about participants who were unsuitable for the study, or who refused to participate (and why) should have been clarified just to help us interpret this data. I’m surprised reviewers didn’t ask for it to be included in the demographics table as is standard practice. Of the 747 clients identified, 495 (65%) agreed to take part. A 65% response rate on a sensitive topic is not a problem, but it does reduce the number of people responding further, which in turn affects how representative the sample is.

It is not declared whether the participants were Cis or Trans Women. This would have been helpful to disclose.

Table 1 in the paper provides details of 328 participants. I’m unsure if these were the final sample that was used in the study/analysis. Regardless of all this we learn right at the end of the paper only 24 of those who completed the survey had had a Multiple Sexual Partner experience. And of those, their analysis indicates, 35% said the experience was consensual. Does this represent a major new trend in youth behaviour? No. The paper reports of the patients attending the youth clinic very few of them had experienced non consensual group sex. It does not mean we should not be very concerned about these young people or others like them. But it does mean journalists covering this story should put this into context. The study is not showing a major trend in teen girls being forced to have group sex. It is saying non consensual group sexual activity among teens does not seem to happen often, but when it does it is highly distressing and increases the risk of psychological and physical ill health.

My worry is the media coverage of this will not read the original paper and will suggest there is an outbreak of teen sex parties happening regularly, that young girls are forced to participate in. The study did not find this and nor has it identified a major public health problem. But I doubt that will be made clear. This in turn will worry parents, mislead teachers and healthcare professionals, and probably lead to slut shaming of young women (as this kind of coverage invariably does). All the while ignoring the role of boys at best, or presenting them as gang rapists at worst. None of which is directly helpful to the needs of young people. Problems with phrasing and terminology The paper seems to use terms like ‘sex parties’, ‘multiple sexual partners’ and ‘gang rape’ interchangeably in places. This is confusing for the reader but I imagine also for participants in the study. This is recognised as a limitation later in the paper where the authors talk about participants who’ve experienced gang rape not necessarily seeing what they experienced as a multiple sexual partner act.

The focus of the study appears to be on heterosexual teens, although this is not really clarified.

The age range of 14-20 is important as this is a wide age range in terms of young people. While some 14 year olds may be mature and some 20 year olds immature, in general the needs and experiences of those who are in the younger age group in this study will be very different from older participants. Any of these participants could be exploited, abuse has no age barrier. However, older teens/young adults may well be better able to consensually engage in sexual behaviours younger teens cannot. This was not explored in enough detail in this paper.

The main drawback with the study, to me, is the question used to identify if participants had engaged in Multiple Partner Sex. It asked: “Have you ever had sex (vaginal, oral, or anal) with more than one person at the same time or with more than one person at the same place? (This might be called group sex, a threesome, an orgy, or pulling a train).” The paper doesn’t clearly explain how participants were invited to answer this question, although does suggest it was via a yes/no response (or similar). Imagine I said ‘yes’ to this question. What am I saying ‘yes’ to? That I had vaginal, oral or anal sex? The wording of this question means there’s no way of differentiating between participants who had all of these experiences and those who had one of them.

There is also no way of identifying how often participants had engaged in these various activities and whether they experienced them positively or negatively. It could be completely possible for a participant to have experienced oral sex positively but vaginal sex negatively (or vice versa). But the question phrasing does not allow for this to be explored. It also doesn’t allow participants to indicate if they were giving or receiving these sexual activities (or both).

Once you get past this confusion participants are still being asked about these sexual activities AND whether they’ve done them with more than one person. How do you answer if you’ve engaged in said activities but with only one person? The question doesn’t allow for this.

Participants could also easily be confused by a question that doesn’t make clear if the mention of ‘sex’ here refers to penetrative sex (and if so is it via a penis, finger or sex toy) or oral sex. That is important as we know from sex research unless you are very specific about what you’re asking about you’ve no real idea what participants are reporting.

The question is also confusing a group sex act (i.e. having sex with more than one person at a time) with multiple partner sex over a period of time (i.e. sleeping with more than one person in a day, evening etc). In fact this becomes more confusing as these behaviours are asked as if they’re the same thing but with no time period specified. Most of us who’ve had more than one partner could easily answer ‘yes’ to the question, assuming you have been intimate with different partners on different occasions in your home.

Deconstructing this question may seem like nit picking but in fact is very important when we are designing surveys. Unless our questions are meticulously phrased we have no real idea what participants are responding to. This in turn makes a difference to the conclusions and recommendations we can make.

Elsewhere in the paper the researchers conflate group sex and an orgy (which usually involves several people) with a threesome. They also don’t clarify who might be participating in these activities. The assumption seems to be that it’s a girl and all boys. But it could well be all girls or a mix of girls and boys. Does ‘pornography’ and ‘sexually explicit’ mean the same thing? Participants were also asked “Many people come into contact with pornographic, x rated, or other sexually explicit material. How many times in the past 30 days have you viewed pornographic, x rated, or other sexually explicit material?”

This is an interesting but again problematic question. What do the researchers mean by ‘pornographic’ or ‘sexually explicit material’? Are they the same thing? Are they including explicit mainstream media such as music videos or magazine articles talking about sexual positions? That could be considered sexually explicit but not necessarily pornographic. Is this a particularly accessible question to ask a young person? Asking how often they’ve viewed such material also isn’t clear. Do they mean how often someone has watched pornography/sexually explicit material and masturbated? Simply seen it in passing? Or perhaps laughed at it with friends (as is very common among teens)? Was it watched alone or with a partner? What did it feature?

This information IS important because the researchers did find an association with multiple sexual partners and reported porn use, but it isn’t clear what relationship the young women in the study really had with porn. In order to better educate women about issues around porn we need to know more about what they are watching and how they feel about it. It is worth noting if participants said anything other than ‘no times’ they classed this as having viewed porn. So that means someone might have seen porn once in passing and be categorised in the same way as someone who viewed porn regularly and was aroused by it and someone who was forced to watch porn occasionally but against their will.

Another question asked “Has anyone ever insisted (without using force or threats) that you do sexual things they saw in pornographic or x-rated magazines, websites, or movies when you did not want to?” This is not an unreasonable question, but it is not necessarily something that’s easy for a teen woman to answer. For example they may well have been coerced to do something they did not want to do, but unless they asked the person coercing them if they had seen this in porn they would not necessarily know for sure this was the case. They may have a good instinct they were being asked to perform something inspired by pornography, but they wouldn’t know for sure – and would not be in any position to ask if they felt threatened.

Given the age of participants it may be someone did coerce them to do something they didn’t like but had not got the idea for this from porn. They may have got the idea from a sex tips feature in mainstream magazines like Cosmopolitan or Men’s Health, or from their peers, or from a TV show. Much of the mainstream media talks about anal sex, threesomes, oral sex etc so this could have just as easily informed the coercive behaviour.

I would have liked to see more focus on the nature of the coercive behaviour, why participants felt this was linked to porn, and if it wasn’t linked to porn where they felt the driving force behind the coercion came from. I say this not to dispute porn may play a part, but to identify exactly what is driving coercive behaviour as if it’s features in mainstream magazines or peer pressure we need to tackle this just as urgently as any perceived threat from porn.

The focus here seems to present young women’s relationship with porn as something that is done to them by young men. Young men are presented as the consumers of porn and use it to get ideas to coerce young women into doing things they don’t want. This does not explore where young women may like or dislike porn, or young men having a critical view of porn. It does not include young people who have little or no exposure to porn. It presents young women as passive, as victims. And as heterosexual. This is often taken up by the media who use debates on sexualisation or pornification to demonise or ignore young men and victimise and slut shame young women. In both cases we find it becomes a situation where adults (either academics, medics or journalists) speak for young people.

Multiple Sexual Partners – a problem in itself? In their reporting of the results the authors say: “While there may be a subset of girls who initiate or make self-actualized decisions about MPS participation during adolescence, it is important to consider whether social norms that encourage hypersexuality may contribute to expectations about sexual activity that make it very challenging for adolescents to resist engaging in MPS, even though they would not perceive their MPS participation as nonconsensual. The strong association between exposure to pornography, having been forced to do things that their sex partner saw in pornography, and MPS suggests that pornography may have influenced directly the sexual experiences of the girls in this sample, as has been found elsewhere. Importantly, even if participation in MPS is voluntary for some adolescents, it is crucial to know how this early experience shapes their sexual behavior trajectory and affects their lifetime risk for negative sexual, reproductive, and other health risk behaviors”.

This statement concerned me for three reasons. Firstly it suggests a kind of false consciousness idea that no young woman could ever really consent to a MSP experience. This is disingenuous to the participants in this study who stated they had willingly enjoyed a MSP. I suspect it betrays more of the researchers own values about MSPs.

Secondly it implies that even if a young woman does consent to a MSP this will be because pornography has informed her choice. Yet we know from the way they asked about porn they don’t really have strong enough data to make this conclusion. It would have been interesting to explore if mainstream media might have influenced their choice as well, but not to have decided for participants that they didn’t really know their own minds.

Thirdly there is the implication that having a MSP as a young person will inevitably lead to problems in future relationships. That seems like a leap beyond the data and also I suspect unfair to those who consensually, as adults, explore non monogamous relationships. Moreover we know many people who never have MSPs as young people (or adults) have problems in their relationships as adults. So to make this claim really requires more than a small sample of 24 participants who were asked some confusing questions. The researchers do say this ought to be followed up in future research and I don’t disagree there, but I hope they would be less judgemental and aware of sexual diversity in doing so.

Where are the experiences of young men? There is no focus on young men in this paper and I think any study that is tackling coercion in heterosexual youth (as this paper appears to be doing) really needs to also study young men. The assumption is they are coercing young women, but are young men also feeling coerced in relationships? Is the pressure of masculinity leading to risky sexual behaviours or are they acting respectfully with their partners? Are the experiences of young gay or bi men different from their heterosexual peers? How do young men feel about being portrayed as sexually coercive? Are there issues around communication and consent we need to focus on with young men and women – and how should we be addressing this issue?

I worry media coverage will report this as though young men have been included or present young men as predators, when again the number of participants reporting negative experiences from forced group sex or pornography was low.

Should this paper have been published? I critically appraised this paper, but does not mean I think it should be ignored. Had I been asked to review it for publication I would have asked for major revisions (based on the comments above). I find many Public Health studies on youth sexual behaviour (and sexual behaviour in adults) are well intentioned but often problematic due to heteronormative approaches. In this case this can be seen with the focus on heterosexual activity and underlying subtext that group sexual activity is never truly consensual and non monogamous relationships are not presented positively. This can alienate or pathologize many people inadvertently, while trying to help another group of people. A better awareness of thinking around diverse sexualities would help ensure generalisations about group sex among consenting adults are not pathologised while trying to tackle gang rape of teens.

I hope coverage of this will be responsible but fear it will not. I suspect it will be further used to demonise young people and worry the public. In turn ignoring the fact most young people are not engaging in group sex or coercive behaviour. In fact that most aren’t having sex at all. They may well have questions and worries about sex, but these may not be addressed while we focus on more sensational topics.

Creating a moral panic in which we shout a lot about the behaviour of young people but do very little to actually help them. And in cases where research is poor or ambiguous it may direct our efforts to help young people in the wrong direction.

Dr. Petra describes herself as a sex educator, agony aunt and academic. Learn more about her on her website here and  follow her on Twitter.

New study challenges the belief that everyone is doing it but you.

The media has been all over a new study from the Centers for Disease Control about the surprisingly large numbers of teens and young adults who haven't had sex. Now, if you read this blog regularly, this fact may not come as quite the shock it is to the rest of the world. There are a lot of people who delay sexual activity until college and beyond–some because of religious convictions, others because of social anxiety or past negative experiences, and others because they simply haven't met the right person yet.

According to the study, 27% of men and 29% of women ages 15 to 24 say they've never had a sexual encounter, which was defined as anal, oral or vaginal sex. I think it's somewhat more meaningful, and again less shocking, if you look at the breakdown by age*, like in this USA Today chart (left).

What I find especially interesting is the methodology used to gather data, given the very real issues around honest reporting of sexual behavior. NPR describes the process:

To increase the odds that the study subjects will tell the truth about their sex lives, the surveyors are always women, who visit households chosen to represent the 124 million Americans ages 15 to 44. "The more sensitive the questions, the more both sexes only want to talk to a woman," Anjani Chandra, a demographer with the National Center for Health Statistics and the report's lead author, told Shots. Those women are usually in their 40s, she says; a nice non-threatening age.

When it's time for the most delicate questions, the interviewer hands her laptop to the subject, who then listens to the questions on headphones. "The respondent can enter her answers directly into the computer," Chandra says. The interviewer never knows the answer — and neither does Mom, who may be listening from the kitchen.

Various reasons are being offered for this steady drop in sexual activity. While abstinence education may be a contributing factor, the decline started in the late 80s, more than a decade before the Bush administration pushed abstinence-only programs into overdrive.

It also bears mentioning that comprehensive sex education programs teach abstinence along with safer sex practices, which are more important now than ever. The CDC conducted this survey to help them address soaring STD and HIV rates, since half of the infections occur in the people 15-24. Which means that the young people who are having penetrative sex are still doing it in very high-risk ways.  

*For adults 25-44, the study reports that 1.6% of women and 2.3% of men have not had any sexual activity. The full report, with extensive data tables is can be downloaded from the National Survey of Family Growth.

Abstinent Deceptions: Why the Situation-Bristol Palin PSA Is Worse Than You Think

At first, I thought I sort of liked the new ‘The Situation’ - Bristol Palin abstinence PSA, and not even ironically. My expectations, cultivated by a longtime familiarity with abstinence-until-marriage campaigns that were authoritative and explicit about the fact that sex will ruin my whole entire life, were low. Understandably.

So, right. The Candie’s Foundation releases their new ad campaign, starring politico teen mom Bristol Palin, whom I loathe, and The Jersey Shore's Mike 'The Situation' Sorrentino. What happens in this video? The rundown is that our young heroes are mingling behind the set of what I assume is Dancing With The Stars. The Situation sees Palin from behind, and not knowing who she is, tries to pick her up with some bad lines, which I refuse to reproduce in this blog space. Palin does a quick spin, which maybe she learned from Dancing With The Stars, and affectionately mocks The Situation's lousy attempt at getting her to have sex with him.

What develops from this point on is a conversation about sex, except with different uses of the word 'situation' in lieu of the usual 'abstinence,' 'sex,' 'pregnancy,' or the classically vague, doom-ridden 'consequences.' Bristol Palin tells The Situation that she's definitely not going to have sex with him because she doesn't have sex with anybody (anymore), but that she hopes in general when he is sexually active he is safe. The Situation, in turn, ushers in latex evidence to prove that of course he practices safe sex. Palin seems satisfied by this, there are more exchanges revolving around situatedness and, all in all, things are remarkably cordial.

This cordiality was what first surprised me about the Candie's ad. I don't think I've ever seen an abstinence ad in which there was such a casual exchange between two people with different views on sex. It seemed to lend credibility to a position on teen sexuality that differed from its own, and sent the message that these differences were OK.

And then I got to thinking. It all, suddenly, was a little too casual. Eerily so.

This appearance of tolerance–and an appearance is all it is–is exactly what makes this ad even worse than those which overtly warn that sex is going to destroy me. The longer I thought about the way this abstinence ad appealed to me, through its image of open mindedness and the use of reality TV sensibility, the more insidious I found it to be.

Even though one of the two characters in this ad is sexually active, safe, and happy about it, because he is a Jersey Shore caricature, viewers are not asked to take his sexual choices seriously. Through the casting of someone as ridiculous as The Situation, the Candie's people achieve the unfathomable, which is making Bristol Palin –an abstinence-pledging teen mom–look like a legitimate sexual role model. Palin's abstinence advocacy on its own is clearly an absurdity; however, next to The Situation's buffoonery, I can see how it would almost make sense.

The abstinence-until-marriage movement is just as backwards as it has always been and its ideology is no less threatening to sexual health and fulfillment than before. But there are definitely people doing the deceptive work, in certain cases with new media intelligence, to frame it otherwise. Things to look out for, I think.

Aside from the other abstinence-only-until marriage keywords missing from the Candie's ad, 'waiting' is noticeably not there. This is because apparently we are no longer waiting; we are now pausing. Before we play, that is. Did you know that “Pause Before You Play” is the overarching message of all The Candie's Foundation’s current campaigns? As the Candie's people explain, when pausing, teens should:

“Pause to think about your future; pause to think about consequences; pause to evaluate your relationship; pause to delay sex; pause to get a condom; pause to ask “why now?”

One of the really unsettling things about this ad, I realized, is that this push to “pause” comes at the very end, as if it's not the message propelling the whole scenario forward to begin with. Which of course, it is. An ad like this creates an image of an abstinence-until-marriage movement that encourages open dialogue and an acceptance of teen sexuality, when in fact we know that abstinence-until-marriage sex education programs accomplish the opposite: they silence teenagers' voices on their sexualities.

First-time sex: For some girls it happens without protection–and without consent

Cara at The Curvature reports on a (not-yet-peer-reviewed) study that claims girls take more chances during first sex, that is, are less likely to use birth control. Which has researchers confused, since they say boys are more likely to engage in risky behavior. Huh? Are you shaking your head at this simplistic logic? So is Laura Lindberg, senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute:

"...boys may still have a lot to do with it. She said teenage girls are less likely than boys to want to have sex when it happens for the first time and may not do as good a job advocating for birth control. Lindberg added that contraception at first sex is 80 percent condoms, meaning birth control largely depends on the boy."

No kidding. The Curvature goes on to point out a statistic I wasn't aware of: "10% of young women's first intercourse is involuntary. "In other words, they are raped. As Cara writes:

I can’t quite wrap my head around that. We’re talking about young women being raped, and calling it risky behavior. We’re talking about young women being raped, and asking questions about condom use. We’re talking about young women being raped, and the biggest concern at the front of our minds is about STDs. We’re talking about young women being raped, and we’re asking why they don’t know any better?

As Cara points out, every sex ed curriculum should include a serious discussion about what consensual sex means, and we're not doing that at all. I strongly encourage you to read the rest of her excellent post here.

Em & Lo & Virginity, Part 1

Occasionally, Em & Lo, whose topics tend to run more towards "Do Men Expect Women to Climax During Intercourse?" and "Best Walk of Shame Accessory Ever," write about virginity.

A relatively new feature, The Virgin Diaries is an occasional column written by Katherine Chen, an English major at Princeton University. I was just going to link to it, but re-reading them I felt I needed to say more about them. I first noticed "All I Needed to Know I Learned from Porn" about how she got her first bit of 'real' sex education online. It's a pretty funny piece about how internet porn showed her her first penis and gave her a fairly positive impression of sexual relations:

I’ve never considered porn misogynistic or sexist. Fortunately the videos I’ve watched didn’t portray the women as victims, but as active and enthusiastic participants. Like I said, they always seemed to be enjoying it more than the men (although I guess that could just be “good acting”). And even I realize that the scenarios of porn films are unrealistic — they’re fantasies that most viewers understand can’t be replicated in real life. Even if you “set up” a scene with your partner, it’s just not going to be the same.

So whenever I finally do get around to having sex myself, I’m pretty confident that, like the best porn, I’ll have some good moves, I’ll use a condom, I won’t be self-conscious, and — most importantly — I’ll have fun.

Now, porn certainly has its various uses, but it's got to be one of the worst ways to learn about real-life sex. In fact, the more I read Katherine's earnest and heartfelt 'confessions,' the more I worried about her sexual future. In her latest post, entitled "My Complicated Relationship with Sex," she writes:

For better or for worse, my over-analysis of sex has raised my views to such black-and-white extremes that I can no longer reconcile my true feelings about sex in relation to myself. While I have not yet been in a relationship where I seriously considered the prospect of having sex, even if I had been, I doubt I would have known what I wanted to do.

On the one hand, having seen all the good that can come from sex, I have placed it on such a high pedestal that if and when I do engage in sexual intercourse with a partner, I fear it will inevitably be disappointing. On the other hand, having also seen all the bad that can come from sex, I am absolutely terrified by its potential consequences, such as the transmission of diseases, unwanted pregnancy and heartbreak.

Being a virgin in a sex-filled world seems to leave Katherine by turns titillated and confused. I can't help but feel that her upbringing has saddled her with some damaging ideas and expectations towards sexual intimacy. Her teachers taught abstinence-until marriage, something she says she didn't buy, but at home the message was even more severe:

My mom always classified every single sexually active female as either a prostitute or a “dumb animal” who had nothing better to do with her time.

Yeah, that would make me feel good about exploring my sexuality. The choice to have or not have sex should be her own, and I would like to point out that the things that terrify her most about sex, like disease and pregnancy, can generally be avoided through contraception and safer sex practices. As for heartbreak, you certainly don't have to have sex to fall victim to that. I had my heart broken several times in junior high alone without even touching someone.

Maybe writing for Em & Lo means the gals will be there to answer her questions and help get her through her sexual debut, when and if it happens. It sounds like it's going to be traumatic, and somewhat surprising, whatever the circumstances.

Why casual sex won't actually make you crazy, but Laura Sessions Stepp might

Sex.Really. does at least one thing right: They have Lena Chen blogging for them. You may remember Lena from some notorious goings-on at Harvard University that pitted her (and her blog Sex & The Ivy) against True Love Revolution, the on-campus abstinence group.

Her Sex. Really. post, entitled "Oxytocin: The Pseudoscience of the Hook-Up Hormone," is strong blast against ongoing contentions that casual sex reliably leads to heartache, loneliness and even mental illness due to all that crazy oxytocin coursing through our girly après-sex bodies. Citing recent evidence to the very contrary, she writes:

"As a now-monogamous former sex blogger, I'm living proof that hooking up doesn't make you crazy or unable to commit. But if mainstream media reports of the past few years are to be believed, I'm the exception, not the rule. Recently, however, researchers at the University of Minnesota conducted one of the first large-scale studies on the effects of hooking up and found the following:

"Although there has been speculation in public discourse that sexual encounters outside a committed romantic relationship may be emotionally damaging for young people, this study found no differences in the psychological well-being of young adults who had a casual sexual partner verses a more committed partner."

We recently caught up with Lena at the Harvard Abstinence Conference and we're excited to share a bit of our interview with her on this blog next week. But for now, here's how she describes one of the chief proponents of the oxytocin-is-dangerous theory in her post:

Media coverage of the supposed "hook-up culture" often echoes misconceptions first promoted by abstinence advocate Dr. Eric Keroack, the Bush-appointed former deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Population Affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services. During his tenure, Keroack made the case for abstinence-only sex education by claiming that premarital sex damages one's ability to form attachments down the line.

The layman's version: oxytocin, the so-called "bonding hormone" which is produced during intercourse, will be less effective at bonding us to our future mates if we overindulge in the chemical cocktail by bed-hopping through our youth.

Aside from Lena's updates on these discredited oxytocin theories, I find it totally delicious that she directly challenges Laura Sessions Stepp's work on oxytocin and the perils of casual sex (Unhooked) – who we recently learned is closely involved with Sex.Really, the host of the post. I would say it's totally cool they ran with it, except the editors seemed to feel the need to include a note from Laura Sessions Stepp saying "I have never heard of Keroack nor read anything he wrote"

Really, Laura? Because Bush's appointment of Dr. Keroak was major, major headline news. Keroak, an anti-contraception and anti-choice crusader, and abstinence-till-marriage advocate, was actually appointed the head of the office charged with providing women with contraceptives and pregnancy prevention counseling. How did a self-described feminist like Laura Sessions Stepp miss that?

Cory Silverberg, writing at about.com:sexuality, came up with a wonderful definition of casual sex, which inovlves no craziness whatsoever:

"When sex is casual, I think the word is used to mean that the sex is detached from those traditional sexual and gender scripts. This is, I would suggest, precisely what is so threatening about casual sex. Casual sex isn't sex by the rules."

Read his entire thought-provoking post here

And the award for using the worst gender stereotypes to teach sex ed goes to...

We're loving Shelby Knox's new Tumblr blog This Is Misogyny which she describes as:

"Pictures and quotes that exemplify misogyny in modern culture, including but not limited to objectification of women, glorification of rape culture, sexualization of girls and young women, transmysogyny and transphobia, and images that propagate the beauty myth. Why? Because staying silent never changed anything."

Her latest post is on a video created by Sex Really, a project of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. We first saw it at the Sex::Tech conference last weekend in San Francisco. Even though it got a big laugh, many of us were disturbed and weirded out by it. Shelby was the first one to tweet her disgust and it ended up generating a lot of conversation all weekend.

If you haven't watched it yet, have a look and see what you think. For me, the most disturbing part is having to experience so much gross misogyny in the service of one jokey payoff line. It's like doing an anti-racism PSA of which 97% is a bunch of white folks using the most vile racist language.

Here's what Shelby has to say:

"If you teach sex education on the ground for any amount of time you know one of the biggest challenges is getting young people to unlearn gender stereotypes around sex.

If you don’t know the ones I’m talking about, Sex Really has done a pretty good job of laying them out as fact: men are pigs with raging hormones that can only process sex on a Neanderthal level. They sit around and demean women because they lack the emotional capacity to have substantive relationships. And women are too stupid, or so focused on “catching a man,” that they don’t even notice their dude’s a d-bag."

She goes on to add that Sex Really is headed up by Laura Sessions Stepp:

"rape apologist and virginity crusader extraordinaire. Her work has riled up the feminist community before over her hysteria-inducing case study passed off as research on the “hookup culture” and the ridiculous idea of “gray rape.”

Seeing the video gave me one of my great epiphanies about the Sex::Tech conference: Not everyone there was a feminist. I guess the fact that there was one session called "I'm a Feminist Sex Educator" should have given me a clue to that (there are other kinds of progressive sex educators?) but it was still a weird lesson to learn.

A lot of people at the conference thought the video was really funny. The creators even said it showed that feminism and humor don't mix(!) Yikes. What do you think?

If you're in Boston, check out "Subjectified: Nine Young Women Talk About Sex"

Thanks to Aggie, the newest member of the Trixie Films family, for finding this trailer for the documentary "Subjectified: Nine Young Women Talk About Sex" by Melissa Tapper Goldman.

Melissa interviewed nine different women across America about their sexual feelings and experiences. We love anything that challenges the standard virgin/whore, slut/prude depictions of female sexuality and offers a more complex picture. From her website:

"Why do girls have sex? Pressure? Libido? Emotional dependence? I realized that I drew many assumptions from examples in media rather than from real life, since few of us ever hear such intimate details from anyone but our closest friends...

In an age of reality television, we hear a continuous stream of intimate personal narratives. But what “reality” television offers in exhibitionism, it lacks in dimensionality. Somehow in a sea of overexposure, images of real female sexuality, explored on their own terms, are still startlingly rare."

It's showing in the Boston area on Feb 4th. We're assuming it's a short, but the website doesn't say. For more info, click here.

A Vulva Follow-Up: On Shamelips, German First Times, VaginaPagina and the astonishing Vulva Taxi

I received several interesting responses to our post about German teen magazine Bravo's article called "Every Vulva is Different."

This comment, from UnFit on the reCycling blog where it was cross-posted, refers to the German word for Vulva which is Schamlippenand also comments on the stereotypes to be found in Bravo's advice columns:

The German word for SHAMELIPS is Schamlippen – a word I have a really hard time uttering, even though I’ve had mine pierced and all. It just sounds horrible. Schamhaare for pubic hair and Schamhügelfor the pubic mound are not much better. It’s funny, I think at this point in history Germans are much less ashamed of their genitals than a lot of other cultures, but our language suggests otherwise.

And I agree with the Therese’s criticism: the whole thing is certainly well-intentioned, but it also has a few issues that seem symptomatic to me about German sexual culture.

Bravo has a regular feature about “my first time” for example, and while it certainly contributes to teens being less anxious about sex, it promotes condom use and birth control and leaves no doubts about premarital sex being the norm, it’s also crammed with stereotypes.

The couples have always been dating for several months – on the rare occasion that they have sex after a shorter period of dating, the girl regrets it afterwards. Same goes for the boy always having to be very tender and careful while usually being the one who initiates sex. And more often than not, the first time (which is always the first time heterosexual penetrative sex) is painful for the girl.

And so on and so forth. On the one hand, this society is incredibly open and up-front about sex. On the other hand, that makes it just another arena for norming and mainstreaming.

Thanks to reader Melora, who recently posted an awesome First Person for this blog, for this translation from German of one of Bravo's 'My First Time' advice columns. Note the very first question: Are you legal!:

Check: Are you ready for your first time?

At age 14 teenagers are allowed to have sex. That is the German law. But are you really ready to have sex? If you can answer one of the following with “no” or “maybe” than you probably have to wait a bit.

Are you old enough? Having sex under the age of 14 forbidden. If you are older than 14 but your partner is still under 14, than you are committing a crime (sexual abuse of children).

Do you really want it? Nobody should press you to have sex. If your partner really loves and respects you he/she will wait until you are ready

Do you and your partner know how you want to prevent? If not, than do that first! Inform yourselves what kind of prevention will be good for you. Always think about: Never without!

Can you talk to your partner about how you feel? The first time only will be good if you can talk to him/her about your fears and doubts. If you keep your feelings to yourself because you are ashamed of it than you are not ready.

Do you know the sexual reactions of your body? Do you know what turns you on and what doesn't? Can you say and show your partner what you like and what not? And: Do you know that little mishaps are normal when you are having sex for the first time? Get to know your sexual reactions with masturbation.

Do you know the body of your partner? Find out what your partner likes when you pet with him/her.

Whew! What a list! It's all very smart and emotionally healthy stuff, but I wonder if sometimes you just have to say: If you want to see what sex is like, and you're protected against pregnancy and disease, and you have a partner you're comfortable with...Just do it. You may not enjoy it the first time, but you have to start somewhere. Oh yeah, and please be over 14.

And this from Ashley on a Live Journal group (don't let the complicated sign-on deter you):

I spotted the comment that lamented the lack of variety in the gallery of every vulva is different and I really wanted to share VaginaPagina's Everyday Bodies project. It is a really fantastic collection of images of normal women's bodies: from breasts to vulvas to bellies to bottoms, varying by race, size, age, etc. I highly recommend taking a look.

This is thelink to the main entry, and it would take just a matter of minutes to make a free account and join the community to be able to see it.

LJ can be confusing if you're not familiar with their site setup. After you've made an account, you can go to the community info page here. From there, you click the 'Join' text at the right of the screen and confirm 'Join Community' on the next page.

Unless you uncheck add to friends list on that page, you'll go to one more and just hit 'add'. Then you should be able to go to the Everyday Bodies Project post with no problem. I wish they had made it simpler, but I guess if it works for them!

And finally, a look at an oldie but a goodie: The Vulva Taxi, a different kind of female cycle. I love how her skirt matches the vulva! Go to the link to see the real NSFW image.

Tips for a Safe and Sexy New Year's Eve

 

Did you know that sales of emergency contraception more than double in the days after December 31st? And September is the month with the highest birthrate? Coincidence?

Shelby Knox, who travels the country talking to young women about sexual health and feminism, wants you to have a sexy, fun and safe send-off to 2009. She's compiled a list of things to think about as you get ready for the big night. Here are some sexual-health-related highlights, and you can check out the whole list (which includes advice for drinking and personal safety) on her blog or in the clip above:

Anyone who's ever experienced a New Year's Eve knows the expectations are higher than for almost any other night of the year - and the pressures, dangers, and stresses are doubled as well.

Whether it's how to tell your boyfriend that you'd like to remain a virgin into 2010 or that tonight's the night to try something new, it's important to have a plan for how you want your night to go.

Make your resolutions. Decide before you head out for the night how far you're willing to go with your partner. Is the kiss at midnight enough or are you ready to head back to someone's house for more?

Go to the drugstore the day before to get condoms, lube and anything else you'll want to spice up the evening. While you're there, stop at the pharmacy counter and pick up Plan B One Step, the only one-pill emergency contraception that can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex.*

Also some advice for parents, especially if your family is home for the holidays: Talk to your kids about sex!

Have a safe and Happy New Year!

*If you're 17 or older, you can simply ask the pharmacist for it without a prescription.