On the talk

On sex ed

Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project  recently came out with a new study exploring the stereotypical teen experience. The findings reveal that most people, teens included, assume that hook-up culture is huge in high school and college. This is not the case. This focus on hook-up culture eclipses two more relevant issues: sexual harassment and healthy romantic relationships.

According to the study, the lack of information stems from parents, teachers, and other key adults in a teen’s life. The project surveyed around 3,000 people 18-25, asking questions about sexual harassment, misogyny, love, and sex.

The first key finding was that teens and adults both tend to overestimate the size of hook-up culture. Both teens and adults assumed that the percentage of teens hooking up was almost double the actual numbers. Those surveyed were more interested in sex in a relationship. The misunderstanding is harmful. Teens feel as if they are failing or lacking because they haven’t had a certain number of sexual partners. The hook-up myth puts pressure on them to have sex even if they aren’t comfortable, potentially leading to unsafe sex. The pressure to hook-up and the stereotypes often lead to substance use which can lead to sexual violence.

Hook-up culture encourages teens to be emotionally distant from their partner(s). To fight this tendency, it is important to talk about romantic feelings and love.

It is assumed that romantic feelings and relationships will just work themselves out and everything will be okay. Again, this is a misunderstanding. Of the people surveyed, 65 – 70% responded that they wanted more guidance on the emotional side of relationships from the adults in their lives. The lack of information leads to stunted emotional health and growth, unhealthy relationships, higher divorce rates, and marital problems. Talking with teens about romantic feelings, cheating, arguments, love, breakups and all the emotional aspects of a relationship is just as important as talking with teens about their sexual health. The two go hand in hand.

Lastly, the study explores the failure to address sexual harassment. Many of the phrases used to talk about sex are violent: “I’d hit that”, “Would bang”, you get the gist. Other phrases are misogynistic: “bros before hos”, etc. Both of these things are used by most everyone, but we don’t realize the implications. These phrases and attitudes lead to the misunderstanding of what sexual harassment is. Most people realize that groping a stranger on the train is assault, because people speak out against it. Catcalling on the streets is just accepted as a fact of life, because it isn’t discussed.

Some porn supports internalized sexual violence. It isn’t realistic. To teens who may not have experienced sex, it is assumed that what is happening on the screen is how sex should go. Most people are desensitized to the violence inherent to they way we approach sex and the negative effect that this has.

So now comes the call to action. These problems often fly under the radar. When they are brought to attention, we don’t know how to address them. Its difficult to communicate the emotional side of relationships. Hook-up culture and the way we approach sex is internalized, and therefore hard to combat. The study has a few steps to starting conversations about these issues and links to many different resources and curricula for teachers, adults and teens. Introducing some of these conversations in the home and classroom starts to fight against the problems facing teens. Loveisrespect.org, Break the Cycle, blogs, and just an open dialogue between teens and adults, can be a huge help. So, when having “the talk” be sure to talk about it all.

Every best wish,

Julia

On getting tested

On sex ed, On sexuality

Fun fact: 1 out of every two people will contract an STI at some point in their life.

This can lead to some pretty nasty consequences. Cancer, infertility, pregnancy complications, chronic pain, and even death. The problem with this is that our much loved high school sex ed programs forget one important detail.

Most STIs are asymptomatic.

That means symptoms don’t show up. HPV, for example, is asymptotic, but can lead to cervical cancer if left untreated. Undetected STIS tend to be a bigger problem for women as the urethra and the vagina are separate, whereas in men, painful urination makes STIs a whole lot easier to detect. Its still a valid problem for everyone. At first, most STIs don’t cause too much harm. Its when they are left untreated for long periods of time that they start to wreak havoc.

So how do you prevent getting an STI?

  1. Safe sex! That’s right, condoms prevent up to 98% of STI cases when used correctly. This includes all types of sex, whether it be penetrational, oral , or anything in between. STIs such as gonorrhea can infect any mucousy area of the body- throat, nose and eyes included.
  2. Communicate! Don’t be afraid to talk to your partner about any STIs you might have and ask them if they have anything. The conversation will probably be awkward, but its much better than having and STI.
  3. When in doubt, see a doctor. If you even suspect an ingrown hair may be something more, get it checked. Even if you exhibit no symptoms, get tested. Its recommended that you get tested at least every 3-6 months. Like I said before, most STIs are asymptomatic, so its better to be safe than have an untreated STI.

If you or your partner have an STI be sure to communicate it. First off, both of you should be tested to make sure everything is being treated. Second, communicate. I know I say this all the time, but communication is the foundation to a healthy relationship and healthy sexuality. Lastly, follow the doctors recommendations! They tend to know what they’re talking about

Before I leave you alone, here’s one last resource. iknowmine is one of my favorite resources for Alaska teens. They have a whole bunch of helpful information. Additionally, they provide free at home STI testing kits and condoms. For those of you who don’t have easy access to a doctor, this is a way that you can get tested. The whole process is anonymous and parental consent is not required in Alaska. The website also has information on your sexual health rights, as well as countless resources about basically everything involved with sexuality. Highly recommended.

Every best wish,

Julia