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

 

On health apps

On health, On sex ed

As the end of the school year nears, people start to panic about pretty much everything. This is especially true for those of you who are graduating. College kids are always stressed and broke. Here are a few free apps that can help with stress, clear up questions, and help you try and keep some of your sanity.

First off Pacifica. Pacifica is a stress and anxiety reducing app. It uses actual treatments and teaches you how to apply them to your daily life. It comes with a mood/health tracker, meditations and mindfulness, relaxation techniques, self-help guidance, goals, progress tracker and peer community support. You can get it here for iOS and android with paid upgrades.

Another stress relieving app is called Headspace. This is a guided meditation app that gives you the skills to be happier and healthier. Level one is made up of ten guided meditations to start you off, with a paid subscription to access all of their meditations. You can get it here for iOS and andriod.

Calm is another meditation app. Unlike Headspace, Calm has guided and unguided meditations, breathing exercises, soundscapes. Calm also features sleep stories, which combine music, soundscapes and nice voices to send you off to sleep. Get it here for iOS or android.

Yoga Studio is one of the most popular yoga apps out there. It comes with hundreds of poses, videos, and guides for people of every level out there. Get it here for iOS or android.

My Sex Doctor is an app all about sex ed in the real world. It talks about pleasure, safe sex, STIs, your body, relationships, dating, flirting and anything in between. Get it here for iOS or andriod.

For anyone who gets a period, Eve is a fantastic period tracker and sexual health app. It helps track your cycle, gives you health tips, teach you more about your body and sex, and provides science based information on birth control, your body, birth control and sex. You can get it here for iOS or andriod with paid upgrades.

Planned Parenthood recently came out with their own period tracker app called Spot On. It tracks your cycle, symptoms, and provides accurate information on sex, birth control and your body. Get it here for iOS and android.

Evernote is a great organization app. It lets you list, take notes and pictures all while allowing you to share across devices. You can also share with other users of the app, making it useful for group projects. You can get it here for iOS or andriod.

None of the health apps are supposed to replace a real doctor. While they have accurate, scientific information, always go to a professional if you have a real concern.

Every best wish,

Julia

On the different types of birth control

On sex ed

Many new types of birth control have recently hit the market. There’s lots of options and it can be difficult to understand what might work best for you. This will hopefully help clear up some of that.

Implant (Nexplanon): Nexplanon is a small, flexible rod that is inserted into the upper arm. It last for around 3 years, and can be removed at any time. The implant works by releasing low doses of etonogestrel, which is a synthetic version of the naturally produced hormone progesterone. It is up to 99% effective at prevent pregnancy with correct usage.

  • PROS:
    • No schedule- The implant just releases hormones as life goes on.
    • It lasts up to three years.
    • 99% effective!!!
    • No one can tell that you are using it.
  • CONS:
    • Implants (VERY VERY RARELY) can cause blood clots, which can lead to larger health issues.
    • The chance of an ectopic pregnancy increases slightly if you become pregnant while using Nexplanon.
    • Higher risk for ovarian cysts.
    • Unknown effect on breast cancer.
    • Implantation can sometimes be painful/complicated.
  • SIDE EFFECTS:
    • Heavy bleeding during menstruation
    • Irregular periods
    • Spotting
    • Mood swings and depression
    • Acne
    • Weight gain
    • Headaches
    • Increased PMS symptoms

Intrauterine Device (IUD): The IUD is a small t-shaped device that is inserted into the uterus via the cervix. It is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. There are hormonal options (Marina or Skyla) and non hormonal options (Paragard). They can last anywhere from 3-10 years depending on what type you get.

  • Marina/Skyla: The Marina and Skyla work by releasing levonorgestrel into the system. The Skyla is slightly smaller, and therefore recommended for those who have not yet had children. These last for 3-5 years.
  • Paragard: The Paragard is made of copper. Copper is a substance that is toxic to sperm and therefore kills is before a pregnancy can occur. These can last up to 10 years.
  • PROS:
    • IUDs last for a very long time.
    • Low maintenance aside from occasional checks to make sure they are still in place.
    • The most effective form of birth control other than abstinence.
    • Again, no one can tell that you are using it.
    • Monthly self-checks to ensure the IUD is still in place.
    • Can treat heavy periods (Marina)
    • Emergency contraception (Paragard)
  • CONS:
    • Insertion and removal can be painful
    • Perforation of the uterine wall can very rarely occur.
    • Higher risk of pelvic infections and pelvic inflammatory disease.
    • The device can be expelled from the uterus, especially in smaller women
  • SIDE EFFECTS:
    • Irregular periods
    • Heavy bleeding (Non-Hormone)
    • Painful cramps/back pain
    • Acne (Hormone)
    • Emotional (Hormone)
    • Spotting at time of insertion and between periods

The Pill: There many different variations on the pill. Different brands use different hormones. Most contain progesterone, estrogen, or a combination of the two. When used correctly, it can 89%-99% effective when used correctly. The pill can be taken for any amount of time.

  • PROS:
    • The pill is super reliable and a common form of birth control.
    • Most types allow for predictable periods.
    • Can decrease some PMS symptoms.
    • Can decrease the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease and some cancers.
  • CONS:
    • Must be taken on a schedule.
    • Can increase some PMS symptoms
    • Increase some symptoms of depression
    • Spotting (progesterone only pills)
    • Hair growth
    • Weight gain
  • SIDE EFFECT:
    • Headaches
    • Weight gain
    • Nausea
    • Headaches
    • Mood changes

The Patch: The patch is a small plastic patch that sticks to the upper arm and releases a combination of progesterone and estrogen. It is worn for three weeks, followed by a patch free week. It can be 92-99% effective when used correctly.

  • PROS:
    • Reduced PMS symptoms
    • Reduced risk of some cancers
    • Reduced risk of pelvic inflammatory disease and ectopic pregnancy
  • CONS:
    • Spotting between periods
    • Nausea
    • Easy to use incorrectly
    • One color that doesn’t fit all skin tones
  • SIDE EFFECTS:
    • Nausea, stomach pain
    • Breast tenderness or swelling
    • Headache
    •  Anxiety and mood changes
    • Skin irritation, redness, itching, or swelling where the patch was worn
    • Menstrual cramps
    • Irregular  bleeding or spotting

NuvaRing: For the NuvaRing to work, you have to insert it into the vagina once a week for three weeks, then nothing for one week. It releases progesterone and estrogen. It is up to 98% effective when used correctly.

  • PROS:
    • You don’t have to pay attention to it daily
    • Reduces some PMS symptoms
    • Reduced chance of some cancers, pelvic inflammatory disease, and ectopic pregnancy.
  • CONS:
    • Increased chance of blood clots
    • Easy to misuse
    • Can cause skin reactions for your partner
    • Increased chance of Toxic Shock Syndrome
    • Painful cramps
    • Increased feelings of depression
  • SIDE EFFECTS:
    • Tissue irritation inside your vagina or on your cervix
    • Headache/Migranes
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Vaginal discharge
    • Weight gain
    • Vaginal discomfort
    • Breast pain, discomfort, or tenderness
    • Abdominal pain
    • Acne

The Shot (Depo-Provera): The shot is given once every 12-14 weeks. It contains progesterone. It can be up to 99% effective when used correctly and on time.

  • PROS:
    • Low maintenance
    • Invisible- no one can see that your using it.
    • Reduced chance of ectopic pregnancy and some cancers
    • Lighter periods, in some cases, women stop getting their period
  • CONS:
    • Spotting between periods
    • Schedule depends on a doctor
    • Increased PMS symptoms
    • Higher chance of depression
    • Higher chance of osteoporosis
  • SIDE EFFECTS:
    • Irregular periods
    • Weight gain
    • Nausea
    • Stomach cramping/bloating
    • Dizziness/headache
    • Tiredness/irritability
    • Breast tenderness
    • Acne
    • Hair loss

Withdrawal: The male partner “pulls out” just prior to ejaculation. it is 73-95% effective.

  • PROS:
    • Hormone free
    • Free
  • CONS:
    • One person is in control
    • Requires you to be very in tune with your body
    • Very ineffective
    • Requires trust and self-control
  • SIDE EFFECTS:
    • None

Fertility Awareness: This is a way to predict when a woman is ovulating and/or fertile. It is 76-88% effective. There a multiple methods. They depend on ovulation, cervical mucus, body temperature, or a combination of the above.

  • PROS:
    • Hormone free
    • Free
    • Helps to create better communication
    • Makes you more in tune with your body
  • CONS:
    • Very ineffective
    • Commitment, no spontaneous sex
    • Requires you to be very in tune with your body
  • SIDE EFFECTS:
    • None

Diaphragm: The diaphragm is a dome-shaped piece of silicon inserted into the vagina to cover the the cervix. It must be used in combination with spermicide to be as effective as possible. It is anywhere from 71-94% effective when used correctly.

  • PROS:
    • Hormone free
    • Lasts up to two years
  • CONS:
    • Easy to misuse
    • Increased risk of UTIs
  • SIDE EFFECTS:
    • Vaginal irritation for some women

Today Sponge: The sponge is similar to the Diaphragm in that it covers the cervix. Instead of a cup containing spermicide, it is a foam sponge. It is 84-89% effective when used correctly.

  • PROS:
    • Hormone free
    • Easy to use
    • No prescription required
  • CONS:
    • Easy to misuse
    • Can cause vaginal dryness/irritation
  • SIDE EFFECTS:
    • Vaginal dryness
    • Irritation
    • Uncomfortable sex

Condoms: Condoms come in male or female version. The male condom is placed over the penis just prior to sex. The female version is inserted into the vagina just prior to sex. When used correctly, both can prevent pregnancy up to 82%.

  • PROS:
    • Prevent STIs
    • Can increase pleasure
    • No prescription
    • Cheap and sometimes free!
  • CONS:
    • Easy to misuse
    • Can break
    • Not as effective as other types
  • SIDE EFFECTS:
    • Be careful of latex allergies

Abstinence: Abstinence is the only 100% effective form of birth control. Abstinence is when a person does not have sex.

  • PROS:
    • No risk of pregnancy
    • No risk of STIs
    • No hormones
  • CON:
    • Requires self-control and communication
    • Peer pressure
  • SIDE EFFECTS:
    • None

Morning-After Pill: Morning after pills are a form of emergency contraceptive. It can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex. The pills work by releasing high levels of hormones into your system.

  • PROS:
    • Fall back option
    • Very effective when taken in the time slots
  • CONS:
    • Not recommended for daily use
    • Expensive with out insurance
  • SIDE EFFECTS:
    • Irregular periods
    • Increased PMS symptoms.

Birth control is also broken into tiers by effectiveness.

This is not supposed to tell you what kind of birth control to use. Always always always do your research and talk to a doctor to find out what is the best option for you!

Every best wish,

Julia

 

 

On baseball and sex

On sex ed

It might be a problem that its hard to tell if someone is talking about baseball or their sex life when you’re eavesdropping on conversations. Another great TED talk I’m going to refer you to is by Al Vernacchio. He tackles the issue beautifully.

Baseball is the most popular metaphor America uses to talk about sex. The metaphor is toxic, but because its so ingrained into our culture, we fail to realize it.

First off there’s the bases. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and home run. Its a cycle. To get to second base you have to get to 1st. To hit a home run you have to pass through all three bases. Once you hit a home run, you have to start all over. Its expected that certain actions are done in a certain order and that’s how it has to go every time. If you go out of order, you’re breaking the rules.

The baseball metaphor assigns roles. Pitcher performs the act (usually expected of the more masculine counterpart) and the catcher receives (usually expected of the more feminine counterpart). You can be either one or the other. Lesbian or gay people play for the other team, creating a further divide and negative connotations.

Without thinking about it, talking about sex in terms of baseball seems fine. Once the metaphor broken down, it becomes obvious how harmful it can be.

To start, its competitive. Baseball is a game. Games have a winner, but that means there has to be a loser, too. Instead of the people involved working together, they are competing.

There’s an overload of expectation and goal setting. When its game time, you play. If it’s Valentine’s Day, or prom night, or an anniversary, or your parents aren’t home, you’re expected to play. Just like with baseball, players can’t tell the coach they just aren’t up for playing today. There’s also the expectation of finishing the game. ‘Hitting a home run’ usually refers to penetrative sex ending in an orgasm. If there isn’t a home run, then the game wasn’t successful. This isn’t the case with sex. Orgasm is not always the goal, and shouldn’t always be the goal. If you get to second base and really like it there, you shouldn’t have to move until you want to. Adding the goal of orgasm adds undue pressure to everyone involved. This is especially harmful to people who are just starting to have sex and beginning to explore their sexuality. It can be very high stress and adding extra pressure is unhealthy. In a game you are always expected to follow the rules. Now don’t get me wrong. Sex has rules (consent and safety!) no matter how you look at it. With the baseball metaphor, those rules are rigid. If you break them, you get thrown out of the game. There is no room to go outside the box or experiment. With sex, those opportunities need to be there and be had safely. Relationships and sexuality are more fluid than the baseball metaphor makes them out to be.

The metaphor is also heteronormative and limiting. Baseball with all its bases and bats and dugouts talks only about penetrative sex involving a penis and a vagina. This only further emphasizes the misunderstanding that penetrative sex is the only way to go. This isn’t the case.

Vernacchio talks about all of the above mentioned problems with the baseball metaphor and proposes an new way to talk about sex. Pizza. You see with pizza, there’s no expectation or competition or right way.

With the baseball metaphor, you play the game whenever you are expected to. With pizza, you only eat when you’re hungry. If you don’t want pizza, you don’t have to have any. You only eat pizza with somebody else when both of you want pizza. When it’s thought of as a want and not a need or an expectation, sex tends to be safer and the associated thoughts tend to be more positive.

Pizza is never a competition. It’s an experience. That’s what sex should be. Instead of a high stress environment, riddled with rules and expectations, its a nice experience you share with other people.

The most valuable part of the pizza metaphor is the inherent communication. Before you order pizza, you talk about what you want. What toppings, what size, what you like and what you don’t like. There is compromise, but in the end, everyone gets what they want. You can get the usual, or you can try something new. Afterwards, you talk about the pizza. You ask yourself if you liked it, if you want to try a different kind, or if you want to order from someplace else. Communication is carried through the whole experience to ensure that everyone is satisfied.

There is no right or wrong way to eat pizza. You can eat it with someone else or with a group of people or all by yourself. You can have whatever toppings you want and you can eat as much or as little as you want.

The pizza metaphor isn’t perfect, but its much healthier than the current one we’re using. In order for sex ed to be as good as it can be, we need teach ourselves to communicate. We need to ask questions and come up with answers so everyone is safe and satisfied. America is losing interest in baseball anyway. Let’s adapt.

Every good wish,

Julia

On inclusive sex ed

On sex ed

Part of my goal is to get some comprehensive, inclusive sex ed out there. Based off my experience in a high school health class, I can assume that most teens, at least in Alaska, aren’t getting the information they need. I  was taught a week long lesson of abstinence only sex ed and was a list of contraceptives and their pregnancy prevention rates. I learned more about sex and my body from the period tracker app on my phone than I did from a course that is supposed to prepare me for the rest of my life. That’s a huge problem. Teens aren’t being informed, and so many end up being misinformed. Late night google searches often lead to misinformation. Most teenagers don’t know how or where to get medically accurate, comprehensive sex education and it is vital that they do. I’m not blaming anyone, but sex ed in high school is due for an update.

First off, I’m going to define ‘abstinence only’ sex ed.  It teaches high school students not to have sex outside of marriage. It sometimes teaches safe sex (male condom usage), birth control (the pill), but not always. There’s a few problems here. First off, male condoms aren’t the only option. Neither is the pill. The problem isn’t abstinence. The problem is students are only being taught abstinence. Abstinence is great if that’s what’s right for you.  According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), which is done by the CDC, and last administered in 2015, on average 11 out of every 30 Alaskan high school students have had sex. That means that under the current curriculum about 1/3 of adolescent Alaskans aren’t getting the information they need to be having safe sex.

No matter how you feel about sex, it should be taught safely. Teenagers should be getting the information that they need to have sex safely. The consequences are awful and are already being seen. According to the CDC, Alaska consistently ranks within the top 10 of states when it comes to chlamydia and gonorrhea cases. By the way, I wasn’t taught what either of these STIs were. Alaska also ranks in the top 15 for teenage pregnancy.

I understand many people, especially in Alaska, aren’t open about sex. They don’t have to be, but I’d like to ask the schools to teach teenagers how to put on a condom, or at least where to get one. Also, I never heard the word clitoris in any sort of health class. If the curriculum doesn’t teach sex as pleasure, that’s acceptable, but everyone should know their own anatomy. In the long run, it will benefit everyone.

Another issue is the heteronormativity of sex ed.  One of the arguments against LGBTQ+ sex ed is that not all teenagers identify as such. Well, not all teenagers are straight either. Teaching inclusive sex ed will not “turn your children gay”, it will just allow those who aren’t straight to have sex safely, just as their straight peers.

The only protection that is taught is a condom and those are only the condoms that go on penises. For those who aren’t so keen on penises, how do they have safe sex? It’s not taught in school. I didn’t know what a dental dam was until I saw the term in a Buzzfeed article. No one should have to depend on information from Buzzfeed to be safe. Many people don’t know how sex between two women even works. The same can be said for men. Anal sex is one of the less common ways same sex male couple have sex. Still, that’s what is talked about the most. It is not taught safely, either. As society becomes more inclusive, so should education. What I’m getting at is that not all sex is male to female or involves any sort of penetration. There are options and all should be taught safely.

Lastly, sex ed is not taught universally. In Alaska sex ed is not in good shape. The information I got was seriously lacking, but I was one of the luckier ones. In rural communities of Alaska, some don’t have any sex ed at all due to funding issues. This only adds to the problems that are already present. There is so much work to be done here, and this post is just the beginning of a very long series.

Every good wish,

Julia

YRBS 2015

YRBS Website

CDC STI Statistics