Aug 082013
 

This is a post by one of my Summer 2013 interns. Find more posts from her and other current and former interns under the Intern Corner section.Shanna

It is nearly impossible to peel socio-cognitive development from exposure to media. It’s relevance echoes from our early infancy, where developmental researchers have found that children rely on these cues given by their caregivers to guide them on how and when act in ambiguous situations. The technical term for this is called anchoring, and it is a skill can be generalized well throughout the lifespan, as we are always subconsciously taking in information from our surroundings, and integrating it into our social network.  We pick up on these cues from the community we are affiliated with, the newspapers we choose to read and with the media we are exposed to. The lessons we learn from media echos in our daily interactions all the time. It tells us that if we keep a beer in our hand, we could be conditioned to feeling less nervous. It tells us what kind of clean crisp shirt is appropriate for a job interview. It also tells us it’s inappropriate to shout in art galleries and grocery stores, but not concerts and birthday parties.

With that said, pornography is no exception to this phenomenon. Even an individual who is exposed to a resourceful sexual education cannot magically neglect the information one takes in while watching pornography. Can you blame us? Human beings are physiologically inclined to perceive and internalize visual stimuli more strongly than other senses, so it’s no surprise that sex we see on screen is something that ‘sticks’ with us. Pornography has now become the norm for youth, with 87% of boys and 31% of girls reported being exposed to it at one point.

More and more, I’m finding the underlying message of how porn is talked about in regards to sex education is it emphasizes the importance of segregating porn as ‘fantasy’ and sex as ‘real’. With that said, it is very tempting emphasize the degradation and objectification found in mainstream pornography, or perhaps has dismissed it as being “for entertainment purposes only”. The idea is peppered in any intro level social psych or gender studies class, and fuels a few of the spicier Tedtalks. I have two main problems with this well-educated (and, let’s face it, slightly presumptuous) attitude:

(1) If research tells us that we are learning from porn, but education tells us we shouldn’t, then what are we supposed to do?
This sounds like a mixed message that could definitely leave the audience confused. If we feel like we are learning a skill by using a resource that has been told is unreliable, then it leaves room for guilt and shame to creep in, which really doesn’t help open up a dialogue. Information comes from all walks of life, and oftentimes not all of it comes from academia and research. It’s important to embrace the lessons we learn, and provide a space where people can talk openly and share these experiences with one another.

(2) It tends to generalize all styles of pornography and lump it into one type.

Of course we know this is not true and that there are in fact, a plethora of pornography that exists, each carrying it’s own brand and message.

Nina Hartley* is an incredible example of this. Both a porn star and a registered nurse, she has always been a strong voice advocating the importance of creating sex-positive pornography that strengthens and educates us about sexuality. This is a powerful message, as not only does it create an accepting environment as a consumer of porn, but also it celebrates that multi-faceted understanding of sexuality as a whole.

Keeping to this theme, Blue Artichoke Films** is a production company that also aims to make films more sex-positive, and focuses more on the intimacy and emotional unfolding of the interactions. This quality is seen down to the nitty gritty real-time editing, in an attempt to captive the heat of the moment.

However, it should be noted that I’m not in the belief that pornography is a substitute for sex education all together, but I do believe the subject could be incorporated in the curriculum with a little more warmth. Sometimes I feel like porn is a subject that is not sure how to be dealt with within the sex education curriculum because of it’s artistic elements of fantasy, but it is not to say that it’s relevance should be dismissed entirely.

With that said, we are slowly coming to the small space where fantasy and reality meet. The trends in media are working towards finding ways to make it more interactive with the audience. We see it in how we watch sports, how we take in news, and how we interact with our friends and family online. This is a really exciting time for us, because now more than ever, it is so easy to gain knowledge, and create a message that can be heard. By generalizing and dismissing pornography, it leaves very little room to make it constructive, and certainly does not leave any room for change in the industry.  Pornography is an industry just like any other, and akin to other industries, it changes and shifts based on our demands as a consumer. This leaves us with an incredible opportunity for us to support and direct it to a healthier outlet. This allows ample initiative as a consumer to educate oneself about what kinds of messages we want to see in pornography, and where we can go to support those who give this message.

*For more information on Nina Hartley: http://www.nina.com/

** For more information of Blue Artichoke Films:  http://blueartichokefilms.com/

For one of Shanna’s posts on Feminist and Ethical Pornography (including what it is, companies making it, etc), check this out: http://shannakatz.com/2011/02/21/what-is-ethicalfeminist-pornography/

Aug 052013
 

Dr. Jenni Skyler

Dr. Jenni Skyler of Boulder, Colorado is a sex therapist and sex educator because she has a passion for helping people reclaim their sexuality, have a healthy and affirming understanding of sexuality and giving people the permission of pleasure.

Quick Facts:

• Jenni loves hiking, biking, meditating, swimming and sitting on the back deck with her husband eating dinner and watching the sunset.

• Jenni’s favorite part about being a sex therapist and sex educator is having audiences light up with “ah-ha moments”, and walk away with a whole new way of thinking about sex.

• The most difficult part is accessing difficult audiences, either because they won’t come to talks or workshops out of fear, or they come but won’t allow themselves to be open to new models of thinking about sexuality.

Jenni’s journey of becoming a sex therapist and sex educator started out in high school. She says her friends would love over with questions and want to get answers. Together, they would look up the answers in The Joy of Sex by Alex Comfort. Years later, her journey continued. She initially set out to help women; her mother is an incest survivor, and has never been able to enjoy her body or her sexuality. Jenni became an educator when she started doing therapy and found herself educating clients one-on-one. She then started to branch out and do more public talks, workshops and conferences all with the larger intention of helping women heal and reclaim their bodies and their sexuality in a healthy, safe and affirming manner. She expanded to helping people of all genders when she got her PhD in Sexology.

Jenni does not set out to change people’s belief systems, but rather invite them to expand the way they think about sexuality.

Learn more or contact Dr. Jenni here.

This piece is part of a series on sex positive and/or feminist identified sex educators in the field. Click here to see all of the featured sex educators.

Jul 262013
 

This is a post by one of my Summer 2013 interns, Kelsey. Find more posts from her and other current and former interns under the Intern Corner section.Shanna

According to recent research, 41% to 72% of queer (Iincluding LGBTAIAA) people never come out to their health care provider (McManus, Hunter & Renn). However, the majority of individuals who chose to come out experienced increased satisfaction with their care afterwards. What a relief! But, coming out to a provider is easier said than done. Queer individuals encounter compounding oppressions, and often challenge the norms for gender expression and sexual preferences. Coming out to a provider can be especially complicated, stressful, and your identity may just be hard to explain. Not to mention it’s exhausting having to constantly be teaching, when few are willing to seek the information on their own. However, with the right provider, healthcare can be completely individualized.

So, how can you come out to your health care provider? The first thing to remember is the provider is there to help YOU. Listening is crucial. There is no space for assumptions in the doctor’s office, especially on their behalf. The provider must refrain from determining your needs before you open your mouth. In order to do this, providers must deconstruct their assumptions about gender and gender expression. But still, sometimes as the patient you have to explain things more than once. For example, many health care providers assume that their patients are heterosexual so, continuing to advocating against this assumption is an uphill climb but very necessary! You can be honest and explain your needs.

For example, a transgender individual who has just decided to start hormone therapy may have a well-established relationship with their provider. But, this trusted provider does not understand the needs of a transgender person. To overcome this barrier, the patient can start the conversation by asking questions like, “do you know what my needs are and do you understand them?” If the answer is no, the patient can say “are you willing and able to become educated on my needs?” If the answer is still no, than the patient can ask their provider to refer them to someone who can help. Wouldn’t it be great if more doctors had experience with transgender individuals?

You may also need to explain that a certain identity, just like a certain appearance, does not equate to a certain set of needs. Honest conversations can turn a dreaded trip to the doctor into an empowering experience that ensures continued self-care. For example, providers may not understand that you may be considering birth control this year, even though at your last appointment your partner was female, and you have ovaries and a uterus. Another example is that you need to be able to trust that your provider will believe you if you say you are in an abusive relationship, even though your partner does not fit the stereotypical abuser profile.

Gender and sexuality are fluid and no identity is simple. Unfortunately in our society, doctors are less versed in the needs of queer individuals. But this does not mean you deserve to have your needs met and your concerns validated any less.

Tips for Patients:
• Take your time finding an accepting and supportive health care provider

• Tell your provider your preferred pronouns

• Bring a trusted friend with you to your appointment

• Ask questions

• Explain your health concerns

• Be a self-advocate

• Report discriminatory or dismissive behavior

Jul 242013
 

This is a post by one of my Summer 2013 interns. Find more posts from her and other current and former interns under the Intern Corner section.Shanna

Belief #5: Women get STI’s more than men.

Science says: Women [Editor’s Note: defined in most research by feminine presenting people with vulvas] have been found to have slightly higher prevalence rates than men. However, there is strong suspicion that this difference is due to flaws in the research design. With that said, women are more likely to get tested regularly and are far more likely to report and disclose status, all of which could also bias prevalence rates. So far, nothing has been found that makes women intrinsically more vulnerable to contracting an STI.

Yeah, but what does this mean? The individual who gets tested first is typically the first person who has to disclose his or her status to the other sexual partners. However, there is this cognitive assumption that the first person to gain knowledge about the infection is automatically deemed the source of the infection. If women are more likely to get tested, then women are more likely to be the first to receive the information about said STI. This sometimes could further perpetuate these issues surrounding self-confidence, which could in turn decrease the likelihood that someone would continue to display healthy sexual practices (like getting tested regularly). It’s no surprise that self-esteem and self-concept are large facilitators in exhibiting healthy practices, and sexual health should not be considered an exception.

Solutions?  Perhaps it would be best to think of this issue from a larger public health perspective. Responding with shame, embarrassment and disgust to a status disclosure doesn’t make the individual want to open up and talk about it, and it certainly doesn’t support healthy sex choices. I think it would be more effective if the response to a friend or family being open about their status was support, because it reflects that the individual has taken initiative towards bettering their lives in a healthy way. We applaud those who take initiative to eat healthier, and exercise more because we know that the intrinsic motivations are not something that comes with ease. Why can’t we start thinking the same way about our own sexual health?

Some of the best advice I have ever received was from my mother, who once told me “Well, if you want to start thinking about things differently, stop talking about them with such hostility”. With that said, changing the way we talk about our sexual health helps us create a more constructive way of thinking about our sexual health. Even by making the small changes that I’ve highlighted above, I think this will help change the concept of transmission to something with a little less hostility, and a little more openness. Hopefully this piece will help you think about how you talk about STIs in your life, and perhaps lead you to having happy and healthy conversations with more objectification, support and understanding.

 

Jul 222013
 

This is a post by one of my Summer 2013 interns. Find more posts from her and other current and former interns under the Intern Corner section.Shanna

 

Belief #4: Only people who sleep around get STI’s.

Science says: STI transmission does show to have a mild correlation with number of sexual partners. However we should be reminded that correlation does not equate with causation. The number of partners can increase the probability of STI transmission because there are more instances of contact one could potentially have with an infection, but there is nothing intrinsic in the individual that makes him/her more susceptible to contraction by virtue of sleeping with multiple partners, especially if the said individual is diligent about using the necessary precautions.

Yeah, but what does this mean? If you get an STI, then you are “one of those” people who sleep around. The stigmatization that surrounds those who sleep with multiple partners can be extrapolated into a whole other rant, but for the purpose of this argument, I will keep it brief. Slut-shaming is a very powerful tool that has been used by both sexes to clearly disrespect women based solely on their sexual habits. As a result of this, women are hypersensitive to the criterion that defines someone as being sexually promiscuous (STI contraction being one of them). Generally speaking, women typically don’t view their behaviors as being “slutty”, and therefore if they do end up behaving in a way that would be thought of as “slutty behavior”, it becomes much easier to justify ignoring the repercussions.

“Well, if only sluts get STI’s, and I have an STI, what does that make me?”. The idea is distressing as it is problematic. The only thing worse than going around calling other people sluts based on their status is actually internalizing that you are one. One unfortunate aspect of this self-deprecation is it has a role outside of our sex lives as well; it carries a profound implication in many different facets that make up one’s character, including self-esteem and interpersonal relationships. None of this fosters a healthy psyche, nor does it feul a supportive society.

Solutions? Start thinking about the math. Using Chlamydia as an example, it is estimated that 4.5% of individuals will contract Chlamydia at least once in their life. Think about this when you are sitting in a crowded room, like a lecture hall, or you are on a bus. For example, if you happen to be in a room with 100 people, then statistically speaking, about five people sitting in the very same room could potentially have it. Be sure to keep in mind that these people are not necessarily women who might be labeled a “slut”, they really could be any gender, any race, with one or many partners.

***Editor’s note from Shanna; it is 100% to identify as a slut (or promisculous, etc), to choose to have multiple partners, to have as much consensual sex as you would like, or all of the above. This post serves to discuss the issues around STIs and partners, NOT to judge anyone’s sexual choices.***

Part V will be posted in a few days.

Jul 202013
 

This is a post by one of my Summer 2013 interns. Find more posts from her and other current and former interns under the Intern Corner section.Shanna

Belief #3: Thanks a lot for giving me an STI.. asshole.

Science Says: STIs are still infections, and thus do not possess any kind of foresight. They do not “choose” where to infect, in the same way that pollen that is picked up by the wind does not “choose” where it lands. This is a Lamarkian mindset to evolution, and it has been well documented as an inaccurate way of thinking about how organisms propagate. The design of a sexual transmitted infection** (in both bacteria and viruses) allows for an easy transmission to a suitable condition if the opportunity presents itself. If you have an environment that’s suitable for an STI to germinate (as most reproductive tracts tend to be) then the trick here is to simply look into what you can do to minimize opportunity.

Following this logic, the individual in which whose body an STI resides does not possess any kind of control over where and when the infection decides to proliferate. At no point during sex does your partner conscientiously say it him/herself “Ok, NOW I will bestow the chlamydia I have to you!”, the process is obviously much more passive and frankly, kind of underwhelming. Of course the partner with knowledge of his or her infection can take precautions to decrease the chances of transmission, which includes anything from regular STI screenings to antibacterial treatment to having an open fucking conversation about it, but the point here to show that blame cannot really be put on anyone because you can’t really blame an infection for doing what it naturally needs to do to survive.

**Here are 3 Rules for Transmission: (1) two people need to be present (2) one needs to be infected (3) There needs to be contact.

Ok, but what does this mean? As is common behavior with other unpleasant circumstances in which the receiver had no choice, people have a tendency to quickly look for who to blame. By using simple accusations like “you gave it to me”, using a blame-game approach insinuates is that there is something malicious about the partner’s character, because in order for you to give something to someone, you have to have first claimed ownership over it.  We have ownership of our fists, and therefore are responsible when we decide and take initiative by throwing a punch.  It is unfair to use that same logic to claim ownership of an infection that inhabits a reproductive tract, as medically STIs are considered a foreign body, and do not “belong to us”.

Solutions? When discussing STIs, try refraining from using subjective terms that imply personal responsibility. By being objective and nonjudgmental, it creates more space for the infected individual to be open and feel like he or she has a say about their status, which in turn promotes a more constructive conversation.

Part IV will be posted shortly.

Jul 192013
 

LTS

Date: July 25, 2013

Time: 7pm

Location: Fascinations,

4111 E Virginia Ave

Glendale, CO 80246

Cost: FREE (must be 18+)

Ever wonder what all those letters stood for? Now you can find out! Learn about the basics of kink play, the difference between a whip, a flogger and a paddle, and what it means to be in a 24-7 relationship. Understand the differences between fantasy (like 50 Shades of Grey) and how to turn those thoughts into your own sexy reality, and how to bring up a little kink action in the bedroom to your partner. Whether you’re looking to join the local scene or just to add some spice into the bedroom, this is a great overview for anyone.

Plus, thanks to the amazing Crystal Delights, I’ll be giving away a glass toy with a Swavorski crystal base to one lucky attendee. Hope to see you there!

-Shanna

 

Jul 182013
 

This is a post by one of my Summer 2013 interns. Find more posts from her and other current and former interns under the Intern Corner section.Shanna

Belief #2: STIs are dirty.

Science says: The medical definition for “infection” could be described as the invasion and multiplication of microorganisms in body tissues, causing competitive metabolism, toxins, intracellular replication and antigen antibody response. Keeping this in mind, STI’s are still cell growth that occurs if conditions and resources are appropriate, which could turn into an infection if the environment is conducive to it. Though the effect of STIs are certainly undesirable, it is still more accurate and objective to describe them as as infections, and it is unnecessary not use the term “dirty”.

Yeah, but what does this mean? We have a natural tendency to not want ‘dirty things’ around us. This carries the same evolutionary reasoning as to why people are generally uncomfortable around the dead and decaying because from a prehistoric context, death and decay was a clear sign that danger wasn’t far behind. Proclaiming that STIs are dirty leads too much room to insinuate a “STI’s are dirty, therefore I am dirty” kind of mindset. If the implication is no one wants to be around filth and disease, then it makes it very difficult for an infected individual to feel good about being open about their status, which risks increasing reclusively.

Additionally, as one of the previous interns mentioned, it also sets up an inaccurate link between STI status and hygiene, which perpetrates the idea that if an individual has good daily hygiene, they risk thinking of themselves as impervious to disease or infection.

Solutions? Just as it is important to be open and honest about the subjects we discuss is it also important for us to be critical of how we choose to talk about these subjects. When talking openly about STI’s, it’s always a good idea to avoid using language that has intense negative connotations. Also, it should be noted that infections have implications in our health that are necessarily a detriment; for example, getting a vaccine promotes the same physiological mechanisms as sexually transmitted infections, but you don’t see medical professionals or educators calling them “dirty”. If you start thinking of STI’s as one of the same, you build a healthier relationship with the word, which will in turn, create a healthier relationship with the concept.

Stay tuned for Part III

Jul 162013
 

This is a post by one of my Summer 2013 interns. Find more posts from her and other current and former interns under the Intern Corner section.Shanna

I was listening to a radio show a couple of years ago that dropped a statistic that essentially prompted my learning excursion into the psychology behind sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and the stigmatization that surrounds them. According to the radio show, research done through the University of Cincinnati found that a little over 40% of individuals that receive calls from a health clinic regarding their STI status did not call back or, in a more technical sense, were deemed “lost to follow-up.”

Despite the fact that, in the context of the radio show, the comment was used to make a bigger point about the efficacy of health services, I still could not get that statistic out of my head. I understand that a telephone call is probably not the most effective method of alerting someone to their medical condition, but surely that alone can’t account for over 40% of non-responders based on that technicality alone.  It led me to think about the attitudes and opinions that are associated with STIs, and I wondered if stigmatization could partially contribute to this lack of follow up.

Sociologist, public health officials and health researchers have conducted many studies of the institutional factors that impact STI follow-up. Indeed, the literature I’ve read talks in great length about the role socioeconomic status, neighborhood and resource availability play, but I have been hard pressed to find literature that analyzes how stigmatization affects follow-up. Given our brains work on cognitive blueprints for processing information, saying something in a particular fashion could possibly condition one to think a specific way as the structure of how something is said could be associated with other ideas that are negative. Therefore, I decided to take it upon myself to compile a short (and by no means complete) list of common ideas about STIs, and try to break them down and bring to light some of the misconceptions that could perpetuate stigmatization.

Belief #1: If you’re smart and educated, you will never get an STI.

Science Says: Just as no contraception can guarantee with 100% certainty that you will not get pregnant, no amount of barriers can guarantee with 100% certainty that you will not contract an STI. Infection spreads by the exchange of risky fluids* (or skin to skin in the case of herpes and HPV), and so even though by wearing a condom/female condom/dental dam you significantly decrease the likelihood of exchange, if fluids are still being produced by both partners, then there is still going to be a (albeit possible, but not probable) chance for STI transmission.

*Here is a quick list of risky fluids: (1) Blood (2) Semen (3) Vaginal discharge (4) Pre-cum (5) Breastmilk (6) Anal Fluid

*Here is a quick list of non-risky fluids: (1) Saliva (2) Mucos (3) Sweat (4) Tears

Ok, but what does this mean?: Besides the false advertising, teaching that “you will never contract an STI if you do x, y and z” leaves very little support for those who actually are proactive about doing x, y, and z and unfortunately still end up with an STI. Those in that position may wonder what they did wrong, or (perhaps more accurately) if they didn’t do everything right enough. Family, and health practitioners may assume they were careless or ignorant and may offer less support. This reinforces the feelings of shame they may have, which could increase the likelihood that they will withdraw.

Solutions?: Talk about it! Not only will it decrease the big, bad, stigmatization that seems to be associated with STIs, hopefully by participating in a dialogue, there will be greater clarity about STIs and answers to some of the questions people may have about STIs. When you open up a conversation, you quickly find that you are not alone with your concerns, and support will be more forthcoming.

Part II is on its way!

 

Jul 012013
 

I am so excited to finally be able to release this list of sex positive professionals in Colorado!

Not a week goes by that I am not asked, either online or in person, to refer someone to a trans or queer inclusive therapist, a poly aware relationship counselor, a doctor or massage therapist that will understand about cane marks or other kink bruises, etc. While I have always been able to suggest one or two people that may fit these needs, I realized the huge need here in Colorado for an inclusive list of medical professionals, mental health workers, alternative health practitioners and other professionals (hair stylists, lawyers, tattoo artists, etc) that are knowledgeable about and willing to work with queer folks, trans* folks, kinky folks and folks in poly relationships.

With the help of my intern Rebecca, I have worked to create such a list. The goal is to be able to update it monthly as other professionals wish to be added, or move out of state, or become more aware of how to support certain communities. The list currently features professionals who have self selected to be on the list, or who advertise as or are known for supporting these communities. Moreover, it especially features professionals who offer sliding scale services, working to provide sex positive services in a more accessible manner to those who may not be able to afford full prices.

Without any further ado, let me point to you this list of fabulous Colorado professionals who identify as sex positive service providers.

If you wish to be on this list, or know someone does, please contact me with your name, your business name, contact info (address, phone, email, website), the services you provide, whether your are queer/trans/kink/poly friendly, the cost of your services, and whether or not you offer sliding scale as an option.