May 162011
 

For many, the concept of setting boundaries can be incredibly scary. It’s as if boundaries is now a bad word, as if self care, and knowing your limits is now off limits. In some cases, it is considered bland and boring if you set boundaries — the attitude is that you should be open to and accepting of everything a sex partner or relationship partner might throw at you. In other cases, there are folks (not that dissimilar from me) who want to be the care taker, the fixer, the perfect partner, and are worried that establishing boundaries takes away from that.

But here’s the thing; boundaries and healthy, and to be honest, they are needed. It is pretty tough (although not completely impossible) to have a healthy relationship (sexual, romantic, familial, etc) of any sort with out setting at least a few boundaries. They don’t have to be huge boundaries, or a long laundry list of them, but they do need to be there.

Sometimes, it takes getting out of a relationship to know what boundaries need to look like in the future. I have dated alcoholics and drug abusers in the past — it wasn’t until I was out of those relationships that I realized how much time, energy and resources I had spent. Driving out at 2am to pick them up from the bars, filling out police reports for them because they were too high to talk to the officer, letting them stay with me because they blew their rent money on their addictions. It wasn’t until I was out of those relationships that I set a boundary to not allow myself in those type of caustic, one-sided relationships.

Sometimes, it takes getting into a healthy relationship to know what some of your non-negotiables are. It wasn’t until I got into my current relationship that I was able to figure out what my boundaries were around my disabilities. I had a lightbulb moment one night, as my partner brought me painkillers and ice packs, that I would never again allow a partner or family member to make me feel bad about having disabilities, because there were people out there who didn’t.

Sometimes, it is experimenting. Looking at poly and consensually non-monogamous relationships, those boundaries are often fluid and changing. Looking at kink relationships, those boundaries are also evolving frequently. Sometimes it takes experiencing something with a partner to realize that it is a hard limit. I know people who have to see their partners at least 3 times a week, while I know others who have a boundary of seeing each partner no more than once per week, or else they get suffocated.

Regardless of what your boundaries are, or whether they are physical, emotional, mental, kink, relationship style or otherwise, it is important to take and moment and think to yourself about what your boundaries for your ideal relationships might be. Perhaps it is telling a family member that you cannot lend them any more money. Perhaps it is telling your partner(s) that you need one night a week for yourself, to do your own thing. Perhaps it is something completely different. Regardless, setting boundaries is a completely healthy part of relationships, and not something to be ashamed of.

-Shanna

Sep 042010
 

There are a number of articles out there now that are discussing how “awful” college sex weeks are, how sex education is “infecting” college campuses, how Yale giving out 14,000 condoms is a travesty. I’m not going to do them the service of linking to these ridiculous articles, as some of them take some pot shots at other sex educators, at student groups putting on sexuality education workshop, etc. However, in my humble opinion, most of these articles are poorly researched and full of hooey.

Now, it’s true. I am a sex educator, more particularly, a sex educator who presents on college campuses, so defending sex education at colleges and universities is obviously in my best interest. So let it be said that you should take what I say with a grain of salt.

However, I chose this field because it is incredibly important. In 2003, I met an 18 year old college student who had never learned how to use a condom, despite 6 of her friends from high school having had children. In 2007, I met college students who told me that the withdrawal method “must work” because they’d used it for a year and never gotten pregnant (despite some of their cohorts leaving school/take a leave of absence due to their pregnancies). I’ve met numerous students who didn’t know how to balance their identities, many of which they hadn’t taken pride in until they got to college. I’ve met dozens of depressed students who were scared to come out to their roommates/college friends/hall mates/RAs/professors because of the overall view of LGBTQ identities on campus. All of these people were helped in some way by sexuality education, whether it was through me, through a school sponsored event, through a school group providing sex ed.

Sex education is helpful to people of all ages, but is crucial to people in their teens and early twenties, when they are developing their identities, making decisions about sexual activity. Getting sex education does NOT encourage anyone to be sexually active. In fact, many people who get comprehensive sexuality education in high school and middle school have better self image, are more comfortable in setting boundaries, know ow to say know, choose not to be sexually active as early, and/or choose not to be sexually active while under the influence of other substances. Almost everyone will have the ability to make healthier choices regarding safer sex, pregnancy prevention, and more.

Most sex weeks (as well as other sexuality education workshop) on college and university campuses are put together by students. Student who want information about sexuality; about anatomy, about identity, about safer sex, about pleasure, about communication, about relationships, and more. Clearly, there is a need for this education, because if it doesn’t come from sexuality educators, it comes from word of mouth (which can often provide incorrect information), or from the internet, or from trial and error. They are going to get this information from somewhere — I’d rather they get it from a trained sexuality educator (whether myself or someone else) who is trained in correct information, in counseling students, in talking about such a fraught topic, etc.

For the most part, sexuality education supports all choices, including abstinence as a choice. I know that all of my classes welcome people of all genders, orientations, backgrounds, etc, regardless of whether students are sexually active. I’m sorry, but given that about 99.9% of society features on the mainstream and the majority (white, straight/heterosexual, cisgender, traditionally able bodied, vanilla relationships), I feel it is completely valid for colleges and universities to bring in classes that talk about sexual minorities, as well as other workshops (like intersecting identities and relationship communication discussions) that appeal to people of ALL identities. Very few students need to know what sexuality looks like for a traditionally able bodied person; how many have been asked to think about people with disabilities, and how their sexuality looks and occurs, and how to make all of their campus accessible, more than just physically.

Denying that college age students are thinking about their sexuality (whether or not they are sexually active) is like an ostrich sticking its head in its the sand. Let’s please support them in their desire for knowledge and to learn more about their sexual identities, and how to make healthy choices, rather than just pretend that its not happening. And let’s also not throw negativity at the schools that are in fact fulfilling their promise to support students’ ENTIRE education, and at the educators who are helping these knowledge hungry students to learn more about themselves. It’s just rude.

That’s what I’ve got to say on this issue.

However, Dr. Charlie Glickman, a respected sex educator, also has something to say about this, more specifically about Margaret Brooks’ anti Brown Sex Week article (in interest of full disclosure, I spoke at Brown’s Sex Week, including on Sexuality and Disability, and on Relationships and Communication). His post is much less based on emotional than mine, and takes on her article bit by bit. I highly suggest reading it.

For anyone still interesting in bringing sexuality education to their campus, I’m still booking for 2010-2011. I’d love to come help college students learn and grow.

Shanna

Aug 162010
 

We spend so much time talking about communication, and how important it is. I can’t even count how many times I’ve said “communication is key” to classes I’m teaching, or couples that I’m counseling. And it’s true; without good communication, it’s hard for any relationship (whether long term or short term, sexual or platonic, etc) to flourish. And we do talk about communication all the time; how it can be non-verbal, different ways to communicate, HOW to do it, etc.

However, we give a lot of lip service to what communication is, so why not talk a little bit about what it isn’t. We have all (myself included) been guilty of many of these at some point in our lives.

Communication isn’t giving someone the silent treatment.

Communication isn’t saying “if they loved me, they’d _____.”

Communication isn’t assuming that they know what you want.

Communication isn’t playing hard to get.

Communication isn’t being passive aggressive.

Communication isn’t dropping hints, and then being frustrated when they aren’t picked up.

Communication isn’t using YOU statements.

Communication isn’t just going along because you don’t want to bring it up.

Communication isn’t changing who you are to be with someone.

Communication isn’t just shutting up to avoid arguing.

Communication isn’t talking behind someone’s back.

Communication isn’t playing games with someone.

So stop for a minute and think. What else ISN’T communication that we tend to try anyways? Which of these have you done lately, and how can you change that act into more healthy communication?

-Shanna