Oct 112013
 

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 was stressed that the idea behind living the lifestyle is not about the individual, it is about the relationship. As opposed to neglecting all other sexual sources of happiness that do not directly involve the partner, what the lifestyle offers is the opportunity for partners to be open and communicative about their ambitions, and by doing so they are then able to explore these ambitions together. Listening to Carol and David talk about what the lifestyle meant to them diffused some of the stigma I harbored, and also helped me come to realize two important themes that have relevance in any kind of relationship.

(1) If you have a preference that is important to you, then let it be known!
In the context of swinging, a preference might be voicing your desire to be sexually intimate with multiple partners. Why is this something that is much easier said than done? Perhaps part of the taboo surrounding non-monogamy is this idea of it being ‘unnatural’. I beg to differ! The acceptance of multiple roles has been well-documented from biological, historical, political and psychological perspectives, all adhering to theories that explain so much of our everyday behavior. Indeed, the literature I’ve looked into indicates that the human race evolved under slightly polyamorous contexts, which explains the disparity of muscle mass and body size between men and women. This is due to the different sexual strategies that have evolved extensively over the years, and exists for a variety of reasons, one of which include the benefit of genetic variation multiple partners have to offer. Furthermore, both men and women have shown to have fantasies involving other people outside of their present relationship, particularly around the time when the individual is most fertile (for example, those with vaginas experience both an increase in attraction towards multiple people and will feel more attractive personally just around the time of ovulation). To add, there exists still many religious and cultural beliefs that value the union of multiple partners, and so much of our art and literature has been fueled by deconstruction and understanding complex relationship dynamics. I would argue that it is just as ‘natural’ to have fantasies about other people as it is not to, and it’s quite unfortunate that the normative social construction of western culture hasn’t conditioned us to think of this lifesytle with a little more warmth. Why is that?

Perhaps the answer might be related to the idea that people perceive themselves as the protagonist in their own glorified movie, and thus see themselves as the central theme driving the narrative. The self-perception of being the foundation of the social network is essential to human survival despite the notion appearing to contradict to the examples mentioned before. Some may argue that multiple partners may be appealing in theory, but let’s talk logistics; How important am I really if my partner is openly attracted to others? How do I stay special and keep my self-esteem intact? David and Carol argue that when we shift the focus on feeding the relationship instead of feeding the individual, then it can be possible to satisfy both answers in a way that’s not incongruous. When fueling a health relationship becomes a central theme to both parties, there leaves a space for the needs and demands of both parties to be open, heard, and explored, and perhaps to find reward in exploring them together. Oftentimes, the space you create for you and your partner reinforces the acceptance of yourself. By doing so, you are exploring the boundaries of the relationship you have with your partner together, much the same way one might decide to explore a new country or learn a new skill together. As much as one appreciates the individualistic lone-wolf personal narrative, ultimately there are few greater things in life that derive as much pleasure as participating in activities that you love with those you love.

(2) No one can feel all the happiness you need (and deserve).
Drawing from personal experience, most of the pitfalls I found in my past relationships were due in part to my intense desire to make my partner the source of all my growth and support. This is problematic for a multitude of reasons, but for now I’ll just highlight two: (1) It’s impossible role for your partner to fill (2) It’s an impossible expectation to put on yourself as a partner. This mindset is particularly volatile, and can fester into all emotions I’m sure we we are all familiar with such as guilt, shame and jealousy. When asked about non-monogamous relationships, jealousy is a question that often gets asked. Of course there will always be jealousy in your life with or without non-monogamy, but I think it should be encouraged to try to tease apart jealousy that is healthy and constructive, and jealousy that is bitter and demeaning. For the purpose of this argument, I believe that distinguishing the two has relevance, because it could be cultivated as a useful resource, and motivates one to be a better person.

“Why am I jealous right now? How intense it is? What can I do to change this feeling? Can I talk about it? How can I talk about it? Is this related to my personal insecurities?” All of these questions make us stop and reflect, which could perhaps lead to learning something constructive about ourselves and our relationship. Jealousy is such a tricky emotion simply because the nature of it’s precariousness. It germinates so quickly and stubbornly, and blinds our logic and reasoning with incredible ease. If one could work on identifying, and acknowledging jealousy in a constructive way, it might lead to taking less criticism to heart when we feel the demands are too much, and perhaps make room for more positive emotions to filter through. Because we can only give so much of ourselves, would it not be fair to work towards giving what we can with complete integrity, and let the rest of life fulfill our loved one’s desire? This may be a more constructive alternative to running your love thin by chasing after a fantastical role in their relationship that is unobtainable.

In my mind, what makes the theme so compelling is that these life lessons are something we can practice is any relationship, even those outside of a non-monogamous context. Relationships exist for many different reasons, and communicating, and exploring and respecting the relationship is a central component to it’s vitality. It creates this beautiful circular chain of events, where support can be generated as well as internalized and influenced by both the provider and the receiver. All of these things helps create a healthy space between you and any partner(s), leaving room for compassion and surprise and ultimately attributes to a more coherent sense of self, and above all, a more coherent understanding of your relationship.

Oct 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

In the spring of 2013, I attended my first ever Sexual Attitudes Reassessment (SAR) seminar, which was hosted in Montreal, Quebec. When I first showed up, I was unceremoniously handed a box of condoms, a courtesy Diva Cup, and a small folder that contained a skeleton version of the weekend schedule. This marked one of the more underwhelming introductions I’ve encountered, as the workshop quickly proved to be one of the most comprehensive, insightful and innovative learning experiences I’ve ever encountered. Every panel discussion brought incredible stories, filled with equal flavors of awe, sadness, connection and desire. A space was created where I could sit and really think about what sexuality meant to me, and to discuss it with those who bring so many different perspectives to light was wonderful. On a professional level, I felt like I had learned more about sexuality and sex education during those four days than I had in my 22-year life.

On a personal level, however, I was in total emotional turmoil from start to finish. Part of the workshop provided a list of questions you could ask yourself that could potentially bring to focus some of the sweeping generalizations or stereotypes one may inadvertently attached to specific topics, and to realize that you (the liberal and open-minded individual that you pride yourself to be) has unknowingly pocketed and perpetuate some stigma… well my guttural reaction to it was quite intense, and lead to all sorts of behind-the-dumpster-outside-the-metro breakdowns, which quickly transitioned into a healthier paradigm shift and fundamentally changed how I approached sexuality in both myself and in others.

With that said, I really wanted to highlight a particular panel discussion that was given by Carol and David, who came in to talk about swinging. For those who don’t know, swinging could be loosely defined as “A lifestyle of non-monogamy where sexual relations occur outside the established couple”. It’s important to note that swingers tend to refrain from emotional attachments with their outside partners, which generally differentiates their relationship from a polyamorous one, although for the purpose of this post, the idea could apply to any non-monogamous relationship, romantic or not.

My knowledge about swinging prior to the panel discussion was embarrassingly fragmented, taken from a myriad of here-say stories from friends-of-friends, and movies starring Nicole Kidman. Truthfully, it was a topic I never gave much thought to, because I wrongly believed that the justification for openly having sex with other partners always came from a place of guilt and insecurity, or that it implied that there was something wrong or damaged with the relationship. Of course both were false assumptions, as it was very quickly understood that swinging had much less to do with sex, and more to do with supporting and exploring the relationship boundaries you share with your partner.

Carol and David were nothing short of spectacular; they were tall and graceful, clean cut, brightly-smiling and above all, confidant. Their confidence exuded from their body, was knit in every word they said, and soaked in every gaze they gave one another. As impressive as it was to see attraction and commitment conveyed so openly, I found it most striking that their lifestyle – The Lifestyle, as they called it—could be explained so effortlessly, and discussed with such coherence and eloquence.

Sep 222013
 

podcast

Want to hear me talk about everything from anatomy to sex & disability, sex education to how I ended up doing what I do? You’re in luck – check out my quick and dirty, 30-minute or so podcast with the absolutely fabulous sexologist Dr. Gloria Brame on the Gloria Brame show.

Click here to hear the podcast. It also is (or will be) on iTunes for download, for those of you who like to listen to sexual discussion while on the training, at your kids’ soccer practice, or while doing cardio at the gym (or any other time).

Enjoy!

-Shanna

Aug 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

Safe sex information is an essential component of health. Expanding the definition of safe sex to include more than just condoms is one of my biggest goals in life. I put a condom on banana for the very first time last month when I was performing in a health education theatre troupe in front of 500 college freshman.

When I think back to my high school health class, the only thing I can really remember is to always use a condom. And okay, yes, condoms are important, they greatly reduce the risk of pregnancy, and protect against some STIs…that is if you are having sex that involves a penis inside you.  My point is, the type of sex education I learned in high school never applied to me.  I was on my own to become empowered and informed and so are a lot of other people.

The problem is, if the only take home message from a health class is to wear a condom, many important topics are missing. For example:

Where is the empowerment?

If you feel empowered during intimacy, you can advocate for yourself with confidence.  One way to feel empowered is being informed and feeling comfortable with your own body.

What is body positivity?

Body positivity means feeling comfortable in your own skin.  It means honoring your body and making healthy choices that fit your needs.

What are other forms of contraception?

There are many different types of contraception. Some examples are birth control pills, the depo provera shot, a diaphragm or intra-uterine devices. What’s important is knowing how to access them, what questions to ask your doctor, what they’re used for, and what to expect.

What is consent?

Sexual Consent is voluntary, sober, wanted, informed and mutual verbal agreement to be sexually intimate. It’s a no until it’s a yes when it comes to sex or being intimate.

Are there other types of intimacy besides penetration?

Yes! There’s kissing, touching, holding hands, talking dirty and so much more.

What exactly is a condom?

Condoms are sheaths of thin latex or plastic that are worn on the erect penis during penetrative vaginal, anal or oral sex. They protect couples from sharing most sexually transmitted infections and prevent 98% of pregnancies if used correctly. (editor’s note; this refers to “male” condoms — they also make “female” condoms that are worn inside the vagina or anus. Either type can be used by folks of any sex or gender)  You can access condoms at drug stores, grocery stores, some vending machines, doctor’s offices or health clinics like Planned Parenthood.

Sex toys? What?

A great way to spice up intimacy, experiment with different fantasies, and achieve the desired level of stimulation.  I recommend going to a local body positive and sex positive shop or doing some online research. You never know until you try! Editor’s Note: Keep in mind that if a toy is not made of a sterilizable material  like silicone, glass, metal, ceramic or corian, you will want to use a condom on it when sharing!

 

What if I am woman having sex with another woman?

That’s great! If both partners are a female-bodied vagina owners, you won’t need a condom (unless to for sex toys, especially non-sterilizable ones), but dental dams prevent sharing most sexually transmitted infections during oral sex.  Some people use latex or nitrile gloves, or finger cots for added protection.

These are just some of the topics I would include if I could teach a high school sex education class now. It is impossible to mention everything in a single post, but I assure you there will be more to come. It’s very important stuff.

 

 

 

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 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!

 

May 292013
 

Hey Colorado friends (especially those looking for sex ed in Denver) – This Saturday (June 1st) is my next Sex Ed Saturday class at Eden. We hope to see you there!

Sex Ed Saturdays! What’s Up with the Butt? Anal 101

Sex Ed Saturdays at eden

at Eden

3090 Downing Street

Denver, CO (31st and Downing)

June 1, 2013

Noon

$10-20 sliding scale (pay what you can afford)

Anal is an incredibly popular topic of conversation; everyone wants to know why one does it, how ones does it, and everything about it.  Get down with some backdoor basics from info on anatomy to lube love, and of course, how one gets going with the butt loving. Butt sex is on everyone’s mind, so let’s get talking about it. This is a great class for both anal first-timers as well as those more versed in the art of revving up the rear. Everyone loves a fun and fabulous anal sex workshop!

Brunch and booze available for purchase (vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and paleo friendly food)!

Facebook Event Link