Oct 142013
 

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

Sexual Consent is voluntary, sober, wanted, informed and mutual verbal agreement to be sexually intimate.  We can’t talk about sex without talking about consent, because sexual consent is not only the law, but it is a sexy and healthy part of a relationship. Why?

Communication simply makes relationships better.

Expressing your needs and concerns is healthy. Asking for what you want and asking your partner(s) what they want is sexy. The more you open you are with your partner(s), and the more you know about each other, the more creative and exciting sex is. Plus, communicating and listening means you respect each other, which promotes trust and honesty.

Remember, consent is verbal, not implied. Here are some consent conversation starters:

  • Share your fantasies, and see how your partner responds. Are they interested? Do they have common fantasies? If so, start exploring them.
  • Ask your partner what they want. If you are excited about what they want, talk about your mutual wants. If you are nervous or unsure, communicate this too.
  • Talk about boundaries and respect them.
  • Ask your partner how they’re feeling. If they reply with something like “good” or “okay” ask them what this means to them.

There are lots of ways to get consent, and consent will look different the more you get to know your partner(s). The most important thing is to listen and remember consent is never implied. Consent is a verbal yes.

 

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.

Aug 212013
 

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

When we think of intimate bonds experienced by the self and others, it’s hard not to insinuate a sexual context or a soon-to-be sexual context in which these bonds grow. This notion has prospered excellently in much of the mass media we tend to follow, as intimacy depicted in film is almost always followed by physical attraction. I understand that sexual motivations carries a narrative with great strength (both on and off screen), but it fails to demonstrate that they’re other ways to enjoy intimacy that doesn’t involve a passionate kiss at the end of it.

Here’s the idea: if intimacy happened to be presented to strictly within the context of sex, then it conditions one to seek intimacy exclusively in sex. This could lead to a pattern of thought where sex is seen as the ultimate end goal, with intimacy maybe served as a side. However, it’s important to stress that intimacy proliferates in many different environments, and it’s healthy to acknowledge notions of intimacy that you have that doesn’t necessarily end in a situation where you’re not wearing pants. Furthermore, understanding and appreciating intimacy one can experience outside of a sexual context might also help you within one too. With that said, it’s not my place to detract against the idea of the different kinds of sex people choose to have (both encompassing and void of intimacy), but rather to demonstrate a point that the two could be just as mutually exclusive as they could be intrinsically related.

Speaking of which, what exactly is the difference between enjoying say an incredible meal or an incredible production or an incredible blow job? Physiologically, very little. All three undergo a similar neuronal trajectory in the reward circuit system that promotes a positive self-perception, which in turn releases the same neurotransmitters (more specifically, oxytocin and dopamine). Of course the evolutionary implication behind the motivations driving sexual behavior obviously holds much more weight than artistic behavior, but it’s still kind of cool to think about why these innate mechanisms exist. If it were not an adaptive behavior, the rewarding sensations found in relation to intimacy would’ve been a trait left behind with our ancestors. Intimacy serves a purpose to bring people together as a social unit, so that collectively, we may up our chances of survival and mental well-being. It is single-handedly responsible for the enormous growth in cortical mass, as it is also the reason why we are apt to interpreting and understanding emotion and why our language happens to be so varied and densely knit. We carry these skills not because they simply existed, but because our innate desire to be interconnected willed our species to form it. What I find to be particularly poignant about this theory that when you classify intimacy as the over-arching umbrella term, sex follows suit as a subgenre of intimacy, and not the other way around.

For example, there are plenty of people on this planet who live happily with little to no sexual activity in their lives. Does this make them incapable of understanding and appreciating intimacy? Certainly not. However, popular opinion is still tempted to imply this stereotype. We see it in how one might treat a friend or family member as being ‘perpetually single’. Are they lonely? Maybe, but it certainly would be presumptuous to assume. Are they incapable of sharing a deep bond with other individuals? Certainly not. People choose to be single based on a multitude of reasons, the large majority of which do not revolve around the disinterest or incompetence of being sexually intimate.

The most spectacular thing about intimacy beyond sex, is it’s unmitigated sweetness can be experienced anywhere at any moment between anyone. One thing that is important to keep in mind is that though the company of others most often creates intimacy, it is ultimately the individual that perceives and internalizes it. I appreciate the moment one has when you find yourself sharing a smile with a stranger in a public place, but the space that’s created between myself and this stranger is largely in part due to the space I have allowed myself to experience in my mind. This should not automatically equate to a “what-a-shame-you-let-the-moment-pass” conundrum if I felt the person did not need to be approached. It should be sufficient enough to allow the thrill to ride its course without having to imply anything else. Having a frank conversation about an interesting topic with a stranger at a gathering does not mean that a shade of romanticism is owed, especially if this person is “someone I could see myself being attracted to”. By accepting it’s existence at face value, you could spend less time tripping over ill-fated attempts to justify an emotion that might not be understood in mainstream opinion. Intimacy helps keep you in check with your own personal relationship, it allows you the opportunity to practice humility and curiosity that other spaces in life might not. It is possible to feel connected and involved without submitting to the social prescription of asking yourself how it’s function should be carried.

For more thoughts, I invite you to read this interesting article :

Jul 152011
 

This week, my fabulous intern Katie Davis talks about the identity of asexuality, which is often left out of conversations regarding sexuality. She brings up some great points, as well as resources for those interested in learning more!

The oft-repeated mantra amongst sex educators is that sexuality is a spectrum.
People can identify as gay, straight, and everything in between, including bisexual, queer,
and questioning.” In the classes I’ve taught, this has been my mantra, my way of
explaining the rich diversity of human experience.

But recently, after stumbling across Asexuality.org, the homepage of the Asexual
Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), I came to realize that this framework is not
nearly as inclusive as it needs to be. AVEN, which was founded in 2001, focuses on
fostering a sense of community amongst asexual people and creating acceptance and
discussion of asexuality in the public sphere. In addition to acting as the central hub for
asexuality-related research, news coverage, and personal accounts, AVEN also offers
discussion forums, a newsletter, and an online store stocked with t-shirts
reading “Asexy” and “Asexuality: It’s not just for amoebas anymore!”

Although, as with anything else, AVEN members possess a variety of different
opinions and experiences, the feeling of being socially silenced appears to be widely
shared across the asexual community. The site’s FAQ section, for example, addresses
some of the difficulties of “living in a society where everyone is assumed to be sexual
and where the media, especially soaps and advertising, portray everyone as sexual and
constantly tempted by sex.” In his personal blog, Love From the Asexual Underground,
AVEN founder David Jay writes eloquently about the daily challenges of translating
sexual language into something true to his identity and experiences. For Jay and other
asexual-identified people, my sexuality spectrum is hardly a liberating identificatory
framework, as it leaves off an entire negative region.

It’s an important criticism, one that’s forced me to radically reconsider how I
should understand and teach sexuality. For sex educators/activists who are forced to
confront the myriad ways in which sexuality is stifled and policed, it may be tempting
to portray things like desire, attraction, and libido as universal experiences. In a country
that still frequently treats sex education as a non-necessity, many of us find ourselves
almost shouting about the importance of sexuality in all aspects of society. I certainly
know that in my own teaching efforts, I’ve attempted to combat societal shaming by
characterizing sexuality as a normal, even key component of the human condition. And,
of course, for many people it is. However, as long as there are people who identify
as asexual–– and, according to AVEN, the numbers of people taking on said title are
steadily growing–– we have to be vigilante about assuming sexuality in our students.

How can we teach about sexuality in a way that is also inclusive of asexuality?
How can we better educate ourselves about asexuality and the diversity of asexual
experiences? And how can we assist the asexual community in its continued struggle for
visibility and acceptance? These are not easy questions, but they’re absolutely topics that
sex educators and all other folks dedicated to sexual (or asexual, for that matter) equality
need to begin to address.

For more information about asexuality, go to AVEN’s website or check out David
Jay’s Love From the Asexual Underground.

Jul 012011
 

This post is from one of my fabulous sexuality summer interns, Katie Davis, about some of her experiences learned as a sexuality educator.

-Shanna

I spent the past year volunteering as a sex educator in the public school system
near my college, facilitating discussions on topics ranging from anatomy and physiology
to contraception to healthy communication. One day, while beginning a class on
fertilization with a group of middle school young women, a student raised her hand and
asked my co-facilitators and myself: “Do any of you have kids?”

The question made me pause. At 20, I was one of the older facilitators in our
group of four, but it hardly felt like the sort of question usually directed at me. The
thought of having children had only vaguely entered my consciousness as something I
might one day sort of maybe kind of want to do if I felt emotionally and financially ready
to do so. Furthermore, I’ve always looked young for my age–– it wasn’t until I cut my
hair off last year that I stopped being offered the kids’ menu at restaurants. So the
thought that someone might perceive me as a parent made my head spin.

I apparently wasn’t the only one who was surprised by the question. My co-
facilitators and I looked around at each other for a moment before one began to laugh.
She then replied to the student “No, none of us are parents! None of us are even 21 yet!”
The class stared back at us silently.

And like that we had lost them. We would eventually regain their trust and
respect, but it would take a while, and the rest of that fifty minute period was a wash,
with the students more or less ignoring us. We taught in a district with high teen
pregnancy rates: hence the administration’s desire to run an intensive sex ed workshop
for female students. Likely a significant portion of the young women in our classroom
that day had friends or close relatives who were teen mothers. And instead of responding
in a way that acknowledged their experiences, we made our students feel insulted,
ignored, and misunderstood.

I’m still traveling down the sex education path, and I still sometimes say the
wrong thing, but I’m learning. Above all, I’ve learned the importance of mindfulness, of
self-awareness. Recognizing my own positionality–– as a wealthy, white, cis-gender,
able-bodied queer woman–– has been awkward at times, but it’s undoubtedly made me a
better educator as well as a better student, partner, friend, etc. That’s why the #1 most
important lesson for educators is, for me:

1. Know the limits of your own knowledge.

It would be pretty amazing if everyone adhered to this rule, but it’s one that is
particularly important for educators/mentors to follow. Certainly, when a student asks
me a question to which I don’t know the answer off the top of my head, I’m honest about
my ignorance and I offer a well-researched answer the next time we meet. But it’s much
harder for me to recognize and accept that there are answers I will never know, answers
that are inaccessible to me. The very term “teen pregnancy,” for example, will likely

mean something radically different from what it means for a student whose older sister
dropped out of high school to raise a child. Knowing the limits of my knowledge means
recognizing that I will never fully grasp that latter, personal meaning. I simply don’t
have the same background, life experiences, etc. The best I can do is to challenge and
encourage my students to think critically and define the world for themselves. Which
brings me to lesson #2:

2. People are experts of their own experiences.

Learning is not strictly an in-class activity, and there is no possible way for me to
know what kind of education my students receive in their day to day lives. Great
educators know better than to challenge their students’ experiences of the world.
Rather, they provide students with a new lens through which to examine and understand
experience. Slowly, I am learning to do just this.