Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Teenage Panic.

"But if you do happen to unzip your fly, then, uh... uh...
enjoy your new life as a cautionary example?"
Look at any forum or question site frequented by sexually active teenagers, and you'll see the same theme come up over and over:

"I had sex. I'm terrified I'm pregnant and have every STD ever."
"A guy fingered me.  I'm terrified I'm pregnant and have every STD ever."
"I touched a girl's breasts and then touched my penis. I'm terrified she's pregnant and we both have every STD ever."

I'm paraphrasing a little sardonically, but I remember being there.  The first time I touched a boy's penis, he demanded I wash my hands immediately, because maybe they had some sperm on them and maybe I would masturbate and then I would get pregnant for sure.  And when I started having intercourse, although we always used condoms, I was absolutely convinced I was pregnant and infected.  It got to the point where I would have stomach rumblings and think that I was feeling a baby kicking.

Despite (or because of) this belief, I never took any tests.  I was so scared of seeing a positive result, I couldn't bear to.  I'm damn lucky that I was worried over nothing, because it was more than nine months before I screwed up the courage to actually use a pregnancy test, and years before I went to a clinic for an STI test.



I was a pretty savvy teenager, intellectually.  My school sex ed wasn't much, but I'd been through every page of Scarleteen and the sex chapter of every "you and your health" book I could get my hands on.  I'd read up on the correct methods for every kind of contraception and the symptoms of every infection.  My problem wasn't lack of education, not exactly.  My problem was an all-consuming terror of punishment.  I'd been able to unlearn misconceptions about the biological details, but I hadn't unlearned the idea that having sex was a very wrong and forbidden act.

The morning after I had sex for the first time, I woke up with a crushing feeing that I'd done something evil and I was going to be caught and punished.  The next time I saw my parents, I was terrified.  I thought they were going to catch some nuance in my speech or gestures and go "Wait a second... you're acting like a sex-haver!  You are in so much trouble."  This didn't happen, but the feeling of guilty terror lingered.

And I think it was that guilty terror that led me to my paranoia.  I was so convinced that I had been bad and would be punished, I believed biology itself would punish me.  It didn't help that I'd grown up hearing about how pregnancy and STIs were "consequences" for sex.  Health class, parents, teachers, media, and peers had always talked about these things not as risks that adults have to manage, but as dire fates (or worse, humiliatingly comical fates) for sluts.  At age 15, I took a certain toxic-girl-hate pride in being Responsible and Pure.  At age 16, I'd had a penis inside me.



This nasty mess of emotions did nothing to stop me from having sex, of course.  There was a whole other mess of emotions telling me that you're undesirable and you're not growing up and you're not in a real relationship if you don't have sex, and those won out in the end.  (Plus I was really horny.)  And by "in the end," I mean "within two hours"--I had sex almost immediately the first time I found out a guy wanted to have sex with me.  So much for convincing kids to wait.  All I was convinced to do was have sex, but feel absolutely terrible about it.

But you can't say there was no deterrent effect, because I was powerfully deterred from seeking any kind of medical advice or testing.  That would be humiliating beyond measure, I was convinced.  It wouldn't feel like asking for help; it would feel like turning myself in.  Saying "I need an STD test" felt to me like saying "I'm a disobedient slut who probably got what she deserves," and I couldn't face that shame.  I'd rather just take my chances.  Even though I was terrified of my chances.



God we fuck up teenagers' heads.  We tell them that biological conditions are moral punishments and then we get all shocked when they don't practice rational risk management of biological conditions.  We teach them "sex is super desirable and all the cool kids do it, and it's hideously shameful and will destroy your life" and we wonder why they act an eensy bit neurotic about it.  If you tried to design a system for making sexually active kids confused and unsafe, you couldn't do much better than the American media and school system.

And for once, the answer is relatively simple.  Just talk about sex like it's a part of life.  Some people have sex and some people don't, because people are different. STIs aren't bad because they're Dirty Crotch Rot; they're bad because they're contagious illnesses like strep throat or whooping cough, and you can ask a doctor to check for and treat them just like you would with strep throat.  Unwanted pregnancy isn't a scarlet A; it's a mostly-preventable accident that sometimes occurs when people are going about their normal business of having sex. You can ask the school counselor about a variety of topics, including career planning, problems at home, questions about sex, or conflicts with teachers.

If we could just get the goddamn stick out of our collective ass and accept that sex is a human activity and teenagers are humans, maybe there wouldn't be quite so many plaintive "I don't understand my body and I'm confused and scared and I don't know anyone I can ask in person" messages flying out into the world.

133 comments:

  1. Cliff,
    I've crept out of the anon zone to tell You: You rule. You've got so much brains it lifts my spirit. Everything You've written below is so very true - and in other parts of the world too. I've been brought up in Eastern Europe, in a family when the mother seemed terrified and disturbed by the very mention of sex as a phenomenon (this having probably a lot to do with the detail that my father was a violent psychotic drunkard, who forced her to commit abortion twice.)Therefore I grew up without any fucking guidance. The adults were pretending sex doesn't exist. My schoolmates couldn't provide any sensible help. The most intelligent and responsible of them were entangled in this Catholic "stay-pure-until-You-get-yourself-a-man-to-marry" approach, which I find bullshit. I was seventeen, horny and made some of the most important decisions completely on my own. Thanks to my lack of commitment into religion I avoided feeling terrible about it. But still - how much easier would it be to start my sex life with some sort of sound advice? I wonder.

    Keep up the good work. Your blog feeds my brain with important questions.

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  2. I went to a lot of private Christian schools, and sat through abstinence rallies, "No Means No and Rape Is His Fault, Not Yours" rallies, and "Sluts And Queers Are Totally Going to Hell!!" rallies pretty much from grade 6 on up. I also went to CCD/PSR (Catholic Sunday School) every Sunday of every year from kindergarten all the way through to senior year of high school, and heard every appalling thing the Catholic Church has ever had to say on the subject of sex and birth control. (If I'd known about half of this stuff 15 years ago, and the damage it does in the real world, I would NOT have been Confirmed. I would have walked away. I think this may be why Confirmation takes place at the young age it does.)

    In 10th grade, I was transferred to a magnet school, and the rallies (thankfully) stopped. I learned about STDs other than HIV/AIDS for the first time in 10th-grade health class (I'd seriously never heard of herpes, HPV, or gonorrhea before--it was all about the AIDS), and in 11th grade, we had to sit through a one-time presentation about safe sex and how to use a condom. I was so indoctrinated into Premarital Sex Will Kill You that I figured I would never use anything in that presentation.

    My dad gave me sex advice once, through the bathroom door, the summer after I'd finished high school.

    Mom: "Your dad said he had some advice for you about sex that he wanted me to pass on."
    Me (assuming based on what I'd heard almost non-stop through middle and high school): "Lemme guess--don't have it?"
    Mom (surprised tone): "No. He said use a condom."

    A few years later, I lost my virginity. Dad was surprised and furious that I hadn't used a condom. Now, I finally have an article to print out (sans comments) to explain why I was terrified to use a condom.

    Abstinence-only sex ed doesn't make kids not have sex. It makes them not be responsible when they're finally ready to START having sex, whether that's at age 14 or age 20.

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    1. They've done a number of studies on Abstinence-Only Sex Education. In the best of cases, it is... completely and totally ineffective. In the worst cases, it has actually been *counterproductive* to the stated goals -- those who went through AOSE began having sex up to TWO YEARS before those who receive more comprehensive education on the subject, and are much, much less safe about it.

      Up until I was about 16, I was one of those fundy kids. Got a girlfriend, and, despite signing one of those (useless) "purity pledges", I had sex. Quite a bit. Without a condom. Yeah, guess what happened? After that experience, I pretty much stopped believing in abstinence as a realistic method of preventing pregnancies in teenagers, because that was all I'd been taught most of my life, and it failed ridiculously miserably. You're spot on -- AOSE didn't make me not have sex, it made me fuck without a fucking condom.

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  3. Ooooh yeah. Despite the combination of pretty darned good sex ed at my (private progressive) high school, AND access to the early days of Scarleteen, I still got the paranoia when I was first sexually active. I got paranoia despite having a mother who specifically told me that sex before marriage was not just ok, but a very good idea. Because, you know, I was having sex THREE months into my first relationship at SIXTEEN with a boy I rather liked a lot but certainly didn't love (yet), rather than SIX months in at about seventeen or eighteen with a boy I was in love with, and therefore not following her guidelines for when to have sex. Which meant that sex was still a Dirty Forbidden Act (unredeemed by the marriage-substitute of Love and At Least Six Months Of Relationship) and therefore grounds for Punishment and therefore it was time to freak out because two weeks ago what if his sperm got from his penis to my hand and then when I wiped it off on that towel it wasn't enough and I touched his hand and then that hand went in my vagina and my period was due yesterday or maybe today but probably yesterday and it hasn't come yet and it's already lunchtime OMG!!!

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  4. You are so so so right. Here in Germany, sex ed seems a little bit better, then in the US, but it's still fucked up. I remember doing a HIV-test in the neighbor town, so that nobody sees and recognizes me. I remember recommending the same proceidure to other people, so that they don't get seen and nobody knows. Not, because I thing it's a bad thing to do, but because I was and am afraid of the reactions one might get.
    I'm 24- but buying condoms is still a pain, getting the pill still feels weird. "Whoa, look, it makes my skin so much better, and look, I prefer having my period less often. It has nothing to do with this dirty sex stuff, no" - or remembering to take the pill when in public- it doesn't feel like beeing a responsible adult, it feels like beeing a dirty slut.
    And all this, while I consider myself rather open-minded with the whole topic of sex.

    Thank you for opening eyes again.

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    1. "... but buying condoms is still a pain ..."

      Really? I wonder if this is a gender (I'm male), area (I'm in Berlin) or age (I'm really old) gap between us.

      I was a young man when the German federal government started their "promote condom use" campaign ("Gib Aids keine Chance")in the late 80s.
      Their materials always came across as pretty non judging and starting from the assumption that most people have sex.

      For example in their present English/German bilingual booklet about STDs they write:
      "If you never have sex at all, you can't catch a disease that way. But never having sex doesn't suit most people."
      http://www.gib-aids-keine-chance.de/infomaterial/download.php?id=7503cfacd12053d309b6bed5c89de212
      (page 8)

      The whole point of the famous Lueck/von Sinnen TV-ad in 1990 was: "Almost all adults have sex, condoms are good practise. Therefore it's shame free to buy condoms."

      German attitudes toward sex are by no means perfect, but in my experience they're much more on the saner side than your description implies.

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    2. I find this so much more reasonable. I know certain high schools in the US offer condoms, and others absolutely refuse to discuss anything other than abstinence.
      It completely depends upon the area of the school as to what message is given.
      Still, even the schools that do offer condoms (for free I might add), are often not taken advantage of for the reasons in the post (slut shaming, embarrassment, having to communicate a need for it).

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    3. I think Mia is describing just her feelings about condom buying and STI tests, not the reactions she actually got. (Huhu Mia, bis Freitag :))
      I organize a BDSM youth meet-up, and for world AIDS day my fellow organizer talked to the local HIV prevention people. She told me they were super helpful, the booklets are just as NaHa describes them and so on and so forth. So basically I think NaHa's right about official German attitudes.

      I also think that among Germans, Mia is not alone in her feelings of sexual shame. Case in point: I can't remember the last time I saw someone buy condoms.
      Even though German officials are much more open about sexuality than Americans (Hell, the umbrella association of our meet-up is recognized as a charitable organization), I don't think your average German is that different from your average American as sexual shame goes. The culture we're soaked in is still pretty similar, and Official Attitudes just don't do that much.

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  5. Damn right, Cliff. Nobody deserves the mental torture we inflict on teenagers (especially teenage girls) about sex. Don't have sex, don't wear revealing clothes! But you'll be a social pariah if you're a virgin! And you'll remain a virgin if you don't dress up!

    Hell, I'll try to be more charitable with clueless teenagers in the future.

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  6. Long time reader, first time blah blah blah...

    I think preaching the abstinence message adds power to itself because of this phenomenon. It makes people feel bad when they have sex, then they can turn around and say sex makes you feel bad.

    -EOO

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    1. I've noticed a similar phenomenon WRT abortion. A lot of the stuff I read that was supposed to shame us out of premarital sex was stuff about women who'd gotten abortions they regret and how now they have nightmares about crying babies.

      Well, gee, when you make pregnancy out to be God's punishment for letting a man's Tab A near your Slot B, and abortion to be the Greatest Of All Evils, then yeah, people are kinda going to not take it well if they have to have an abortion.

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  7. I'm a heteroromantic asexual. Thanks to that same teen panic mindset, I have to deal with people in my family who think I'm not actually repulsed, just too heavily influenced by abstinence-only scaremongering.

    This with me being someone who was horrified by "Kiss The Girl" when Little Mermaid came out - when I was just old enough for Good Touch Bad Touch - and kept being horrified by it until after I'd come out to myself and found out I could enjoy it as a song meant for people not like me instead of a 'You'll Like Doing This When You're Her Age, We Promise' song, because French-kissing is not something that has ever appealed to me at all.

    It's not even possible to not-have-sex in peace thanks to the people spreading all that fear around.

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    1. And using my AIM login fails yet again. That was supposed to be me.

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    2. I find this both sad and amusing. I'm an aromantic bisexual (sex is nice, relationships suck), which has led me to a mainly celibate life (I haven't found much I can do with someone else that I don't enjoy more doing by myself). I've gotten the same attitude from others (fortunately not from my family): the assumption that I must have suffered some kind of trauma, that I'm repulsed by sex, that I'm afraid of pregnancy/disease/whatever. Or even that I'm just socially awkward and desperate for someone to "bring me out of my shell".

      I can enjoy "Kiss the Girl" as an abstract romantic notion, even though it's not for me. I get really tired of the "You'll Like Doing This/Want To Do This At Some Point In Your Life" notion, though (I get the same attitude from people about having children). I know myself; I know what I want and what I don't want.

      How is it that with all the close-minded, non-educational, abstinence-only programming going on, I still need a "reason" for my own abstinence that doesn't involve something like past trauma or "saving myself for marriage"?

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    3. I know what you mean about the ''you'll want to do this at some point'' thing with regards to both children and sex/romance (as a tentatively-defining asexual) it's incredibly annoying, patronising and how-the-fuck-would-you-know.

      I usually tend to view songs/films etc. endorsing sex and romance in the same way as I do things endorsing, say, sports... I can appreciate that it's a nice fun thing for some people and advocate it in that sense, it's just not for me/everyone.

      On saying that, my friend/relative group tends to consist of brilliant people who either understand the ace thing or are polite enough not to enquire too much, so maybe I haven't got that much cause to complain. I'd like to be properly equipped with retorts if it happens in the future though

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  8. @sonamib i'm really scared for the teenagers of our days. sex is a drug for them, not a pleasure anymore

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    1. What does that even mean? You can't overdose on sex and it isn't dangerous to suddenly stop sex.

      Honestly I can't tell if you're trying to say "teenage sex is bad these days, not good like it was in my day" or if you're trying to say teenage sex is treated like a drug, which... kind of?

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    2. I've heard of people dying during sex, but they often had a medical condition beforehand and then the excitement and exertion strained their heart...

      So, y'know, not standard conditions.

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    3. Well, I heard of people dying during sex, too. And the only ones I heard of from persons who knew them (=weren't just rumors, had made some very big mistakes regarding breath control stuff. So, you know, the didn't die of sex, they died of lack of air.

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    4. Alcohol is probably a good analogy.
      Adults forbid it to teens and tell teens of all the horrible consequences of drinking, even while teens learn that alcohol is an awesome mature adult activity - alcohol is king in American culture. And yet there is so much handwringing over teen binge drinking.

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    5. There's handwringing over binge drinking because it's something that actually can kill you, unlike sex. I'm not sure the comparison really holds up, here.

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    6. You can die from many many things. But no matter how much we try to stop teenagers do wrong things (for their age at least), we only do worse, they'll do it anyway.

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    7. Actually, there's a body of research on how what parents tell kids and what parents DO is correlated with how much the kids smoke and drink. It's obviously not the case that parents telling kids "this is bad" means the kids won't do it (parenting would be easy if that were the case), but you can still see meaningful correlations that means parental advice and parental behaviour isn't completely pointless.

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    8. And I agree about comparing something that is actually, physically harmful (yeah, I was a binge drinker too as a teen, doesn't change the fact that it's objectively bad for you) to something that can be harmless if done right is... weird.

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    9. I can think of one case of someone dying during sex not from obviously bad decisions but from a heart attack. In the 1970s. That I can remember a bad joke about a politician dying during sex in 1979 tells me that this sort of death is not at all common.

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    10. Redbird - Actually, it happens all the time. But it's not really from sex, it's from having heart problems or whatever and sex is just when their body happened to give out.

      A lot of the time it isn't reported though because their partner will (understandably) just say "they died while we were sleeping next to each other," rather than subject the rest of the family to a detail they probably don't want to know.

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    11. IBetAtLeastOneFriendAsksMeAboutThisPostJanuary 20, 2013 at 8:00 PM

      Ohhhhhh - is that why the nurses started laughing every time they saw my boyfriend's chart?

      Because when they asked me what he was doing when the chest pain started, I looked the guy in the eye and said "How much detail do you really need here?" Apparently that answer was sufficient.

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  9. It's really hard not to fuck up a kid's head when your own head is fucked up. Our sex-negative culture fucks up parents too. When your own initial experiences with sex were horrible and shameful and rife with misunderstandings and danger (because your parents and friends didn't prepare you the right way), you tend to want to protect your kids from that.... and the cycle continues.

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  10. I was told by my mother that "Our family is so fertile that you can still get pregnant while on the pill." and I was only taking the pil to keep my "terrible acne" under control. So when I started having sex I lived in constat fear I was pregnant. My period was never late, but the week before I was due I'd start freaking out.

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  11. My school sex ed emphasised the use of PiV-contraceptives (hormonal birth control, condoms et cetera) with a big dose of EVEN IF YOU ARE TAKING THEM 100% PERFECTLY AND USING MULTIPLE METHODS THEY CAN FAIL!!! As in, that's what it seemed most of the sex ed sessions were about.

    Any wonder I'm tokophobic* and very paranoid?

    * Please look it up rather than asking if you don't know, having to explain and use that word freaks me out a lot. Sorry.

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    1. Lemme guess, they can fail "sometimes" and "don't always work," with no actual statistics given? That's what I got a lot of.

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    2. Sometimes they were backed up with statistics, but any sex ed on the subject of contraception was 10% what it's good for, 10% stick the condom on the totally-not-a-dildo, and 80% the myriad ways they can fail.

      Even if they do provide statistics, you're mainly going to take away "BUT THEY CAN FAIL!!!" Intellectually I know it's crap, but I still can't shake the fear.

      You may also take away feelings that realistic not-a-dildos are very, very creepy. I would not say this was a success for contraceptive education.

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    3. Yeah I got a big dose of "AIDS can slip through condoms easily" in public school in the 1990s. This of course convinced kids that condoms were useless, why bother with them?

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  12. Hi Cliff,

    I just think this post was the best. I had a lot of baggage around sex and sexuality when I was a teenager, which meant that even though I was gay (something I didn't realize until literally 21) I thought I could crush the girl-liking and like guys, which only meant that I couldn't interact with guys on a friend level or on a romantic level. The idea of actually dating someone seemed so incredibly overwhelming.

    The end result was that I didn't date until after high school and college, and I didn't have sex in high school, or college, or even graduate school. I now have a gf of a year who I love fucking, but like, there's still a lot of baggage there. I'm definitely still insecure about the fact that I wasn't ready to date or have sex in high school or college. I've only ever had sex with one person. Hell, I've only ever french-kissed one person. (And I've only ever kissed two people.)

    Thanks for listening to the outpouring of my baggage. Great post!

    Christy

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  13. On one hand, my parents never ever directly talked to me about sex. Ever. I never got told it was band or wrong, but neither that it was good and normal. My mom did tell me quite frankly about her experience getting pregnant at 16 in the 70's and the issues stemming from that, and how very painful it is to give up a child. She also told me about her ectopic pregnancy she had to have aborted 4 months before she was pregnant with me.
    On the other hand, without ever discussing that, she did take me down to the doctor's office when I was 15 and told him to speak to me about birth control and then left the office. Thank FSM for my amazing doctor who gave me a basic rundown on methods of birth control and STD prevention, some statistics on failure (and told me that except in cases where it was not used properly, the pill really was pretty damn good) and never once made me feel uncomfortable or guilty or even really made me ask anything.
    However, going for my first STD test, I faced a horrible experience at the college clinic where it was made pretty clear that NICE girls didn't have to go for tests and clearly I was opening my legs for anybody because I was FAT and DESPERATE.
    The rest of my tests into adulthood have been fine, since I started going to nurse practitioners. Could also be because I've been monogamously with one partner now for 7 years and the likelihood of a positive result is approaching nil and I don't feel any panic over admitting I have sex as a married 28 year old.
    I will say (tongue in cheek) , as somebody actively trying to conceive my second child, that if I had known getting pregnant was this hard, I would have had a lot more fun in highschool.

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  14. I was incredibly lucky in that we grew up in a household that was always very open and honest about sex - I knew what it was when I was two years old, because I asked my mom and she said "well..."

    I also didn't have sex ed, because I went to private high school and that's not really a thing there. That combined with my parents' mantra being "be safe and don't let anyone pressure you into it before you're ready" resulted in my having a pretty reasonable and good attitude about the whole thing even when I was first losing my virginity.

    The takeaway here being, honest/reasonable parents, and no school run sex ed, is the best solution.

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    1. I guess that would be the best. However, there are always gonna be tons of kids whose parents aren't honest or reasonable. Thus the need for good sex ed at school.

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    2. Also the nitty gritty of contraception and disease prevention has to be taught somewhere. Certainly not by parents- jeeze, my parents got married before AIDS was a known disease with a name, my mother got her tubes tied when I was in preschool, they were in favor of gay rights when the subject came up but otherwise tended to forget that non-straight people, you know, exist. What the fuck did they know about providing sexual health education to a bisexual teenage girl in the late 90's? They wouldn't even know where to begin. Yes, I'm sure they would have realized they were out of their depth and gotten outside resources. But how many parents would even realize how much they didn't know, even if they were honest and reasonable?

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    3. And in a perfect world everyone would have honest/reasonable parents, but... what about the kids that don't? They need a different solution.

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    4. Everyone else has covered most of it here, but even if all parents were well-informed and rational and understanding, even then...

      Why not teach it in schools? We don't say chemistry education is the parents' job because kids need to learn the elements according to their family's values. Schools are (or could be) excellent resources for making sure the information kids receive is accurate, consistent, and delivered by a professionally trained educator. Why not make use of that resource?

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    5. Yes, this exactly!

      It frustrates me to no end that society has assigned such a huge moral value to sex - it makes it impossible to 1) get anyone to agree on how to teach it, and 2) get fair and unbiased information into the classroom even once we DO decide what needs to be taught.

      I seriously have a fantasy of starting a private extracurricular program specifically dedicated to teaching a positive and comprehensive curriculum on sex and sexuality for young people. I'm sure it'd be booed and bombed out of the country within a month, but I still wanna do it.

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    6. There are a number of sex-positive websites and clubs targeted to teens. Scarleteen is a good one. (Heather also has a book.)

      I watch a documentary on various attitudes about sex ed a little while back, but I can't remember the name. They had a student-led group in an inner-city school that taught sex-positive education to their peers. The official school's sex ed classes were abstinence-only, but the students (all girls) saw it lacking and got together to do something about it. They had a teacher advisor who helped them with finding the resources, but getting the word out was all on them. I thought it was pretty cool. Wish I could remember the name of the documentary.

      -EOO

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  15. Well... I thought our sex ed in school (when we were fourteen) was pretty bad. It was completely focused around heterosexual PIV, and then they mentioned as an after-thought that some people are bi or homo and that's okay and there are other ways to have sex too and that's okay. But very, very much hetero PIV focus. Plus we got separated into boy- and girl-groups one day with the school nurse talking to us girls about the importance of not having sex until we felt ready, with the assumption that all the evil horny boys would try to pressure us all the time and we couldn't possibly be horny ourselves (or anything but hetero). What the boys were told I don't know. Presumably "don't pressure the poor girls into sex you horndogs"?

    And everyone was implicitly presumed to start having sex at like age sixteen or seventeen in a long-term loving relationship (which everyone certainly has found by that age, amiright?)Being a slut as well as staying virgin until you're a grown-up, or even more weird, until you're married, that's.... STRANGE.
    Okay, this was obviously not something our teachers said, but you really got the implicit message about what's normal and what's not.

    HOWEVER. Everytime I read about what sex ed is like in the USA (I'm Swedish) I marvel at how comparatively great ours were. I mean, we were told when we were tiny kids where babies come from. And at sex ed at age fourteen we learnt about various birth control methods, and that some of them are very good (despite none being fool proof, but that's NOTHING SPECIAL for birth control methods, NOTHING in life is fool proof - just driving a car or even crossing a street as a pedestrian might get you killed, but nobody takes this as a reason never to expose yourself to traffic).
    And everyone assumed that teenagers dating have sex. When I was younger and watched American movies I never understood why teenage couples always were making out or even having sex in cars, since it seems terribly inconvenient and uncomfortable, but eventually I realised that's because they can't just go home to one of them and do it in the bed because of parents.

    And statistically, the US have four times as many teen pregnancies as Sweden per capita. So scare tactics... not so good?

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    1. Canadian here, I got sex ed at 12. :)

      P.S. clandestine teenage car sex is marvelous. The sneaking around is the best part of being a teenager, you know, the whole forbidden thing? *nostalgic sigh*

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    2. I've had sex in a car twice in my entire life and I have to say I WAAAAY prefer to do it in a bed. :-)

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    3. It's more psychological than anything.

      I find that couch sex is almost always the best sex. But I do have a nostalgic soft spot for car sex and the days when sex was something sneaky, hidden, and 'bad'.

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    4. I'm the opposite -- call me an old hippie if you like, but I always hated associating sex with being "bad" or "dirty." It was a great relief to grow up and get away from that, just as much as not having to associate alcohol with throwing up in the school parking lot (which I didn't do myself, but heard a lot about). I can see the appeal of spontaneity in an unusual place, though.

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    5. I don't mean real "bad". Like "I'm going to hell" bad, or "I'm a horrible person" bad, I mean like "naughty" bad. Fun, slightly self-aware, pleasant bad. Kind of a hard thing to explain if you're not familiar.

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    6. I'm perfectly familiar with the concept. It's all over the culture I was brought up in. It simply isn't how I feel.

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    7. *shrug*

      Maybe it has something to do with one's relationship to authority? I know mine wasn't fantastic so maybe that's why I do have a nostalgic fondness for sticking it to the man.

      Delete
    8. That's definitely better than the school I went to (a public school in the US). I honestly can't remember what they said about birth control, but I know we talked about HIV in 6th grade (so at 11 or 12). Of course, homosexuality wasn't even mentioned, except by a girl in the class who asked if you could still get STDs if you were with another girl. Then the teacher refused to answer the question and said she would have to ask her parents about it.

      I would have thought it would get better in high school, but even in health class someone asked why, when donating blood (we had a blood drive that day), the guys had to specify whether or not they had had sex with another man in the past so many months. And again the teacher refused to answer the question.

      Of course, I live in a state where sex ed isn't required, and if a school chooses to have a sex ed course, it cannot be required, abstinence has to be promoted, and even though birth control is not specifically banned, all sex ed materials have to be approved by a member of the clergy.

      Despite this, and the fact we have no sex ed at all in our school, we still have a parenting class. The most information I got from school was in fact in a psychology class where they compared how different cultures viewed sex, and the psychology behind all of it, as well as addressing homosexuality and bisexuality. In health, the required course, they just talked about how you need to discuss your boundaries with partners. I don't remember them mentioning other sexual orientations at all.

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  16. You're spot on with this one. I got pregnant about a year after getting married. Seems like a pretty respectable time frame, right? And yet, I was really nervous about telling my family, because then my family would know that I had sex.

    So, I tried to nip all that shame stuff in the bud with my children. I bought picture books with factual, age- appropriate information. I use the proper names for body parts and taught them to use those names in a socially acceptable, but shame free manner.

    Apparently, I wasn't as socially acceptable as I thought I was, though. I got a call from one of the neighbors a few months ago. She told me that my daughter had been talking on the playground about "how...ladies become... pregnant." She did not want her daughter to know these things. My child came home crying because her friend laughed at her and told her she was too young to know about that.

    I hate our society.

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    1. The concept of being too young to know a fact is so messed up. We don't say "oh no, honey, you're too young to learn how a car works." We know she might be too young to understand all the details, so we might give a simplified version, but we don't deliberately withhold knowledge of the catalytic converter just to make kids seem cuter.

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    2. Exact same thing happened to me a few weeks ago! My daughter plays with another girl in the neighborhood, and her mom made a special trip to my house to tell me that my daughter shouldn't have told her daughter the big news because she's too young to know (my daughter and son are nine, her daughter is five). She hadn't even explained the facts of life to her son, who is the same age as my kids!

      Hilariously, she also said that my daughter had taught her daughter some naughty words, which she knows her daughter would never have heard from any other source because they don't use those words at her house. Apparently she's never heard her son using them, but I have, when he comes over to play with my son. Clueless.

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    3. @anon:
      In my experience, that's pretty funny. When I was that age, all the kids were telling dirty jokes on the playground. I can't imagine kids getting more innocent in the meantime...

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    4. Ugh, so much of this in my life right now. I work as a teacher's aide at an elementary school, and I'm always so anxious about what I'm allowed to say to the kids. It was incredibly awkward when kids brought up the topic of whether or not boys and boys could kiss, or what boys vs girls do, or whether or not sexy is an okay word for school. I still don't know how to handle that situation; my instincts as a queer person trying to make the world a better place and a young self-supporting person who wants to have a job next year completely clash.

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    5. @both Anons:

      Wow, it's like this lady forgot that playing doctor and "Suzy Had a Steamboat" existed. Kids joke about naughty parts, and they love to see how close they can come to cursing and such without getting in trouble for it. This is pretty much a universal constant--I can't think of a single elementary-age kid who hasn't giggled when somebody in the room passed gas.

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    6. In my day, by the beginning of 6th grade everyone knew the explicit version of the "Sitting in a Tree" song. As in, "Cliff and Rowdy sitting in a tree, F-U-C-K-I-N-G..."

      One of my friends was shocked that her 14-year-old son was sending sexual text messages to a girl. She made him stop because she didn't want the girl to MAKE HIM think about sex. As if he wouldn't have already thought about sex anyway. As if there was no chance he initiated the sexual conversation. Some people are incredibly thick when it comes to their children's sexuality.

      -EOO

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    7. My daughter is between 3 and 4 and she is hilarious about the body. At breakfast one morning: "Daddy, do I have a vagina?" "Yes you do!" "No, I have a vulva!" So I said, "You know what's really cool? You have BOTH!"

      Or "Daddy shhh. Don't talk. I have a baby in my belly and he's sleeping! Don't wake the baby." "Is the baby in your belly or your uterus?" "My uterus!"

      At a restaurant one night we were getting ready to go and all of a sudden out of nowhere she just shouts out "It's vagina time!! I love my vulva!" My wife and I just about died laughing as we left.

      I hope my daughter always, always feels that way.

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    8. I read one anecdote about a young girl who had been abused reporting to a teacher that her "purse" was hurting. All children should be taught the correct names of their body parts, FFS.

      Delete
  17. God I just looked at the website you got the picture from. It is MESSED UP and DANGEROUS that there are groups actively trying to put teenagers off condoms 'because they don't really work anyway'. Sure, they don't work if you don't use them properly (and nothing is ever 100% effective), but you know what would help with that?? Decent sex education!!

    You'll make an awesome nurse, Cliff.

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    1. We were specifically taught they wouldn't work for STDs.

      One year we even got a handout that showed three things: a to-scale representation of a sperm cell, an HIV virus, and a naturally-occurring microscopic latex condom hole. So that we would be sure to know that even if safe-sex might keep you not-pregnant, you'd still end up with AIDS anyway.

      And then the sex ed teacher the next year was appalled when we parroted that back at her and tried to fix that misinformation, which only taught us not to trust ANYTHING we were told in sex ed.

      There was so much No Sex Is Safe talk that a lot of other things weren't stressed that should have been. I had a classmate who was 'late' every month... by the same number of days. But we'd had pregnancy risks stressed so much and the only hormonal cycle we'd had modeled was a stable 28-day cycle, so instead of counting 33 days instead she just had a full-bore pregnancy scare every month and no one listening to the constant freak-outs realized what was really going on because we'd ALL gotten the same limited information.

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    2. Oh my God, that poor woman.

      Mine likes to be late about once a year or so (it's like a Leap Period... sort of) and I'm always like "OhShitOhShitOhShitOhShit...." That is super stressful.

      Actually, that was my main objection to the "Skip your periods!" type birth control when I first heard about it - that I wouldn't have monthly assurance it was working. It wasn't until I STARTED READING THIS BLOG that I realized what a misconception that was. (Thanks for clearing that up, Cliff!)

      Delete
    3. @Penny: I like having Pill-periods, just because I finally can predict them, almost to within the hour. I had a crazy-long cycle before of at least 35-36 days, and it drove me nuts because even with the aid of That Awesome Period Book, I didn't think it was supposed to be quite that long, and sometimes I'd think "Okay, it's probably gonna start today," put in a tampon, get through the whole day with nothing happening, decide I was off, then end up having to make a mad dash for the restroom 2 days later.

      The only thing that kept me from being as terrified as Mindy's poor friend was that I wasn't sexually active in my teens, so I knew it wasn't that, at least.

      Delete
    4. @pennygetslucky Actually, monthly bleeding with hormonal birth control is not a real period. More info here: http://contraception.about.com/od/prescriptionoptions/p/MissingPeriods.htm

      -EOO

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    5. @goth-is-not-emo

      I hear you on the crazy-long cycles.
      Until trying to get pregnant, I had no idea how long my cycles were, because my predictions generally went... hmm, I don't think I had a period the last calendar month, guess it's probably time, maybe I should buy some tampons. Lots of bloody undies because I usually got it it the middle of the night.
      42 days was my average when I started keeping track, ranging from 30 (once) to 71 days. Ugh.



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    6. I had three-to-five-month cycles back when I had cycles. That was great for the pregnancy panics.

      And nowadays I don't get periods at all (woo ridiculously high testosterone levels), which I don't mind one bit, but it means I'd have no idea if I was pregnant if I didn't test regularly.

      Delete
    7. I got the HIV vs sperm chart too! That was in the mid-90s in Ontario Catholic school. Our sex ed was:
      - Here is basic reproductive biology.
      - Clitoris? What's a clitoris?
      - Anyway, you should never have sex before you're married.
      - And even when you are married you shouldn't use birth control, because it's not safe and doesn't work. No, we're not going to give you any advice on using it effectively.
      - And don't even THINK about having an abortion or you'll DIE.

      When I did start having sex I knew there was a lot I didn't know, so I went to the public library, found the "Sex for Dummies" book and read it cover to cover. I was also completely paranoid about pregnancy - though oddly not about STIs - but at least I knew how to put a condom on and what a blow job was!

      Incidentally, the massive hypocrisy I witnessed around me when it came to sex was a big factor in my leaving my religion. If the pope could be so unbelievably wrong about something so important, what else was he wrong about?

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    8. @Kristin: I got the exact same thing. They were even still using the same "informational" pamphlets. One of them even said "You're probably thinking that having sex is the 'in' thing to do, and you'll feel left out if you don't. After all, it's the 80's!"

      I got that pamphlet in 2001. They didn't even update the decade in their intro paragraph!

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    9. Yep. I got the nothing makes you safter you will get pregnant and you will die and you will be at best, a pitiable victim of some boy or, at worst a slutty slutty slut who wasn't a proper woman because proper women don't like sex.

      As a cis het female with a pretty high sex drive.... that just made me feel awful all of the time. Didn't help that my church liked to talk about sex and masterbation with the teenagers. They didn't split us up by gender, but they did phrase it thusly:
      > Boys, don't masterbate.
      > Girls, don't let boys touch you.

      The only sex talk my parents ever had with me was when I was about 11-12, I caught my pet lizards doing it. And I finally was like... Mom, how does the sperm actually get near the egg? (because at that point I knew some of the science of development, but not how the sperm got there.) And she was like, "Well, the man...." and then she made the gesture where you make a loose fist with one hand and penetrate the open end with your opposite index finger. The end of sex ed from my parents, period.

      But I used to know my dad's AOL password, and I'd go in and change the parental settings when I got on, so I could go read scarletteen and stuff online (which I couldn't access under the kid settings). When my session was done I'd go change them back.

      But I totally didn't know the thing about high testosterone giving you irregular periods. I mean... I was vaguely aware of it in connection with PCOS, but not like, without an accompanying pathology. Other than when I was on the bc pill, I *never* had anything that even sort of resembled regular periods. a month, two months, 6 weeks, three weeks, 4 day period, 7 day period, 2 week period once which was really heavy and frankly really scary. And that's after I *finally* got my period when I was like, 14. Now I have a Mirena and don't get it at all, which is grrrreat.

      But I've always suspected I have high testosterone for a girl... extremely tomboyish to the point of what I think you'd probably call gender nonconforming, didn't correct people when they thought I was a boy and was pleased by it. (My Mom wouldn't let me cut my hair short until I was... like in 8th grade? She later told me it was because people already thought I was a boy so often. Nowadays I'm a grownup with a pixie haircut that I've had 10 years, all my adult life who is still naturally thin and muscular and builds muscle easily.

      But also... so called "third generation" bc pills, in which the progesterone analog is a testosterone antagonist (or competitor?) make me fucking insane. I feel like not at all myself. And I don't like the person I am. So called "second generation" pills in which the progesterone analog is something of a testosterone mimic, the kind most people wont' take because of the weight gain and the acne usually associated with... I always tolerated really well. Much better, actually. It still has weird emotional side effects but it was way better than the other.

      Delete
    10. "But I've always suspected I have high testosterone for a girl... extremely tomboyish to the point of what I think you'd probably call gender nonconforming, didn't correct people when they thought I was a boy and was pleased by it."

      I seriously doubt this has anything to do with testosterone levels. I was uncomfortable being called "girl" as a kid, I had some vague idea that I would grow up to become like daddy and freaked out when puberty hit and it couldn't be denied anymore that I was rather gonna become like mummy. Even as a grown-up I'm pleased if someone occasionally mistakes me for a man (the one and only girly thing I happen to like is make-up (of the gothy kind) - but I have no problem going without it either, and when I do, it has happened on a few occasions that someone thought I was a man).
      But I'm a pretty hairless person and never had acne, not even as a teen, so I seriously doubt I have much testosteron. I don't think you can figure out your hormonal levels by reflecting on your gender identity.

      "Builds muscle easily" sounds like it could be connected to testosterone, but not the rest.

      Delete
    11. Scientists aren't certain yet about what causes gender identity to form, or when it forms. Gender identity might have nothing to do with testosterone levels - there's been a couple of cases of people with CAIS having male gender identities, despite not being able to respond to testosterone.

      Delete
    12. For the record, the reason I said I have high testosterone is because I've had blood tests. :p

      Given how many people can be very feminine with tons of testosterone, and very masculine with very little, I'd say that gender--especially gender expressions as culture-bound as hair length preference--has very little to do with hormones.

      However, irregular periods, muscle growth, and PCOS are definitely all correlated with high testosterone.

      Delete
    13. @ Anonymous from Jan 10: Whoops, yeah, that's totally what I meant. I didn't realize that was the case until I read it in one of Cliff's archived posts.

      I also had no idea cycles could vary so much. I almost feel guilty for my 28-days-almost-like-clockwork, 2-days-of-misery & gone-by-the-weekend period. =/

      That said: once I can afford it, I'm totally getting on the Skip A Period Or Two Or Five type birth control.

      Delete
  18. D'aww. This pretty much summed up my sex ed in high school.

    I think you hit the nail on the head about why all the people I knew who got knocked up in high school were good-little-Christian-girls and all the "slutty girls"* were fine. The "slutty girls" got gossiped about because they had thrown off the slut-shaming, but also gotten on birth control, bought condoms, and got tested. The "good girls" were still having sex, but it's not really having sex if you don't buy condoms right? That'd be like admitting it.

    (*Please note, these are high school stereotypes/gossip categories/cliques, not my actual beliefs about these people.)

    I felt crushing amounts of guilt for my sexual activity in high school, and I didn't even actually have intercourse (barely tiptoed to 3rd base). But then I lost religion and guilt before uni and then had ALL THE SEX. And it was awesome. (And still is.) But also with so much paranoia about STDs and pregnancy. I've mostly gotten over the pregnancy one (my bc method makes my period irregular, which means either PANIC ALL THE TIME or decide it's not a big deal and just test from time to time routinely). But every time I have the slightest bit of too-tight-jeans itch, it's TOTALLY CHLAMYDIA or something, even if I'm monogamous and we were both tested first.

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  19. Completely agree with all of this post, Cliff, the comments have been a great read too...

    I grew up in a (happy) catholic family where abstinence until marriage was expected, & went to a private school & then a (fairly modern and progressive) convent school. We had the usual pamflets and fairly woolly talk about STDs, I already knew the facts of life having discussed it with my mum age about 4 or 5, thankfully, as the coverage of that was minimal!

    I lost my virginity at 17 to boyfriend I thought I was in love with (not sure I was actually, I think I more just WANTED to be in love) he had many faults which is why I broke it off a few months later, but he never pressured me, everything was at my pace, he always had and used condoms, & on one occasion when the condom burst, whisked me off to the Drs to get the morning after pill (you couldn't get it over the counter in those days)

    I was terrified re the morning after pill, but more about worrying my parents would find out, feeling torn between their principles & the life I wanted to lead - ie, sex! I was majorly horny! - and the growing realisation that the BF in question had a serious substance misuse problem, plus struggling with the idea of the pill killing a baby, and when does life start, and all that... Plus the morning after pill makes you feel utterly dire, which didn't help...

    Going into the family planning clinic for condoms etc as I did with a later boyfriend, was always a little scary - what if I was seen? etc - but never enough to stop me doing it...

    I remember panic about being found out that I was having sex, but not to the crippling degree described here, I was never driven to not using condoms or birthmcontrol or std testing etc. No idea HOW i managed that, given the catholic & convent school background!

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  20. So, I guess I'm a bit of an oddity here. I grew up knowing how sex worked since I was 8. My parents made sure I knew that it was okay... But, I guess I've been a bit of a prude despite this. I do get really embarrassed when talking about sex, despite having an awesome sex ed from church (OWL from a UU church) but... I have experienced the panics detailed in the comments. The bf and I went to a drugstore at 11 when getting a pregnancy test so nobody would see us. When I got tested for it at PP, I didn't tell my mother. The thought of even buying a vibrator at a drugstore fills me with embarrassment, and the thought of explaining anything kinky or revealing the extent of my sexual knowledge to my parents makes me feel like I'm about to die of embarrassment. So, even though my parents are good in theory, society still gets to me.
    Also, totally feel for everyone else paranoid about semen. We hadn't had sex for months when my scare came, but I knew it's still technically possible, right?

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  21. I think it might be a girl thing to think we're pregnant every time we have sex. I have ZERO shame about sex, was never taught shame, had all the information, but every so often (and maybe more often when I was in my early 20's), I think I'm pregnant. Even using a condom. Even now with an IUD. Even with and IUD and using condoms. Hell, part of me is scared I'm infertile because i never have been pregnant. And even though being a single mom wouldn't be my choice, or an ideal situation, I would TOTALLY welcome it. Pregnancy wouldn't ever be a punishment for me. Even at 18.

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    1. I agree to a point.

      You worry every time you have sex? I dunno, I worry about it sometimes (I actually fully had a stress dream I was pregnant last night) but I definitely think it's a natural part of having the anatomical ability to make babies that you worry about it sometimes, especially when you're very young (and/or very new to sex) and pregnancy would be an especially life-shattering thing.

      Delete
    2. I think it's more of a "I contain ovaries, fallopian tubes and a uterus, and a way for sperm to access these organs, and the possibility of becoming pregnant" thing than specifically a "girl" thing.

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    3. Interesting.

      I'm a girl (both anatomically and as a gender-identity) and I practically never worry about getting pregnant as long as I'm satisfied with the birth control I'm using. My current boyfriend is actually a lot more paranoid than I am.

      Delete
    4. Same here. Worrying about getting pregnant every time you have sex... it's a bit like worrying about dying every time you ride a car.

      Delete
    5. Hah! I actually often do worry about dying when I'm riding a car. (Not that I'm saying it's normal -- I have anxiety issues.)

      Just to clear things up, I wasn't implying it's not legitimate to have anxiety around getting pregnant (or dying in a car crash or anything else). I was taking issue with Becca's suggestion that it might be "a girl thing" to worry about getting pregnant every time you have sex, since in my experience, it has nothing to do with being a boy or a girl -- just with who you are as a person. (Although of course it would make sense if, statistically, women worried more than men about sex resulting in pregnancy, because it's their body that's involved.)

      Delete
  22. UGH, that poster. It would kinda-sorta make sense if Headless Girl was out gardening or rock climbing or dancing or some other nonsexual "cool" thing. Instead she's cocking her hips seductively and hooking her thumb through her belt loop. So the message is "it's super cool to be sexy but not have actual sex!"

    Also, you can never pee again.

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    1. "Also you can never pee again."

      My thoughts exactly. Or change your underwear.

      Delete
  23. I had unreasonable pregnancy paranoia as well. I started having sex at 18 and pretty much constantly thought I was pregnant for the next 10 years, until I was diagnosed with a fertility problem. Hearing that and getting used to not having a period for 2-3 months (or up to 6) put that fear out of my mind. Then I actually did get pregnant, and not on purpose, but by now I'm a grown-ass woman and somewhere along the line what seemed like my biggest fear ever had turned into the best news I've ever gotten. I'm still very happy it happened at 31 instead of 21, but I could have saved myself a lot of stress (and money on home tests) over the years if I hadn't freaked out every time I was a day late.

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  24. Are babies and diseases the only common ground in public education after all the different "perspectiives" on sex collide and cancel each other out?

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    1. I had a really strange sex education the year I went to Catholic school where neither babies nor diseases were mentioned. We were of course taught by a nun and it didn't actually mention sex. It was a bunch of stuff about valuing your body, making good choices, waiting until you were in a responsible marriage to do certain adult things, bible verse, bible verse. My sex ed classes in public school the year before were much more explicit. That school had the highest rate of pregnancies of the three high schools in my town. So actually they all cancel each other out completely.

      -EOO

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  25. my mom was very open with me reguarding sex. when i was little and my neighbor was pregnant, i asked why was she "getting fat". my mom gave me the abridged version, as well as showed me pictures from her nursing books. as time went on, she would answer any of my questions honestly. nothing was off limits. the only thing that she didn't know about was about gay relationships. when i had sex ed, she would send a letter to my teacher to correct her on certain items, as well as scold the school for sending in a rather frightning absinance only group.

    growing up, my mom was raised in a catholic household. sex was only for married people, and sluts were sinners. anytime she had any sort of question, she was either told to ask her older sister or yelled at for asking. when she became a nurse, she saw horrible things. women who had so many children that they couldn't take care of them, women forced by their families to have abortions, women who had illegal abortions which weren't done right, etc. the thing that scared her the most was that these women had no idea about sex ed. she didn't want to install into her children the negative things she learned, "impure thoughts will send you to hell. sex before marrige is a sin. when you are married, your husband controls your sexuality."

    as far as shame, yes i had it. it mostly came from having abusive bfs and being manipluated by them. add depression and low self esteem, and the shame just kept on coming. the only time i was ever shamed by others was after my second bf dumped me for another girl. all i got was "well, you were the one who wanted to be with a player. you got played and everyone knows it. it's your own fault, deal with it." that ended up driving me to attempt suicide.

    lucky for me, i had a group of friends. they were queer and i was the token hetrosexual. they taught me to love myself, to respect myself, to not see my self worth attached to anything but myself. i found that watching silly movies and painting my nails with my queer friends was better than any date i've ever been on. i sorted condoms with them for the local LGBTQ group, handed out rainbow ribbons on national coming out day, and talked frankly about sex.

    so, here i am now. no bf and i'm ok with that. not due to external pressure, but my own choice. had my tubes tied, because i know that i will never be able to give a child the love and support that it would need. i due take birth control pills for PCOS. if i deside to have sex, i'll grab some condoms. and the guy i have sex with will also bring condoms. that way, we can have lots of sex!!!

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  26. This was great, and really really true. I was lucky- not only was I informed, my parents were frank and matter of fact, so I never grew up with guilty worries (plus I'm from England, and I think perhaps our education system is less abstinencey). But my boyfriend went to a catholic school, and he still has feelings of guilty after sex.
    I'm also shocked by the number of friends who do not know their own bodies- ranging from "I don't know where my clit is", to "I know it's a thing, but not what", and most shockingly of all "what is a clitoris?". Bearing in mind my friends are ALL over 18. There's such a focus on avoiding bad consequences, that there's nothing on the positives.

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  27. OH MY GOD I just realized the poster image at the start of the post has a LOCK dangling in front of the woman's zipper. Jesus fucking Christ I don't know if they meant to invoke the "if lock is opened by many keys it's not a very good lock" argument but holy fuck did they.

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    1. I think it's just meant to imply that her pants are so very closed that she doesn't even pee. (Peeing is a gateway pants-removal activity.)

      I hate that "lock/key" argument so much, dammit, though. Allow me to rant in outline format!

      1. Why are vaginas the locks and penises the keys? Is the shape of your parts really going to be the determining factor here?

      2. Multi-keyed locks are great for many situations. My apartment building lock opens to many keys so that my roommates and neighbors and maintenance people can get in. If it only worked for one key it would be a much less useful lock.

      3. If keys that open multiple doors exist, then locks that can be opened by multiple keys mathematically have to exist. How can you blame them?

      4. If two people with vaginas touch each other's, um, locks, how shall we slut-shame them? HELP MY WHOLE METAPHOR IS BREAKING DOWN.

      Delete
    2. EXACTLY! It's the most stupid analogy EVER! Let me add a further piece of stupidity to your rant:

      5. So the difference between sluts and celibates aren't that they have different preferences or values, but that their genitals have different shapes?

      Delete
    3. "1. Why are vaginas the locks and penises the keys? Is the shape of your parts really going to be the determining factor here?"

      You see, a sharpener that can sharpen many pencils is a fine and useful thing. But a pencil that has been through too many sharpeners is short, useless, and should be thrown away.

      Then they go "But but but it's not like that" and you say "no, humans are not inanimate objects" and then you get into an argument that ends in you telling them to stop putting their dick in the damn door.

      Delete
    4. I LOVE your analogy. May I woo it home with me, give it chocolate and show it off to people?

      Delete
    5. Also, this implies that the physical function of the vagina is to prevent PIV.

      Delete
    6. "Also, this implies that the physical function of the vagina is to prevent PIV."

      Well, except with the One True Key. Which raises the question of who or what got to determine which lock and key should go together. In my naivite, I would grant that responsibility to the immediate owners of said tools to be worked out mutually; problem solved.

      The defenders of the analogy need to manufacture additional elements to make it coherent. Perhaps there could be a whole mythology in which, eons ago, the gods hid some magical treasures behind vulvas, and for each vulva there is a One True Penis that can properly unlock the treasure and restore it to the gods. Maybe someone should write about that.

      Another corollary of "locks and keys" is: If a key is "good" at opening locks which are in turn somehow "bad" for being opened by the key, then the key is being used in a criminal way; thus, men who sleep around are like criminals. Of course, this doesn't actually contradict the usual symbolism of the sexual double-standard, whereby both men and women who have lots of partners are being "bad boys" and "bad girls", but the badness of the men is more of a "good, sexy bad", and the badness of the women is only sometimes a good sexy bad. Urgh.

      Delete
  28. My first thought on seeing the lock was: WHOA chastity belt! Are we really OK with a modern day chastity belt being promoted as positive? And a throwback to a time when women's value was in their virginity and as property of men, first fathers then husbands? Gross.

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    1. Call the locksmith!


      ...Yeah, chastity belts are only good for Mel Brooks references.

      Delete
    2. Unfortunately I am pretty sure that there are a lot of people 9probably none here, but not insignificant in the general population) who would be okay with a throwback to a time when women's value was in their virginity.

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    3. or who don't really consider that a throwback.

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  29. Am I understanding that at 16 you went from nothing to sex without any steps in between?

    I was pretty much always promiscuous through my formative teenage years so I definitely relate to the whole "I'm a slut, and sluts get diseases, right?" fear. But I definitely didn't have it as extreme as you. I guess part of it was because I went a couple years with everything-but sex (oral, manual, etc) before "real" sex at 16, which kind of meant I didn't have quite the binary experience. Plus I definitely turned a bunch of people down who wanted to have sex with me, but just engaged in other acts instead (if 'someone wanting to fuck me' was the limiting factor for having sex, I would have been like 10. Luckily the limiting factor was 'someone I'd want to have sex with, who I've vetted the skill/chemistry of and is damn fucking attractive and also safe-sex-savvy' I'd advise that rule to any teenage girl)

    I always used condoms for intercourse but I didn't use them for oral sex. I was always worried I'd get an STI in my throat. Talk about embarassing! If you get a standard STI infection, only a doctor needs to know, but a sore throat is on display for everyone to see. One time I got strep throat at 16 and I damn near lost it.

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    1. Am I understanding that at 16 you went from nothing to sex without any steps in between?
      Well, what's "nothing" and what's "in between"? I mean, is kissing and cuddling "nothing"? Was I supposed to spend a couple years only having oral sex to qualify as "in between"?

      But, um, yes, at 16 I went from not having PIV to having PIV. Within a couple seconds, actually, if you want to narrow it down like that.

      Delete
    2. Lots of Americans seem to assume that oral sex is OBVIOUSLY "less" sex than PIV. Guess what? When and where I grew up, (nineties Sweden) everyone thought the opposite way. First you had PIV, and later on you could start doing more "advanced" stuff like oral.

      It's not an objective fact that oral is not sex or just a little bit of sex while PIV is real sex or lots of sex.

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    3. Cliff;

      Sorry it does get a bit muddy. Maybe let's say "nothing" was meant to say "Nothing partnered that is typically associated with orgasm" (So masturbation, kissing, cuddling is "nothing", but oral sex, using a toy on a partner or vice versa, anal sex, vaginal sex, etc are "something"). That's just how I conceive of it.

      I also didn't suggest that you were "supposed" to, in fact I later alluded to the fact that it's a poor decision from a health standpoint. I just meant that it made the experience of PIV much less... identity impacting for me. That's all.


      To Dvärghundspossen

      I'm not American. :)

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    4. Sorry, it came off a bit "you went straight from not having sex to having sex?", like, um... yes?

      Delete
    5. Gonorrhea of the throat (pharyngeal gonorrhea) is an increasing health problem, and some strains are drug-resistant. There was an article in the New Yorker about it recently. It doesn't necessarily cause any symptoms at all. It sometimes goes away without treatment, but you can't count on that. I *think* throat swabs are becoming more common as part of a full STI workup, but I don't actually know.

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  30. It's so odd, because as a theatre brat, I sort of just absorbed a whole bunch of sex knowledge without ever being really ~taught~ any of it. I knew sex was something adults did for fun (both hetero and homosexual sex) before I really made the connection that it also could produce babies.

    But right as I was around sexual maturity, two of my parents' friends died of AIDS, and another was diagnosed with HIV. These were people I'd known, had grown up with and liked, so yea, I got the scare thing, but I'm not sure it was... Well, it was a bad thing I suppose, but a reasonable bad thing if that makes sense? And it put me off having sex rather than me having sex and just not using protection or not getting tested.

    Then again, I have a low sex drive, so sex has rarely been this huge WANT for me. Even in my going-on-12 year relationship with my girlfriend, I'm perfectly happy with sex once a month or so.

    I had a point when I started typing this, but it has run away from me :/

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  31. This is a wonderful article and I want to make everyone read it immediately. Damn. It perfectly encapsulates what is wrong with the approach all too many people have been subjected to.

    Your experience, Cliff, is very, very, VERY much like my own.

    I had fair to poor sex ed in school, and none from my parents, but I did educate myself, under the theory that I would be having sex eventually and should probably know how that worked. And once I started kind of maybe WANTING to, I was quick to research how to go about doing so without getting pregnant or catching a disease. So I managed alone. But not everyone can or does, and nobody should HAVE to. It made me angry, going through school, seeing just how little people knew. It made me angry being the person people would come to when they needed condoms or needed to know if they could be pregnant, not because I was angry with them, I was always so so so happy to help, but because I was a STUDENT and they should not have had to go to ANOTHER STUDENT for information that should be provided by classes, counselors, nurses, parents . . . ANYONE but another student, because it could have BEEN any other student, and not someone comparatively knowledgeable like I was.

    There was more, here, about how the medical system also punishes people with uteruses/vaginas/etc. for being people with uteruses/vaginas/etc. but it's OT and super-bitter, so I will post it elsewhere. I'll just leave you with a round of applause.

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    1. I've sort of become that person, particularly for the younger girls/my-age guy friend, not because I've had that much experience but because I took the time to look up all the sciencey stuff about how our bodies and pleasure centers and infections and babies work.

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  32. I live in Canada and I think our sex ed was pretty good (it's been a long time though so it's hard to recall). They taught
    us a lot of good, practical information about birth control (pinch the tip of the condom when you're putting it on, hold the base of it when the guy pulls out, don't double-up on condoms because the layers can rub together and cause breakage, don't use an oil-based lube, etc. etc.). But, on the other hand, they made it sound like a dude could ejaculate in the next room and his sperm would somehow crawl across the floor, around the corner, and into my vagina.

    My now-ex bf got that same impression (and he's eleven years younger than I am...guess sex ed hasn't really changed). One time, I asked him about the first time he ever orgasmed, when he was 12 or so. He said his first thought was "Now I'm a danger to women." Twelve years old, masturbating all by himself, and having just experienced a whole new kind of pleasure, mind you, and that's the first thing he thinks. It makes me sad.

    Also, he wouldn't jerk off in the shower because he was terrified he'd leave semen residue in there and then somehow his sister would get knocked up.

    But the thing is...a person can get pregnant from sperm being near (but not shot directly into) their vagina. It's good that we teach kids to be careful. But on the other hand I think the constant low-level panic my sexually active friends and I were in was way over the top. There's got to be a middle ground. Perhaps showing kids actual statistics. If a teacher had said there's, say, a 2% chance of me getting pregnant if I masturbate with someone's semen on my fingers, I'd still have washed my hands before masturbating, just to be prudent...but after washing them I would've felt like "Okay, a did a good thing to keep myself safe, everything's probably fine now" instead of "BUT WHAT IF THAT WASN'T ENOUGH?!?!?" which was my general reaction from teachers having told me "You can get pregnant if you touch semen and then touch yourself! Beware! BEWAAAAARE!!!!!"

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  33. As a graphic design student who is actually writing my final year thesis on how sex is communicated in the healthcare system, schools and media, I have so much hate towards this campaign.

    As a graphic designer, I will rant so:

    1) This poster makes no sense in it's communication. It's trying to use the metaphor of mosquitos/insects spreading disease, but the phrasing implies that it is the *flies of your jeans* that do the infecting, not the contents of them. So does this imply that any clothing with flies can cause/lead to infection? Ok, I'll wear a miniskirt. You know, the ones that are so short that you don't even need to lift them to access my vagina. Then I won't spread diseases, right? Because it's the *flies* that do it!
    2) Oh Sweet Deity, the typography! Is that splattered-blood effect meant to represent your dirty broken hymen blood leaking through a conveniently placed stencil? That's what you get for being a slut- you WRITE YOUR OWN DEATH SENTENCE OUT WITH YOUR TAINTED WHORE'S EFFLUENT.
    3) Bad photoshop makes me vomit.
    4) They've fallen into that classic trap of 'We Need To Make This Woman Look Hideously Infected And Ill To Make Our Point So Lets Use a Healthy Looking Very Normatively Attractive Supermodel." If you're trying to make people terrified of disease, you can't make it look glamorous.
    5) On that point, her pose is inherently sexual- hips angled forward, one hand placed very near crotch with thumb hanging through her belt loop, one hand on her hip with her fingers skimming her butox. Surely if you want to discourage sex, you don't make it...sexually appealing?
    6) I take it there is a male equivalent where there is a male pelvis with a padlock on it! Right? No? How shocking.

    If you're going to promote a shameful, hateful, damaging way to look at the world, at least get the graphic communication right!

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    1. Haha, I love this comment.

      Also:

      7) From a distance, it reads "DISEASES ZIPPED." With low contrast, it reads "FLIES SPREAD SO KEEP YOURS." I hate it when posters make the text alternate sizes and colors without thinking about what the highlighted parts spell out.

      8) How hard is it to take a photo of someone with an actual padlock on her actual pants? That way you wouldn't need to Photoshop a padlock just sort of hovering from uncertain attachment points.

      9) Speaking of uncertain attachment points, how exactly would that padlock keep her pants closed? It looks like it's hanging from a belt loop or maybe the top buttonhole. That's not much of an impediment.

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  34. Cliff, don't even get me started on bad typographic choices made in posters. And I love the idea of "Flies spread so keep yours" being some sort of campaign to encourage teens to be possessive of their pet insects.

    It wouldn't be difficult to take the photo, but it would be hella more effort and money than this campaign can be bothered to spend. You would need:
    1 model (cost $100-1,000, depending on how strong her portfolio was. I'm guessing the woman above is around the $500 mark).
    1 photographer (again, $200-1,000, depending on how big their portfolio was)
    1 PROFICIENT graphic designer ($300-2,000 depending on age and experience).

    So at the low end, it's $500 for inexperienced people prone to making mistakes and taking a really long time (no dissin', but we do all have to start somewhere). At the high end, it's $4,000 for experienced professionals who can churn out kick-ass work in 3 days.

    Also, YES. WHERE IS THAT PADLOCK HANGING FROM?

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  35. Eh, I dunno about that. For something with the high editorial standards of "CoolVirginity.com," I think an amateur snapshot of one of your volunteers posing would probably be fine. It would still need to be competently Photoshopped, though.

    ...And now that I look at that site, they're displaying probably-stolen stock photography with weird distorted aspect ratios, so a snapshot would be a major step up.

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    1. Haha, enjoy absolutely everything about this image: http://coolvirginity.com/images/guncon.jpg

      (is it mean to try and make a design student's head explode?)

      Delete
  36. *DESIGN STUDENT'S HEAD EXPLODES*

    Also, they must REALLY not know how to use a condom if they are finding they're splitting 50% of the time.

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    Replies
    1. Or they last encountered condoms in the 1950's or something. They've gotten more reliable over the years.

      Delete
  37. Unless they're not actually wearing them on their penises....

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    Replies
    1. Even then. See, e.g., http://www.realadultsex.com/content/hnt-figleaf-wearing-condom

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  38. I used to have a lot of anxiety surrounding testing because of all the "STIs are a punishment for being slutty, you stupid slut" messages floating around. The result was that I put off testing longer than I should have. Now I'm non-monogamous and get tested every six months like clockwork, but it still stresses me out. Luckily the staff at my local Planned Parenthood are so nice and so respectful about my being in an open relationship and so supportive that I don't dread it as much as I used to. I still don't like it because I hate needles and am a hypochondriac (again, largely due to the STI as punishment mentality and social stigma), but at least now it's bearable and only a minor source of anxiety. But it still makes me angry when I think about how much less freaked out about all this I could be if sexually transmitted diseases and infections were treated like every other health problem. I mean, I have a family history of breast cancer, but breast self exams don't give me panic attacks. Meanwhile yeast infections freak me out so much even though they are really not a big deal, just because they happen to occur in my vagina. Gah!

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  39. Here's the problem I'm having... My daughter is 16, she's sexually active, very responsible and I'm generally OK with it. But the boy she likes is actually the MAN she likes. He's 30.
    How do I tell her "It's OK to have sex, it's natural, it's normal, but only with people your own age."?
    When the goal ISN'T a relationship... When it's just sex, and I don't necessarily want to stop her from having sex for the sake of sex... That's part of life. What ground do I have to stand on when it comes to age?
    I mean, I know it's creepy... But how do I convince her that it's creepy. How do I police this, without losing my relationship with my daughter?

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    1. I don't know, but... ask Captain Awkward?

      Delete
    2. Shit. I think the most important thing is to make sure she uses birth control and condoms. Because it's hard getting other people out of a relationship, it's even harder when you're the parent of a teenager, and although I agree this is creep-tastic, I don't know if I can give you any advice how to do that. But do your best to make sure that when the relationship has run its course, she can get out without lingering problems.

      I think it would also be good to (and I realize this is a tricky line to walk) have a talk with her about signs of manipulation, objectification, and disregard for consent--without implying that the older guy does these things. Just, y'know, in case she ever runs into a partner who does. Hopefully if she needs to, she'll put the pieces together herself.

      Finally, depending on where you are, this may be illegal, so you've always got calling the cops as a trump card. It almost certainly will ruin your relationship with your daughter, she'll see it (at least at first) as a very hurtful betrayal, but if things ever get to the point where he's obviously harming her or planning to control her long-term, it's an option.

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  40. My mother did a fantastic job of raising a sex positive daughter. I had a copy of our bodies ourselves, and was told that masturbation was a GOOD THING. Heck, my mother even bought me the least phallic vibrator ever for my 15th birthday. I never asked, but wtf? did she think her 15 yo daughter was going to use it as a back massager?

    And yet... When I first had sex I came home and told my mother matter-of-factly. And asked to be taken to Planned Parenthood for the pill. (Um, so I had this thing about the phone... and would go to great lengths to get other people to make calls for me.) She freaked out. Because I wasn't 'in love'. And here I thought I was being pragmatic. She ultimately demanded that I tell my father (they were divorced) if I wanted to go on the pill. Which I was too humiliated to do (especially after she'd just defied every expectation she'd cultivated about how she would react!).

    I continued having (awful) sex with condoms. (Which I had planned on continuing to use anyway.) I didn't get pregnant. Looking back, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been halfway through the first sentence of telling my father before he would be on the phone making an appointment just so he didn't have to hear the rest.

    I got my first HIV test at 16 also - and took two friends. That was available walk-in and anonymously. I sweated the results even though I had no good reason to suspect risk.

    But I still look back at the whole thing and see the WTF gif. My mother claimed she was trying to make a moral point: she didn't approve of sex outside of a loving relationship, so she wouldn't help me get on the pill. Even though I was telling her, point blank, that I was already having sex and intended to continue either way.

    (My parents were raised mildly religious but are both somewhere between agnostic and atheist. I still can't figure out what her thought process was on this.)

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  41. The super-religious abstinence stuff actually did work on me (virgin to this day), but the end result was an unbelievable repression of my sexuality and years and years and YEARS of shame and guilt and misery because I discovered masturbation early. And don't even get me started on how broken and awful I felt about what I did not, at the time, know was a bondage fetish, because I'd never heard of bondage *or* fetishes. I discovered both of these things when I was, like, five or six, max. I didn't know what I was doing, but I knew on a very deep level that it was "wrong" and unChristian and not something good girls did. According to the ideology within which I was raised, anyway. Looking back, I just can't *believe* how much agony I suffered over something that, as it turns out, is perfectly natural and normal and, in fact, rather tame compared to the sexual adventures of others! And the worst thing is, I still freak out over it sometimes (even though I'm not the slightest bit religious anymore) because I like ponies and pretty colors and playing the flute, and the way bondage is presented in mainstream media just... seriously clashes with my sense of self. So yeah. The way we deal with sexuality in our culture is messing people up from early childhood on and it seriously needs to change. Ignorance never helped me.

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    1. Sadly, I know what you mean there. I had pretty much the same experience, though in my case it was a bit ironic. My parents have always been fairly open about sex, but we live in a fairly religious area so all of my friends were actually the ones who made me feel bad about everything. I got to hear such things as how women could only orgasm so many times and then you just wouldn't be able to anymore, and how that somehow didn't matter after you got married, and don't dare do anything with yourself or you'll stretch out your vagina, so on and so forth.

      The only reason I started feeling more comfortable with myself is that at 14 I started dating someone with an unsure gender identity who wrote BDSM porn and occasionally cross dressed in public. Somehow my parents were okay with this (though admittedly they didn't know all those details). That along with a change in friends helped a lot, and I can't imagine how I would have managed without that. It was horrible feeling so guilty, and it shouldn't be like that.

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  42. "and, in fact, rather tame compared to the sexual adventures of others!" - wtf no 'blockquote' tags? Ugh, stone age tech..

    Pretty sure that defines almost every kink, short of BDSM, and some things illegal, that people do all the time, but pretend they don't. I read a fun little book a while back called Sex at Dawn, which listed everything from, "This tribe thinks that babies can only grow with a sufficient supply of semen, so have sex as often, and with as many partners at they can, throughout the pregnancy", or the somewhat tamer, "This other one, before a hunt, has all the women decide which guys each of them will sleep with, and then tell their picks, 'You won't get any, if you don't come back with something!', to which the guys answer is to get together, after the hunt, and divy up the catches, so everyone gets layed that night.", to the even more tame, "Marriage in this tribe amounts to deciding you like someone enough to hang your own hammock in the same shelter, and divorce happens by simply taking it down.", and so on. The only thing our "culture", and things like the abstinence stuff proves is that, like everything else, we can adapt our behavior to almost anything, within some limits, even if that means lying to ourselves about how "someone else" is actually managing to follow the idiocy we invented, but a) some things you can't change, and b) there isn't a psychologist, sex expert, or, **especially** priest in the western world that has the slightest damn clue what actually is "normal behavior", and which things are a mish mash of false fears, distrust, projection, culture induced ideas of property ownership (i.e., the person I sleep with is mine, *period*), and who knows what else, all, very little, or maybe even none of which is actually "normal".

    Yeah, I don't doubt that, frankly, a lot of stuff we get fed to us "would" qualify as trauma, if the definitions of "normal" wasn't what it was.

    Not to say that natural variation doesn't happen, but.. its really hard to pin that down, when your in a culture which either pushes you towards, or away, from a behavior, and sometimes at the same time, while some other culture, like the weird one where fathers build their teen daughter a hut to have visitors in, in private, then pretend, really hard, that they have no idea what else, other than talking, is actually going on there, where there isn't the same pressures, or the same male centric dynamic we find in a lot of the rest of the world.

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  43. I know I'm the minority, but I came to my own conclusion about whether or not I wanted to have Sex before I was married - no one ever told me - and my answer was no. I found a guy who felt the same way. We lost our virginity on our wedding night. Have been married for almost 9 years (2005) and have a 5 year old son.

    Sex doesn't have to be so complicated. It's a wonderful thing that should be wonderful.

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  44. Yes! This! So much this! As a Christian it really makes me sad and frustrated how other Chrisians let kids get SO ignorant and misinformed and screwed up in the name of protecting their virginity till marriage. I tried abstinence (of my own volition, no pressure from friends or family, they were surprisingly chill about the subject) and it didn't always work, so I realize that even if the kid themself wants to do it STUFF STILL HAPPENS AND YOU HAVE TO BE PREPARED! No big deal!

    I was lucky to have sex ed in my elementary and high school, and a pretty good one at that, all things considered. My little sister went to that same high school 12 years after I did, and they had removed the sex ed program. When I found that out I just couldn't believe it. And this wasn't even a religious school. She had to learn stuff on her own on the internet (thankfully through better means than porn). I'm definitely gonna make sure my kids learn all this stuff and more as soon as it's age appropriate for them and start talking about sex in general early to teach them that it's just part of life and nothing to be ashamed of.

    Your blog is awesome :D I'm gonna show it to my kids one day :D

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  45. A friend of mine posted a link to her facebook earlier today from your blog talking about a talk you had in chicago. I loved that post and shared it to my facebook, and then started reading my way backwards from there. As I got to this post, I shouted out to my husband for like the fifth time in less than an hour: "I love this woman!" To which he replied: "Well okay, but you said she was in a relationship." I laughed: "Yes, but she's poly!" He had a RARE moment in which he couldn't immediately comeback with something funny or snarky. "Okay, you got me there." LOL!
    FYI, I'm reading bits of your blog to him as I go, and he - like me - largely agrees with everything I've read out loud :-) Thank you for having an awesome blog.

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  46. OH! And when it comes to sex ed, I have often thought that there SHOULD be classes that teens could take. Not just: "This is what sex is and this is the consequences of having sex," but REAL sexual education. "This is a class for teens interested in learning about sex and eventually having GOOD enjoyable consensual sex. In this class, we will take the time to explore oral sex, orgasm, erotic touch, and basically everything but penetration. Once you are done with this class, you should have a good idea of what you like, what you don't, and how to communicate these things with your chosen partners."
    Hell! That's a class that I'd like to take now, lol! (I'm 34 :-) )

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