Friday, June 29, 2007

Teen girls in South Africa teaching soccer

The Washington Post is devoting some of their space to a group of teenage girls to blog about their experience in Africa. Here's the intro:

What happens when 11 Washington area high school girls, the picture of health and privilege, travel 8,000 miles to South Africa to teach soccer to girls their own age, all of whom know the downward drag of poverty and many of whom will be infected with AIDS or are living with someone who is? What happens when they sit around a fire and talk about self-image and sexuality with girls more open to those conversations than they are?

It's a pretty interesting read.

(And don't miss the second in the condom commercial series just below this post!)

Daily Condom Commercial #8

The second out of three! See below for the previous one...and come back on Monday for the grand finale!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Daily Condom Commercial #7

This is the first in a series, folks, so come back tomorrow for the girl's perspective!

On abstinence and sex education

Here is a question from a regular reader:

"What role do you think the choice of abstinence should play in sexuality education?"

Well, I think it's critical. All teenagers must know, absolutely, that the choice to have sexual intercourse is first and foremost theirs to make about their own body. And making the decision to not have intercourse is often a wise one, given just the physical issues involved with sexual intercourse. To elaborate, it is often useful to ask teenagers what their goal is with having intercourse. If it is sexual pleasure, there are many ways to achieve that without intercourse. If it is physical and emotional closeness with their partner, there are many ways to achieve that without intercourse. If they feel pressured, well, that's a huge red flag (see above). If they want to get pregnant, well, they probably need more experience with babies, and they should get a job or volunteer at a daycare center to get a sense of what babies are really like.

But the critical thing about all of this is that these pieces of information can't just be thrown at the teenagers - they need to come to these realizations on their own. It's hard as a parent, educator, friend, to let them do this. But it's the way that has the largest impact on them. And they can and will, through some good conversation with adults where the adults are primarily listening and asking the occasional question, come to those realizations.

On Increasing Blog Traffic

I am generally trying to increase my blog traffic, and as part of that I am linking to Technorati. This has everything to do with their little bots climbing around my site. If you're interested, you can click on the link and see my Technorati profile. Here's that link:

Technorati Profile

Now there is also another button at the bottom of my posts. You can click it and it recommends my blog to the Technorati community, much like the Sk*rt This link does for the Sk*rt community.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What's up with the Sk*rt This link?

You may have noticed the new Sk*rt This link that is now at the bottom of all of my blog posts. Sk*rt is a social networking site devoted to women. By clicking on this link, you have the option of recommending the blog post to Sk*rt readers. (Yes, you can do this even if you're a man.) Sk*rt readers will see your recommendation, and hopefully come read my blog. It's a great way for me to get new readers on my blog, so please recommend any post you find worthy!

Daily Condom Commerical #6

This one is, of course, French. It promotes condoms as being conducive to physical pleasure.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

When girls lose their voice

There has been much discussion of girls' loss of voice during the middle school years. Girls go from being forward and vocal about their opinions and their knowledge to being quite and shy, particularly around boys. The recommendations about what to do as a parent or educator in the face of a girl in such a situation are, by and large, what you would expect. Praise her for academic and extracurricular achievements. Encourage her to have one or two friends and not worry about the popularity contest at school. I find these suggestions to be weak in their ability to reach girls who have already begun to lose their voice.

So what to do? I think being honest is the first step. Verbalize what changes you're seeing in your girl, and remind her that it doesn't have to be this way. Here are some examples:

"You are very quiet in science class this semester. I miss your contributions to the class because they were insightful and helped the other students understand better. I know you still have those contributions inside, I see them in your eyes during class, and I would love to hear them in class again. I know the other students would learn a lot from them too."

"I have noted that the way you talk around your friends is changing, particularly the boys. You don't argue with them or state your point of view like you used to, or like you still do with your girl friends. But you can argue with them. You can let them know who you are and what you like or don't like. Otherwise you're not really giving them a chance to see the real you and be friends with the real you."

Then ask your girl how she feels about it. And listen to her talk. Encourage her to talk. Make sure that in every conversation she talks twice as much as you do. It may be painful for a while - lots of silence, because she's not talking and you can't fill that silence for her. But the only way for her to find her voice again may be for someone to give her space to hear her silence first.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Discipline

Yesterday a father asked me about discipline. He was grappling with the realization that interfacing with his almost teenage son about sex education will be very different than previous interactions on other issues. Notably, this father came to the realization that talks about sex and related issues should not involve discipline. It should involve a lot of patience, a lot of talking, and even more listening.

I might not have thought to phrase the issue in such terms - but I am pleased that he did, because it is an important point. Pre-teens and teenagers will make their own decisions about their sexual relationships, and discipline - punishment - can only go a little way towards influencing them. More often than not discipline will influence teenagers' sexual choices in the opposite direction from parents' intentions. Conversations which are mostly comprised of the teenager talking and the parent asking key questions occasionally are what really have the power to influence teens' choices.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Daily Condom Commercial #5

As an added bonus, this one has visual puns. How many can you find?

Frankenboobs

Today, a story from Scarleteen, titled Frankenboobs, by Audra Williams:

"I don't know," grinned my friend Amanda,"I think you've got a half decent chest."

Hmph. Half decent indeed. I was about 14 I started to realize that only one of my breasts was developing. That's weird, I thought. Oh well, puberty is weird, bodies are weird, it will all work out eventually. I was about 17 when I realized it probably wouldn't. Damn. Somehow I had ended up with one D cup breast and one A cup breast. Imagine, if you will: at this point I am a dancer. I am a teenage girl. I am sexually active. I am utterly mortified. Sort of.

You know, the weird thing is, in retrospect I can't really remember it being that great a source of strife. I don't know if it was because of the fact that there were always plenty of shoulder pads around (since even in the early 90s I knew that I didn't want padded shoulders and tore them out of all my clothes), if it was because the boy I was dating was a tortured arteeste type who probably thought it was very avant garde to have a monoboobed girlfriend, or if it was just because I hung out with the neatest most supportive bunch of people on the planet. It just didn't seem that big a deal. Probably because it was a gradual development (and lack thereof), as opposed to a sudden loss. It was a hassle, though.

I didn't go swimming for years, despite the constant nagging from certain insensitive people. I had a tough time finding a leotard under which I could wear a bra, and it was hard to find a comfortable way of sleeping. Covering up the difference, however, just became a routine. Wake up. Realize you have 14 minutes to get to school. Look on floor for clothes. Look on floor for bra. Look on floor for the 2 shoulder pads wrapped in panty hose that have become your left breast. Put them all on and fly out the door with grubby hair and a lot of lipstick. That was me, 5 mornings a week, for 4 years. Eventually I just started to wear a bra all the time, and it became as though that was my body, as though that was me, naked. On the rare occasions that I was without clothing (like in the shower, or other times I won't go into because my dad will read this) I sort of didn't pay attention to my chest, the same way I ignore my lips if they are bare. It didn't really occur to me that it would ever be any different. I always had bigger fish to fry, and I figured that if someone was going to see me without clothing, that person had better like me enough not to care.

There were also some fun bonuses to my asymmetrical state. When I was in high school I volunteered at the local AIDS Committee, and wore a red ribbon everyday. My wonderful friend Mike and I used to perform the following exchange to alarm substitute teachers:

Me: Hey Mike, I just dropped my red ribbon. Could you grab it for me? It is under your desk.
Mike: Sure thing. Here ya go.
Me: Arg. I've totally got my hands full. Could you just pin it on me?
Mike: No problem. (at which point he would appear to be obligingly plunging the pin deep into my chest.)
Me: (Very bored sounding) Ummm, ow?
Mike: Geez! Sorry. (Then he'd pull the pin out slowly, and re-pin it on me properly).
Me: Thanks!

It never failed to startle. Then there was the time I was at a party and a really annoying Morrissey wannabe guy was consistently groping me, within 10 feet of his alleged girlfriend. The look on his face was priceless when I glared at him, yanked out my home-made boob, handed it to him and suggested that he take it elsewhere and leave me alone.

When I was almost 20, I started to get fed up with the situation. I began to feel off kilter all the time, and annoyed that certain clothes never hung right on me. I hated having constantly to wear unsexy underwear in favour of stretched out training bras which seemed to offer Maximum Stuffage Realism. I decided to see if there was some way I could be even chested.

I went to speak to my doctor about it, and I was part way through my explanation when she cut in with "Everyone has one breast a little larger than the other, you know." Well, of course I knew that. Had I not read countless advice columns in YM Magazine? Yes I had. "Can I just... show you?" I asked, wondering how I could have phrased that to sound less like a proposition. When I did, she did a bit of a double take. "Oh," she said "I see what you mean." I smiled patronizingly. We talked about plastic surgeons. Oddly enough, my friend Mike's father is a plastic surgeon, but imagining future meals around the Pierson dinner table, I opted against having this man revamp my boobs. I chose a local (Oshawa) female plastic surgeon and was put on a very long waiting list. When I finally got to see her, I asked if she could just reduce the larger breast to the size of the smaller, and I could just be tiny. She didn't feel this was an option, because of all the scarring involved in taking a breast down 4 cup sizes.

Heavens. That meant that we were talking implants. Well, implant, anyway. This was an entirely different ball game. What about leakage? What about Pamela Anderson? What about my feminism? We sat down and she talked to me about the fact that implants were now made of salt water, not silicone. This meant that if it did leak I would just pee it out. Huh. Also, it would be a natural small shape, not gargantuan orbs. I knew I didn't want both breasts as large as the larger one, so I decided to strive for an even B cup. I was told that I would be able to breast feed out of the enlarged one, but not the reduced one. I had visions of my breasts turning into salt water taffy if over manipulated. I put the image out of my mind and agreed to the procedure. Yay! I went back to Windsor (where I was going to glorious St. Clair College) and imagined coming home after Christmas with a huge collection of foxy bras. I told no one except my roommates.

About a week before I was supposed to go back to Oshawa for Christmas and the surgery ("What did YOU get for Christmas, Audra?" "THESE!") I called the plastic surgeon's office, just to make sure all was well. Yikes. It seemed that OHIP had agreed to cover the enlargement of my left breast, but not the reduction of the right. OH super. As I did during at all instances of stress at that time, I called the increasingly famous Mike. He wasn't home, so I spoke with his very cool mom. "Don't worry!" she said, "You'll get your surgery even if Don [Mike's father] has to do it on the pool table in the basement!"

I-yi-yi.

It eventually did get all cleared up, thanks both to Dr. Pierson and my own plastic surgeon (who's name escapes me, strangely). I was on my way to symmetry! Around about this time I thought I ought to tell my dad and stepmom and mom what was about to happen. They were surprised, because I'd said nothing, but supportive (heh heh) all the same. Actually, until recently, visiting me in the hospital was the last time my mom and dad were in the same room, I think. Anyhow, bla bla bla preparation, December 11th was The Day. B-Day, so to speak. I didn't sleep at all the night before because the jerky arteeste (now ex)boyfriend mentioned above had taken pictures of me before hand, a la the ultimate Before and After shot, and we were going to collaborate on something when the whole thing was through. Well, he called me to tell me that he had used film that his girlfriend had stolen from the dollar store where she worked, and quel surprise, the pictures hadn't worked out. So I spent the entire night awake and mad. If you ever meet someone named Clint Griffin, kick him for me.

At any rate, the next morning, I was all a bundle of nerves and exhausted incoherence, standing in front of my closet, trying to decide what to wear to the hospital. I settled on a sort of "June Cleaver Summer Picnic" dress, took out my 6 earrings and picked off the last of my nail polish (both of which were not allowed in the operating room) and we set off for the hospital. My fashion crisis was perhaps fruitless, because as soon as I got in the pre-op part of the building, I had to strip down and put on a fetching little hospital robe. I took off my bra and quickly wrapped it around the shoulder pad and pantyhose 'breast', without it really registering this was the last time I would have to do this. Everything seemed sort of a few layers removed from reality. I had never been under anesthetic before! I had never been cut open before! They were gonna remove my nipple and re-attach it!

This was way worse than the pre-haircut jitters I always got in the salon waiting room.

I was wheeled into the operating room, and drawn on by the nice woman who was now in charge of my bosomy beauty. She said "So we'll cut here [she draws a circle around my nipple] and here [a line under each breast, one to take stuff out, one to put stuff in] and stitch you all up as good as new." They put a mask over my mouth and nose and tell me to take deep breaths. I felt like I was suffocating and start to freak out. That is the last thing I remember.

Then I was foggy headed and I going to throw up. This I know for certain. The nurse pushing me down the hallway on a stretcher and asked "Did you have a breast reduction or enlargement?" "Both," I answered. She clucked her tongue like "Hoo boy, they overmedicated this one!" but didn't say anything else. I was taken to my room, where my family (except for my probably mortified teenage brother) were waiting. I'm sure I was a charming hostess, stitched up, plastic tubes draining blood from my incisions, and throwing up. Oh, the sheer glamour of it all. I get some sleep, wake up in the middle of the night and drag my IV to the washroom to pee, where even though I have been told not to, I peek in the bandages. I have what a friend will later dub FrankenBoobs, but they more or less match. Wow. I have 2 breasts the same size, and they are both attached to me. This is beyond exciting.

The implant feels sort of sloshy, and the reduced boob is bruised and cut up, but I think it looks so cool. The next day I go home, where I am not allowed to get my chest wet for 3 weeks.

It is probably a weird thing for people when their daughter is getting breast reconstructive surgery. My doting father and stepmother ask how I am a lot, but we didn't really talk about what had happened until my friend Trevor came to visit, bursting in the room with "SO! How're your tits?" Gay men can get away with this stuff, you don't even want to kill them. I laughed and laughed. They were just great, thanks!

My first trip out, after lurking around the house for 3 weeks was to The Bar, Whitby's creatively named gay bar. Upon entering I was descended upon by a drag queen who shrieked my name and whirled me around in a bear hug, until he realized that I, too, am squealing but in agony. "New boobs" explained Trevor. They both nodded wisely. I had a fun evening. I was the talk of the town.

By the time I went back to Windsor, after having my stitches out, I was feeling quite pleased with myself. I am in love with my naked body. I have cartoon boobs. They are funny and perfect and perky and very very scarred. I went on the hugest bra buying binge since my roommate Summer forgot to take her Lithium. I bought push up bras and corsets and all kind of cool shit. I am, it seems, a 34 B. Who knew? I attended an art opening in a velvet bustier and tiny sweater, and when anyone ogled me I would stand up straighter and say "Your tax dollars at work." I went home one night after an evening at the Eclectic Cafe, having spilled tea on myself. "OH my GOD!" my mother-hen roommate, Theresa, screams. "Audra sprung a LEAK!!" I wondered if having a implant-boob may be as much a novelty as having a stuffing-boob.

Actually, it is a lot more fun. It has been almost 4 years since the surgery, and it is tough to remember the body I used to have. I now wear what ever I like, and as little as I like. I rarely feel self conscious about my naked body like a lot of women do. As a matter of fact I'm quite pleased with it. After ignoring my breasts for so long, I now look at them and feel them often. You can tell which is fake, but who cares? I sure don't. I can wear leotards and v-neck shirts and bathing suits with glee. I lounge around undressed longer than I have to, and my collection of fancy underwear is only going to expand from here. I wouldn't have done it if it cost money and I wouldn't have done it for a boy, but I'm glad it happened the way it did.

For free and for me.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Daily condom commercial #4

This one's from Nairobi. Other countries have the best condom commercials!

Why the Trojan condom commercial is emblematic of abstinence-only sex education

Jill Filipovic wrote for the Huffington Post on why the CBS and Fox executives might have decided not to run the new Trojan ad. I really recommend you read the piece in its entirety, but here's the first and last bits, to get you really interested:
According to a Fox executive, "Contraceptive advertising must stress health-related uses rather than the prevention of pregnancy." One has to wonder where this executive got the idea that pregnancy is not a health-related issue (maybe he sat in on a few too many Bush-funded abstinence-only education classes). While the executive may appear to simply lack a rudimentary understanding of pregnancy, it's more likely that he is bowing to demands of the "moral majority" in the United States -- a vocal and powerful political force that claims to be pro-life and pro-family, but doesn't actually believe in preventing unwanted pregnancy.
...
The vast majority of American women will use contraception at some point in their lives. People of both sexes want to plan their families. Self-determination is a desire that crosses all party lines and ideologies. All of this makes it even more fascinating when a fairly quotidian advertisement makes waves because it attempts to sell condoms, while few of us so much as bat an eyelash at the constant stream of highly sexualized images we see on television every day.

While Fox executives are comfortable airing an ad of Paris Hilton in a bathing suit soaping herself up to sell hamburgers, they refuse an ad that promotes condom use for pregnancy and disease prevention. It's an interesting twist on the old advertising adage -- Sex sells, just don't try to sell safer sex.

So here's the thing: we must start serious sex education in our country. Our teen pregnancy and STD/STI transmission rates are abysmal when compared to other industrialized countries. Really, it's just embarrassing. Its been shown often enough that abstinence-only-until-marriage either has no effect or has a negative effect on adolescent sexuality. I continue to be amazed that in the fact of the high need of our teenagers and the high impact of a relatively simple solution (comprehensive sex education) our country continues to do nothing.

So rebel! Go tell all the teenagers you know about safe sex! E-mail them a condom commercial! Send them to a website designed to be really informative! Hand out condoms outside your local high school (be sure to do it just off of school grounds)! Volunteer at Planned Parenthood! Call your Senators and Representatives to say you are firmly in favor of comprehensive sex education, that safe sex must be taught in our schools! Sign the petition to have CBS and Fox air condom commercials! You can have an effect on individuals and on our country as a whole.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Daily Condom Commercial #3

Particularly effective for teenage boys.

We've actually come a long way

This post by Ethan Persoff is making it's way around the blogs this week. It's a scanned comic book from Planned Parenthood from the 1950's-1960's. Reading through it is pretty amazing - I highly recommend that you take a look for yourself.

The comic tells the story of a couple who have been married for 4 years and have 3 children (ages 3, 2, and 10 months!). They have tried several kinds of "birth control" and the wife is getting sick and unable to care well for her three children. She stops having sex with her husband because she's so freaked by the idea of getting pregnant again. He is so worried that he is careless at work and sticks his hand into a machine. Luckily it's just a scratch. However, the accident brings the husband to a doctor who asks why he was so careless and the husband opens ups about his wife's fear of another pregnancy (the husband, it seems, is only worried about the withholding of sex, not more children). The doctor recommends birth control and a trip to Planned Parenthood. The wife is very nervous that birth control will stop the couple from having children in the future (she still wants more children?!?), but is put at ease by the female doctor at Planned Parenthood. She starts having sex again and six months later is happily having sex with her husband, but is happily not pregnant. She determines to tell her married and soon-to-be-married friends about the wonders of birth control and the ability to plan your family (while still satisfying your husband).

I find this to be a relatively hopeful piece from history. The amazing thing here is just how much mainstream attitudes about birth control have changed over the past 50 years. While it may be that abstinence-only education currently reigns supreme in schools, most teenagers and adults do have some knowledge of birth control - that it doesn't permanently affect your ability to have children, that there's a healthy option for everyone, and that it's legitimate for married couples. Hopefully birth control will be as acceptable for non-married couples as well before another 50 years pass.

In that vein - keep sending your friends and family, both teens and adults, to the condom ads I'm posting. They just keep getting better!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Trojan commercial

This is the Trojan commercial that aired for the first time last night on ABC. NBC and nine cable networks will also run it. Print ads will run in 11 magazines and on 7 websites. Fox and CBS wouldn't run it.

"Just Yell Fire"

Just Yell Fire - Free Movie DownloadTwo teenage girls with an intense background in martial arts and street fighting created a video aimed at teaching teen girls how to protect themselves and get away from a potential abductor or a rapist. (The video can be downloaded for free, just follow the link from the banner on the left.) I have watched the 90 second preview and read the website. The video appears to include street fighting techniques that would be relatively easy for a teenage girl to use against a larger, stronger man, including ear slaps, eye jabs, and kicks to the groin.

However, I am concerned the video might not include a discussion of prevention-oriented behavior, particularly with regard to traveling alone, staying in well-traveled and well-lit places, and holding yourself confidently, supplemented with a discussion of the dangers inherent when teenagers and young women are impaired through drugs or alcohol.

My friend and neighbor Tom Parish had this to to say about the video:
First yea the trailer is edited to have a great deal of very dramatic
impact. They are selling a DVD for self defense.

Let me add, having practiced and taught Aikido for 15 years that there is a necessary preventive piece that is often left out of quick promises for instant self defense lessons.

You'll notice in all the dramatic clips (I watched the 90 second one) that every time a young teen as abducted she was alone. You cannot see how she's holding her self from a self confidence perspective.

You significantly improve your personal safety by always traveling with others and being bold enough to ask for someone to escort you if needed to your car. I have taught my teenage daughter things like not falling for someone trying to trick her into helping them take bags or whatever out to a car alone.

Learning to be stand erect and feel self confident and look around yourself before entering new areas is quite helpful in being singled-out.

Should the awful possibility occur -- it can be helpful knowing where to kick or hit hard and effectively the first time. You just have to also know that if the person is bigger then you and your punch might be a lot less then theirs. Making them more violent from the git-go may only make things worse for you.

I'd focus on a number of conversations about prevention and practice the art of thinking ahead in situations where you might be alone in public places and being aware of options and asking for an escort. DVD's like that can be helpful. Just realize it's not the only solution.

I don't have a perfect answer for anyway but I do want someone to realize there aren't any perfect solutions for self defense. I know what it's like to get hit and to hit someone else. if that's your only solution you've limited your solutions and choices for success. Best to find aways to avoid ever getting to that point.
So what to teach your teenagers about abductors and rapists? First, as Tom suggested, is an understanding of how to not need fighting skills. This can only be effective if the teenager is able to use the knowledge to make good choices. And I can't stress the importance of maintaining full awareness as a critical step in that process (i.e., not being high or drunk). A really good martial arts school will include those skills in the training. I'm highly in favor of martial arts training for young women. It's good for the mind and good for the body, even though the hope is that she will never have any call to use her training on the streets. (I like what this site has to say to teenagers.)

Monday, June 18, 2007

New condom ad

There's a new condom ad on the block, and it's getting a lot of attention. Here is a description from Commercial Alert:

In a commercial for Trojan condoms that has its premiere tonight, women in a bar are surrounded by anthropomorphized, cellphone-toting pigs. One shuffles to the men’s room, where, after procuring a condom from a vending machine, he is transformed into a head-turner in his 20s. When he returns to the bar, a fetching blond who had been indifferent now smiles at him invitingly.

Directed by Phil Joanou (“State of Grace”), with special effects by the Stan Winston Studio (“Jurassic Park”), the commercial is entertaining. But it also has a message, spelled out at the end: “Evolve. Use a condom every time.”

The ad sounds pretty funny. Konagod tells us why Fox and CBS decided not to air the commercial (ABC has picked it up and it will air for the first time tonight):
CBS and FOX have rejected a new ad for Trojan condoms because of a focus on pregnancy prevention.
Representatives for both Fox and CBS confirmed that they had refused the ads, but declined to comment further.

In a written response to Trojan, though, Fox said that it had rejected the spot because, “Contraceptive advertising must stress health-related uses rather than the prevention of pregnancy.”
Sometimes the effort to avoid offending a segment of society is offensive in and of itself. I could go on a rant but this media critic summed up my feelings rather nicely:
“It’s so hypocritical for any network in this culture to go all puritanical on the subject of condom use when their programming is so salacious,” said Mark Crispin Miller, a media critic who teaches at New York University. “I mean, let’s get real here. Fox and CBS and all of them are in the business of nonstop soft porn, but God forbid we should use a condom in the pursuit of sexual pleasure.”
This attitude and reluctance to talk openly about safe sex affects teenagers at higher rates than anyone else. Teenagers just have fewer places to go for good information.

I'm going to start posting more condom ads here. Send them to your teenagers! They are, by and large, funny, informative, and attitude changing (i.e., they provide the perspective that normal people carry condoms). The first one is just below this post.

Banned Commercial Durex Condom Ad

Friday, June 15, 2007

A good weekend activity

This was a young woman's masters thesis project. She and her boyfriend are playing a video game. The controls are on their underwear.

Here is one reason Wired Magazine liked it:

"Lighthearted and playful, the invention nevertheless has a serious side. With it, Jennifer acknowledges the seductive nature of video games and the deleterious effect a passion for games can have on relationships. Yet 'stop gaming' is hardly a solution.

It's like firemen. You can't fall in love with a fireman and then ask or demand that he stop fighting fires, even if your intentions are good. You can't fall in love with a gamer and expect him or her to give up gaming to spend more time with you."

I think there are great opportunities here for teenagers..."No, mom, we were just playing video games..." can take on a whole new meaning...

Plastic surgery for teens

There's an article in the NYTimes this week about how an increasing number of teenagers are having plastic surgery. The article says that in 2006 teenagers made up 70% of all of the people who had this particular type of surgery. Astoundingly, it's to "fix" a problem that is generally outgrown in the later phases of adolescence.

Here's what the surgery is for: gynecomastia.

Anyone? Anyone? Gynecomastia is the name for enlarged male breasts. In 2006, 14,000 adolescent boys ages 13 - 19 underwent plastic surgery to reduce their breast size.

This is outrageous! Why is no one throwing a total fit over this? The world would be screaming bloody murder if teenage girls were getting plastic surgery to make their body look more like a magazine cover, why aren't they doing it about teenage boys? And what makes it even worse is that this is generally a condition that 1) is generally outgrown in a few years and 2) is generally associated with obesity and will resolve itself when excess weight is lost. So, just to be clear, what we're talking about here is teenage boys having surgery to resolve a developmental and weight issue. Teenage girls would never be allowed to do such a thing, and nor should boys.

The article includes a number of young men who had the surgery as teenagers talking about how painful their life was before the surgery because of extreme teasing by their peers. I don't want to diminish their pain. That's horrible. But a surgical response is just completely unreasonable and damaging in the long run.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Pregnant teens

I know that in general it's best for teenagers not to get pregnant. Their lives and the lives of their children are dramatically, and often negatively, effected by the young parental age. I know (and have done research and written about) the serious and wide-ranging negative physical, emotional, social, and psychological issues associated with teenage parents.

Nevertheless, when I look at the faces of the parents-to-be in this picture, I can only smile and wish them all the best in the world. The excitement and happiness that shine out from this young couple is astounding. Take a really close look at their faces - and remember that even if it was different for you, lots of teenagers are responsible, good people who will be just fine as parents.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

several interesting tid-bits

This, from the Dinah Project, is all about a new form of permanent birth control (although I'd just go ahead and call a goose a goose and use the word sterilization). If you're thinking of getting your tubes tied, this might be a better option. A gynecologist inserts one very small spring into each of your fallopian tubes. No surgery, very little discomfort. Over about three months your fallopian tubes scar up so that eggs can't travel down them any more.

And this, from the Reverend Debra Haffner, about the kinds of rebukes and insults that sex educators face in this country. Among other things, she talks about her experiences as the Director of Education at Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington in the context Missouri banning Planned Parenthood from schools.

And finally, this from the RH Reality Check blog on young boys' sexual experiences and education. The particular focus of the blog is on how to support teenage boys' and young men's physical and psychological health, particularly as they relate to sexual choices and experience.

They're all good reads, I promise!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Genarlow Wilson

The big front page news this week is about Genarlow Wilson. If you haven't heard about him, here's a re-cap via Wilson's wikipedia page:

Wilson v. State was a court case involving an appeal from the conviction of African-American man Genarlow Wilson, a former honors student and high school football player, involving the controversial sodomy laws of Georgia, United States.

Wilson had been convicted of aggravated child molestation because, at the age of seventeen, he had engaged in oral sex with a willing fifteen-year-old at a New Year's Eve party. The age of consent of the state is sixteen.

The conviction was based on an amateur video tape showing Wilson engaging in sex with a 17-year-old girl during a private party, and later receiving oral sex from from a 15-year-old girl. The video shows the 17-year-old girl on the bathroom floor, then later having sex with Wilson. She appeared sleepy or intoxicated during the sex act but did not ask Wilson to stop. Waking up naked and in a stupor the next morning, she claimed to have been raped. Investigating the alleged rape, police later found condoms and evidence of drinking, as well as the video camera, in the motel room used for the party.

A jury acquitted Wilson of raping the older girl, but convicted him of aggravated child molestation against the 15-year-old. The "aggravated" nature of the charge refers to sodomy (oral sex) rather than a mere "immoral or indecent act." Had Wilson had intercourse with the 15-year-old and not received oral sex from her, he would have been subject to a 5-year minimum prison term instead of the 10-year minimum term that the judge gave him. (Official Code of Georgia Annotated § 16-6-4)

Georgia's laws have since been changed (it's called the Romeo and Juliet act) to allow teenagers to have sex with other teenagers. If the age of consent is crossed, the older teen may be charged with misdemeanor aggravated child molestation, with a one year sentence and no stipulations requiring registration as a sex offender.

And here is the update from yesterday, again from wikipedia:

Mr. Wilson's conviction was overturned on June 11, 2007, by Monroe County Superior Court Judge Thomas H. Wilson (no relation) and replaced with a lesser charge of misdemeanor aggravated child molestation. That crime carries with it a 12-month sentence, which Genarlow Wilson has already served. Under the new ruling, he would not be required to register as a sex offender. Stated Judge Wilson, "The fact that Genarlow Wilson has spent two years in prison for what is now classified as a misdemeanor, and without assistance from this Court, will spend eight more years in prison, is a grave miscarriage of justice."

Georgia's Attorney General Thurbert Baker has appealed Judge Wilson's decision, apparently staying Genarlow Wilson's release. Baker maintains the judge did not have the authority to overturn the conviction and says the long-standing plea bargain offer remains on the table.

The plea deal, if accepted by Genarlow Wilson's lawyers, would have allowed Genarlow Wilson to plead to First Offender Treatment, which would mean that he would not have a criminal record nor would he be subject to registering on the sex offender registry once his sentence had been completed. It could also result in Genarlow Wilson receiving a sentence substantially shorter than the 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for which he was originally sentenced, possibly leading to his release based upon time already served.

In essence, the judge is retroactively changing Wilson's sentence to what he would have received had the Romeo and Juliet act been in place at the time of his conviction and sentencing.

So what does all this mean for teenagers' sexual choices? It's pretty outrageous for a consensual act between teenagers just two years apart in age to result in a 10 year prison sentence (the young girl involved has consistently said that it was consensual, and the video apparently suggested the same). It's made worse because if these two had just had intercourse, the sentence wouldn't have been nearly as long. I don't think oral sex should be more strongly punished than sexual intercourse. Georgia's sodomy laws just have to be struck down. They're outrageous. This entire case is just fraught with wrongs.

On the other hand, while I wasn't on the jury and I haven't seen the video, it sounds like Wilson's interaction with the 17-year-old girl was rape. Call me crazy, but someone who was recently passed out in the bathroom, and who seems totally out of it is unable to give consent - and therefore sex with her constitutes rape.

So all in all, I wouldn't object to Wilson's sentence if it were for the correct sex crime. That Wilson was acquitted from that act suggests that he will feel justified in doing it again. Because clearly, he'll think, it wasn't that wrong. What a horrible impression for anyone to get.

But this oral sex thing is really wrong.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Around the blog-o-sphere about democrats and abstinence-only sex ed

The Nation published a thorough and interesting article on the democrat's decision to increase funding to abstinence-only sex education.

Then, during the last week or so, a number of blogs wrote about the same issue. Most of these blogs are political in nature, and so the focus is on trying to figure out why on earth the democrats would do such a thing.

Here is what Avedon Carol has to say:
This program is immoral and irresponsible on its face, just leaving aside that it is a right-wing crackpot scheme and a kick-back to fringe religious groups as well. The majority of parents in America want their kids to get real sex education, not enforced ignorance and lies. There is not one single tolerable excuse for the program's existence, and it is the shame of progressives everywhere that they - and elected Democrats - have not been screaming bloody murder about this outrageous misuse of taxpayers' money. Tell your Representative in the House that continuing Ignorance-Only is indefensible, and make sure your Senators know how you feel, too.
And from an earlier post...
And then they did things like spend amazing amounts of money to have schools tell kids not to have sex. Now, you can cancel all sex education, or you can have real sex education, but why on earth would you need to pay strangers to tell kids not to have sex when they can hear it for free from their own parents, just as we always have? Can you say, "Waste of money"? I thought you could. Did you hear conservatives say it? Rarely, if it all.
And here is what Digby has to say:
So you have an obscenely expensive program that the data shows doesn't work, that Democrats don't want and that actually hurts kids. The only people it benefits are a bunch of right wing extremist scam artists who would rather put ice picks in their eyes than support a Democrat --- and the Republican party, who continue to receive plenty of largesse in return. Yet the Democratic congress has agreed to fund it.

This is political malpractice --- the K Street project in reverse. If you are going to sell out your principles, you are at least supposed to get something out of it. These programs help Republicans and only Republicans. Talk about getting the milk for free...

The GOP understands very well that power begets power and they went so far over the top that they actually began to illegally use executive power to rig elections (and possibly spy on their political enemies --- we don't know.) It would be wrong for Democrats to go that far, of course. But if the Democrats are unwilling or unable to even pass legislation that has the salutary effect of enhancing their political power, the least they could do is not pass legislation that enhances the political clout of the Republicans. It's not too much to ask, particularly when the interests they are funding are actually hurting America's kids with superstitious nonsense.
From DailyKos...
What in the hell are Obey and Pelosi thinking on this one? Study after study has shown that abstinence-only education not only doesn't work, but is harming the health of young people. This is just insane. And why are they doing this?
...
This is more than just controversial social policy. This is a profound failure on the part of Democratic leadership, once again, to stand up to a harmful conservative agenda. This, of all ridiculous policies wrought on the nation by the GOP Congress, is a no-brainer to let die.
And this from Bill Scher:

If this compromise goes through, more kids will continue to be miseducated about sex, damaging our public health.

There is logic to the saying: pick your battles.

But this is a good battle to pick -- showing the new Congress knows when a government program doesn't work and doesn't deserve funding.

If congressional leaders want to build trust for ideas where government funds are critical, they need to show they know the difference between good and bad government.

All of this is to say, what's going on here? Why are the democrats being so vastly irresponsible and throwing good money after bad in a time of deficit, not to mention the little issue of teaching teenagers incorrect and emotionally damaging information about what will probably become a critical aspect of their future romantic relationships.

While for crass business purposes, I may get more business if all the schools are teaching is abstinence-only-before-marriage sex education, I would rather be put out of business by a brilliant sex education curriculum being integrated into all middle and high schools.

Friday, June 8, 2007

More on building community

Jan Matney has a great post on her blog today, talking about the need to strengthen our communities. I am very blessed to live in a neighborhood that is much like the one she describes (and very different from the series of neighborhoods I lived in as a child). It's a long post, so I suggest you go read it on her blog. But here's a few highlights:
...
I could go on, remembering Mrs. Black, our eighty plus next door neighbor who, out of sympathy I think, brought me flowers when I was two weeks overdue--and she carried with her a comforting tale about the approaching full moon. Our son was born under a full moon, and I look back on Mrs. Black and see how naturally she shared her wisdom and kindness with me.
...
If you think of time as a piece of paper, I suggest that as a society, we no longer have the margins. Dr. Richard Swenson talks about how we can create more Margin time, and he also says that we've filled our analogous paper more and more, until we have fewer margins or unmarked, spontaneous time--That makes sense to me, considering the number of two career families, women who work outside the home, overloaded with the second job of housework and childcare, besides the reality of cottage industries seeping into family life.
...
Well said, Jan!

Interview with Howard Schiffer

Yesterday I spoke with Howard Schiffer, author of How to be the Best Lover: A guide for teenage boys. I wrote about Howard's book several days ago. Here is our conversation:

K: Can you explain why you wrote How to be the Best Lover: A guide for teenage boys?
H: Because I felt like I had to. My son was 13, and I thought, wait a second, he’s getting this horrible view of women, all that’s out there is his friends and the media. And since the book was written, what’s been interesting to me is that people are so scared in this country. People don’t realize that’s it’s really all about connections. And what I see from the kids is that they get it instantly get it: where I was coming from and that it was written for them. There are kids who hadn’t spoken to me for years and they read the book, and then they come up and tell me that it’s a great book.

K: And what about your experiences as a teenage boy? Did you feel that you had enough information?
H: My teenage experience was horrible. It was a lot of the motivation for writing the book – wanting to get it right and redo my past.

I was with older boys who saw girls as objects. Young boys were finding porn and passing that around. They were looking at these little cartoon books that were really pornographic, they were just about screwing and they were about women as objects. And the whole focus when I was 13 or 14 was all about when you were going to get laid. And if someone had a girlfriend, the only thing was that they might be able to get some.

And so my whole experience was horrible. It was just about the sex, there wasn’t any connection there. And the experiences felt bad. They weren’t satisfying. They weren’t anything I felt good about. There was a lot of shame involved.

I knew that sometime my dad was going to come talk to me about sex. And all of a sudden one day he was in the dinning room with me and my mom disappeared into the kitchen. And he asked, “So let’s talk about sex.” And I had my answer ready, I said, “Okay, what do you want to know?” And he was so scared, so taken aback, he said “Oh,” and that was all.

It was the same with Austin [my son, when he was 13]; he asked why we needed to talk about sex. We were going to talk over a period time while kind of going through this book, but he said he had already read the book. So if I hadn’t really wanted this conversation to happen, it wouldn’t have. I told him that this [sexual awakening] is something that everybody goes through and nobody wants to talk about it

Even in California, even in 2007, even in men’s groups where guys are really trying to open up, guys just don’t want to talk about if their girls like to have oral sex

K: How was Austin’s experience with sexual awakening?
H: Austin has been with two serious girlfriends. His second serious girlfriend, he was about 17, started sleeping over. She lived about an hour away, and would sometimes spend the night in the guest bedroom. Then there was one weekend when it was late, they were watching a movie, and everyone else went to sleep. For some reason, I don’t remember why, all the other beds were taken, including the guest bed. And so Austin and his girlfriend ended up sleeping together that night. The next morning I said to one of my younger girls, “Where’s Austin and his girlfriend?” and she said, “Oh, they’re still asleep.” And it just came out of this very natural situation. The bonus was that we got to have them in the house. They woke up and we got to have breakfast together. It was just a chance we got to have it be normal.

So there’s been a tremendous transition for me in this whole process, getting to give this knowledge to my children who are getting what I didn’t have.

K: How have your experiences with and around this book played into your perception and beliefs about sex education?
H: If all you’re getting is from your friends and the Internet, it’s not okay. Because you’re like, “What is all this?” and you have to go try it out to figure out what it really is. But if someone is really giving you real information, you’re able to say, “Well, maybe I don’t actually want to be giving someone a blow job right now.” But if you give them this glorified fantasy they want to go try it out. Most of the information hovers right between “don’t do it” and “just do it.” The reality is that there is a tremendous biological imperative to have sex. So you can’t just say don’t do it, you have to talk about it. And the liaise-faire parents are completely ripping off their kids by saying, “Well, they’re just going to go do it” because there’s no guidance there. I ask parents “Do you want your kids going into a sex education class taught by a 14 year old?”

The thing is, with teenagers now, there’s more illusion out there because the Internet is so prevalent. They’re under this idea, I have a 15-year-old daughter, and she thinks she knows everything. They think that because they’ve seen some porn or something on the Internet and they don’t get that it’s really about this connection thing. And they’ll spend years before they figure it out, the way I did.

K: Tell me about the book you suggest reading after this one, it's called First Love?
H: It’s a collection of people’s first times. It really helps young people awaken to the fact that it’s just not always nice. A lot of the people I interviewed realized the first time they were naked in front of someone else how naked they really felt. And past being naked, they don’t realize how vulnerable it is, for girls definitely, and I think probably for guys. And they way guys deal with it is they just stuff it all, and they can’t talk about how weird it is because no one is talking about it. So this book shows them some of those things.

K: Have you considered writing a similar book for teenage girls?
H: I have thought about it, I have been asked to do it. I honestly have just run out of money and time. The other two books were really done because I felt like they had to be done, and I haven’t made any money on them. What I’ve found is that girls really like Best Lover for boys, and so I think there would be a market for a guide for girls.

K: Thank you for talking with us, Howard.
H: Thank you for doing what you're doing. I am always so encouraged to see people getting real information out there.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Passion!

I am so frustrated by the liberal tendency towards thinking about things to do death and writing about thinking about things to death! We need to get some serious passion flowing through our veins, folks!

Comprehensive sex education teaches teenagers to value their body and their lover's body for the rest of their lives. It teaches them respect for the human body and the pleasure it can bring. It teaches them to take ownership of their body and their choices. Comprehensive sex education must be in the lives of each and every teenager to teach them the responsibilities and the values that come with decisions about sexuality. Comprehensive sex education is the most critical thing for teenagers to learn - more important than anything else they could possibly learn in high school because it is has to do with the very center of the human experience, and will remain there, at the most intimate and critical level of each and every person for their entire lives.

And, in direct contradiction to their very own report on the issue, Congress is about to vote to increase funding to abstinence only programs. This is so vastly inappropriate and unacceptable I cannot find the words to express my outrage fully. But needless to say, this decision will continue to cut nation-wide attempts to bring thoughtfulness and good judgment into the current wasteland that is the high school "health" class.

Advocates for Youth recently wrote this in an e-mail:
We've just gotten word that Democratic leaders in Congress are not only set to fully fund failed abstinence-only programs - they want to INCREASE funding for these ineffective and harmful programs to $140 million!

...only weeks after receiving a congressionally mandated report stating yet again that these programs don't work, Congress is now planning to waste even more money on these ideologically driven and harmful programs!

I don't know which is worse - that Congress continues to throw good money after bad on programs that censor life-saving information about condoms and contraception or that our Democratic "friends" in Congress are totally selling out America's youth.

Advocates has set up an easy way to express your outrage to the congressional leaders who are currently looking at increasing this inappropriate, irresponsible, and wasteful funding.

Get passionate about this issue - these are our children, they deserve the truth, and we are the adults responsible for giving it to them.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Sex is not depressing teenagers

So much of the pro-abstinence-only-until-marriage argument hinges on intercourse being bad for teenagers emotionally (you can go visit www.abstinence.net to learn more about abstinence-only education). But a recent study from the University of Minnesota says that, except for the very youngest girls (under 15) and boys (under 14) whose relationships fall apart immediately after sex, teenagers' emotional stability is just fine after their first experience with intercourse. And this was a very serious study - the researchers followed 8,563 students, 7th - 12th graders, for 18 months and then compared the emotional stability of the students who lost their virginity in that time to those who did not. The two groups of students who were 15 and older (those who had sexual intercourse for the first time and those who did not have sexual intercourse) showed no differences in their mental health. This a great piece of information to support comprehensive sex education.

Thanks to Cory Silverberg for publishing information about the UMN press release.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

I shop, therefore I am sexy. But not too sexy.

The Washington Post published an interactive set of articles about teenage girls' shopping habits yesterday. It includes a number of articles, an interactive look at the mall where they went shopping, and pictures and video of the shopping experience. Throughout these articles and pictures, the authors and camera-pointers theoretically focused on the girls' styles. But they seemed oblivious to the fact that they were really focusing on sex.

This collection of articles is focused in the extreme on the very consumerist, very body- and fashion-oriented society that encourages girls to think about their body and their sex appeal at all times and in all ways. The journalists claimed to be surprised by the attention the girls paid to the price and stylistic details of the items they purchased and the items they passed up. They also appeared to be surprised that the girls passed by the very shortest shorts and the very smallest tanks. But of course these very hip, very wealthy girls are extremely image conscious. They know what makes them look good, and they know what might make them look like a slut. They walk the balance of showing just as much skin as possible to attract boys while not showing too much to attract the wrong kind of boy (or, more frighteningly, the wrong kind of man).

Girls bodies are commodities in our culture. Boys and men stare at them and whistle at them and grope them. Sometimes girls like the attention, sometimes they don't. And the clothes they wear are critical to getting as much of the right kind of attention and as little of the wrong kind as possible. (What kind of clothes this calls for, of course, differs between cultures and subgroups.) This Washington Post article tapped directly into girls' core need/fear to be dressed on a very narrow tightrope of sexy-but-not-slutty. The Post reporters came very close to talking about the issue in this article, but stopped just short. I wish they had gone further - that would have been a truly interesting and newsworthy piece of journalism.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Real Language

I am reading a book right now called How To Be The Best Lover: A guide for teenage boys by Howard Schiffer. The book is intended to be a follow-up to a series of basic sex talks parents should have with young boys. The book covers many topics including communicating with girls, masturbation, foreplay, pregnancy prevention, and sexual intercourse. All of these topics are discussed in a framework of healthy, appropriate romantic and sexual relationships. (I will interview Schiffer on Thursday morning, and would be delighted to include any questions any of you may have based on this relatively short description.)

While, as with any book, there are some things I would have done differently, Schiffer's book is mostly stunning. He approaches sexuality openly with teenage boys. And even more importantly, he doesn't just discuss it - he tells boys how to do it. Are you surprised? Well, you shouldn't be. Because what Schiffer tells boys, in great detail, is how to involve himself emotionally with a girlfriend. The physical discussions are a relatively small part of the book - no in-depth discussion of oral sex technique to be found here.

So here is the part that should surprise you. And make you realize what so many parents and sex educators been doing wrong in our sex education. Real words. Real language. Schiffer does not baulk at talking about playing with a girl's nipples, giving and receiving oral sex, and rubbing his penis against her body. It is refreshing for someone to finally talk about these activities frankly and openly with teenage boys.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Make yourself a community

I'm going to put myself out on a limb here and announce that one way to solve many of the problems in the world would be for circles of adults to provide on-going emotional and practical support for children. This continuing support for children would turn into a circle of support for teenagers - in the vein of Dorian's description of appropriate adolescent support in her comment from yesterday's post: by listening and helping them process their lives, but mostly by listening. This could eventually lead into a group of older adults mentoring younger adults on a whole host of issues, including their work environment and parenting skills. And then...I have to admit, I'm pretty excited about this...the young adults who were mentored by this fantastic group of older adults could turn around and provide similar support each other's children.

I wonder if I could patent this idea? Claim it as mine, charge a fee for anyone who wants to use it.

No, wait, I forgot, people have been using this model for centuries. It's called creating a community. And somehow we've broken the generational link - partly because we all move so much, partly because we're freaked out by teenagers, and partly because we're so focused inwardly that we don't pay attention to other people's families any more. But the desire for community is still so strong. I hear laments from adults almost every day about how they wish things were different, about how they wish for an intergenerational community.

Here's the deal, folks: go out and make it happen! Start meaningful conversations with just one kid or teenager that don't have anything to do with school. Then keep it up. Indefinitely. It will revolutionize your life. Not to mention the life of the kid.