A charity in Taiwan has volunteers who provide sexual “help” for a small number of disabled people.
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By Amy Johnson
1. Believe survivors:
If someone comes to you and discloses sexual assault, believe them. Don’t ask what they were wearing. Don’t ask what they were thinking. Tell them you are sorry that it happened. Tell them it’s not their fault. And most of all, believe them.
Sexual assaults are dramatically under-reported in our society, for a variety of reasons. According to RAINN, a national anti-sexual violence organization, less than a third of sexual assaults are reported to police. One of the most prominent reasons is the concern that the survivor will not be believed. Consider the recent expose by the Salt Lake Tribune about BYU’s Honor Code, used against sexual assault survivors. More than two dozen survivors told the paper that they did not report crimes committed against them because they, the survivors, would get in trouble. Believing survivors is important.
2. Engage your voice:
Teens — lift your voice to counter any messages that any sexual assault is the survivor’s fault. Talk about consent with your friends and peers. Have speakers in to your school and other organizations to teach about consent. Don’t be silent.
Parents — talk with your teens about consent. Let them know that they can come to you safely if they are uncomfortable in a situation, even if they have broken a house rule. Think about it: Would you rather have a child who has had a few drinks call you for help and a ride, or would you rather have a child who didn’t want to get in trouble end up sexually assaulted?
Coaches — use your authority to counter cultural messages that pressuring people into sexual activity is OK. It isn’t. Make that clear with your teams and students, no matter what gender they are. Athletes are often leaders in their schools and popular. Help create an atmosphere that makes clear consent popular, too.
Fraternities and sororities — get educated and keep getting educated. Traditions can be wonderful, and they can be harmful. Make a commitment to work together in your organizations to create a healthier culture around consent, including caring for each other when alcohol is involved. Be smart. Engage your voices together.
Religious leaders — make a difference by shattering the silence so prevalent in our religious communities about talking about sex. Create healthy faith communities by having clear boundaries, smart supervision policies for children and youth, and engaging your voices in conversations around healthy relationships, communication and consent.
3. Get involved:
• Learn more by going to www.nsvrc.org to find ways to engage on social media, download posters for coloring, download postcards with healthy messages and more.
• Consider hosting a viewing and discussion of the movie “Spotlight.”
• Learn more about sexual assault, types of sexual violence, laws in Washington and the effects of sexual violence at www.rainn.org/about-sexual-assault.
Now is not the time to be silent. Engage your voice. Take action to become more aware of and to prevent sexual assault.
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By now, most parents likely know that not talking about sex with their teens will not stop them from doing it. And, as a parent, you might even have done some reading on how to have The Talk with your kids. Maybe you think you’ve done everything right when it comes to having important conversations with your teen. Or maybe you’ve been avoiding the discussion because you’re not sure where to start.
No matter which category you fit into, you may still find yourself as the parent whose kid comes home and tells them they think they might have a sexually transmitted infection (STI), or that they have contracted an STI. The way you respond to that bombshell can make all the difference for your child going forward — in their relationship with you, with future partners, and with themselves. “Often, the response of the people that you confide in when you first have a diagnosis shapes how you see your condition from then on out,” says Myisha Battle, a San Francisco-based sex coach. “It’s important that parents have a response that can potentially produce a positive outcome for kids when they’re disclosing.”
That, of course, is easier said than done. Heather Corinna, founder of Scarleteen, a sex ed web site for youth, and author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Sexuality Guide to Get You Through Your Teens and Twenties, says that the groundwork for a positive response begins before your child ever receives a diagnosis. In fact, the way you talk about STIs from the beginning may determine whether your child even comes to you if they’re worried about their sexual health. And that, says Corinna, includes things like not talking about any infectious illness in a stigmatized way. “The closer we get to people, the more susceptible we are to infections,” Corinna explains. So if you wouldn’t talk about getting the chicken pox or a cold from someone as something gross, you shouldn’t talk about STIs that way, either. “When STIs come up in media or if people make a stigmatizing joke, correct it,” Corinna says. “Also important is not assigning value to people who do or don’t have an STI.”
And, no matter how many safer sex conversations you have (or haven’t) had with your kid, even people who do everything right can contract an STI. “STIs can happen even if you use protection and get tested,” says Ella Dawson, a writer who was diagnosed with herpes at 20. According to the CDC, nearly all sexually active people will contract HPV in their lifetime; two in three people worldwide have herpes simplex I and half of new infections are genital. The CDC considers both chlamydia and gonorrhea to be common infections. But, as Corinna points out, “The tricky thing is that when we talk about STIs, we’re talking about easily treatable illnesses like chlamydia versus [something like] HIV.”
Something else that might affect how involved a parent is or needs to be is how a young person contracted their STI in the first place. Often, STIs are contracted during consensual sexual interactions, but they can also be contracted during abuse or an assault. Corinna says that the biggest concern that they hear at Scarleteen from teens who have STIs is that their parents or caregivers will be disappointed in them. But, more serious than that, are fears that they may be kicked out of their house for having sex. Or, “if it happens in a wanted or ongoing relationship,” says Corinna, “there is the fear that their parents will punish them by refusing to let them see the person anymore.” All of these things may prevent a young person from disclosing their status to their parent or caregiver, or to avoid seeking medical attention all together.
“Teens with STIs need two things,” says Dawson. Those things are “access to medical care, and support. Make sure that your child has gotten a quality diagnosis from a medical professional, and also make sure that they are being treated with respect by their physician,” she says. Then, bombard them with unconditional love and support. It’s also important to do what you can to avoid adding to the shame and stigma your child might already be feeling. “Believe me, they don’t need you to confirm their own feelings of shame and regret,” Dawson warns.
Of course, it’s normal for parents to panic when their kid comes to them with an unexpected revelation like an STI diagnosis, but “it’s important to keep that freak out away from your kid,” says Battle. Corinna encourages parents to put aside their emotional reaction and get themselves educated so they can best help the young person in their lives. “If you’re in denial about [your] young person having sex, try to move past it and help them with what they need. If it’s about you controlling their health care and not giving them access, fix that,” Corinna says. “If you didn’t have conversations about what it means to be sexual with someone else, it’s time to have this conversation.”
Everyone agrees that the best way to be helpful as a parent is to take your lead from your child. “If they are upset, validate that. If they don’t feel bad about it, don’t make it a big deal,” suggests Corinna. Demonizing the transmitter, especially if that person is a partner, is not a helpful tactic and may alienate your child. Also not helpful? Trying to implement behavior modifications that same day, like taking them immediately to buy condoms, because it may feel like blaming. Also, going behind the young person’s back and calling their healthcare provider or their partner or telling a co-parent without getting explicit permission are surefire ways to lose a teen’s trust.
If your child isn’t sure what their diagnosis means, it can be a great time to get educated together. If they’re unsure if they might have an STI, “ask, ‘What are your symptoms? Let’s go to trusted website and find out what next steps should be.’ Or if it’s a diagnosis, it’s still an opportunity to sit down and ask what they learned at the doctor and what they know, so you can understand the next steps,” says Battle. Check out the resources on Scarleteen, the CDC’s website, or the American Social Health Association.
If you haven’t had great sex education yourself, learn along with your teen. After there is some distance, you can initiate another conversation about safer sex and make sure your teen has access to the appropriate supplies to help them avoid an STI in the future.
At the end of the day, what’s most important is letting your child know that an STI does not change the way you see them. This “does not mean your child has erred, ruined their future, or shown their true, negative character. Anyone can get an STI, even if you’re on the Dean’s list,” says Dawson. “What’s really important is that your kid is having a respectful, consensual and healthy sex life.”
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By Cory Stieg
If you sleep in the same bed as someone with a penis, your partner’s boner poking you in the back in the morning is like a natural alarm clock: inevitable, not always welcome, and hard to snooze. And it’s not just in the morning: Men get three to five erections during one night of sleep, and each one can last between 20 and 30 minutes. But does that mean that each of those times your partner gets hard they’re turned on and want to have sex? Not exactly, and most people can’t help that they randomly get boners in the middle of the night.
The proper term for “morning wood,” or night boners, is “nocturnal penile tumescence” (NPT). Nocturnal erections seem to follow a man’s sleep cycle, and usually happen during the REM phase of sleep, says Aleece Fosnight, MSPAS, PA-C, a urology physician assistant and a sexual health counselor. “It doesn’t mean that he is aroused or had a sexual dream or fantasy, but rather [it’s] the body’s way of ensuring the penile tissue remains healthy,” Fosnight says.
So, if they’re not aroused, why exactly do people get full-fledged boners? There’s a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine, and it’s responsible for stopping blood flow from the penis, among other things, Fosnight says. “When your body goes into REM sleep, norepinephrine actually drops, causing a rush of blood flow into the penis,” she says. “The way that ‘morning wood’ happens is when you wake up during one of those REM cycles when the penis is fuller.” This might not happen every morning, because, technically, people with penises have to be experiencing REM sleep to wake up with a boner, and you usually don’t wake up during REM, because it’s the deep sleep phase. But still, morning wood is incredibly common, Fosnight says.
Some experts also say that when people with penises have a full bladder, there’s a mechanical pressure that their brain interprets as pleasurable sexual arousal, and causes an erection, says Laurie Watson, LMFT, certified sex therapist. Either way, when a person wakes up with a boner, there’s a good chance they weren’t aroused before. (Of course, that doesn’t mean they can’t become aroused once they realize they have a boner.) And this isn’t just biology’s way of messing with us; it could be evolutionary, Fosnight says.
“Most speculate that [NPT] helps to keep the penis healthy by promoting oxygen-rich blood flowing into those tissues,” Fosnight says, adding that NPT could also possibly prevent erectile dysfunction, or it could just be a sign that the penis is working normally. “Erections that occur during sleep are completely normal and happen nightly throughout a man’s life and are not caused by sexual stimulation,” she says.
And even though these boners may wake up sleeping partners in the middle of the night, NPT is considered beneficial from a sexual health perspective, too. “NPT is a wonderful thing, because it shows that a man is capable of achieving an erection organically,” says Eric Garrison, a clinical sexologist. “If he is incapable of achieving an erection with a partner, though he experiences NPT, then we would assume that there is an emotional cause for his erectile concerns.”
So, the next time your partner bumps you with their hard penis, they’re not necessarily trying to have sex, but you can consider it an opportunity to ask, “You up?”
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By Dave Holmes
Making your way through this cruel, confounding, ever-changing world is difficult. Something make you anxious this week, or any week? Lay it on me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m here to help you minimize the damage you will necessarily inflict on the world just by being alive.
I have a 17-year-old son, and I am fairly sure he is gay. He is not out, although I don’t know if he might be to any close friends. What’s hardest for me as his dad is that I know that this time of life can be confusing and frustrating to any kid, and I only know the experience of a straight guy. I can’t imagine how much harder or more complicated it must be for him. I would love to be able to be more supportive of him, but I certainly am not going to confront him.
Since your column a couple of weeks ago was advice for coming out to your family, my related question is: What advice do you have for the family of someone who hasn’t yet come out?
Mark, you are one hell of a father, so first and foremost: thank you. You’re attuned to your kid’s developing identity, you’re not trying to change him, and you’re considering how your words and behavior will affect him down the road. I’m not a parent, but I know these are all difficult and necessary things. You are actively improving your son’s quality of life just by thinking about them. Well done.
Here’s a story to illustrate what you should definitely not do. Years ago, when I was not much older than your son, I was at home on a Sunday night flipping through the TV channels with my mother. Not much was on: a Murder She Wrote we’d already seen; a Parker Lewis Can’t Lose she wouldn’t have understood; probably an actual opera in Italian on A&E or Bravo, because that’s actually what those networks used to give you. I paused on our local PBS affiliate, where a huge choir was singing, and after a few seconds I realized it was the Gay Men’s Chorus of some city or another doing a fundraising concert.
I stopped there, just to see what would happen. At this time in my life, I was 99 percent certain I was gay, though nowhere near ready to spring it on my parents. We had no gay people in our lives back then, no way to gauge my family’s level of tolerance. And here it was: the most passive, least courageous way I could drag the topic into the family room, kicking and singing.
We watched as they delivered a rendition of what I remember as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” because either they or my memory are unforgivably basic. But it was gorgeous. Stirring and brave and subversive, coming as it did in a time before marriage equality was on the map, a time when you only saw gay people on the news. I got chills.
Then they finished, and my mom turned to me and said, “I really pity them.”
I switched it to Parker Lewis and left the room.
Now, I am comfortable telling you this story now because it was ages ago, she has come a long way since then, and also there’s a zero percent chance she’s ever going to read this because it’s on the computer. But it stands as evidence that sometimes saying nothing is the stronger choice
Good on you for not point-blank asking your son whether he’s gay. You are probably going to be the last person he tells. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t trust you or that you didn’t make it an easy enough process for him. It means one simple, inescapable thing: Once you have told your dad you’re gay, there is no going back. You have given your final answer, and you are locking it in. And what if it all just lifts one day, and you wake up straight, and then you get married and have to spend your whole wedding day wondering whether your dad is thinking about what you told him that one time?
Right now, if your instinct is correct, your son is sorting through all of his competing urges and trying to determine which are his and which belong to society. Right now, everything is possible. You are probably correct that the confusion and frustration he’s experiencing is different than what you and all teenagers have gone through. But as to whether it’s harder, it’s all relative. This is the only adolescence he’s ever going to have. And as you know from personal experience, it’s not like straight teenagers are dying for their parents’ involvement in their relationships and identity development. Right now, he has to be secretive, not because he’s gay, but because he’s 17. And if his personal experience is indeed tougher than his peers’, then he will end up tougher than his peers.
I’d love to say that you should do a big, showy “Hey, I sure do like those gay people” at the dinner table. I want to tell you to find out when Brokeback Mountain is on HBO and then accidentally turn it on right at the beginning when he’s in the room. I wish it were as simple and CBS-sitcommy as invite the gay guy from work to family bowling night. But it isn’t. Don’t do any of these things. At this age, kids are not only wildly self-conscious, they are also you-conscious. They know what you’re trying to do and what you’re asking without asking. Any well-meaning attempt to raise The Topic is only going to make him more nervous.
The one thing you can do, which I suspect you’re already doing, is to make him feel like a secure and separate person. To chisel away at the shame our culture hangs on all of us. To make him strong in his opinions and choices, even when they wouldn’t be yours. Discuss the news of the day with him, and when he makes a point that differs from yours, thank him for giving you a fresh perspective. Do what you can to make him feel like he can stand on his two feet, even when he’s standing apart from you. It’s a skill he’ll need, no matter which side of the fence he eventually lands on.
No matter what you do, know one important thing: He’s 17, and he’s probably going to react by rolling his eyes and going to his room. That’s what I did when my own father subtly tried to engage with me long ago. Teens can’t help it. It is their job. But trust me: Your son is listening, and he won’t forget it. (And Dad, wherever you are: I see now what you were doing playing so much Wham! in your car, and I appreciate it.)
But again, by simply being the kind of person who asks a question like this, you are doing more than most fathers. This kid is lucky to have you. We all are
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