Category Archives: Kids And Sex

This App Could Bring Sex Ed To All Students

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Real Talk helps middle schoolers access reliable sex ed information using storytelling, regardless of whether they have internet at home

By Emily Matchar

It was a long way from Princeton. After graduating from the Ivy League school, Vichi Jagannathan and Liz Chen both wanted to give back by teaching. So they joined Teach for America, the program that places talented graduates in low-income schools around the country. They found themselves placed in adjacent classrooms in a high school in rural Eastern North Carolina.

Here, Jagannathan and Chen both had the experience of seeing students struggle with unplanned pregnancies at as young as 15 or 16. They wondered why: was it a lack of health education? Could something be done about it?

“Vichi and I talked to students and realized that health was not a huge priority in the school; it came second to physical education,” says Chen, who is now in a PhD program in health behavior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

There were health classes, but teachers didn’t necessarily have good resources like prepared lesson plans and PowerPoints to use. And even when the teachers in the area did have resources, they often felt ill at ease discussing certain aspects of sex and sexuality openly.

“Some of them didn’t feel comfortable answering questions, or discussing topics, potentially because of their religious affiliation,” Chen says.

So Chen and Jagannathan—and later a third woman, Cristina Leos—decided to create a resource that could speak directly to students. That tool became Real Talk, a sexual education app that uses real teenagers’ stories to address questions about sex, puberty, gender, relationships and more. The project has received a $325,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Adolescent Health, and an additional $25,000 in funding from a student entrepreneurship prize at Yale, where Jagannathan is completing an MBA.

While the app was originally intended for high schoolers, the women realized that many of the teens they were talking to began having sex before 9th grade. So they decided to target the app to middle schoolers instead. To design Real Talk, they spoke with more than 300 students in North Carolina, Texas, Connecticut and elsewhere, conducting long interviews, doing group sessions, and soliciting real life stories about the kind of things most people, teens and adults alike, feel awkward talking about. Not surprisingly, they found that, even in schools with comprehensive sex ed, students still had questions.

“We got the sense that not all of them are comfortable talking about the topic of sex ed in school, which could be for a number of reasons—they’re around their peers, they don’t want other people to know their questions,” Jagannathan says.

They also realized that it was important that students feel the source of information was credible—and to them, that often meant it came from a peer who had been through an experience themselves. They also wanted that story to be written in an authentic way, which meant plenty of slang and emojis. Teenagers, for instance, often use fruit and vegetable symbols to represent genitalia, a fact perhaps not known to most adults.

“Once we started developing the idea of sharing experiences, we learned that stories are a really engaging way to get middle school students to listen and be curious,” says Leos, who is in the same PhD program as Chen. “There’s a lot of development science research that shows that facts and statistics are pretty difficult for teen brains to recall, particularly when they’re in situations of high emotional arousal. But stories are easier to recall.”

Using the app, teens can select their topic of interest and read a text interaction between real teens dicussing the subject at hand—acne, say, or wet dreams. The story will link to factual information from reliable sources, so teens can learn more.

The team says many of the students they interviewed were actually less interested in traditional sex ed topics like pregnancy and how to avoid STIs, and were more interested in puberty and hearing about other peoples’ experiences with things like embarrassingly timed erections.

Students were also “surprisingly both comfortable with and interested in speaking about gender identity and gender fluidity,” Jagannathan says. They wanted to have the option to read stories from real teens of various genders, including genders beyond the traditional male/female binary.

“It’s been refreshing and very surprising to have that pressure from our users,” Jagannathan says.

Some of the stories featured on the app are from students that Chen, Jagannathan and Leos met in person, but many came from an ad placed on Instagram asking for teens to share about their sexual health questions and experiences. The team plans to use Instagram as a key part of their marketing strategy for the app, which they hope to have in iTunes by early next year.

“Over 90 percent of the teens we worked with check Instagram every single day,” Jagannathan says.

The team also plans to offer Real Talk to sex ed teachers and other educators, who can share it with students. While there’s no lack of high quality sex ed websites aimed at teens, the team hopes having an app will make the information more accessible to rural students and students of color, some of whom may not have reliable internet access at home. They can use their school’s wifi to get the app, which comes with some stories loaded to be read without an internet connection. While it’s not the only sexual health app for teens on the market, its storytelling format gives it a unique edge.

Real Talk’s founders plan to assess the app’s efficacy by looking to see if using it makes teens more likely to understand various sexual health topics, or if it makes them more likely to speak openly with trusted adults about these topics. Ultimately they would like the app to have real-world effects such as reducing the teen pregnancy rate.

Teen pregnancy rates have been declining for some 20 years—in 2014, there were fewer than 25 births for every 1,000 females between 15 and 19, a decline of 9 percent from the previous year. Interventions like Real Talk can help ensure that rate stays low, or perhaps drops even further, said the judges who awarded the team the government grant.

“These interventions will help ensure that this important national success story continues,” said Lawrence Swiader, vice president of digital media at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, in a press release.

But reducing teen pregnancy is not the only important thing. Learning about sex and relationships can potentially teach a number of self-care and interpersonal skills too.

“Since we’re focusing on such a young age group, really one of the best things for us is to help middle school students develop some foundational skills that will improve a variety of other behaviors and outcomes,” Leos says.

Complete Article HERE!

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We need to show real photos of genitals as part of sex education

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Labiaplasty is on the rise. Boys and men continue to worry that their penis is too small. Every other week there seems to be a new treatment promising to make your penis longer and harder or your vagina tighter, smoother, and more sparkly.

These treatments prey on our insecurities – our deep, dark worry that there’s something wrong with our genitals. That they’re not ‘normal’.

It’s no wonder we think that, though, when we don’t get to see a range of all the different ways vaginas and penises can look.

If you’re interested in same-sex relationships or, well, sex, you’ll likely get to see a few more genitals that look a bit like yours.

But this only happens once you start getting to the point of stripping down – a point you’re unlikely to reach if you’re so filled with doubt and self-hatred for the appearance of your genitals that you can’t even imagine letting someone else see them.

And for those who exclusively get busy with people of the opposite sex, it’s easy to never see a real-life alternative of your own sex-specific genitals out in the world.

Instead, you see smoothed, Barbie-perfect versions of vaginas and whopping great penises that stay erect for hours in porn.

You see blurred out images online or dainty flowers, or bananas and crude doodles to illustrate their place.

When you never see genitals that look even a tiny bit like yours, you’re going to worry that you’re abnormal, that something’s wrong, that you need to change yourself.

That’s why we need to get in there early, and show students actual photos of actual vaginas and penises.

Not doodles.

Not just vague diagrams of the reproductive system.

Actual photos or – if that greatly offends you for reasons I don’t understand – a wide range of illustrations that shows all the parts of the genitals and all the different ways they can look.

Students should see where the clitoris is, because if they don’t they’ll struggle to give women pleasure or experience it themselves.

Students should understand what a circumcised penis looks like versus an uncircumcised one.

Students should see longer labia, different skin tones, penises that are short and fat, penises that are long and lean. A range of healthy genitals to expand the definition of ‘normal’ in young people’s minds.

‘Relationships and Sex Education is an opportunity to challenge the idea that any one type of body is ‘normal’,’ Lisa Hallgarten, coordinator of the Sex Education Forum, told metro.co.uk.

‘Learning about and celebrating body diversity may start with simply thinking about the different heights; body shapes; hair, eye and skin colour of people we can see around us; and learning about the difference between female and male body parts.

‘When it comes to genitals young people may think their own are unusual or unhealthy because they haven’t seen any images of different bodies, or because many sexual images they have accessed online depict a particular type of body (e.g. men with very large penises and women with hairless, surgically-altered vulvas).

‘Whether we use photographs, anatomical drawings or art works (such as Jamie McCartney’s Great Wall of Vagina) it is essential that any images we show properly represent the great diversity that exists in the shapes and sizes of people’s genitals.’

Hear hear.

Seeing these images before we start having sex or having the power to make changes to our bodies through surgery or other means is incredibly important.

How we view our bodies informs how we view ourselves. It affects our sexual relationships, our decisions, our mental state.

Knowing that our genitals are okay, that there’s nothing wrong, gross, or weird about them just because they don’t match the images we see in porn, will inform healthier sexual decisions, make us more confident, and prevent people from considering drastic measures to ‘fix’ themselves.

As someone who was so self-concious about my vagina that I blamed it for breakups and went to the doctor to beg them to change the appearance of my vulva, I know how powerful learning that your genitals are normal can be.

It’s not just about seeing genitals similar to your own, mind you.

Seeing real, intimate pictures of bits of all genders will make sex significantly less intimidating.

If you’re shown accurate images of all different genitals, you won’t be confused and horrified when you start having sex and are greeted by a penis or vagina that looks entirely unlike the ones you’ve seen in porn.

Adding real images to sex ed will make people more understanding of the range of normal for the opposite sex, too. So boys won’t take the piss out of women’s labia or the size of their vagina*, and girls won’t say cruel things about the size of someone’s penis.**

*No, you can not tell how much sex someone’s had by how tight or loose a vagina feels. No, you should not make up songs about women’s ‘flaps hanging low’.

**No, it’s not cool to tell people your ex has a small dick just because he p*ssed you off.

It’ll make our sex lives better, too. There’ll be a greater understanding of how penises and vaginas work, and lots more pleasure happening when everyone understands where the clitoris is, which bits of the penis are more sensitive, and what to expect when they start going down.

Oh, and knowing the range of normal will make it easier to know when something’s gone a bit wrong.

If we know all the different ways a healthy vagina or penis can look, we’ll be more able to quickly notice a change in appearance or a dodgy symptom – and because we’re not holding on to the heavy worry of ‘what if my entire downstairs area is completely abnormal and the doctor will recoil in horror’, we’ll feel more able to ask for help.

And, of course, openly presenting students with pictures of genitals is all part of chipping away at our general silence and squeamishness around our bits.

Penises and vaginas are not inherently gross, or dirty, or wrong. We should be able to talk about them, ask questions about them, and not feel disgusted or scared when it comes to being presented with their natural states (*cough* periods are not gross, neither is body hair, and ‘vagina’ is not a dirty word *cough*).

Complete Article HERE!

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How to Talk Openly With Your Kids About Sex

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By Michele Hutchison,Rina Mae Acosta

This spring, Rina’s four-year-old kindergartner Bram Julius will learn about colors, shapes, how to play nicely with other children, and take his first steps towards learning about sexuality at school. In these early sex ed lessons the class will discuss butterflies in your stomach, friendship, and whether or not you’re happy to hold hands with another child. Meanwhile, my nine-year-old daughter Ina will be having class conversations about the physical changes during puberty and romantic relationships.

Each spring, Dutch children between the ages of four and twelve receive a week-long national sex-education program at school. The aim of these lessons is to allow for open, honest discourse about love, relationships, feelings, personal boundaries, and sex. The Dutch approach is even more surprising when I think about the climate I grew up in. Sex-ed was something you were taught at school in an embarrassing biology lesson. You couldn’t talk about it openly. The Dutch national sex-ed school program might seem odd or controversial, especially since a recent CDC study shows that nearly 80% of American children and teenagers do not receive any formal sex and sexuality education before having sex. But given the bigger picture, we think the Dutch are onto something.

The United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world while the Dutch have among the lowest—eight times lower than their American counterparts. Research also indicates that, on average, teens in the Netherlands do not have sex at an earlier age than those in the US. This is the case even though Dutch society and parents are more relaxed, even allowing romantic sleepovers in their own homes. If you treat teenagers as if they are mature and responsible enough to make decisions, they might actually live up to those expectations.

It seems that with American children being constantly exposed to sexual content in the media through music videos, prime-time TV, and the internet, American parents anxiously avoid talking to their children about sex in the hope of not exposing them any further. This, in a climate where sexting, sending sexually explicit texts, is becoming increasingly common, even as early as in middle school.

While Dutch schools are providing age-appropriate lessons on intimacy and sexuality, instilling in children a safe code of conduct and respect for others, Dutch parents keep nothing from children. Nothing is taboo. Questions are answered simply and honestly, at the child’s level of understanding and maturity, as they arise. It was one of the first pieces of parenting advice we received from other parents here. Recent questions from my son, Ben, who is just a couple of years shy of becoming a fully-fledged teen, include: “Is sex fun? How?” and “How does a sperm donor get the sperm out?” I have been answering my kids’ questions on anatomy and reproduction from almost as early as they could talk.

Of course, sex can be a tricky, embarrassing topic no matter what culture you’re a part of. But by talking more openly about sex, parents can ease into discussing topics that become more complicated as their children grow older. Topics like gay marriage, sexuality, gender issues, and consent. There’s an added bonus to all this communication: children who have a good relationship with their parents tend to wait longer before having sex.

Like most expats, we were shocked to hear that Dutch parents allow their teenage children to have friends of the opposite sex to stay the night. But here, most teenagers have their first sexual experience in the safety of the parental home—how many Americans can say the same? According to a UNICEF report, 75% of Dutch teenagers use a condom the first time they have sex, and data from the World Health Organization shows that Dutch teens are among the top users of the birth-control pill. So teenage sex is allowed, but preferably in a controlled environment, that is, under the teen’s parents’ own roof. A safe place to have sex encourages safe sex.

Dutch children are well equipped with knowledge about sex before they enter puberty. If they are, the Dutch have learned, they will take fewer risks later on and know how to protect themselves.

It’s no wonder that Dutch kids are considered to be the happiest kids in the world! The Dutch have a very different view of what a child actually is—including accepting the reality that their children will have sex at one point or another . If American parents are anxious to keep their children safe, perhaps it would be better if they, and teachers, were more open about sex after all.

Complete Article HERE!

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What to do when your teen tells you they have a sexually transmitted infection

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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.”

Complete Article HERE!

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My Son Might Be Gay. What Should I Say to Him?

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There’s a reason he hasn’t come out to you yet.

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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 askdaveholmes@gmail.com. I’m here to help you minimize the damage you will necessarily inflict on the world just by being alive.

So, what’s your problem?

Dave,

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?
Many thanks,

Mark

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 had no gay people in our lives back then, no way to gauge my family’s level of tolerance.

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.

At this age, kids are not only wildly self-conscious, they are also you-conscious.

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

Complete Article HERE!

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