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Sex education at the push of a button: the apps changing lives worldwide

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From dealing with harassment to frank advice about STIs, these female app developers are providing vital, candid knowledge

The Ask Without Shame app provides information about sex to young people and has 60,000 users across Africa.

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Accurate information about sex and healthy relationships leads to greater gender equality worldwide, a report by the UN’s world heritage body Unesco found. It also leads to better sexual health, as well as less sexually transmitted infections, HIV and unintended pregnancies.

Yet many young people still don’t get the accurate information they need. Technology is one way to bring it to them. The revised international technical guidance on sexuality education, released by Unesco in January, said new technology offers “rich opportunities” to reach young people – if it’s used intelligently.

These women, from around the world, are working hard to found apps and use new technology to educate communities on sexual health.

Ruth Nabembezi, 22, founder of Ask Without Shame

Ruth Nabembezi, founder of Ask Without Shame.

When Nabembezi was just 16 years old, her older sister Pamela, who was 23, became very thin, started losing her hair and developed a skin rash. She was HIV positive, but a lack of awareness of the virus and Aids meant she didn’t get medical treatment straight away. “She was taken to a witch doctor to be cleansed of demons,” Nabembezi says. When she eventually did get taken to hospital, it was too late and she died there.

Since then, Nabembezi has wanted to help people access accurate information about sexual health. “In Uganda, anything related to sexuality is a taboo,” she says. Last year the government even branded better sex education an “erosion of morals”. Young people have to find their own information from peers, Nabembezi says. As a result, many end up believing harmful myths, such as if you sleep with a virgin, you can’t catch HIV.

Nabembezi created Ask Without Shame after joining a Social Innovation Academy when she finished school, because she wanted to change things. The mobile app, free phone line and text message service provide information about sex to young people through their phones. Questions are answered by doctors, nurses and counsellors.

The app has more than 60,000 users, mostly from Uganda and other African countries. But Nabembezi wants more. “I’d like to see it in every country in the world,” she says.

Beverly Chogo, 23, founder of Sophie Bot

Chogo created Sophie Bot in 2016 after watching her friend go through a traumatic abortion in Kenya. “It led to a lot of bleeding and abdominal pain,” Chogo says. At the time, Chogo didn’t understand what was happening to her friend. “It was a lot of trauma that she wasn’t prepared for,” Chogo says. “From that moment on I wanted to do something.”

And so the Sophie Bot was born. Chogo created the artificial intelligence (AI) Sophie Bot along with a team of three others whom she met at university in Kenya. Unsafe abortion is a major public health crisis in the country and a leading cause of preventable death and illness among women and girls. Young people can ask the Sophie Bot questions about anything, from STIs to family planning and it gives automated responses. Chogo says some people have even asked how to make sex more kinky or pleasurable, although she points out that’s not what it was originally set up for. The bot then gives automated responses.

Sex is still taboo in many African communities and so technology has been “very instrumental,” Chogo says. “Almost everyone has a smartphone.” The Sophie Bot is on WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and Telegram messenger. It’s had over 1,500 downloads so far, but “now we want to reach more people,” Chogo says. “The sky’s the limit.”

Heather Corinna, 47, founder of Scarleteen

US-born Corinna first set up the Scarleteen website, a platform which provides information about sex and relationships for young people, in 1998. Corinna – who identifies as non-binary and uses the “they” pronoun – had no idea it would become their second job. For the next year, Corinna taught a class of kindergarten children during the day – and then taught a “global online classroom” about sex during the evenings.

It all started when Corinna uploaded fiction about women’s sexuality online. Unexpectedly, they started to get letters from young women asking basic questions about sex. There wasn’t a resource for Corinna to direct them to, so they set up their own: Scarleteen. The website was one of the first of its kind and published questions, along with Corinna’s empathetic responses. “People wrote me long letters, so I wrote them back,” Corinna says.

It wasn’t easy and Corinna was stalked and harassed online, just for talking to young people about the topic of sexuality – but they didn’t give up. “I’m rebellious,” Corinna says. “When people give me grief I go in hard.” Twenty years later, Corinna now runs Scarleteen with a team of global volunteers.

Mia Davis, 25, founder of Tabu

Davis grew up in the American midwest and had an abstinence-based religious education that was “pretty limited” when it came to sexuality. As a result, she was ashamed of her body. “I was always learning from a boyfriend,” the Stanford University graduate says, “but now I realise they didn’t know what they were talking about either.”

So in 2016, the user-experience designer set-up Tabu. One thing that stands out is its colourful design. “A lot of sexual health content can either be too in your face, or is just images that you wouldn’t want anyone to see,” Davis says. “So instead we wanted it to be really fresh and to make it pop.”

Movements like #MeToo, where people have come forward about harassment, have highlighted the need for better sex and relationship education, Davies says. And advances in mobile technology mean that it’s more possible than ever to provide it. “There’s a lot of unlearning to do,” she says. “And it’s coming to a head now.”

Brianna Rader, 26, founder of Juicebox

Rader is about to launch a new version of Juicebox, an app that provides personalised coaching for sex and relationships through your phone. She has been passionate about sex education for years, even getting condemned by lawmakers in the state of Tennessee for running a series of sex education events called Sex Week at her university.

Attitudes towards sex education are changing. Even just a few years ago it was different, she says. But now people are more open to these conversations and are making the most of mobile and new technologies. “[Sex ed tech founders] are not just providing PDFs and booklets,” Rader says. “We are going much further than that.”

Complete Article HERE!

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7 condom myths everyone needs to stop believing, according to a doctor

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It’s time we got real about condoms.

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When it comes to condoms, chances are pretty good that you think you know everything there is know on the matter. Like, you’ve been learning about safe sex since eighth grade health class. You’re good.

But where, exactly, does most of your current-day condom knowledge stem from? If it’s sourced from a mix of things your friends have told you, plus whatever memory of eighth grade health class you have stored deep within your temporal lobe, it may not all be entirely accurate. In fact, there are more than a few common condom myths floating around — some of which you may believe as fact.

INSIDER spoke with Dr. Logan Levkoff, a nationally recognized health and sexuality expert who works with Trojan brand condoms, to get down to the bottom of of what you should (and shouldn’t) believe about condoms.

Myth: Condoms haven’t evolved over the past few decades.

Condoms being tested.

Think that condoms haven’t really changed from the time that your parents (and even your grandparents) might have been using them? According to Dr. Levkoff, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

“One of [the biggest myths] is when people say that condoms haven’t changed over time, that the condoms that are out today are the same as they were thirty or forty years ago. And it’s just not true,” Dr. Levkoff told INSIDER.

“There are have been a ton of innovations about condoms, condom shape, the use of lube, the thinness of latex, the ribbing. They’re so much better now!”

Myth: Condoms aren’t that effective.

Most of us have heard the same statistics — condoms, when used perfectly, are 98% effective. But “typical” condom use (aka the way most people use them) is 85% effective. Because of this, you may feel as though condoms aren’t so important.

“What we don’t typically tell people is that this “typical” number, that includes people who don”t use condoms all the time. So, is there a surprise that the number is lower if people don’t use them at all?” Dr. Levkoff told INSIDER.

“I think myths occur because we aren’t really clear on the numbers we’re giving and talking about.”

So, if you feel like you can skip a condom because it won’t make that much of a difference whether you use one or not, think again. If you use one, you’ll be in a much better position than you would be if you’d skipped one.

Myth: Sex with condoms isn’t as enjoyable as sex without condoms.

Condom sex = bad sex. Or, at least, this is a commonly-accepted narrative that you’ve probably heard two or three (or 10) times.

As it turns out, this isn’t true at all.

“Because we have these preconceived notions of what condoms are — thick latex, big smell — we perpetuate the message that condoms don’t feel good or condoms aren’t fun. And the reality is that condoms have lower latex odor today and they feel great,” Dr. Levkoff told INSIDER.

Dr. Levkoff also noted that a study done at Indiana University found that people rate sex with condoms equally as pleasurable as sex without condoms.

“And that’s really important, because condoms give us the ability to be fully engaged in the act of sex, to not worry and think about the ‘what ifs.'” Dr. Levkoff told INSIDER.

Myth: You can stop using condoms once you’re exclusive.

There’s something called a “condom window.”

Thinking about dropping condoms now that you and your partner have been dating for a few months? You might want to think again.

“In this business, we call this the ‘condom window,'” Dr. Levkoff told INSIDER. “We know that once someone is sexually active with a partner for a while all of the sudden, they’re like ‘Well, we don’t have to use these anymore.'”

“The reality is, we probably get rid of the condoms earlier than we should. There’s no question, in heterosexual relationship, that dual protection — condoms, plus [another form of birth control] — are really the best way to prevent STIs as well as unintended pregnancy. I would love to say that we live in a world in which we’re all super honest about what we do and who we do it with and what our sexual health status is, but we’re not always. So, until we get to a point where we can be, then it’s always worth having condoms, too.”

Myth: Young people are the only ones at risk for condom misuse and mistakes.

It can be easy to assume that, once you age out of the risk of becoming a teen pregnancy statistic, the rest of your sex life will be safe and surprise free. But if it’s important to be vigilant about safe sex, no matter how old you are — and, according to Dr. Levkoff, many people start to slip up as they get older.

“We are seeing numbers of sexual health issues arise, not just in younger populations, but certainly in aging populations too, who maybe are out dating again and are sexually active and aren’t as concerned about unintended pregnancy,” Dr. Levkoff told INSIDER.

“They might not have grown up in a time of HIV/AIDs and don’t think to worry,” she continued. “That’s also the group where, for the most part, if they saw condoms, they saw the condoms from the sixties, not the condoms from today. So there’s definitely some work to be done there.”

Myth: Condoms stored in wallets aren’t effective.

We’ve all seen that classic Reddit photo of the wallet that developed a permanent ring due to the fact that its owner stored a condom in there for the duration of his college years. And that probably means that you shouldn’t keep condoms in wallets at all, right?

Well, not exactly. Storing condoms in wallets certainly isn’t the best idea — ideally, condoms should be kept in a dark, cool, friction-free environment— but as long as you don’t keep a condom in a wallet for years and years, you should be fine.

“Condoms are medical devices. They’re regulated, so they have to be held to certain standards. But keeping it in your wallet for a little on the chance that you might have a great night, it’s not a big deal,” Dr. Levkoff told INSIDER.

What’s more important is to pay attention to the expiration date on the condom wrapper. “Condoms have expiration dates for a reason, because there is a window that they are most effective,” Dr. Levkoff said.

Myth: Condoms should only be the guy’s responsibility.

Do not rely on anyone for birth control.

If you are a person with a vagina who has sex with people with penises, you may feel that it is the penis-haver’s responsibility to provide the condoms.

Not so, said Dr. Levkoff. “I think there’s nothing more empowering than knowing you can carry a product that takes care of your sexual health. But there’s this idea that, because someone with a penis wears a condom, [they have to be in charge].”

According to Dr. Levkoff, it’s better to think about condoms as though both parties will be wearing them — because, technically, they are.

“If it’s going into someone else’s body, they’re wearing it too. It doesn’t have to be rolled onto you in order for it to be considered use,” Dr. Levkoff told INSIDER.

Complete Article HERE!

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‘Discovering my true sexual self’: why I embraced polyamory

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My husband and I were together for 12 years and had two children – but while he was happy with one person, I needed more

By Anita Cassidy

It was the hardest thing I’d ever had to say to my husband, Marc. Three years ago, I sat down and told him: “The idea of having sex just with you for the next 40 years – I can’t do it any more.” But I had come to realise that my life was built around something I didn’t believe in: monogamy.

We had been together for 12 years and had two children, now nine and seven. I love being a mother and I set the bar high from the start – cloth nappies and cooking from scratch. But I needed something more in my emotional and sexual life.

Marc’s reaction was remarkable; he agreed to support me and open our marriage to other partners, although it wasn’t really what he wanted. We started counselling to try to identify the best of what we had, to save it and protect it. Sex is a big part of a relationship, but it is only a part. We didn’t want it to scupper us.

If that sounds difficult, it was. I don’t think we could have done it if we hadn’t spent most of our marriage reading, talking and exploring together.

I quickly embraced the dating scene and discovered another side of my sexual self. I enrolled on lots of sites, where you are asked specific questions about yourself and your preferences. It was illuminating: do I like this? Yes. Do I like that? Well, let’s see. They were the kind of questions I’d never been asked before – and had never asked myself.

I became convinced that traditional relationships are like an air lock. You meet someone. It’s amazing and it’s rare, and then you lock it; you shut the windows and doors, and you try desperately to keep it all to yourselves. Then the air turns sour because there’s no oxygen. You might make a sexual mistake on the spur of the moment because you are craving some – any – contact. Why not live in a world where you can have room for that connection, that spark?

I think most people’s reaction was that Marc should have kicked me out. My immediate family have been supportive, although my mother is still ambivalent. We discuss everything openly, and she understands where I’m coming from, but worries that I’m going to end up on my own. If I do, though, it will be because I have chosen that.

People who choose to be polyamorous often do so after delving deep into themselves and their desires, so it runs close to the kink scene, which was also something I wanted to explore. There’s a temptation to think that, had Marc and I explored these things together, our marriage might have worked without opening it up. I’m not sure that it would have, though, given that he wasn’t into it. It can seem quite intimidating, but I was so ready for it. The first time I went to a fetish club, I felt like I was at home – that I’d found my people.

I now have a partner of two years, Andrea. We work as a couple, but we also have sex with friends. He’s the only partner I have introduced to my children. I love Andrea and I’m very lucky to have him, but I don’t want to live with him – we both value our solitude too much. He and I can flirt with other people and ask for their number, but I still feel jealous sometimes. He went away with another woman and, yes, it was difficult.

Anita, Marc and Andrea, too: ‘I’m not sure our marriage would have worked without opening it up.’

Meanwhile, Marc and I realised we were no longer compatible. I had changed too much. We still share the family home and parent our children together. We still get on. We have counselling together, we spend Christmas together – we are still reading and learning as we used to. We wanted to keep all the bits that worked.

We have had to learn so much about communicating better, and I think the children have benefited from that. We have explained that Dad needs one person to be with and Mum needs more people to make her happy. The talk is ongoing; we won’t wait to sit them down when they are teenagers, expecting them suddenly to get it. Understanding polyamory is complicated, but monogamy is fraught with ambiguity, too.

You can craft your own polyamory, but I’m not sure I would want more than two or three other partners. I’m hoping two people I met recently will become lovers, but there’s no rush. People assume that I’m constantly having sex, but it’s not as simple as that. I want an emotional and mental connection with someone, so it takes time to build up to that.

Monogamy, meanwhile, feels more like a competition where you need to bag someone before anyone else does. None of that applies in a poly setup, which is incredibly liberating. Think how strange it would be to have only one friend. You can’t get everything from one platonic relationship. Why would you try with one lover?

But it’s a challenge: you’re swimming against the cultural norm and it’s difficult emotionally, with or without the support of an existing partner. On top of that, the amount of work involved in maintaining multiple relationships, sexual and platonic, is huge.

Andrea and I look to the future, but there are no expectations. We are part of a broader community and we think developing that is more important. Put it this way: I don’t see myself sitting on a park bench at 80 with one other person. I’d like to be part of a group of people, a community. We seem to want a silver bullet for everything. One God. One partner. But life is plural.

Marc’s view

I’d realised for a few years that Anita wasn’t completely happy, so it wasn’t a total shock when she told me she wanted to explore non-monogamy. It was upsetting to hear that what we had wasn’t meeting her needs, but it was very important to me that she was happy. If that meant her exploring a different relationship style, then I would be there to support her.

I did a lot of reading around the subject of ethical non-monogamy. It makes a lot of sense intellectually, but it doesn’t resonate with me emotionally. It didn’t feel right. I was prepared for our marriage to continue, with me being monogamous and Anita having other partners, but that proved more difficult than we envisaged.

I completely support Anita. I’m glad she has been able to share with me what she’s discovering about the honesty and communication needed to make polyamory work. It’s also true of monogamous relationships, and I hope to take what I have learned from this experience into my future relationships.

What I have always wanted – and still do – is to be with one partner, long-term, with whom I can share all of life’s rich experiences, to enjoy the journey and the inevitable changes together.

Complete Article HERE!

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Aphrodisiacs: Where is the evidence?

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The quest for sexual satisfaction is as old as civilization itself. Can 21st-century medicine unravel the secret? Despite good-quality clinical studies, the holy grail of aphrodisiacs remains to be found.

Do aphrodisiacs have a place in our sex lives?

The quest for sexual satisfaction is as old as civilization itself. Can 21st-century medicine unravel the secret? Despite good-quality clinical studies, the holy grail of aphrodisiacs remains to be found.

For many couples, a happy sex life is key for long-term happiness. But sexual dysfunction and loss of interest in sex are common issues, affecting sexual happiness and relationship satisfaction.

In 2015, a panel of experts reviewed scientific studies investigating sexual dysfunction in men and women.

Writing in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, they conclude that “[…] that the most frequent sexual dysfunctions for women are desire and arousal dysfunctions. In addition, there is a large proportion of women who experience multiple sexual dysfunctions.”

“For men,” they add, “premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction are the most common sexual dysfunctions.”

Are aphrodisiacs the answer to getting our sex lives back on track?

What are aphrodisiacs?

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “Any product that bears labeling claims that it will arouse or increase sexual desire, or that it will improve sexual performance, is an aphrodisiac drug product.”

Bold claims have been made about many potential aphrodisiacs, which range from commonly used spices and exotic plant extracts to animal organs and ground insects.

Many of these are steeped in history and long-held cultural beliefs, but little scientific evidence actually exists to show that they have the desired effects.

Some products, such as yohimbine — which is extracted from the bark of the West African Yohimbe tree — have been linked with severe health risks, such as heart attacks and seizures, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

Luckily, we are slowly emerging from the dark ages of aphrodisiac research, with the number of good-quality studies — aiming to get to the bottom of which compounds are safe and how they work — steadily increasing.

Ginkgo and ginseng

In a review of the scientific evidence underpinning natural aphrodisiacs, Dr. Elizabeth West, from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of California at Irvine, and Dr. Michael Krychman, from the Southern California Center for Sexual Health and Survivorship Medicine in Newport Beach, explain that “while the data are still limited, ginkgo, ginseng, maca, and Tribulus have promising data behind them.”

Ginkgo has been shown to increase blood flow to the peripheral organs, including the genitals. While one study showed an improvement in sexual function in both men and women, these findings were not supported in another study, according to Drs. West and Krychman.

Ginkgo is well-tolerated by most people, but it can cause risk of excessive bleeding, they caution.

Several double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical studies support the notion that ginseng is effective for erectile dysfunction, and — to a lesser studied degree — can improve sexual arousal in menopausal women.

As with ginkgo, there may be side effects, which include minor gastrointestinal symptoms. Those with hormone-sensitive cancers should avoid using ginseng.

Maca and Tribulus terrestris

According to Drs. West and Krychman, “Research in rodents has shown that maca [an Andean root vegetable] effectively enhanced libido and improved erectile function after supplementation.”

Although three clinical studies showed improvement in sexual function in women and men, another trial did not.

Tribulus terrestris, which is a plant traditionally used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, contains a compound that is converted to dehydroepiandrosterone, a natural steroid hormone.

“A rodent study showed increased sperm production after Tribulus supplementation,” say Drs. West and Krychman. Sexual satisfaction in the women taking Tribulus terrestrial was improved in several studies — including a 2017 trial — while semen quality and erectile dysfunction in men also saw a boost.

Not ‘recognized as safe and effective’

Despite the increase in good-quality clinical studies, the FDA caution that “[t]here is a lack of adequate data to establish general recognition of the safety and effectiveness of any […] ingredients […] for OTC [over-the-counter] use as an aphrodisiac.”

They issue a further warning:

Based on evidence currently available, any OTC drug product containing ingredients for use as an aphrodisiac cannot be generally recognized as safe and effective.”

So, before you rush off to stock up on any purported aphrodisiac, it might be worth bearing this warning in mind. Talking to your healthcare provider, rather than taking matters into your own hands, could be a safer option altogether.

Complete Article HERE!

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For Some With Intellectual Disabilities, Ending Abuse Starts With Sex Ed

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Katy Park, who runs arts and wellness programs for Momentum — a community service program for people with intellectual disabilities — starts a class on healthy sexuality by asking her students to define what they want in a relationship.

by Joseph Shapiro

In the sex education class for adults with intellectual disabilities, the material is not watered down. The dozen women and men in a large room full of windows and light in Casco, Maine, take on complex issues, such as how to break up or how you know you’re in an abusive relationship. And the most difficult of those issues is sexual assault.

Katy Park, the teacher, begins the class with a phrase they’ve memorized: “My body is my own,” Park starts as the rest join in, “and I get to decide what is right for me.”

People with intellectual disabilities are sexually assaulted at a rate more than seven times that for people without disabilities. NPR asked the U.S. Department of Justice to use data it had collected, but had not published, to calculate that rate.

At a moment when Americans are talking about sexual assault and sexual harassment, a yearlong NPR investigation finds that people with intellectual disabilities are one of the most at-risk groups in America.

“This is really an epidemic and we’re not talking about it,” says Park, a social worker who runs arts and wellness programs for Momentum, an agency based in Maine that provides activities in the community and support services for adults with intellectual disabilities. Those high rates of abuse — which have been an open secret among people with intellectual disabilities, their families and people who work with them — are why Park started this class about healthy relationships and healthy sexuality.

Because one of the best ways to stop sexual assault is to give people with intellectual disabilities the ability to identify abuse and to know how to develop the healthy relationships they want.

“Let’s talk about the positive parts of being in a relationship,” Park says, holding a marker while standing at a whiteboard, at the start of the class. “Why do we want to be in a relationship?”

“For love,” says one man. “And sexual reaction.”

“Romance,” adds a woman.

“How about support?” asks Lynne, a woman who speaks with a hushed voice and sits near the front of the class.

“Having support, right?” Park says, writing the word on the board. “We all want support.”

A participant helps Park hang the agenda on the wall at the start of class.

From working with the men and women here, Park realized they want to have relationships, love and romance. They see their parents, siblings and their friends in relationships. They see people in relationships when they watch TV or go to the movies. They want the same things as anyone else.

But it’s harder for them. When they were in school, most of the adults in this room say, they didn’t get the sex ed classes other kids got. Now, just going on a date is difficult. They probably don’t drive or have cars. They rely on public transportation. They don’t have a lot of money. They live at home with their parents or in a group home, where there’s not a lot of privacy.

And then there’s the one thing that really complicates romance for people with intellectual disabilities: those high rates of sexual abuse.

“Oftentimes, it actually is among the only sexual experience they’ve had,” says Park. “When you don’t have other healthy sexual experiences, how do you sort through that? And then the shame, and the layers upon layers upon layers.”

This class, she says, is about “breaking the chain, being empowered to say, ‘No. This stops with me.’ “

“I Think People Take Advantage”

The women and men come to Momentum during the week for different programs. They go kayaking and biking; they go to the library and do volunteer work at the local food bank. There’s a range of disability here. You can look at some of the men and women — maybe someone with Down syndrome — and see they have a disability. Others, even after you talk to them, you might not figure out they have an intellectual disability.

Like one small woman with short, choppy dark hair, streaked red.

She’s 22 now, but when she was 18, her boyfriend was several years older. She says he was controlling. He didn’t let her have a cellphone or go see her friends.

“He was strangling me and stuff like that,” says the woman. (NPR is not using her name.) “And he was, the R-word — I hate to say it, but rape.” She says he raped her eight times, hit her and kicked her. “So I don’t know how I’m alive today, actually. He choked me where I blacked out.”

She thinks she was an easy target for him, because of her mild intellectual disability. “I think people take advantage,” she says. “They like to take advantage of disabilities. I have disabilities, not as bad as theirs. But I think they like to take advantage, which is wrong. I hate that.”

A student takes notes in Park’s Relate class.

She says the class helped her better understand what she wanted, and had a right to, in a relationship. She’s got a kind and respectful boyfriend now.

Her friend Lynne listens and says she would like to find a boyfriend. But in her past, she has experienced repeated sexual abuse.

She talks about a time when she was 14 and “this older guy that knew us” forced her to have sex. She says she told people but no one believed her. The next year, when she was 15, she was sexually assaulted — this time by a boy at her school. “I was trying to scream,” she says, “but I couldn’t because he had his hand over my mouth, telling me not to say anything to anybody.”

Lynne, who is 38, says those rapes and others left her unable to develop relationships. “I couldn’t trust anyone,” she says. Lynne (NPR has agreed to identify her by her middle name) says this class has helped her realize she wants a real, romantic relationship and has taught her how to better find one.

“There’s A Lot Of Loneliness”

Katherine McLaughlin, a New Hampshire sex educator, developed the curriculum used by Momentum. She wrote it so that it uses concrete examples to describe things, to match the learning style of people with intellectual disabilities. It shows pictures and uses photographs.

McLaughlin says the main desire of adults with intellectual disabilities is to learn “how to meet people and start relationships. There’s a lot of loneliness.”

That loneliness leaves them vulnerable to getting into abusive relationships, she says, or to rape.

Sometimes, especially when they’re young, they can’t name what happened to them as a sexual assault. Because they didn’t get the education to identify it. “We don’t think of them as sexual beings. We don’t think of them as having sexual needs or desires,” McLaughlin says. “Often they’re thought of as children, even when they’re 50 years old.”

Sheryl White-Scott, a New York City internist who specializes in treating people with intellectual disabilities, estimates that at least half of her female patients are survivors of sexual assault. “In my clinical experience, it’s probably close to 50 percent, but it could be as high as 75 percent,” she says. “There’s a severe lacking in sexual education. Some people just don’t understand what is acceptable and what’s not.”

Most of the women and men at the class in Maine say they didn’t get sex ed classes, like other kids, when they were in school. Or if they did, it was the simplistic warnings, like the kind given to young children. “It’s easy to fall back on ‘good touch-bad touch’ sex ed,” says Michael Gill, the author of “Already Doing It: Intellectual Disability and Sexual Agency.” “That’s a lot of what they get.” And the usual warning about “stranger danger” can be unhelpful, because it’s not strangers but people they know and trust who are most likely to assault them.

Most rapes are committed by someone a victim knows. For women without disabilities, the person who assaults them is a stranger 24 percent of the time. NPR’s data from unpublished Justice Department numbers show the difference is stark for people with disabilities: The abuser is a stranger less than 14 percent of the time.

“Parents get this; professionals don’t,” says Nancy Nowell, a sexuality educator with a specialty in teaching people with developmental disabilities, an umbrella term that includes intellectual disability but also autism.

Park asks her students to weigh in on agreements with a thumbs up or a thumbs down during class.

Parents have significant reason to worry: Figuring out what’s a healthy relationship is difficult for any young person, and it can be even trickier if a person has an intellectual disability. People with intellectual disabilities are vulnerable to problems from rape to unwanted pregnancy. Some people with intellectual disabilities marry. A small number have children — and rely on family or others to support them as parents.

Still, says McLaughlin, parents often are reluctant to talk to their children with intellectual disabilities about sex. “Parents often feel, if I talk about it they will go and be sexual,” she says, and they fear that could make them targets for sexual assault.

But educators such as McLaughlin, Gill and Nowell argue the reverse: that comprehensive sexuality education is the best way to prevent sexual assault. “If people know what sexual assault is,” says Gill, an assistant professor of disability studies at Syracuse University, “they become empowered in what is sexuality and what they want in sexuality.”

Respect

Gill argues that a long history of prejudice and fear gets in the way. He notes early 20th century laws that required the sterilization of people with intellectual disabilities. That came out of the eugenics movement, which put faith in IQ tests as proof of the genetic superiority of white, upper-class Americans.

People with intellectual disabilities were seen as a danger to that order. “Three generations of imbeciles are enough,” Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote in a 1927 opinion that ruled the state of Virginia could forcibly sterilize a young woman deemed “feebleminded.”

Carrie Buck was the daughter of a woman who lived at a state institution for people with intellectual disabilities. And when Buck became pregnant — the result of a rape — she was committed to a state institution where she gave birth and was declared mentally incompetent to raise the child. Buck was then forcibly sterilized to prevent her from getting pregnant again. There was evidence that neither Buck, nor her daughter, Vivian, was, in fact, intellectually disabled. In the first half of the 20th century, impoverished women who had children outside marriage were often ruled by courts to be “feebleminded.”

There was another myth in popular culture that people with intellectual disabilities were violent and could not control their sexual urges. Think about that staple of high school literature classes, John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” The intellectually disabled Lennie can’t control himself when the ranch hand’s wife lets him stroke her hair. He becomes excited, holding her too tight, and accidentally strangles her.

The class in Maine aims to help these adults know what’s a healthy relationship and how to communicate how they feel about someone.

The main way this class differs from a traditional sex ed class is that — to help people with intellectual disabilities learn — the material is broken down and spread out over 10 sessions. Each class lasts for 2 1/2 hours. But the adults in the class are completely attentive for the entire session.

They do take a couple of very short breaks to get up and move around, including one break to dance. Everyone gets up when Park turns on the tape recorder and plays — just right for this group asking to be treated like adults — Aretha Franklin singing “Respect.” There is joyous dancing and shouts. And when the song is over, they go back to their seats and get back to work.

Complete Article HERE!

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