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Let’s Talk About Sex

Overcoming Barriers to Discussing Sexuality and Empowering Adolescent Girls

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It can be difficult to offer sexuality education to adolescents anywhere—but it’s especially difficult in deeply conservative communities around the world, where sexuality remains a taboo topic. At “Let’s Talk About Sex,” a day-long event organized by GreeneWorks, American Jewish World Service, CARE and International Women’s Health Coalition, participants got an opportunity to explore this challenge through a mix of discussion, movement and performance.

It was a unique way to kick off the 2016 Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) forum, which brought together feminists—1,800 of them, from more than 30 countries—to strategize and connect in Bahia, Brazil this September. Among the participants were representatives from AJWS grantee organizations working to advance gender equality in India.

“As researchers and practitioners, we often operate inside our heads,” said Meg Greene of GreeneWorks. She noted that many people working with international nonprofit organizations tend to resist meaningful discussions of sexuality out of sheer discomfort. “This is a very embodied challenge . . . what can we learn by embodying our experience of it?”

Margot Greenlee of BodyWise Dance began the day by leading the group through a series of warm-up exercises set to samba. Participants drummed on their knees and moved to the music. One woman remarked that the experience was “better than coffee,” and it was followed by a discussion of the reasons why everyone had come.

BodyWise Dance company performs a scene based on the group’s conversations.

BodyWise Dance company performs a scene based on the group’s conversations.

One participant said her work with adolescent girls, while deeply meaningful, was sometimes sad and frustrating—in part because the girls were reaching an age when sexuality was becoming part of their lives, and she often felt it impossible to discuss their questions without risking anger from the community. Another woman agreed; she explained that even when her organization tried to educate young people on sexuality, the curricula wound up focusing more on topics related to anatomy and hygiene, like menstruation. She and others wanted to explore new strategies for addressing sexuality more openly.

The rest of the day alternated between performances by the BodyWise company, participatory dance exercises and more cerebral reflections on participants’ respective work. Conversation started off with the social norms and experiences that shape people’s understanding of sexuality and gender roles—and how some people’s beliefs lead to serious barriers that keep girls and young women from exercising their rights.

For example: Alejandra Colom, who works with Population Council, talked about a rural community in Guatemala that’s ruled by drug traffickers. She said many people there view early and child marriage as something that happens simply because, in their view, “it’s the only way to stop bad things that happen to girls.” The community thinks of marriage as a way of increasing the security of girls in a place where sexual violence is commonplace.

Alejandra Colom, left, of the Population Council in Guatemala.

Alejandra Colom, left, of the Population Council in Guatemala.

To begin expanding the options and information available to local girls, Population Council hired a young woman who served as a mentor. She met with about 40 girls once a week and spoke to them about topics like sexuality and gender-based violence. Alejandra said the mentor wanted girls to understand their rights—to know that “it’s not normal that if you pass man on road and he fancies you, he thinks he has the right to rape you.”

Once the community heard what she was teaching, Alejandra said, some of the men started proclaiming the education she provided “dangerous.” The real message: women who stand up for their rights will face danger. Young men started harassing the mentor and interrupting her class. One day, a truck followed behind her motorbike, pulling closer and closer. Then the men inside opened fire.

The bullets missed the mentor. But her days with that community were through. She decided not to go to the police. Everyone knew the drug traffickers were ruling the area, not the government. Alejandra said the young woman told her: “The moment they know that I’m doing something about this, they’ll come back and kill every single member of my family.”

This was just one example of the many challenges the group shared. The conversation also unearthed the strategies participants use to continue their work in places that don’t exactly welcome it. Several people at the event spoke about how collectives—organized groups of girls who learn to advocate for their rights together—can be so important for negotiating with communities when tough situations arise. They reminded the group that there’s power in numbers.

On the other hand, participants pointed out, girls need the freedom to make the decisions that are best for their individual situations. In many places, that means choosing between a few very limited options. Archana Dwivedi of Nirantar—an AJWS grantee—spoke about her organization’s research in India, which found that many teenage boys and girls are actually choosing to get married. They often view early marriage as less oppressive than staying at home with their parents, who are incredibly strict.

In order to address the limitations that many girls and young women face, AJWS’s grantees in India are finding ways to increase girls’ mobility and opportunities. Some of them offer computer or English classes because they know this kind of program is accepted by parents; then, the organization discreetly offers sexuality and human rights education to participating girls.

In Archana’s experience, organizations can often withstand community objections to sexuality education by explaining the importance of their work to angry parents and community members, waiting until the tension breaks, and returning to their work in a few months. She noted that organizations who broach topics like sexuality and gender equality with women and girls should expect backlash from conservative communities and prepare accordingly.

“There is always a backlash when you’re working with adolescent girls,” Archana said. “Everyone wants to control them.”

Read more about the connection between early marriage and control of sexuality here.

Complete Article HERE!

How I Went From Being a Psych Major to a Sex-Toy Creator

By

alex-fine-janet-lieberman

Like many little girls, Alex Fine wanted to change the world.

Her approach was a little uncouth — by young adulthood she decided the best way to make things better would be to give people a better understanding of human sexuality. Alex and her partner Janet Lieberman founded Dame Products in 2011 to do just that — and to ensure every single woman could have an orgasm when she wanted one.

The women designed toys that could work WITH couples during sex to ignite arousal and pleasure. Their first product, Eva, launched on Indiegogo and quickly became the most successful crowdsourced sex toy in history. And Dame’s latest invention, the Fin, made news as Kickstarter’s first-ever sex-toy crowdfunding campaign.

“I grew up empowered by sexuality, but aware of its dark side. I have felt empowered by my sexuality since I was very young…”

Even very young, I was aware of my femininity. The only epiphany I ever had about sex was when I grew boobs. I remember waking up and being like, “Oh my God! I officially have boobs.”

I first experienced slut-shaming in sixth grade, when I kissed three boys in one night. They were all my good guy friends and they were like, “What would it feel like to kiss a girl?” and I said, “I’m a girl, I could show you what it feels like to kiss.” I’m an open person. That’s me.

It only bothered me the next day, when I got to school and everybody was talking about it. People were so mean to me that day and called me a slut. I did not kiss a boy for like two years after that.

I caught on early to the power of sharing stories about sexual experiences

In high school, I dated the same guy from freshman to senior year. I lost my virginity to him… and got HPV. I wanted to share what I went through with my health class. My teacher told me not to — she said it would be a really awful idea because kids can be so cruel. I told her that was wrong: “You are telling me not to share my experience and you are perpetuating the cycle.” I refused to shut down and pretend these things hadn’t happened. So I kept talking — and other girls started coming to me to talk through their own stuff.

As high school graduation approached, I was seriously considering becoming a sex therapist. I am so fascinated by the psychology of gender and sex and how it shapes our society. I wanted to be a part of this conversation. I ended up going to Columbia University for a masters in clinical psychology. It was during that time I realized this dialogue was one I wanted to have.

My goal was to figure out how to make the biggest impact

Growing up, my father really instilled in me the entrepreneurial spirit. It was a belief that there were no limitations on what I could do — and if I didn’t know how to do something, I could look it up on the internet and get the answers I needed. I think a good entrepreneur has this really ridiculous belief that they can figure out how to do anything.

I remember mapping possible futures out for myself in grad school. I could become a sex therapist, sex educator, teacher… And then I added, “I could make a vibrator.”

I circled that last sentence on my idea board. The thought resonated with me. My goal has always been to help people — especially women — feel empowered and aware of their own sexual identities.

So, it was in that headspace that I ended up working in a consumer goods company. I wanted to learn about what it means to be a brand and sell a product around the world — and that’s when I started drawing out what would eventually become the Eva hands-free vibrator for women to wear during sex in order to close the orgasm gap.

Complete Article HERE!

Rape Culture and the Concept of Affirmative Consent

March against rape culture

March against rape culture

Throughout most of our history, rape was a property crime.

Today we do not, in the modern United States at least, think of a woman’s sexuality as a financial asset. But that is a recent phenomenon. For most of our history, rape was not treated the same way as other violent assaults because it wasn’t just a violent assault, it was also a crime against property.

You can see this view–of a woman’s sexuality belonging to her father and later her husband–in laws concerning rape and sexual assault. It was even possible for a father to sue a man who had consensual sex with his daughter because he had lost the value of his daughter. Based on this view, value is lost in terms of her work if she became pregnant and was no longer able to earn wages, or in terms of a future wife for someone else because of this stain on her character. Men could not be held accountable for raping their wives because a wife was a man’s property and consent to sex–at any time of his choosing–was part of the arrangement.

Lest you think that these laws are ancient examples of a culture that no longer bears relation to our current policies on rape, spousal rape was not made illegal in all fifty states until 1993, where it still may carry a less severe sentence than other rape offenses. The tort of seduction was technically on the books in North Carolina in 2003.

This context is important given our current cultural attitudes toward sexual assault. To understand this culture and how it can be amended, we need to look more deeply at the historical understandings of rape and consent.


Force Means No

The framework for defining rape underpins our understanding of who is required to prove consent or non-consent. The Hebrew Scriptures, which established longstanding cultural norms that helped form a basis for what was morally and legally acceptable in early America, make a distinction between a woman who was raped within a city and one who was raped outside of the city limits. The first woman was stoned to death and the second considered blameless (assuming she was a virgin). This distinction is based on the idea that it was the woman’s responsibility to cry out for help and show that she was non-consenting. A woman who was raped in the city obviously had not screamed because if she had someone would have come to her rescue and stopped the rape. The woman outside the city had no one to rescue her so she could not be blamed for being victimized.

This brutal logic, which is completely inconsistent with how we know some victims of rape react to an attack, was continued in the American legal system when our laws on rape were formulated. Rape was defined as a having a male perpetrator and a female victim and involving sexual penetration and a lack of consent. But it was again the woman’s responsibility to prove that she had not consented and the way that this was demonstrated was through her resistance. She was only actually raped if she had attempted to fight off her attacker. Different jurisdictions required different levels of force to show a true lack of consent. For example, fighting off an assailant to your utmost ability or even up to the point where the choice was either to submit to being raped or to being killed. Indeed, the cultural significance of chastity as a virtue that the female was expected to guard was so profound that many female Christian saints are saints at least in part because they chose to die rather than be raped or be a bride to anyone but Christ.

Potential canonization aside, it was consistently the responsibility of the woman alleging that she was the victim of a rape to prove that she had fought off her attacker in order to show that she had not consented. If she could not show that she had sufficiently resisted, she was deemed to not have been raped. Her chastity was someone else’s property, either her father’s or her husband’s/future husband’s, so it was always understood that someone, other than her, had the right to her sexuality. The assailant had assumed that he had the right to use her sexually and was only a rapist if she acted in such a way that a reasonable man would have known that she did not belong to him. Her failure to communicate that fact, that she was the property of some other man, was a sign that she had in fact consented. Therefore the rape was not his moral failing in stealing another man’s property but her moral failing in not protecting that property from being stolen.


Culture Wars

We can see the effects of this ideology in how we treat rape victims today. Although we don’t necessarily require evidence of forceful resistance, it is considered helpful in prosecuting a rape case. Rape shield laws may have eliminated the most egregious examples of slut-shaming victims, but an innocent or even virginal victim is certainly what the prosecution could hope for if they were trying to design their most favorable case. One of the first questions that will be asked of the victim is “did you say no?” In other words “what did YOU do to prevent this from happening to you?” The burden is still often legally and almost always culturally on the victim to show that they did not consent.

There is an alternative approach that has been gaining traction on college campuses and elsewhere known as the concept of “affirmative consent.” Take a look at the video below, which elucidates the differences between the “no versus no” approach compared to affirmative consent, which is often described as “yes means yes.”

In this video, Susan Patton and Rush Limbaugh both represent examples of rape culture. The contrast between the views of Savannah Badlich, the advocate of affirmative consent, and Patton, who is against the idea, could not be starker. To Badlich, consent is an integral part of what makes sex, sex. If there isn’t consent then whatever happened to you, whether most people would have enjoyed it or indeed whether or not you orgasmed, was rape. It is your consent that is the foundation of a healthy sexual experience, not the types of physical actions involved. In contrast, Patton expressed the view that good sex is good sex and consent seems to not play a role in whether it was good sex, or even whether it should be defined as sex at all. The only thing that could indicate if something is an assault versus a sexual encounter is whatever physical evidence exists, because otherwise, the distinction is based only on the assertions of each individual. Again we are back to evidence of force.


What is “Rape Culture”?

Rape culture refers to a culture in which sexuality and violence are linked together and normalized. It perpetuates the idea that male sexuality is based on the use of violence against women to subdue them to take a sexual experience, as well as the idea that female sexuality is the effort to resist or invite male sexuality under certain circumstances. It overgeneralizes gender roles in sexuality, demeans men by promoting their only healthy sexuality as predatory, and also demeans women by considering them objects without any positive sexuality at all.

According to this school of thought, the “no means no” paradigm fits in perfectly with rape culture because it paints men as being predators who are constantly looking for a weak member of the herd to take advantage of sexually, while also teaching women that they need to be better than the rest of the herd at fending off attacks, by clearly saying no, to survive. If they can’t do that, because they were drinking or not wearing proper clothing, then the attack was their fault.


“Yes Means Yes”

Affirmative consent works differently. Instead of assuming that you can touch someone until they prove otherwise, an affirmative consent culture assumes that you may not touch someone until you are invited to do so. This would be a shocking idea to some who assume that gamesmanship and predation are the cornerstones of male sexuality and the perks of power, but it works out better for the majority of men and women, who would prefer and who should demand equality in sex.

This video gives a brief highlight of some of the issues that are brought up when affirmative consent is discussed and the difficulties that can still arise even with affirmative consent as a model.


Evaluating Criticism of Affirmative Consent

The arguments are important so let’s unpack some of the key ones in more detail. The first objection, expressed in both videos, is how exactly do you show consent? Whenever the affirmative consent approach comes up, one of the first arguments is that it is unenforceable because no one is going to stop sexual activity to get written consent, which is the only way to really prove that a person consented. We still end up in a “he said, she said” situation, which is exactly where we are now, or a world where the government is printing out sex contracts.

The idea that affirmative consent will by necessity lead to written contracts for sex is a logical fallacy that opponents to affirmative consent use to make the proposition seem ridiculous. Currently, we require the victim to prove non-consent. Often the victim is asked if they gave a verbal no or if they said they did not want the contact. The victim is never asked: did you put the fact that you didn’t want to be touched in writing and have your assailant read it? The idea that a written explanation of non-consent would be the only way we would take it seriously is absurd, so it would be equally absurd to assume that requiring proof of consent would necessitate written documentation. Advocates for affirmative consent don’t want sex contracts.

In addition, even under our current framework we accept a variety of pieces of evidence from the prosecution to show that the victim did not consent. A clear “no” is obviously the strongest kind of evidence, just as under an affirmative consent framework an enthusiastic verbal “yes” would be the best evidence, but that is just what the best evidence is. That is certainly not the only kind of evidence available. Courts already look at the entire context surrounding the incident to try to determine consent. The process would be virtually the same under an affirmative consent model. The only difference would be that the burden would be on the defendant to show that they believed they had obtained consent based on the context of the encounter instead of placing the burden on the victim to show that, although they didn’t say “no,” they had expressed non-verbally that they were unwilling to participate.

The shift in the burden of proof is sometimes cited as a reason not to adopt an affirmative consent model. Critics argue that this affects the presumption that the accused is innocent until proven guilty. Which is, rightly, a cornerstone of our judicial system. If this model did, in fact, change that presumption then it wouldn’t be an appropriate answer to this problem. But it does not.

Take another crime as an example. A woman’s car is stolen. The police issue a BOLO on the car, find it, and bring the suspect in and sit him down. They ask him “did you have permission to take that car?” and he replies “Yes, officer, she gave me the keys!”

He is still presumed innocent and, as far as this brief hypothetical tells us, hasn’t had his rights violated. It looks as though he is going to get a fair trial at this point. That trial may still devolve into another he said, she said situation. She may allege that she didn’t give him the keys but merely left them on the kitchen table. At that point, it will be up to the jury to decide who they believe, but that would have been the case in any event. He is presenting her giving the keys to him as one of the facts to show his innocence.

If a woman’s car is stolen we don’t question her about how many miles are on the odometer. We don’t ask if she wore a seatbelt the last time she drove it. We don’t care if she had been drinking because her alcohol consumption doesn’t negate the fact that she was a victim of a crime. We certainly wouldn’t force her to prove that she didn’t give the thief the keys. That burden would rightly be on him and we would be able to both place that burden on him and at the same time presume him to be innocent until he failed to meet that burden.

Adopting an affirmative consent model changes how consent is perceived. It is primarily a cultural change in understanding who is responsible for consent. Rather than making the non-initiating party responsible for communicating a lack of consent, affirmative consent requires that the initiating party obtains obvious consent.

That is how affirmative consent works. It wouldn’t require a written contract or even necessarily a verbal assertion. Context would always matter and the cases would still often become two competing stories about what the context meant. And it doesn’t mean that we are assuming that person is guilty before they have the chance to show that they did, in fact, get that consent. It just means that we are placing the burden of proving that consent was obtained on the party claiming that consent had been obtained.


Conclusion

There is no other category of crime where we ask the victim to show that they didn’t want to be the victim of that crime. A man who is stabbed in a bar fight, regardless of whether he was drunk or belligerent, isn’t asked to prove that he didn’t want a knife wound.

We need to change our cultural framework of rape and consent. When we are working under an affirmative consent framework what we are doing is changing the first question. Currently, our first question is for the victim: did you say no? Under an affirmative consent model our first question is for the suspect: did you get a yes?

Complete Article HERE!

Apple’s Health App Now Tracks Sexual Activity, and That’s a Big Opportunity

By Lux Alptraum

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It’s no secret that Apple has a fraught relationship with sex. Since the debut of the iOS App Store, the company’s made every effort to keep its wares “family friendly” (read: porn free), often employing a very, very broad definition of what, exactly, constitutes porn.

But as iOS has moved more and more into the health space, Apple’s had to contend with the reality that sex isn’t just some seedy business it can push into the corner, but instead an integral, and unavoidable, part of healthy human life. And that’s starting to change the way the company interacts with sex… at least a little bit, anyway.

Case in point: take a look at how HealthKit handles sex. Initially, the combination of health tracking app and developer tools was completely sex free, refusing to even acknowledge the existence of menstruation. After pushback from angry female users (who reminded Apple that, even though it involves a vagina, menstruation isn’t some pervy thrill), the Health app was updated to sync with period tracking and fertility apps. In its current iteration, it even allows users to track their sexual activity. Yes, your HealthKit is also a HumpKit.

At first glance, the sexual activity tracking function appears to be extremely limited. As one iPhone user noted, it only integrates with period tracking and fertility apps (in spite of the fact that there are plenty of apps specifically designed to track sexual activity itself). Viewed this way, the Health app assumes that boning is purely about reproduction—whether you’re trying to get pregnant, or trying to avoid it—and the only people who need to keep track of when and how and with whom they’re doing the dirty are people at risk of getting pregnant.

The updated Health app has more options for reproductive health.

The updated Health app has more options for reproductive health.

But there’s more to Apple’s sexual activity tracker than just app integration. Users have the ability to manually input every time they get down and dirty (noting date, time, and whether or not protection was used), allowing users to create a calendar of when, and how, they’re having sex. While this may seem like nothing more than a virtual bedpost for would-be Casanovas to etch notches into, it’s actually a great step forward for sexual health tracking—and, hopefully, for the tech world’s attitude towards sex.

Why would Health app users want to track their sexual activity (aside from the standard baby making or baby avoiding reasons)? Well, for starters, STIs. If your latest health check up turned up a chlamydia infection, it’s helpful to have access to data that allows you to pinpoint when you may have become infected—and how many partners you may have spread that infection to.

Although the app does not currently allow users to indicate who they were having sex with (perhaps due to privacy concerns, although existing sex tracking apps like Bedpost have been navigating that issue for almost a decade), having a baseline for when an infection might have occurred is at least a good start.

On the flip side of the STI equation, people managing chronic STIs might want to keep tabs on their sexual activity as part of their strategy for keeping partners safe (something that would be even more useful when combined with a log of herpes outbreaks, for instance).

And even users in committed, monogamous relationships where there’s zero risk of STI transmission can still find value to keeping tabs on their sexual activity. Just like mindfulness and nutrition and exercise and sleep, sex is an important part of life that has an impact on wellbeing and general health. If the frequency with which you’re having sex is affecting your stress level, or your emotional wellbeing, or your general health and happiness, that’s useful and important information to have.

The sex tracker is basic, but still useful.

The sex tracker is basic, but still useful.

As the app itself notes, “sexual activity can affect both physical and emotional health,” and keeping track of when you’re boning can provide a better, broader understanding of what, exactly, is affecting your health.

Apple has long viewed sex as something taboo—and when it comes to porn and sexual entertainment, that probably won’t change anytime soon. But the latest iteration of Health is a step in the right direction.

And while it could certainly benefit from a bit of expansion—recognition of the possibility of multiple partners, a more nuanced reflection of what “protection” might mean for different users, ability to indicate a partner’s gender, just for starters—it’s still a huge step forward from a historically-sex-unfriendly company. Much as we try to deny it, sexuality is a fundamental and important part of human life. It’s wonderful to see Apple finally allowing it to be truly integrated into our tech as well.

Complete Article HERE!

Heightened Awareness: Anxiety Can Lead to Pain During Sex

Clearly anxiety can be an obstacle to a healthy sex life and needs to be talked about.

By Carrie Weisman

clenched-fists