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Sex education needs to pay more attention to masturbation

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Having a wank is bloody brilliant.

It’s the only form of sex that’s 100% safe from risks of STDs. It’s a vital part of learning what you like. It’s a way to enjoy sexual pleasure without the need for a partner or a random hookup buddy.

It’s safe, great, and healthy, basically.

So why is masturbation so rarely mentioned as part of sex education?

If your experience of sex education was anything like mine, masturbation wasn’t mentioned once.

The focus was likely on the reproductive side of things, teaching you about how eggs are fertilised and babies are made.

But your sex education classes also likely had lessons around STIs. You remember – the classes in which they told you to always, always use a condom and showed you a bunch of scary pictures of genital warts.

t’s strange that in these lessons, we were only presented with two options: use contraception or don’t have sex.

Why wasn’t masturbation offered as an alternative – a way to try out sex without any risks?

A lot of it boils down to the complete exclusion of sexual pleasure from sex ed.

The majority of our sex ed lessons like to pretend that sex is had purely for the purposes of reproduction, skimming over things like the female orgasm (because unlike male orgasm, it’s not essential for conception), the existence of the clitoris, and sexuality.

Ignoring pleasure and, as a result, masturbation (a sexual thing for only the purpose of pleasure) can be damaging.

It encourages the idea that sex isn’t about enjoyment, and that painful, unpleasant sex is perfectly okay. Because feeling sexual isn’t mentioned, there’s no suggestion of only having sex when you’re really into it.

Ignoring masturbation, and our desire to masturbate, allows all kinds of unhealthy stereotypes to be upheld.

Girls are allowed to think that wanting sex is weird, or gross, or makes them a slut. By refusing to mention masturbation, we uphold the idea that it’s something to be silent about, to be ashamed of.

Refusing to talk about it means there’s no opportunity for teachers to break down myths, like masturbating making you blind (it doesn’t), or masturbating being morally wrong (it isn’t).

A lack of masturbation mentions also means there’s no opportunity for educators to make sure people are masturbating safely – with the right tools, with clean hands, and with consideration for your delicate bits.

By the time they reach sex education classes, many young people are already masturbating.

But they likely aren’t talking about it, feel ashamed of doing it, or aren’t sure how to do it.

Those who are already having solo sex sessions could do with reassurance that what they’re doing isn’t shameful or unhealthy.

Those who aren’t need to be taught that masturbation is a near-essential part of having a satisfying, healthy sexual relationship – one in which you’re aware of what you like and can guide your partner to get you off.

Being unaware of what pleasure feels like, and your ability to give yourself pleasure, is dangerous. It allows young people to put up with painful, uncomfortable sex that they believe is to be expected, or to believe their pleasure isn’t necessary.

Young people need to be taught about masturbation because it’s the starting point of learning about sexuality and pleasure.

They need to be taught about masturbation so that they know it’s nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to make fun of, and that it doesn’t define them as ‘weird’ or ‘gross’.

They need to learn about masturbation so that they’re able to start exploring sex without needing to involve someone else – someone who may not have their best interests at heart.

If you want your kids to have safe sex, teach them about masturbation. If that feels awkward, that’s a shame, but it’s reasonable. That’s why we need schools to be mentioning masturbation at the same time as sex.

Complete Article HERE!

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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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Casual Sex: Everyone Is Doing It

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Part research project, part society devoted to titillation, the Casual Sex Project reminds us that hookups aren’t just for college students.

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Zhana Vrangalova had hit a problem. On a blustery day in early spring, sitting in a small coffee shop near the campus of New York University, where she is an adjunct professor of psychology, she was unable to load onto her laptop the Web site that we had met to discuss. This was not a technical malfunction on her end; rather, the site had been blocked. Vrangalova, who is thirty-four, with a dynamic face framed by thick-rimmed glasses, has spent the past decade researching human sexuality, and, in particular, the kinds of sexual encounters that occur outside the norms of committed relationships. The Web site she started in 2014, casualsexproject.com, began as a small endeavor fuelled by personal referrals, but has since grown to approximately five thousand visitors a day, most of whom arrive at the site through organic Internet searches or referrals through articles and social media. To date, there have been some twenty-two hundred submissions, about evenly split between genders, each detailing the kinds of habits that, when spelled out, can occasionally alert Internet security filters. The Web site was designed to open up the discussion of one-night stands and other less-than-traditional sexual behaviors. What makes us engage in casual sex? Do we enjoy it? Does it benefit us in any way—or, perhaps, might it harm us? And who, exactly, is “us,” anyway?

Up to eighty per cent of college students report engaging in sexual acts outside committed relationships—a figure that is usually cast as the result of increasingly lax social mores, a proliferation of alcohol-fuelled parties, and a potentially violent frat culture. Critics see the high rates of casual sex as an “epidemic” of sorts that is taking over society as a whole. Hookup culture, we hear, is demeaning women and wreaking havoc on our ability to establish stable, fulfilling relationships.

These alarms have sounded before. Writing in 1957, the author Nora Johnson raised an eyebrow at promiscuity on college campuses, noting that “sleeping around is a risky business, emotionally, physically, and morally.” Since then, the critiques of casual sexual behavior have only proliferated, even as society has ostensibly become more socially liberal. Last year, the anthropologist Peter Wood went so far as to call the rise of casual sex “an assault on human nature,” arguing in an article in the conservative Weekly Standard that even the most meaningless-seeming sex comes with a problematic power imbalance.

Others have embraced the commonness of casual sex as a sign of social progress. In a widely read Atlantic article from 2012, “Boys on the Side,” Hanna Rosin urged women to avoid serious suitors so that they could focus on their own needs and careers. And yet, despite her apparent belief in the value of casual sex as a tool of exploration and feminist thinking, Rosin, too, seemed to conclude that casual sex cannot be a meaningful end goal. “Ultimately, the desire for a deeper human connection always wins out, for both men and women,” she wrote.

The Casual Sex Project was born of Vrangalova’s frustration with this and other prevalent narratives about casual sex. “One thing that was bothering me is the lack of diversity in discussions of casual sex,” Vrangalova told me in the café. “It’s always portrayed as something college students do. And it’s almost always seen in a negative light, as something that harms women.”

It was not the first time Vrangalova had wanted to broaden a limited conversation. As an undergraduate, in Macedonia, where she studied the psychology of sexuality, she was drawn to challenge cultural taboos, writing a senior thesis on the development of lesbian and gay sexual attitudes. In the late aughts, Vrangalova started her research on casual sex in Cornell’s developmental-psychology program. One study followed a group of six hundred and sixty-six freshmen over the course of a year, to see how engaging in various casual sexual activities affected markers of mental health: namely, depression, anxiety, life satisfaction, and self-esteem. Another looked at more than eight hundred undergraduates to see whether individuals who engaged in casual sex felt more victimized by others, or were more socially isolated. (The results: yes to the first, no to the second.) The studies were intriguing enough that Vrangalova was offered an appointment at N.Y.U., where she remains, to further explore some of the issues surrounding the effects of nontraditional sexual behaviors on the individuals who engage in them.

Over time, Vrangalova came to realize that there was a gap in her knowledge, and, indeed, in the field as a whole. Casual sex has been much explored in psychological literature, but most of the data captured by her research team—and most of the other experimental research she had encountered—had been taken from college students. (This is a common problem in psychological research: students are a convenient population for researchers.) There has been the occasional nationally representative survey, but rigorous data on other subsets of the population is sparse. Even the largest national study of sexual attitudes in the United States, which surveyed a nationally representative sample of close to six thousand men and women between the ages of fourteen and ninety-four, neglected to ask respondents how many of the encounters they engaged in could be deemed “casual.”

From its beginnings, sex research has been limited by a social stigma. The field’s pioneer, Alfred Kinsey, spent decades interviewing people about their sexual behaviors. His books sold, but he was widely criticized for not having an objective perspective: like Freud before him, he believed that repressed sexuality was at the root of much of social behavior, and he often came to judgments that supported that view—even when his conclusions were based on less-than-representative surveys. He, too, used convenient sample groups, such as prisoners, as well as volunteers, who were necessarily comfortable talking about their sexual practices.

In the fifties, William Masters and Virginia Johnson went further, inquiring openly into sexual habits and even observing people in the midst of sexual acts. Their data, too, was questioned: Could the sort of person who volunteers to have sex in a lab tell us anything about the average American? More troubling still, Masters and Johnson sought to “cure” homosexuality, revealing a bias that could easily have colored their findings.

Indeed, one of the things you quickly notice when looking for data on casual sex is that, for numbers on anyone who is not a college student, you must, for the most part, look at studies conducted outside academia. When OkCupid surveyed its user base, it found that between 10.3 and 15.5 per cent of users were looking for casual sex rather than a committed relationship. In the 2014 British Sex Survey, conducted by the Guardian, approximately half of all respondents reported that they had engaged in a one-night stand (fifty-five per cent of men, and forty-three per cent of women), with homosexuals (sixty-six per cent) more likely to do so than heterosexuals (forty-eight per cent). A fifth of people said they’d slept with someone whose name they didn’t know.

With the Casual Sex Project, Vrangalova is trying to build a user base of stories that she hopes will, one day, provide the raw data for academic study. For now, she is listening: letting people come to the site, answer questions, leave replies. Ritch Savin-Williams, who taught Vrangalova at Cornell, told me that he was especially impressed by Vrangalova’s willingness “to challenge traditional concepts and research designs with objective approaches that allow individuals to give honest, thoughtful responses.”

The result is what is perhaps the largest-ever repository of information about casual-sex habits in the world—not that it has many competitors. The people who share stories range from teens to retirees (Vrangalova’s oldest participants are in their seventies), and include city dwellers and suburbanites, graduate-level-educated professionals (about a quarter of the sample) and people who never finished high school (another quarter). The majority of participants aren’t particularly religious, although a little under a third do identify as at least “somewhat” religious. Most are white, though there are also blacks, Latinos, and other racial and ethnic groups. Initially, contributions were about sixty-per-cent female, but now they’re seventy-per-cent male. (This is in line with norms; men are “supposed” to brag more about sexual exploits than women.) Anyone can submit a story, along with personal details that reflect his or her demographics, emotions, personality traits, social attitudes, and behavioral patterns, such as alcohol intake. The setup for data collection is standardized, with drop-down menus and rating scales.

Still, the site is far from clinical. The home page is a colorful mosaic of squares, color-coded according to the category of sexual experience (blue: “one-night stand”; purple: “group sex”; gray: the mysterious-sounding “first of many”; and so on). Pull quotes are highlighted for each category (“Ladies if you haven’t had a hot, young Latino stud you should go get one!”). Many responses seem to boast, provoke, or exaggerate for rhetorical purposes. Reading it, I felt less a part of a research project than a member of a society devoted to titillation.

Vrangalova is the first to admit that the Casual Sex Project is not what you would call an objective, scientific approach to data collection. There is no random assignment, no controls, no experimental conditions; the data is not representative of the general population. The participants are self-selecting, which inevitably colors the results: if you’re taking the time to write, you are more likely to write about positive experiences. You are also more likely to have the sort of personality that comes with wanting to share details of your flings with the public. There is another problem with the Casual Sex Project that is endemic in much social-science research: absent external behavioral validation, how do we know that respondents are reporting the truth, rather than what they want us to hear or think we want them to say?

And yet, for all these flaws, the Casual Sex Project provides a fascinating window into the sexual habits of a particular swath of the population. It may not be enough to draw new conclusions, but it can lend nuance to assumptions, expanding, for instance, ideas about who engages in casual sex or how it makes them feel. As I browsed through the entries after my meeting with Vrangalova, I came upon the words of a man who learned something new about his own sexuality during a casual encounter in his seventies: “before this I always said no one can get me of on a bj alone, I was taught better,” he writes. As a reflection of the age and demographic groups represented, the Casual Sex Project undermines the popular narrative that casual sex is the product of changing mores among the young alone. If that were the case, we would expect there to be a reluctance to engage in casual sex among the older generations, which grew up in the pre-“hookup culture” era. Such reluctance is not evident.

The reminder that people of all ages engage in casual sex might lead us to imagine three possible narratives. First, that perhaps what we see as the rise of a culture of hooking up isn’t actually new. When norms related to dating and free love shifted, in the sixties, they never fully shifted back. Seventy-year-olds are engaging in casual encounters because that attitude is part of their culture, too.

There’s another, nearly opposite explanation: casual sex isn’t the norm now, and wasn’t before. There are simply always individuals, in any generation, who seek sexual satisfaction in nontraditional confines.

And then there’s the third option, the one that is most consistent with the narrative that our culture of casual sex begins with college hookups: that people are casually hooking up for different reasons. Some young people have casual sex because they feel they can’t afford not to, or because they are surrounded by a culture that says they should want to. (Vrangalova’s preliminary analysis of the data on her site suggests that alcohol is much more likely to be involved in the casual-sex experiences of the young than the old.)  And the old—well, the old no longer care what society thinks. For some, this sense of ease might come in their thirties; for others, their forties or fifties; for others, never, or not entirely.

This last theory relates to another of Vrangalova’s findings—one that, she confesses, came as a surprise when she first encountered it. Not all of the casual-sex experiences recorded on the site were positive, even among what is surely a heavily biased sample. Women and younger participants are especially likely to report feelings of shame. (“I was on top of him at one point and he can’t have forced me to so I must have consented . . . I’m not sure,” an eighteen-year-old writes, reporting that the hookup was unsatisfying, and describing feeling “stressed, anxious, guilt and disgust” the day after.) There is an entire thread tagged “no orgasm,” which includes other occasionally disturbing and emotional tales. “My view has gotten a lot more balanced over time,” Vrangalova said. “I come from a very sex-positive perspective, surrounded by people who really benefitted from sexual exploration and experiences, for the most part. By studying it, I’ve learned to see both sides of the coin.

Part of the negativity, to be sure, does originate in legitimate causes: casual sex increases the risk of pregnancy, disease, and, more often than in a committed relationship, physical coercion. But many negative casual-sex experiences come instead from a sense of social convention. “We’ve seen that both genders felt they were discriminated against because of sex,” Vrangalova told me. Men often feel judged by other men if they don’t have casual sex, and social expectations can detract from the experiences they do have, while women feel judged for engaging in casual experiences, rendering those they pursue less pleasurable.

Perhaps this should come as no surprise: the very fact that Vrangalova and others are seeking explanations for casual-sex behaviors suggests that our society views it as worthy of note—something aberrant, rather than ordinary. No one writes about why people feel the need to drink water or go to the bathroom, why eating dinner with friends is “a thing” or study groups are “on the rise.”

It is that sense of shame, ultimately, that Vrangalova hopes her project may help to address. As one respondent to a survey Vrangalova sent to users put it, “This has helped me feel okay about myself for wanting casual sex, and not feel ashamed or that what I do is wrong.” The psychologist James Pennebaker has found over several decades of work that writing about emotional experiences can act as an effective form of therapy, in a way that talking about those experiences may not. (I’m less convinced that there are benefits for those who use the site as a way to boast about their own experiences.) “Often there’s no outlet for that unless you’re starting your own blog,” Vrangalova points out. “I wanted to offer a space for people to share.”

That may well end up the Casual Sex Project’s real contribution: not to tell us something we didn’t already know, or at least suspect, but to make such nonjudgmental, intimate conversations possible. The dirty little secret of casual sex today is not that we’re having it but that we’re not sharing our experiences of it in the best way.

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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