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When “No” Isn’t Enough And Sexual Boundaries Are Ignored

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Violence is so normalized that we often don’t even recognize sexual abuses in the moment.

By Sherronda J. Brown

I recently realized that sex is unhealthy for me. Not sex in theory. No, of course not. Sex is healthy for our bodies and even our hearts and minds.When I say that sex is unhealthy for me, I mean the kind of sex that I have experienced — an experience that I share with many women, femmes, and bottoms. The sex where my needs are neglected and my boundaries are ignored in favor of whatever desires my partner may have.

Not everyone experiences sex and the things surrounding it in the same way, for various reasons. Some of those reasons might include gender cultivation, (a)sexuality, choice of sexual expression, knowledge of self/knowledge one’s own (a)sexuality, or relationship with one’s own body. Some of those reasons might include how certain body types are deemed “normal” and acceptable while others are only ever fetishized or demonized.

Some of those reasons might include the fact certain folks are told that they should be grateful that anyone would even be willing to look at them, let alone touch or love them, while others are expected to always be available for sexual contact. Some of those reasons might include the fact that some people are afforded certain permissions to make decisions about their sex and love life without being eternally scrutinized, while others are nearly always assumed to be sexually irresponsible.

Some of those reasons might include past or current trauma and abuse. And a host of other reasons not mentioned here, or reasons that you or I have never even considered because they’re not a factor in our personal story.

I’m not straight. I’m just an asexual with a libido—infrequent as it may be—and a preference for masculine aesthetic and certain genitalia. Most of the sex that I have had is what we would consider to be “straight” sex, and I am fairly certain that I would enjoy the act more and have a healthier relationship with it if more sexual partners were willing to make the experience comfortable and safe for me. Instead, men seem to want to make sex as uncomfortable and painful as possible for their partners, whether consciously or unconsciously, regardless of whether or not that is what we want.

Many men seem to judge their sexual partners abilities the same way that they gauge how much we love them and how deep our loyalty goes — by how much pain we can endure. I say this based on my personal experience, as well as the experiences of many of the people around me who have been gracious and trusting enough to share with me their testimony. Many of us have been conditioned to measure ourselves in the same way, using our ability to endure pain as a barometer for our worth.

Not only do we need to address the fact that far too many women have sex when they don’t want to because it’s “polite”, but we also need to talk about how many of us, of various genders, are having sex that is painful and/or uncomfortable in ways that we don’t want it to be, but we endure it for the sake of being polite, amiable, or agreeable. Many times, we also endure it for our safety.

This goes beyond simply not speaking up about what we want during sex. It’s also about us not being able to speak up about our boundaries and limits without fear of the situation turning violent. The truth is that many of us have quietly decided in our heads, “I would rather suffer through an uncomfortable/painful sexual situation than a violent one, or one that I might not survive.” This is about too many men not being able to tell the difference between a scripted pornographic situation or a story of sexual violence.

There have been too many times when I have been engaged in sexual situations and told my partner that I did not want a particular sexual act done to me, and they proceeded to do it anyway, with no regard for my boundaries, comfort, or safety. I gave them a valid reason for why I did not want the particular sexual act done to me, but I didn’t have to. My “No” should have been enough.

I once had to blatantly ask a guy if he understood what the word “No” meant. He had been attempting to persuade me into performing a sexual act that I was not interested in and had already declined several times. Therefore, it seemed a valid question.

“Yea, I do,” He responded. “It means keep going.” His answer did not stop there, but I will spare you the totality of the violent picture that he painted for me with his subsequent vulgarities. His voice was steady with a seriousness I dared not question. There was anger behind it, but also excitement and pride. The very thought of ignoring my “No” seemed to arouse him, even as he was filled frustration at my audacity to ask him such a question. I abruptly ended the phone call, grateful that this conversation had not been in-person. A chill came over me and I felt the urge to cry. My head and neck ran hot and the rise and fall of my chest quickened. Anxiety gripped me as I remembered that he knew where I lived and my panic drew out for weeks.

This is only one of my stories. I have others that include blatant disregard of boundaries, harassment, and other forms of sexual misconduct. I spent much of the last year contemplating the many ways that I have been coerced, manipulated, or even forced into sexual situations or sexual acts in the past, and how this violence is so normalized that we often don’t even recognize these abuses in the moment. Instead, they come back to fuck with us days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries after the fact.

It took me more than seven years to realize that the first guy I ever had sex with coerced me into it. Literally trapped me in his apartment and refused to take me home until I gave in. After this, he went on to violate my trust and disregard my sexual boundaries in other ways until I ended our “friendship.” It took me months to name the time a former partner admitted to having once removed the condom during our encounter without my knowledge or consent as a sexual violation.

Unfortunately, I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t have stories like mine. And these stories belong to many people of other genders, or without gender, as well. This is our “normal,” and that is not okay. We need a broader understanding of what sexual violence and misconduct look like, and we need to deal with the fact that they are more a part of our everyday lives and common experiences than some of us are willing to admit.

We have to stop thinking of sexual violence and misconduct as something that only happens when someone is physically assaulted, drugged, or passed out. It’s far more than being groped by your boss, or terminated or otherwise punished for rejecting their advances. In a world where people do not feel safe saying “No,” not only to sex itself but also to certain sexual acts and types of sex, we cannot go on talking about sexual violence as if rape and harassment are the only true crimes. In doing this, we are leaving people behind.

The ways in which our bodies and boundaries can be violated are abundant. Too abundant. Fuck everyone who ever made another person feel like they couldn’t safely say “No.”

Complete Article HERE!

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How giving up porn could help your sex life

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For many of us, watching porn can be like eating a tub of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream; regularly done, enjoyable – no doubt – but can also often leave us feeling, well, a tad ashamed…

by Edward Dyson

However, pushing aside those pride-deprived moments spent reaching for discarded socks, could it be true that by indulging our cravings for explicit material on the web – c’mon now, you all know the sites… – we might actually be damaging our mental health? Not to mention our sex lives (you know, the one we’re supposed to be doing… in person?)

Earlier this year pop star Will Young opened up about having a porn problem, sharing with fans that his childhood trauma and shame was at the root of his dependency on several vices. These included alcohol, shopping but – the one that grabbed the most headlines, predictably – was the revelation that he had developed an obsessive level of consumption when it came to pornography, which he believes he used to ‘fill a void.’ And if the rich and famous feel empty enough to be filling their voids with porn, exactly what hope is there for the rest of us – the great unwashed?

Admittedly, most of us probably won’t have thought into the matter too deeply, and while we might not be broadcasting the number of weekly web wanks we’re racking up, neither are we too worried that a cheeky three-minute viewing of a US College Boys video might, in fact, be a reflection of some underlying issue. Most of the time, it’s fair to say most of us have already forgotten about the content we’ve, ahem, enjoyed – before the Kleenex has even been safely disposed of.

But it isn’t just the original Pop Idol winner who began to wonder whether there might be a darker side to viewing all this badly-shot -and even more terribly acted – footage we’re apparently so fond of. Recent research suggests that by watching porn, we could be debilitating our ability to form healthy sexual relationships – in the living breathing world – and could potentially be inflating any pre-existing mental health issues we might already be dealing with, whether or not we’re aware of these threats.

Many psychological experts have repeatedly stated that – despite being laughed off by naysayers for obvious reasons – porn obsession is undeniably real, and forms as a type of process behavioural dependency. The reaction of the brain to this material can be very similar to the stimulation that happens after taking drugs. And in even more limp news, doctors have also reported on the growing trend amongst men who struggle to get an erection with a real-life partner because they’re so used to using explicit imagery in order to help them get off.

And, let’s face it, it’s all very much out there, readily available for the watching. According to the website Paint Bottle, 30 per cent of all data transferred online is porn, and Virginia lawmakers claim that all pornography is “addictive,” can promote the normalisation of rape, can lessen the “desire to marry, equate violence with sex,” as well as encouraging “group sex,” (not necessarily a bad thing… who are we to judge?) and –of course – “risky sexual behaviour and infidelity,” among other effects.

But are they all just taking it too seriously? Perhaps being a little too prude-ish… right in front of our salads?

Sex guru Jerry Sergeant – a self-confessed former sex and porn obsessed himself – believes that one vital component to a healthy sex life is to quit porn and traditional masturbating, and instead follow a tantric path.

Never mind cold turkey. This here is cold jerk-y. (Sorry.)

Speaking about the perils of consuming X-rated content to Gay Times, he warned: “Porn is dangerous, and people do get obsessed with it. I was for many years. At my worst, I was watching videos on the internet all the time, every day, four hours on end. When I stopped, it was like being a heroin addict going clean. It’s just a fantasy, but it means people are no longer looking in the most important places for what they want.”

And the damage it does to us when we are forming our ideas about sex during our younger years is difficult to reverse, he admitted.

“It’s almost a violation,” Jerry says. “I believe meditation, and tantric sex should be taught in schools. Unfortunately, the schooling system takes kids outside of themselves, and just pushes facts, figures and information on them.”

Tantric sex in schools? Well, beats PE, that’s for sure. But now, not only does Jerry not watch porn – (never, not even Justin Bieber’s nude leaks, for crying out loud!) – but he doesn’t even masturbate. No, never. Now that’s a hard one… (so to speak.) He explains: “What a load of people don’t know is, you can have the most incredible orgasm all on your own, without ever putting your hand on your penis. Masturbating tantrically is extremely powerful.”

But in an age where people are too busy to even pick up the phone and order their own takeaway – thanks Hungry House! – can we reasonably expect people to take the time to bring themselves to orgasm with just the power of their mind?

Jerry assures us: “It’s worth it. OK, so what you do is start with something that can be quite tough at first: you have to give yourself an erection without thinking of something sexual.”

Does the men’s rugby team count? Apparently not, as Jerry continues: “Perhaps think about a partner, or someone you know would like to be with, and imagine yourself getting to that state – then squeeze the muscles that are just between your anus and testicles, squeeze them for ten seconds, then release for ten seconds… squeeze again, release again. Eventually you’ll start getting an erection, and the more excited you get, eventually you will come to the point where orgasm happens.”

Blimey. Who needs porn when even the tantric guide is this steamy? “I’ve taught this to a lot of people,” Jerry says, unfazed. “Close your eyes, take long deep breaths, and settle into a space, and combine it with meditating if you can. You can light candles or incense, really relax and enjoy stimulating yourself. And it doesn’t have to be done alone, either.”

Phew. We were beginning to worry that all this tantric malarkey might be so enjoyable it might make the idea of partners redundant… “Another way, which is really cool, is to do this with a partner, sit opposite each other, breathing together, getting into a rhythm and building it up,” he shares. “Tense those muscles, and let them go, continue that process thinking of only each other, not physically touching each other, and then experience it together. The more you practise it, the closer you’ll come to reaching orgasm at exactly same time. It’s a mind-blowing experience – you connect on such a deeper level.”

This may be all very well and good for those who have enough time in the day for hour long sessions of mental self-pleasure. But how does it help with our actual sex lives?

Jerry promises: “Once you’ve learnt to harness and keep that energy inside of you, you’ll never go back to normal orgasms again. It’s like having a big carrot being dangled in front you, then nothing’s there – an anti-climax. It can last for at least 30 seconds, sometimes a minute and a half if you’re doing it and holding it… your whole body vibrates and vibrates. Compared to a ten second shot, which is wasted time, it’s just amazing. This will follow into your regular sex life, and this kind of orgasm will become your norm.”

He adds: “The beautiful thing this is, if you’re on the right frequency, you’ll meet the right person who will also be open to learning all about it.”

It’s certainly a tempting prospect. Jerry admits he’s not only more sexually satisfied now than he was when he was porn obsessed – spending thousands paying for sex and drugs – but he’s also generally happier in himself.

That doesn’t mean the journey is easy though. “I remember when I first found out, to start with – to masturbate while staying in your body and mind took a lot of practice,” he admits. “And I was practising a few times a day and would get it wrong; I was doing it two or three times a day, then once a day, then whenever I felt like it really. But I would suggest not having sex while you’re mastering this technique, then when you do, you can start experimenting, perhaps tantrically with a partner, or friend, in an open relationship, there are lots of options, and it can be really exciting.”

And even if the tantric route is not the right path for everyone, Jerry is adamant that quitting porn should be something everybody at least attempts. Basically, try to give a toss…

“I would suggest not watching anything for a month, first of all. Treat it like Dry January is to alcohol,” he says. “See how much you actually miss it. You might surprise yourself.”

To continue that comparison, highlighting the darker sides to the relationship you have with a certain vice, be it alcohol or porn, shouldn’t mean condemning every beer bottle – or every piece of voyeuristic sex – straight to Room 101. Plenty of people can enjoy a drink in moderation, and plenty of people also have a healthy relationship with porn. Most certainly, not everyone who partakes in a cheeky bit of ManHub or XTube is secretly turning into Michael Fassbender’s character in Shame – giving his tripod todger third degree burns from office computer misuse and compulsive masturbating. However, because watching porn is, by its very nature, a solo activity, rather than a social one – rarely discussed even with the closest of friends – as a habit that could spiral: it’s easy to take your eye of the ball, (or balls…)

Sure, we count the calories of our food, and the number of alcoholic drinks – that we can remember, anyway – largely due to fears that are related to social judgement and obvious physical effects. But usually, unless you’re really quite brazen, regardless of how much porn you’re watching, those around you will generally be none the wiser.

That’s why it remains, and will surely continue to remain, a habit that can only truly be monitored through maintaining a strong sense of self-accountability, and perhaps asking yourself some tough questions. Has your relationship with porn ventured into unhealthy territory?

Below are a few signs that your relationship with sexually explicit content might have got, ahem, out of hand…

So… do you have a problem?

1. Excessive time spent viewing porn

An obvious one, but a good place to start. Now, of course there are no NHS guidelines – like there are with alcohol – as to what counts as excessive. But a helpful question to ask yourself might be: does the time dedicated to this activity impact heavily on your day-to-day life? Signs could be: regularly finding yourself late for work because of watching porn. Watching inappropriate content on work (and not just NSFW gifs, we’re talking extended disabled lavatory visits….) Or cancelling on friends. Put simply, just because you have a wank doesn’t mean you have to be a wanker.

2. Notable negative consequences

Related to point one, but if you can link things that are going wrong in your life to your relationship with porn, then that’s a huge red flag that things might have got spiralled somewhat out of control. Are you left financially struggling because you’re spending so much of your income on explicit websites? Is it causing problems at work or in your relationship? This leads nicely to…

3. Loss of interest in sex

Whether in a relationship or not, if – like the growing trend that doctors have noticed emerging – your dependency on porn is so strong that you struggle to become aroused in real life scenarios, then this is definitely a major problem. Most people seeking a satisfying sex life with a partner – or multiple partners – should be fine to consume porn outside of that, usually privately, but if it becomes all you find yourself interested in, then this habit might just have slipped into compulsive territory.

4. A constant need to go further

Kinkiness is an interesting subject. We all have our little kinks, and it’s sometimes tricky to know how normal – or abnormal – these are. But a tell-tale sign that porn might be having a negative effect on your mental health is if you’re constantly feeling like you need to keep actively seeking more and more extreme, and unusual, content. If there’s material that a month ago was turning you on, and now you’re craving something that takes it on even further – and this is part of a pattern – then it also might be part of a problem…

Complete Article ↪HERE↩!

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How to Spice Up Your Relationship With Porn

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Believe it or not, porn can strengthen your relationship

 

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Let’s face it, many believe that pornography ruins relationships by setting unrealistic expectations in the bedroom. It’s a sound argument. But it would only be fair to make an opposing case that in some ways porn can improve your sex life.

“Pornography can spark curiosity and open conversation between partners. It’s so easy to get into a routine with your significant other, and it can be hard to break out of that. Watching or reading erotica allows couples to explore sexual activities that they may be curious about,” says Polly Rodriguez, CEO of Unbound.

A study published in the journal Sexual Medicine even shows that watching at least 40 minutes of porn twice a week can boost your sex drive and your overall desire to have sex. Not to mention, it’s really hot to watch people have sex, and sharing this with someone you love can enable a deeply sensual experience.

Convinced enough? Here are nine ways to incorporate porn into your sex life.

1. Have an open & honest conversation about it

Talk about your desires and interests and set boundaries of what is and isn’t OK, suggests Rodriguez. “From there, only good things can happen if you’re open and honest with each other about what you’re curious to try.”

2. Use porn as a source for inspiration

Be it BDSM or role-play, Rodriquez explains that having an example you can both watch and learn from together helps to frame what it is you’re curious to try.

3. Expand your sexual repertoire

Talk about the type of porn or fantasy you like to watch. Girl on girl, threesomes, just oral… have you always wanted to try a certain position or sex act? “This is the chance to open up and be honest about what you may have been afraid to voice to your partner,” says Antonia Hall, a psychologist and award-winning author of The Ultimate Guide to a Multi-Orgasmic Life.

4. Don’t be judgmental

Your partner might like something you don’t, notes Alicia Sinclair, Founder and CEO of b-Vibe and Le Wand. “It’s important to find the common ground and make the process sexy.”

5. Start soft

Begin with something you know turns you both on. “Try something in the amateur or couples section. It’s probably not a good idea to start with a hardcore sex scene (unless you’re both already into that of course),” says Sinclair.

6. Find a website both of you enjoy

Send each other clips you want to watch together later. “I’m a personal fan of Bellesa (run by Michelle Shnaidman) because it’s a bit more sensual than what you’d find on one of the bigger tube sites,” says Rodriguez.

7. Let it put you in the mood

Before your sweetie gets home. Put on your favorite video, rub one out and let yourself get totally aroused. As soon as they walk through the door, you’ll be in full get-it-on mode.

8. Aim for quality content

Sinclair suggests, Trenchcoatx. “This porn-for-women site is run by two women and has tons of quality content. Plus, you’re supporting women making porn, which is kind of a win-win in my book,” she adds.

9. Make you own porn

Get creative and make your own erotic video. It’s a fun way to experiment, act and enjoy watching it together later on. Just make sure to use a digital camera and not your cell phone so you don’t have to worry about it accidently getting uploaded and can delete it at any time.

Complete Article HERE!

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Bugs, Boners and BDSM: A Day in the Life of a Dominatrix

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Because quirks can be quirky.

By Andre Shakti

“We’ve got a live one, ladies!” Svetlana called out from the office. The scantily clad women seated around the kitchen table barely flinched.

Tuesdays were notoriously slow, with our phone lines typically dominated by time wasters. We called them “wankers,” the men who contacted us under the guise of arranging an appointment while having no intention of following through; simply calling up a domination house and confessing their fantasy to a live woman got them off. Sometimes all we could hear would be the wet slapping sound that accompanied them masturbating while they spoke to us; hence, “wankers.”

“Is it a wanker?” Lydia called back. She sat directly across from me at the table; Minna lounged to my right, and Cynthia leaned against my left side. We were an unusually small staff for an evening shift, but none of us minded. Fewer girls meant less competition

“No,” Svetlana replied, shuffling into the room wearing nothing but tattered SpongeBob SquarePants bedroom slippers. “Believe it or not, he put down a deposit. He’ll be here in an hour, and he’s not picky about appearance.” She maintained a quirky little smile as she delivered the information.

The three of us immediately perked up. If a client didn’t voice a preference for aesthetics, it evened the playing field. He could be anyone’s mark, although your skill level, number of years spent at the house, and relationship with the house manager all factored in.

“Please tell me he wants bondage,” Lydia purred. She was a whiz with rope, and a bombshell to boot. If the client had requested shibari, it’d be an easy match.

Svetlana’s grin stretched wider. “Oh, he wants bondage. But there’s a catch. You ladies know what an entomologist is?”

“Uh, is that an ENT? An ear, nose and throat doctor?” Minna guessed.

“Someone who studies insects,” I offered. As if on cue, Lydia and Minna pushed themselves violently away from the table in unison.

I’ve always gravitated toward creepy-crawlies. When most young girls my age were experimenting with makeup, I was scaling trees and pulling rat snakes out of neighbors’ birdhouses. Home videos of my childhood soccer games document me decked out in my goalie uniform, kneeling in the grass to trap a grasshopper as the ball whizzes by my head and my parents groan in disappointment

“Indeed!” Svetlana crowed. “The guy wants to book two girls. It’ll be a Snidely Whiplash gender-swap role play — you know, the cartoon villain that ties girls to train tracks? You girls will tie him down and torture him, except you’ll be torturing him with giant bugs.”

Lydia and Minna were already on their feet and backing away, their hands fluttering around their heads like moths around a light. Cynthia and I gazed up at Svetlana, barely able to contain our excitement.

The Divine Ms. Shakti.

Cynthia was the “evil genius” of the house. She went on to become one of the biggest fetish porn stars of the modern era; during one interview she disclosed — in earnest — that if she hadn’t found the sex industry, she’d probably be a serial killer. It almost goes without saying that she was my favorite co-worker.

Cynthia and I spent the next 45 minutes cleaning ourselves up and prepping one of the playrooms for the session. Before we knew it, the doorbell rang and we ushered a small, bespectacled older man — let’s call him Ned — into the session room. Ned was pale and slightly stooped, with a subdued manner that conveyed his reverence. This was not his first rodeo

We exchanged pleasantries and confirmed the requests he’d made over the phone. Ned proceeded to methodically unpack the cheap Styrofoam cooler he’d brought with him. Out came half a dozen small, identical Tupperware containers, each housing a different species of insect. First came the crickets, then the mealworms. The centipedes followed, as did the giant millipedes and hissing cockroaches. Finally, a pair of wolf spiders emerged to complete the collection.

With each unveiling, Cynthia and I cooed our mounting anticipation. I prematurely fondled one of the millipedes, allowing it to encircle my forearm as Cynthia stripped Ned nude. Together we tied him efficiently to the floor, stretched out on his back between a leather spanking bench and an elaborate canopied bondage bed. Once he was secured, we stepped back, surveying our work. Ned struggled pathetically. Cynthia’s eyes flashed, and I knew we’d transitioned seamlessly into our scene

“Do you hear that sound, Cynthia?” I tilted my head to the side. “It sounds almost like … a train!”

On cue, I pressed play on my phone, and the sound of a distant locomotive burst from the speakers. Ned squealed.

Cynthia leaped astride Ned, dangling a cricket an inch above his face. His eyes locked on the flailing insect as Cynthia traced his body with it, nose to toes, bathing in his fear. I took hold of my millipede and knelt beside the squirming Ned.

“Look how pathetic he is! I bet this millipede is even bigger than his cock,” I teased, moving the millipede to Ned’s lower abdomen to compare it to his flaccid penis.

“Let me go, please!” Ned screamed.

“Looks like you’re out of luck, Ned,” Cynthia mused, her face an unreadable mask. “The train’s coming around the corner. Sure you can’t get out of those restraints?”

Ned wrenched his hands and feet against the restraints, but remained stuck fast. Beads of sweat formed on a face that was getting redder by the second. I surreptitiously turned the volume up on my phone, simulating the train’s rapid approach.

“Any last words?” I said, locking eyes with Cynthia. As Ned opened his mouth for a final protest, we pried the lids off all the Tupperware containers and let every last insect rain down on his naked body.

Later that evening, I slid into the driver’s seat of my car and placed a small Tupperware container on my lap with care. Ned the millipede made an excellent pet.

Complete Article HERE!

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LGBTQ kids are missing out on sex education—and it’s up to schools to change that

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Last year, California officially mandated LGBTQ history lessons in public schools, vowing to teach “the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans” and their impact on both the state’s and the country’s history.

This was a victory for LGBTQ rights, because it’s a rarity; in most states—in all but nine to be exact—schools don’t even cover LGBTQ sexuality, let alone queer history.

When surveyed by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), only 12 percent of millennials said they received sexual education material that covered sex between gay partners—even though 20 percent of millennials consider themselves LGBTQ. American sex ed is “primarily or exclusively focused on heterosexual relationships between cisgender people,” according to a different study conducted by Planned Parenthood and the HRC.

This hetero-specific focus creates a multitude of problems for all young people sorting through their anxieties and questions about sex and sexuality. For one, straight students aren’t being forced to acknowledge other sexualities, which can foster bullying and promote a culture of intolerance. For another, a lack of school discussion means most LGBTQ students are being inadvertently told to stay in the closet. And with that messaging, there is the shame and hiding, and then there are the health risks.

Proper safe-sex education is important for all students, and LGBTQ people are no exception: 22 percent of all transgender women are HIV positive, and queer men face a higher risk of contact with HIV or a sexually transmitted disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While ignoring queer students may not be a new phenomenon, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be remedied. And perhaps school districts can start by listening to the stories of queer people who have gone through the country’s lackluster sexual education systems. Through them, activists can learn how to fix such a massive gap in sex education.

This is what the queer sex ed gap looks like

Larissa Glasser, a librarian and writer living in Massachusetts, grew up in the 1980s, an era whose approach to sex ed was based in fear and simple authoritarian phrases like “Don’t do it.” Glasser, whose transgender, obviously couldn’t rely on schools to teach her about queer life.

“I was in public school until fifth grade and we had no sex education whatsoever,” she told the Daily Dot. “This was during the Reagan presidency, so all we ever heard about sex was AIDS as a scare tactic to be abstinent.”

Very little accurate information existed about transgender women outside of schools. Glasser was only exposed to trans people through filmmakers like John Waters and Ralph Bakshi.

“Finally, during the 1990s, trans issues were addressed somewhat respectfully in about 10 percent of the films I saw,” Glasser said. “Then I discovered writers like Jean Genet, Angela Carter, and Hubert Selby Jr., who were willing to portray queer femme sexuality in a somewhat positive light.”

Glasser’s experiences mirror many other LGBTQ students’ struggles. Sophie Searcy grew up miles away in Kentucky during the ’90s and 2000s, attending Catholic school all the way through high school, and she too had virtually no experience with LGBTQ education. Queer and trans sexuality just wasn’t discussed.

“The Catholic system I belonged to had a program called ‘family life,’ which was a religious health and sex education program,” Searcy told the Daily Dot. “Very basic facts about anatomy and puberty were explained in gender-separated rooms. There was no mention of safer sex methods, navigating consent, or any LGBTQ issues whatsoever.”

Searcy knew early on that her church wasn’t LGBTQ-inclusive. But looking back on those early years, she realized that queer people were treated as if they simply didn’t exist at all.

“The class explained sex as exclusively between a man and a woman, as if only heterosexual orientations existed,” Searcy said. “Similar to how the class erased all non-hetero orientations, the class explained gender, sexual development, and sexual intercourse in a way that didn’t even acknowledge the possibility of trans people. Boys had penises, girls have vaginas, boys develop into men, girls develop into women, etc., etc., etc.”

In particularly conservative areas, sexual education isn’t just biased—what it is lacking can induce violence. LGBTQ activist and writer Sarah Bess grew up in southeast Missouri in the 1990s, and she was repeatedly harassed, bullied, and physically assaulted across school districts.

“I was this awkward, autistic, queer kid from the middle of nowhere, so I got picked on a lot,” Bess explained. “I dropped out in the seventh grade because I was getting beat up so much and my home life sucked and I really didn’t care about school.”

Bess’s classes didn’t provide a respite from the attacks. “Being gay wasn’t really mentioned as a possibility in my sex ed classes. The existence of trans people definitely wasn’t acknowledged. There was a lot of fear-mongering about pregnancy and STIs, and that’s mostly what I remember,” Bess explained. “I don’t remember anyone at school even mentioning trans people. Beyond transphobic Jerry Springer and Maury Povich episodes, I don’t think we were on anyone’s radar.”

In one case, her sex education teacher enabled a physical assault.

“My seventh-grade sex ed class was taught by a gym coach who watched two boys beat the shit out of me after school one day,” Bess said. “He just laughed, got in his car and drove off.”

When anti-LGBTQ sentiments take hold in a school, then queer students live in an ongoing state of fear. This not just impedes their education, it can be debilitating for their growth and self-esteem—and it can separate queer people from one another by forcing them to stay hidden. For someone like Bess, this was extremely alienating.

“I was in my late teens the first time I knowingly talked to another trans woman online,” Bess explained. “I was in my twenties before I knowingly met anyone like me in person.”

For others, sex education classes could have possibly saved their lives. A 2014 report published by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the UCLA Williams Institute reveals that suicide attempt rates are particularly high among transgender and gender non-conforming students who face harassment or bullying at school. Through sex education, though, students could have a better understanding of gender transitioning or normalizing queer sexuality. The more that classrooms validate LGBTQ experiences, the more likely students are to treat their fellow classmates with respect.

“Gender was always conflated with assigned sex and body parts,” Searcy said. “It wasn’t that trans people were portrayed as evil or misguided, but that the possibility of being trans was never even acknowledged.”

Then came the internet

So if LGBTQ students aren’t able to learn about their bodies from primary and secondary schools, where do they go for information about queer sexuality? Many turn to the internet.

But the internet is a luxury, one that not everyone is able to access—especially those in previous generations. In Bess’s case, this directly impacted her exposure to trans material.

“I didn’t have consistent internet access for most of my life, so I picked up bits and pieces where and when I could,” she said. “I watched a lot of porn with trans women in it and read a lot of gross forced fem erotica, none of which was very helpful for learning about sex.”

Even when internet access is available, its resources aren’t always helpful. Sometimes they can be damaging.

Shortly after Glasser graduated from library school, she stumbled across a gender transitioning guideline called tsroadmap, also known as “Transsexual & Transgender Road Map.” Glasser felt even worse about herself while using the website, in part because the guide relied on rigid stereotypes and generalizations for trans women. In one case, the site demanded that trans women undergo surgeries in order to properly transition, when many trans people prefer not to undergo permanent surgery.

“It was useful at the time,” she said, “but in hindsight, I think its normativity had a fairly toxic effect on my self-esteem when I was at my most vulnerable point.”

Searcy, on the other hand, saw internet access as a major source for learning more about non-hetero sexuality. Some of her biggest resources for her transitioning were writers who have gained significant prominence thanks to the internet’s impact on the trans community.

“Ultimately, a close friend came out as trans which led me to question my own gender and explore resources on my own,” Searcy said. “Julia Serano and Morgan M Page were particularly helpful, as were Imogen Binnie and Casey Plett.”

So while online resources aren’t exactly perfect, the internet has advanced far enough that it can connect trans and queer people with the online communities they need to learn more about themselves. On Reddit, there are subreddits like /r/asktransgender that let trans people learn about undergoing gender transitioning. Sites like Sites like Keshet and Queer Theology provide resources for religious queer and transgender people. Resources like TJOBBANK host employment listings for LGBTQ folks searching for inclusive workplaces. And services like Discord and Slack allow queer and trans users to create their own closed groups where LGBTQ members can hang out, talk about queer life, or get together and play video games. The internet has changed over time, and that means there are more ways for queer and trans people to meet each other than before.

But it’s unfair to relegate LGBTQ students to the internet for advice, often in secret. It can stall LGBTQ kids from coming out, make trans and queer sexuality feel like a taboo, or send the message that queer and trans life isn’t important enough to understand.

Schools are supposed to provide students with learning opportunities that help young kids grow into productive adults. That’s why third graders learn basic reading comprehension skills, and high schools teach American history (albeit often from a very straight, white, male perspective), and middle schoolers get a whole class dedicated to sex and their bodies—so they can go out into the world informed and prepared.

But if schools leave out LGBTQ sexuality and force queer students to learn on their own time, then those schools are failing at their jobs. Why must the burden be on LGBTQ youth to educate themselves?

The solutions that exist

Casey Plett, author of A Safe Girl to Love, lived in an upper-middle class suburb in Oregon during her high school years. At the time, she enrolled in an “internationally-focused hippie-ish sub-program” that seemed more like “actual sex ed taught by Planned Parenthood.” And yet like Glasser and Searcy, she says, “I cannot recall LGBTQ issues ever coming up. Negatively or positively.”

And as for trans issues? “Ha,” she told the Daily Dot. “No. Zero.”

This was in 2001. But she recognizes things have changed since then. LGBTQ equality has become more mainstream, trans rights have entered the news cycle, and queer sex ed has turned into a serious activist rallying point. Today, she thinks there’s solutions that school districts can take to bring LGBTQ education to kids, instead of forcing them to turn to the internet. That is, if they’re willing to put in the effort.

“There are plenty of gay sexual health resources out there,” Plett said. “I’d get a hold of them, pay them to come, and let them take the wheel. And be open and loving and willing to learn.”

Plett is right. Today, many local LGBTQ organizations host workshops for queer youth, providing the resources students need to learn more about their sexuality. Long Island’s Pride for Youth, for example, facilitates workshops on fighting transphobia and working with LGBTQ youth. Other community centers, such as New York City’s Apicha Community Health Center and the Los Angeles LGBT Center, provide training segments for educators, giving them the skills they need to teach LGBTQ-inclusive material in classrooms. And in recent years, Planned Parenthood has both criticized the lack of LGBTQ sex education in public schools, and begun taking a more LGBTQ-inclusive approach to sex education.

Gender therapists and counselors traditionally host workshops for teens as well, allowing them to explore LGBTQ topics in an affirming environment. And programs like the GSA Network even give students the training they need to host workshops and class sessions that can debunk damaging myths about the queer community.

For those who don’t live in “gay-friendly” metropolitan areas, there are also online resources available for classrooms. TED hosts a variety of TED Talks covering LGBTQ issues, from coming out to helping transgender teens. And many educators host lesson plans and teach-ins that are available for free online, allowing students to engage in queer sex education topics through a vetted workshop environment.

These programs and groups normalize LGBTQ sexuality. Workshops talk frankly and openly about what it means to have sex as a gay or transgender person and provide safe sex education to prevent STIs. They also give educators the training they need not just to respect queer students, but to include LGBTQ topics in future lesson plans. If school districts aren’t sure how to approach queer sexuality, here is where they can start.

“It would have been incredible for me to hear the simple facts that sex is complicated and messy but that there are a few universals that we should consider (consent, safer methods, exploration),” Searcy explained, “or that gender is independent of assigned sex and that it might be helpful to consider if my assigned sex did not fit.”

That’s something echoed by Bess, who knows all too well that many school districts are still avoiding LGBTQ topics in their entirety. She insists that the federal government should take a more active role in protecting LGBTQ youth, especially in areas where people are particularly bigoted toward queer students. Many school districts simply aren’t evolving anywhere near the rate of young people’s attitudes toward sexuality.

“It’s been awhile since I was in school, but it doesn’t seem like things are much better now in the places I grew up,” she explained. “Federal intervention is absolutely necessary to protect queer and trans students and educators, especially in rural school districts.”

Safety is where educators need to start if they want to facilitate an open, tolerant conversation about sex and sexuality. With transgender students under attack through outrageous “bathroom bills” across the U.S. and the Trump administration officially rescinding any federal guidelines for protecting trans youth, state and federal intervention is more important than ever.

For example, in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo officially outlawed all forms of discrimination against transgender people in 2015. Discriminatory fines for “willful, wanton or malicious” discrimination is up to $100,000. Massachusetts offers the Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students, a joint initiative that provides training for school administrators on queer topics and gives students the tools they need to become activists in their school settings.

Fostering change and giving schools a legal incentive to end discrimination is important. Seeing how 42 percent of all queer youth feel their community is not accepting of LGBTQ people, promoting tolerance and opening constructive discussion are the keys to getting there.

Schools teach basic sex education for a reason: Most adults will have sex, and the repercussions of sex are often far-reaching and far-ranging and can be life-changing. But if sex education doesn’t address the current population and the culture, then it’s time for administrators to recognize they’re doing youth a disservice. Making things right could actually save lives.

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