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The way we teach sex-ed is old and ineffective. Here’s how to fix it.

By Stephanie Auteri

In a predictable bit of news, the results of a study released this past September show that students consider most sex-education programs to be out-of-touch, outdated, and lacking in the information that might actually prove useful to them. Among the deficiencies reported by teenagers were a focus on fear-based lesson plans, curricula that alienate LGBTQ+ students, instructors untrained in actually providing useful sex-ed, and a failure to acknowledge that some young people are  —  spoiler alert  —  sexually active.

When it comes down to it, though, these inadequacies do not stem from lack of trying on the part of certified sexuality educators. There are disparities in curricula, and in resources: Federal funding for sex-education flows to both abstinence-only and evidence-based approaches, and decisions about curricula are made on a state-by-state  —  and district-by-district  —  basis. There are still only 13 states that require sex-education to be “medically accurate.”

In fact, in the past year, 23 bills were introduced with the intention of restricting the quality of sex-ed. Such restrictions included moves to limit access to information about reproductive health options, and to exclude qualified sexuality educators from schools based upon their affiliation with abortion providers.

While the majority of these bills failed to advance, in many cases, educators continue to be hamstrung by red tape. And they worry that  —  in the wake of the most recent presidential election  —  their jobs will only become more difficult. What is an enterprising, conscientious sex-educator to do?

Recently, I attended the National sex-ed Conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where I saw sexuality educator Francisco Ramirez present a keynote on “hacking” sexual health. During his talk, Ramirez spoke about how educators might possibly shake things up, in some cases taking sex-ed outside the classroom in order to reach those who need it most. Happily, many educators are already doing this, systematically toppling many of the barriers that have long stood in their way. Throughout the conference, I was reminded of the many forms such resourcefulness can take. Here are the six most important fixes currently happening in American sex-ed.

1. Where can students get the answers they crave without fear of embarrassment or other negative repercussions? These days: their phones.

Sex-educators often employ anonymous question boxes in their classrooms, but the new-media generation is taking this idea of anonymity to the place where it thrives best: social media. I recently wrote about a variety of new social-media applications, YouTube series, and other online resources that allow teens to seek out accurate sexuality information anonymously. Since then, it seems that not a day goes by where I don’t hear about a new sex-ed app.

What’s important to remember about any of these sex-ed hacks is that just because a program works in one place, that doesn’t mean it will work in every community.

One of the more recent ones to catch my eye is Capptivation’s Reach Out, an app that provides sexual assault survivor resources to college-age students. According to Capptivation, a similar app for high schoolers is on its way. And the Healthy Teen Network — a membership-based advocacy organization  —  is in the process of developing two phone apps, one for high school-aged teens, and one for people who are older. They were inspired to do so after receiving an RFP (a request for proposal — a document from an agency soliciting a proposal for a specific commodity or service) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Alongside the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC has been looking to fund the development of a mobile app that would support teen pregnancy prevention.

This push for sex-ed apps is not without precedent. A 2016 study on mobile phone-based interventions for smoking cessation showed that mobile interventions can lead to positive behavioral changes. And additional research  —  including a 2016 paper published in BMC Public Health  —  has shown that sexual-health apps remove certain barriers youth often feel in seeking out sexual-health services: namely, embarrassment. HTN is in the midst of conducting its own randomized control trials in order to determine the efficacy of its apps.

2. How can students take a leadership role in their own sex-education? Through peer-led sex-ed.

A recent review of 15 peer-led sexual-health education programs shows that peer-to-peer sex-ed can be successful at improving teens’ knowledge and attitude about sexual health  —  which is good news, considering that many teens don’t think adults are doing the best job. And just as with social-media apps, new peer-to-peer training programs are popping up all around the country. Teen PEP, which operates in both New Jersey and North Carolina, is one such program that trains teens to provide sex-ed to their peers at school. Another example is the team out of Planned Parenthood of North, Central, and South New Jersey, which leads an annual Teen Conference that students travel to on a one-day field trip.

In Austin, Texas, the Peer 2 Peer Project trains teens to teach both on school grounds and at other locations within their communities, going so far as to pay them for their efforts. In Baltimore, Maryland, the Healthy Teen Network and its subsidiary, the Healthy Teen Leadership Alliance, also empower teens to influence the field of sexual health. These are just a handful of programs among many that are handing the reins over to teens. It can be difficult to keep track of all the peer-led programs popping up around the country, but Advocates for Youth  —  an advocacy organization with its focus on adolescent sexual health  —  has gathered the results of numerous studies on the impact of peer education. These studies show how peer education reduces risky sexual behaviors and empowers teens, who seem to find their peers to be more credible than adult educators.

Complete Article HERE!

Inadequate sex education creating ‘health time bomb’

‘Shockingly high’ numbers of STI diagnoses prompt councils to call for compulsory sex education in UK secondary schools

A school nurse giving sex education advice to year 10 students at a school in Devon.

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Inadequate sex and relationships education (SRE) in schools is creating “a ticking sexual health time bomb”, councils are warning, amid concern over high numbers of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among young people.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, has joined the growing clamour urging the government to make sex education compulsory in all secondary schools. Currently it is mandatory in local authority-maintained schools, but not in academies and free schools which make up 65% of secondaries.

Izzi Seccombe, chair of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said it was a major health protection issue. “The lack of compulsory sex and relationship education in academies and free schools is storing up problems for later on in life, creating a ticking sexual health time bomb, as we are seeing in those who have recently left school.

“The shockingly high numbers of STI diagnoses in teenagers and young adults, particularly in the immediate post-school generation, is of huge concern to councils.

The LGA argues that it is a health protection issue, with 141,000 new STI diagnoses for 20- to 24-year-olds in England in 2015 and 78,000 for those aged 15-19. Sexual health is one of local government’s biggest areas of public health spending, with approximately £600m budgeted annually.

The LGA appeal came as the government was reported to be close to making an announcement regarding SRE and PSHE (personal, social, health and economic education), after the education secretary, Justine Greening, flagged up the issue as a priority for government.

Campaigners hope the announcement will be made during the next stage of the children and social work bill, which is passing through parliament. An amendment with cross-party support was tabled last week which, if carried, would would amount to the biggest overhaul in sex education in 17 years, but it is not yet clear what the government announcement will amount to, and crucially whether it will make SRE compulsory.

Seccombe said: “We believe that making sex and relationship education compulsory in all secondary schools, not just council-maintained ones, could make a real difference in reversing this trend, by preparing pupils for adulthood and enabling them to better take care of themselves and future partners.”

The LGA says while SRE should be made compulsory for secondary school children, with statutory guidance on key issues including sexual health, parents should still be given the option of taking their children from the lessons.

Tory MP Maria Miller was among those proposing the amendment to the bill last week. It followed an inquiry by the women and equalities committee, chaired by Miller, which heard that most children have seen online pornography by the time they leave primary school and two thirds will have been asked for a sexual digital image of themselves before they leave secondary school.

According to Miller, research has shown that just one in four children at secondary school receives any teaching on sex and relationship issues, and Ofsted has said that when it is taught the quality of teaching is often poor.

“Different interest groups cannot agree on a way forward that suits them and in the meantime we are letting down a generation of children who are not being taught how to keep themselves safe in an online, digital world,” said Miller.

“We are not teaching them that pornography isn’t representative of a typical relationship, that sexting images are illegal and could be distributed to child abuse websites and how to be aware of the signs of grooming for sexual exploitation.

“Overwhelmingly parents and children are fed up and want change. They want compulsory lessons in school to teach children and young people about consent and healthy relationships.”

Complete Article HERE!

How Straight Men Who Have Sex With Men Explain Their Encounters

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The subject of straight-identifying men who have sex with other men is a fascinating one, in that it shines a light on some extremely potent, personal concepts pertaining to identity and sexuality and one’s place in society. That’s why some sociologists and other researchers have been very eager to seek out such men and hear them explain how they fit same-sex sexual activity into their conception of heterosexuality.

The latest such research comes in the journal Sexualities, from Héctor Carrillo and Amanda Hoffman of Northwestern University. They conducted 100 interviews, with men who identified as straight but sought out casual sex with men online, hoping to better understand this population. A big chunk of the article consists of snippets from those interviews, which were primarily conducted online by three female researchers, and at the end Carillo and Hoffman sum up what they found:

They interpret that they are exclusively or primarily attracted to women, and many also conclude that they have no sexual attraction to men in spite of their desire to have sex with men. They define sexual attraction as a combination of physical and emotional attraction, and they assess that their interest in women includes both, while their interest in men is purely or mainly sexual, not romantic or emotional. Moreover, some perceive that they are not drawn toward male bodies in the same way as they are drawn to female bodies, and some observe that the only physical part of a man that interests them is his penis. Men in the latter group do not find men handsome or attractive, but they do find penises attractive, and they thus see penises as ‘living dildos’ or, in other words, disembodied objects of desire that provide a source of sexual pleasure. Finally, as a management strategy for judging that their sexual interest in women is greater and more intense than their interest in men, they sometimes limit their repertoires of same-sex sexual practices or interpret them as less important than their sexual practices with women. That way, they can tell themselves that their sexual interest in women is unbounded, while their sexual interest in men is not.

All this contributes to their sense that they qualify as being called straight or heterosexual, even when some also recognize that their sexualities do indeed differ from exclusive heterosexuality, which in turn leads them to adopt secondary descriptors of their sexual identities. As indicated by the variety of terms that they used, those descriptors often reinforce a perception that, as a sexual orientation category, heterosexuality is elastic instead of rigid — that some degree of samesex desire and behaviour need not automatically push an individual out of the heterosexual category. And while some men are willing to recognize that their sexual behaviours might qualify their being called bisexual — and they may privately identify with that label — they feel that there is no contradiction between holding a private awareness of being bisexual and a public persona as straight or heterosexual. Again, this conclusion is strengthened by a lack of social incentives to adopt bisexual identities.

It’s interesting to keep that interpretation in mind as you read the interview snippets. Take, for example, the men who sought to make it very clear that while they sometimes got with men, they really liked women:

I know what I like. I like pussy. I like women … the more the merrier … I would kiss a woman. ANYWHERE. I can barely hug a man … I do have a healthy sexual imagination and wonder about other things in the sexual realm I’ve never done … Sometimes I get naughty and explore … That’s how I see it. [Reggie, 28]

Women are hot … I can see a beautiful woman walk down the street and I instantly can become hard and get horny. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy walking by and got a boner. Also, I would not want to kiss or make out with them or love them. They would be more like a sexual experience. [Charlie, 32]

Some of the men did think that their behavior possibly qualified them as bisexual, but didn’t quite want to take the step of identifying as such:

I think everybody is a little bi. Isn’t that what this research is about? There’s the Kinsey scale … It’s not like Bush saying you’re either with us or with the terrorists. I think I’m probably bi but what I present to the world is a heterosexual man. Internally I’m bi, but that’s not something most people know. I’m not ashamed, but the majority of people are ignorant and close-minded. [Simon, 27]

I am not openly bisexual to society except in sexual situations … I don’t have relationships with men; I am in a relationship with my wife and only love her. [I’m bisexual] only with men behind closed doors. [Dustin, 28]

In addition to being perhaps the first instance in recorded history of someone comparing their sexual orientation to George W. Bush’s counterterrorism doctrine, Simon’s statement contains an important point: Carrillo and Hoffman note that many of their respondents simply “see no real personal or social advantages that would stem from publicly adopting an identity as bisexual or gay.” In many cases, it may not be in their interests to do so — hence the compartmentalization of their same-sex encounters.

Another reason for such compartmentalization is that it allows some men the opportunity to explore parts of their identities they feel they couldn’t safely in heterosexual settings:

For most of my sex life I’m in control of things. I’m not a boss at work anymore but I’ve been in situations where I’ve managed a hundred people at a time. I take care of my family. I take care of my kids. I’m a good father. I’m a good husband in providing material things for my wife … I’m in charge in a lot of places … There’s times when I don’t want to be in charge and I want someone to be in charge of me … that’s what brings me over [to] the bisexuals … it’s kind of submitting to another guy or being used by another guy. [Russell, 54]

“Interestingly,” write Carrillo and Hoffman, “being dominated by a man seemed to them less threatening than being dominated by a steady female partner, perhaps because it could be construed as a temporary fantasy, instead of meaning a permanent change in the gender balance.”

This same dynamic popped up the last study on this subject I covered — the idea that men “get” something about sex that women don’t, and that because there’s a fully mutual understanding that what’s going on is just sex, same-sex experiences can be set off safely away from the rest of one’s (heterosexual) identity. You can be a “good father,” which many men imply to mean being a strong, straight man, while still messing around with men on the side. From these men’s perspective, they can have it both ways — the privileges of identifying as straight and the pleasure and excitement of same-sex relationships on the side — without their identity being threatened.

Complete Article HERE!

Should Shame Be Used to Treat Sexual Compulsions?

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The concept of “sex addiction” has become deeply embedded in our culture — people toss the term around pretty easily, and it’s the subject of TV shows, documentaries, and a profitable cottage industry of treatment centers. The problem is, as Science of Us has noted before, the scientific evidence for sex addiction being similar to alcohol or drug addiction is very, very thin, and it may be the case that people who believe or are told they have sex addiction actually have other stuff going on.

And yet, it’s undoubtedly the case that many people show up at therapists’ offices worried about sexual behavior that feels compulsive. How do therapists who are skeptical of the idea of sex addiction deal with these patients? That’s the question at the center of an interesting article in SELF by Zahra Barnes.

Barnes does a good job laying out the strong majority view that “sex addiction” shouldn’t be viewed in the same way as other, more scientifically validated forms of addiction, and she also contrasts the way different sorts of therapists deal with sexually compulsive behavior. As she explains, therapists who hew to the majority view often take a “harm reduction” approach to patients who are complaining of compulsive behavior.

“It’s humanistic, meaning it privileges the subjective experience of a person and doesn’t try to apply some external model on what they’re describing, and it’s culturally libertarian, meaning as long as they’re not hurting anyone, you allow people to behave the way that they want and give them the space to do it,” said Michael Aaron, Ph.D., a sex therapist in New York City and author of Modern Sexuality.]

This method can work for people troubled by their sexual urges and those with compulsive sexual behavior. “Rather than trying to change something, we need to acknowledge it and embrace it,” Aaron says. He offers the example of someone who has fantasies of traumatizing children sexually or being sexually violent toward women: “The harm reduction approach asks, can you play out some of these themes with a consenting partner?” The aim is to satisfy these desires with a willing partner instead of suppressing them, which can just make them stronger, he explains.

Therapists who do believe in the addiction model work differently, and where this difference manifests itself most strongly is in their approach to shame. While Aaron and other harm-reduction researchers try to stay away from shaming their patients, which they say can worsen compulsive behaviors, believers in the sex-addiction model see things differently:

“Sex addicts need to feel some shame about what they’re doing, because they are shameless. When people are shameless, they rape and murder and steal and pillage and get into politics,” [says Alexandra Katehakis, clinical director of the Center for Healthy Sex.]. But this is different from shaming someone, she says. “Shaming in an unprincipled way is out of bounds [for a mental health professional],” she explains. That would include saying or even implying that someone is disgusting based on what they’re doing. Rather, she asks questions designed to make someone reflect on what their actions have wrought, like, “What do you think that feels like for your partner?” It’s helpful, not damaging, she explains, because, “It challenges them to see what they’re doing, and it brings them into the reality of their behavior.”

It seems like one of the key philosophical differences here is the question of the extent to which people can control their most primal sexual urges. The therapists who don’t believe in sex addiction appear to view people’s sexual preferences (for lack of a better term given they probably aren’t preferences) in a holistic context — if people are “acting out” sexually in a way that harms others, it could be because of other stuff going on in their lives. You address the behavior by addressing the root causes. The believers, on the other hand, focus more on the urges and finding ways to address the behavior and urges in and of themselves.

These approaches aren’t fully compatible, so it’s no surprise there’s tension between the majority of sex researchers who don’t believe in the addiction model and the minority who do.

Complete Article http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2017/01/should-shame-be-used-to-treat-sexual-compulsions.html!

Worried your partner might have a bisexual history? Why?

Myths about LGBTQ sexual health need debunking – and healthcare professionals are part of the problem

‘You don’t have to openly identify as bisexual to get the bad side of bisexuality.’

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“Use a condom, the pill, or get an IUD – avoid pregnancy” was the drill from sexual health practitioners who came to speak at my comprehensive school in Kent. There wasn’t much detail or thought beyond, “Some of these boys are going to get some of these girls pregnant before they hit 16 – let’s try to get that down to a lower number than we had last year.”

Thankfully, when it comes to the subject of sexual identity, there’s now more guidance than ever trickling down into the societal subconscious in the west – hopefully in schools, but certainly during publicity rounds for films starring Kelly Rowland and Cat Deeley. While talking about Love By the 10th Date to the New York Post last week, Rowland espoused the importance of knowledge when embarking on a sexual relationship with another: “I can’t tell someone how to feel about dating someone who is bisexual or had a past gay experience, but it’s proper to ask [if they have] in today’s times.”

It is “proper” to ask? Maybe it’s unfortunate phrasing, or maybe not being able to hear the tone of voice in which the opinion was offered gives it negative impact, but the sentence rings faintly of suspicion and mild disapproval: “Please submit your history of sex with people of the same gender, and it will then be decided whether or not you are too risky to be intimate with.” That’s how it comes across to this particular someone who is “bisexual or [has] had a past gay experience”, anyway.

Bisexuality just continues to have a bad rep, even though it’s on the rise (according to CNN) … or then again, maybe it’s not on the rise (according to the Verge). Statistics on the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and which groups of people are spreading them, are easily found (and quickly wielded by those mistrustful of anything beyond heteronormativity), but they can obscure a simple and universal truth that applies to all groups, whether those groups are on the rise or not. And that is: whatever genitalia you and your partner(s) have, you should protect yourselves (condom/dental dam/wash your hands and accoutrement between uses, thank you). Ignoring that fact in favour of “it’s the bisexuals, mostly” is the source of so much harm.

You don’t have to openly identify as bisexual to get the bad side of bisexuality, because it goes beyond the myths of promiscuity, greed and dishonesty still held by some – biphobia also has an impact on physical health. Here in the UK, if you’re a man who’s had sex with another man in the last 12 months, you can’t donate blood (though that stance is currently being reviewed). Women who have sex with women are less likely to get a smear test, because many of us don’t realise we need to – we’re forgotten by the healthcare system, or our needs are misunderstood.

“Gay and bisexual women are at lower risk for HPV,” we confidently tell each other, “we don’t need a smear test.” A lot of us have heard that from our doctors, as well. It was only after seeing a leaflet about the issue from lgbthealth.org.uk during this month’s Cervical Cancer Prevention Week that I realised this was just ignorance.

In 2008, Stonewall released findings that one in 50 lesbian and bisexual women had been refused a smear test, even when they requested one. The 2015 survey on training gaps in healthcare, Unhealthy Attitudes, found that three in four patient-facing staff had not received any training on the health needs of LGBTQ people. Many women get variations of the “use a condom, the pill, or get an IUD – avoid pregnancy” mantra from our doctors to this day, if we don’t declare our gayness or bisexuality as we walk through the surgery door. Sometimes even a declaration is ignored by an uncomfortable practitioner. Straightness is still automatically assumed, unless you’re lucky enough to have a doctor who doesn’t see heterosexuality as the default for everyone they treat.

According to that 2015 Stonewall study, a third of healthcare professionals felt that the NHS and social care services should be doing more to meet the needs of LGBTQ patients, which is encouraging. Knowledge is wanted – needed – to undo the harmful myths that block help and prevent education. And that is what is “proper” (to quote the star of Freddy vs Jason and Love By the 10th Date) – fighting ignorance and biphobia, rather than continuing to be suspicious of sexual histories that might have featured people of the same gender. Whatever and whoever is in our sexual pasts, we must protect each other, and stay informed. That’s healthy.

Complete Article HERE!