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For Veterans, Trauma Of War Can Persist In Struggles With Sexual Intimacy

U.S. Marines march in the annual Veterans Day Parade along Fifth Avenue in 2014 in New York City.

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Much has been said about the physical and psychological injuries of war, like traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder. But what we talk about less is how these conditions affect the sexual relationships of service members after they return from combat.

Since 2000, service members who were deployed received at least 138,000 diagnoses of PTSD. More than 350,000 have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury since 2000. Evidence suggests the numbers are actually higher because many don’t seek treatment.

These conditions cause their own sexual side effects, such as emotional numbness, loss of libido and erectile dysfunction. And the long list of medications used to treat PTSD, TBI and other medical conditions can worsen those side effects.

‘He would sleep for days’

Chuck and Liz Rotenberry of Baltimore struggled with their own challenges when Chuck returned from Afghanistan in 2011. He’s a former Marine gunnery sergeant who trained military working dogs. He left active duty in 2012.

For Liz and Chuck, sex had never been a problem. They’ve been married for 14 years and they’re still very much in love. Liz says she fell for Chuck in high school. He was that guy who could always make her laugh, who always had a one-liner ready and never seemed sad.

But when Chuck returned from Afghanistan, their relationship would soon face its greatest challenge. Baby No. 4 was just two weeks away; for sure, it was a chaotic time. But Liz noticed pretty quickly, something was terribly wrong with her husband.

“I wouldn’t be able to find him in the house and he wouldn’t be outside, and I’d find him in a separate bedroom just crying,” Liz says. “He would sleep for days. He would have a hoodie on and be just tucked away in the bed, and he wouldn’t be able to get out of bed. He would have migraines that were so debilitating that it kept him in the bed.”

When Chuck was in Afghanistan, an IED — improvised explosive device — exploded 3 feet behind him. Shrapnel lodged into his neck and back.

It would take three years for someone at the Department of Veterans Affairs to explicitly lay out for Liz that Chuck had developed severe post-traumatic stress and suffered a traumatic brain injury — and that she would need to be his caregiver.

The Marine self-image

During that three-year period, there were times Chuck estimates he was taking 15 to 16 different medications twice a day.

Sex was usually the furthest thing from his mind.

“I didn’t think about it. I wanted to be with Liz, I wanted to be near her,” he says. “When the desire was there, it was unique. It was rare, as opposed to the way it was before. And a lot of times, with the mountains of medication I was on, you know, in my head [it was] all systems go, but that message didn’t go anywhere else.”

Liz noticed that Chuck stopped initiating physical affection.

“The thought of him reaching out to me to give me a hug wasn’t existent. It was like I had to give him the hug. I now had to step in and show him love,” she says.

Sometimes months would go by before they would have sex.

“It started off as being pretty embarrassing, pretty emasculating,” Chuck says. “It was like, ‘Really? This too doesn’t work?’ You blame it on, ‘Oh, it’s just the medication,’ or ‘You’re tired,’ or whatever initially, and you don’t realize it’s stress or my brain just doesn’t work like it used to.”

Liz and Chuck had never really talked about sex in any serious way before. So they kept avoiding the conversation — until this year. That’s when Chuck finally asked his primary care provider for help. The doctor prescribed four doses of Viagra a month. Liz and Chuck say the medication has improved things substantially — though they joke about how few doses the VA allots them every month.

But asking for just those four doses took Chuck three or four visits to the doctor before he could work up the nerve. He says it can be especially hard for a Marine to admit he’s having problems with sex because it contradicts a self-image so many Marines have.

“You know, as a Marine, you can do anything. You believe you can do anything, you’ve been trained to do nearly anything,” he says. “You’re physically fit. You’re mentally sound. Those are just the basics about being a Marine.”

If he has any advice for a Marine going through the same thing he and his wife are facing, he says you need to talk about it. Bring it up with your spouse. Bring it up with your doctors.

“Marines always jokingly hand out straws. You got to suck it up. You got to do what you need to do to get it done,” Chuck says. “It’s just a different mission. … Don’t let your pride ruin what you worked so hard for.”

 Complete Article HERE!

How the internet and technology can help with gay male sexual health issues

 

by Craig Takeuchi

Thanks to the internet and social technology, it’s now far easier for gay men or men who have sex with men (MSM) to access information and content about LGBT issues in the privacy of their own home or from remote locations outside of city centres than having to go to bookstores, libraries, or public places, or traveling or relocating to cities, as in the past.

But what are some effective ways to use this access to (and dissemination of) information when it comes to sexual health issues, such as sexually-transmitted infections (STIs)?

A panel discussion at the 12th annual Gay Men’s Health Summit held by the Community-Based Research Centre at SFU Harbour Centre in November addressed this topic.

Panel members from organizations across Canada discussed how internet and mobile technology can be used for campaigns to improve gay male health and combat stigma.

Getting the sex you want

Toronto’s Dan Gallant from the Gay Men’s Sexual Health Alliance of Ontario talked about their website The Sex You Want.

The alliance is a network of frontline workers, researchers, policy makers, community members, and more who are addressing the sexual health needs of Ontario men.

The Sex You Want, which has been in development for over a year, is designed to help reduce gaps in knowledge that contribute to stigma, to help empower gay men in making informed decisions about sex, and to raise awareness of various options for prevention strategies.

Gallant said they have tried to incorporate both scientific evidence and a sex-positive attitude incorporated into content, while making it enjoyable to browse through.

In line with all of that, they chose to use a variety of forms of communication, including text, infographics, and comics, along with illustrations and animation instead of photos to avoid any complications of individuals revoking the use of their image.

Getting checked online

Troy Grennan, a physician lead at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, talked about how stigma can lead to the avoidance of healthcare, including seeking STI testing, treatment, or information.

He pointed out how mobile and internet technologies can help to address gaps and overcome barriers to testing and care. For instance, online resources can help to reach MSM (men who have sex with men, who may not identify as LGBT) or men who live in rural areas who face greater challenges in getting tested and may be at greater risk of infection.

For instance, Grennan pointed out that many Vancouver clinics are facing increases in capacity and often have to turn away people, particularly individuals with non-urgent issues, due to lack of time.

Other issues include clinic hours, whether or not male or female service providers are available as options, and finding providers who are easy to talk to about LGBT issues.

He said that the internet and technology can play a role in home-testing, partner notification (or the use of electronic means to inform others that they may have been exposed to possible infection) online outreach (to have online conversations and ask questions), online counselling, sending test results by email or text messages, medication reminders, and check-ins about symptoms.

Grennan explained that BCCDC’s website Get Checked Online is like a virtual clinic which helps to “improve sexual health by increasing uptake in frequency of testing, acceptability of testing, and also, as a result of all that, improve increased timeliness of diagnosis, which again are critical factors in times where there are high rates in STIs.”

At the site, users can fill out account profile, which helps to determine what testing is necessary. If testing is needed, users can print out a requisition form, which they can take to LifeLabs location in B.C. At the labs, specimens are taken, such as blood and urine. Self-collected swabs for throat and rectal samples were introduced a few months ago.

Users receive an email notification when results are ready. If there are any positive results or problems with samples, users receive a message that they need to call to speak with someone.

Getting the Buzz

RÉZO codirector Frédérick Pronovost from Montreal talked about how his organization developed the app MonBuzz as an online intervention to inform users about the risks of substance use in relation to sexual health.

He said the app was designed to help individuals make informed decisions about drug use as well as to provide information and resources for MSM populations who are sometimes challenging to reach.

Pronovost said that when they conducted focus groups, participants said they wanted something that informed them about risk but wasn’t judgmental or a killjoy. They also didn’t want anything that overly referred to substance use or sexual identity.

He explained that they had to balance the needs of gay communities with their scientific team and IT firm in creating something achievable yet affordable.

Getting on Facebook

SFU PhD student and BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS research assistant Kiffer Card presented some of the results of a study on how Facebook is used to spread messages.

He said that they took a look at several Vancouver organizations serving local gay community by examining metrics and how users interacted with content

In a close-knit community like Vancouver, he said that they found that dedicated efforts zeroing on specific issues can have an influential effect throughout the city, as in the example of CBRC’s Resist Stigma campaign.

“We see that not only did Resist Stigma increase their discussion around stigma but a lot of the other community-based organizations [did] too and it shows that a focused effort can actually improve the theme or the topic for all the other organizations as well,” he said.

Other findings revealed that Facebook posts in the morning performed better than during or after work hours, there was little difference between post performances on weekdays or weekends, positive messages performed more effectively than things like sarcasm, and asking questions also heightened engagement.

Complete Article HERE!

The Vulnerable Group Sex Ed Completely Ignores & Why That’s So Dangerous

By Hallie Levine

When Katie, 36, was identified as having an intellectual disability as a young child after scoring below 70 on an IQ test, her parents were told that she would never learn to read and would spend her days in a sheltered workshop. Today she is a single mum to an 8-year-old son, drives a car, and works at a local restaurant as a waitress. She blasted through society’s expectations of her — including the expectation that she would never have sex.

sex-edKatie never had a formal sexual education: What she learned came straight from her legal guardian, Pam, who explained to her the importance of safe sex and waiting until she was ready. “I waited until I was 19, which is a lot later than some of my friends,” Katie says. Still, like many women with disabilities, she admits to being pressured into sex her first time, something she regrets. “I don’t think I was ready,” she says. “It actually was with someone who wasn’t my boyfriend. He was cute, and he wanted to have sex, so I said I wanted it, but at the last minute I changed my mind and it happened anyway. I just felt really stupid and uncomfortable afterwards.” She never told her boyfriend what happened.

Katie’s experience is certainly not unique: In the general population, one out of six women has survived a rape or attempted rape, according to statistics from RAINN. But for women with intellectual disabilities (ID), it’s even more sobering: About 25% of females with ID referred for birth control had a history of sexual violence, while other research suggests that almost half of people with ID will experience at least 10 sexually abusive incidents in their lifetime, according to The Arc, an advocacy organisation for people with intellectual disabilities.

When it comes to their sex lives, research shows many women with intellectual disability don’t associate sex with pleasure, and tend to play a passive role, more directed to “pleasuring the penis of their sex partner” than their own enjoyment, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Sex Research. They’re more likely to experience feelings of depression and guilt after sex. They’re at a greater risk for early sexual activity and early pregnancy. They’re also more likely to get an STD: 26% of cognitively impaired female high schoolers report having one, compared to 10% of their typical peers, according to a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Katie, for example, contracted herpes in her early 20s, from having sex with another man (she says none of her partners have had an intellectual disability). “I was hurt and itching down there, so I went to the doctor, who told me I had this bad disease,” she recalls. She was so upset she confronted her partner: “I went to his office crying, but he denied everything,” she remembers.

Given all of this, you’d think public schools — which are in charge of educating kids with intellectual disability — would be making sure it’s part of every child’s curriculum. But paradoxically, kids with ID are often excluded from sexual education classes, including STD and pregnancy prevention. “People with intellectual disabilities don’t get sexual education,” says Julie Ann Petty, a safety and sexual violence educator at the University of Arkansas. Petty, who has cerebral palsy herself, has worked extensively with adults who have intellectual disabilities (while not all people living with cerebral palsy have intellectual disabilities, they face many of the same barriers to sexual education). “This [lack of education] is due to the central norms we still have when thinking about people with ID: They need to be protected; they are not sexual beings; they don’t need any sex-related information. Disability rights advocates have worked hard over the last 20-some years to get rid of those stereotypes, but they are still out there.

“I work with adults with disabilities all the time, and the attitudes of the caretakers and staff around them are, ‘Oh, our people do not do that stuff. Our people do not think about sex,’” Petty says. “It’s tragic, and really sets this vulnerable population up for abuse: if they don’t have knowledge about their private body parts, for example, how are they going to know if someone is doing something inappropriate?”

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Historically, individuals with intellectual disabilities were marginalised, shunted off to institutions, and forcibly sterilised. That all began to change in the 1950s and 1960s, with the push by parents and civil rights advocates to keep kids with ID at home and mainstream them into regular education environments. But while significant progress has been made over the last half century in terms of increased educational and employment opportunities, when it comes to sex ed, disability rights advocates say we’re still far, far behind.

“What I find is shocking is I’ll go in to teach a workshop on human sexuality to a group of teenagers or young adults with cognitive disabilities, and I find that their knowledge is no different than what [young people with ID would have known] back in the 1970s,” says Katherine McLaughlin, who has worked as a sexuality educator and trainer for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England for over 20 years and is the co-author of the curriculum guide “Sexuality Education for Adults with Developmental Disabilities.” “They tell me they were taken out of their mainstream health classes in junior high and high school during the sexual education part, because their teachers don’t think they need it. I’ve worked with adults in their 50s who have no idea how babies are made. It’s mind blowing.”

“There’s this belief that they don’t need it, or that they won’t understand it, or it will actually make them more likely to be sexually active or act inappropriately,” adds Pam Malin, VAWA Project Coordinator, Disability Rights Wisconsin. “But research shows that actually the opposite is true.”

Indeed, as the mother of a young girl with Down syndrome, I’m personally struck by how asexualised people with intellectual disabilities still are. Case in point: When fashion model Madeline Stuart — who has Down syndrome — posted pictures of herself online in a bikini, the Internet exploded with commentary, some positive, some negative. “I think it is time people realised that people with Down syndrome can be sexy and beautiful and should be celebrated,” Madeline’s mother, Roseanne, told ABC News. Yet somehow, it’s still scandalous.

Ironically, sometimes the biggest barrier comes from parents of people with ID — which hits close to home for me. “A lot of parents still treat their kids’ sexuality as taboo,” says Malin. She recalls one situation where a mom in one of her parent support groups got attacked by other parents: “She was very open about masturbation with her adolescent son, and actually left a pail on his doorknob so he could masturbate in a sock and then put it in the pail — she’d wash it with no questions asked. I applauded it: I thought it was an excellent way to give her son some freedom and choice around his sexuality. But it made the other parents incredibly uncomfortable.”

Sometimes, parents are simply not comfortable talking about sexuality, because they don’t know how to start the conversation, adds Malin. Several studies have also found that both staff and family generally encourage friendship, not sexual relationships. “It’s a lot of denial: The parents don’t want to admit that their children are maturing emotionally and developing adult feelings,” says Malin. An Australian study published in the journal Sexuality & Disability found that couples with intellectual disability were simply never left alone, and thus never allowed to engage in sexual behaviour.

I’m doing my best — but despite all my good intentions, it’s certainly not been easy. This fall, I sat down to tell my three small children about the birds and the bees. My two boys — in second grade and kindergarten — got into the conversation right away, and as we began talking I realised it wasn’t a surprise to them; at a young age, they’d already picked up some of the basic facts from playmates. But my daughter, my eldest, was a whole different story. Jo Jo is in third grade and has Down syndrome, so she’s delayed, both with language and cognition. And because of her ID, and all the risk that goes along with it, she was the kid I was most worried about. So it was disheartening to see her complete lack of interest in the conversation, wandering off to her iPad or turning on the radio. Every time I would try to coax her back to our little group, she would shout, “No!”

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Lisa Shevin, whose 30-year-old daughter, Chani, has Down syndrome, says she’s never had a heart-to-heart with her daughter about sexuality. “The problem is, Chani’s not very verbal, so I’m never quite sure what she grasps,” says Shevin, who lives in Oak Park, a suburb of Detroit. While Chani has a “beau” at work, another young man who also has an intellectual disability, “They’re never, ever left alone, so they never have an opportunity to follow through on anything,” says Shevin. “I feel so frustrated as her mother, because I want to talk to her about sex ed, but I just don’t know how. I’ve never gotten any guidance from anyone. But just because my daughter is cognitively impaired, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t have the same hormones as any other woman her age. You can’t just sweep it under the rug and assume she doesn’t understand.”

In one interesting twist, sex educators say they tend to see more women with intellectual disability than men being sexually aggressive. “I worked with a young woman in her late 20s who would develop crushes on attractive male staff members at her group home,” recalls Malin. “She would try to flirt, and the guys would play it off as ‘hah hah funny,’ but eventually she called police and accused one of them of rape.” While the police investigated and eventually dropped charges, Malin was brought in to work with her: “We had a long conversation about where this had come from, and she kept talking about Beau and Hope from ‘Days of Our Lives’,” Malin recalls. “It turned out she had gotten so assertive with one of the male staff that he’d very adamantly said no to her, but her understanding of rape boiled down to gleaning bits from soap operas, and she thought that if a man in any situation acted forcefully with a woman then it was sexual assault.”

While most cases don’t escalate to this point, sometimes people with intellectual disability can exhibit behavior that causes problems: Chani, for example, was kicked out of sleep-away camp a few years ago after staff complained that she was hugging too many of her male counsellors. “She’d develop little crushes on them, and she never tried anything further than putting her arms around them and wanting to hang out with them all the time, but it made staff uncomfortable,” Shevin recalls. Chani’s since found a new camp where counsellors take her behaviour in stride: “They’ve found a way to work with it, so if she doesn’t want to do an activity, they’ll convince her by telling her afterwards she can spend time with Noah, one of the male counsellors she has a crush on,” says Shevin. (At the end of the summer, Noah gave Chani a tiara, which remains one of her prize possessions.)

So what can be done? Sadly, even if someone with ID is able to get into a sexual education program, the existing options tend to severely miss the mark: A 2015 study published in the Journal for Sex Research analysed 20 articles on sexual education programs aimed at this group and found most fell far short, mainly because people who unable to generalise what they learned in the program to an outside setting. “This is a major problem for individuals who are cognitively challenged: They have difficulty applying a skill or knowledge they get in one setting to somewhere else,” explains McLaughlin. “But just like everywhere else, most get it eventually — it just takes a lot of time, repetition, and patience.”

In the meantime, for parents like me, McLaughlin has a few tips. “Take advantage of teachable moments,” she says. “If a family member is pregnant, talk about it with them. If you’re watching a TV show together and there’s sexual content, don’t just sweep it under the rug — try to break down the issues with them.” It’s also important to be as concrete as possible: “Since people with ID have trouble generalising, use anatomically correct dolls or photographs whenever possible, especially when describing body parts,” she says.

Some local disability organisations also offer workshops for both teenagers and adults with intellectual disabilities. And the Special Olympics offers protective behaviours training for volunteers. But at this point there’s a dearth of legislation and organisations that are fighting for better sexual education, which means parents like myself have to take the initiative when it comes to educating our kids about their burgeoning sexuality.

It’s a responsibility I’m taking to heart in my own life. Now, every night when I bathe my daughter, we make a game of identifying body parts, some of which are private, and I explain to her that no one touches those areas except for mommy or a doctor. Recently, she’s started humping objects at home like the arm of the sofa, and I’ve begun explaining to her that if she wants to do something like that, it needs to be in the privacy of her own room. It’s taken a lot of repeating and reinforcing, but she seems to be getting the message. I have no doubt that — like every other skill she’s mastered, such as reading or writing her name or potty training — it will take time, but she’ll get there.

As for Katie, with age and experience, she’s become more comfortable with her sexuality. “It took me a while, but I’m confident in myself,” she says. “I am one hundred percent okay saying no to someone — if I’m pressured, there’s no way in the world now I’ll do anything with anybody. But that means when it does happen, it feels right.”

Complete Article HERE!

Post-Orgasmic Goading

Q:

When pleasuring another dude’s cock, when should I stop riding/sucking/stroking after he’s cum? I know how sensitive my cock gets after cumming, but I also feel like some of the sweetest and most intimate moments can be what I do with his cock as it subsides and softens, not to mention that there can still be intense, intense pleasure in those early post-cum moments.
Go for it, while adapting to his needs!

ERECT PENIS

I agree with you that the sweetest and most intense pleasurable sensations can be had soon after ejaculation. I personally call this post-ejaculatory penile massage post-orgasmic goading (but that’s a personal terminology as I’ve never seen an official terminology for this) because this deliberate teasing is done at a time where we all know the penis to be extremely sensitive.

Post-orgasmic goading is not something we men tend to do instinctively for ourselves, as a consequence of the additive impact of three phenomena happening quickly after ejaculation:

  1. The powerful and overwhelming sensation of fatigue that numbs us after ejaculation
  2. The almost instantaneous disappearance of all interest for sex that follows ejaculation
  3. The excruciating sensitiveness of the penis — of the glans in particular — following ejaculation

Acting synergistically, these phenomena trained us very early into avoiding any stimulation to our penis after ejaculation. In fact, this is something most of us were driven to understand only a few weeks after our first ejaculation. As a result, most men will have little to no experience with (and, for some, even the knowledge of) the powerful sensations that can be squeezed out from the penis after ejaculation.

Does that mean that post-orgasmic goading should be avoided? Not at all: on the contrary, it should be encouraged.

What it means however, is that you have to be mindful when initially introducing a partner to post-orgasmic masturbation.

  • Begin by announcing your intent. I don’t mean writing down a contract in triplicates, but after the guy has cum and you continue to masturbate him, tell him that you do. Something like “seeing you cum was wonderful, I want to see you squirm and hear you moan longer”. Eventually, you won’t need to ask his permission to go on with the post-orgasmic goading, but at first you’ll need to, so that your partner doesn’t feel apprehensive. Indeed, when unexpected, post-orgasmic goading will bring forth a feeling of loss of control (and it is, to a point). And most men don’t live well with that feeling, as it is not part of the male psyche.
  • Be clear that you’ll stop if he asks to, and indeed stop when he does asks you to… but with a slight delay. The delay is important as the intensity of the caresses are very likely to make him utter you to stop way too soon. So you should playfully continue a bit longer, yet without going overboard so that he’ll know that you can be trusted. At first, you might not continue for long after ejaculation, but as he learns both that you can be trusted and to let go, you’ll be able to give him long minutes of quasi-orgasmic pleasures…
  • Finally, be considerate. While you can continue to caress the shaft with a relatively strong grip (yet toned down compared to how you held his cock as you sent him through orgasm), you must handle the glans with extreme care. Using his semen(1) as lube, rub the glans slightly and delicately with your fingertips. You’re better off beginning too delicately than the other way around because if you begin the cockhead’s caresses too harshly, it will hurt and that will be the end of it. To evaluate your accomplishment, watch his abs for sudden contractions, watch his shoulders dance around, watch his head moving back and forth, watch also for his hand(s) that may attempt to grip you (surprisingly) strongly in an attempt to immobilize you. Listen to his moans also. Embolden him to move and moan…
  • When introducing a man to post-orgasmic goading, one has to be initially very mindful and open to the needs of the other. When done correctly, it opens a new world of sensations and it is totally fun and addictive(2) ! After some time, you’ll be able to make him dance, squirm and whimper for a surprisingly long time. He will even be looking for it.

While semen is a hassle to deal with after ejaculation, we all like to be reminded that we ejaculated and how much we came. Playing with our semen and smearing it all over helps drive the point that we came and helps us registering that we impregnated the world with our DNA. It makes us feel manly. It’s important to fool around with cum, and doing so won’t change the fact that a clean up is needed after orgasm.

This article is written with a partner in mind as this is the question, but the same applies to you too. Every man should use post-orgasmic goading on their own cock. The same careful and delicate approach applies, especially since it is so difficult to persevere at first, as the glans’ exquisite sensitivity tends to make us spineless. Yet, going against the post orgasmic fatigue and the transient disinterest in sex, on one side, and learning to exploit instead of steering clear from the penis’ post orgasmic sensitiveness, on the other side, allows us to milk even more pleasure from our penis. Something no one can be averse to, right? As it goes so much against our instinctual behavior however, it has to be learned and practiced. Practice makes perfect, though. So practice my lad, practice !

Let’s Talk About Sex

Overcoming Barriers to Discussing Sexuality and Empowering Adolescent Girls

by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complete Article HERE!