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Human Rights + Sexual Rights = Sexual Freedom

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On this the first annual National Sexual Freedom Day, sponsored by The Woodhull Freedom Foundation, I’d like to propose something quite radical. I suggest that our sexual freedoms, here in the United States, are intricately linked to universal sexual rights. And I contend that the notion of universal sexual rights is at its core a respect for human rights and human dignity.

In a world wracked by poverty, disease and war; where we threaten our very existence with climate altering pollution, nuclear proliferation and extreme population growth; is there room to talk about human rights that include sexual rights and sexual freedom?

I emphatically answer yes! In fact, I assert that sexual inequality and oppression is at the heart of many of the world’s problems. I contend that trying to address human rights without including the essential component of sexual rights and sexual freedom is ultimately doomed to failure.

An absence of sexual rights and sexual freedom leads to domestic and societal violence; human trafficking; suicide; a rise in Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs); unplanned pregnancies, abortion, and sexual dysfunction.

You know how we are always being encouraged to Think Globally and Act Locally? Well while we busy ourselves securing and celebrating our sexual rights here in this nation, I think we’d do well to focus some of our attention on how our struggle binds us to the rest of the human community.

I offer three examples of what I’m talking about. I invite you to consider how a myopic sexual rights and sexual freedom agenda, divorced from the overarching issues of human, economic and social rights, can be ineffectual and even counterproductive.

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In 2008 the research community was all aflutter about ‘conclusive’ evidence linking HIV transmission and uncircumcised males. While I’m certainly not ready to take this data on face value, let’s just say, for the sake of discussion, that the link is conclusive. A massive campaign of circumcision was proposed as the best means of HIV prevention. The medical community would descend on epicenters of the disease, scalpels in hand; ready to eliminate the offending foreskins from every male in sight, young and old.

But wait, there’s a problem. Most HIV/AIDS epicenters are in underdeveloped countries. In these places, access to enough clean water to drink or attend to even the most basic personal hygiene, like daily cleaning under one’s foreskin, remains an enormous chronic problem. Without first addressing the problem of unfettered access to clean water and adequate sanitation, which according to The United Nations is a basic human right, further disease prevention efforts are doomed.

I mean, what are the chances that surgical intervention would succeed—one that would involve significant and sophisticated aftercare—if there is not even enough clean water for drinking and bathing?

These well-meaning medical personnel suggest imposing a strategy that not only works against nature—our foreskins do have a purpose after all: a healthy prepuce is a natural deterrent to infection. But this intervention would also violate long-held cultural and societal norms—circumcision is abhorrent to many of these same cultures. Wouldn’t this proposed prevention effort to stem the tide actually make matters worse?

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Indentured sex work is another indicator of how human rights, sexual rights and sexual freedom are intertwined. Until the economic and educational opportunities for women throughout the world improve—which is a basic human right according to The United Nations—women will remain chattel. Families in economically depressed areas of the world will continue to be pressured to sell their daughters (and sons) simply to subsist.

Closing brothels and stigmatizing prostitutes overlooks the more pressing human rights concerns at play here. Sex is a commodity because there is a voracious market. Men from developed nations descend on the populations of less developed nations to satisfy sexual proclivities with partners they are prohibited from enjoying in their own country. Young women (and boys) in developing countries are viewed as exploitable and disposable, because they don’t have the same civil protections afforded their peers in the developed world. And runaway population growth in countries that deprive their women and girls access to education and contraception inevitably creates a never-ending supply of hapless replacements.

Addressing the endemic gender inequality in many societies is key. Equal access to education and economic resources must come before, or at least hand in hand with any serious sexual liberation effort.

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Finally, people in the developed world enjoy a certain level of affluence and economic stability which allows them to indulge in sex recreationally. Thanks to effective birth control methods we can ignore the procreative aspects of sex and replace it with a means of expressing a myriad of other human needs. Not least among these are status, self-esteem and self-expression.

If we’re trying to prove something to ourselves, or others, by the way we conduct our sexual lives, simple prohibitions against certain sex practices won’t work. If I’m convinced that unprotected sex with multiple partners and sharing bodily fluids is edgy, cool fun, without serious consequence, as it’s portrayed in porn; I will be more likely to express myself the same way. This is especially true for young people who are already feeling invincible.

Case in point: there has been a startling uptick in seroconversions among young people, particularly gay men, which indicates that disease prevention efforts, even in the world’s most affluent societies, are simply not up to the task. It’s not that there is a scarcity of resources, quite the contrary. It is more likely that these efforts are not connected to a fundamental understanding of the role sexuality plays in the general population. I believe that sexual expression and sexual pleasure are the overarching issues here. These too are fundamental human rights.

No amount of safer sex proselytizing is going to prevail unless and until we look at why and how we express ourselves sexually. As we unravel this complex jumble of motivations and behaviors, effective prevention strategies will manifest themselves clearly. We must develop a sex-positive message; one that celebrates sexuality, builds self-esteem and counteracts the prevailing media messages of sex with no consequences.

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National Sexual Freedom Day brings into focus the micro-strategies needed to combat a macro problem. But it also shows that we cannot work for and celebrate sexual freedom in a vacuum. It’s imperative that we see how global health and wellbeing is completely dependent on basic human rights, including sexual rights that include gender and reproductive rights, the elimination of sexual exploitation and the freedom of sexual expression.

7 Not-So-Deadly Myths About STDs

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STDs can be scary – if you don’t know the facts.

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Due to the highly stigmatized nature of sexually transmitted diseases and infections, it’s no wonder everything from STD prevention to transmission gets cloaked in confusion and misconception. STDs rarely get talked about without a hidden agenda: fear. Fair enough. STDs can be scary – if you don’t know the facts.

Lucky for you, we do.

Not only are STDs either treatable or manageable these days, but they’re rarely deadly. Bet you didn’t know that, right? We’ve gathered seven other not-so-deadly myths about STDs: explained, decrypted and vetted for your educational benefit.

You’re welcome.

Envy – If You Have an STD, You are Alone

There are more than 30 sexually transmitted infections and diseases. Of the STDs that are diagnosed annually, only some (gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, hepatitis A and B, and HIV) are required to be reported to state health departments and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).The CDC reports that more than 19 million documented new infections occur annually – some curable, some not. Couple that information with the number of cases not getting documented (the other 24 or so STDs), and it’s plain to see that if you are diagnosed with an STD, you are not alone – at all. (What’s it like to have an STD? Read more in Honey, I Have Herpes.)

Sloth – People with STDs Are Dirty

STDs are transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, genital fluids and blood by way of intimate contact, oral sex, vaginal sex and anal sex. Unless you think sex is inherently dirty, STDs are anything but. Washing, douching and genital hygiene methods do not prevent STDs; in fact, genital washing practices after exposure can even increase transmission risk.Clean and dirty are terms of the past. Now, it’s safer sex (or lack thereof) that determines risk.

Gluttony – People with STDs are Promiscuous

That someone has ever contracted an STD or is living with an STD now is not an indicator of that person’s sexual proclivity. Yup, cue the gasp.

In order to contract an STD, a person must engage in one of the aforementioned sexual activities at least once. But once is all it takes. I work both with people who contracted an STD during their very first sexual encounter and those who’ve had a number of sexual forays but have never contracted an STD because they’ve been diligent in their safer-sex practices.

Whether it’s your first or 30th sexual encounter, the risk of contracting an STD is based on the activity you’re enjoying and the measures you take to protect yourself.

Lust – If You Have an STD, Your Sex-Life is Over

If you have an STD, your sex life might change, but you will definitely be able to have one. As someone who’s lived with an STD for 14 years, I can attest to the ability to have an enjoyable and healthy sex life regardless of living with an STD. Quite frankly, my STD has never precluded a partner from wanting to engage in sexual activities with me.

While I’ve had to be more conscientious of risk and transmission – not only to others, but to myself as well (having an STD increases the risk of contracting new STDs), my sex life has hummed along quite nicely. After you bridge the initial challenge of when to tell a new partner about your STD – and how – yours will too.

Wrath – People with STDs Infect People on Purpose

More than half of all people will contract an STD at some point in their lifetime – most won’t know it.Sure, I’ve heard of those horror stories where someone was sleeping with as many people as possible in order to spread their infection, but those situations are not the norm. Most transmissions occur because people are unaware they have an infection at all, and/or people are not engaging in comprehensive safer-sex.

Pride – I Don’t Need to Get Tested

The most common symptom for all STDs is no symptom, which is also why most people are unaware they have contracted an STD. Subsequently, without getting tested, there’s no way to know for sure. 

Think you’ve been tested during your pap smear? Think again. Certain types of pap smears may include HPV testing, and it is also possible that swelling or damage from other STDs could show up on your pap smear. However, that is not the same as undergoing comprehensive STD screening.

Keep in mind that an untreated or asymptomatic STD can still be transmitted to others, and can cause serious health problems for the carrier as well. For example, at least 15 percent of all cases of infertility among American women can be attributed to tubal damage caused by an untreated STD.

Greed – It Costs Too Much to Practice Safer Sex

Safer sex is actually easier and less expensive than you might think. Only two out of four steps in a comprehensive safer-sex practice involve monetary items to begin with, and even those are often attainable at a low-cost or for free. These include:

  1. Talking to a partner about safer sex before engaging in activities with them.
  2. Having a full STD screenings and sexual health exam at least once a year and more often if you have new or multiple partners.
  3. Using barriers consistently and correctly.
  4. Making safer lifestyle choices to reduce risk, such as having mutually exclusive relationships, limiting drugs and alcohol, or reducing the number of sexual partners you have at one time.

Now that you know a little more about STDs, you may need to get tested. Use this handy-dandy testing finder to locate your nearest provider. (Get more facts about sexual health in The Shocking Truth About STDs.)

Complete Article HERE!

Even Fewer Kids Are Learning Basic Things About Sex Ed

BY TARA CULP-RESSLER

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The United States, which has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world, isn’t exactly known for its top-notch sexual health resources. But a new study suggests that our country’s sex ed has gotten even worse in recent years.

Even fewer teens are now getting basic sex ed information, like formal instruction about how to use birth control, according to researchers at the Guttmacher Institute who compared sexual health data over a seven year period.

The researchers compared data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during two of the agency’s survey periods: the 2006–2010 survey and 2011–2013 survey. These surveys included questions for teens about whether they ever received formal sex education materials — like how to prevent sexually transmitted infections, how to say no to sex, how to put on a condom, and how to use different methods of contraception — before they turned 18.

In the 2006-2010 survey period, 70 percent of girls and 61 percent of boys said they had received some information about birth control methods. But in the later survey period, those numbers dropped to 60 percent among girls and 55 percent among boys.

As time passed, fewer girls also reported receiving any formal education on how to prevent STDs and how to say no to sex. These declines were particularly acute in rural areas of the country, where teens already struggle with higher rates of unintended pregnancies.

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The study’s lead researcher, Laura Duberstein Lindberg, characterized the declines in sex ed instruction as “distressing.” She also pointed out that this data fits into a bigger pattern in the United States. Over the past two decades, the number of teens receiving formal instruction about birth control has been steadily declining, and abstinence-only classes that don’t include accurate information about sexual health have persisted.

“The United States is moving in the wrong direction,” said Leslie Kantor, the vice president of education at Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest sex ed provider. “Sex education can make a real difference in adolescents’ overall health and well-being. The fact that young people are being deprived of information critical to their sexual health is unacceptable.”

Only 21 states and the District of Columbia currently require sex education and HIV education to be taught in public schools. An even fewer number, 18, explicitly require information about contraception in the classroom. On the other end of the spectrum, 37 states mandate that schools should focus on lessons about abstinence.

There’s a lot of evidence that providing teens with accurate information about sex ed helps them make healthier choices. Sex ed classes are actually linked to a delay in sexual activity — suggesting that, instead of spurring teens to become more sexually active, talking to them about sex actually helps them make more thoughtful decisions about their bodies.

“We need to right the ship, get back on track, and make sure all students receive quality sex education that prepares them to make informed and healthy decisions,” said Debra Hauser, the president of Advocates for Youth, a nonprofit group focusing on the reproductive health issues that are important to young people.

 Complete Article HERE!

STIs may have driven ancient humans to monogamy, study says

The shift away from polygamy to monogamy with the dawn of agriculture could be down to the impact of sexually transmitted infections in communities

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Computer simulations show monogamy helped establish a steady population while in communities where polygyny was rife population plummeted.

Computer simulations show monogamy helped establish a steady population while in communities where polygyny was rife population plummeted.

The clam, the clap and the pox are rarely linked to romance. But new research suggests they may have helped drive humans to monogamy.

Based on insights from computer models, scientists argue that the shift away from polygynous societies – where men had many long-term partners, but women had only one – could be down the impact of sexually transmitted infections on large communities that arose with the dawn of the agricultural age. Agriculture is thought to have taken hold around 10,000 years ago, although some studies put the date even earlier.

“That behaviour was more common in hunter gatherers and it seemed to fade when we became agriculturists,” said Chris Bauch of the University of Waterloo in Canada who co-authored the paper.

Writing in the journal Nature Communications, Bauch and his colleague Richard McElreath from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, describe how they built a computer model to explore how bacterial STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis that can cause infertility, affected populations of different sizes. The authors considered both small hunter gatherer-like populations of around 30 individuals and large agricultural-like populations of up to 300 individuals, running 2,000 simulations for each that covered a period of 30,000 years.

In small polygynous communities, the researchers found that outbreaks of such STIs were short-lived, allowing the polygynous population to bounce back. With their offspring outnumbering those from monogamous individuals, polygyny remained the primary modus operandi.

But when the team looked at the impact of STIs on larger polygynous societies, they found a very different effect. Instead of clearing quickly, diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea became endemic. As a result, the population plummeted and monogamists, who did not have multiple partners, became top dog. The team also found that while monogamists who didn’t ‘punish’ polygamy could gain a temporary foothold, it was monogamists that ‘punished’ polygamy – often at their own expense of resources – that were the most successful. While the form of such punishments were not specified in the model, Bauch suggests fines or social ostracisation among the possible penalties. The results, they say, reveal that STIs could have played a role in the development of socially imposed monogamy that coincided with the rise of large communities that revolved around agriculture.

“It’s really quite exciting,” said evolutionary anthropologist Laura Fortunato of the University of Oxford who was not involved in the study. While there is little data to be had on the prevalence of STIs in either hunter gatherer populations or in early communities that embraced agriculture, Fortunato believes that there are opportunities to explore the idea further. “You could see if that mechanism is in operation in contemporary populations,” she said.

While the authors acknowledge that other factors might also have influenced the shift to monogamy, the research, they believe, highlights an oft-overlooked aspect of human behaviour. “A lot of the ways we behave with others, our rules for social interaction, also have origins in some kind of natural environment,” said Bauch.

But others describe the authors’ theory as “unlikely”. “I don’t think it is necessarily wrong but I think the basis for their modelling may be,” said Kit Opie of University College, London. Opie argues that early human society was not likely to be polygynous. “Looking at modern day hunter gatherers who provide some sort of model for pre-agricultural societies, ie any human society prior to about 10,000 years ago, then polygyny is very rare,” he said. “Hunter-gatherer marriage is a much looser affair than we are used to and polygyny may be allowed but very rarely is it actually practiced.”

Bauch believes the argument doesn’t detract from the authors’ conclusions. “I don’t think it affects our hypothesis because our hypothesis and mechanism concern general trends,” he said. While the authors note that further work that clearly distinguished between marriage and mating could add further insights, Bauch believes the new study shows the power of simulations. “Our research illustrates how mathematical models are not only used to predict the future, but also to understand the past,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!

Don’t Be Afraid of Your Vagina

By Nell Frizzel

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Lying across a turquoise rubber plinth, my legs in stirrups, a large blue sheet of paper draped across my pubes (for “modesty”), a doctor slowly pushes a clear plastic duck puppet up my vagina and, precisely at that moment, Total Eclipse of the Heart comes on over the radio and it’s hard not to love the genitourinary medicine, or GUM, clinic.

I mean that most sincerely: I love the GUM clinic. It is wonderful beyond orgasm that in the UK anyone can walk into a sexual health clinic—without registering with a doctor, without an appointment, without any money, without a chaperone—and get seen within a few hours at most. It brings me to the point of climax just thinking about the doctors and health professionals who dedicate their life to the nation’s ovaries, cervixes, vaginas, and wombs.

And yet, not all women are apparently so comfortable discussing their clitoral hall of fame with a doctor. According to a recent report commissioned by Ovarian Cancer Action, almost half of the women surveyed between the ages of 18 and 24 said they feared “intimate examinations,” while 44 percent are too embarrassed to talk about sexual health issues with a GP. What’s more, two thirds of those women said they would be afraid to say the word “vagina” in front of their doctor. Their doctor. That is desperately, disappointingly, dangerously sad.

In 2001, I went to see a sexual health nurse called Ms. Cuthbert who kindly, patiently and sympathetically explained to me that I wasn’t pregnant—in fact could not be pregnant—I was just doing my A-Levels. The reason I was feeling sick, light-headed, and had vaginal discharge that looked like a smear of cream cheese was because I was stressed about my simultaneous equations and whether I could remember the order of British prime ministers between 1902 to 1924. My body was simply doing its best to deal with an overload of adrenaline.

Back then, my GUM clinic was in a small health center opposite a deli that would sell Czechoslovakian beer to anyone old enough to stand unaided, and a nail bar that smelled of fast food. I have never felt more grown up than when I first walked out of that building, holding a striped paper bag of free condoms and enough packets of Microgynon to give a fish tits. My blood pressure, cervix, heartrate, and emotional landscape had all been gently and unobtrusively checked over by my new friend Ms. Cuthbert. I had been given the time and space to discuss my hopes and anxieties and was ready to launch myself, legs akimbo, into a world of love and lust—all without handing over a penny, having to tell my parents, pretending that I was married or worry that I was being judged.

My local sexual health clinic today is, if anything, even more wonderful. In a neighborhood as scratched, scored, and ripped apart by the twin fiends of poverty and gentrification as Hackney, the GUM clinic is the last great social leveler. It is one of our last few collective spaces. Sitting in reception, staring at the enormous pictures of sand dunes and tree canopies it is clear that, for once, we’re all in this together. The man in a blue plastic moulded chair wishing his mum a happy birthday on the phone, the two girls in perfect parallel torn jeans scrolling through WhatsApp, the guy with the Nike logo tattoo on his neck getting a glass of water for his girlfriend, the red-headed hipster in Birkenstocks reading about witchcraft in the waiting room, the mother and daughter with matching vacuum-sized plastic handbags talking about sofas, the fake flowers, Magic FM playing on the wall-mounted TV, the little kids running around trying to say hello to everyone while the rest of us desperately avoided eye contact—the whole gang was there. And that’s the point: you may be a working mum, you may be a teenager, you may be a social media intern at a digital startup, you may be a primary school teacher, you may be married, single, a sex worker, unemployed, wealthy, religious, terrified, or defiant but whatever your background, wherever you’ve come from and whoever you slept with last night, you’ll end up down at the GUM clinic.

Which is why it seems such a vulvic shame that so many women feel scared to discuss their own bodies with the person most dedicated to making sure that body is OK. “No doctor will judge you when you say you have had multiple sexual partners, or for anything that comes up in your sexual history,” Dr. Tracie Miles, the President of the National Forum of Gynecological Oncology Nurses tells me on the phone. “We don’t judge—we’re real human beings ourselves. If we hadn’t done it we probably wish we had and if we have done it then we will probably be celebrating that you have too.”

Doctors are not horrified by women who have sex. Doctors are not grossed out by vaginas. So to shy away from discussing discharge, pain after sex, bloating, a change in color, odor, itching, and bleeding not only renders the doctor patient conversation unhelpful, it also puts doctors at a disadvantage, hinders them from being able to do their job properly, saves nobody’s blushes and could result in putting you and your body at risk.

According to The Eve Appeal—a women’s cancer charity that is campaigning this September to fight the stigma around women’s health, one in five women associate gynecological cancer with promiscuity. That means one in five, somewhere in a damp and dusty corner of their minds, are worried that a doctor will open up her legs, look up at her cervix and think “well you deserve this, you slut.” Which is awful, because they won’t. They never, ever would. Not just because they’re doctors and therefore have spent several years training to view the human body with a mix of human sympathy and professional dispassion, but more importantly, because being promiscuous doesn’t give you cancer.

“There is no causal link between promiscuity and cancer,” says Dr. Miles. “The only sexually transmitted disease is the fear and embarrassment of talking about sex; that’s what can stop us going. If you go to your GP and get checked out, then you’re fine. And you don’t have to know all the anatomical words—if you talk about a wee hole, a bum hole, the hole where you put your Tampax, then that is absolutely fine too.”

Although there is some evidence of a causal link between certain gynecological cancers and High Risk Human Papilloma Virus (HRHPV), that particular virus is so common that, ‘it can be considered a normal consequence of sexual activity’ according to The Eve Appeal. Eighty percent of us will pick up some form of the HPV virus in our lifetime, even if we stick with a single, trustworthy, matching-socks-and-vest-takes-out-the-garbage-talks-to-your-mother-on-the-phone-can’t-find-your-clitoris partner your entire life. In short, HRHPV may lead to cancer, but having different sexual partners doesn’t. Of course, unprotected sex can lead to an orgy of other sexually transmitted infections, not to mention the occasional baby, but promiscuity and safe sex are not mutually exclusive. And medical professionals are unlikely to be shocked by either.

We are incredibly lucky in the UK that any woman can stroll into a sexual health clinic, throw her legs open like a cowboy and receive some of the best medical care the world has ever known. We can Wikipedia diagrams of our vaginas to learn the difference between our frenulum and prepuce (look it up, gals). We can receive free condoms any day of the (working week) from our doctor or friendly neighborhood GUM clinic. We can YouTube how to perform a self-examination, learn to spot the symptoms of STIs, read online accounts by women with various health conditions, and choose from a military-grade arsenal of different contraception methods, entirely free.

A third of women surveyed by The Eve Appeal said that they would feel more comfortable discussing their vaginas and wombs if the stigma around gynecological health and sex was reduced. But a large part of removing that stigma is up to us. We have to own that conversation and use it to our advantage. We need to bite the bullet and start talking about our pudenda. We have to learn to value and accept our genitals as much as any other part of our miraculous, hilarious bodies.

So come on, don’t be a cunt. Open up about your vagina.

Complete Article HERE!