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This App Could Bring Sex Ed To All Students

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Real Talk helps middle schoolers access reliable sex ed information using storytelling, regardless of whether they have internet at home

By Emily Matchar

It was a long way from Princeton. After graduating from the Ivy League school, Vichi Jagannathan and Liz Chen both wanted to give back by teaching. So they joined Teach for America, the program that places talented graduates in low-income schools around the country. They found themselves placed in adjacent classrooms in a high school in rural Eastern North Carolina.

Here, Jagannathan and Chen both had the experience of seeing students struggle with unplanned pregnancies at as young as 15 or 16. They wondered why: was it a lack of health education? Could something be done about it?

“Vichi and I talked to students and realized that health was not a huge priority in the school; it came second to physical education,” says Chen, who is now in a PhD program in health behavior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

There were health classes, but teachers didn’t necessarily have good resources like prepared lesson plans and PowerPoints to use. And even when the teachers in the area did have resources, they often felt ill at ease discussing certain aspects of sex and sexuality openly.

“Some of them didn’t feel comfortable answering questions, or discussing topics, potentially because of their religious affiliation,” Chen says.

So Chen and Jagannathan—and later a third woman, Cristina Leos—decided to create a resource that could speak directly to students. That tool became Real Talk, a sexual education app that uses real teenagers’ stories to address questions about sex, puberty, gender, relationships and more. The project has received a $325,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Adolescent Health, and an additional $25,000 in funding from a student entrepreneurship prize at Yale, where Jagannathan is completing an MBA.

While the app was originally intended for high schoolers, the women realized that many of the teens they were talking to began having sex before 9th grade. So they decided to target the app to middle schoolers instead. To design Real Talk, they spoke with more than 300 students in North Carolina, Texas, Connecticut and elsewhere, conducting long interviews, doing group sessions, and soliciting real life stories about the kind of things most people, teens and adults alike, feel awkward talking about. Not surprisingly, they found that, even in schools with comprehensive sex ed, students still had questions.

“We got the sense that not all of them are comfortable talking about the topic of sex ed in school, which could be for a number of reasons—they’re around their peers, they don’t want other people to know their questions,” Jagannathan says.

They also realized that it was important that students feel the source of information was credible—and to them, that often meant it came from a peer who had been through an experience themselves. They also wanted that story to be written in an authentic way, which meant plenty of slang and emojis. Teenagers, for instance, often use fruit and vegetable symbols to represent genitalia, a fact perhaps not known to most adults.

“Once we started developing the idea of sharing experiences, we learned that stories are a really engaging way to get middle school students to listen and be curious,” says Leos, who is in the same PhD program as Chen. “There’s a lot of development science research that shows that facts and statistics are pretty difficult for teen brains to recall, particularly when they’re in situations of high emotional arousal. But stories are easier to recall.”

Using the app, teens can select their topic of interest and read a text interaction between real teens dicussing the subject at hand—acne, say, or wet dreams. The story will link to factual information from reliable sources, so teens can learn more.

The team says many of the students they interviewed were actually less interested in traditional sex ed topics like pregnancy and how to avoid STIs, and were more interested in puberty and hearing about other peoples’ experiences with things like embarrassingly timed erections.

Students were also “surprisingly both comfortable with and interested in speaking about gender identity and gender fluidity,” Jagannathan says. They wanted to have the option to read stories from real teens of various genders, including genders beyond the traditional male/female binary.

“It’s been refreshing and very surprising to have that pressure from our users,” Jagannathan says.

Some of the stories featured on the app are from students that Chen, Jagannathan and Leos met in person, but many came from an ad placed on Instagram asking for teens to share about their sexual health questions and experiences. The team plans to use Instagram as a key part of their marketing strategy for the app, which they hope to have in iTunes by early next year.

“Over 90 percent of the teens we worked with check Instagram every single day,” Jagannathan says.

The team also plans to offer Real Talk to sex ed teachers and other educators, who can share it with students. While there’s no lack of high quality sex ed websites aimed at teens, the team hopes having an app will make the information more accessible to rural students and students of color, some of whom may not have reliable internet access at home. They can use their school’s wifi to get the app, which comes with some stories loaded to be read without an internet connection. While it’s not the only sexual health app for teens on the market, its storytelling format gives it a unique edge.

Real Talk’s founders plan to assess the app’s efficacy by looking to see if using it makes teens more likely to understand various sexual health topics, or if it makes them more likely to speak openly with trusted adults about these topics. Ultimately they would like the app to have real-world effects such as reducing the teen pregnancy rate.

Teen pregnancy rates have been declining for some 20 years—in 2014, there were fewer than 25 births for every 1,000 females between 15 and 19, a decline of 9 percent from the previous year. Interventions like Real Talk can help ensure that rate stays low, or perhaps drops even further, said the judges who awarded the team the government grant.

“These interventions will help ensure that this important national success story continues,” said Lawrence Swiader, vice president of digital media at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, in a press release.

But reducing teen pregnancy is not the only important thing. Learning about sex and relationships can potentially teach a number of self-care and interpersonal skills too.

“Since we’re focusing on such a young age group, really one of the best things for us is to help middle school students develop some foundational skills that will improve a variety of other behaviors and outcomes,” Leos says.

Complete Article HERE!

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A Boy’s Own Story

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What follows is an exchange I had recently with a young Catholic Canadian man.

Hi Dr. Wagner

My Name is Jack, I am a catholic teenager who is wondering if the act of masturbation is still considered to be a sin. Also is it really considered to be gravely disordered and always morally wrong? I am 18 years old and I am somewhat late going through changes physically. I do believe that it is a natural way to find out about ones body and how it can be used. I have heard that it is not a sin but a natural and healthy thing to do. I have also heard that it is a sin. I have heard mixed reviews I have heard that a vast majority of both boys and girls do it. I can understand if one does it while thinking about other people then it is a sin but if one is doing it to get rid of old stuff then does it count as a sin. I have done it recently and I am going through puberty. There are no thoughts, images or fantasies involved. I do think that it is better then having a nocturnal emission and having to clean your underpants and to hide it so no one think that I wet the bed. I also believe that it is better to masturbate rather than waking up to find a sticky mess in my underpants, which has happened to me, and it was not fun. I don’t want to have to go to bed worrying about a mess in the morning. I have also heard that it can help reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Is it normal to feel confused about it after doing it? I am planning to talk to my parents and a priest to see what they think of it. If my parents say that it is natural and a normal thing to do does that mean it is all right to do. The only tricky thing is that I am not entirely sure how to approach the subject with them. I have mentioned it to my mother and she doesn’t seem to be bothered by it. She said that it is better to do that than to be out having intercourse with girls. I haven t done it in 3 weeks and I feel conflicted over it I see both views on the issue and I am not sure. I don’t want to feel guilty for doing something that has been labeled natural and normal. I love and believe in god and want to know what the views are on it. I do not have any addiction whatsoever I have very good control over myself nor do I need counseling or therapy. I am just a curious teenager wondering if masturbating is a sin or not.

I live in Ontario where the ministry of education has released a updated sexual education curriculum where it mentions that masturbation is natural and normal. There is a part of me that really wants to do it as I feel it takes the edge off. I have heard that some catholic organizations are backing it. This leaves me confused if it is still considered to be a sin. I also believe that it is a crucial part of understanding how ones body works and learning about oneself. I do find it a little hard to understand that we can somewhat accept the sexual orientation of people but people still consider touching ones genitals to be a sin.

Thank you
God Bless

Dear Jack,

Thanks for your question. Might I add, you are exceptionally articulate for a teenager.a boy's own story

If ya ask me, Jack, and you are actually asking me, you’ve pretty much answered all of your own questions. And that tells me you are on the right track.

You ask about Catholic sexual ethics. Before you wrote, did you know that I was a Catholic priest for 20 years? And, not to boast, I am the only Catholic priest in the world with a doctorate in human sexuality. This later part explains why I no longer practice as a public minister. It’s a real long story and I’d be happy to tell you all about it sometime, but for now know that I didn’t go quietly. I wrote my doctoral thesis, Gay Catholic Priests; A Study of Cognitive and Affective Dissonance, back in 1981. And once word got out about this groundbreaking research, the writing was on the wall, so to speak, for my public ministry. I fought for my priesthood and ministry for 13 year, but it all pretty much came crashing in on itself in 1994. If you’ve got nothing better to do, you can read about it HERE.

Enough about me, let’s get back to you and your questions. Although, I wanted to mention that when I was in seminary, way back when god was young, in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, enlightened spiritual directors were already beginning to advise us seminarians that masturbation wasn’t sinful or disordered. Of course, even now you’ll find orthodox hard-liners who insist that self-pleasuring is a moral sin, but they think all sexual expression is sinful. Here’s a tip: you’re never gonna find consensus on any sexual matter.

Like you, I found it difficult to believe all that mortal sin stuff that the hardliners promote. I mean, if mass murder and genocide are mortal sins, how could a little wank be their equal. It just don’t make no sense, right?

However, I can’t agree with you that masturbation might be sinful if there are fantasies involved. Remember, using your mind is an essential part of learning about your sexuality. That being said, most teenage boys are randy at the drop of a hat, so maybe you don’t need to be all that specific with your sexual mental imagery.

I also caution you to be careful when tossing around words like normal and natural. What’s normal and natural to some may be abnormal and twisted to others. But you’re right; few people, professional as well as lay people, these days would consider self-loving anything but normal and natural.

For you edification I suggest you use the search function or CATEGORY pull-down menu in the sidebar of my site and search for pertinent topics, like masturbation, wet dreams, sexual response cycle, etc. You’ll find a wealth of information about all these topics in both written and podcast form.

the shadowI too reported, back in 2011, on the startling new data that came out of Australia about masturbation. Australian researchers questioned over 1,000 men who had developed prostate cancer and 1,250 men who had not, about their sexual habits. They found those who had ejaculated the most between the ages of 20 and 50 were the least likely to develop prostate cancer. The protective effect of poppin’ one’s nut was greatest while the men were in their 20s. And get this; men who ejaculated more than five times a week were a third less likely to develop prostate cancer later in life.

I also contend that masturbation is the most basic building block to all of our sexual expression. When you know how your body works; when you are familiar with your sexual response cycle and are confident about talking to others about it; you’ll be better situated to be a good sexual partner to another.

In the end, I encourage you to continue to think for yourself when it comes to things sexual. I can see that you are already doing that, so keep it up. Continue to ask questions and consider the input you get from others, myself included; but then make up your own mind. When you own your sexuality and your sexual response, you’ll be a grown-up. Notice I didn’t say you’d be an adult. That’s because there are lots of adults out there who don’t own their sexuality and sexual response and despite being grown up, they’re not grownups.

Good luck, pup

Hi Richard,
Thank you for responding. You have cleared come of the confusion. I guess I got confused because when I would masturbate I would feel like I let my self down.
Thank you again
God Bless

One thing you should know is there is generally a sort of “let down” phase after orgasm. (See information about the refractory phase of the sexual response cycle HERE.) Your body can’t stay in that heightened state of arousal so there’s often a “deflated” feeling.

There’s even a name for if. It’s called post-coital tristesse. And you should know that it’s a physiological phenomenon rather than an emotional one.

Feelings of elation and wellbeing that accompany arousal and orgasm can sometimes morph into a sense of shame during this “deflated” phase. People with lot of scruples about sex are particularly vulnerable to this.

Thank you for clearing that up and for the reassurance that it is natural and normal and not considered to be a sin.
— Jack

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Bustin’ A Nut!

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Soooo glad the holidays are over. I’m also looking forward to another year of doin’ the Dr Dick thing. Let’s kick things off with this oh so brief question from Chris.

Name: Chris
Gender: Male
Age: 21
Location: Portland, OR
Can a man have an orgasm without ejaculating?

You betcha, Chris! And not only that, but it is relatively easy for a man to become multi-orgasmic. On the other hand, it’s very, very rare indeed for a guy to be multi-ejaculatory. This phenomenon, while not completely unheard of, is generally something that only happens to young men.male_masturbation

It’s pretty evident to anyone who is paying the least amount of attention that an ejaculation is not the same thing as an orgasm. And anyone paying the least amount of attention would also know that it possible to ejaculate without having an orgasm. But that’s the problem isn’t it? Most of us men folk don’t really take the time to notice how our bodies work and so we miss the distinction between the two.

What do ya say we take a minute to discern the difference between an ejaculation and an orgasm? Maybe this will encourage those in my audience who haven’t stopped to notice, to pay a bit more attention to their sexual responses. When we shoot, or dribble as the case may be, a load, or dab as the case may be, of spooge out our cock; this is called an ejaculation. When we have undulating waves of pleasure that seems to rise up from deep inside our pelvis; this is an orgasm. There are big ones and smaller ones. Obviously, these two responses — ejaculation and orgasm — often happen simultaneously. In fact, the muscle contractions of the one often add to the intensity of the other. But still they are independent of one another.

Another thing, a guy can ejaculate and orgasm without an erection. Just because there’s no stiffy doesn’t mean the nerve endings are disconnected. But again, few men bother to discover the joys a soft cock is capable of. And some even have shame when they have difficulty getting an erection. That’s too bad, because it just adds to the performance anxiety.

1sexual_response_cycle_maleAn orgasm is an orgasm, regardless if you are a man or a woman. They are simply waves of pleasure generated by the release of sexual tension and the accompanying muscle contractions. If a guy is to become multi-orgasmic he’s got to learn to ride the wave without rushing to conclude the event with an ejaculation. Some guys do this through edge play, others through tantric sex practices. Either way, the end result is the same; prolonging the pleasure with the intention of building to an explosive orgasm, which may or may not include an ejaculation.

In terms of physiology, an ejaculation is merely a muscle reflex. These can happen independent of conscious pleasuring, like in a wet dream. The same is true for someone with a spinal cord injury. He will indeed ejaculate with the proper stimulus, he just can’t feel it. At the same time, both paraplegic men and women report having orgasmic feelings that are not the result of any genital contact. They say their orgasmic sensations come through kissing, nipple play, neck and ear stimulation, or other kinds of erotic touch.

I know several able-bodied men who also claim to have nipple-generated orgasms. I even jizz009knew a woman once who claimed she was able to “fantasize herself to orgasm.” Our bodies are amazing that way. Unfortunately, most of us never discover the tremendous capacities of our bodies because we condition ourselves to expect the same response from the exact same stimuli.

Ya know how some folks talk about having different kinds of orgasms — vaginal orgasms, G-spot orgasms, clitoral orgasms, prostate orgasms and the like? Well it’s not that one orgasm is physiologically different than another; it’s more an issue of how complex our bodies are. We are hot wired for pleasure in several places on our body. We can discover that stimulating different pleasure centers will achieve a similar response.

Men who don’t take the time to explore the capacities of their bodies basically lose out. It’s like having a $100,000 Ferrari automobile to drive. Then only driving it in first gear. We miss out on so much in our rush to cum. We conflate the two very different experiences — ejaculation and orgasm, leaving a vast territory of pleasure unacknowledged, let alone unexplored.

Good luck

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The Naughty & The Nice

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Just in time for the holidays, here’s my Naughty and Nice list.

NICE

NAUGHTY

NICELY NAUGHTY

Happy Holidays!

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A potpourri of poignant problems

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Name: Catherine Joanne
Gender: Female
Age: 42
Location: Canada, Alberta
I am in a very loving, understanding, compassionate relationship, which I have been waiting for for some time now. The only thing is he stimulates my emotional side in every way, but in the bedroom he is not as sexual as previous partners I have encountered. I do not know if this is because all my previous relationships have always been about the “sex” and fizzled out, shortly there after, or this is how a “real love thing truly is?” If so, how can I mentally get over this one…he’s just not inventive, or has a lack of sexual knowledge. I don’t want to end this loving relationship over the bed issue. Please help me out on this one, so I do not sabotage this relationship. Sincerely, Catherine

Like my momma always used to say, if it has four wheels or a dick, you know you’re gonna have trouble with it. Listen darlin’, if this guy satisfies as much as you say, hold on to him. He’s a keeper.

You can always teach the old dog some new tricks. Of course, you’re gonna have to take the lead in his sex ed. Let’s just hope he’s not threatened by a woman who is more sexually experienced, adventurous and progressive than he is.

That being said, I think you ought to make your peace with the fact that he’ll probably never become a wild fuck. But then again, you probably don’t want that, because those wild fucks don’t make for loving, understanding and compassionate partners…as you already know.

Just remember: It’s as hard to domesticate a wild fuck, as it is to make a domestic fuck — wild!

Good luck

Name: Jamie
Gender: Female
Age: 28
Location: Georgia
Lately when me and my boyfriend have sex, he’s been pulling out because he says his dick burns. WHY IS HE HAVING THAT PROBLEM?

What you got goin’ on in your pussy, girl? Nothing about a healthy cunt is gonna irritate a guy’s dong. SEE YOUR DOCTOR RIGHT AWAY!

Hey wait a minute! Maybe he’s the one with the problem. Maybe he has some kind of a skin irritation or rash or something. And his willie is gettin irritated inside you. HE OUGHTA SEE HIS DOCTOR RIGHT AWAY!

Say, have you seen his dick up close and in good light lately…ever? I am painfully aware that lots of couples never see one another fully naked even when their doin’ the nasty. This is not a good practice. You should not only know all about your own pussy and how to keep it in perfect working order, but you should have some working knowledge of how a healthy cock looks and operates. If you’re not clear on this you have some homework to do.

And what the fuck are you two doin screwin’ around without using a condom? Are you on the pill? You’d better be. Cuz if you ain’t ya’ll are gonna have a whole lot more to worry about than cock burns, if ya catch my drift.

Good luck

Name: Chris P.
Gender: Male
Age: 21
Location: Montgomery AL
Can it be unhealthy to deliberately avoid male ejaculation for long periods of time? Months, Years? Is it practiced maybe by religious? Can it be done?

Yes, it can be done. And no, it’s not necessarily an unhealthy practice! Some people practice total sexual abstinence for their entire adult life. Some of these people do so for religious reasons, others simply because they aren’t particularly interested in sex. Either way, there’s no real evidence that this practice is injurious to one’s health. What I can say for sure is that if one chooses or embraces sexual abstinence as a means to a higher goal, it is virtuous. If abstinence is mandated or practiced out of fear or repression, there is no virtue.

That being said, I do want to remind you of something I’ve written about a lot recently. It concerns the groundbreaking research on the connection between masturbation and prostate cancer. Australian researchers questioned over 1,000 men who had developed prostate cancer and 1,250 men who had not, about their sexual habits. They found those who ejaculated the most between the ages of 20 and 50 were least likely to develop prostate cancer.

The protective effect of frequent ejaculations was greatest when the men were in their 20’s. Get this; men who ejaculated more than five times a week were one third less likely to develop prostate cancer later in life. Kind of amazing, huh?

I think you should also know that even if you don’t purposely ejaculate, like through jerkin off or partnered sex, your body still needs to rid itself of old stale semen in another way. Think of it like this, when your bladder gets full you take a wiz. When your prostate and seminal vesicles get full you take a jizz. It’s as simple and natural as all that. If you don’t relieve yourself of your joy juice on your own, your body will rid itself of your old spooge in a wet dream, or it will flush it out of your system in your urine. It’s like if you didn’t relieve yourself when your bladder got full, you’d piss anyhow, only it wouldn’t be able to properly direct it. Get it? Got it? Good!

Good luck

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