AbortionChat A place to talk about abortion; why you're for it, why you're against it, firsthand, secondhand, or curiosity. All we ask is that you keep an open mind.

Monthly Archives: January 2014

You are browsing the site archives by month.

An Interview with Karen B. K. Chan

Near the end of 2013, I was honored to attend the Sex Ed Conference in New Jersey and meet the wonderful Karen B. K. Chan. During her panel, she showed us her Jam video, and it blew my mind. Thus, I requested an interview with her, and she accepted.

A: What exactly is a sex educator? What are the most challenging parts of your job? The most rewarding?
K: There are many kinds of sex educators… the kind I mean when I call myself a sex educator is that I facilitate people’s learning (and unlearning) about sex and sexuality.
Information giving is only a small part. The parts that are most important (and rewarding) to me are about self-acceptance and transformation, and walking alongside and witnessing people as they move into (and through) difficult feelings. I also love explaining things that are hard to understand, and telling stories about human sexuality that don’t get told enough.
A: Where did you get the idea for your Jam video?
K: It’s based on a fabulous essay by Thomas MacAulay Millar called “Towards a Performance Model of Sex”, published in “Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape” (by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti). For many months, I insisted on reading it, aloud, to friends and lovers. When the commission from Sex Ed: Chapter 1 (an exhibit about arts-based sex ed curated by Liz Slagus and Norene Leddy) came up, I was so happy to get Thomas’ blessings to make a video spin-off from it.
A: What do you feel is the most important component of sex between two partners?
K: There is an infinite number of ways to connect sexually. What’s important depends on what people are seeking, and what parts of themselves they want to reveal or conceal.
But if I had to pick something – I’d say being present. It’s essential for the kind of sex that is transformative and magical (be that something quick and casual, or something intense and profound). But, it isn’t always magical, transcending sex we’re after. Sometimes we just want to get off, and being present matters little. So this is my long way of saying – it depends!
A: In the video, you mention, “Practice makes us less self conscious, more knowledgeable, more skillful and more in the moment.” How would you encourage a person faced with self-shame to engage in a healthy sexual relationship?
K: I would encourage them to figure out what they want. I don’t think everyone needs to be everything. We all have demons, and we choose to live with some of them and tackle others. Noticing one’s shame doesn’t, to me, mean we must get rid of it in a hurry. There’s no shame in shame… so to speak.
But, if someone decides for themselves that the shame is getting in their way, then I’d encourage them to gently head into and befriend the shame. That could be through any number of things: reading, therapy, talking with friends, having sex differently, not having sex at all, telling and hearing stories, masturbating (more/differently/not at all), ritual, movement, song, art, performance, seminars, documentaries, medical interventions, self-medicating, and endlessly on. The modality can be different and multiple; that’s not the key. The key is to find a way to be kind to the parts that are most shameful within ourselves. Often when people notice shame and want to change it, they are doing it out of aversion and disgust. So it can feel counter-intuitive, but I truly believe that the only way to dissolve and transform shame is to love the shit out of it.
A: Do you have any advice to offer to those who have faced abortion and are reluctant or feeling ashamed to have sex again?
K: I really empathize. Many people feel guilty, shameful, self-blaming, “bad”, angry, scared, regretful, or irresponsible after having therapeutic abortions (it is also common to feel relieved, empowered, self-loving, calm, at ease, grateful…). I would encourage folks to talk about their experience, to unpack the meaning of it, to figure out where those meanings come from, to reframe it, and to find a way to forgive themselves (if that’s what’s needed).
Often, people hold onto guilt so that they can punish themselves and not repeat something they deem to have been a mistake (like, not using a condom that one time). In those cases, it can help to mark the “mistake” somehow – through a ritual, storytelling, making art, a tattoo – so that the act of forgiving and forgetting can be separated, and one can happen without the other.
A: At the Sex Ed Conference, you’d mentioned how to ask for consent over and over. Do have have any advice about different ways to approach this?
K: Asking for consent explicitly can be through questions during sex, or frank conversations not during sex. This is something that gets easier through practice – the awkwardness fades over time. So the advice for that would be simply to do it.
Another piece of the puzzle is to readjust expectations of what sex looks and feels like. Sex is awkward, stilted, messy, goofy, funny; it’s nothing like what we see in movies. So my advice would be to do the best you know how – ask awkward questions; check in with words, gestures, eyebrows, muffled grunts; talk about things before and afterward.
Finally, as much as possible, don’t make assumptions. Feelings and preferences and limits differ from person to person, and changes all the time. Which is not to say you have to check in about everything constantly. Great consent, to me, is a balance between the implicit/intuitive and the explicit, both of which are conscious and thoughtful. Particularly, that whatever you leave to intuition or habit or previous knowledge about someone isn’t out of accident, neglect, or fear.
A: In the video and during your presentation, you’d mentioned that people are not “damaged goods” because they have sex. How can we encourage men and women to realize this?
K: The concept is very gendered. When we talk about damaged goods, almost always we are talking about women. So, to challenge this concept we need to counter some serious, deep-seated sexism. The truth is that, often, when women have sex with men, they don’t enjoy it as much as the men might. The problem, however, is not that women don’t enjoy sex as much as men. This is a pervasive belief that is normalized in all aspects of life. The problem, instead, is that people don’t expect women to feel a lot of desire or pleasure, so no wonder that it doesn’t happen.
What I’m proposing is, countering the assumption that women don’t/can’t enjoy sex counters the assumption that women are used, and somehow ruined, by sex.
If we believe, know, and manifest the reality that there is a lot in it for women during sex, that a woman would logically decide to have sex because she enjoys it, then her body is not simply a consumable object, but a subject with agency. This won’t solve all our problems, but cultivating a society’s belief, trust, and respect for women’s sexuality will change the “damaged goods” situation radically.
A: At the Sex Ed Conference, you touched on the Levels of Nervousness, the Comfort Zone, the Stretch Zone, and the Panic Zone. Can you elaborate on these and what is healthy vs unhealthy in a sexual relationship?
K: This is an excellent model I learned from an organization called Yes! World in California. They put on amazing gatherings (called “Jams”) for people invested in social change.
The model is 3 concentric circles: the innermost is the “Comfort Zone”, the next larger one the “Stretch Zone”, and the final, largest one the “Panic Zone”. The Comfort Zone is, obviously, a place of ease and rejuvenation. Both the Stretch Zone and the Panic Zone are uncomfortable places. The difference is that in Stretch, we are challenged but still engaged. We are wrestling with new information, shifting our points of view, making decisions. In Panic, however, we are beyond our limits and we shut down. Nothing is getting in, nothing is shifting, and we are just surviving.
Ideally, within a sexual (or any) relationship, we can be in the Comfort Zone most of the time, and venture into the Stretch Zone regularly. And both people would know themselves well enough that when they are in the Panic Zone, there is room to scale back into Stretch or Comfort. This can apply to sexual or any other kinds of experiences, or even the exchange of ideas. It’s also important for both people to care for themselves so that they can maintain (or develop) a good-sized Stretch Zone.
A: During your presentation you’d brought up the idea of being able to listen to your partner. Do you have any tips on how to communicate more effectively with your partner?
K: There are many ways to communicate well, and it depends to some degree on the people involved. A great model I like is Non-Violent Communication, which is also called Compassionate Communication. But I’d be a fan of any model that encourages empathy and listening.
A: Anything else you’d like to add?
K: Thanks for asking, AbortionChat! It was a joy to share space and ideas with you!

Karen B. K. Chan is a sex educator, facilitator, speaker and taiko drummer. She is based out of Ontario,Canada.

Recently she hosted a panel at the National Sex Ed Conference in New Jersey. You can find her on twitter: @karenbkchan, or at her website:fluidexchange.org

Things Both Sides Agree On

On January 18th, 2014 I was able to attend a ProLife rally in Augusta, Maine.

Pastors, priests, and political officials spoke in favor of dismembering abortion, while I sat in the audience shaking in fear. They made places like Planned Parenthood a target. They said that abortion is murder, and x-amount of babies have died since Roe v Wade was passed 41 years ago. They marched with stop signs that read, “Stop Abortion Now” to the capitol building.

A counterpart and I took several ProLife pamphlets for research and attempted to engage with people to gather an understanding of why they’re so adamantly against abortion rights. And while the two sides have many differences, today’s post is going to focus on the similarities that both sides are fighting for that rarely get recognized because we’re all so focused on how ignorant “The Other Side” is.

*Support
One thing I was incredibly impressed by at the rally were some pamphlets that addressed, “How to talk to a friend who’s had an abortion,” or “Father No More, Where are the FATHERS of abortion?” Both pamphlets say things like, “There are counselors, priests, deacons, support groups and retreats prepared to help.” They address giving yourself time to grieve. They say, “Assure the person of love and support.”
This is incredibly similar to what Planned Parenthood, ProVoice, and what AbortionChat does. Everyone involved recognizes that this is not an easy decision. People will need support after their abortions.

*Pressure
Both sides are adamantly against the person who is pressured into seeking an abortion. Whether it is a significant other, a family member, or a friend telling the pregnant person to seek an abortion, both sides fight against the coercion.

*Lowering Abortion Rates
One side venomously opposes abortion. The other supports a person’s right to choose. Both, typically, work to lower abortion rates. One side does this by comprehensive sexual education, and having people understand the wonder of contraceptives. One side does this by prayers and picketing. Either way, both sides fight to lower abortion rates.

*Families
Governor Paul LePage spoke during the rally and identified himself as “ProChild.” As he talked, he spoke of broken families in Maine, young men in correctional facilities at young ages, and child abuse. He addressed the fact that families need help.
Again, Planned Parenthood and several ProChoice activists rally for this cause, the assembling of a family. Bringing a child into a broken household is dangerous and destructive. Helping families come together and be ready for a child is a miracle that both sides appear to recognize.

*Ending the Shaming of Single Mothers
LePage also spoke of lessening the shame and stigma of a single working mother. Many who support abortion rights also attempt to do the same thing by offering support, counseling, and government programs to assist single mothers.

*Older Generations Are Set In Their Ways
Though both sides often try to change people’s minds, typically there is one thing both recognize: The older generation is typically set in their own ways and belief systems. It is incredibly difficult to engage them in conversation, especially political, without feeling some form of wrath.
Therefore, it appears that both sides aim to reach out to the youth.

This is a small list, but it is a list that at least starts the conversation of how we can all work together to lower abortion rates, mend broken families, support single parents, support people who’ve sought abortion, and end the pressuring of a person to obtain an abortion.

What else could we add to this list?

8 Things Not to Say to Someone After Abortion by Kassi Underwood

After I had an abortion, nobody knew what to say to me. Not even Larry, my therapist. Poor Larry. Looking back, I would not have known what to say to me, either. One in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime. Men, too, deserve to be heard. Yet we are not taught how to talk to people who have experienced abortion.

The first thing to know is that everyone experiences abortion differently. Many of my friends never looked back. Having an abortion just wasn’t a big deal for them. But I had a lot of feelings. Relief. Regret. Confusion. Doubt. Apathy. Curiosity. Confidence. Overconfidence. Contentment.

It takes a courageous, patient, and empathetic friend to listen to someone share about her or his experience with abortion. As researcher Dr. Brené Brown explains, “Empathy is feeling with people.” Thank you for coming over here and feeling with us.

1. But weren’t you unstable before the abortion?
We’re smart people. We are fully aware of the lives we’ve led. If our state of mind beforehand seems relevant, then we will discuss it in our own time. We came to you because we would like to talk about how we feel right now.

What to say: I’m glad you came to talk to me about this.

2. That was years ago, dollface. Isn’t it time to move on?
We know exactly how much time has elapsed. If we could have moved on already, we would have. Some people see their abortion as the loss of their identity, or their child, or their chance. While it is important to make no assumptions about why someone is having feelings around their abortion, you can tell us you know how normal we are for feeling the way we do. We are completely acceptable as-is.

What to say: I know this happened years ago, and it’s okay if you’re still really, really sad.

3. All this sadness makes you sound like you’re against abortion.
Our emotions may have nothing to do with our opinion about abortion. I know women who have marched on Washington for their right to choose while privately regretting their own decisions. I know women who believe very deeply that abortion is wrong while feeling that abortion was the right decision for them. Our personal stories do not always reflect our political beliefs. When we come to you, please do not match our emotions to a political narrative.

What to say: There’s no right or wrong way to feel.

4. You weren’t ready for a baby.
This tells us that we are inferior, irresponsible, and immature, which is simply not true. We made the most mature, responsible decisions we could at the time. Some of us feel proud of the independence we gained from all the footwork this decision required. If we tell you we didn’t have access to the resources we needed, feel with us. Remember a time when you didn’t have what you needed. Acknowledge that we are worthy of having everything we need. All of us.

What to say: Sounds like you know what’s best for you.

5. Well, I support your right to choose.
This one sounds like support, but it ends the conversation. What we need is space to connect with you. If we would like to know your political views, please trust us to ask you. If we don’t ask, then perhaps we don’t need to know.

What to say: Take your time — I’m listening.

6. I don’t support what you did, but I’m here to support you.
It can be difficult to feel unconditionally loved and supported by someone who condemns what you did. You don’t have to support what we did, but when you are supporting us, please leave your opinions and expectations at the door. Then come in, listen to what we are saying, and try to put yourself in our shoes.

What to say: I’m here to support you.

7. No — it was actually a baby/child/fetus/embryo/zygote/clump of cells.
Many of us have done the research. We know the terminology. Sometimes it takes nerve to use the word we like best. Please don’t correct us. Instead, use our terminology when you talk to us.

What to say: You’re allowed to call it a fetus or a baby —it was yours and you can call it whatever you want.

8. But are you really happy now?
Some of us really are very happy right after the procedure for reasons so vast and diverse that I could write about them for pages. Even if we’re not happy right afterward, many of us become happy in our own time. If we tell you that we’re happy, we may have done a lot of work to reach this extraordinary place. Please celebrate with us. Do a little dance. Hip-bump. Yay.

What to say: I’m glad you feel relieved and rejuvenated.

If you have experienced abortion, what would you add to this list? What would you change?

 * * *

An AWESOME resource for anyone who has experienced abortion — and for the people who love them — is exhaleprovoice.org. Check out the “Pro-Voice Counseling Guide” for more information about how to support someone after abortion.

I read an earlier version of this list at “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts: Can Choose!,” a variety show for the women of Texas, hosted by comedians Sarah Silverman and Lizz Winstead. This piece was first published on Medium.com and exhaleprovoice.org.

 * * *

Kassi Underwood is a Pro-Voice Fellow who writes and speaks about abortion all over the place, including The New York Times, The New York Daily News, New York Magazine, Exhale’s Pro-Voice Blog, and on UpWorthy.com and MSNBC’s “Melissa Harris-Perry Show,” among others venues. Follow her on Twitter: @kassiunderwood.

Adult Sexual Acts

Welcome to 2014! My apologies about the mini December hiatus, but we’re back at it!

Reverend Debra Haffner spoke at the Sex Ed Conference and said many incredibly insightful things. One thing she mentioned is that there are five key components of Adult Sexual Acts. Those are:

~The act is CONSENSUAL
~The act is UNEXPLOITATIVE
~It is HONEST
~It is MUTUALLY PLEASURABLE
~It is PROTECTED

Each of these components will look like different things in each and every relationship. It is important in a healthy relationship to address each of these and make sure each partner is feeling comfortable with how things progress in the sexual relationship.

Consent:
Let’s break this down a bit more. Recently there has been a huge push for what consent is. It means that both parties are willing to participate in the act. Personally, I would encourage first sexual encounters between partners to have each person enthusiastically say a verbal, “Yes.” A quiet, “Maybe” or “I don’t know” should not be mistaken for consent. Yes should be the answer you’re looking for, especially if it’s the first time you have gotten together with this person. If there is apprehension, you can always postpone the activities for another day.
As a sexual relationship progresses however, that verbal Yes may quiet down. You and your partner may know each other well enough that a certain breath, touch, look says, “Yes, let’s do this now.” As long as both parties are still willing, there is no harm in the verbal Yes disappearing. There’s a delicate balance of different ways to ask for consent without continually asking, “Is this okay?” or “Can we do this?”
You and your partner may begin to use safe words–words to be said in moments of unease, apprehension, fear, etc to stop the momentum. It’s okay. Just be aware of how you feel, and how your partner may feel.
Remember that no matter what NO ALWAYS MEANS NO.

Unexploitative:  
Does your partner make you feel like you’re a piece of meat in the room? Have they taken pictures of you when you’ve asked them not to? Have they taken videos?
To me, this goes hand in hand with consent. Some people don’t like to have intercourse with the lights on. Some do. Striking that balance between you and your partner so that neither feels violated is difficult, but healthy. Neither should feel as though they’ve been manipulative, pushed, or used. Remember that.

Honest:
I’m not going to preach to this one. What honest sex looks like to you may be different than what it looks like to me. I want you to take a second, maybe even take that second with your partner and consider what this may mean for your sexual relationship.

Mutually Pleasurable:
A fun fact that Charlie Glickman touched on recently is that in order to have a round of “successful sex” both parties do not have to reach an orgasm. Sex can just feel good. It can make you lose your breath. It can make your heart race.
BUT
You want it to feel good for your partner, too. This isn’t a one person show…
Unless you’re hanging out with your hand.

Protected:
As a sexually active member of society, places like Planned Parenthood help assist people with obtaining birth control. There are condoms available. You don’t want to expose your partner to STI’s, and you don’t want to be exposed to them, either. Protect yourself, your partner, and your future partners. Get tested, use protection.