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Category Archives: Interview

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

Abortion in High School, An Interview

I had an interview with high school student, “A”, today. Her friend obtained an abortion last summer. Here is “A”‘s side of the story:

Something to always keep in mind
Q: How old are you?
A: 17.
Q: How old was your friend when she sought an abortion?
A: At the time she was 16.
Q: Did she tell you she was pregnant, or that she had an abortion?
A: She didn’t tell me she was pregnant, she just told me through the summer that she was having a really rough time and she couldn’t wait to see me. When I finally saw her, she told me all about it.
Q: How did she tell you?
A: We were having a heart to heart, we were talking about summer. She got a little quiet, not really shy, but she said she had something to tell me. Then she told me not to judge her. Then she told me. It was shocking to me.
Q: What was your reaction?
A: I was shocked. I was kind of heartbroken for her because she told me she’d had a terrible summer, and I thought it couldn’t have been that bad. I was just like, really surprised that something like that could happen to one of my best friends in the whole wide world.
Q: How did she handle her abortion?
A: It happened in the summer, so she had a lot of time to think about it. She went to her mom’s and told her mom. She had a therapist for a little bit. She tried her best to contain her emotions, it was one of those decisions she didn’t make for herself. She was sad. Really, really, sad. I feel like she handled it like any other person would. She was generally upset about it. She was drugged by her significant other at the time, but she insisted it wasn’t rape, and then she got pregnant. She knew she had sex, but she didn’t remember it. She thought they used a condom, but they didn’t.
Q: Did she tell her parents?
A: She told her mom first, and then her dad. Her mom insisted abortion was the only option.
Q: Did she tell her significant other?
A: Yes, and he like too many males out there just kind of fled from it. They couldn’t press charges because she didn’t say it was rape. The age of consent is 16, I think he was either 19 or 20.
Q: Why did she decide to have an abortion?
A: Because she knew she was way too young to be a mother, she wasn’t ready, it was either this baby for the rest of her life, or she goes and tries to live a teenage life. She really just wanted to be a normal teenager. She knew if she had the baby it wouldn’t happen. She was scared, she knew the significant other wasn’t going to stick around. It was one of those “I’m going to hurt this child if I have it. If I have it, it won’t have a good life.”
Q: Do you feel like she was pressured into her decision?
A: No. Not at all. She was not going to have this kid. She wants to have kids when she’s old enough and ready, but at that time she just wasn’t.
Q: Do you support her decision?
A: I definitely support her decision because I know it’s the best for her right now, even if she gets sad about it. I know she thinks about it every day, but I think it’s best for her. If she’d gone through with having a child, she wouldn’t have been happy.
Q: Did any member of the school district know about her abortion? Do you think they should have?
A: Yes, a few of her teachers knew about it. I think her mom sent an email. Definitely her counselors knew about it. I think some people should have known in case she broke down in class so there was someone to go to. It’s not one of those easy quick fixes. It’s been over a year since her abortion, and we’ve had countless conversations about it. She just needs to be supported.
Q: What were the hardships surrounding your friend and her abortion?
A: Oh, man. Seeing little kids, and interacting with small children. She told me a story, one of her teachers
Photo Credit:
Allie Rosnato

has a kid with curly blond hair and blue eyes, and she thought her child could have looked like that and asked, “What kind of monster am I?” Her relationship with her mother was definitely tested. She really liked this guy, but she pushed him away because he was the cause of all this.

Q: What do you feel were the important aspects of supporting your friend?
A: Texting, that was an important thing. Communication, talking to her, asking her how she felt today. I think the most important thing was having her be able to talk about it. A lot of the time people try to sweep it under the rug, I think it’s something that needs to be talked about because it did happen. She told me she doesn’t talk about it with her mom, and I think I was that person she went to to talk about it and her feelings.
Q: Is she okay now?
A: Yes, I mean, there’s going to be that one little part that will always, always see a kid and feel that guilt, and that pain, and that sorrow, but I know for a fact she’s going to be okay. I know when she has kids someday and she’ll know she made the right decision because she’ll give that child the life it deserves.
Q: What is your sexual education curriculum like at your school?
A: Um…well…we have a freshmen year health course, but it’s not really that technical.
Q: Do you feel like this is sufficient?
A: Not at all. I mean, I honestly think we should have this course our junior or senior year. I feel like only 2% is sexually active freshmen year and as you get older it’s more relevant in your life. Freshmen year it’s kind of a joke, and you don’t really care about what’s going on. Freshmen are immature and you can’t take it seriously. When you’re older, it’ll matter to you.
Q: Do you know how to operate a condom?
A: Yes.
Q: Are you a virgin? If no, when did you lose your virginity?
A: No, and April 2013.
Q: What would you do if you were to get pregnant now?
A: Um, well, I’d probably do the same thing as my friend just because I have the same opinions as she does.
Q: Have you told your partner this?
A: Yes, and they agree.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I think that people need to be smarter. If you don’t want kids, do everything in your power to not. Use a condom. Get birth control. Use Plan B if you need to. It’s fun to have fun, but I can’t stress it enough: BE SAFE.
Also, Relationships take two people, and when it ends up one sided, things go wrong. It’s important to know what you’re getting yourself in to.

Protesting Crisis Pregnancy Centers, an Interview

Men and women stand outside of Planned Parenthood establishments holding signs

of bloody fetuses, screaming at women as they walk in to the clinics. When I went in for my abortion, I was screamed at. The woman’s voice haunted me for months. 

So someone suggested, “Why doesn’t anyone protest Crisis Pregnancy Centers?” Thus our protest was born.

The reason we’re doing this is not to persuade women to have abortions. It is simply to persuade the workers at the Crisis Pregnancy Centers to offer valid information to women seeking their assistance, especially when it comes to abortion. 

For today’s article, I interviewed four protesters, Echo (yes, that is actually her name), Jennifer (you met her here), Nicholas, and Damien, before they went to protest. If all goes well, you’ll find out what happened at the protest tomorrow.

What and why are you protesting?
Echo: I am ProChoice because I believe a woman should be able to choose what happens in her own body.
Jennifer: I believe in women’s rights and don’t believe that other people have a say in what goes on in a woman’s body.
Nicholas: I’m mostly protesting because Jen wants to go, and because I’ve never been to a protest before.
Damien: The right to do what you want with your body. The right to be educated in ALL of your options.

Have you protested anything before?
 Echo: Never ever!
Jennifer: I have not, but I’m excited to see what the turn out is!
Nicholas: See previous answer.
Damien: No

What are your expectations?
 Echo: I hope I convert somebody~I’d like to convince people to be ProChoice. It’s better to support a woman if she has a baby, or if she seeks an abortion.
Jennifer: I’m not sure. I don’t know if people will violent, or if they’ll be open to other opinions, etc.
Nicholas: I expect McDonald’s on the way, other than that, I’m not sure what to expect.
Damien: I have no idea…

Do you have any fears?
 Echo: None whatsoever!
Jennifer: I’m afraid I’m going to get shot in the face…seriously…
Nicholas: No
Damien: No

What are you looking forward to?
 Echo: I’d like to know what the other side is like. Will they yell at us?
Jennifer: Other people who feel the same way as me!
Nicholas: I feel like it’ll be fun, like I said, I’ve never been to a protest before.
Damien: Protesting and supporting my girlfriend.

What are your feelings on abortion?
 Echo: I don’t think anything is wrong with it. The woman is mostly affected. It’s her body. Her significant other may be affected, too, but he should be supportive.
Jennifer: I feel like I’m not in to, “Killing the baby.” But if the person isn’t under the right circumstances (there are a lot of situations children shouldn’t be living in)….I think it’s up for the woman to know what is best for her and her fetus.
Nicholas: People should be able to obtain an abortion until it becomes a breathing infant.
Damien: I’m squeamish with late term abortions, but I understand that they’re sometimes necessary.

Honk For Choice
Your Body Your Choice

What does your sign say?
 Echo: I wanted my sign to say, “If I wanted the government in my womb, I’d fuck a senator,” but they won’t let me make it. So my sign simply says, “TRUTH”
Jennifer: “Come talk to me!”
Nicholas: I’m not sure I’ll have a sign, but I’ll stand and be supportive with everyone else.
Damien: “Your body, your choice!”

How do you feel about people who protest at Planned Parenthood clinics?
 Echo: I think it’s awful that they judge women based on one decision. Especially when they don’t know the circumstances of the woman walking in.
Jennifer: I think it’s inappropriate. The protesters don’t know what’s going on in that woman’s life.
Nicholas: There area always two sides to things. There will always be extremists, whether they’re right or wrong.
Damien: I think it’s bullsh*t because of the things they say and the disgusting signs of dead babies when women walk in to the clinic. An abortion is a big decision, it’s not like she says, “I can’t wait to get knocked up and have another!”

Do you think you’ll protest anything again?
 Echo: Yes! I want to go to a bunch of them! People need to be more educated about what’s happening in the world!
Jennifer: It depends. I really am afraid of getting hurt. If it’s not as intense as I think it’s going to be, probably.
Nicholas: Maybe, if there is a protest to help legalize marijuana in the state of Maine. Medicinal marijuana is already legal, I feel like there won’t be much more of a step.
Damien: Yes!

Do you think what you’re doing will make it into the paper?
 Echo: I hope so, that’d be cool! There’s a lot of coverage for ProLife in the media, where is the representation for the other side?
Jennifer: No, I think people will just look past what we’re doing.
Nicholas: Probably not, but I don’t know how big these things get.
Damien: If more people join, maybe.

A lot of people refer to abortion as, “Baby killing.” Where do you believe life begins?
 Echo: I think it begins when a woman is 6-7 months pregnant. Though if the life of the woman or child comes in to play, I may still support an abortion IF THAT’S WHAT THE WOMAN WANTS.
Jennifer: I think life begins after birth.
Nicholas: I think life starts when you start breathing. When you’re breathing, you’re alive. When you stop breathing, you’re dead.
Damien: Sometime during the third trimester because the fetus can move and kick. Though in circumstances, I would still support the right to terminate the pregnancy.