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Category Archives: Sexual Education

An Interview with Emily Robinson

 A little over a week ago, I got to sit down with 15 year old, Emily Robinson, who may have a small addiction to whip cream, cinnamon, and music. Emily will be a sophomore in high school in the Fall, and never misses an opportunity to go on an adventure. Dressed in a To Write Love On Her Arms tank top, a Warped Tour hat, and skinny jeans, Emily sat down to answer some questions from AbortionChat.

How do you identify (ProChoice, ProLife, ProVoice, etc)? Why?

I’m ProChoice because I believe that women should have control over their own bodies and have the option to have an abortion. The option should be available to those that need/want it.

Are your friends sexually active? How do you feel about this?

Yes, my friends are sexually active. I’m okay with it I guess, but I hope they practice safe sex and have a general idea of what to do if they get pregnant (or, in the case that it’s one of my male friends, if they get a girl pregnant.)

You said, “I hope they practice safe sex and have a general idea of what to do if they get pregnant” have you ever had these types of conversations with them? Would you be willing to?

I have (kinda?) had these conversations with my friends. Really, only with one. But he wouldn’t listen to what I had to say. One time, he told me that he didn’t use a condom and that he had pulled out. After asking him what he would have done if the girl got pregnant, he brushed the conversation off and refused to believe that she could have gotten pregnant. Which, thankfully, she didn’t.
But I’m willing to have these conversations. My friends, however, seem to be hesitant and are not entirely willing.

Do you know what consent is (how to convey it, how to ask for it, etc)?

Yes. Well…I like to think that I do. The easiest way to ask for consent is to just throw the question out there, “Do you want it?”

Do you feel like there is a correlation to unhealthy relationships, body image, and mental health? If so, can you explain?

Yes. Based on my personal experiences, I believe there is. A few years ago (and even in the present day) I wasn’t exactly in the best place. Honestly, I wasn’t emotionally stable. I was far from it, actually. My body image was bad and my mental health was even worse. I had no self esteem. As one of those got worse, every one slowly did the same thing. At the same time, when things started getting better, they all got better at the same time; and they still are.

If you were to find out you were pregnant today, what would your reaction be?

Surprised. If anything, afraid. I’m not sexually active, but in the case that I was and got pregnant, I would feel trapped. What would my friends think? Not that it matters, but what would my other peers and teachers think? What about my mother? Sister? Friends parents? Other people in my life? What would they say?
I’ve heard people my age talk about girls that get pregnant. The things they say are terrible. In high school, (not necessarily my high school, thank God), if a girl is pregnant she’s ridiculed and called a whore, slut, etc. and everyone talks about how she’s stupid for not practicing safe sex. Even if she did and something went wrong, people still ridicule her.
So, if I was pregnant, I would be afraid. I would go to an abortion clinic as soon as possible. If it started to show, I would stay home. Everyone is so judgmental, it’s sickening.

What do you think your family’s reaction would be?

My family would disown me and I would be sent to an abortion clinic, no ifs, ands, or buts.

What would you do if the state of Maine implemented a parental consent law? Would this affect your decision?

If Maine had a parental consent law, it wouldn’t affect my decision. My mother would make me go to a clinic, and I would probably choose to go to a clinic, too.

You said “I’d be sent to an abortion clinic, no ifs, ands, or buts,” but also eluded to the fact you’d willingly go. Do you think pressure would cause you to seek out an abortion? Would you consider carrying out the pregnancy at all? (Basically I’m curious to see if this is YOUR decision or how much influence those around you would have on this decision.)

I think I would seek an abortion either way. There is no way I could carry out a pregnancy. Mostly because I couldn’t afford a child and because I am unfit to be a mother. I refuse to bring a child into this world if it’s not going to have a good life with a good mother that’s fit to be one. Carrying out a pregnancy is not a possibility.

What about if you found out your best friend was pregnant?

I would be afraid for her. If my male best friend got a girl pregnant, I would be afraid for him, too. Neither of their parents would let a newborn into the house. Either way, I would be surprised and afraid but I would be there to support them no matter what.How would you support them?
To support my pregnant friend, I would be there emotionally and I would give them everything I could. And I would try to help them through every decision they made.

What is the sexual education program like at your school? How do you feel it could be improved?

I haven’t taken health at my high school yet, but my sister has. In the elementary and middle schools it wasn’t very good. It was vague and repetitive. For the four years I took the class (4th, 5th, 6th and 8th grade), it brushed over the same things: male arousal, condoms/preventative methods (only covered condoms), menstrual cycles, puberty, abstinence, and in 8th grade a very brief lesson on STDs. That’s it.
I found that most of the time the people teaching this stuff couldn’t answer my questions, so everything I know about this stuff I learned online. These classes never covered female arousal, pregnancy (and what happens), birth control, and other things. The world of sex is so much more than what they’re teaching.
But I hear the class is much better in high school. They apparently cover that stuff more; maybe because people are sexually active in high school. Who knows? But I hear you have to watch a birthing video?

Do you feel comfortable coming to your family with questions about sexuality? Why or why not?

No. Not with my mom, at least. She blows everything out of proportion and doesn’t take me seriously, anyway. My sister, however, is a different story. I can talk about sex and stuff with her…to a certain extent.

How do you feel about the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the buffer zone in Massachusetts?

I’m pretty pissed. Yes, it helps the picketers get their point across, but what about the women trying to enter the clinic? The people standing there yelling and holding up those awful signs make the decision that much harder.
Plus, there’s not enough room on the sidewalks to get in (as Lynne said about Portland) and to be completely honest I feel like it’s not safe.
Are they even thinking about both sides of the situation?

Do you have twitter? What was your response to the #YesAllWomen hashtag?

Personally, I thought it was great. A lot of women got their point across. It helped raise awareness. Along with that, it put the spotlight on people that were abusing the tag.
On Instagram @basically_juno posted a picture of her in jeans and a thick strapped tank top that said, “A woman’s place is in the house and the senate.” Under that, a 14 year old boy commented, “Maybe if you didn’t wear slutty clothes u wouldn’t get raped, dumb, fat feminist, #malemasterrace.” It’s disgusting. She’d never met this boy in her life. The #YesAllWomen hashtag exposes that kind of stuff. I love it.
Other tweets:
“@TrapHouseCj: ur upset bc u got raped??? people’s children get kidnapped & murdered everyday and ur crying bc u had sex???k”
“Funny, the thing men fear most about going to jail is the thing women fear most about walking down the sidewalk #YesAllWomen” ~No credit, a lot of people tweeted that.

Do you have an experience you’d like to share?

A boy that had a crush on me for two years ran by and slapped my butt when I was reaching for something in my backpack one day during lunch. Apparently he thought he deserved it because he waited for so long. After that, he continued to hit on me for about two months. I’m pretty sure he hit on a few girls after that, too.

At another point in time, I was standing with my friend and a guy came up to us. He said, “You guys have tits buy yourself lunch,” and threw money at us and walked away.

Another time, at a concert I went to, a guy slowly creeped his hands around my waist. At the time, I went along with it. I craved affection. He started saying that he wanted to kiss me (after not even an hour). I had feelings for him for a little while after that. Looking back, it was actually creepy. He was a mutual friend of a girl I knew for four years, but until that day I had no idea he existed.
He just recently stopped flirting with me (on Wednesday), when I told him I wasn’t interested.At work, an older guy (like 40/50/60, he had gray hair) was reported for saying sexual things to girls and being creepy.

Once, I was standing in the back room and I was checking off a checklist of stuff I had to do. I was in his way, so I apologized and moved. His response? “You can stand in my way any time.” That is NOT okay. My coordinator took me off my register once this week to talk to me about it and she was horrified. She’s like a mother to me and she’s being so protective about this.

And then earlier in the school year, a kid (he’s gonna be a senior this year) started talking to me after jazz band rehearsal one day. He talked to me for awhile and at one point he said that he had had sex with another girl and the entire time he was picturing me. He asked me to hang out once or twice…And he also asked me if I masturbated. After awhile we stopped talking. Now, he pretends I don’t exist.

What is your reaction to the word(s), “slut” “whore” etc?

They make my stomach churn. They ALWAYS refer to a woman. If a female decides to engage in a lot of sexual activity with multiple partners, she is labeled as a slut, whereas if a man does that, he is congratulated and put on a pedestal for everyone to look up to. He’s seen as being “more of a man.” It’s sickening. Most derogatory terms like that, “slut, whore, pussy, cunt,” are all FEMALE BASED.
The male side of things, for the most part, is on the “better side of things.” Once again, females are the “weaker sex” and males are the “better” one. Which is why I love the “Like a Girl” campaign.

Any last minute thoughts/things you’d like to share?

a while ago a kid started messaging one of my friends. He started pressuring him and tried forcing him to masturbate over Skype and eventually it escalated to the point that the kid freaked out. He told me that he thought he had an anxiety attack, but I’m not sure. The kid had never talked to my friend before, but he tried using the “no one has to know” line.
I just thought that it was sick and disgusting. It’s probably not relevant though?

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

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.