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Condom Week: Buying condoms with teenagers

June 6th, 2014

karens_condoms2

I know I’m not the only one out there doing this. But I know that most young people don’t ever access contraception until they need it – right then! That’s not a time or a place to try and do something as different and unusual and potentially scary as buying condoms.

I take groups of, mostly, middle school students to buy condoms at pharmacies. My students are usually very nervous about the process. Here are the issues they tend to bring up:

  • What if they see someone they know?
  • What if the clerk won’t sell to them?
  • What if someone asks them what they’re doing with the condoms?
  • What if buying condoms is against the law at their age?
  • How will they locate the condoms in the store? What if they can’t find them?
  • What if their…parents find out? (Their parents have all given specific permission for this excursion.)

Buying something as overtly sexual as condoms just feels wrong to young people. And thus the difficulty buying them for the first time when they really need them. The hurdles are already there – raising above them when the stakes are high is even harder.

Talking young people through the legalities of buying condoms (fully legal, at any age) and how to navigate the store is empowering for them. Pointing out that they can just put the condoms down somewhere and walk away from them if they see someone they know, that they can lie to people who are inappropriately inquisitive about why they’re buying condoms or what they are going to do about them can make a huge difference.

Pointing out that I am outside the store, fully ready to support them in any way they need and that their parents are fully aware of the trip also helps.

But do you know what makes the biggest difference? Actually buying condoms.

I’ve had, overwhelmingly, my students experience the following: Loads of giggles on their part and clerks who don’t bat an eye at them. Except, sometimes, after the twelfth or fifteenth middle schooler comes through their line in an hour they’ll ask whether a class is happening or something. My students are often surprised (and sometimes disappointed) at what a non-issue it actually is.

I have, once, had a clerk who desperately tried to avoid selling my students condoms. She flat out refused the first one. Because of our talk beforehand about how to handle this sort of situation (“It’s legal, it’s none of your business.”), my student knew how to respond. The clerk called her manager over and protested. The manager told her she had to sell the condoms, that it wasn’t her choice. The clerk harassed all 17 of my students, one at a time, as they went through her cash register. My students were amazing. After the first one, of course, they knew what was coming. Two of the boys bought their condoms while holding hands. Another student bought a six pack of Red Bull at the same time. The clerk demanded that my last student through put the condoms back and not buy them. He asked her, “Why not?” She shook her head, glazed-eyed, and said, “I don’t know.”

My students learned that they can stand up for their own sexual health that day. What better lesson is there, really?

 

I’ve decided that it’s Condom Week around here at Unhushed. Melissa White over at Lucky Bloke recently asked if I wanted to provide content for her new safer sex education website, and of course I was delighted! But when I went back to look through my blogging archives (both here and at www.unhushed.net/blog), I found that I had written terrifyingly little about condoms. So here I am, rectifying that problem with Condom Week, on both sites. Here at KarenRayne.com I’ll be writing about teachers and other educators’ issues about condoms in the classroom. At Unhushed.net I’ll be writing about parental concerns about condoms. Interested in receiving KarenRayne blog posts as they happen? Sign up here. You can sign up to receive Unhushed blog posts here.

Condom Week: “But then she/he will think…”

June 5th, 2014

karens_condoms2Tying back in, somewhat, with Monday’s post on debunking theoretical myths about condoms, let’s talk about that pervasive issue: the people (who you rarely actually have in your classroom) who think that if their partner (who you do have in your classroom) requests a condom, it means that the partner is cheating. Or that they suspect the person of cheating. The issue, of course, is that this isn’t just a myth, it’s far too real for far too many young people.

I wish I could tell you that you can tell your students the real answer: That if a partner or a potential partner is pulling you away from health (emotional, physical, sexual, any kind of health), then they aren’t respecting you and you should summarily dump them. I wish telling your students that would work.

I wish telling your students that they must wear condoms would work too. And that if you told them that

they had to brush their teeth and follow the true voice in their heart and not let it be corrupted by any of a wide number of influences that would work.

I wish that I had a recipe of language and activities that could take the pain out of your students’ lives, sexual and otherwise.

But I don’t. And nor do you. It is the reality of the sexuality educator that we must sit with our students in their sexual and relationship based pain. Aside from the occasionally humorous, “Can I just show you this picture of my penis/vulva/breast so you can tell me what I should do about it?”, students come to us because they don’t know where else to go.

“My partner choked me until I passed out, but I liked the choking, but I wish he’d stopped when I passed out, but he didn’t and I fell through glass, but I love him, so don’t tell me to break up with him, so what do I do?”

“I can’t handle hormonal birth control, but my partner won’t use condoms, but I have to have sex with him or he’ll break up with me, but I love him, so don’t tell me to break up with him, so what do I do?”

It is not always a boy who is the one who is being physically or emotionally manipulative, not by far. These are just two recent stories from students, and they happen to be about boys.

So you sit and you listen and you listen and you listen. That’s really where one of our greatest potential influences comes from. If we are blessed with the sort of job that allows us to listen hard enough, long enough, students sometimes learn to listen to themselves. That is the greatest breakthrough, really. Too many young people have never been listened to. And without that, how would they ever learn to listen to their own thoughts, feelings, and needs?

Until then we include in our classroom conversations that yes, if someone doesn’t have your highest degree of sexual health in mind, they’re probably not ready to be sexual with you yet. If whatever you find to be important, they aren’t willing to be supportive of, they’re not ready for a physical connection as potentially beautiful and potentially painful as sex.

It is a stop-gap measure, this classroom message, and sometimes the best we have to offer. I wish we had more.

 

I’ve decided that it’s Condom Week around here at Unhushed. Melissa White over at Lucky Bloke recently asked if I wanted to provide content for her new safer sex education website, and of course I was delighted! But when I went back to look through my blogging archives (both here and at www.unhushed.net/blog), I found that I had written terrifyingly little about condoms. So here I am, rectifying that problem with Condom Week, on both sites. Here at KarenRayne.com I’ll be writing about teachers and other educators’ issues about condoms in the classroom. At Unhushed.net I’ll be writing about parental concerns about condoms. Interested in receiving KarenRayne blog posts as they happen? Sign up here. You can sign up to receive Unhushed blog posts here.

Condom Week: The KuKluxKlan, meth labs, and AK-47s

June 4th, 2014

karens_condoms2While we’re on the topic of condoms, I want to take a moment to address the issue of public perception. Sexuality education and sexual health are both often relegated to the back room of a red light district sex worker studio. Not that there’s anything wrong with the back room of a red light district sex worker studio, but it’s clearly not a place for children and not something you’re going to chat about in most company. Sexuality education and sexual health, however are absolutely topics that children need to be exposed to and should be discussed in most company.

When I first started in sex ed, my grandmother was pretty embarrassed about it. She would tell people that I was a psychology professor, which, while true, neglected some key details. She asked me why I had to focus “on THAT” when I could do so many good things with my life. In the subsequent years, after learning from me how many college students have zero knowledge about the basics of reproduction, for example, she has become a stalwart supporter. We now talk openly about sexuality education and sexual health, and it’s a beautiful thing.

So what, you may ask, does all of this have to do with the KuKluxKlan, meth labs, and AK-47s? Twitter considers condoms (a key component of both sexuality education and sexual health) to be part of the same category as:

  • Hate content and violence.
  • Drugs and drug paraphernalia.
  • Weapons and weapon accessories.

I could go on and on about the bizarre propensity in our society to conflate sexuality and violence, particularly in movies. How is it possible that the kind of violence that exists in movies is considered appropriate for children? The new X-men movie for example? Not appropriate for children. It’s gore-filled, fast paced, all sorts of things that elevate the audience’s anxiety levels. When children grow up with constantly heightened anxiety levels, they become accustomed to that and they can’t ever really, fully relax. You know what doesn’t raise the audience’s anxiety level? Nipples. It might arouse the audience, depending on a number of variables, but arousal levels go up and down naturally, they don’t get caught in the same hardcore, over-stimulated cycle as anxiety.

And do you know what does good for people? Saves lives rather than ends them? Condoms.

So what’s the deal, Twitter? You should stop perpetuating this particularly craziness.

Want to tell Twitter? Sign this change.org petition: https://www.change.org/petitions/dick-costolo-dickc-twitter-ceo-keep-your-users-truly-safe-please-remove-condoms-from-twitterads-blacklist
and then tell all your friends to sign too!

And then dress up like a giant condom and hangout on the street! Because condoms need to be part of our public discourse. End of story.

 

I’ve decided that it’s Condom Week around here at Unhushed. Melissa White over at Lucky Bloke recently asked if I wanted to provide content for her new safer sex education website, and of course I was delighted! But when I went back to look through my blogging archives (both here and at www.unhushed.net/blog), I found that I had written terrifyingly little about condoms. So here I am, rectifying that problem with Condom Week, on both sites. Here at KarenRayne.com I’ll be writing about teachers and other educators’ issues about condoms in the classroom. At Unhushed.net I’ll be writing about parental concerns about condoms. Interested in receiving KarenRayne blog posts as they happen? Sign up here. You can sign up to receive Unhushed blog posts here.

Condom Week: When hands-on is called for

June 3rd, 2014

karens_condoms2Being a sex educator with my face and my e-mail address out on the Internet sometimes means I get crazy notes from people. Last week I got a Facebook message that said this: “I want to practice sex with a female on the camera and gave him $ 500 to send the amount by Mister Naonio I swear to you I’m serious.” I mean, wow, right? I also had someone posing as a student e-mail me asking for details about my classes, suggesting he wanted to enroll in the fall. After several back and forths he wrapped up thusly: “Do professors ever assign hands on activities?” I said no, that hands-on activities don’t happen in college classrooms, but there are other places that offer hands-on instruction. He replied with: “There’s so much more I’d like to talk about but I can only imagine how busy you are!” I declined to respond.

But there are occasions when hands-on is the right way to go, and condom education is one of them.

A quick side note: There are many places where hands-on condom education just isn’t possible for political or other reasons. In many school districts around here, for example, teachers aren’t allowed to bring condoms into the school. If your teaching local has similar requirements, don’t beat yourself up over it or do something that might get you fired. I provide links to YouTube videos below that can stand in, when necessary, for doing the actual activity.

So many young people have their first experience with a condom when they are in the dark, trying to figure out how to use the silly thing, are fully aroused, trying not to be embarrassed, etc. It’s not the most conducive experience to figuring out something new, even something relatively un-complicated like a condom. To combat this, I like to provide students with an activity that will provide them with lots of opportunity to figure condoms out. I divide the class into four groups and then rotate them through four stations. In general, having one educator at the demonstration model and one educator to monitor the other three stations works well. However, having more than four or five people per group can become unwieldy, so you might benefit from adding anther station or providing two of each kind of station so you can have smaller groups. Provide a big pile of condoms at each station. If they can vary in kind, brand, color, size, etc., even better! The stations are as follows:

  1. Demonstration Station: I prefer to use a realistic looking dildo, but everyone has their own preference here. Taking students through all the steps – from checking the expiration date to taking the condom off after ejaculation – is important. Relevant YouTube video:
  2. Lubrication Station: “Wait, which kind of lube can’t you use on a condom?” The kind that gets all hot and breaks them when you rub it on. Nothing drives this point home further than trying out different kinds of lube and seeing what happens! Relevant YouTube video:
  3. Sensation Station: Even after saying that you can feel through condoms, many students either don’t believe it or end up believing someone else rather than trying it out for themselves. Get a few feathers (I use turkey feathers from the free-range turkeys in my yard…) and have students put the condom over their hand and see what the feather feels like when brushed over the condom-covered hand vs. the non-condom-covered hand. Telling them there’s no difference is silly, but letting them actually feel that there’s still substantial sensation is important. I couldn’t find a good YouTube video for this, but the other videos address it here or there.
  4. Maximization Station: How big can a condom get? This station, in particular, works better if you have a range of condom sizes on hand (so to speak) for the students to explore and discuss. The stated goal is for them to see how big they can get the condom. I’ve had students do all kinds of funny things, from putting condoms on their heads, feet, backpacks, and more. When they’re in a space that allows for it, they love filling them up with water. Relevant YouTube video:

Please note that the YouTube videos may or may not be available for your group of students, depending on the age you’re working with. There are lots of videos out there – if you go the video route, find one that is appropriate for the age and development of your students!

Engaging with condoms at this level helps to dispel additional condom myths, building on yesterday’s blog post, but in a very personal sort of way.

 

I’ve decided that it’s Condom Week around here at Unhushed. Melissa White over at Lucky Bloke recently asked if I wanted to provide content for her new safer sex education website, and of course I was delighted! But when I went back to look through my blogging archives (both here and at www.unhushed.net/blog), I found that I had written terrifyingly little about condoms. So here I am, rectifying that problem with Condom Week, on both sites. Here at KarenRayne.com I’ll be writing about teachers and other educators’ issues about condoms in the classroom. At Unhushed.net I’ll be writing about parental concerns about condoms. Interested in receiving KarenRayne blog posts as they happen? Sign up here. You can sign up to receive Unhushed blog posts here.

Condom Week: Debunking myths in the classroom

June 2nd, 2014

karens_condoms2

I’ve decided that it’s Condom Week around here at Unhushed. Melissa White over at Lucky Bloke recently asked if I wanted to provide content for her new safer sex education website, and of course I was delighted! But when I went back to look through my blogging archives (both here and at www.unhushed.net/blog), I found that I had written terrifyingly little about condoms. So here I am, rectifying that problem with Condom Week, on both sites. Here at KarenRayne.com I’ll be writing about teachers and other educators’ issues about condoms in the classroom. At Unhushed.net I’ll be writing about parental concerns about condoms. Interested in receiving KarenRayne blog posts as they happen? Sign up here. You can sign up to receive Unhushed blog posts here.

I want to start Condom Week by addressing some of the myths about condoms. These raise their ugly heads in the classroom over and over again and having solid responses to them lets you respond with charisma, humor, and ease.

      1. Sex doesn’t feel as good with a condom. Well, this is (clearly) a personal preference. Some people will agree, others will prefer condoms, and that’s important to acknowledge in a classroom environment. But the social meme is certainly that condoms don’t feel good. You can address this in some ways by bringing condoms into the classroom and asking students to put them over their hands see what they can feel through them. While it may change or reduce the sensation, it certainly doesn’t restrict all of it. I find that this commercial does a fantastic job of having the rest of the conversation:
      2. You can’t buy condoms if you’re underage. I can’t even tell you how often I hear this from students! And even more amazingly, it often doesn’t even come up until I ask about it. Young people believe that age restrictions on things that they want to do, but adults want them to not do, are ubiquitous, and they often incorrectly believe that applies to access to safer sex as well. The best way to dispel this myth, if you’re in a sufficiently liberal teaching environment, is taking young people to a store and supporting them through their first condom buying experience. While Planned Parenthood and other organizations give condoms away for free, it’s sometimes harder for young people to access those clinics than it is for them to access a grocery store or a pharmacy with $20 in their pockets. Short of an actual field trip, assure young people of their rights to sexual health and do some cashier-consumer role plays in the classroom.
      3. Condoms don’t work. Particularly in those states with the highest teenage pregnancy rates and lingering propensity towards abstinence only until marriage sex education (like Texas, cough, cough), too many young people have been taught that condoms don’t work. You should point young people in the direction of the concrete research that says otherwise. If they are dismissive or uninterested in actual research, remind them that they are talking about important things – and making allegations without backup. Sexuality and sexual health are not topics to be flippant about. If they are old enough and responsible enough to be engaging sexually, they should be old enough and responsible enough to be finding real answers to the sexual issues they are facing.
      4. If my partner wants to use a condom, it means they’re cheating on me. Wow, that’s a doozy of a myth, and I find it’s more insidious in its less overt form: If my partner wants to use a condom, it means they don’t want to be as close to me as possible, that they don’t love me as much as I love them. My post on Thursday is going to deal entirely with this and similar topics: how to support students in talking with their partners about safer sex and condom use.

There are, of course, many more condom myths than the ones I am including here. What are the myths you have run across most frequently, or the ones that tripped you up the most?

Vagina Madlibs

May 28th, 2014

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, or talk with me about my classes often, you probably know that my college classes wrap-up with a big creative project. Some of them are amazing (some examples here). This last semester I had a student who was torn about her final project and e-mailed me several times for advice and suggestions. Really, she didn’t need any, just the encouragement to listen to her intuition.

My student decided to write a Vagina Madlib and ask friends to fill it in. Brilliant!

Vagina MadlibHow would your students react if you asked them to fill out such a Madlib on the first day of class? Here’s what my student’s friends had to say:

billboard

bus

wall

People like me are killed here.

March 13th, 2014

Hi, my name is Karen, and I’m gay and a Texan.

My first girlfriend taught me to notice who was around me before I touched her so that neither of us would be beaten or killed. I thought, ignorantly, that she was being silly. It was 2011 for goodness sake.

But I live in Texas, and Texas is not a friendly place to be gay, particularly if you’re gender ambiguous, which my girlfriend was. This point has recently been driven home. A lesbian couple was killed last Saturday and their bodies left by a dumpster. Two years ago a lesbian was killed and her girlfriend barely survived. There are other stories, but these are enough for me.

I keep hearing the lines from Andrea Gibson’s poem I Do: “People like you aren’t welcome here, people like you cannot work here, people like you cannot adopt.” And they’re all true. Here my home, this place where I was born and raised, this place that runs in my veins, and I am not welcome, I can be fired because of who I am, and I cannot adopt a child out of state custody. I also can’t get married.

And yet, I’m trying to reconcile this in my mind with the recent ruling overturning the ban on gay marriage. I’m trying to reconcile what it means to be a small town preacher talking about sexual orientation from the pulpit.

What is the place I love,
with its rolling hills, forests, vast spaces, beaches,
with its oil, big cities, art everywhere,
with its passion for independence and freedom,
with its stand-your-ground-laws,
with its hatred of me,
with its racism,
with these new cracks in its bigotry
that are making the bigoted corners fight harder, louder, harsher?

I think if I can live through these next few years, this place of mine is going to be a pretty good place for me and people like me. The tide is shifting in the right direction, but it’s knocking people over in the process. This morning my heart hurts for those people. This morning I’m thinking of you, Crystal Jackson and your five year old daughter, whose world was shredded. I’m thinking of you, Britney Cosby.

The bodies of Britney Cosby and Crystal Jackson were found behind a dumpster in Port Bolivar, Texas early Friday morning March 8, 2014. The couple's car is missing and detective have released a composite of a man in his late 20s or early 30s seen in the silver Kia.

This little thing called rights

February 1st, 2014

Senior PicturePeople often ask me how I got into the field – sex education is a pretty fascinating topic from many angles. I even have an e-book coming out this year that will tell many sex educators’ stories of their entrance into the field. But after a conversation with Heather Corinna yesterday, I wanted to write about how I started working with teenagers.

When I was a teenager I was pretty responsible. Some might have pejoratively  referred to me (and might still…) as a straight edge. I was in the highest level academic classes available, deeply involved in theater, uninterested in drugs or alcohol, and I had a strong relationship with my mother. I knew what I was about, I was busy, and I didn’t have time or attention for bureaucracy (it might be said that I still don’t). My junior year I intended to spend the spring semester in Berlin, but I couldn’t hack it and came home. I spent the majority of that spring and summer teaching myself things, attending classes at my high school in flagrant disregard of school policy, having my first job, and generally attending to a variety of interesting bits and bobs. The return to school the following year – my senior year – was a shock of cold water. I was thoroughly immersed in the bureaucracy, which had decided it had plenty of time for me. (That’s me, on the left, in my senior year picture, which I was forced to take with that stupid black draping for blahblahblah reasons.)

I had always been outspoken about adolescent rights and the ways in which they were ignored. That I was a second class citizen did not go unnoticed and I was vocal about the issue. I wanted to form my professional career around changing this problematic cultural dynamic. I went into education because I thought I could be useful there – but I was so very wrong. So I went back to graduate school, with the hopes of changing the cultural perception of adolescents through research in the same way that John Bowlby had changed the perception of infants. Before Bowlby and Ainsworth’s research and writing on attachment theory, babies were seen as not-quite-people-yet. They were treated horrifically, on a societal scale. The implications for long term emotional health were entirely misunderstood.

I posited that the ways adolescents were treated also had substantial implications for long term emotional health in similarly distancing, infantilizing, and silencing ways as infants prior to the 20th century. I still work from this basic perspective.

My entrance into sexuality education specifically has its own stories, but this is how I started working with adolescents. The drive for young people to have the space and support to be their own people is, of course, intrinsic to my work with the young people themselves. However, it informs my work with adults more radically. Parents and teachers need help bucking the ideological trend that we adults have the right – the authority – the obligation – to monitor and restrict young people in certain ways. It’s just not true. What we do have is the responsibility to support young people in becoming themselves. It is a far more sacred trust than monitoring and restricting and what adults and youth both get from this other process is far more beautiful.

So I am not doing research in the footprints of giants like Bowlby and Ainsworth. I am changing the world in different ways, practically speaking, but my end goal has not shifted from my own teenage years.

I am a youth ally and I feel very lucky to be here. Youth rights are misunderstood and ignored. We have these magical ages at which rights are suddenly conferred (16, 18, 21) and far too often cognitive and emotional developmental trajectory, decision making skills, individual variance, and so much more are just ignored. Far too often adults believe that love of young people is best expressed as a paternalistic care-taking rather than that safe base that Ainsworth demonstrated that infants need so desperately.

Properly caring for children and teenagers is not doing things or making decisions for them – it is, in fact, the exact opposite.

Life and family are both negotiating tables – and young people have a right to be there with us.

Sex Ed In A Bag!

December 11th, 2013

This week I am premiering my brand new Sex Ed In A Bag activities! I’m giving one away to every attendee at the conference and I am also selling them! These are activities that range in length and content, but they are all fun and engaging. Each bag comes with some of the items need to run the activities. Here are the activities I currently have for sale:

cluster

You can order the activities by e-mail me at karen@karenrayne.com.

Sex Ed In A Bag are $7 each or $25 for all five.

Upcoming changes at KarenRayne.com will include a sales page for my activities – these five and more!

Website upgrades coming soon!

December 11th, 2013

under-construction-iconActually, given that I’m currently running the National Sex Ed Conference, it might be a few weeks into 2014 before things really get started here, but changes are coming and I am very excited about them.

The changes you’ll see at KarenRayne.com in the coming months will be focused on a shift away from the focus on a blog format for parents that I’ve been using for the last six years. You can find my new and ongoing blog for parents at www.unhushed.net/blog. Unhushed will, from this point onward, function as my interface with parents. I have classes for middle school students, high school students, and parents through Unhushed. Coming in 2014 I will also be providing comprehensive sexuality education classes for adults. Feel like you missed out as a teenager or young adult? My adult classes will be a place to come and ask all those questions you never had answered from contraception to communication to sexual arousal, pleasure, and technique. They will also be BYOB!

At KarenRayne.com, on the other hand, you’ll find my interactions with other sexuality educators, with schools, with non-profits, and with other groups who are interested in bringing me in to write curriculum, train educators, speak to groups, and things of this nature.

In addition to my websites, you can also keep up with me through Facebook or Twitter. (Disclaimer: I currently Facebook more than I tweet!)

I’m very excited about the coming changes! I hope you are too!