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January 15th, 2015

This is my beginning post: updated frequently with information about my recent and up-coming work. Check back frequently to stay up to date with my training and teaching schedule!

Are you a new reader? Scroll down to read my thoughts as a sex educator.

Are you a returning reader? Stay  here for a second to find out what I’ve been up to lately and what I’m doing soon! Maybe you’ll be able to join me!

Karen in June – August:

The biggest and most exciting news is the publication of my new book, Breaking the Hush Factor: Ten rules for talking with teenagers about sex! You can find out more about it at www.HushFactor.com. As a little teaser, here’s everything that’s in the book in one beautiful graphic:

BtHF diagram

Other than my book, it’s summertime, my friends! I am continuing my projects as per usual, but I have fewer speaking engagements. Here’s what I am currently working on, with dates into the fall noted:

More details and dates are coming soon! Check back for updates!

Sisyphean parenting

August 3rd, 2015


The iconic Zits comic strip, by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman, yesterday depicted the act of parenting a teenager as similar to the apparent curse bestowed on Sisyphus, rolling the same boulder up a hill, over and over again only to have it roll back down again.

This delights me, because I made a similar metaphor for Rule 10 in my book, Breaking the Hush Factor: Ten rules for talking with teenagers about sex.

The difference between the way that Jerry and Jim portrayed this experience and the way that I talk about it in Breaking the Hush Factor is the lens through which Albert Camus told the story. The quote from Camus’ telling on the bottom of my Rule 10 badge is this: “The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.” Camus was saying that the reality of engaging can itself be a joy rather than a toil.

In my book, I made the connection between conversations about sex and sexuality, which have to happen over and over again. As a child grows into an adult, they pass through many stages of identity and sexuality. They will be grappling with different issues and relating to sexuality, both internally and potentially shared with others, in emerging ways throughout that growth process. As such, young people need conversations about sexuality to continue throughout their adolescent developmental process, repeated, in a potentially Sisyphus-like way.

It is my hope that parents will draw joy from this process of talking about sexuality with their teenagers over and over again.

(The remainder of this blog post is in support of professionals on how they can support parents. If you’d like to read what I have to say directly to parents, you can find that here.)

As professionals in the field, you have the potential to make a dramatic impact on home-based conversations whether you work with adolescents or parents or both.

I have found that expanding parental compassion for the adolescent experience can go a long way towards easing difficulties. Parents benefit so much from learning to listen to the pain and to the beauty in their teenager’s emerging sexual knowledge, identity, and experiences. Taking sexuality out of a fear-based issue that has to be addressed once in a horrible conversation to be otherwise avoided, and instead brought into a place where it is addressed many times out of love, compassion, and support dramatically changes the way that parents understand their roles and what they have to offer.

The image in the badge of the sun rising behind Sysiphus’s boulder is no mistake. The goal is for parents to see this act of talking about sex over and over and over again as the sun rising, over and over and over again. It is beautiful, it is meditative, if you’re able to sit back and enjoy it.

As a professional, your work is to draw parents into this kind of space where they are able to see the beauty in the act of conversation. For your part, that often means listening to their pain, frustration, confusion, and other negative feelings. There is usually hope, excitement, and acknowledgement of the beauty buried under those negative feelings if you dive down deeply enough. The diving requires you, the professional, to be patient. To sit with and acknowledge the pain. To leave space for and to speak to the beauty when you see rivulets of it coming through. This is not easy work, but it is so powerful.

When you are working with young people, they need two things: some kind of rubric for deciding whether their parent is a trusted adult they can talk with, practical support for finding a trusted adult to talk with (if that is not their parent), and some kind of explanation for why their parent may be reacting the way that they are.

I wrote an article for Scarleteen that, for the most part, answers the first two issues. (You can find it here.) The third one I hadn’t fully conceptualized or worked through when I wrote the article. Since then I’ve talked with more and more and more youth about this issue and heard their pain and sadness that they can’t talk more openly with their parents. (Okay, in fairness, only some of them are in pain over this. Some of them are delighted that they can’t talk with their parents. Others have great conversations with their parents. But for the ones who are confused, who want to talk but feel they can’t, the pain is great.)

Young people who crave conversations about sexuality with their parents (and yes, they do exist, they’ve come entirely by choice to my workshops specifically on how to open those doors) need to know that it’s not their fault that their parents aren’t open to them. They need to know that their actions, choices, knowledge, fears, beauty, love, and more aren’t the cause of their parents distance. To support teenagers through this process, you need to let them give voice to all of those feelings about their own sexuality and how they are able (or rather not able) to relate to their parents. Give them the space to give voice to that which remains hidden at home. You must become, at least for the moment, what they feel is lacking at home. You have to be their trusted adult for them to see that it is not them that is hampering their conversations with their parents.

When you feel they might be ready, then you can gently talk about the issues that may be holding their parents back (the parent’s sexual biography, sexual and religious beliefs, fear, the speed at which parents feel their children grow up, etc.). But these are likely conjectures on your part. You offer them not as a way to solve the issue at home, because that is outside of your purview. Rather, you offer them as a way to further support the young people in understanding that it is not because of them that their parents have closed the door on conversations about sexuality. Life and sexuality are complex, and you are serving as a reminder of that reality.

Above all, practice what you are teaching the parents and young people in your professional life: By experiencing the joy in the toil of pushing the boulder up the hill over and over again, so that you can see the sun rise every time.

Breaking the Hush Factor: Rule #2

July 14th, 2015

I am SO happy to say that, amidst bizarre shipping delays between the publisher and the printer, the first round of softcover Breaking the Hush Factor books have been SHIPPED! If you ordered a softcover during the Indiegogo campaign, you should have received it yesterday – or maybe you’ll get it today. I hope you’ll be as thrilled with them as I am!

If you ordered a hardcover, it’ll be a few more days – more crazy shipping issues!

In the meantime (or in the event you’re reading this after realtime publication), let’s talk about Rule #2:


One of the mistakes I see parents making over and over again is making their conversations with their teenagers be about them. They want to share their experiences, talk about their beliefs/morals/perspectives/etc. They want to do so many things! But it’s not about what the parents want. It’s about what the teenager wants and needs to talk about. It is about the teenager’s passage through understanding and experience.

Furthermore, it’s not about what the parent thinks the teenager is likely to do or even want to do. Parental expectations are based in the parent’s perspective, rather than the teenager’s reality.

This chapter leads parents through considering themselves so that they are able to move forward to considering their teenagers. Accepting that they are unable to accurately predict, that their teenager is unique and individual in their sexual development, allows parents a way of approaching the conversations with openness and an interest in learning more that is so useful!

Breaking the Hush Factor isn’t quite available on Amazon yet – but it will be so soon! And you’ll be able to find out as soon as that happens on the book Facebook page.

Breaking the Hush Factor: Rule #1

June 24th, 2015

Friends, it’s really happening, and I couldn’t be more excited and nervous and nervously excited. My book, Breaking the Hush Factor, is almost here.

This book is written to parents, but it applies to all people who talk about sexuality with young people, and lays out ten accessible and concrete rules for how to have those conversations. The ten rules all work together in a beautifully interconnected framework.


Here’s Rule #1: Know yourself. Parents process through their own childhood emotions as their children grow and develop through childhood, and that doesn’t stop when children reach adolescence. Understanding yourself is a critical first step to engaging with your teenagers around sexuality.

Even more important is understanding the conceptual frameworks through which you, the parent or other adult, understand sexuality, adolescence, and adolescent sexuality. You will bring your ideas into your conversations with your teenagers and being able to parse out when they are appropriate and inappropriate will facilitate much more effective conversations.

I’ll be posting the next nine rules over the next few weeks as the book is launched, along with pieces of information about each of them. The book, of course, goes into much more depth about each of the rules and includes workbook questions to help you process, comics to make you laugh, and graphics that outline the interconnected nature of the rules.

The final proof will arrive on Friday, June 26, and assuming it looks just as beautiful as I expect it to, we’ll be fulfilling preorders next week and the book will be officially launched for mass purchasing love on Monday, July 13 through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.


So much more about my book!

May 27th, 2015

Did you know that I have a book coming out? I’ve been emailing and posting information, but I wanted to give you all a more in-depth reading of the theoretical approach I use as a groundwork for the book.

To that end, my friend and midwife Christy Tashjian and her wife Jenni Huntly interviewed me for her blog. What follows is a re-post of the interview.

Interview with Dr. Karen Rayne, Sexuality Educator and Author of “Breaking the Hush Factor: Ten Rules for Talking with Teenagers about Sex!”

Karen Rayne, PhD, sexuality educator, is publishing her first book!



Breaking the Hush Factor: Ten Rules for Talking with Teenagers About Sex! will be released on June 14th. Karen has been teaching sex education with all ages for several years and is a great resource for helping parents work through our own thoughts, beliefs, and feelings around sex and relationships.

A few days ago, Karen come over to our house to chat about her book, we also fed her some delicious baked pears…it’s always nice to feed someone when you really want them to talk! The following is a paraphrased retelling of our conversation….

Jenni: Is the book an accumulation of teaching classes for middle school or is it more related to the individual counseling you do?

Karen: This book is not content oriented at all, it is really about helping parents become familiar with their own feelings around sex so that they can be open to discussions with their teens in an authentic way. I discovered there is much less information out there in the literature about practically addressing your (parents’) own issues.

Christy: My sense is that a parent’s ability to talk to their children and/or teens about sexuality depends mostly on relationship building throughout parenting. It is a gradual process of becoming more and more comfortable discussing things that feel very intimate.

Karen: The context of the relationship is really important and coming to the conversation without any of your own baggage around what is going to happen in the context of that conversation is very important. There are kids who actively come to a conversation about sex and want to engage with their parents and there are some kids who absolutely do not want to talk with their parents about sex. But the ways that the parent should approach each of these kids is within the same framework of honoring and trusting your kid to bring you what they need. They may bring you the need for lots of discussion about sex or none at all; the important thing is to remain open to the dialogue however much or little that is.

Christy: I have been amazed over the years when I didn’t think my kids were listening, I later learned they were taking everything in and remembering it!

Karen: That’s something I do talk about it in the book a lot, about how much your kids do listen to you and how well they do know you. By the time they are teenagers, they really know you AND your reactions very well. Now it is your time, as the parent, to listen and get to know them really well. It’s important to spend a lot of your time listening and really hearing what they are saying, being a sounding board for them to process and assess where they are, thus helping them move forward in beautiful ways.

Christy: What came to me listening to you just now is that we can and should give our kids credit for knowing more and being capable of figuring things out more than we might think.

Karen: It’s a transition, right. When our kids were three, we clearly knew more things about their bodies and how they work and what their needs might be, but as they get older it’s a process of them learning and knowing their own needs; the adolescent years are when this self knowing and transfer of power happens most dramatically. In many ways our culture sees it as a lack of innocence if you know about sex, and even if you don’t buy into that it can be a little bit shocking when your kids start to talk about sex.  Cards Against Humanity is a really interesting point of discussion around this. Most of my high school students have played it and some of my middle school students have.

Christy: I feel like middle school age is a little inappropriate for playing Cards Against Humanity but I actually think it would have been a great game for me to play in high school. I was so naïve and broadening my world would have been helpful, I think; shocking and a little embarrassing, but helpful. So I have not tried to stop my high schooler from playing it, but I have encouraged my middle schooler to wait till she gets a little older.

Brief digression here but moving on….

Karen: Kids do generally think their parents are stricter than they are. And I think this comes from a place of kids really, really caring what their parents think. Especially with something like sex, kids may think their parents are particularly less open-minded than they are. Take my classes for example, some of my students say, “my parents would never be OK with me talking about this.” And I say, “well, your parents know the entire curriculum for this class and they pay me a lot of money to discuss this stuff with you!”  And they say, “ooo….”

It’s like an impulse or reflex that the students respond this way to some of the things we talk about in class.  So what I am trying to do with the book is to help parents help their kids get out of that reactionary place by suggesting that they [the parents] stay interested in what their kids are saying and engaged with their kids at whatever level the kids are bringing the conversation to. This will help the kids understand that their parents really want to be there with them, listening to their thoughts, emotions, and feelings, considerations and worries, instead of the parent leading the conversation. It’s a definite conversation power shift that helps kids discover their own sexual paths.

Jenni: That speaks to the individuality of sexuality, that we are all dramatically different from each other, so that makes a lot of sense to me.

Karen: I think there is an element of kids needing to separate from their parents in some way, and sometimes they tell the parent and sometimes they don’t. Every kid in my class talks about their parents. It’s like their parents are over their shoulder, there with them. Sometimes the kids are arguing with them, sometimes agreeing, sometimes trying to figure their parents out, but they are always there, figuratively present with the kid.  It’s about how as a parent to be supportive of their kids finding their own identity, whether this matches what the parents want or expect.

Jenni: Even when you may not have figured it out for yourself… (laughter)

Karen: Yes, and that’s what the first four chapters in the book are about, the parent figuring themselves out enough to be present in the conversation about sex with their kids.

Please check out Karen’s indiegogo campaign and think about buying her book, especially if you have teenagers 1200x900-testimonial-book-gina

Seeing as we are midwives who get lots of questions about sexuality and relationships, our discussion with Karen moved along to sex during pregnancy and the postpartum months. She facilitated one of our group prenatal sessions last year, and talking about that experience is where this conversation picks up again…and then organically moves back to talking with kids, very cyclical….

Christy: People expect their sexuality and sex drive to remain the same in pregnancy and postpartum and most often it does not. That change can be pretty sudden and can catch both partners off guard.

Jenni: And then there is this notion that when people become pregnant they have to put aside their sexuality and/or some people have trouble figuring out how to be a parent and a sexual being at the same time.

Christy: Yes, when one has a lot of different hats to wear it’s hard switching back and forth between them quickly.

Karen: What’s normal? What’s right? I think that is where people’s questions really are. People have a fear of cross-mingling sex and babies/children.

Christy: I also think one thing pregnant people are really surprised by is how low their libido is in pregnancy and/or the postpartum months. Some people worry, I think it’s a common fear, that they will never feel like having sex again in the way they did before having a baby. I think it is totally normal and it’s a helpful thing to point out that they may not have sex for a very long time but that the desire will come back. Of course, some people have a very high libido in pregnancy and enjoy it very much! I want to help people understand that libido is very fluid over a life span; sex drive varies greatly at different times in people’s lives. That’s something I don’t remember hearing about or talking about when I was pregnant or just postpartum: that sexual desire is so up and down over one’s lifespan.

Karen: I think that is one thing that is really missing in abstinence-only sex education. So when we are talking about abstinence in my classes with young people, I always say to them that there are times over their entire lifespan that they will be deciding not to have sex, for a variety of reasons — maybe they don’t have an appropriate partner, they or their partner may have some kind of STI, they may have other physical health concerns, maybe they’ve just given birth to a baby, there are lots of reasons, they may be on a spiritual journey where refraining from sexual contact is what seems best at the moment… During their life, whether they’re married or not, whether they have a partner or not, there will be times in their life when they will choose to refrain from having sex… Really honoring the space that abstinence provides is something not just for teenagers; because, firstly, I think that teenagers can hear it more easily if it’s something for everyone, and also they are then able to carry that into their future lives where they are able to respect a decision or feeling inside themselves to refrain from sexual activity. It’s important for people to know that choosing abstinence at all different times in their life is a respectable decision and a respectful decision as part of the life process.

Christy: I think that the common approach to abstinence only birth control does teenagers a big disservice.  This description you give providers a more holistic view of what abstinence can look like in an empowering way.

Karen: When coming to a conversation with your kids about sex, the key is to identify your own issues so that even if you don’t resolve them, you at least know what they are, and if your kid starts to mention something [difficult for you], you know where the trigger is coming from. This will help you know when to take a break in the conversation, because you’re having a reaction that’s about you and not about them. But part of that process is ideally learning to just sit with where you are sexually at any given moment. It may be a time of a lot of arousal, and a lot of desire, and a lot of sexual activity, and a lot of orgasms, or it may be just a place of a lot of desire, but not a lot of arousal or sexual activity. There are a lot of variables at play here, and I think that just letting your body whisper to you where you are and following it and respecting it, and not feeling the need for it to be different is a huge gift to yourself and for your kids. The painful parts of sexuality are when you end up with sexual activity and even orgasm, without the arousal or the desire. That’s what we really want to avoid.

Jenni: And that can be tricky if you are partnered, with all the potential discrepancies between partners. And often, as a parent, I imagine you are trying to figure out where you are at, and that’s influenced by your current relationship or non-relationship. So then it’s influenced by your partner’s desire or interest in sex.

Christy: So, it could be that the sexual desire of both partners could go for long periods of time never matching up; that kind-of stinks. And then they have to navigate that within the relationship.

Jenni: I can imagine that affects the conversation with your kids; trying to figure out what to say to them when you are figuring out your own relationship makes it much more complicated.

Karen: So much more complicated! And if you have all these emotional reactions to sex because of what’s going on in your relationship right now, then talking to your kids about it, without having any of your own emotional reaction around the topic influencing the conversation, is really, really hard.

[Pause in conversation, which is unusual for us]

Karen: That’s how it can be talking to kids. It is a process of trying to negotiate your response, because in some ways that is a public face, rather than a private face. Your private sexual life is not about your child and they don’t need to have any part of it or know anything about it, in terms of concrete details for sure. But how do you negotiate your public face in those conversations while still being authentic, because if you’re lying your kids are going to pick up on it.  You have to be honest to a degree, saying things such as “You know this conversation is really hard for me right now, but I know it’s important so we’re going to have it anyways.” Owning up to that weirdness is important. One of the things that I cover in my book is that [as a mature adult] you use the other adults in your life to talk with about sex or other issues before you talk to your kids. Work through some of your own stuff with your peers, or a therapist, or whomever is appropriate for you.

Christy: I think that’s a good place to end it, especially since our kids are such great mirrors of ourselves, helping ourselves ultimately helps them.

I’m looking for a dreamy manager to tell me what to do…

April 26th, 2015

But not in a sexy way. Just professional. That’s all.

The good news is that my work is growing, which is so exciting! The bad news is that I can’t quite keep up. Unless that’s good news because it means YOU are the perfect person to come and work with me!
I’ve thought about what kind of support I need, exactly, and it isn’t quite an assistant and it isn’t quite a boss, so I’ve landed on the term manager.
What this comes down to is that I have so many things to do, and I can’t do all of them. Which pieces a manager might pick up will depend on their individual skill set, I just can’t keep doing it all myself! Here are the pieces of what I do that someone else will – I hope! – help me with starting soon.
  • Calendar/travel Management
  • Client Management
  • Project Management
  • Social Media Management
  • Publicity and outreach to schools and non-profits
  • Small amounts of simple graphic design work
  • Writing
  • Other projects as they arise

A few non-negotiable things that my manager will have to have:

  • High comfort level talking about sex all. the. time.
  • Personally excited about and dedicated to sex ed and, specifically, the framework I base everything on (take a look here for more info: http://karenrayne.com/this-i-believe/)
  • Fun to work with. I laugh a lot while I’m working. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
  • Good financial sensibility.
  • Super organized. I hope my manager will know what I need to do next before I’ve started wondering what to do with myself.
  • While it would be bonus-points-cool if you live in Austin, I’m happy to work with someone remotely.

This is a paid position, but it’s not going to pay your mortgage unless you live in a really, really tiny undesirable house in the middle of nowhere in one of the Dakotas. My hope is that we’ll work together, my business will grow, and your income will grow along with it.

Identity in the online world, or Dr. Alice Dreger Live Tweeting Sex Ed

April 20th, 2015

I’m sure that last week many of you followed the sex ed story of the week that went massively viral about @AliceDreger, the mother who live tweeted her son’s sex ed class. I first saw the story on Vox.

This story was pretty fantastic, I have to admit. I followed along, read with the tweets. They are both horrifying and enlightening. And, coming from Texas, I’ve heard so many stories like this before.

dreger1 dreger2

So there they are. Two of them, at least. Live, bold, and in person.

This story has gone dramatically viral. Even USA Today is in on the story.  I think that the best place to read about the experience is at The Stranger where Dreger writes about it herself.

One of the reasons I prefer to read about this at The Stranger than one of the zillion other places I could read about it is that The Stranger doesn’t immediately label Dr. Dreger as a mother. Because that’s not her primary role in life as it relates to sexuality education. Dr. Dreger is a well-known and respected speaker and author. (Her book, Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science has been on my to-read list since it was recently published. I just bought it and can’t wait to dive into it.)

So what’s the deal? Why are all of these media outlets focusing on Dr. Dreger’s parenting and kinda leaving out why she is qualified to talk about issues in sex ed classrooms in the first place? Some of the articles about Dr. Dreger’s live-tweeting experience did, once you got deep enough into the text, mention that she has professional credentials, but many of them left out that piece entirely.

I see two issues with our cultural perspective that has landed us here, ignoring a professional woman’s knowledge and skills that provides her with content expertise on the topic she is speaking on:

  1. Education, and particularly sex education, is not a career or a profession that has unique insight and understanding, but rather is seen as something that parents are more qualified to weigh in on than trained professionals.
  2. Women’s roles are primarily based in the home and the family rather than their professional lines of work. This means that the mother-role is more important than the professional-role and should be mentioned first.

Dr. Dreger did go into the classroom because of her parental relationship with one of the students in the classroom. (In The Stranger piece linked to above, she talks about her embarrassment that she neglected tales of horrific sex ed in her local schools until her own son was in the class.) But it was both things – not only her parenting role – not only her professional role – that gave her unique insight and engagement with that classroom’s content.

I’ve worked in education for a long time. I haven’t ever, really, done anything outside of this field. And I’ve heard the jokes: “Those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach teachers.” They’re wrong, they’re insulting, they’re exhausting. They make me so angry. There is content expertise and then there is pedagogical expertise, and they are both important to a high quality learning environment. Dr. Dreger has both. And so we need to – we must! – listen to what she has to say about topics that are relevant to her areas of expertise. Not just because she is a parent. It seems that because adults spent a huge chunk of their lives in classrooms, as students, that they think they are experts about what it means to be in a classroom as a teacher. That is just not true. (Incidentally, the same is true of sex. Because most people have sex, most people erroneously consider themselves experts on it. But that is a post for another time, because I have a meeting I have to get to.)

But she is a parent. And that is relevant to the story; she was in the classroom because of her parenting role. It is worth mentioning, but it is not the entirety of the story! We cannot let women’s professional roles outside the home fall second fiddle to their parenting roles inside the home. This is an issue that permeates our society and is deeply divided along gender lines. Hillary Clinton was recently taken to task in the press for having her family along with her during campaign stops – it was suggested she was too much of a mother, not enough of a president. Male presidential candidates take their families along with them on political campaigns all the time and are encouraged, lauded for their dedication! But women? They’re either all-family or all-work, without an understanding of the contextualization that happens in an individual’s identity that not only leaves room for both, but actively incorporates both. This is true for all people along the gender spectrum.

Dr. Dreger’s story is one example of the ways that we fall culturally short in our understandings of both sexual and educational expertise and the ways that we conceptualize motherhood. So while I’m thrilled that poor sexuality education is part of the current national conversation, I’m disappointed in its shortfalls. Dr. Dreger is an expert. And, frankly, her book is awesome in so many ways. Everyone should put it on their to-read list.

Bodies and sex in the age of the profane

November 15th, 2014

profane bodiesI just this morning opened a new book, Sacred Economics: Money, gift & society in the age of transition by Charles Eisenstein. (You can read the entire thing online, as well as watch a video that I haven’t watched yet, on that website.)

Opening a new book like this – one that is outside of my professional purview – one that has come highly recommended (this time by Sam Killermann) – is always thrilling to me. There is a certain kind of intellectual dialogue that is rare to come across, in either book or person form. It feeds my soul, it reminds me that I am human, it engages me on a soul level.

I am often a little afraid when I start a new book with a little whisper of a hope that it will fit into this place in me. And so I delay. I carry the book around, unopened, for the weight of it in my hands and in my hopes. I wait for a breathless moment alone when I can start from the beginning. I am one who finds the introductions to books to be critical. They set the stage, provide a mindset. When done right, I relish them. This time I was not disappointed. From introduction, I am entirely compelled to share and discuss this quote:

For several thousand years, the concepts of sacred, holy, and divine have referred increasingly to something separate from nature, the world, and the flesh. Three or four thousand years ago the gods began a migration from the lakes, forests, rivers, and mountains into the sky, becoming the imperial overlords of nature rather than its essence. As divinity separated from nature, so also it became unholy to involve oneself too deeply in the affairs of the world. The human being changed from a living embodied soul into its profane envelope, a mere receptacle of spirit, culminating in the Cartesian mote of consciousness observing the world but not participating in it, and the Newtonian watchmaker-God doing the same. To be divine was to be supernatural, nonmaterial. If God participated in the world at all, it was through miracles-divine intercessions violating or superseding nature’s laws.

The connections to the body and sexuality are ones I have been talking about for some time in my work life. Why is it that sexuality is held as base, material, separate from the holy and divine? It used to be sacred, and I still consider it to be. My work, while incorporating humor and illness, physical pleasure and deep emotional pain, the depths and the heights of the human experience and everything in between, is ultimately a sacred professional path that I have been called to walk.

I marvel, confused, at the people who try to hide sexuality, to shame their children in it. It is one of the most sacred and important parts of being human – this capacity for such connection with the self and with others. Why would we be here on this earth if not, at least in part, for the very human connections that we can and should take part in? Sexual connection is a holy and sacred thing. But sexual connection is not just with another person – it is also with the self, with nature, with the divine. It has the potential for so much more, and we must respect it as such.

And so to Eisenstein’s point: While he was talking about money and finances, his point stands regarding sexuality and the body. The shift from describing the body as “a living embodied soul” into the “profane envelope” has left a deep rift in our capacity to see the holy – in the bodies we have now. The physical being is not about the degree of thinness, tallness, breastiness, etc., that we can achieve. It is about the elemental honoring of nature and spirit that is at all time within us and surrounding us.

In the same way that the ocean, mountains, moon, stars,
whatever part of nature it is that you find to be most elementally inspiring…
even the skyscrapers, the cell phones, the manmade fountains,
all things, are real, elemental, and maintain a whisper of truth and inspiration to them.
So, too, sexuality.

And this is what I hope my students walk away from my class having internalized. Not an overt description of sexuality as holy or sacred, because that is merely an internal respect externalized into somewhat faulty language. No, instead, I want them to find a respect of the sexual as beautiful, healing, life-giving. I want them to be able to look into themselves, first, and acknowledge that baseline of truth, and then eventually to look into others and see it there too. Imagine if that respectful, honoring, old English word thou were brought back as a way to refer to someone else’s sexuality. Suddenly it becomes truly theirs, to own and to love and to experience. It is something that must not be harmed because it commands the deepest respect. It is something that can be shared communally – it cannot be given or taken.

We cannot walk through life without grappling with sexuality, but we absolutely have the choice for the level on which we choose to grapple. And this is my choice: I will bow and honor each person’s sexuality and identity, because they deserve my respect and love.

Condom Week: Buying condoms with teenagers

June 6th, 2014


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.