Archive for the ‘Sexuality’ Category

September 27, 2013

Concerned About the New “Hookup Culture?” It’s No So New, or Worrisome, After All

It seems like every so often, the media and others can’t resist a story about how college students — especially girls — are going wild with lots of meaningless sex. The implication is usually that these young women are destroying both themselves and society.

For example, a 2009 ABC news piece actually uses the word “sluts” in the headline. Almost 15 years ago, Tom Wolfe’s novel “I am Charlotte Simmons” raised some of the same criticism, often focusing specifically on the behavior of young women.

The topic was recently in the news again, thanks to a New York Times article “Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too.” Like those before it, the article largely looks at “hooking up” as something new, even though that may not be the case.

Following the trend of focusing on the “problem” of women having sex, there’s been a lot of questioning as to whether female college students are missing out on prime husband-finding time — or simply making their own choices during a period when relationships are not high on their to-do lists. Disturbingly, The New York Times story takes a detour to explore drinking and campus rape, as though non-consensual activity is somehow linked to what women enthusiastically consent to.

Given all the hand-wringing, you’d think today’s college women just discovered sex outside of long-term relationships. Yet according to research results released at a recent American Sociological Association meeting, 18- to 25-year-olds are probably not having any more sex or sexual partners than women their age 15 to 25 years ago.

The main researcher commented, “College students overestimate the degree to which their peers are hooking up. It feels like something new, but they might be surprised to know the actual frequency of sex, the number of sexual partners, etc. don’t appear to have increased from their parents’ generation.”

It may also be helpful for students to know that when Guttmacher researchers looked at rates of “premarital” sex in 2002, the percentages of women and men who had sex by age age 20 (74 percent of women, 77 percent of men) was extremely similar to the overall rates for 20-year-olds in the 1970s (72 percent), 1980s (76 percent), and 1990s (74 percent).

As Kate Harding puts it in this column on “hook-up culture’s bad rap,” none of the drama over hook-up culture — which is often based on misogyny and what people want from girls instead of for girls — is really that helpful:

If we encouraged girls and women to place real value on their own desires, then instead of hand-waving about kids these days, we could trust them to seek out what they want and need, and to end relationships, casual or serious, that are unsatisfying or damaging to them, regardless of whether they’d work for anyone else.

She later adds:

[I]f we teach all kids that there’s a wide range of potentially healthy sexual and emotional relationships, and the only real trick (granted, it’s a doozy) is finding partners who are enthusiastic about the same things you want, then there’s room for a lot more people to pursue something personally satisfying at no one else’s expense.

And that’s a fact.

Also see:
Let’s Talk About Casual Sex, Baby” by Jaclyn Friedman
Breaking News: Casual Sex Won’t Ruin Your Life!” by Jessica Wakeman
Thoughts on the ‘Hook-Up Culture,’ or What I Learned From My High School Diary” by Nona Willis Aronowitz

February 4, 2013

Getting Personal: What It’s Really Like Living With a Sexually Transmitted Infection

Jenelle Marie, STD advocateby Jenelle Marie

When you hear the term STD (sexually transmitted disease) or STI (sexually transmitted infection), what do you think of first?

Grotesque pictures of maimed genitalia displayed on a projector during yesteryear’s sex-ed class geared toward frightening you into abstinence? That scene from ” The Hangover” where Sid says, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas … except for herpes. That shit will come back with you”?

Whatever first comes to your mind is not likely to include your neighbor, professor, or best friend living with an STI, having an incredible sex life, and otherwise prospering. That is, of course, unless you’re also living with an STI and you know better.

I am your neighbor, a professor at a community college, and am enjoying a wonderfully healthy sex life with a man who thinks the world of me and nothing of my STI. I’ve been living with genital herpes for over 14 years now; I’ve also contracted HPV, scabies, and vaginitis throughout the years. And yet not once did an STI hinder my relationships or happiness once I stopped allowing it to dictate my self worth.

Embracing Stigma

At 16, when our family doctor peered at me with a lazy eye, through thick glasses, and accompanied by a partially missing ear to tell me my genital herpes outbreak was the worst case he’d ever seen, I was devastated. Embarrassment coursed through me as he handed me a prescription and sent my mother and me on our way – sans brochures, additional information, and references to resources, support groups or even a mention of the vast number of people living with an STI everywhere. I was a pariah – a leper – even the doctor was disgusted by my condition.

For years, I accepted my fate and considered myself as being punished for having been sexually active before marriage. As a high-schooler, I was called a slut or a whore and “friends” of mine forewarned men who took interest in me that I would merely infect them, hurt them, and they should steer clear entirely. I actually maintained some of those friendships for a period of time, not knowing otherwise about STIs and those who contract them, thinking myself deserving of such treatment.

A Long Overdue Paradigm Shift

It wasn’t until a few years ago I began to see myself for who I truly was: a beautiful, intelligent, thoughtful, and valuable individual who just happened to contract a long-term infection. In fact, my infection had not stopped me from obtaining two honors degrees, getting married, conquering my fear of heights by going skydiving – not once, but three times – or pursuing my dreams by auditioning for “American Idol.”

While I’m not the next American Idol, I learned an invaluable lesson throughout that period of self-discovery: I am not deserving of poor treatment, cruel friendships, or snide remarks; the stigma placed upon those living with an STI is inaccurate, ignorant, and illogical. And I have the power to change that. We all do.

In order to change the status quo, though, one has to first understand where the misunderstandings and wrongful judgments originate. Rather than be angry at my doctor for leaving me with nothing more than a crass diagnosis or at my childhood friends for mistreating our relationship, I am choosing to delve into why those perceptions persist.

Part of the problem came from within. I didn’t challenge what little I knew about STIs, and I embraced the negative opinions for years before I was able to distinguish between the laymen’s view of STIs and the reality behind the array of people who contract them. STIs do not define one’s character; they’re merely a reflection of an experience – an experience that is as individually unique as are the people who contract the STIs themselves.

Consequently, I’m not angry or frustrated by the amount of time it took for me to finally find solace in my infection. Rather, I have a holistic appreciation for the process one undergoes when being diagnosed with any type of taboo condition (infection or otherwise). Not only have I taken great pains to find myself in a place of self-love and self-respect, I want very much for others to have an opportunity to feel the same fortitude after their diagnosis as I do now and over a far shorter time table.

Becoming an Advocate

Hence, I have become an advocate.

Due to the immense stigma behind contracting an STI, most people don’t speak openly about their experiences. However, as people, we learn best through community. Naturally, we are pack animals – we nurture our young for years beyond most other mammals and we develop complex (and hopefully, healthy) relationships with others outside of our family nucleus. It makes sense then we need others to help overcome obstacles and boundaries – in this case, contracting an STI and/or living with an STI.

So, I’m willing to tell you how horrible my experience has been at times, and how I’ve found incredible happiness, love, success, and rewarding relationships despite living with an STD all in hopes you can move through the process with much more clarity, community, and understanding than I once endured.

Join me, and I welcome you.

Jenelle Marie is the founder and administrator of The STD Project, a website geared toward eradicating the sigma associated with having a sexually transmitted infection. This entry was originally posted at BlogHer and is reposted with permission.

February 8, 2012

Good Vibrations And OBOS = A Perfect Match!

Good Vibrations image

We are delighted and honored that Good Vibrations selected Our Bodies Ourselves as one of  four nonprofit organizations it’s promoting during the months of February and March. That means shoppers can select OBOS during checkout online and in stores and make a donation that goes entirely to the organization.

We’re in excellent company! From the Good Vibrations press release:

Good Vibrations, the trusted San Francisco-based company that takes pride in providing accurate information on sexuality and toys for grown-ups, is delighted to announce a new partnership with four regional non-profits as part of their corporate giving initiative, GiVe. Beneficiary organizations are La Casa de las Madres of San Francisco, AIDS Project of the East Bay in Berkeley, ACCESS Women’s Health Justice in Oakland, and Our Bodies Ourselves in Boston.

From February 1st to March 31st, Good Vibrations’ customers can support these regional nonprofits in Good Vibrations retail locations: San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Boston and online. Shoppers can make a financial gift at the time of their Good Vibrations purchase and 100% of your contribution goes to the nonprofit of your choice. [...]

Staff Sexologist Dr. Carol Queen says, “With people celebrating romance and connectedness during Valentine’s Day, we invite them to experience the pleasure of generosity to these worthwhile organizations that support people through some of the more difficult aspects of relationships and sexuality. We are honored to be able to bring the GiVe program to this remarkable group of non-profits.

And if you’re in the Boston area, you can join Dr. Queen and OBOS’s Judy Norsigian this Sunday, Feb. 12, at a special pre-Valentine’s Day Mixer and Info Tour at Good Vibrations in Brookline!

Photo of Good Vibrations in BrooklineIt’s a free event, and you’ll enjoy a light reception and store tour led by Dr. Queen. This is a great opportunity to learn everything you ever wanted to know but were afraid to ask.

Pease RSVP (office AT or call 617-245-0200) so we can provide Good Vibrations with an accurate number for refreshments. Here are the details:

Sunday, Feb. 12, 3 – 5 p.m.
Good Vibrations Brookline Store
308A Harvard Street Brookline, MA

Hope to see you there! If you can’t make it, stop in at a Good Vibrations store or shop online through March 31!

November 22, 2011

Sexuality, Pleasure & Safety: How to Know What You Really Really Want

What you Really Really Want book coverImagine if sex education covered not only important information about how to protect your health and prevent unwanted pregnancy, but also how to have really good sex — including how to know what you want and how to value your needs and desires along with your partner’s.

As The New York Times Magazine reported this past weekend, a truly comprehensive sex-ed class does exist — one that gives as much weight to female orgasm as to navigating complex emotional and physical terrain. Sexuality and Society is a highly regarded senior elective at Friends’ Central School, a co-ed, Quaker, college preparatory day school in Philadelphia.

Now what if there were a book — a workbook of sorts — that could be used in a class like this, and made available to teens and young adults everywhere who don’t have a progressive forum for discussing sexuality?

Luckily for everyone, that book exists.

What You Really Really Want” is the latest title on sex and sexuality by Jaclyn Friedman, co-editor of the 2008 hit anthology “Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape,” and a contributor to the 2011 edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” In her new book, Friedman takes on the role of your smartest, most honest, least judgmental, down-to-earth friend, serving as a helpful guide through 11 chapters on defining, understanding and owning your sexuality.

The book’s subtitle — “The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety” — explains the roadmap within. To make the most of this excursion, Friedman encourages readers to do two things: Write every day, with a pen or keyboard, and love your body — and not just in general; you should spend at least 30 minutes a week doing something that “makes you feel nothing but good.”

Jaclyn FriedmanOne of the book’s elements that readers will find particularly useful are the “dive-in” exercises that encourage thinking through how to apply what you’ve read to your own circumstances. At various times, Friedman pauses and encourages you to ask questions, assess your comfort zone, and identify the tools you need to overcome barriers to expressing your sexuality. These check-ins come across as authentic, which is difficult to pull-off on the printed page. That success is largely due to Friedman’s engaging writing style and genuine concern for women’s health and safety; she is the founder and executive director of Women, Action & the Media, which works for gender justice in media, and has been an outspoken advocate for challenging the ways society shames women.

The first chapter, aptly titled “You Can’t Get What You Want Till You Know What You Want,” opens with a discussion of influences on sexuality, from family and religion to our peers and partners. Friedman also provides a concise summary of confusing media messages that limit women to a “teeny window of ‘correct’ sexuality” combined with artificial ideals, followed by a dive-in exercise on media representations of women:

Dive In: Think back to some adolescent media crushes—that song or album you listened to over and over, the magazine subscription you thought would change your life, the book you picked up again and again, the movie you imagined yourself starring in, the video game you played and played and played, the TV show you just couldn’t miss. What drew you to these particular experiences? What, if anything, did they say to you about sexuality? What lessons did you learn from them that you’ve since rejected, and what did you learn that you still adhere to today? If you could go back and tell your adolescent self something about your media choices, what would it be? Get out your journal, and write about it for five minutes.

“What You Really Really Want” gradually shifts from looking at external influences that can prevent women from developing their own sexual identity to exploring different identities and assumptions about sexuality. Following sections on gender and sexual orientation, readers encounter this exercise:

Dive In: Make a list of all the words you can think of that you’ve used yourself or heard someone else use to describe someone’s sexual orientation. Don’t hold back—list the slang and slur words right alongside the more formal terms. Next, cross out every word that you think no one should ever use about anyone. Then cross out every word that you personally would never use to describe someone else. Then, of the remaining words, cross out every one that you wouldn’t want anyone else to use when describing you. Lastly, cross out any word that’s left that you would never use to describe yourself.

Write all of the words that are left in a new list. How do they make you feel? Do they describe your sexual orientation? Are there facets of your orientation that words don’t exist for? If you feel like it, invent a word that helps fill in those gaps.

It may seem like a lot of self-analysis, but that’s exactly what’s needed. As The New York Times Magazine article points out, teens have a difficult time articulating their own desires, in part due to the abundance of manufactured sexual imagery that creates false and harmful standards for what we (or our partners) should look like naked and how we should act.

Friedman wisely concentrates on the individual reader before expanding the discussion to include sexual partners. And even then, Friedman doesn’t offer advice on how to find a compatible sexual partner; rather, she helps the reader to define what compatability even means:

We all get dealt a different hand when it comes to what we’re capable of, and we all need partners who contribute different things. Is it important that your sexual partners are funny? Smart? Good dancers? Sweet with children? Great at communication? This is where you can get specific about bedroom skills, too: How talented does your partner need to be in the sack, and what qualifies as sexual talent to you?

Once you figure out what qualities you want in a partner, it’s time to add another layer of choosiness: How important is each quality to you? Because, let’s get real, nobody’s perfect, and you’re unlikely to find someone who simultaneously checks all of your boxes. Maybe you’d love to have a partner who is really athletic, but you wouldn’t rule out someone who was less active. On the other hand, it may be a total deal breaker if your partner doesn’t like to read. Get clear on what’s cake vs. what’s icing, and you’ll be steering yourself toward what you really really want before you know it.

Making a list for ourselves is one thing, but healthy sexual relationships require honesty with our partners about pleasure and safety.

“Talking freely about sex and safety with your partners not only makes sex more fun and relaxed—because you’re worrying less and getting more of what you really really want—but also makes it easier to tell the great partners from the ones you want to avoid before you get too hurt,” writes Friedman. “And that information means your intuition will get better and better, which means you’ll get even better at knowing your own desires and boundaries and finding people who can simultaneously respect and satisfy you. In short: It’s the best possible kind of positive-feedback loop.”

Besides offering examples of what, how and when to communicate, Friedman also provides an exercise that returns to the personal history and influences that can block us from advocating for our own needs:

Dive In: Pay attention this week to the times when you’re not speaking up. Do you want seconds at dinner but are afraid to say so? Do you actually want to wear that outfit, or are you doing it because you think someone else will like it on you? Did your friend or partner hurt your feelings, but you aren’t letting them know? Make a note each time it happens. Then, when you’ve got some time, pick one example and write about what it felt like. And then write about what it might have felt like if you had gone the other way and spoken on your own behalf.

Students at Friends’ Central School are fortunate to have a terrific teacher and a supportive educational environment that encourages exploration of these issues. Maybe, just maybe, other schools will start to follow suit. For the rest of us — and for those forward-minded sexuality classes — “What You Really Really Want” can make a lifetime of difference.

Excerpts of “What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety” are printed by arrangement with Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Photo credit: Mandy Lussier. This post is a stop in Jaclyn’s blog tour. Check out yesterday’s stop at WIMN’s Voices. If you’re in the Chicago area, join me on Nov. 30 as Jaclyn reads from her book at Women & Children First (7:30 p.m.).

June 29, 2010

New Moms Invited to Participate in Study on Postpartum Sexual Health

The Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University Bloomington is conducting an online survey on postpartum sexual health. The study is designed to gather information on women’s sexual experiences and body image in the months after giving birth.

The researchers are looking for women who are at least 18 years of age,  gave birth to their first child in the past year, and are willing to respond to questions about their attitudes and behaviors related to sexuality and information about their sexual health.

For more information about the study, its confidentiality policies, a gift card drawing for participants, and to decide if you’d like to participate, visit the home page for the study survey. You can email with any questions.

June 23, 2010

The Sex Drug Chronicles: Flibanserin Evidence Too Flimsy for FDA Approval

An FDA advisory panel last week unanimously recommended not to approve a new drug that purports to treat hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) in women, which is defined as “low or no sexual interest to the point of distress in otherwise healthy people.”

According to Julia Johnson, the panel’s chairwoman and head of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the impact of the drug flibanserin (proposed trade name: Girosa), developed by the German pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim, was “not robust enough to justify the risks.”

Indeed, this is the point many women’s health advocates have stressed all along. The flibanserin trials were considered a success by Boehringer, but the results seem less than stellar.

In a study of 1,378 premenopausal women who had been in a monogamous relationship for 10 years on average, women were randomly assigned to take 100 mg of flibanserin or a placebo daily and to record daily whether they had sex, and whether it was satisfying. Via Time magazine:

Women in the flibanserin group self-reported 2.8 sexually satisfying events in the four-week baseline period; in the final four weeks of the 24-week study period, those women reported 4.5 sexually satisfying events, a more than 50% increase. Women in the placebo group reported an increase from 2.7 events to 3.7. The difference in effect between flibanserin and the placebo — about 0.8 sexually satisfying events — was statistically significant, the drug company said, and the side effects from the drug, which included dizziness and fatigue, among others, were mild to moderate and transient.

So women taking the drug had less than one additional “sexually satisfying event” (orgasm not required) than women taking a placebo. And in the meantime, the drug caused dizziness, nausea and fatigue, particularly with long-term daily use, in some women — hardly the recipe for sexual excitement.

The FDA also considered whether the drug had increased women’s desire — a crucial element of the HSDD diagnosis, which involves low or no sexual interest to the point of distress in people who are physically healthy and not depressed — and found that the drug failed in this area.

And that’s the trickiest part. Erectile dysfunction is treated by increasing blood flow to the penis, which leads to an erection. But for women, it’s not about being physically unable to have sex — it’s that there’s little interest in sex altogether, especially troubling when one has the same long-term partner.

The construction of this as a disorder is a classic case of “disease mongering,” according to clinical psychiatrist and researcher Leonore Tiefer. The hope for a female Viagra, one pill that will “cure” women’s sexual disease, ignores the social and historical context that has a tremendous effect on female attitudes toward sex and is often part of a larger attempt to medicalize the sex lives of women.

Time magazine’s Catherine Elton interviewed Judy Norsigian, executive director of OBOS, who outlined the concern:

Attempting to treat low libido with a pill ignores the fact that many women’s level of desire is deeply affected by everyday life stress and interpersonal relationships. Add to that a cultural milieu that at once promotes shame and ignorance about women’s sexuality while wildly inflating their expectations for sex. In many cases, says Norsigian, the proper solution to a lack of sexual desire would involve a number of non-drug approaches, such as therapy, mind-body techniques and getting partners involved in the solution.

“That could be equally successful while at the same time not exposing women to the [potential] long-term adverse effects of drugs,” says Norsigian, who suggests testing drugs like flibanserin against drug-free therapies. “Moreover, the non-medication approaches often address root causes for lack of libido and thus reflect a prevention approach that is usually much wiser.”

For similar reasons, the New View Campaign has been active in opposing flibanserin, as well as previous drugs such as Intrinsa, a testosterone patch from Procter & Gamble that failed to receive FDA approval in 2004. The Campaign provides several insightful fact sheets that explain the history and side effects of flibanserin.

Particularly revealing is the fact sheet on the marketing of flibanserin [PDF], which shows how Ogilvy Public Relations, on behalf of Boehringer, has promoted HSDD as a chief cause of women’s sexual dissatisfaction — through celebrities, celebrity sexuality experts and promotional websites. Most unsettlingly, Boehringer was able to sponsor and provide editorial input for a Discovery Channel documentary — “Understanding Female Sexual Desire: The Brain Body Connection” — which has acted, in its repeated showing on TV and the web, as an infomercial for the drug.

A better film to watch would be “Orgasm Inc.: The Strange Science of Female Pleasure,” a behind-the-scenes expose of the pharmaceutical industry’s flimsy construction of female sexual dysfunction as a curable disease and the attempt to develop and market a Viagra-type solution.

March 10, 2010

Scarleteen Founder Conducting Survey on Casual Sex

Heather Corinna, founder and editor of Scarleteen and author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know-Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College, is doing a large study on multigenerational experiences with and attitudes about casual sex. The data will ideally be used for publication, but answers are completely anonymous and will only be used anonymously.

In contrast to a lot of the hype and stereotypes about “hooking up,” Corinna is looking for what’s real, both in sexual attitudes and experiences among a diverse array of ages, genders and sexual identities, races and sexual ideologies/constructions. The only requirements for participating in this study are being over the age of 16, and having had some kind of sexual partnership before, even if none has been casual. The study takes around twenty minutes.

Corinna would like the study to show as diverse an array of people as possible, especially since so often media representations or cultural conversations about casual sex are usually only about heterosexual white women or about gay men. She particularly wants to be sure LGBT people, people of color, those over 45 and social conservatives are adequately represented, so please share this link with your networks after you take the survey yourself, especially if your networks include people in any or all of those groups.

To take the survey, visit

January 25, 2010

New Documentary on Young Women’s Sexuality

I recently learned of a new documentary film that may be of interest to readers. In “Subjectified: Nine Young Women Talk About Sex,” director Melissa Tapper Goldman interviews nine U.S. women from different backgrounds and locations about their sexuality and experiences.

The film attempts to overcome stereotypes and assumptions using women’s own words, “to overwrite some of these associations, with something more real, more nuanced, deeper and more heartfelt.”

Goldman writes:

This project began as a simple question and a simple frustration. I thought I understood the motivations and pressures regarding girls’ sexuality within the community where I grew up, but I had no clue what sexuality meant for other women around the country… The stories were both more sophisticated and more powerful than what I had anticipated.

Two trailers for the film are available online; view one below.

Readers in and around the Boston area can attend a free film screening, followed by a Q&A with the director and one of the women featured in the film. The event will take place at MIT in Cambridge on Thursday, Feb. 4, at 7 p.m.  The screening is part of the “Chicks Make Flicks” series.

Others who are interested can keep up with the film at the blog and on Facebook and Twitter.

November 24, 2009

Judy Norsigian on a Drug Aimed at Curing Women With a Low Sex Drive and Other Health Concerns

A recent Time magazine story looks at the decade-long search for a drug to cure women with low sexual desire — a so-called female Viagra. A German pharmaceutical company thinks it’s on the right track with flibanserin, a drug originally developed as an antidepressant (it didn’t work for its intended purpose). Filbanserin is undergoing clinical trials to treat hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD).

Our own Judy Norsigian is quoted in Time, expressing caution:

Certainly, there may be women who will do better after taking flibanserin, says Judy Norsigian, executive director of the women’s health advocacy Our Bodies Ourselves, based in Cambridge, Mass. But she thinks the diagnosis of HSDD unnecessarily medicalizes women’s sexual lives. Attempting to treat low libido with a pill ignores the fact that many women’s level of desire is deeply affected by everyday life stress and interpersonal relationships. Add to that a cultural milieu that at once promotes shame and ignorance about women’s sexuality while wildly inflating their expectations for sex.

In many cases, says Norsigian, the proper solution to a lack of sexual desire would involve a number of non-drug approaches, such as therapy, mind-body techniques and getting partners involved in the solution. “That could be equally successful while at the same time not exposing women to the [potential] long-term adverse effects of drugs,” says Norsigian, who suggests testing drugs like flibanserin against drug-free therapies. “Moreover, the non-medication approaches often address root causes for lack of libido and thus reflect a prevention approach that is usually much wiser.”

During a recent event hosted by the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing’s Midwifery Program, Norsigian raised similar questions about whether women are receiving the best and safest treatments. She also discussed examples of how mixed, inaccurate or incomplete media coverage can make it difficult for women to navigate their health options and to understand the risks involved with some procedures. The Reporter, Vanderbilt Medical Center’s weekly newspaper, covered Norsigian’s talk.

October 20, 2009

A Petition to Honor Pioneering Sex Researcher Virginia Johnson

virginia_johnsonOn the heels of Rachel’s post yesterday on the medicalization of sex and sexual healing (vibrator/egg beater? oh my), I wanted to mention a petition we just learned about to honor psychologist Virginia Johnson for her pioneering work on sexuality.

Johnson teamed with William Masters in the 1950s to study the nature of sexual response and sexual disorders. Together they wrote “Human Sexual Response” (1966) and “Human Sexual Inadequacy” (1970). Though they began their work at Washington University Medical School, the university has not celebrated their contributions to the field.

Masters died in 2001, and Washington University’s Student Forum on Sexuality, a student group dedicated to promoting the discussion of sexuality on campus, wants to make sure Johnson is honored in 2010, as she turns 85.

From the petition (which is open to anyone to sign):

Despite the controversial nature of their work, Virginia Johnson and William Masters revolutionized the way the world thought about the physiology of sex. Yet their names remain virtually unknown as a part of Washington University history. We want to uncover the legacy of this innovative duo, and more specifically, we want to honor Virginia Johnson’s lasting contributions to the field of sex therapy by requesting that she receive an honorary degree from the place she started her work, Washington University in St. Louis. Please show your support in this effort by signing this petition.

Some of the controversy relates to their studies in the 1960s and 1970s on whether homosexual men and women could be converted. Their contributions to demystifying female sexual response and legitimizing sexual responsiveness among older adults, however, are cornerstones of contemporary sex therapy.

Masters and Johnson’s work led to the four-stages of the human sexual response: excitement phase; plateau phase; orgasm; resolution phase. Their findings also revealed that while men undergo a refractory period following orgasm during which ejaculation is not possible, there is no refractory period in women. Bottom line: We can thank Johnson for confirming our ability to have multiple orgasms.

October 19, 2009

Probably Not the Kind of “Healing” Marvin Gaye was Referring To

An article in the current issue of The Nation, Sexual Healing, comments on the history of the medicalization of sex, from vibrating devices used by physicians in the 1800s to “treat” (ahem) women for what ailed them to more modern incarnations of medical sexual fixes in the form of drug prescriptions and genital surgery.

The first paragraph succinctly describes the progression:

In the beginning there was sex. And sex begat skill, and skill (or its absence) begat judgment, and judgment begat insecurity, and insecurity begat doctors’ visits, which begat treatments, which have flourished into a multibillion-dollar industry, so that sex between men and women is today almost inconceivable without the shadow of disorder, dysfunction, the “little blue pill” or myriad other medical interventions designed to bring sex back to some longed-for beginning: a state of certified healthfulness, the illusion of normal.

One sex therapist interviewed for the piece argues that sexual concerns should not necessarily be medical concerns, that sex is “…more like dancing or cooking. Yes, you do it with your body. You dance with your body, too. That doesn’t mean there’s a department of dance in the medical school. You don’t go to the doctor to learn to dance.”

The author refers to a couple of resources on the topic for further exploration, including the new documentary “Orgasm, Inc.” by Liz Canner, which examines the role of pharmaceutical companies in creating a market for drugs for “female sexual dysfunction.” Also mentioned is the book “The Technology of Orgasm: ‘Hysteria,’ the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction” by Rachel Maines, which further details the history of physician approaches to “hysteria” and women’s sexuality. Readers may also want to check out “Passion and Power: the Technology of Orgasm,” a film inspired by Maines’s work.

One line in The Nation piece I couldn’t let pass without sharing: “Sears marketed a home vibrator with attachments for beating eggs, churning butter, operating a fan.” Now that’s a multi-purpose tool!

October 2, 2009

Reading List: Crash Course in Sex Ed for Adults

girls_who_went_awayFollowing up on the battle over funding for comprehensive sex education, here’s a list of 40 books and articles about sexuality that are well worth a look at any age.

Compiled by Anna Clark, who blogs at Isak, these texts cover not only the basics, but the complex policies and politics surrounding birth control, gender, race, abortion, adoption and more. From the introduction:

If we can agree that few teens learn about sexuality in an accurate, age-appropriate, and comprehensive way, then where does that leave adults who came through the same school systems they did? Many of us are still full of questions that we aren’t quite sure how to articulate. Few can claim that they’ve figured sex — and its social influence — out.

If you want to graduate to the next level of sexual health, pleasure, and social awareness, now’s your chance. Get yourself schooled with a crash course in sex ed for adults. From orgasms to organs, from contraceptives to court decisions, look to the reading list below for the can’t-miss books and articles about sex.

There are a number of titles here that I’ve been meaning to read, including such recent releases as “The Girl Who Went Away: Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade,” by Ann Fessler, and “The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World,” by Michelle Goldberg. Any books on the list that you’d highly recommend, or other titles you would add?

August 17, 2009

Double Dose, Part 2: Clinton Focuses on Elevating Women; Whole Foods Fight; Our Genders, Our Rights; The Gender Politics of “Mad Men”

Clinton Prioritizes Women’s Rights: “Clinton intends to press governments on abuses of women’s rights and make women more central in U.S. aid programs,” writes Mary Beth Sheridan at the Washington Post. “But her efforts go beyond the marble halls of government and show how she is redefining the role of secretary of state. Her trips are packed with town-hall meetings and visits to micro-credit projects and women’s dinners. Ever the politician, Clinton is using her star power to boost women who could be her allies.”

“It’s just a constant effort to elevate people who, in their societies, may not even be known by their own leaders,” Clinton told WaPo. “My coming gives them a platform, which then gives us the chance to try and change the priorities of the governments.”

Whole Foods Fight: I’ll be posting a more studious healthcare round-up, but for the moment: The New York Times Opinionator blog did a nice job pulling together comments from around the web about the anti-government healthcare reform op-ed written by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey that has some shoppers calling for a boycott.

One commenter recalls a food boycott from years ago that was more win-win: “I *loved* the Domino’s boycott way back when. Pro-choice cred PLUS I don’t have to eat cardboard pizza!”

feminism_and_sexismOur Genders, Our Rights: The summer edition of On The Issues Magazine discusses a topic that the editors describe as “both utterly fundamental and wildly revolutionary: gender norms and gender identity.”

Among the many offerings: “How a Feminist Found Her Sexism,” by Helen Boyd (with image at left by Gavin Rouille); “Trans Health Care Is A Life and Death Matter,” by Eleanor J. Bader; and “Virtual Switching, or Playing Games?” by Georgia Kral.

The Gender Politics of “Mad Men”: Cheers to Feministing for making Mondays that much better with a weekly feminist analysis of the popular AMC series “Mad Men,” and to RH Reality Check for hosting an ongoing “Mad Men” salon. And don’t miss Crystal Merritt’s insider perspective, as an ad woman and feminist.

New Column, Great Advice: Jaclyn Friedman is one of our favorite people for many reasons. She runs the annual Women, Action & Media conference as part of her role at Center for New Words; she co-edited, with Jessica Valenti, “Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape“; and now she’s writing a weekly column for Amplify Your Voice, a project of Advocates for Youth.

Read Friedman’s “Open Letter to Miley Cyrus,” which should be shared with all 16-year-olds.

Ovarian Cancer Surgery and Fertility: According to a new study published in the journal Cancer, five-year survival rates for stage 1 ovarian cancer patients were the same for patients who had both ovaries removed and women who had only the cancerous ovary removed, reports the L.A. Times. Though ovarian cancer occurs most often in postmenopausal women, up to 17% of ovarian cancers occur in women 40 or younger and that rate is believed to be rising.

Plus: Chicago Tribune health columnist Julie Deardoff writes: ”One of every 1,000 pregnant women in the U.S. has cancer, a relatively rare but stark convergence of life and death. For these women, treatment is possible. But it comes with a host of terrifying decisions for the family.”  The story focuses on Sarah Joanis, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 26.

“Menopause, the Musical”: “This isn’t retro; it’s just old,” Anita Gates writes in The New York Times of the eight-year-old musical that, despite corny songs and stereotypes, has been produced in 14 countries and in more than 200 American cities. “Who calls menopause the change of life? Edith Bunker, maybe, on the 1970s sitcom ‘All in the Family.’ And she would have been in her 80s by now. Women who read ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ in their youth don’t use euphemisms.”

The musical is underway at the South Orange Performing Arts Center, and while Gates is clearly not enamored with the premise, she is a fan of the current staging and cast: ”And thanks to a shift from self-deprecation to self-actualization (and a few nice costume changes), by the end, against all odds, the show is actually exhilarating.”

May 18, 2009

Opportunity to Participate in Research About Older Women’s Sexuality

Very little research on women’s sexuality addresses the needs and concerns of women past menopause. Dr. Anita Hoffer, a former associate professor at Harvard Medical School and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital who’s currently pursuing a doctorate in Human Sexuality and Sex Education, is out to change this.

She’s conducting a survey of women aged 60 – 75, designed to examine their knowledge and attitudes regarding specific sexual behaviors, as well as their attitudes toward their own sexual experiences.

Hoffer writes:

A better understanding of the sexual attitudes and behaviors in this under-researched segment of the population will make it possible to inform and direct future research in the field. There is much to be learned that will benefit women themselves as well as the health care professionals who care for them.

The survey itself, a requirement for Hoffer’s graduate program, is part of a longitudinal study that has been ongoing for more than 25 years, initiated by the National Sex Forum in San Francisco.

The survey is available online. If you have trouble accessing the online survey or simply prefer paper, send your mailing address to Dr. Hoffer ( and she will send you a paper copy along with a stamped self-addressed envelope to facilitate its return.

In all cases (electronic and paper), participants who would like to see the results once they become available need to send separately their contact information to Hoffer upon completing the survey; this preserves the confidentiality of your responses. She will then add your name to the distribution list for results.

Additional information on the project and contact details for Hoffer are also at the survey website.

February 19, 2009

Show Your Love for Sex Ed & Scarleteen

Those of us beyond our teenage and young adult years can only wish that — a website that delivers progressive, inclusive and accurate information about sex and sexuality — existed when we were growing up.

But we can do something to help ensure today’s teens have access to this information — and more — at no cost.

A donor to Scarleteen has agreed to match donations made through March 15. And now that Scarleteen is affiliated with the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco, it has nonprofit 501c(3) status, which means donations are tax-deductible. Read all about it here and make a donation.

Heather Corrina launched Scarleteen back in 1998. It currently has about 20 active volunteers and is one of the top-ranked sites for young adult sexuality education. Despite its popularity, Scarleteen averages just one donation per every 500,000 users. That’s because most of the website’s visitors either do not have their own income or do not have access or permission to use credit cards or checks to make donations. So it’s up to us older folks to step up.

With more funding, writes Corrina, Scarleteen could do so much more:

  • Creating and distributing outreach print materials for schools, clinics and community groups, based on content like our popular Sex Readiness Checklist, our anatomy articles, and our pieces on abuse, gender identity and sexual orientation.
  • Providing our volunteer staff extra training. In the next year, we’d like to get a few of our staff trained or certified in either or both pregnancy options counseling and/or basic sex education.
  • Stipends for some of our volunteer writers and columnists, which will both sustain a quality of content and allow us to keep up with the frequency of updates we have had in the last year. Paying writers also can nurture a greater diversity of voice and content.
  • Maintaining a part-time freelance developer to help us best manage and maintain the site for optimum useability.
  • A part-time, in-person assistant for myself as director.

Plus: There is a way for young people to make a difference through Scarleteen’s new campaign, Do You Give a Buck About Sex Education? Yep. Just a buck or two, sent by mail, would be most appreciated.

Either way you can help out, this is a sex education campaign that we happily support.