Pizza and Pregnancy Tests

Pizza and Pregnancy Tests
by J.M. Bates

My friend confided in me that she might be pregnant. She was absolutely terrified. At first, I was surprised that she came to me with her serious issue. She wasn't my best friend; in fact, far from it. She often seemed to really dislike me, often calling me "boring" and like "an old lady" in front of our other friends. However, she said I was the only one she could trust not to tell anyone else about her possible pregnancy.

I tried my best to comfort her. I took her out for pizza in an attempt to cheer her up a little, but she could hardly talk or eat due to her high stress. She looked like she was on the verge of tears the entire time. I had no idea what to say to her; she was occupied by her thoughts anyway. We later went to a store together and I told her that I'd buy her anything she needed. She picked out a box of at-home pregnancy tests, the kind where you pee on a stick. That box of multiple tests was expensive to purchase. I thought to myself that her boyfriend should be the one buying it instead of me. Where was that deadbeat, anyway? My friend was going through hell and her boyfriend probably had no idea what was going on. I bought the tests for her from an elderly cashier who looked at me disapprovingly.

Back at my friend's house, I remember watching her face as she waited for her test results, the plastic urine-dotted strips all lined up alongside each other by the bathroom sink. Her wild anxiety merged with disappointment and dread as each test yielded a positive result.  

This event happened sixteen years ago. My friend and I were both twelve years old at the time.

I didn't have sexual health education at my school until I was seventeen years old. By that time, multiple girls in my class (including my friend) had already become pregnant and dropped out of school. A few boys in my class were teased for impregnating girls who attended other schools.

The sexual health education we did eventually receive at our school was dismal. Outdated textbooks depicted cross-section diagrams of human genitalia and stock photographs of wholesome teenagers with 80's haircuts. The texts heavily involved hygiene and diseases, with recurrent life advice focusing on abstinence. We were never taught about condoms or other contraceptives, nor about consent or safe sex. Our teachers seemed clueless and embarrassed to be there, with a different teacher each week. I was given the impression that this class was dumped on unwilling teachers to perform, possibly determined by choosing out of a hat or by a spreadsheet on the principal's computer. I recall one flustered football coach give our class this vague advice: "If you don't want it [sex], just cross your arms and… yeah." On another occasion, an entire class period was wasted on a discussion about the conspiracy theory of the government inventing AIDS.

The girls in my class that had already become pregnant and dropped out of school most likely would not have benefited from this particular sexual health education class if it had been provided earlier to them. I would say the same about the male classmates who got their female partners pregnant. These individuals most likely would have learned nothing from this class, just like the rest of us. If the class had instead been medically-accurate, current, and included information about contraceptives and safe sex, then maybe fewer students would have become pregnant or impregnated others.

The entire time I was in this terrible sexual education class, I kept thinking to myself, "This is bullshit!" I was getting a lot of sexual health information from the internet at the time, and it was a lot more current and sex-positive than what I was being taught in school. I didn't watch porn, a popular source of disinformation about sex, because pornography in general scared me. Instead, I found myself migrating to feminist and sex-positive online communities, blogs, and websites. Even feminist sex shops with websites online gave useful information. I learned important things from these multiple sources, such as only using water-based lubricant with latex contraceptives, and that HPV could be transmitted between partners even while using condoms and dental dams. I also learned what a dental dam was.

All in all, it was nice to educate myself in privacy from sources that were medically accurate and sex-positive. It changed my life for the better. My overall attitude towards life was improved, because I became more aware and also less plagued by guilt and shame about my needs. I had many other friends confide in me about their pregnancies, abortions, and diseases. I always did my best to provide sources of medically-accurate information as well as a non-judgemental and understanding shoulder to lean on. I look forward to the day when medically-accurate, age-appropriate sexual health education becomes mainstream in the United States. Until then, I'm going to keep e-mailing politicians to put comprehensive sex ed bills through. I will also continue to buy pizza and pregnancy tests for my friends in need.

About the Author
J.M. Bates is an atheist feminist living in the Chicago area. Race, gender, sexuality, income, and youth issues are part of her main focus. She has written for Fuck Yeah Feminists, Examiner, MOOT, Elevate Difference, and Starpulse.

A Catholic Girl’s Calling to Sex Ed

A Catholic Girl's "Calling" to Sex Ed
By Jennifer Hart, MPH
Having been raised in a suburban, lower-middle class Irish Catholic family in New England has certainly impacted my worldview, particularly as it relates to issues of religion and sexual and reproductive health issues.  In fact, my experiences related to religion are what ultimately “called” me to study and work in sexual health specifically, and not reproductive health.  I was raised in a family that never questioned the Faith, nor talked about it in relation to other faith beliefs.  There were certain expectations that went along with being Catholic, having to do with sex, gender, and relationships. Although I knew these silent yet steadfast expectations, I questioned my acceptance of these tenets even as a teenager.

I’m the first to admit my privilege, and to be completely transparent: I’m a white, upper middle class, cisgender, heterosexual female with undergraduate and Ivy League graduate school degrees. I am also cynical, jaded, hardened, pragmatic, and sarcastic.  I’m a divorced, 35 year old recovering Catholic from the Northeast, now living in a large urban city, and identify as a Secular Humanist.  I am in a loving relationship with an amazing man, 19 years my senior. Other than being a woman (which is a challenge unto itself), I’ve got a lot of privilege. My struggles are my own, but I know others have endured far more than I.

When I was about 13, my mom gave me a stack of readers and pamphlets about my body and puberty, told me to look through them, and to come back to her if I had any questions. I only had one question, which came after watching a cartoon video on puberty. It was about how girls masturbate. I was too embarrassed to ask her in person, so I wrote a note. I never got a reply.  Really, the only other question I asked was a personal one, to my mom. I said, “Can I ask you a personal question? Did you and Dad have sex before you were married?” Her answer: “That is a personal question.”

Everything else I learned about sex came from school and from friends. The internet wasn’t really something you surfed for answers in those days. I remember as a middle-schooler, seeing one 8th grade couple making out in the hall way – all the time. When they broke up, it was the talk of the century. I had major, heart-wrenchingly intense, unrequited crushes on boys.  I remember having only one sex-ed class in high school – 9th grade, I think, and it was about reproduction and abstinence. I was in a class with all girls, and the boys were getting educated in the room next door.  I was a good girl. I called myself “Halo Head.” I was a good Catholic girl and my plan was to wait until I got married to have sex. (Ok, so I didn’t wait until I was married, but I did wait until I was engaged).

My parlay into sexual discourse and awareness grew from the socially acceptable expectation that all girls will eventually experience pregnancy, and the socially vilified reality of sexual assault.  I remember feeling “those feelings down there” when I’d read books or watch shows involving childbirth or rape.  Childbirth. Rape.  Even writing this, I think, how creepy is that?!? But, these passages and scenes were not stigmatized as “dirty” or porn, only natural and horrible, respectively. The common thread between child birth and rape is sex.  Later, as an adult, in thinking about how my interest in sexuality began, I felt angry and ashamed that it was linked prominently to pain and violence, and not pleasure.  My interest was steeped in stigma and shame. My access to positive messages of sex and relationships was censored and oppressed by my religious upbringing. Don’t even get me started on my love affair with the Thorn Birds.

I moved away from my family and childhood home in suburban Connecticut when I was 18 to rural North Carolina, where I lived for 13 years. I chose to attend Lenoir-Rhyne College, a small, private, Lutheran school, because of their unique and renowned program for Deaf Education. Those choices led me through the formative years of my life; I was out on my own, making decisions, and determining and defining my values.  Immediately, I noticed that religion was undeniably prevalent. Signs and billboards touted Jesus and Bible verses, abiding worshipers stood on highway medians preaching into the open windows of passing cars, and business meetings began with prayer.  I was approached on numerous occasions by people asking me where I attended church – then either shunned or considered a potential convert when I told them I was Catholic. “So you’re not Christian,” they’d say. I could be “born again”, a concept foreign to me.

Such confrontations about religion and vocation forced me to reckon with my own faith, in particular those tenets that had social and political implications.  The Catholic faith clearly defines its views on issues related to sexuality, including premarital sex, homosexuality, contraception, abortion, masturbation, and gender roles in relationships, just as clearly as it defines the guilt associated with the abandonment of these definitions. My foundation was firm until I began to see the gender inequities and discrepancies between my faith and my career path.

I broke away from the confines of Catholicism, and organized religion in general, and have dealt with the repercussions ever since. I was challenged by religion’s pervasiveness within professional and social outlets within the “Bible Belt.” My reactions to religion became defensive and negative. My work in teen pregnancy prevention, HIV/AIDS, and sexual and reproductive health advocacy made my time in the rural southeast an eye-opening and challenging experience.

In the area of sexuality education, often local and regional legislation determines what you can and cannot say in the classroom. Teaching “abstinence-only-until-marriage” sex education classes and condom failure rates is a denial of the facts and reality of teen sexual initiation. This type of education works against itself when youth choose not to use condoms upon their sexual debut because they believe what they’ve been taught, ultimately increasing infection rates and unintended pregnancies.  In addition, an entire population of students is made invisible and silenced by the abstinence only until marriage message.  Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQQ) youth have very few (although ever-increasing) options for considering the notion of marriage in their lives, and are hardly ever included in educational conversations and settings about sexuality. The idea that students need only be taught about abstinence and nothing else further perpetuates the stigma of sex and sexuality, of sex as solely procreative, silences LGBTQQ students, and erases women’s sexual pleasure from the conversation.

In 2002, the World Health organization organized a meeting in Geneva to discuss and further define Sexual Health. The attendees came up with the following guide (emphasis is my own):

Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.

Despite this positive and open-minded approach to sexual health, the United States’ proclivity to limit and oppress access to sexuality information and education, through the promulgation of religious and cultural expectations has significant emotional, mental, and physical consequences. Sexuality and health are the foundation of our being and yet in the South and in many other areas of our country, parents, teachers, clergy, doctors, clinicians, and even pharmacists refuse to accept that sex is natural and normal, putting their morality onto the lives of their children, students, congregants, patients, and clients. The effect of inhibiting discussions of sex, identity, and health is detrimental to the overall health, well-being, and stability of a person and society as a whole. My liberal values for social, sexual and reproductive justice and gender equality were tested daily in this conservative Christian part of the country.  There, and even now in my urban city, I continue to see the increasing influence of religion on politics and funding streams regarding the sexual and reproductive issues I support.

 

Now, I work in the abortion field, implementing training and education opportunities for abortion care providers.  Part of my job is to provide values clarification and pregnancy options counseling training to those working with women who seek abortion care or support. Inevitably, the recurring challenge that counselors face is working with religious patients. The skill of the counselor is to meet the patient where they are in their belief system. Helping the patient create a space in their faith where their god provides them with comfort and acceptance rather than shame and guilt can be transformative for the patient. Although abortion is couched within the reproductive health and justice movements, I see abortion as the bridge from reproductive health to sexual health. Abortion enables women to maintain their autonomy as sexual beings, undoing the expectation that they will, or should, parent.  Coming from my upbringing, I never really thought that I would be working in abortion.  But here I am, and I believe in its morality.

Despite my personal struggles with religion and faith, I very firmly recognize the intrigue that religion holds for me, especially with regard to issues of sexual and reproductive health, and its influence on the choices people make.  I am also painfully aware of my knee-jerk emotional reactions to religion and its pervasiveness in the social constructs of our society. Still, we need to fight as a society to answer these questions:  What does an individual need to be a healthy, well-rounded, confident sexual being?  How can society overcome religious stigma and understand the complexities of sexuality with compassion and acceptance?  How can we educate and empower women and men to love themselves without the detrimental comparison to unrealistic ideals set forth by society, the media, and religion?  How do we do all of this while still maintaining the integrity of a culture and community of people and their unique and diverse beliefs?

My work in teen sex-ed and pregnancy prevention, HIV/AIDS, and abortion has focused my passion on the sexual being of humans, by way of stigma. My experiences showed me that I was advocating for a person who happened to have an STI, who happened to be pregnant, who happened to have HIV, or who happened to be gay.  My passion was in supporting this person, who, because they are a sexual human being, was now being treated with hatred, discrimination, and condemnation.  I studied sexuality and health because a person is first a sexual being (from birth!), before they are a reproductive person (if at all!).  Sexuality encompasses the continuums of one’s sex, gender, orientation, sexual behavior, sexual health, and sexual rights. The binaries of sex, gender, and orientation that our society so loves and finds so comforting reduces us to the moral panics that devolve into ideological rhetoric at religious and political bully pulpits.

Comprehensive sexuality education, sexual positivity, sexual rights, and reproductive justice are foundations of morality, rooted in compassion and humanism. I have made choices, strongly influenced by my Catholic upbringing, and I’ve made choices as an autonomous, sexual woman. It has been these choices, the ones I’ve made based on my gut desire and intuition that have been the most satisfying and fulfilling. My hope is for people across all walks of life and ages to have control over and take pleasure in their sexual health.


About the Author
Jennifer A. Hart, MPH, is the Director of Training & Education at the National Abortion Federation. In 2011, Jennifer earned her Master of Public Health from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York City, where she studied Sexuality and Health and religion’s influence on policy and access to care. Jennifer’s career and education have focused on the stigmatized issues of abortion, HIV/AIDS, sexual and gender-based violence, and sexual identity and rights. She has worked with Global Doctors for Choice, a global initiative of Physicians for Reproductive Health; the Access Team at International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region (IPPF/WHR); and Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Jennifer studied and worked abroad in the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Nigeria with organizations such as Profamilia, Instituto de Sexualidad Humana, and Rotary International. Prior to graduate school, Jennifer was the executive director of ALFA, the only HIV/AIDS service organization in rural northwestern NC, where she worked for eight years. Jennifer earned a BA in Spanish and Human and Community Service from Lenoir-Rhyne College (now known as Lenoir-Rhyne University) and a Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Duke University. She volunteers as co-administrator of Repro Health Happy Hour DC, and is a blog contributor for Planned Parenthood of Central and Greater Northern New Jersey’s Center for Family Life Education. Most weekends, Jennifer can be found with a mug of French press coffee, ranting and raving about politics, religion, and social justice issues with her partner and their kitty kids.  Jennifer can be reached at [email protected]
 

Sex Education Month

What we’re doing for Sex Education Month this October

One of Secular Woman’s core values is the right of everyone to comprehensive sex education that is age appropriate and non-shaming. That is far from a reality today in the U.S. to the detriment of our youth and the adults those youth become. Accurate, unbiased knowledge of sex, our bodies, and our sexuality helps us to construct a healthy, affirming sense of our own sexuality and desire. So, for this week and the next in October, Sex Education Month, we are highlighting the importance of Sex Education through articles on our website and two twitter chats on Sex Ed, one from 2-3 PM EST on the 26th and another on the 30th from 8-9 PM EST. Join us using hashtag #SexEd and talk about Sex Education, where it needs to go, why its important, share your resources, where you go for advice as an adult…bring your questions and your opinions!

Meanwhile check out the articles we’ve already published this week on Sex Education:

Like Voldemort to Wizards
I grew up in an almost alternate universe, where courtship methods of the Victorian era were popular and no one spoke of sex except in hushed or negative tones. Sex to Christian homeschoolers was like Voldemort to wizards — That Which Shall Not Be Named. I attended “purity” seminars at which homeschool celebrities like Josh Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, urged audiences of horny teenagers to focus on God and flee that nebulous human demon called Lust.

Catholic Values and Sexuality vs. Actual Sex Education
Of course, all sex before marriage is out and wasn’t even discussed. Contraception was briefly mentioned, but only to be told that it was bad and wrong and no one should use it. Natural Family Planning (NFP), otherwise known as the rhythm method, was introduced but wasn’t explained. STDs weren’t even talked about because when both you and your spouse are virgins then you have no fear of catching any diseases. The wedding night was discussed in detail and the whole idea that your body no longer belongs to you, but to your husband or wife was talked about glowingly. I could never get on board with the idea that my body, what I have to lug around all day, was suddenly someone else’s.

Reclaiming my Voice
My father was the true idea of a traditional and insecure man who could only see things black and white. A real woman was submissive and meek and enslaved. If you were not this, than you were less of a woman and not appealing to a man, which I was told many times. I was told “no man will ever want you if don’t change”. Our dinner times were accompanied by my father lecturing and criticizing my mother, if I interrupted or responded to this he would speedily come over to my side of the table and slap me across my arms and body. We were given a list of interests we were allowed to be interested in and sex was not on the list. Everything was handled with aggression, verbal abuse, and hitting. My voice was taken away, and with it my right to be curious about things and feel new things.

Reclaiming my Voice

Reclaiming my Voice
By Catherine Rosso
I was born to a  pastor and his wife in 1985 in Central New York. My father stated his church was non-denominational but also had Pentecostal roots. My parents met in the Bible School they taught in together and were engaged their 2nd date, which they felt was planned and set up by the Holy Spirit. My perception of their beginnings as a couple, is that they were two lonely people with big ideas and plans on how God was going to use their lives to change “the nations”, as they called it. They believed they had a “calling” on their lives and being married was part of that calling. I don’t feel sexual attraction or chemistry had much to do with their decision to marry each other.

Being the child of this specific father and mother meant that church attendance on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings was not an option. I attended a baptist school from grades K-12. We had to do family devotions, church activities, and were only allowed to have christian friends. Other parents praise their children after they make a painting, win a game, or tie their shoes, we were affirmed any time we spoke in tongues, raised our hands in worship, or kneeled at the alter. My father was very emotional and an easily-tempered man. My father was the true idea of a traditional and insecure man who could only see things black and white. A real woman was submissive and meek and enslaved. If you were not this, than you were less of a woman and not appealing to a man, which I was told many times. I was told “no man will ever want you if don’t change”. Our dinner times were accompanied by my father lecturing and criticizing my mother, if I interrupted or responded to this he would speedily come over to my side of the table and slap me across my arms and body. We were given a list of interests we were allowed to be interested in and sex was not on the list. Everything was handled with aggression, verbal abuse, and hitting. My voice was taken away, and with it my right to be curious about things and feel new things.

My mom was very un-intune to herself and others emotionally. Her activities in the church and home defined her. If she wasn’t doing, she was nothing. Anything overly emotional or confrontational was corrected or disapproved of and the conversation was changed quickly by her. She taught me that my body was a secret to be kept from boys who want it but who can’t have it until they sign a legal document saying we are married, which to my mom meant that a man and I were bonded for life. Talking about sex casually, reading about sex, watching sex, thinking about sex, and feeling sexual was not permitted and would be punished. My mom’s big sex talk was mostly about my period. I was thirteen and we talked in my room. I was told that once a month I would menstruate and need to wear pads but the most important thing was I could never tell a boy if I started my period or when I was having a period. I was given a gold necklace with a key on it to remind me to wait for marriage. I had to watch, in youth group, these Christian videos on abstinence and all the consequences of having sex before marriage. If you were unmarried and had sex, you got STDs and got pregnant and no man would ever love you again because you weren’t a virgin, and if you waited for marriage everything would be about love, happiness, gummy bears and unicorns.

My school had a dress code. We were told the reason for the dress code was so that we wouldn't cause our brothers in the Lord to fall into sin. There was no Sex Ed, that was the parents’ job. The biggest thing I learned from my parents and my school about  sex is that men feel and desire everything and women feel and desire nothing. I was taught that men have no ability to control themselves and have no hope without Jesus and that women must keep everything covered, closed, hidden, suppressed, and quiet and that if we were not the type of woman that could do these things then we would never be loved by a man.

After a long journey I am now at a place where I believe our sexuality is beyond complex, wild, and is gorgeous and is supposed to be. Just like a rugged mountain or a vibrant sunset, our sexuality should manifest itself in it’s most natural form. The root of what hides us and limits us is a fear of being truthful, mostly to ourselves. To be truthful to ourselves requires an ownership of all that we feel and perceive and not relying on our past or our environment to dictate who we are. I believe that education on protection and respecting others is very important, however I do not think that a system can create a “one size fits all” curriculum on sex and succeed in the long run. When it comes to education, I promote an educational structure that is set up for the student to critically think, reflect, and come up with conclusions on their own. When it comes to something like sexuality, the question “why” needs to be looked at as much as the “how”. Why do I feel this way? Why do I want to respect a woman’s refusal to have sex? Why do I want to do my best to prevent getting pregnant right now? I also feel that an introduction to the topic of sex should be presented in a way that teaches a student to celebrate, to explore, and makes them feel good about their journey, rather than making them feel like a science project or a time-bomb about to go off or a piece of machinery that needs to be handled properly, using the pamphlets and books given. Our sexuality is not a new toy or device that we need to be taught how to use properly. We are meant to be our natural selves, which means less steering and more reinforcing the positive that is already apparent, more student-centered. After all, nothing is more real to a person than what they discover on their own.
 


About the Author:
I wanted to write about sexual education and my background due to the fact I have a great interest in human sexuality and I want to encourage others to break away from their preconceived ideas of themselves or others that were given to them by their backgrounds, families, or religions. I want to encourage others to empower themselves with knowledge and not depend on what they grew up with to understand themselves and sex.  I attend my local Unitarian Universalist Congregation, and I plan on homeschooling my daughter, so I am part of the homeschooling community in my area. Additionally, I have started a group for alternative and nontraditional families and I am a stay-at-home mom.

 

Catholic Values and Sexuality VS. Actual Sex Education

Catholic Values and Sexuality VS. Actual Sex Education
By Star LaBranche, blogger at Scrapbook of Truth

When I was a teenager my parents informed me that I was going to be attending a Catholic Values and Sexuality class at the church that my family attended. I had already been through several years of sex education in public school by that point and was curious to see what additional information the church was willing to impart to me. At that point I had already started to drift from the church and had begun to question that Catholic teachings that I had endured for so many years. I couldn't even imagine myself as an atheist at this point, but I was pretty sure that I wasn't a Catholic.

The class was one full day with a bunch of other bored teenagers and a married couple in their 60s as instructors. Anyone who talks about how the youth is on fire for Catholicism and they are going to save the church has clearly never been to the church I attended or any of the painfully stupid, ridiculously boring presentations that were supposed to excite me about religion. Anyway, the class started and we were soon being instructed in just what Catholics think that god wants for us when we get married.

Of course, all sex before marriage is out and wasn't even discussed. Contraception was briefly mentioned, but only to be told that it was bad and wrong and no one should use it. Natural Family Planning (NFP), otherwise known as the rhythm method, was introduced but wasn't explained. STDs weren't even talked about because when both you and your spouse are virgins then you have no fear of catching any diseases. The wedding night was discussed in detail and the whole idea that your body no longer belongs to you, but to your husband or wife was talked about glowingly. I could never get on board with the idea that my body, what I have to lug around all day, was suddenly someone else's.

Things got interesting when we started talking about abortion. We all know abortion is evil and selfish and when they discussed the procedure they went into every single gory detail about what happens to the fetus. Because something being icky is a precursor to it being morally wrong. We were given handouts about the link between breast cancer and abortion (which doesn't exist) and the link between suicide/depression and abortion (which also doesn't exist). Then we were told a cheery story about a couple who had decided to abort and then regretted it so much that they both committed suicide, leaving a note addressed to their murdered fetus. It was quite clear that if we ever got an abortion, this would happen to us if we had any conscious or humanity.

At this time in my life, I didn't know enough about abortion to refute any of these claims. My secular sex education had never covered it and it was at a time before we had the internet at my house, so I had yet to do any research of my own about it. All of the information that I had ever been given about abortion was Catholic-leaning and completely biased. At that age I was so terrified of the procedure that I thought it would never be an option for me at all because it was so barbaric.

At the end of the class they discussed things like saying no and sexual abuse. Saying no was easy. You would make Jesus cry if you made decisions about your body and sexuality and you had to remain pure for your wedding night. There was very little to it. Anyone who wanted you to break your vow of chastity was someone that you needed to break up with with a smart one liner.

The videos on sexual crimes featured young women being abused by their dads, family friends, boyfriends etc. The actresses tried to look dewy eyed and talked about how difficult it was to listen to their girlfriends talk about kissing boys when they had just been raped by their fathers. This was a time well before the sexual abuse scandal erupted in the church and looking back on it, the idea that I spent several hours listening to Catholics tell me how to avoid sexual abuse while their priests were the most cosseted and protected perpetrators of all makes me feel rather ill.

It goes without saying that there was no mention of any kind of sexuality other than heterosexual. Anyone who wasn't straight was completely whitewashed from the presentation. As far as the church was concerned, they didn't even exist and certainly weren't worth talking about. But I hadn't really been expecting a section on anyone who didn't identify as straight, so it came as no surprise.

The entire Values and Sexuality class contained nothing about the human body, how it works, or the nuts and bolts of actual sex. But why would it? We were teenagers and telling us about how sex works would have undoubtedly made us want to go out and try it, so best to keep us in the dark. I'm just thankful that the church I attended didn't have one of those ridiculous Purity Balls.

All in all, the class just backed up what I had already been taught. That sex was wrong and dirty, except in very specific, Catholic circumstances. That making your own choices regarding your body and your sexuality were evil and against god's ultimate plan for you. By the time I left the class, I was still confused about what I believed in a religious sense, but I knew that Catholic "values" weren't for me.
 


About the Author:
Star LaBranche is an atheist scrapbooker with an interest in women’s and gender studies, true crime, pop culture, and writing. She currently lives in the middle of nowhere with her fiance and their two dogs. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Women’s Studies, which qualifies her to write blogs about vaginas.

In her spare time she papercrafts, watches documentaries on Netflix, plays video games, and attends as many drag shows as humanly possible. Star volunteers in the community and works for scrapbooking company. Her favorite things in life are animals, cheese, learning new things, nice people and exploring the world. She currently writes for GodSwill Ministries, runs the blog Scrapbook of Truth, and guest blogs whenever she can.

Like Voldemort To Wizards: How Christian Homeschooling Made Me A Sex Ed Advocate

Like Voldemort To Wizards: How Christian Homeschooling Made Me A Sex Ed Advocate
By R.L. Stollar, co-founder of Homeschoolers Anonymous

I learned about sex because of a Boy Scout merit badge.

My older brother and I were on the way to a Boy Scouts meeting. My dad was nervous the whole time, seeming to stall until the last moment. I am not sure if this conversation would have ever happened naturally. But it did happen, if it only happened because it had to.

My brother and I were working to get our Family Life merit badge in Boy Scouts. Part of earning that badge was learning about sex. Someone had to give us "The Talk," and — since our Boy Scout troop was a primarily Christian homeschool troop — that responsibility fell on our father. To learn about sex from anyone other than one's parents was a cardinal sin in my Christian homeschool culture.

Most of the drive was awkward, because we knew we were about to get The Talk. I do not think The Talk necessarily has to be awkward, but it was for our dad. You could feel it in the air. As a result, The Talk really materialized on the 15-minute drive. Never, that is, until we pulled into the parking lot of the rundown Baptist church where our troop met. Then it was do or die time, and my dad gave us a quick summary of lovemarriagepenisvaginababy. Boom.

That was the extent of my Christian homeschool sex education growing up. It lasted less than five minutes.

I grew up in an almost alternate universe, where courtship methods of the Victorian era were popular and no one spoke of sex except in hushed or negative tones. Sex to Christian homeschoolers was like Voldemort to wizards — That Which Shall Not Be Named. I attended "purity" seminars at which homeschool celebrities like Josh Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, urged audiences of horny teenagers to focus on God and flee that nebulous human demon called Lust.

In that universe, "abstinence only" was not an abstract concept but a concrete reality. I never learned about condoms, or how to use them. I never learned about STDs. As a male, I never learned about menstruation. That was a taboo topic; my parents referred to it as "that time of month" and all I knew was that it was something embarrassing and icky that only women talk about and men just need to know to avoid women during that time.

When I hear people arguing for abstinence-only education these days I cringe. I want to shout at the top of my lungs, "You don't really want that!" I know what that education looks like because that is the education I received. It was a sham to even call it "education." It was rather an absence of education. The so-called "abstinence" was an abstinence of knowledge about biology and empowerment about consent.

It did not help me in even a single way.

It did not discourage me from eventually having premarital sex. All it did was make me utterly ignorant of the reality of sex. It did not keep me from so-called sexual immorality. It made me incapable of acknowledging and processing my own experience of sexual abuse as a child.

As I have grown older, and both shared my story as well as heard other stories of former homeschool kids, there are so many similarities between our experiences. Sex felt like something dirty and secretive and repressed up until one's wedding day, and then magically it was supposed transform into something holy and beautiful and celebrated. Sex was something only men wanted, that was given by women in exchange for love. (I am aware now, too, that this harmful stereotype transcends Christianity and homeschooling.) Men were incapable of controlling their physical desires, always on the brink of the sexual sin of lust. So much so, that women had to carefully don the most modest of clothing to avoid causing men to "stumble." Men were also only attracted to women and women to men, thereby precluding any conversation about the existence of LGBT* individuals.

And foremost of all: sex education, that insidious tool of the evil secularists and humanists, was a weapon of Satan. It was described in classic misogynistic terms: a "temptress," a "whore of Babylon," hired by the Prince of Darkness to lead public schoolers astray. Us homeschoolers, God bless us, we were spared that temptation, as our parents took it upon themselves to raise us righteously, without sex education and its spurious ways.

But dreams run red lights and crash into the curbs of reality awfully hard.

As I hear more and more from former homeschoolers, I hear the same things I myself experienced: that what we were "spared from," what we were "blessed" to avoid, could have really helped us. No matter how hard our parents tried to keep us unstained from "the world," the world happened. We grew up. We made mistakes, got drunk, did drugs, made out, had sex; some of us were sexually abused and raped — all the things that happen outside of Christian homeschooling, too. The only difference is we had zero tools to process those things.

It is because of my very experience as a Christian homeschool kid that I am an advocate for comprehensive sex education.

I believe in comprehensive sex education because all people have the right to be empowered. I believe in comprehensive sex education because it is vitally important to know your body, respect your body and other people's bodies, and understand how to stand up against those people who both want you ignorant of your body and aim to disrespect your body.

Depriving children of that knowledge, for whatever ridiculous religious reasons, is nothing less than educational abuse. It is not pleasing to God or god or anything that is allegedly holy. Ignorance is a unholy prison. Forced ignorance is one of the most soul-crushing experiences one can have.

Children need to be educated about their bodies because that is how children learn how to respect and love them and each other's.

Children need to be educated about sexuality because sexuality is a fundamentally important part of being human.

Children need to be educated about consent because rape and sexual abuse happen in every community and every culture and you are living in a daydream if you think it will not happen in yours.

The more I learn about the universality of body-shaming, rape culture, and abuse, and the more I hear about how these things happen every day in Christian churches and conservative homeschooling communities, the more I see why sex ed is an absolute must. When we are afraid of sexuality, when we are afraid to talk bluntly and honestly and openly about our bodies and our emotions, we are giving power to those who want to take advantage of our ignorance and our silence. When we are blinded by our ideologies and unwilling to see every human being as worthy of respect and safety, we are giving power to those people advancing shame and bigotry. When we are afraid to name That Which Shall Not Be Named and speak about it plainly, we are only adding to the power of those in our communities — homeschooling, Christian, secular, and otherwise — who will abuse it.

I wish I knew about sex from something other than abuse. But my parents and my homeschooling community could not have changed that, no matter how much they wish they could.

Yet I also wish I knew how to talk about sex from something other than a Boy Scout merit badge. And that is something that my parents and my community could have done differently.

I have spent the last decade catching up on what I missed, on the lessons I never learned. It can be an awfully embarrassing process, but it is a necessary one.


About the Author:
R.L. Stollar is co-founder and Community Coordinator at Homeschoolers Anonymous, a cooperative online project by former homeschoolers. He is also a founding board member of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving homeschooling communities for future generations by educating homeschooling families about mental health and child abuse. Ryan was homeschooled from preschool through high school. He spent his high school years as a speech and debate competitor in the HSLDA-created National Christian Forensics and Communications Association and was one of the original student leaders for Communicators for Christ, now the Institute for Cultural Communicators. Through high school and college, he taught speech and debate to thousands of homeschool students across the nation with CFC conferences, a HSLDA National Leadership Retreat, Cedarville University, the University of Oregon, and elsewhere. He has a B.A. in Western philosophy and literature from Gutenberg College in Oregon and a M.A. in Eastern religions from St. John’s College in New Mexico. Ryan is the former volunteer News Editor of Eugene Daily News, a hyperlocal community news source in Oregon.

Queer Shaming by Religious based Abstinence Only Education

Secular Woman’s second article in the LGBTQ week Series

By Karin Weiss, read her blog Abstinence Only Recovery

I’ve been out as bisexual since 9th grade (14 years old). I was lucky that most people in my high school were accepting of it. There were only a few very seriously religious teens at my school, but, unfortunately, the curriculum of my abstinence only sex ed class was not so accepting.

First let’s talk about one of the extremely religious teens. I had a friend we’ll call Joe. When I was in 10th grade and he was in 11th we became very good friends. He liked to watch Star Wars and go hiking and read books. We started crushing on each other and decided we wanted to date. Then I told him that I was bisexual. I didn’t think it would be a big deal. I knew he was religious but it never occurred to me that one of my friends would be anti-LGBT. He was hurt by the fact. He wanted me to be straight because he couldn’t date someone with homosexual tendencies. He wanted me to go to church with him, and since I was a teenager with raging hormones I agreed.

Just before we started dating I had been realizing that I was an atheist. I was raised without religion and it just never occurred to me to put a name on it.

I got to know him and his family and saw that he got along really well with his parents. Now, he is currently in school to be a physician. His family looks like the American Dream, but I know from conversations with them that they believe that the human body has the ability to live for 900 years if the person lives Biblically. They believe that people can choose to be gay, straight, trans, or bisexual. Once Joe said “I’ve thought about dating guys and I find the thought disgusting, so I have decided to be straight”.

It took me 7 months to stop trying to be straight and stop trying to believe in Joe’s religion. I broke up with him when I realized that it was wrong for me to try to change who I was to be in a romantic relationship.

I think that a big part of why I put up with that relationship and denial of my identity was that my school used a curriculum of abstinence-only sex education which ignored or shamed LGBT students and taught religious views on sex as scientific and psychological fact. We were taught that even our “normal” sexual impulses were disgusting and evil, so if someone was LGBT they were even worse in the eyes of our health class. We were taught that sex is a tool for procreation within a marriage and that any other sexual activity would “destroy your reputation”, give you a disease, or make a girl pregnant with an unwanted child. LGBT sex was not mentioned, but it was implied that it was wrong because it did not produce a child and the partners could not be married.

I remember being in that class and thinking that I would wait until marriage to have sex whether I ended up with a man or a woman. Since it was a public school the instructors couldn’t tell us that sex before marriage would send us to hell, but they did make it sound like our lives would be a living hell of disease, depression, and bullying. Only after I graduated did I understand that the class was based on religious opinions about sex and completely devoid of real scientific information. In high school I still believed that if a teacher told me something was based on real science it was true. I didn’t have the presence of mind to research the information my teachers told me because I never doubted it.

I’m in college now and I’m still recovering from the shame about sex and being bisexual that I was taught by that class. Abstinence only education is horrible for LGBT students and straight cisgender students. It led me to deny my own identity for the sake of a relationship and it caused me much shame and pain in my sex and dating life later on.

My Body the temple, my body the toilet

Fifth article in Secular Woman’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month Series

by Jennifer Forester

When I was five, I decided that I wanted to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour, and I went through all of the motions: I asked him into my heart, assumed he accepted, and was baptized before the congregation. I remember vividly how afraid I was to be baptized; the thought of the water closing in over my head filled me with panic, but somehow I went through it, understanding that I had been washed in metaphorical blood and was now sin-free in the eyes of God. What was not possible for me to process in my gloriously naïve five-year-old brain was that, in return for the unconscionably horrifying experience of vicarious redemption, I had agreed to surrender my will to a being who could not express his will to me excepting through the men who controlled what ostensibly came from him. My body was to be a temple, a living sacrifice to God, and no one ever explained to me that, in the end, the difference between person as temple and person as toilet are negligible: they are both things. Neither have the will to decide what will and will not happen to or in them, and neither have the capacity to protest when their will is violated.

Naturally, being five, I didn’t hear much about sex, although I was raised much more openly than most of my Christian peers. The twisted fascination of the religious fundamentalist with the myriad manifestations of sexuality did not start to interfere with my awareness of the conflict between my Christian faith and my own desires until early in my adolescence as I—who had precociously noted the beguiling nature of my masculine peers years before my body signaled any sort of readiness for their attentions—became the recipient of male attention, welcome and unwelcome alike. As men began following me when I walked in public, as boys began to return my affections, the exhortations to purity began. Boys would want to do things to me, but I should not let them. I was to remember, at all times, that my body was a sacrifice to Christ and a gift to my future husband (who, presumably, would be returning the gift; at least there was no double standard in my household). What negativity did not seep down from my mother, who at the least had a truly egalitarian vision of mutual abstinence for Christians, worked its way in from elsewhere, poisoning my understanding of my body and its new, unfamiliar hungers. Sex was something that boys would want to do to me; it was not something that I would do or share. There was never any conception that I might be getting what I wanted out of some hapless boy; no, I was a vessel, for my God and for the men who would try to use me. My virginity would be a sacrifice to the man who would love me enough to wait until I was married, but a sacrifice it would be.

At fifteen, rather than losing my virginity in a thoughtless moment of passion as did so many of my fellow Evangelical kids, I made the calm, rational decision that I was ready to have sex with my fiancé who, at fourteen years old, was obviously as equipped as I was to enter into a healthy, mutually fulfilling sexual relationship. We spent days getting our plans together, making sure that we would have a plausible excuse to feed our parents—who were most certainly not in on this or supportive of it—and that we would have condoms, unlike our less fortunate peers who did not plan ahead. Although I was still a Christian, I never felt the cognitive dissonance, guilt, or fear that I should have had about this decision; somehow all of that didn’t leak down to me. No, what was missing for me was a concept as powerfully positive as the abstinence-only guilt is damaging: I lacked a model of consensuality. Lacking this, he and I, two children with only our religious and cultural messages to go by, proceeded to have sex in precisely the way that you would expect. He held me still while he painfully thrust in and out of me and then, while I lay on the floor bleeding and weeping, feeling every bit the living sacrifice I had pledged to be, he told me to put my clothes on so that he could play video games.

This never struck me as odd, never felt like the stab in the back that it should have; after all, I had simply transitioned from temple to toilet, and it was natural that he would use me in the same way that God used women: as an uncomplaining dispensary for bodily fluids and ideas about myself. The time before he finally, irrevocably raped me, under circumstances that I could point my finger at and say, “Yes, that was it!” was filled with a thousand little transgressions.

The time he wanted to have sex in a practice room and I was afraid that we would get caught, but he told me that I would do it if I loved him.

The time he convinced me to perform oral sex on him—an act I found repulsive at the time—by telling me that he would find someone else to do it if I wouldn’t.

The time I was about to move to another state and he broke down and cried until I would have sex with him in a movie theater because “he would miss me so much.”

The time he broke up with me but told me that he still wanted me and, as I wept, he pulled my shirt off of me and proceeded to use my unresisting body.

The times I fell asleep at his house and woke up with him rubbing his penis on my lips, the time his idea of experimenting with BDSM was to hold a butcher knife to my throat while I cried out that he was terrifying me.

This, all of this, building to the time when I would finally say the word “no” with enough emphasis that this constant, unrelenting assault on my body and mind became something that I would be able to, once and for all, definitively attach the word “rape” to, even if it took until a year later for me to be able to do so. I, the teenaged version of the good Christian five-year-old who pledged her body as a temple to the Lord, functioned as if I had pledged my body as a toilet for the boy-man whom I loved every bit as much as I had loved Christ before. My consent, my will, were irrelevant, and so I treated them as such, hollowed myself out to make room for the verbal abuse and the affection and the hatred and the jizz, if only he would love me the way that Christ had when I had given up my right to consent in my youthful naivete.

It’s enough to say that he held me down, that he called me a bitch, that he told me that I fucking wanted it and that I had it coming; it’s enough to say that I bled again this time and that I tried to fight him off. What’s striking isn’t the violence of what he did or the extreme duress under which it occurred. No. The part of what happened that is so shocking is that the only difference between the time when he finally raped me for real and the time when I consensually lost my virginity is that he cursed me and I fought back. The rest was the same: the bleeding, the pain, the fear, the utter disregard for my humanity, the casual walking away. There was little difference, to me, between what I called rape and what I called sex; I had never been given a model for it other than “what married people do,” leaving me with “crying and bleeding on the floor” as my default for what unmarried people did. My options were to consent to cry and bleed on the floor, or to be forced to do so. I laid myself out on the altar and called it consent, not knowing that there were other options. It was what good Christian girls did when abstinence failed them.