How Sex Ed Failed Me

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Here’s a question I’ve asked myself: Why, after no consumption of alcohol, was I doubled over in pain on my bathroom floor at 2 am on a school night, in the midst of exam season?  Although my sleepless night can technically be traced back to the sex I’d had the previous Friday, my path to misery began in 5th grade “Human Growth and Development” class.

I went to the same private school in Charlotte, NC, from 1st grade to high school graduation and entrusted the entirety of my sex ed to the same institution. In fifth grade, we separated our class into girls and boys and learned about anatomy and impending puberty. I was taught about Fallopian tubes, wet dreams, and tampons–but not sex. Thankfully, my mother had already covered the big “where babies come from” talk.  Seventh grade sex ed is a blur.  It lasted one day, and all I remember was the teacher defining “sexy” as “voluptuously sensual in appearance or demeanor.” I’m certain neither I, nor my friends, paid attention to another word of the lesson; we were all too busy giggling and mouthing “voluptuous” to each other.  Ninth grade health was supposed to be the year we were mature enough for a real sex talk, but my school left significant portions of the curriculum up to the discretion of the teachers.  Not only was consent not covered in my class, but we weren’t shown how to put on a condom, and our lessons on birth control merely consisted of writing down the names of every kind and learning that “only abstinence is 100% effective.” This harmed my classmates and me. I have friends who worried about pregnancy because they didn’t know how to put on a condom, friends who took 30 minutes to watch condom video tutorials with their partners, and friends who didn’t realize that what happened to them qualified as sexual assault.  Personally, I felt lucky. I did good research on my own, learned about consent from online videos, had a mom I felt comfortable talking to, and had access to birth control. But my high school’s sex ed had failed me, too, as I found out my third week of college, when my bladder felt like it had been lit on fire.

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In my ninth grade health class, I learned about every part of the brain, about macronutrients, about the dangers of alcohol, about the mechanics of pregnancy, and about every drug under the sun. My gynecologist and my mom taught me about safe sex and hormone imbalances, and Upworthy taught me about consent.  Not one of these sources mentioned the importance of peeing after sex to prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs).  So, at 2 am on the Monday of my first college exam, I was sobbing in the bathroom, sure I was dying. I can’t begin to describe the pain of a UTI and I won’t try, but suffice to say that I was pretty angry at myself for letting it happen to me.

Upon further reflection, how to avoid a UTI is something people should be taught in their health class. Sex isn’t evil, and if it’s safe and consensual, there’s no need to be punished for it 48 hours later with the sensation of giving birth to Satan. My health teachers did go into the lesson with a bias against premarital sex, or at least one against teenage sex, so they didn’t see a need for their education to extend beyond preventing disease and pregnancy. Sex should be more than just not life-ruining. Sex should be fun. I’m not saying that sex ed teachers should be discussing technique with their pupils, but basic, practical  information should be covered. Everyone learns what a male orgasm is, but how many high schoolers learn that women have clitoral and vaginal orgasms? How many high school boys actually know what a clitoris is? How many high school girls believe the myth that sex has to hurt the first time, and that a giant rush of blood will accompany it?  And, for the love of all that is holy, how many girls know that a UTI, the third most common ailment in women after the cold and the flu,  can be prevented by by peeing after sex?

This post was written by ZA.

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Power, Pussies, and a Pig

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Content warning: sexual assault.

Let’s begin with a story.

In early spring of my freshman year, I went to a party to celebrate a political group on campus.  I felt powerful and unstoppable, convinced I was doing big things and making meaningful change for my fellow students (I wasn’t really, but that’s okay).  I was threading my way across a crowded living room to find my friends when something stopped me in my tracks.

More specifically, a large hand swiped its way between my legs and held on for dear life while I stood, briefly paralyzed and a little bemused.  Then I shifted my hips to extract myself from this strange man’s grip and continued on my way.

Although what happened to me at that party can certainly be called sexual assault, it didn’t really bother me going forward; I genuinely laughed it off later that night, and I can’t remember if I even told my friends about it.  Three years later, I had mostly forgotten it happened.  (For anyone reading this and wondering, this isn’t because I’m an unthinkably callous or remarkably “strong” woman, it’s because things like this happen to every woman I know, literally every weekend.  Disgusting as it is, this sort of unwanted physical attention from strangers is basically part of the deal for female college students.  Maybe the prominent Republicans now scrambling to react to their ring leader’s language should be talking about that instead.)In 2005, when the man who groped me at that party was probably 12, Donald Trump was caught on a live mic bragging about the fact that being a celebrity allowed him to sexually assault anyone he wanted.  His exact words were, “I don’t even wait…  When you’re a star they let you do it…  You can do anything.”  Sorry, Donald, could you say it louder?  What exactly can you do?

“Grab them by the pussy,” the future nominee of the Republican party advised.

Oh.

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Donald Trump speaks with Billy Bush in 2005.

It took me two hours of gleefully scanning feminist twitter on the day his comments went viral before I even remembered that three years ago some guy had done to me exactly what Trump advised off-camera in 2005.

And my first reaction when I did remember this quick humiliation was to giggle.  Now, just as the bile rises in my throat when I watch Trump speak on TV, his former supporters are rising around him in confused anger.  In the growing takedown of Donald Trump, I feel a quiet sense of personal vindication.

At long, long last, Trump is officially a pig and everyone is talking about it.  I have seen the word pussy (a word that I don’t believe I’ve ever said out loud) in print in every one of the news sources I read daily.  

This from a man and a political party who habitually recoil from the word vagina.  Think of Trump’s famous comments about Megyn Kelly and the “blood coming out of her wherever.”  Remember the Michigan lawmaker who was banned from speaking on the state house floor because she mentioned her vagina during discussion of a transvaginal ultrasound bill.  When she wanted to continue arguing against the legislation of her body, the higher-ups recommended she use something less controversial, like lady parts.  

It almost feels unnecessary to point out the extreme hypocrisy in place here.   Vagina has been made into a dirty word, transformed into something vile to be regulated and controlled. The people seeking to exert this control, who claim a right over vaginas by passing archaic laws, are the same men who vilify the very word vagina. It is either glanced over or vulgarified by a nominee who once argued for “punishment” for women who get abortions.  It seems as if many of the men objecting to Pussygate are as offended by the use of that word and the objectification of a married woman as by the pesky detail that Trump is bragging about assault.

Let’s also take a minute to discuss the patronizing reactions of Republican leaders who have finally decided to question the behavior of the wig-wearing traffic cone who currently heads their party.  Speaker Ryan at last appears willing to fight off the chains of party loyalty and face whatever primeval beast Trump dragged back from the Stone Age to keep him captive.

“Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified,” Ryan says.  So close, Paul!  Try, women are people like you and me and should be treated exactly the same way.  I don’t need you to champion or revere me, Mr. Speaker, unless it’s for my accomplishments or my cause.  As the great Ainsley Hayes put it, “I am a citizen of this country.  I am not a special subset in need of your protection.”  (Ainsley, we disagree on the ERA, but you were an asset to the Bartlet administration).

In a polite and well-meaning tweet, polite and well-meaning man Jeb Bush rejected Trump’s apology “as the grandfather of two precious girls.”  Jeb!, doubtless you’re an excellent grandfather (I’m sure you never have to ask your granddaughters to please clap when you read them a story) but for goodness sake, do it for the boys, too!  Denounce Trump’s comments for every child in America who’s still learning how best to treat others.  Maybe if someone had done so for your cousin back in the day, we could have avoided this whole mess.

It’s also a little off-putting that this has been the final straw.  No one was concerned when Trump repeatedly expressed his desire to date his daughter?  Or when that woman’s mother accused him of marital rape?  Or when, earlier this year, an anonymous woman filed a lawsuit against Trump alleging he had raped her when she was 13?  It’s great that Bush, Ryan, and others are finally coming out against Trump in full force, but you really have to wonder how it could possibly have taken them this long.  You also have to wonder about the 74% of Republicans surveyed who want leaders to keep supporting him.

I still have no idea who groped me at that party three years ago.  I hope wherever he is now, he’s watching the world unite in disgust of Donald Trump and remembering that crowded room. (Separately, I hope he sputtered through all of his consulting interviews, didn’t get any job offers, and found himself consigned to the dustbin of disappointing bros for years to come.)  But mostly, I hope he’s had some experience that opened his eyes to the unacceptability of his behavior and is now an active advocate against sexual violence.  Or if not, that he read about Trump’s comments this weekend, remembered that party, and heard the sound of glass breaking as he realized that in college he was no better than the paragon of vice who is now disturbingly close to becoming the leader of the free world.

I hope he and all the men like him are planning to vote for Hillary Clinton, vagina and all.

This post was written by a member of the H*yas for Choice leadership team.

Standing in Solidarity: H*yas For Choice’s Statement of Support for Students for Reproductive Justice at Loyola Chicago

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H*yas for Choice was disappointed to learn about the removal of Students for Reproductive Justice, a student group at Loyola Chicago University, from their campus for condom distribution.  This removal, unacceptable even as just an isolated incident, is even more egregious in the context of the larger anti-choice policies of Catholic-affiliated universities.  Attending an institution with a Catholic identity should not mean a student forfeits their right to sexual autonomy and a safe sex life . Yet, it seems that at Loyola Chicago, as well as here at Georgetown University, this forfeiture of rights is exactly what school administrators ask from their students.

H*yas for Choice can relate to the struggles Students for Reproductive Justice face on their campus, given our own reality of trying to work for reproductive justice and sexual health at a Jesuit school.  We are unrecognized by the University, receive no funding and are barred from many of the privileges recognized student organizations receive.  We  have no reliable method to quickly and effectively obtain spaces to host events, and if we do obtain a space we must disclaim that nothing about our activities is supported or condoned by Georgetown University or the Society of Jesus.  Of course, while we receive no funding to promote students’ right to bodily autonomy, Georgetown University Right to Life receives a large budget from the school each year that enables them to well-fund their efforts to force their own values about behavior and what forms of healthcare are acceptable onto all students’ bodies.  This year, 2016, marks twenty-five years of working to ensure  Georgetown students’ access to the services they need.  At various points in our history, we have faced overt hostility from Georgetown’s administration, and know too well what it feels like to be removed from campus for activities well within our free speech rights as students.  We are in constant friction with the administration, and walk a thin line to avoid further punishment and mistreatment.  

Because we face these same struggles, we are reminded that these parallels are more than just coincidence; on every political level, anti-choice forces are pushing with renewed vigor against the reproductive rights movement.  And yet even in this context, the failure of the manipulated sting videos meant to serve as a vehicle to defund Planned Parenthood and the US Supreme Court’s strikedown of Texas’s unacceptable TRAP law HB2 in the  Whole Woman’s Health case give us hope.  As students at Catholic schools, we too have important places in this movement.  When thinking about how we fit into the larger reproductive justice movement, there are some obvious  components that come to mind: fighting for access to contraception, helping ensure students ability to access abortion, promoting education on sexual health issues, and working to end the stigmatization of and lack of adequate treatment for sexually transmitted infections. As an organization, though, we know that there is far more to reproductive justice.  

Just like Students for Reproductive Justice, H*yas for Choice approaches our work with an emphasis on intersectionality.  Although reproductive injustice threatens us all, it disproportionately affects people of color, queer folk, people who live in rural areas, and people from low-income backgrounds, just to name a few especially vulnerable communities. To us, reproductive justice signifies more than just guaranteeing the right to abortion; our fight is also about ensuring freedom from racism, classism, ableism, heterosexism, and all forms of oppression.  

Unfortunately, as students at Catholic schools, our fight for full reproductive justice has been an even longer and harder one. Though we have already won some victories with the growing acceptance of feminist and queer perspectives on our campuses, the Church’s view on reproductive rights remains staunchly conservative.

Even in Catholic social teaching, the values of the reproductive justice movement are found.  Doctrine preaches respect for the human person, promoting stable family environments, observing subsidiarity, and most importantly fighting for the common good, all thoroughly consistent with our calls for reproductive justice. Respecting the human person means acknowledging that each individual has autonomy over their body and health. Stable family environments can only exist when we can make for ourselves the choices about when and whether to have children. Dismissing our views can be seen neither as observing subsidiarity nor fighting for the common good.

H*yas for Choice stands in steadfast solidarity with Students for Reproductive Justice at Loyola Chicago in their battle for freedom of speech and their efforts to improve their school. Only by coming together, connecting our struggles, and coordinating our work will we ever achieve our ultimate goal: ending altogether the anti-choice policies and culture at our schools.  We are inspired to see Students for Reproductive Justice’s continued resilience in the face of backlash, because we know this is a fight that we can, will, and must win.