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For most of us, sexuality is something we thought about a lot as teenagers—whether we were deciding whether or not to have sex for the first time, questioning our sexual orientation or gender identity or the things that turned us on, dealing with peer or cultural pressures to act a certain way sexually, or wondering what all the fuss was about. If we were lucky, we weren’t left alone to untangle the confusing web of desires, identities and experiences that make up our sexual selves. Maybe we had friends or family who were knowledgeable and willing to talk about sexuality with us. Maybe we had access to books or websites or phone lines that provided us with accurate and non-judgemental info. And maybe—just maybe—we had decent high school sex ed.

The sex education I got in high school—for a two-week block of my physical education class in Grade 9—was far from perfect. Some of the information we were given was outdated, like the advice to use spermicide, which is no longer as highly recommended as they used to be. Our discussion of consent mostly focused on how to say no to sex—as if none of us would want to say yes. We never talked about the existence of queer or trans* individuals, and I remember the teacher getting flustered when I asked about dental dams.

But I was actually pretty lucky. That class taught me how to put a condom on a banana (the teacher searched several different stores to find non-lubricated condoms, so we wouldn’t be grossed out from getting lube all over our hands). I learned where the nearest abortion clinic was, and where I could buy the emergency contraceptive pill. The teacher talked about what an orgasm was and assured us that it was OK to masturbate, and she did answer my question about dams in the end.

It’s no wonder the information I received in my sex ed class was a bit outdated. The sexual education curriculum in Ontario, where I went to high school, hasn’t been updated since the 1990’s. An updated curriculum, written in 2010, hasn’t been implemented because a small but vocal group of parents object to the inclusion of topics like gay and lesbian parents in a Grade 3 class on diverse families, and an acknowledgement that masturbation can be a healthy way to explore your sexuality in a Grade 6 class on puberty.

But at least I didn’t go to a school that taught abstinence-only sex ed. The fact that my teacher was even allowed to talk about subjects like contraception and abortion means my sex ed class was more comprehensive than the sex ed in most classrooms in the United States. Since 1996, 1.5 billion dollars have been given to school boards by the US government for abstinence-only sex education. Much of this funding is provided on the condition that schools do not discuss contraception or sexual activity outside marriage in a positive way. These programs have not been shown to decrease sexual activity, but they have been shown to lower the likelihood of teens using barriers/contraceptives when they do engage in sexual activity.

Actually, I was very lucky to receive formal sex ed at all. Since 2005, Quebec has not mandated any dedicated sex ed unit, expecting discussions of sexuality to be integrated into other classes. Not surprisingly, this means that the extent to which sex is discussed, and the topics that are covered, vary widely across the province. Some organizations, like Head and Hands in NDG, and SACOMSS (that’s us!), run workshops on sexual health topics in high schools to try to pick up some of the slack, but how many students these programs reach is dependent on how many schools are willing to let these organizations come in and speak to their students.

Personally, I think that young people have the right to accurate, comprehensive, and non-judgemental sexual health information, and while schools aren’t the only place they can get that information, they’re a pretty crucial one. Most high school aged folks are in school, and schools are places where—ideally—we should be provided with information on topics that are relevant to our lives, as well as assisted in developing critical thinking skills to decide how we feel and what we believe about this information. It’s a pretty big deal that schools aren’t doing that with sex ed.

So what to do? Check out part two of this series, on how to take your sexual education into your own hands (no pun intended) and empower other people to do so.

As I said before, I would try to post this week’s Doonesbury comics on abortion as I found them. Well I found all of them, so here they are:

Look at All of Those Banned ‘Doonesbury’ Abortion Comic Strips [Blackbook]

Previously: Doonesbury Tackles “State-Sponsored Rape

Cartoonist Gary Trudeau has come under fire for a comic strip that critiques the state measures to restrict abortion access. The storyline slated for this week’s Doonesbury comic follows a woman attempting to procure an abortion in Texas where she meets slut-shaming and is forced to undergo a trans-vaginal ultrasound. Papers such as the Kansas City Star and the Los Angeles Times have chosen not to publish the comic in the usual section, and will instead move it to the op-ed pages due to its content. As Trudeau told the Guardian, this move from the comic pages will diminish the strip’s readership. He also defends his choice to use his comic to critique the recent impositions on reproductive freedom:

Trudeau wrote: “Ninety-nine percent of American women have or will use contraception during their lifetimes. To see these healthcare rights systematically undermined in state after state by the party of ‘limited government’ is appalling. “In Texas, the sonograms are the least of it. The legislature has also defunded women’s health clinics all over the state, leaving 300,000 women without the contraceptive services that prevent abortions in the first place. Insanity.”

I think it is extremely commendable of Trudeau to use his medium to tackle abortion restriction. The steps some states have taken recently are completely absurd and infringe on women’s rights to control her own body. As this strip shows, they are based in moral ideologies that shame women’s personal choices, rather than in any interest for her health or well-being. I hope papers have the bravery to print this comic rather than censor it, even in the face of its controversial content.

I will try to post the remainder of the comics in this series if I find them. If anyone sees them, please shoot us an email!

Doonesbury strip on Texas abortion law dropped by some US newspapers [The Guardian]

Much of the United States legislature has as of late been bent on restricting women’s access to abortion. While neither the federal nor state governments can exactly overturn the Roe v. Wade ruling that made abortion legal, conservatives can do everything in their power to put huge impositions on women who seek abortions and doctors who provide them. The message is that the conservative government wants to control the movement of female bodies.

A recent development in various states’ attempts to restrict abortion rights is the imposition of an ultrasound on a woman seeking an abortion, and the image must be made clearly visible to the seeker by the doctor providing the abortion. As Talking Points Memo reports, Virginia and Alabama’s recent bills mandate that a woman potentially go through a very invasive procedure to produce the clearest image of the fetus:

The one particularly contentious point has been that these bills require a woman to receive whichever type of ultrasound provides the best picture of the fetus — which, since women typically get abortions early on in the pregnancy, means that the most effective ultrasound is transvaginal, an invasive procedure that opponents of the measure decried as “state-sponsored rape.”

This bill would have asked doctors to place a foreign object (the one pictured above) into a woman’s body without her consent. This is, in effect, rape. It did not pass, but it is an indicator of just how far state’s will go to make abortion as difficult, and even potentially traumatic, as possible.

An amended version of the bill passed in the Virginia legislature, which makes the trans-vaginal ultrasound optional, however not without other equally restrictive and imposing measures:

The new law requires a 24-hour waiting period after the ultrasound, in addition to the one already mandated by the state before an abortion to begin with. The law also requires that the doctor give a detailed verbal description of the image or show it to the woman. “All of these requirements are pretty awful, and they are getting lost in the shuffle in the outrage over the vaginal ultrasound,” Nash said.

A handful of other states are also attempting to restrict abortion and contraceptive rights, such as through imposed waiting times and personhood bills. Jezebel provides a run-down of some the measures, some of which have thankfully not been passed through legislature.

Abortion rights and contraception have been a topic of much debate in the current US Presidential election. The major Republican nominees see it is within their power to make judgment calls concerning women’s bodies, thereby removing the individual’s right to choose. In this interview with Piers Morgan, for example, Ron Paul shows that he is completely insensitive to the potential needs of a recent rape survivor. Without any consideration for their individual circumstances or the recent trauma they have just experienced, Paul believes any female victim of rape must immediately get to a hospital for a shot of estrogen in order to prevent pregnancy and conform to his personal beliefs on abortion and conception.

Contrary to what Morgan says, it is not actually completely unlikely that Paul’s daughters will face rape considering that one out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.

Perhaps a new law ought to be that abortion is not simply legal, but accessible and provided without judgment.

Thanks to Renee for the tip. 

Vaginal Ultrasound Bills A Smokescreen, Say Pro-Choice Groups [TPM]

Your Depressing Digest of Proposed State Anti-Abortion Laws [Jezebel]

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